Lifelong learning and continuous professional development in my opinion are much the same thing.

Ways to continuing professional development - speaking article - guest writers
Jenny Johnson

I doubt if many people would say that learning throughout one’s life is not a good aim to have. However, as far as CPD (Continuing Professional Development) goes, I have always been disheartened to see how some teachers are happy to go on much as they always have done, doing a reasonable job but not developing to any great extent. Meanwhile, others strive to push their boundaries and actively create challenges for themselves, learning from their experiences and adding to their skills and their self knowledge, often in their own time.

Many of us are somewhere in the middle. We want to develop professionally, and while we are mindful of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, we are prepared to find the time we need within our working lives to learn, develop and thereby improve our practice.

I recently did some research for a conference presentation via an email questionnaire to experienced teachers, to find out about their CPD. Most of the 34 teachers who responded had been teaching for ten years or more, in private language schools, universities and colleges. One question asked if they considered their CPD opportunities to be good, adequate, inadequate or non-existent; more than half of them said they considered their CPD to be good or adequate. Another question asked what activities they had been involved in to keep up their CPD. I also asked those who considered their CPD to be inadequate what activities would be ideal for them.

These were the areas which emerged:

There is a lot to be learnt through taking advantage of all the experienced and expert practitioners in the field of ELT, by attending sessions they may give at conferences or, if teachers are lucky, talks that are available in their vicinity. Reading readily-available articles and books written by ‘experts’ and participating in online events or blogs with invited professionals is an alternative if ‘experts’ are not available in the flesh somewhere near you.

F2F workshops
Similar to the above, but not necessarily with known ELT professionals. Often teachers get a lot more out of smaller, more intimate workshops where there is the opportunity to discuss and debate ideas and opinions and take away ideas for classroom activities and to reflect on.

Online communities
These may include an interactive virtual conference such as the annual IATEFL online conferences sponsored by the British Council, or the blogs on the TeachingEnglish website, or other forums and discussion boards set up to encourage participation around ELT topics by teachers from all over the world.

Talking informally
Joining other teachers in the staffroom discussing their next lesson or the materials they are using is one of the easiest and most effective ways of developing, especially if you borrow the ideas and try them out in your own classes.

Individual reading
Another easy way to learn that can include internet materials and journals as well as actual books, which can be expensive and difficult to obtain in some parts of the world. We can read anywhere in any short piece of snatched free time.

Reading groups
While reading is done individually, what is learnt can be formalised in discussion in a reading group. Set a text to read and come together with colleagues a few weeks later to discuss its content. So much can be learnt through sharing of impressions and discussing issues the reading material raises.

Programmed action research
You may be lucky enough to have a head of department or principal who wants research results which shed light on what is going on in his or her institution, and is prepared to provide time for teachers to provide the evidence. This is one interpretation of programmed action research, though there are lots of others, and teachers cannot help but learn from the experience and the results.

Individual action research
Similar to the above, but teacher-directed and not ‘imposed’. Often very small scale, nevertheless so much can be learnt from studying your students or yourself in the classroom, and there is a huge range of aspects of teaching which you can put under an action research microscope.

Giving sessions
This can range from a small in-school meeting where teaching ideas are shared right through to a session at a large international conference. All conference speakers started small and all teachers have something to say. This is a particularly effective way to develop due to the planning and research which takes place before the session as well as the discussion and feedback which it provokes.

Similar to the above, writing ranges from short articles right through to books. Keeping a diary and reflecting on your teaching is a good way to start and there are plenty of models out there to learn from, while the preparation and research necessary teaches you as much as the writing and rewriting itself.

Doing a formal course
This is often the first thing people think of when they think about professional development. But it is often the most prohibitive due to time and expense, and often courses do not provide exactly what is needed. If you are lucky enough to be able to follow a course, however, make the most of the time you have laid aside for thinking and learning, because doing a course is a great way to develop.

Membership of professional bodies
This can provide opportunities and facilitation of many of the areas above, and although subscriptions can appear expensive, there is often so much offered by a professional body that it justifies the expense. Prepare to be active though, as so often you will get more out of it the more you put in yourself.

Other ways
The teachers I surveyed also talked about the following things they had done that they found helped their professional development:

  • engaging in new professional activities, doing things for the first time
  • peer observation
  • trying out different methods/approaches in class (sort of like action research)
  • reflective and exploratory practice, though not programmed or formally monitored
  • being trained up as a teacher trainer
  • completing an online course to be an e-tutor
  • participating in projects in a group with fellow professionals
  • forming a local group: to discuss issues and take turns to lead sessions.

As you see there are plenty of ways to keep up your continuous professional development in ELT. If a number of these activities are combined into a planned, interlinked programme, with monitoring and evaluation, even if only by the teacher him or herself, there can be real, satisfying results for teachers wishing to keep up and improve their professional development.



