Month: March 2016

5 Highly Effective Teaching Practices

Reading this, I was promoted to think about my teacher beliefs about what exactly it is that makes teaching effective; what is it that I’m aiming for, that I hold as best practice? Expressing this in one sentence has actually been a quite inspiring moment for me; motivating me and giving me new energy to approach my planning for next term.
Anyway, here’s my spontaneously-constructed sentence (which I also posted in the comments section on the blog post):

**Teachers have to be passionate about teaching and about what they’re teaching, and they need to know their students and how to motivate them to get active.**

So now I’m interested in your thoughts: What is it that makes teaching most effective?
I’m not looking (necessarily) for Hattie-style lists, but try to summarise your teacher beliefs into one sentence, about what is at the heart of good teaching, for you.

Please post them in the comments below! I’m really excited about hearing from you!!
Clare

teflgeek

Earlier this year, a piece from the Edutopia website was doing the rounds under the title “5 highly effective teaching practices”.  I automatically question pieces like this as I doubt somewhat whether the purpose of the piece is actually to raise standards in the profession and develop teachers – or whether it is simply to get a bit more traffic to the website.  But perhaps I am being unnecessarily cynical?

To be fair, the practices the article suggests are generally quite effective:

  1. State the goals of the lesson and model tasks, so that students know what they are going to do and how to do it.
  2. Allow classroom discussion to encourage peer teaching
  3. Provide a variety of feedback, both on an individual and a group basis.  Allow students to feedback to the teacher.
  4. Use formative assessments (tests the students can learn from) as well as summative assessments (tests that evaluate…

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7 Day 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 7) Conferences

So, it’s the last day in my 7 days of posts on CPD for ELT teachers. If you’ve missed any so far, here are the links…

  1. Blogs 
  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks 
  3. Magazines & Journals 
  4. Peer Observation 
  5. Professional Organisations 
  6. Seminars & Workshops

All of the first six ‘ways’ could be done from the comfort of your own home, though I of course do recommend getting dressed and leaving the house at some point!! Today’s way will most likely mean spending some time away from your sofa/desk/own home, as today I’m going to convince you that a part of your CPD should definitely be attending

  • Conferences

I believe that all the other forms of CPD are extremely beneficial, but for a true boost to your insight, understanding, inspiration and motivation, there is no better way than attending a conference! There are so many reasons why that would, and do, fill multiple blog posts on their own. But here’s a few that occur to me immediately:

  • abundance of networking with like-minded people
  • opportunities to hear ‘big names’ speak
  • chance to keep up-to-date with latest trends and developments in ELT
  • gathering ideas and materials for the classroom
  • getting involved in current debates surrounding ELT
  • growing understanding of ELT in a wider context
  • the feeling of belonging to a professional community 
  • a chance to present and share your own ideas or research
  • free stuff (pens, bags, copies of textbooks, mugs, key chains, etc!). 🙂 

There are so many ELT conferences out there, and participating in all of them would take up an enormous amount of time and money – and probably not be a worthwhile use of your efforts! So how can you decide which conferences to attend? 

12805715_10156595096075464_1308734260307728059_nI attend different conferences with different purposes in mind. One of the first conferences I attended was a one-day event hosted by ELTAF in Frankfurt (Germany). There was a plenary, four sessions where I could choose form a number of workshops/talks to join in, and plenty of chances to network during the coffee and lunch breaks. I went along with the specific aim in mind of gettting to know other EFL teachers in Germany. At the time I was pretty new to teaching, so it was great to here from colleagues how the state-school and university systems worked regarding language teaching, and some issues that might arise in my classrooms and how I might want to tackle them. I was tired from travelling there for just one day, but I definitely achieved my aims. 


A couple of years ago I attended another one-day conference organised by a local ELT organisation, MELTA in Munich. It was an EAP Day. My aim this time was to meet others teaching EAP and discuss some of the biggest current challenges, exchange thoughts on textbooks and resources, and maybe share my own knowledge of how to ‘get in’ to teaching EAP. Again, I had a really lovely day, achieved exactly these aims. And even met up with an old colleague I knew from a previous job! 

The point is, I think, that you should choose a conference that matches your current CPD focus and in general your interests within ELT. Not every conference will cover every area of CPD or ELT, but if you select wisely and invest in the most relevant ones to you, then attending the conference will be extremely rewarding!

