360 degree Continuing Professional Development

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I’ve been teaching professionally for ten years now, and for eight of those years I’ve been part of the online teaching community.

Sandy Millin

I read multiple blogs and write my own, take part in Twitter chats relating to teaching and training (like #eltchat and #CELTAchat), and watch and present webinars. I love the fact that I can access new ideas whenever I want to, and online CPD is a key part of my daily routine.

My blog has become a way of sharing materials, an outlet when I feel frustrated and a place to curate useful resources. Blogs by other teachers and comments by my readers have offered me answers to my questions and broadened my perspective on teaching, far beyond the world of private language schools in which all of my teaching and training have taken place.

Twitter chats have been a great way to pursue ideas, bouncing off other people from a wide range of teaching contexts and thinking on my feet to keep up with the conversation. They often help me to clarify my thoughts on particular topics, and give me a range of ways to find out more.

Although I don’t watch a lot of webinars, the ones I do watch always give me food for thought. I often go back to webinars that I’ve watched before, and I find that ideas tend to stay with me for longer if I’ve heard somebody talking about them. Presenting a webinar forces me to consider my ideas carefully and work out how to present them concisely, as there are so many other things on the internet that people could turn to if I don’t keep them engaged.

However, I don’t believe that online professional development is for everyone. While it’s possible to get a lot out of the online community, it can be quite stressful trying to manage information overload, or even work out where to start with all of the many resources that are available. Spending a lot of time in front of a screen at work means that for some people, the last thing you want to do at home is look at screens again (because let’s face it, a lot of us do our CPD in our own time!)

Teachers managed to develop for many years before the advent of the internet, and I believe the internet is not essential for development now. What you really need in order to improve is the ability to reflect on your teaching in a balanced way, and this is something which we need to make sure teachers are trained to do as early as possible. Through reflection, you can notice what is successful and what still needs work. You can ask questions that help you to try out different things inside and outside the classroom, and you can reflect on the changes you make. Nowadays it is also easier than ever to observe your own lessons using audio or video, or you can ask guests to come in and observe for you. This kind of development is personal to you and your situation, and you can instantly see the impact of any changes you make. You can dive deep into a particular area of interest, or you can try out lots of different little tweaks. None of that requires the internet, though online resources can provide ideas for which areas to work on and support in developing those areas.

In conclusion, while it is not essential to be part of an online community to develop as a teacher, it is vital to reflect on what is happening in your classroom. By combining both of these tools, it is possible to achieve richer professional development, or 360˚ CPD if you will.