Keep Teachers Interested in Academic Professional Development

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Well, for starters, academic professional development shouldn’t suck. So 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.

The Golden Rule of Academic Professional Development

Just following (or making your teachers follow) a standard development program out of 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 consistently give teacher-led classes, would you? So why give them a manager-led PD programme?

Relevancy: The focus area has to be a balance between what they need to improve, and what they’re interested in.

Engagement: You also want teachers to actually engage with the training, rather than just going through the motions. This also keeps PD consistent, rather than haphazard.

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 in, and area that you believe they need to improve.

Below is a list of steps for a PD ‘cycle’. Once it ends, it begins again with a new area of PD 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.

  1. Observe teacher

  2. Give feedback

  3. Jointly decide on focus area. Choose focus area

  4. Teacher focuses on area. Teacher focuses.

  5. Regular updates with you. Regular updates.

  6. Gives workshop to other teachers on focus area. Teacher gives workshop.

Worked Example:

Let’s use a random teacher as an example, ‘John’.

1. Observe 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 trouble with consistent classroom routines.

I watch his lesson and find out he’s developed strong, consistent routines that the students respond well to. His students also achieve his aim for them for the lesson. 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 else he could have done differently. He’s aware that his students’ pronunciation is a bit off, and their sentences are robotic, but is unsure how to correct it without embarrassing the students in question. 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 actually a musician, and is really interested in how rhythm can be applied to language. He also thinks that if he can get his learners to ‘hear’ the rhythm of English, and how we compress or expand words in a sentence, it’ll help his learners 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 full 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, most often informally. 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 (of a max. 15 mins), 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 fix something urgently that he isn’t interested in?

Then do that first. Newer teachers who have glaring issues in TEFL basics need to fix those ASAP. For these folks, it’s in their best interest to get the basics nailed down first. 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 6 weeks?

No, different subjects have different amount of work involved. Teachers don’t always have to work in the same cycle. In fact, it can be beneficial, otherwise you may have 20 teachers all doing a workshop in 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 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, it just ups the stakes and gives them more ‘good’ pressure to stay motivated. If the subject is basic (for example, ‘giving instructions’), then it’ll bore the more experienced teachers to tears if they have to sit through a workshop. My rule: only ask them to do a workshop if it’ll be valuable to the majority of your other teachers.

What tools do I need?

You could always ask teachers to use a professional development diary

Plus you ideally need a PD library, subscription to magazines. Find some suggestions here.

For more experienced teachers, encourage them 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 that 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.

P.S. Thanks to Rob for suggesting the idea for this post.