I suppose I can’t really write a post about ELT conferences without mentioning “the big two”: IATEFL annual conference and Assn TESOL yearly international convention. 

I’ve never been to the TESOL international convention. But I know a man who has. And here’s what he has to say about it: “TESOL 2015 was my first international conference for English language teaching. Although I thought TESOL would be a very exciting four-day experience, I was not expecting to be as inspired as I was. I spent that entire first day of the conference preparing to present two of my projects, which in hindsight was a waste of a day. I attended as many sessions as I could, most of them relating to my interests in global issues and social responsibility. I hardly slept! In my opinion, the best and most important aspect of TESOL is the networking. TESOL offers many opportunities to network with fellow teachers, teacher trainers, linguists, and scholars. I became friends with many inspiring, positive, motivating TESOLers by just attending the LGBTQ+ gathering the first night of the conference. Presentations are great; they are full of inspiring messages and new ideas. However, by becoming friends with these scholars, it alerted me to their very important research in TESOL. Because of networking, I even had the chance to meet Dr. Marianne Celce-Murcia and Dr. Bonny Norton, two of my biggest TESOL heroes. I became life-long friends with other researchers whose work I have used as my foundation for the way that I approach my teaching. Attending TESOL was a game changer for me. I highly recommend attending at least once.” Thanks @mitchell_jamesd !!

IMAG0245IATEFL’s annual conference, on the other hand, has been graced by my prescence for a number of years! 🙂 The first year I went, I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed. It is BIG! Four days, from 9am – 6pm, about 15 sessions per day, and a choice of 10+ talks/workshops/presentations during each of them, plus a big exhibition of publishers etc. I was determined to get the most out of it, but I hadn’t set myself any real goals, so I just tried to attend every single session, run round the exhibition in the lunch break, and speed-network in the coffee breaks! Well, by the afternoon of day two I had to go back to the hotel and lie down in a dark, quiet room, with a pounding headache. Too much!! And this is why I say, set goals and select wisely! Having learnt my lesson the first year, I’ve been back again and again and always return to the classroom brimming over with ideas, inspiration and motivation, even more passion than usual, and often a few more contacts and an expanded PLN! I definitely recommend attending at least once, if you can – and this year is the 50th annual conference, so it promises to be an especially good one!

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By the way, I will be at IATEFL in Birmingham next month, and will be presenting on the topic of “Marking writing: feedback strategies to challenge the red pen’s reign” on Friday 15th April, 11:00 – 11:30, in room Hall 10a, as part of the TEASIG Day. Please do come along and say hello!!
 

In selecting a conference to attend, and in setting yourself some aims or goals, I’d suggest returning to the framework I presented on Day #1:

Reflect   —   Plan   —   Act   —   Evaluate

Reflect on areas of your teaching and career you’d like to improve and develop in, plan which conference to attend and which talks/woskhops etc, attend, and then evaluate how helpful this was, how you can apply what you heard/learnt to your own work, and what other gaps in knowledge you’d like to fill. And once you’re in this cycle, you can continue developing professionally – CPD through conferences! 🙂

Further Reading:

Borg, Simon, “The benefits of attending ELT Conferences”, ELT Journal, August 2014. Available here.

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 6) Seminars & Workshops

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 6) Seminars & Workshops

So, day and way #6 in this series on CPD for ELT teachers. So far, most of my ideas for CPD activities were things you could do at home, or at least pretty close to home – most from the comfort of your own sofa! For example:

  1. Blogs (1st March)

  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks (2 March)

  3. Magazines & Journals (3 March)

  4. Peer Observation (4 March)

  5. Professional Organisations (5 March)

Now we’ve reached a point where you might just have to leave the house, and indeed travel a little further than normal. Today’s CPD ‘way’ is…

  • Seminars & Workshops

At certain stages of your career, taking a training course can help make significant progress as an ELT teacher. I, for example, did the Trinity College TESOL Diploma after I’d been teaching for a few years, to refresh and upgrade my skills and knowledge. Teachers just starting out on an ELT career could think about doing:

Teachers with some experience, might consider:

These are all internationally recognised qualifications, which clearly has advantages. The main disadvantages are that these courses can be expensive, and that you usually have to find an accredited examination centre to be able to complete them. They are also rather general in their scope and may not always be directly relevant to your own teaching situation; making them slightly less valuable for your CPD.

