Basics to CPD: Reflection

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Continued Professional Development takes many forms for many people.

Continued Professional Development takes many forms for many people. For some it is simply their on-going development lesson by lesson. For others, it is rather the certificates collected at the end of further development courses.

Having spent a few years in an in-service training role helping teachers to develop further, it seems teachers are presented with two paths of further development.

The first path leads the teacher towards testing and experimenting with ideas and activities in the classroom. Over time, the teacher realises what does and doesn’t work. They develop a set of tools to implement in the classroom: they know what approach to take with each topic; they know what ‘the best way’ is to develop receptive and productive skills.
This development process might take anywhere between a year and two after completing initial training.

If a teacher stays in ELT for around 10 years, this path ultimately leads to the teacher repeating the same years of development five times over. They reach a glass-ceiling where they ‘know’ what works and what doesn’t work: they stop challenging their ideas about learning and teaching and, effectively, they stop developing.

The second path also requires testing and experiment with ideas and activities in the classroom. It also demands that the teacher continuously reflect on their performance in class. However, unlike the path above, after two years the teacher doesn’t complete the full cycle and go into their third year armoured with everything they need for the next eight years. Instead, they continue to re-evaluate their ideas on teaching and learning. The teacher continues experimenting with new ideas, they read up on methodology and they continue to flourish.

In the end, the teacher who has gone down the second path won’t have had two years of teaching experience five times over, but rather ten individualised years which have built up on each other one by one.

So how exactly does a teacher avoid route one and ensure they take route two?

It seems the most fundamental device to ensuring this is reflection. A teacher must go into a lesson with specific aims and expectations and then leave the lesson ready to reflect on:

- how well those aims were met
- what went well in the lesson
- what didn’t go well and could be improved

It is easy to say to oneself that something went well or not; however, it is more demanding to find the evidence of this - this is where effective reflection comes into play.

Let’s imagine you sit down at the end of the day to reflect on one of your lessons: you come to the conclusion that the aims were met but the learners did not enjoy the delivery. How do you know this? Why do you think that? Where is the evidence?

Very often, teachers cannot produce any hard evidence of the assertions about lessons. This is where classroom-based development comes in.

There are a number of ways to walk away from a lesson with hard evidence of its success or failure. One simple method is to ask the learners at the end of a task or a lesson to rate the activities involved. With my Young Learners I often get them to use their thumps (up for good; down for bad) or draw a smiling or frowning face on their mini-whiteboards.

Alternatively, hard evidence could be gained from in-class recordings. There have been a number of times I have handed my smartphone to my learners so that they could video record me and the class during an activity. Watching this back can be very revealing not only about your teaching but also about how the learners feel in the lesson.

There are many more ideas, each of which come with their own pros and cons. Willy Cardoso deals with most of these in his British Council webinar, which I highly recommend:

All in all, Continued Professional Development can involve many things. However, to ensure your development is going in the right direction, you need to make sure you are taking the right steps towards effective and evaluative reflection.