Hi Jenny,

Reading your article I realized that along those  long learning/ teaching years in private language schools, like the experienced teachers you interviewed,  I´ve also been creating a NICE cocktail of opportunities to keep up my CPD ! Although I must admit that I´m a balanced professional, always being mindful of maintainig a healthy work-life balance cause apart form teacher  I´m also a caring mother of 3 with a hubby, a dog and a house who  do absorb much of my time as well. And I also have my personal hobbies as a way to relax me such a yoga, trekking, going for long brisk walks, swimming etc.. For me, a non-native teacher, I feel that the challenge is even bigger cause  I also have to improve my language! That´s why I love taking part in online communities, I miss this interaction . Recently I took an online course for teachers of English, Teacher´s Link at PUC SP which was a great experience. It was my first experience with such a channel and I really liked it... we used to have enriching forum discussions about different topics. The expertise that I acquired in that course opened new opportunities for me among them the chance to be here! Now I´m having the opportunity to talk to professionals all over the world, including native tutors, like you.So this is the advantage of creating new learning challenges for yourself! Another experience that worked greatly for me was  a reflective and exploratory practice through video recording. I had my own lesson recorded and then I had the chance to watch it many times observing different aspects of it with a tutor. It can be shocking when you first see yourself, especially if you are too self-conscious, but then after the initial shock, you start seeing other things in the lesson, focusing more on your students and their learning! It seems to me that the crucial element in this teaching field is not to be mechanical. We should try to see each lesson as a unique moment and be always open to learn form that moment and be ready to learn from your students as well. I guess that if we follow this simple recipe we will always keep up our CDP. As Schon states we should reflect on our action, in other words not take things for granted!



Hi Monica

thanks for this response! It was great to read about what you do in both sides of your life, your professional and your you/family/home life. It just made me think how busy teachers are these days, especially when they have a partner, children (how old are yours, by the way?) and even a dog! It's true, there is so much else to do and get done in our lives, apart from busy working teaching days!

You have raised lots of issues that really interest me:

  • work life balance
  • on-line communities
  • expertise (vs experience)
  • new learning challenges
  • reflective and exploratory practice
  • self awareness (through being videoed)
  • oh and yoga and walking! 

I can see I am just not going to have time in this guest contributor month to explore everything I would like to!

Great to see that you have taken advantage of lots of CPD opportunities, as well as doing lots of courses, both language and training. Being videoed is particularly effective, as you say: you notice first all the odd tics and gestures which are part of us without us even realising (can be embarrassing!) but then more importantly you are able to really see and re-view again your students' reactions and how they are learning. Really interesting!

Thank you, well done, and keep it up!


HI Jenny,

Your article has given expression to the ideas that I have in my mind regarding CPD.  Here in India we (a group of a few enthusiastic teachers) are experimenting with lots of ideas for attracting teachers towards their own development.  Reading your article gave me an opportunity to compare our own situation (in India) and the situation of your respondents.  In India we barely have any well oiled and inbuilt mechanism for CPD.  It is handled by so many agencies like State, NGOs, teacher associations and so on.  Each of them have their own agenda and a perspective of CPD.  For majority of teachers CPD is a luxury which is beyond their grasp.  I have heard teachers saying that CPD is for “intelligent” teachers and not for “just teachers”.  It makes me say that we have a large group of teachers who believe that they are just teachers who have got only one job – just teach the prescribed textbook and not get into things like CPD.  Surprisingly (and shockingly as well) this is expected and in some cases demanded from authorities.   The tendency is to prepare everything (especially methods and materials) a bit teacher-proof.  So what we see here is a sort deskilling activity.  In this context we started a movement called ‘join English Teachers’ Clubs (ETCs)’ for professional development.  Slowly it is taking roots.  ETCs are a very small self-help groups of teachers who sit together at least once in a month and talk (more appropriately chat) for an hour or so on things that interest them.  This is going on for last 5 years and now teachers are willing to participate in events like conferences, seminars and workshops. It wouldn’t be altogether wrong if I say that teachers are now touching all those areas you mention. The crucial lessons that we learnt (at least we think so) are:

  • CPD is basically an issue of teacher motivation which is an ignored area in ELT,
  • teacher motivation is fundamentally an intrinsic issue,
  • needs to be addressed in informal mode, and for this
  • “talk is the fuel of teacher development” (Wright: 2000)

Thanking you.


Hi Krishna

thank you for your really encouraging comments. It is wonderful to see what a group of truly dedicated teachers can do to overcome their circumstances!

I agree with you entirely. Motivation is essential for CPD, and motivation comes from within. We cannot be developed, development is something we do to ourselves (as Adrian Underhill and many others have said). It is the teacher who will feel the need and will make whatever arrangements they can to ensure they have it.

The ETCs sound brilliant: a great way to haul yourselves out of that deskilling situation. And it all comes from talking.


Thanks again, Krishna, and I wish all of you in the ETCs all the best!


