Self-directed professional development (PD) is when teachers make decisions and take action to direct their own professional learning, exploration, and growth. There are as many ways that this can happen as there are teachers, and there can never be a one-size-fits-all approach to self-directed PD.
To help you think about the different ways you can take control of your development, Oxford’s paper on self-directed PD proposes a seven-step framework to guide teachers’ learning. Every individual and situation is different, so the framework does not prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it works as a tool to aide reflection and provide inspiration for those wishing to engage in self-directed PD. In this blog post, I will guide you briefly through the seven steps of the framework to help you take control of your development.
The process may begin with you thinking about your own circumstances and what resources or obstacles you face in starting your own PD journey. Sometimes, we have multiple demands and commitments on our time, which leaves us little scope for engaging in PD on a larger scale. Understanding what we can realistically manage given our own time and resources is an important base from which to make further decisions about what to do, when, and how.
The second step is to consider what you want to gain from your PD. Why do you want to engage in it and what do you hope to get out of it? For example, you might have had an experience with your learners which prompts you to explore a certain teaching method, or maybe you came across a blog which has inspired you to learn more about a specific topic, or perhaps simply you feel you want to take on a new professional challenge. There are many reasons for engaging in PD, and each one opens up a whole range of different possible pathways of action.
Once you know how much capacity you have, what resources you can draw on for support, and what you are interested in, you can then start to explore options for working more on your chosen topic or project. PD exists in many different forms, and it is worth broadening our notions of what we recognize as PD. For example, it can involve team teaching with a colleague, reading a book, following a blog, joining an online webinar, going to a one-day workshop, researching your own learners, becoming a committee member of a teaching association, keeping a reflective journal, or studying for an additional qualification. It can be something small or big; a one-off event or longer-term commitment ; a private undertaking or a team activity – PD comes in all shapes and sizes depending on your capacity, interests, preferences, opportunities, and whatever goal you have for your PD.
Once you have made your choice, it is off to enjoy it! You might work on your PD alone, or you might find a colleague to accompany you, or you may even get to know someone new in the process of taking part in a PD event. While engaging in your PD, you may make adjustments focusing more on one aspect than another depending how well you feel the approach is suiting your needs. You may even choose to change PD activity completely if you feel it does not meet your expectations. The point of self-directed PD is that you make the decisions as you are the expert in your context, and nobody knows better than you what is useful, relevant, helpful, and interesting for your professional life.
After the PD experience, it is good to reflect on what insights it has offered you for your setting – this could be in terms of practical ideas for your classroom practice or inspiration of how to manage your professional roles and responsibilities differently. Thinking over the PD experience and its relevance for you and your context is a key step to ensure it has impact. In particular, many find it beneficial to talk about ideas and suggestions with others as an outsider perspective can offer a new lens on the familiar and help us see things in different ways.
Step 6 & 7:
Finally, depending on the kind of PD insights gained, you may want to try out new ideas in your own context to see how things work for you in practice. When you then take stock of these experiences alone or through dialogue with others, you will see whether you need to make further adjustments or whether it perhaps even inspires you to follow-up with another new PD activity starting the cycle all over again.
As teachers, there will always be a new topic, perspective, tool, or resource to explore. I find it liberating to acknowledge that it is impossible to know it all as an educator, and it is an illusion to aim for perfection. Every single one of us has gaps in our knowledge and areas in which we have less experience. There are always other people and different perspectives to learn from including our learners. For me, it is a joy to think that my potential for lifelong learning will never end.
We hope this framework may help and support you on your own self-directed PD journey. If you want to find out more or get in-depth advice to help you empower your learning and development, download our latest position paper on Self-Directed Professional Development!
Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience. She is the author, co-author, and co-editor of several books in this area including, Exploring Psychology for Language Teachers (2015, with Marion Williams and Stephen Ryan), Teacher Wellbeing (2020, with Tammy Gregersen), and Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (2020, with Zoltán Dörnyei). She has published over 150 book chapters and journal articles and has served as Principal Investigator on several funded research projects. In 2018, she was awarded the Robert C. Gardner Award for excellence in second language research by the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP). Sarah is the author of this paper.