What images come to your mind when you think about the term, ‘professional development?’ I always think of conferences, in-service teacher days, and extra college courses or webinars. While these are aspects of professional development, it doesn’t quite capture the whole picture.
Professional development is an extremely personal journey and it’s something that is, most often, done nearly daily as a teacher. It’s not as difficult or formal as you may initially consider it to be. More often than not it’s an extremely informal cycle of learning and growing.
Today I want to share more about my experiences learning as a teacher and share a few thoughts about what makes up professional development and growth. By the end of this article I hope you’ll be more inclined to continue learning and growing, so that you can provide a richer learning environment for your students, and so that you can become the best ESL teacher that you can be.
Recently, while searching for some new ESL-related books to use to continue learning, I came across Pursuing Professional Development: Self as Source by Kathleen M. Bailey, Andy Curtis, and David Nunan. The book, as apparent in the title, is focused on different methods of professional development for the individual teacher. Usually professional development is thought of as a school-enforced activity (more on that later), so I was curious about the author’s perspectives.
I grabbed the book a few months ago, but haven’t touched it since. This week, though, I decided to do a little light reading and learn more about the authors’ thoughts on the topic at hand. As I read, I began to realize that professional development isn’t as formal and time-consuming as many teachers may imagine it to be.
The way that I usually write articles for Everyday ESL is a process of professional development. I like to think about the ways that I’d like to improve as a teacher, what interests me and what I’d like to learn, and what I feel is missing from the internet when it comes to teaching adult ESL. In other words, I look for a need to fill or a reason to learn.
After choosing a topic, I may read through some resources that I own, reflect on my past experiences with the topic, and, as a last resort, do a quick Google search to find a few other perspectives. After my research, I compile. I compile my own thoughts and the information that I’ve gained from other people’s experiences, and put it all together into a compact and helpful (I hope) resource for you all.
All this to say, after reading through the first chapter of Pursuing Professional Development: Self as Source I realized that this is, in fact, professional development. If you’re teaching daily, you may not have the time or energy to research, reflect, and compile. However, that doesn’t mean you aren’t engaging in professional development. The quick Google search you may do in order to find a new activity to use or flipping through a grammar manual to brush up on your knowledge are forms of professional development!
When I was teaching alongside of other teachers, the conversations I engaged in with them were a form of professional development. We would swap activity ideas, share our frustrations, and learn from one another’s experiences and expertise.
All this to say, if you’re interested in professional development, but are overwhelmed at the potential time and money it may cost you, don’t sweat it. Below you’ll find the 5 factors that make up professional development, and you may soon realize that it’s not as difficult, overwhelming, and formal as you have thought.
The 5 Factors
Within Pursuing Professional Development: Self as Source, Andy Curtis outlines his thoughts on what professional development means to him. As I read through the different factors that make up Curtis’ definition, I realized that the same factors are true of adult ESL learners. We talk often of giving adult learners autonomy, building a safe environment, etc, but we seem to believe that our learning has to take place in very strict, controlled, and enforced situations, which is simply not true.
The first factor that Curtis outlines is choice. In the same way that adults learn best when it’s a choice or is something that they need, teachers grow best when they’re given autonomy over their improvement.
He talks a little bit about the importance of choosing to develop, as that’s something that cannot be controlled by others. However, I think that it’s equally important that a teacher chooses how to develop and in what way to develop.
While it’s not always possible to have that kind of autonomy, it’s something that we should strive for, in the same way that we try to give our adult learners as much choice in their learning as possible.
The next factor that Curtis outlines is trust. In the same way that adults learn best when they trust their leader and are in a safe, learning environment, teachers grow best when they trust their mentor and feel comfortable and safe enough to reveal their weaknesses.
Curtis gives the example of engaging in professional development, being asked to explain struggles and weaknesses you have, and then also finding out that they’re going to be laying off a bunch of teachers. How likely are you to reveal what you’re struggling with? Probably not very likely.
Learning and growing in a safe environment is an integral part of professional development. If you’re pursuing professional development on your own, you may still want to find an online community, a mentor, or a few teachers from your school with a similar mindset to discuss and grow with.
The next factor that Curtis turns his attention to is reciprocity. One of the first things I learned in my TESOL training was the benefit of learning a language myself. It means that I’m willing to learn, that I can understand my students’ struggles better, and it helps me to understand how to teach better.
Growing as a teacher works the same way, if I’m working with someone to grow as a teacher, but they never point out ways that they’ve been working on growth or how they’ve learned from me, I’ll be less willing to reveal my growth.
Find people that you can learn with and not just discuss your growth with. Part of growing as a teacher is being able to engage in a bigger teaching and learning conversation, which often involves sharing your own experiences as well as learning from others’.
The next factor that Curtis outlines is the result. I have stressed the importance of teaching your students for a specific result over and over. They won’t want to work on grammar for the sake of working on grammar. In the same way, teachers don’t want to work on their teaching for the sake of working on their teaching! It has to be linked to actual circumstances and needs.
This is the reason why an enforced engagement in professional development often doesn’t work. You can require your teachers to listen to a webinar, but you can’t force them to apply it, learn from it, or grow as a result of it.
The result of professional development should almost always be an improvement in quantity and quality of learning for both teachers and students. If professional development doesn’t result in an improved learning environment, what’s the point?
Development, Not Judgment
The final factor that Curtis talks about is the important distinction between evaluation and development. Evaluation is not development! Evaluation is school/institution-mandated, and it’s based in judgment (such as to evaluate whether to fire someone or not). However, development is based on teacher-choice, and it’s drive by growth.
If your school is requiring that your lessons be video-recorded and observed, that’s evaluation, not development. However, recording lessons and asking a mentor to observe can be methods for development, but the requirement the defining factor.
After all, you can’t require your students to learn, and a school can’t require their teachers to develop. They can provide tools, they can make suggestions, and they can evaluate progress and growth, but it can’t be forced.
Taking control of your own growth and development as a teacher is a great way to improve your classroom environment. You don’t have to wait for a school-mandated conference, webinar, or in-service day to learn more about teaching ESL. Simply find a helpful article online, ask a fellow teacher for some guidance, or pick up a book to do some quick research to solve a problem or learn more about the English language.
Don’t overthink it! The same principles that apply to reaching your adult learners can apply to your own professional development, after all, you are an adult learner!
I Want to Hear From You!
How do you participate in professional development in your day-to-day life?
What are your favorite ways to pursue professional development?