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How professional development is structured where I work
Development at our school is done in a variety of ways, all of which were inherited from my predecessors.
Collaborative level planning meetings
This is a system which I have never seen in any other school. Weekly one-hour slots are timetabled for all of the teachers who work on a particular level to plan together, with a member of senior staff present to prompt and provide assistance. Two lessons are planned each week, and we aim to be one week ahead at all times.
For example, every Wednesday all of the teachers who have a 5K (low-intermediate teen) class meet at 12pm to plan the two lessons for the following week.
- We can ensure that all teachers are comfortable with any new language they are going to teach, whether grammar or vocabulary.
- We share ideas, which acts as a kind of weekly activity swapshop every week throughout the year. Teachers build up a bank of activities which they can apply to other groups too.
- Senior staff can provide more personalized development, as none of the groups have more than five teachers. For example, there can be a focus on boardwork if this is a problem for some of the teachers.
- It helps us to check that all of the teachers are planning classes to a similar standard and pace across the school.
- It takes some of the pressure off teachers, especially those in the first year, by supporting them in the planning process and sharing the load.
- Planning together reinforces what teachers have learnt during their initial training.
- It can create dependency for some teachers, especially if they don’t feel very confident.
- Planning meetings may take up quite a bit of time each work, up to four hours for some teachers, and up to five for the senior staff.
- Knowing which lesson number you are up to becomes very important, especially if a lesson is missed because of illness or (public) holidays.
- Teachers need to keep a few different lessons in their heads at once (this week’s, next week’s, and sometimes further in the future if they’re behind).
- It only really works if teachers’ timetables are mostly blocked and fairly stable (as ours are) so meetings can take place regularly.
Although there are a few disadvantages to these level meetings, most teachers at the school agree that they are very useful. About two thirds of the way through the year we start to phase them out, only maintaining them if we feel particular teachers need them or if there are particularly difficult pieces of language/groups to teach. I certainly wish I’d had something similar in my first couple of years!
More traditional methods
Most teachers attend between two and four level meetings a week, depending on the exact groups which they teach. We also provide development in the following ways:
- Drop-in observations for all classes at the beginning of the year, designed to check the students are in the correct groups and that there are no glaring problems with any of the teachers.
- Three formal observations throughout the year.
- A professional development record which is completed after each formal observation and at any other time the teacher chooses;
- Possible extra observations at the teachers’ or senior staff’s request;
- Weekly 60-minute workshops for all teachers, mostly run by senior staff, but with the chance for teachers to present them if they choose;
- Annual teacher training days at our school and our sister school;
- Constant discussion in the staffroom and an open-door policy with senior staff so teachers can request support whenever they need it.
All in all, I think you’ll agree that we provide a pretty good deal already. However, being the person that I am, I’m looking for ways to make it even better. For the next academic year I’d like to differentiate it a little more. I have a possible plan, and am still working on the exact mechanics of it. I’m hoping to have different streams for teachers depending on their experience:
- first-year teachers: weekly workshops, like the ones we already have;
- second-year teachers: a weekly group meeting with me, with teachers being guided in working on whichever areas of their teacher they would like to focus on, for example through me showing them where to find resources, or how to do action research projects;
- third-year teachers: completing a pre-Delta certificate and working towards the first module of their Delta qualification.
The second-year option is the one which still requires the most fleshing out. The first- and second-year streams will not be exclusive, in that any teachers who want to join in with them from any year will be able to do so. I’m also wondering about ways to follow up on their research, for example, presenting workshops for other staff, or writing on a blog. None of it is set in stone, but I don’t think that matters yet as I still have five months to work it out. Part of the joy of this school is the fact that we are allowed to experiment and that all staff collaborate as equal partners in their development. I’m really looking forward to playing!