We all know good quality teaching leads to better learning outcomes. It’s therefore in the interests of everyone involved in education, whether this be government authorities, schools, parents, or the students, that teachers are well prepared and practice professional development throughout their teaching careers. Effective professional development also contributes to better job satisfaction and is an important factor in teacher wellbeing. Despite this, English language teachers (EFL and ESL) are often left to navigate the professional development journey themselves and find the time to carry it out.
Considering both the importance of teacher professional development and the time constraints most teachers face, it needs to be as effective and time efficient as possible. Achieving this is no easy task because professional development is an ongoing and complex activity. But we’re here to help, and have pulled together the following foundations of effective professional development.
Every teacher will follow a unique professional development (PD) path because of differences in context, needs, interests, and opportunities. Teachers will need to reflect on their interests, what is relevant to current ministry/school requirements and their students’ needs. Selecting topics is only one part of this process. There is also the question of what format or combinations of formats the professional development will take.
Teachers want PD to fit their individual needs, so offering one “model” of professional learning doesn’t work. The scope of professional learning can be limitless. It can be a podcast a teacher listens to on the way to work, or a blog read during a lunch break. It can be the professional learning network you follow on Twitter or other social media channels, or it could be a talk at a conference or online event. Professional development should focus on active learning and regular self-reflection on pedagogical practices, professional needs and student needs.
The points below illustrate some of the available options:
- Bite-sized vs. in-depth content
- Text vs. multimedia
- Face-to-face vs. online
- Live vs. on demand
- At the level of one’s own institution vs. international events
Our research shows that 85% of teachers say that their own personal interest in a topic was the most important factor in choosing professional development. You can access professional development on a wide range of topics and in a variety of formats on our PD homepage, allowing you to find the most relevant and practical resources for you.
Practical and classroom-based
Effective professional development is always linked to the workplace. For teachers, this means it should be both practical and classroom-based. Teachers are sometimes reluctant to try new ideas because they are unsure how to implement them and because of the frustration they report when things don’t work as planned. The route to being the best possible teacher is through incremental steps.
Once a teacher has decided what changes they would like to make, they should try out small practical changes, and reflect on what happens to identify what does and does not work well. Any time something is less than successful, this should be seen as a learning opportunity rather than a failure. The best learning comes from reflecting on why things worked differently from what was expected.
Our research shows that 77% of teachers want new ideas, tips and inspiration that they can link to their classroom practice. OUP works with leading researchers and practitioners to empower the global ELT community to teach and learn in the most successful way. Our expert guidance advises on the key issues shaping language education today and offers a wealth of insights to power your teaching.
Discussion and collaboration
Teachers should be constantly reflecting on what is happening in their classes and looking for ways to improve. However, this is often a richer and more rewarding experience when teachers discuss and collaborate with other colleagues and share new ideas and insights. While this can potentially be time-consuming, it is typically time well spent. This can be done at the level of the teacher’s own institution and can include observing others and working on team teaching projects. Teachers should also be encouraged to engage in discussions with teachers outside their institutions.
Teachers can also benefit from connecting with teachers outside their institutions. Online events and communities are often the most effective avenues, allowing teachers to connect with a global community of educators. Thousands of English language teachers across the globe learn and share new ideas and engage in discussion on our social media channels and at our live events. Why not come and join the next English Language Teaching Online Conference (ELTOC) – find out more and register.
As has been mentioned in the three previous sections, reflection is an integral part of professional development. Teachers need to reflect on their needs and interests when choosing a pathway. They need to reflect on how ideas can be put into their classes. Then once having tried things in the classroom, think about how successful or not their actions have been, while at the same time seeing all results as learning opportunities. Teachers should also not struggle on their own but use discussion and collaboration as opportunities to take their professional development in new directions.
So, there you have it. Four considerations that are the foundations of a self-directed approach to effective professional development: teacher choice, practical and classroom-based formats, discussion and collaboration, and taking the time to reflect on your needs and interests.
We hope this has given you plenty of inspiration and some resources to help build your own PD journey. If you would like to delve deeper, then be sure to join Ben Knight & Naomi Moir at the next chapter of ELTOC for the session “Self-directed Professional Development”.
You’ll pick up lots of tips to help you take control of your Professional Development journey with an empowering, sustainable approach to your learning that will help you make the most of your development throughout your career.