Hi Krishna,

Your comment made me reflect about the difference between training and development! Training is somenthing usually imposed from outside, it usually involves prescription, whereas development is something that comes from inside and it involves discovery and creation! I liked the idea of setting up an ETC for professional development where through collaboration, sharing  and a good chat you are finding your path of self-development! Nice to hear from you, And it seems that this is what we´ve been also doing here, isn´t it?

Best wishes,


Dear Monica

I can't agree with you that training always a prescription.  Maybe you have bad experience what I can't say about myself and my colleagues.

As a trainer I can say that any imposed change often causes a resistance. That is why while trainings I usually start from creating friendly and secure environment encouraging personal and professional development,  building a team of teachers/trainees involved in the process of learning at the training course, bringing creative atmosphere in the classroom...

What you were saying about ECT for professional development CAN be  true for trainings. The main aim of teacher trainings is to help teachers to develop professionally. Good trainer will never use the prescribed plan of actions for the workshop, s/he will develop a framework of actions for teachers starting from where they are instead of pulling or pushing to where s/he is. That is why, while preparing framework of actions for the coming training workshops I also develop professionally as a teacher and as a trainer.

I fully agree with you that being here and sharing our ideas and having a 'good chat' with teachers from different countries is an excellent way of CPD.

It was really nice to meet you and have a chat. Hope I was not imposing and prescribing, was I?

Best wishes

Iryna Z. 

Excellent article. It elaborates on several very useful points. From personal experience, I have used extensively self-reflection based on peer observation. I see that peer observation is mentioned in the article among the other suggested ways of professional development. It is very useful because it occurs in a non-formal, non-threatening situation where two colleagues feel comfortable about observing one another and providing feedback. One can also use peer observation to try out new lesson plans or activities to get a colleague's opinion before making it part and parcel of one's teaching. Rania

Hello Rania

thank you for your comments.

I agree with you that peer observation is very useful, and I like the fact that it is non-threatening. Reflection as a result helps us to improve what we are doing and extend our repertoire of teaching skills and activities.

I mentioned earlier in another post that it is good for the observed teacher to decide what they want their colleague to look out for and comment on afterwards. Do you have 'points to look out for' when you observe each other or do you look at everything and comment on the most useful areas? And is there any written record that you can look back on later?

all the best



Dear Jenny

I fully agree with your ideas on the necessity of CPD through the life, but your classification of CPD areas has puzzled me a little bit as there is no differentiation between teacher training/education and professional development.  In fact, while undergoing teacher training courses teachers develop in this or that way, though sometimes there are some or few teachers who resist change in case they are not happy with the innovations or they have no desire to change anything in their teaching as they are satisfied with their work.

Here a question appears: Do you agree with Wallace's distinction between training/ education  and professional development : 'training or education is something that can be presented by others; whereas development is something that can be done only by and for oneself' (1995: 3).

If yes, how do you think are there any other differences between teacher training, education and professional development?  Between teacher training courses and  developmental courses?

What do you think?

I will also be happy to hear from the teachers/trainers using this site.

Iryna Z. 

P.S.: For you to know: I am an ESP/EFL university teacher (15 years of teaching experience), a member of the National ESP Curriculum Project Team and a member of the National Trainer Development Scheme.  Within the Projects I underwent special training in ESP Curriculum Development  in Marjon (UK) and took PGrCert Course in ELT Trainer  Development (University of Exeter).  I was a lucky one to be trained by Rod Bolitho and Mike Scholey (Super trainers!).  So as you see, I combine my work as a EFL/ESP teacher with teacher/trainer training, syllabus and materials design, doing various research, participating in various projects, organisations, online communities etc.., i.e. use various forms of CPD.  


Dear Iryna

thank you for your comment. This is an area dear to my heart! What is the difference - and what are the similarities - between training and development! It's a really good question and I am sure you find teachers around you ask it often.

Certainly it is an area we attempted to deal with several times in the IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators Special Interest Group. There is also a Teacher Development SIG, and teachers would always be confused by which one to join and why they were  not combined. We held joint events to highlight the similarities and the differences!

One answer I do believe, Iryna, is in what you say:

[quote]Wallace's distinction between training/ education  and professional development : 'training or education is something that can be presented by others; whereas development is something that can be done only by and for oneself' (1995: 3). [/quote]

Teacher trainers/educators give training courses and in so doing they train teachers, who develop as a result of the training but also and perhaps more so as a result of what they themselves put into the process. Teacher training courses sometimes seem to have both aims: to 'train' teachers and to 'develop' them: but I would say the 'develop' side is really to assist the teachers to develop themselves.

You also raise the issue of teachers who do not develop as a result of training, as you say they do not feel or see the need to: they do not invest in their development .... and there is no change, unsurprisingly!

As for the CPD activities: they are all certainly applicable to development, as they are all practical things we can arrange as individuals to do as part of our chosen development path, and many of them can also be utilised by trainers/educators in their training courses.

Does this make sense to you?

Pleased to meet you, and thanks!

all the best




Add new comment

Log in or register to post comments