IMAG0611What you might like to do, then, is find seminars or workshops being offered closer to home. For example, the university close to where you live might be offering relevant seminar courses, or a publisher might be offering a workshop on implementing their latest materials. Some professional organisations also organise one-day workshops or blocked seminars over weekends, for example. The best way to find these, I would suggest, would be through membership of a national or local teaching organisation, and through a Google search – here, you can be as specific as you like in what you’re looking for and should aim to find something that really inspires you and you feel is relevant to your own stage of development as a teacher. 

For those of you are still hoping you can do most of your CPD in nyour pyjamas on the sofa…. 🙂 There are of course distance-learning courses, for example offered by The Open University. And nowadays there are really a lot of online courses and webinars that you can take part in.Check out, for example:

  • www.futurelearn.com“a private company wholly owned by The Open University, with the benefit of over 40 years of their experience in distance learning and online education. [They] have 84 partners from around the world. These include many of the best UK and international universities, as well as institutions with a huge archive of cultural and educational material, such as the British Council, the British Library, the British Museum, and the National Film and Television School. [They] also work with a range of internationally renowned organisations [to] offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.” (quote from their website)   I recently completed a FutureLearn course on “Professional Practices for English Language Teachers” and found it a really good way to refresh my ‘basics’ and get in touch with the latest research on methodology. I also made some contacts with other participants and was therefore able to extend my PLN.IMAG0668
  • www.evosessions.pbworks.com –  The Electronic Village Online (associated with TESOL) “TESOL experts and participants from around the world engage in collaborative online discussions or hands-on virtual workshops of professional and scholarly benefit. These sessions bring together participants for a longer period of time than is permitted by land-based professional development conventions and allow a fuller development of ideas than is otherwise possible. Sessions are free and open to anyone around the globe. It is not necessary to be a TESOL member or attend the TESOL Convention in order to participate. All you need is access to the Internet. Choose a session from this year’s offerings, listed below.  And please inform your colleagues about this unparalleled professional development opportunity!” (quote from website) These ‘sessions’ and discussions are available online and free to access. I’ve just had a quick look at one and am already excited to see more!!

I would like to end on a note of caution; We must remember not to fall into the trap of thinking that only ‘formalised’ training seminars, webinars or workshops are useful for our CPD! Nonetheless, we must remember them when we’re thinking of ways to develop professionally, as they really can give us a boost of inspiration and insight. Ad especially now so many are available for free, and/or close to home, we’d be silly not to make use of them!! 

Let me know if you do a webinar or online course you think others would benefit from – post the link / details in the comments below!!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, please tell others! If you haven’t, please tell me! 🙂

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 5) Professional Organisations

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 5) Professional Organisations

For those who are keeping up, this is blog post #5 in my series on CPD for ELT teachers. If you’ve missed the previous days’ posts, you can find them by clicking these links:

  1. Blogs (1st March)

  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks (2 March)

  3. Magazines & Journals (3 March)

  4. Peer Observation (4 March)

And now for number five:

  • Professional Organisations

Teaching can sometimes be a rather lonely pursuit, especially for ELT teachers away from home  in foreign countries. It can also be a rather homogenising experience, if you’re teaching in a specific context and only really have contact with teachers in the same situation as you. In both situations, I think many ELT teachers might miss out on the chance to hear about the current debates, research, trends, methods/approaches, etc that are being shared around the world. I believe that some sort of networking and sharing of ideas beyond a teacher’s immediate context is a key aspect of professional development.

That’s why I though post #5 in this CPD series would be a good time to provide a few links and tips that will help ELT teachers find this big world of ELT beyond their teaching situation and get them ‘networked’ with other teachers, to facilitate inspiration and continuous development as a teacher. The list does not pretend to be complete; please add further links in the comments below. 

IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language)

http://www.iatefl.org/                           IMAG0245

If I could only recommend one organisation, this would be it. I’ve been a member for a number of years and the conferences and publications have been a constant source of inspiration and professional development opportunities. Double thumbs up from me!

Based in the UK. They say about themselves: “With over 4,000 members IATEFL is one of the most thriving communities of ELT teachers in the world. Our mission [is] to “Link, develop and support English Language Teaching professionals” worldwide”.

As a member, you get a bimonthly copy of the ‘Voices’ mini-journal/newsletter with information about research and events going on in ELT around the world, a free copy of ‘Conference Selections’ with summaries of presentations given at the latest annual conference, free membership in a Special Interest Group with newsletters and events, a cheaper registration rate for the annual conference, and cheaper subscriptions to some of the leading journals in the field (e.g. ELT Journal).

