“It has been said that teachers who have been teaching for 20 years may be divided into two categories: those with 20 years’ experience, and those with one year’s experience repeated 20 times.” - Penny Ur
Professor Penny Ur’s quote remains one of my favourite quotes about teaching to this day, and mainly because it accurately describes the power of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) and how the desire to improve ourselves and get better at what we do can make all the difference.
As with everything, there are two sides to every coin. I have met teachers who excitedly tell me, “The best thing about this profession is that the learning never stops. There’s always something new to explore, a new area I know nothing about, a new career path to head down. It’s never ever boring!”
Then again, I have met teachers who have expressed their frustration about CPD, saying things like, “I’ve been teaching for nearly 20 years and honestly, there’s nothing new left to learn,” or “I keep being expected to learn new things. When does it ever end?” Resistance to CPD can also take other forms like, “I never have any time,” or “I don’t know where to start”, or even, “No one in my staffroom cares about CPD and so it’s hard to get enthusiastic about it.”
If you are feeling stagnant and perhaps lost when it comes to professional development, consider these five simple ways to kickstart your enthusiasm for CPD.
1. Ask to observe a colleague’s class.
Watching someone else teach can be extremely informative and inspiring. As no two teachers are identical, it is without doubt that the teacher you observe will do things differently from the way you do. Try to suppress the negative judgments and look for ways you can learn from the experience.
If you are fortunate enough to be working in a school/institution where certain colleagues have a reputation of being good teachers or of being particularly innovative, request to sit at the back of their class as an observer. Make it clear to the teacher that you are there to learn from them and to revitalize your own teaching, and that you are not there to give them feedback about their teaching.
If your classes run at the same time, it can make it difficult to make time for observations. Is there time when you are not teaching when you can do this? Speak to your director of studies and emphasize that this will be good for your professional development. An alternative is to team-teach a class or combine classes with another teacher for a one-off lesson. This will allow you to work alongside them while observing what they do.
2. Offer to run a teacher development session about something you are not an expert in.
This might seem counter-intuitive at first: train other teachers in something I am not good at? Far from making you a fraud, this will give you the impetus to research, experiment and learn more about the chosen topic.
Consider fields that you have always been curious about, methologies you have longed to try out, language areas that you have always felt a bit weak in. Give yourself some time before delivering the session to learn more about this less familiar subject matter. If possible, design a simple action research project and try things out with your class. You can use the teacher development session to report your findings.
3. Read one blogpost or an article about teaching every week.
Just one blogpost or article a week could make a huge difference to your bank of teaching knowledge and your teaching toolbox. It can also prompt you to reflect on your own beliefs and attitudes towards teaching and lead you to examine what you do and how you do it, forcing you to consider whether your way is the most effective and/or motivating way forward.
There are many blogs about teaching easily available online, starting with this one. Teaching journals and magazines like English Teaching professional and Modern English Teacher are also filled with articles by fellow practitioners that contain practical suggestions and inspiring ideas. For more ELT blogs to follow, look here and here.
4. Try something new with your students at least once a month.
Perhaps you stumbled upon a new online tool that allows your students to make their own comic strip. Perhaps you heard about a new activity type e.g. using podcasts to promote extensive reading. Perhaps you have been meaning to experiment with a new method or approach to teaching that you’ve read about. Perhaps you’re simply tired of doing the same old activities, using the same old resources, and following the same chapters of the prescribed coursebook and you are ready for a change.
Set yourself the simple goal of trying something new each month. Allow yourself a few attempts at this new approach/tool before making any decisive evaluations. Let your students know that you are trying something new and get feedback from them about it. Even if the new thing doesn’t work out, at least you will feel invigorated for having done something different this month.
5. Ask for feedback about your teaching.
Some schools have a prescribed feedback form that has to be given out and filled in at the end of every course. Some conduct face-to-face mid-course feedback with students to find out how they are doing. However, most of these feedback formats are for the benefit of the school/institution and not for your professional development. And more often than not, the majority of our students seem fairly satisfied with our teaching, and we walk away smiling about the five out of five stars that we got on our forms.
While it can be reassuring to get positive feedback, we should not shy away from feedback that can help us develop. Our students might like us too much to offer up constructive feedback so it could be useful to ask questions like, “What do you think could have been better about the course?”, or “Please help me out. I would really like to become a better teacher. What do you think I can do to get better?” This would show students that their feedback would not damage you but would instead help you develop professionally.
CPD does not have to be tedious or boring and while there are a multitude of ways to continue your professional development, these five simple ways can serve to move you out of a state of inertia and into a state of curiosity and excitement. Happy developing!