Preparing for Professional Development – ten ideas – one or two of them a bit sarcastic. Perhaps.

My life is that of a peripatetic teacher trainer and consultant. Fifty-plus flights a year, twelve or fifteen countries, four months in hotels.  I lead workshops in schools, colleges and universities as well as speaking at conferences. I meet a lot of teachers.

A year or so ago I had just finished a session in (unnamed country) and was collecting the feedback sheets. One of the questions on the form was:

“What do you think you personally contribute to professional development in your institution?”

One teacher’s answer was “Turn up”.

The funny thing about that comment was that it angered me and made me reflect. In equal measure. So here are my ten thoughts as to how to make the best of your next professional development (PD) session.

1 Find out where the venue is and what time it starts.  I know I know but … And if the time or venue doesn’t suit you then put that in your feedback.  Oh and make sure you know what the topic of the session is. I’m not being silly about this. Really I’m not.

2 Bring a pen and paper. Again I know I know, but very recent experience tells me….

3 Treat the topic of the PD in the same way that you ask your students to treat a piece of reading. Activate your schemata. What do I know about x? How do I approach it? Could I do it better? That sort of thing.

4 While thinking the topic through, try to extrapolate it to your classroom.  I tell teachers to try to see their PD in the context of one particular class or even one particular student. Envisage the ideas in practice with that one class. That level of connection brings PD to life and gives it immediacy and relevance.

5 Try to prepare some questions in advance. I’m not suggesting you pre-empt what the trainer is going to say, but as I mention above, PD is more effective if you are engaged with the topic before you enter the training room.

6 Teachers need to accept that PD by an external trainer will sometimes be a little bit generic. We globetrotting teacher trainers do our best to understand the many local contexts we work in and avoid being too ‘top down’, but do bear with us if we may seem a little too global. That said, please see point 8 after you’ve read point 7.

7 In the session, take the opportunity to engage with and indeed challenge the trainer. We trainers are not ‘right’ or indeed ‘wrong’. Nobody is. That’s the whole point. A good PD session is a debate – a conversation with ideas and concepts (if that doesn’t sound too Californian) – so join in and see where it takes you. As a trainer I am always thrilled to engage with a teacher but please see my next point.

8 PD is about change, sometimes small changes and sometimes big ones. Usually evolution not revolution. And not everybody likes change.  If one thing causes me distress as a teacher trainer it’s the plaintive cry from teachers that

“our students are different, this won’t work with them”.

No they’re not.

Yes it will.

L1 interference happens in all contexts, just different interferences. Most teenage classes have some students who struggle with their self-confidence to produce spoken language. Reverting to L1 happens all over the world. Writing always needs to be taught. Adults announcing they “don’t need any grammar, I just want to talk” is pretty much a global universal. And almost nobody gets phrasal verbs.

Of course all students are different but not to the extent that activities that work in Riyadh won’t work in Rio or Rostov on Don, albeit with a little tinkering.  “Adoption and adaption” should be the mantra.

9 Personally speaking I am always very happy when teachers contact me after the event to discuss and develop upon the themes. It helps me to tailor future events – feedback from the frontline is very valuable. So do keep in touch with your PD trainers.

10 PD is not (at least I hope it’s not) a wall of theory. If it works, you should be able pick up and try out a version of it in your classroom fairly imminently.  If you don’t feel inclined to at least give it a try, then as a teacher trainer I may have failed.

Let’s hope not.


5 thoughts on “Preparing for Professional Development – ten ideas – one or two of them a bit sarcastic. Perhaps.

  1. Hi Christopher,
    I thought I’d write a comment just to tell you why I like your posts (hoping that other bloggers might see this and take the hint…) a) Your style is very direct and accessible b) The posts are short and clearly signposted c) (more importantly) You write when you feel the need to say something and the reader can sense that. What I mean here is that in my (limited) experience, about 87% of the blog posts we see advertised on FB are churned out in order to maintain a regular online presence. This means that (some) people simply go through books / articles etc. and rehash ideas we all know and (not necessarily) love or, worse still, they write posts which lack any content whatsoever.
    This article on the other hand is clearly based on your experience. I particularly liked point 8 (as well as 1 and 2… 🙂 ) And while we are talking about PD, here are my two cents: I believe that one of the reasons we get so little out of PD sessions (or indeed TESOL / IATEFL Conventions etc.) is that we don’t revise. We attend a talk, we make notes and we very rarely look at them. Workshops are better because you actually do something actively and sometimes we do discuss a few things with other colleagues, but still… What we need IMO is more systematic retrieval practice. I cannot take credit for this idea; I’ve been reading the book ‘Make it Stick’ (Brown, Roediger and McDaniel) and I have to say I am very, very impressed (this idea can be found on pp 59-60).
    Keep up the good work!


    • Thanks Nick for the kind words. Yes I have a real issue with the ‘it’s Friday therefore I need to blog’ mentality. It’s possible that I have very few ideas but I think it’s only worth writing if you have something to say. I agree about revision – PD is a continuum and the input session is only part of that continuum.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Christopher,
    I like very much your article, and see how you felt when reading that teacher’s feedback. Anyway, as a teacher trainer too, I do expect this kind of feedback and more. This helps us refelct on our practices, on the participants we are sharing our experiences in the field. In fact, this kind of feedback is an evidence that some teachers are stressed and need help and support.
    What do you think, Christopher?


    • I agree that we must be there to support as needed, but PD is a deal and teachers do need to keep their side of the deal by preparing for the day(s). But yes that feedback may reveal a degree of cynicism and negativity.


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