Empowering teachers to define their own development pathways
Teacher development in any field can only work if teachers themselves take ownership over how they manage their own development plans. You can attend as many CPD days and workshops as you like, but unless you define your own actions, your development as a teacher is unlikely to be sustained over time. By selecting points for improvement which relate directly to your workplace, the types of teaching that you perform, and the students you teach, you can become empowered to be a stronger teacher in your daily job. Self-directed professional development entails several steps which form the beginnings of a longer, self-directed pathway to improvement:
First, it is important to take time to reflect on your current ways of doing things. This will expose some of the strengths and weaknesses which can inform your first steps. Reflective needs analysis of this sort can come from a simple ten-minute exercise where you identify some questions, or ‘puzzles’ which have come to you during your daily teaching. Simple questions such as ‘How can I get my students to interact more?’, or ‘was that the best way to design that worksheet?’ can be seeds for effective and lasting improvements, if acknowledged and attended to. Make a list of these questions as they come to you, write them down at the end of a lesson, or spend a lunch break going over the classes you have taught that week, and you will have the beginnings of a development plan.
After needs analysis, where you have identified some pertinent questions about your teaching, comes goal-setting. Having clearly defined goals is essential for any managed improvements to be made in any part of life, and teaching is no exception. Choose two or three related questions from your list, and think about what outcomes you want in these areas. If you are focusing on your teacher talk, think about realistic ways that you would like to make changes in that area. For materials design, gather some self-made worksheets that you have used, and think about what you would realistically like to achieve with them in the future.
Collaboration is a valuable development tool - you work with other professionals in your school or centre, so why not open up your needs and goals to a trusted member of staff, or someone whose opinion you respect. Ask them to observe a lesson that you teach, and give them some questions to answer as they watch you work. Plan your lesson in a more detailed way for the observer, so that they can follow your lesson in a more informed way.
After teaching and being observed, take ten or fifteen minutes alone, and reflect on how the lesson went, with specific reference to the areas of your teaching that you asked the observer to focus on. Ask the observer to do the same, thinking from their professional point of view. Come together and spend some time going through the lesson, sharing techniques and opening up about the positive and negative aspects of the lesson as you (and the observer) saw it. Bringing your colleagues in to your classroom can have great benefits for both parties. No teacher operates in a vacuum and you may be surprised at how much you both get from the experience. As on initial training courses for teachers, peer-observers are there to learn as much as the trainee teacher who is up in front of the class, and it is through this kind of collaborative reflection that some of the biggest lightbulbs are switched on about how we do things in the classroom.
Finally, work together with the observer and put together an action plan for you (and them, if they took points away from the experience that they wish to work on) to follow. Do some reading into key areas and methodologies that you identified, and ask your colleague to do the same, and you will both share the benefit of the developmental experience.
By following these steps (needs analysis, goal setting, planning, observation, reflection and research), you can drive your own development in your classroom better than any third party who comes to tell you how to improve. At the end of the process, offer to reverse the roles and observe your colleague, and get other teachers involved. The more people collaborate in this way, the bigger your development community will be, and the stronger you will all become as professionals working in your teaching context.
For ideas on how to start your self-driven development process, with materials, templates and the process outlined in detail, self-development materials for teachers are available in the Language Point collaborative observation e-resource , available now.
Tom Garside is Director of Teacher Training for Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.