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Professional Development Now
Professional development now
Professional development enables us to hone our skills and develop our knowledge. It encourages us to think critically about our practice and to learn about other ways to teach, as well as giving us a moment of pause to assess what we do, why and how.
Understandably, it may have taken a backseat this year. Most of us have been trying to figure things out as we go and to rapidly adapt to new learning environments and technologies. I hear the expression ‘don’t let a good crisis go to waste’ quite a lot and although I’m not sure I like the expression, it does suggest something positive about our current situation and the opportunities to learn new skills which feed directly into our new ways of working. We can see that most of us have developed by using our intuition, by learning new skills and through collaboration; often with little formal training.
I was fortunate that my employer, the British Council, and my managers enabled me to take some time to finish the DELTA in September. I want to share with you some takeaways from this, and suggest some ideas for how we can continue to evolve as our profession evolves. I will consider professional development in the broad sense of being any activity that helps us to develop as teachers.
Courses and qualifications
There are several courses and qualifications that can offer teachers the possibility to increase their knowledge and develop their skills. I really enjoyed the DELTA not just because of the new techniques and skills I acquired, but also because it was a great opportunity to meet teachers who had different experiences. Through informal conversations and supporting each other throughout the course we not only learnt about coalescent assimilation, but also made friends and shared more general and personal information such as about the countries we’d worked in and the challenges we’d faced as teachers.
Some courses and qualifications you might consider are:
These all provide reputable reference points in a teacher’s professional development and allow for lots of practical engagement. Some teachers also decide to take a Master’s in TEFL or Linguistics, or in another related subject. These will be more theoretical and demanding than those above but a master’s can now be completed completely online and a Master’s degree is often held in high esteem by employers.
Communities of teachers
It may be corny to say but the biggest and greatest resource we have is each other. There are hundreds of thousands of English-language teachers across the world and each of us has a unique experience while at the same time we face many of the same challenges. If we can tap into this community we can really benefit from sharing ideas, offering mutual support and making connections.
Social media is the obvious choice for engaging with communities of teachers. There are plenty of groups for teachers online that can be used to learn more about developments in teaching and about personal experiences in specific countries. I feel that one of the biggest advantages of participating in shared communities is the continual dialogue we create about our practice. It’s informal and instant and moves with the times in a way that other sources of information cannot.
By reading journals we also engage in a kind of dialogue with our peers, and we are able to pick and choose articles that are most relevant to our practice. Blogs also offer a way to do this and don’t require a subscription. You can search for these online or below are a few suggestions:
I think it’s also worth mentioning Russell Stannard’s TTV site, which isn't a blog but offers a lot of resources and with his focus on the use of technology it is particularly relevant.
Academic articles are usually a key component of professional development courses. They offer verified insights into our practice and potentially offer solutions to problems that we may face in the classroom. Their strength is that they are thorough and detailed pieces of work, usually based on research that has been carried out by the author.
Of course, in times in which our practice and our challenges are changing so quickly, we may feel that academic research, which isn't usually able to respond instantly, does not have a central role to play in our current professional development. I'd suggest that reading academic articles can be a good habit to get into.
You can find articles based on your interests and find authors who write in a style you like. Interesting articles can come from varied fields, such as education, psychology, neuroscience or even artificial intelligence! A search of your area of interest on Google Scholar may return some useful pieces.
Reflection was a central element in the DELTA. Reflection is about taking a moment to consider what worked and what didn’t and then making adjustments as necessary.
The educational theorist David Kolb said that reflection is one of the four stages of learning. Even if we don't formally reflect and write down our thoughts we probably follow some version of this learning cycle in our daily lives and teaching development:
Do something -> Reflect on it -> Think how to improve it -> Try the new idea out -> Repeat!
Reflection can take many forms, for example a conversation with a colleague after a Zoom lesson, or a daily journal, which encourages the teacher to think about their practice and consider new ways to do things. To integrate reflection into daily life teachers might record a lesson, ask a colleague to observe them, or give students a survey and use the responses to inform changes in practice.
This past year has turned our world upside-down and teaching is a part of that. We find ourselves teaching online, or to reduced class numbers, or we’re possibly out of work due to closures. I think there are three things that are important here and that speak to the topic of professional development:
- Community. We are fortunate to be part of an inclusive and global community of language teachers. This is an incredible resource that can be used for seeking advice, learning how other teachers do things, or for suggesting new ways of working.
- Flexibility. Changing what we do in response to changes in the environment is exactly where we find ourselves and no doubt it’s what many of us have been doing for the past year. This is the reflection and the learning parts of Kolb’s learning cycle. It’s the activity we engage in when we are faced with new challenges and when we want to improve what we do, and it’s integral to our development as individuals and as a group.
- Courses and qualifications. Some institutions such as NILE were very fast to offer online courses in Online Teaching, to help teachers that had to quickly learn how to teach online. It might be that while there is a pause on a lot of the usual recruitment and travel, now could be a good time to look at courses and qualifications that broaden our abilities and give us a boost for our next job application.
The technology industry has been so successful partly because of its focus on continual improvement. As we start to adopt some of their language and utilise their products for teaching perhaps we also take and adapt one of their slogans and use it as an impetus for our development: move fast and create things.
Richard Fielden-Watkinson is an Academic Programme Manager with the British Council.