15 Paths to Professional Development for Educators

Image from spopstick.com

Image from spopstick.com












1. Read deeply

Take any subject related to English Language Teaching – linguistics, pragmatics, theories of Second Language Acquisition, etc. – and read all you can: books, blog posts, journal articles. Then try to relate your reading to your classroom practice.

2. Do Action Research

Action Research usually begins when we identify a problem or issue in class. We experiment with a solution and monitor its effectiveness over a period of time. Finally, we evaluate the solution. It becomes a cycle: identify, experiment, monitor, evaluate. An extra stage of Action Research may be to write an article about it, to share what we learned.

3. Write articles

Writing articles changes our relationship with the profession. Instead of being consumers of other people’s research and ideas, we become producers of both. We join a community that drives the conversation about our profession. The good news is that, with the preponderance of online journals, there are now more places than ever to publish articles.

4. Write materials

Material that is tailor-made for particular students at a particular time and place can have big advantages over mass-produced commercial material. And writing materials is a great way for teachers to develop because it raises our awareness of aspects such as pacing, variety, creating and sustaining interest in a topic, balancing the four skills plus grammar and vocabulary, and balancing individual study, pair-work, and group work.

Image from pdstcli.wordpress.com

Image from pdstcli.wordpress.com










5. Collaborate

Collaboration could mean joining a SIG (Special Interest Group), working on specialized curricula, choosing materials, team-teaching, or doing collaborative lesson planning. Inevitably, collaboration demands that we conceptualize and justify our ideas – a good way to develop professionally.

6. Teach a new course

“Some teachers have twenty years’ experience; others have one year’s experience repeated twenty times.” Bearing in mind this well-known adage, we teachers need to get out of our comfort zones and teach classes we’d normally avoid. Depending on where we work, there may be opportunities to teach Young Learners, teenagers, Business English, English for Special Purposes, etc. Great teachers are often those who expand their horizons and thus keep learning on the job.

7. Give workshops

Find an interesting subtopic of ELT – something new or underrepresented in our field. Research it and come up with engaging ways to present it to colleagues. Giving workshops uses many of the same skills as teaching. In fact it is teaching, with the added twist that you’re teaching teachers, a surefire way to get critical feedback.

8. Keep a teaching journal

Make notes on your lessons. What went well? What didn’t? Why? If you keep a journal for long enough, you’ll begin to see continuities in your teaching: patterns and sequences you repeat, activities you rely on, materials you love, islands of safety in the shark-infested waters of the classroom! You will also see how your teaching subtly changes throughout your career.

9. Become a mentor

When experienced teachers help new teachers with lesson planning, troubleshooting, school routines and bureaucracy, interesting things sometimes happen. The person being mentored brings a fresh perspective and may question things that the mentor takes for granted. Being a mentor is great for the mentor’s development because it forces us to analyze and explain the things we do in class.

10. Use PLNs

Your Personal/Professional Learning Network might consist of bloggers you follow, facebook posts, tweets, friends in the profession, podcasts, clips on youtube, journals and newsletters. Your PLN is probably in a state of constant flux as you discover new outlets – other bloggers, other journals – which keep you up to date with the profession.

Image from ihes

Image from ihes










11. Participate in conferences and courses

Courses usually guide participants along a common path towards some useful destination (e.g., a certificate or a degree). Conferences may provide opportunities to explore a little – to go off the beaten track and find out about things we’d previously neglected. Whether we prefer convergent or divergent routes, conferences and courses give structure to our development and allow us to learn by interacting with our peers.

12. Learn a new language

Doing this will remind us of the challenges our students face: of how time-consuming language learning is; of how elusive words are even when we’ve heard them a dozen times; of the intricacies of grammar and pronunciation; of how listening comprehension can be like trying to catch butterflies in your hands. It also reminds us of the roles of the teacher: mentor, facilitator, cheerleader, expert.

13. Look at developments in other fields

Many developments in ELT originally came from elsewhere: Audiolingualism came from behavioral psychology; cloze tests (gap-fills) from Gestalt Theory; “input” from computer processing. Humanistic teaching methods, the use of recording devices, Big Data – all were imported into ELT from the big wide world. The “feeder fields” from which ELT takes its ideas include technology, sport, psychology, music, and many others. Whatever is in society will eventually filter down to ELT. Great teachers tend to be curious about such developments and look for their educational applications.

Scott Thornbury. Image from britishey.com

Scott Thornbury. Image from britishey.com


Professor Anne Burns

Professor Anne Burns








14. Learn from great educators

Read and re-read the great educators of the past: Vygotsky, Montessori, Dewey, Freire, Ashton-Warner. Delve into your ELT gurus once again: Harmer, Thornbury, Burns, Douglas Brown. Our interpretation of their work changes as we change and grow more experienced. Inevitably, we begin to ask ourselves, “Where do I fit in? What do I believe? What kind of educator am I?”

15. Examine critical moments

Anyone who has taught for any length of time will have experienced a mini-crisis or a full-blown disaster. A student starts crying; a fight breaks out; a power-cut occurs during a video; the whiteboard won’t switch on; the students riot or fall asleep. What do we do? We fall back on our training and experience, and we remember these are human beings in the room and the best way to deal with human beings is to talk to them. Afterwards, in tranquillity, we reflect on what happened and learn from it.

12 Comments on “15 Paths to Professional Development for Educators”

  1. hafif asanabil hafif asanabil says:

    that’s really really amaaaaazing

    2016-05-30 16:04 GMT+02:00 Reallyenglish Blog :

    > JJ Wilson posted: ” 1. Read deeply Take any subject > related to English Language Teaching – linguistics, pragmatics, theories of > Second Language Acquisition, e” >

  2. Erik Dostal says:

    Hi JJ, Erik here. Great post. Have you ever delved into the EPG? You can have a look at it here: http://www.epg-project.eu It’s a nice tool for teachers, teacher trainers and management to work together in teacher CPD. This is a project that we are working on together with Eaquals. You can also have a look at the TD-Fram as it goes hand-in-hand with the EPG: http://clients.squareeye.net/uploads/eaquals/EAQUALS_TD_FRAM_-_November_2013.pdf
    I will continue to keep you posted with developments with the International Language Symposium in Brno (1-3 June 2017), Czech Republic.
    Chat soon,

    • JJ Wilson says:

      Thanks, Erik. This looks interesting, even if the word “profiling” makes me very nervous (it has nasty connotations in the U.S.)! I can imagine the grid catching on, or being adapted, as a useful tool.

  3. Clare says:

    A really great post – it’s good to have all of these tips in one place for reference. I recently ran a more detailed series of blog posts on this topic, which you can find under ‘Professional Development’ on my blog: https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/7-day-7-ways-continued-professional-development-7-conferences/?iframe=true&preview=true

    You do have a couple of really interesting points at the end of your list which I didn’t cover, though, so thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Willy Renandya says:

    Nice one, JJ. I’ll post it in Teacher Voices. Willy

  5. M. Makino says:

    Joining a professional organization (JALT) was one of the best things I did. Keeping a teaching journal is a good idea – something to start next.

  6. […] 15 Paths to Professional Development for Educators […]

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