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Keep Teachers Interested in Academic Development
Academic professional development shouldn’t suck.
If you’re an academic manager wondering how to keep your teachers interested in professional development (PD), or a teacher in charge of your own PD, keep reading.
Yes, PD can feel like a chore.
Yes, PD is the first thing to get dropped when teaching hours go up.
And yes, PD can be as fun as pulling teeth once you’ve finished with all your paperwork.
The good news is that PD can be made far more interesting by following a few simple guidelines.
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The Golden Rule of Academic Professional Development
Following (or making your teachers follow) a standard development program from a book that isn’t personalised is a recipe for bored teachers.
The golden rule of professional development is this: Personalisation + Relevancy = Engagement.
Personalisation: you wouldn’t advise your teachers to give teacher-led classes consistently, would you? So why give them a manager-led PD programme?
Relevancy: The focus area has to balance what they need to improve and what they’re interested in.
Engagement: You also want teachers to engage consistently with the training rather than skip sessions.
If you use a PD training cycle that utilises this, your teacher results will be magnified, and you’ll have happier, more proficient teachers that re-sign their contracts for longer.
Basic Structure of a Teacher-Centred Professional Development Programme
A teacher-centred development programme follows a few basic steps.
The key is to walk the balance between having teachers focus on an area of teaching and areas that you believe need to improve.
Below is a list of steps for a PD ‘cycle’. Once it ends, it begins again with a new PD area to focus on (adding the ‘continuous’ to continuous professional development’). Cycles can be longer or shorter, depending on the area of focus and teacher development.
Observe the teacher
Jointly decide on the focus area.
The teacher focuses on that area.
Regular updates with you.
Gives a workshop to other teachers on what they’ve learned.
Let’s use a random teacher as an example, ‘John’.
1. Observe the Teacher
I get ready to observe John, looking at his notes from my previous observation. He’s a relatively new teacher, and previously he’d been having consistent trouble with classroom routines.
I watch his lesson and discover he’s developed strong, consistent routines to which the students respond well. His students also achieve his lesson aim. Nice. He’s got all the basics down now. However, I earmark two areas for him to work on; grammar explanations and teaching pronunciation.
2. Give feedback
John thinks his lesson went well and isn’t sure of anything he could have done differently. He’s aware that his students’ pronunciation isn’t great, and their sentences sound robotic, but he is unsure how to correct it without embarrassing them. He seems unaware that his grammar explanations suck.
3. Decide on Focus Area
John and I talk, and John decides he’d like to focus on pronunciation. He’s a musician and really interested in how rhythm can be applied to language. He also thinks that getting his learners to ‘hear’ the rhythm of English and how we compress or expand words in a sentence will help them speak more naturally. I suggest a few resources to John to get him started and give him a deadline.
4. Teacher Focuses
John knows he’s got six weeks to focus on his project before he has to give a workshop to his peers. He experiments with one large class and a 1-to-1 student he has that he feels would benefit.
5. Regular Updates
Once a week, I make sure I catch John for a brief chat. Over a coffee in the staff room, on the way to lunch. I ask about progress, get John to verbalise any issues he’s having with implementation, and provide guidance and suggestions for resources where needed (which I send in an email later).
6. Teacher Gives Workshop
Although it’s only 10 minutes long, John’s workshop is a great success. He lays out what he’s been focusing on and why, tells what he’s done, gets us to do one of the activities he made up, and explains his results. He’s pretty happy with how it’s all gone, and the other teachers express interest in trying out some of his ideas.
Teacher Centred Professional Development FAQ
What if the teacher needs to urgently fix something he isn’t interested in?
Then do that first. Newer teachers with glaring issues in TEFL basics need to fix those ASAP. Getting the basics nailed down first is in their best interest for these folks. Or, if your organisation works using a competency framework, then you can use that as a basis for selection.
Does the timescale for each project have to be six weeks?
No, different subjects have a different amount of work involved. Teachers don’t always have to work in the same cycle. It can be beneficial. Otherwise, you may have 20 teachers all doing a workshop the same week.
What if the teacher knows all the basics but isn’t interested in any other aspect of teaching?
Can you get them interested? No? Then it’s time that the teacher moves on… seriously, if you’re not interested in teaching, why stay?
How do the teacher and I jointly decide on the subject?
Choose three or four areas from your observation. Let the teacher pick one.
What if they’re not interested but have a great idea they want to research?
Use your best judgement.
Does the teacher have to do a workshop at the end?
No, but it ups the stakes and gives them more ‘good’ pressure to stay motivated. If the subject is basic (for example, ‘giving instructions’), it’ll bore the more experienced teachers if they have to sit through a workshop. My rule: only ask them to do a workshop if it’ll be valuable to most of your other teachers.
What tools do I need?
You could always ask teachers to use a professional development diary.
Plus, it would help if you ideally had a PD library. Find some suggestions here (or check out the links to my books at the end of this post!)
Encourage more experienced teachers to do ‘proper’ research, perhaps by observing peers, using a classroom observation instrument, etc.
Sneaky Bonuses for Teacher-Centred Professional Development
Sneaky Manager Bonus: the more workshops teachers do, the less you have to :-). Oh, and this whole scheme? It works for self-directed PD, too, so use it for yourself!
Sneaky Teacher Bonus: Advanced ELT qualifications (such as the DipTESOL and MA TESOL) have modules that require you to do research in teaching areas of personal interest. By getting into the habit of doing mini-research projects, you’ll be ahead of the curve should you take one.
That’s it! Good luck and good PD-ing.
See you again in two weeks.
Whenever you're ready, there are three ways I can help you:
1. Learn how to plan better, faster and stress-free with my book Lesson Planning for Language Teachers (90 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
2. Develop calm students, a relaxed mind and a classroom full of learning with my book Essential Classroom Management (16 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
3. Improve your teaching in five minutes daily with my Reflective Teaching Practice Journal (4 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).