Having looked at how to set up a sustainable teacher development project, how can we ensure that what is delivered in face-to-face development sessions has long-term impact? The answer is not in the session content itself, but in the different ways it can be presented to participants. Remember: teacher development doesn’t stop when the trainer leaves the room. Participants need ways to incorporate continuous activity into their everyday work to ensure that they keep getting better at what they do as a community.
Design modes of delivery to suit the participants, the setting and the facilities at the host institution
During face-to-face development activity, trainers need to think about what kind of communication will benefit participants most in the time that they have allocated for CPD. Are the identified needs knowledge-based, or related to application? Would some flipped reading and review save time? Could a couple of hours of staged microteaching help participants to experience different ways of doing things? Are there any experts in the group who need to open up about their own work? How best can ongoing teacher support and development be enabled? An informed range of modes can save a lot of time and help teachers to take power over their own development rather than listening to a visiting expert dictating how to do things better. A few simple techniques to start the ball rolling can bring peer development into the daily routine of the staff room. Traditional teacher development ‘input’ is knowledge or technique-based, but a session looking at various ways that teachers can empower themselves can go a lot further. Set up a social media group for teachers to ask each other questions, design a rota for teachers to observe each other, or section off part of a noticeboard for teachers to post a question they have been asking themselves. These are cheap, resource-light ways of sustaining improvements in practice.
Include reflective content, encouraging teachers to consider what they do, what they don’t do and why
Teachers rarely have the time to step back and think about what they are, or are not, doing in their classrooms. For real, effective development to take place, this has to change. A dedicated CPD project can give educators time to reflect, share and rethink what they do in light of others’ ideas, but often lasts only as long as CD time and space is provided. Reflection should be part of the furniture in the staff room, and by using some simple resources and techniques, this can be enabled for any group of teachers. Having a confirmed support network and peer involvement is a tiny shift in what goes on anyway in most schools. Teachers need to find ways to stay excited about what they teach, keep sharing best practices and trying new things out. Being prepared to speak out about what works, what doesn’t and why is a simple step to becoming a more reflective practitioner.
Share takeaway skills which can be implemented in the teachers’ setting
Resourcing a language department effectively can be a challenge. So many materials and teaching aids are available, but which ones work? A good training project will provide teachers with the tools not only to select materials that work for them, but also to adapt and create their own resources for their students. By understanding some principles of materials design, sharing ideas and pooling materials, effective resource management can make things a lot more effective for teachers and learners alike.
Define a sustained development path which goes beyond the scope of the project
Working off the needs and goals identified at the beginning of a CPD project, teachers need to define clear pathways for themselves to continue their development in the future. These could be based on personal or institutional goals, formal qualifications or new responsibilities in the workplace. Whatever direction participant teachers want to take, it should lead to development in their delivery, role and responsibilities in their chosen context. This kind of individual motivation is essential to give teachers the confidence to make changes to what they do.
Follow-up guidance to sustain engagement and long-term development
As part of the future pathway for participants going beyond a training project, it is often beneficial for teachers to have a forum to talk about what they do, how they have changed their work and where they feel they are going. This is where development groups, tutorial groups and follow-up support are most needed. Teachers who keep participating in development activity that works for them need to talk about it, to pass on what they have learnt to others in the profession, wherever they are based.
Overall, letting teachers take control of their own development can be a long process. Truly sustainable development may not even have to involve an outside trainer at all, but starting the process towards independent research (on whatever scale), application and reflection often requires some external support initially. This 10-point plan is at the heart of Language Point teacher development projects, and facilitates autonomous, lasting development activity in participants so that they can help themselves and their colleagues do better things in their classrooms day by day.
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Tom Garside is author of TESOL: A Gateway Guide, available online.