Their next big annual conference is going to be in Birmingham in April 2016, find out more here: IATEFL Birmingham 2016

Each month, they provide provide a free webinar held by a famous name in the field. For details of the upcoming webinars (on topics such as coursebook evaluation, intercultural training, teaching with technology) see here: http://www.iatefl.org/webinars

TESOL International Association

http://www.tesol.org/home

They see themselves as a “global and collaborative community committed to creating a world of opportunity through teaching English to speakers of other languages.”  And say about themselves: “For nearly 50 years, TESOL International Association has been bringing together educators, researchers, administrators, and students to advance the profession of teaching English to speakers of other languages. With more than 12,000 members representing 156 countries, and more than 100 worldwide affiliates, TESOL offers everyone involved in English language teaching and learning an opportunity to be part of a dynamic community, where professionals like you connect with and inspire each other to achieve the highest standards of excellence.” See here for a brief introduction: http://www.tesol.org/docs/membership/tesol-brochure.pdf?sfvrsn=2

The host a large annual conference of which I have only heard good reviews (see: http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/international-convention), and provide publications and an online resource-bank, and guidelines for best practice in ELT. They also create a newsletter and have lively online discussion groups on specific interests within ELT. Webinars and online courses complement their busy programme of symposiums and conferences (though the time-difference makes webinars slightly problematic for those living in Europe!).  See here for the full programme: http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/online-courses-seminars  and  http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/symposiums-academies )

If you visit their website you will see that the homepage is very ‘busy’ and not always easy to navigate, but I think this simply reflects the variety of services and activities TESOL International Association offer and are involved in. If you have the time to click through, you will definitely find something that is relevant for you – whether you are a student, teacher, teacher-trainer, materials writer, etc. Definitely a thumbs up from me!

Teaching English – British Council

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/ IMAG0667

This is slightly different from the other associations listed here as it is mainly an online community. That makes it especially interesting to those who cannot travel to conferences, etc, and/or don’t have much spare cash to spend on memberships and travel costs. Why register with TE? They say: “Registration on this site is totally free and allows you to interact with other users as well as add comments and download certain material. You can:

  • build your own profile in an international online community;
  • access our tools for teachers;
  • join monthly online workshops;
  • watch our teaching tips videos;
  • sign up for a variety of teacher training courses;
  • join in discussions with teachers around the world.”

They offer free webinars and instructional videos and articles, as well as training courses and workshops, both as self-study and with a trainer (see: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/teacher-training ). There is also free access to a number of journals and research publications via the site (see: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/publications ). Again, double thumbs-up!

 

Local Organisations

Wherever you live, there might be a smaller professional organisation you can join. This would of course have the benefit that the workshops, conferences, etc. provided would not be as far away from you, and may be more relevant to your specific teaching context. This kind of national or local networking can be particularly rewarding, as it can be easier to really get involved than within large international organisations. Their conferences are naturally smaller than those of the international associations mentioned above, but that also means that the costs are lower, and the events are less overwhelming for new teachers / students. I’m sure a quick Google search would find most such national/local organisations for teachers nowadays, but specifically for ELT teachers you might want to take a look here at this list of more organisations (all of which are affiliated with IATEFL) in your country, here: http://www.iatefl.org/associates/list-of-associate-members

A couple that I know of and have heard good things about are:

TEA (Teachers of English in Austria): http://www.tea4teachers.org/joomla/

German Association for Teachers of English (GATE): http://englisch-und-mehr.de/wp/

MELTA (Munich English Language Teachers Association): http://www.melta.de/

 

Most of my inspiration for CPD and my search for innovation, ideas and impulse for reeflection has come from being a member of IATEFL and other professional organisations; and indeed, most of the people in my PLN I met through this membership. So I would highly recommend joining such a professional organisation as a big boost for your CPD!!

Please share your experiences and further relevant links below! 

If you liked what you read here, please tell others! If you didn’t, please tell me! 🙂

 

 

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 4) Peer Observation

Day #4 of my series of posts on CPD for ELT teachers! If you’ve missed the first three ‘Days and Ways’, you can find them by clicking these links:

  1. Blogs (1st March)

  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks (2 March)

  3. Magazines & Journals (3 March)

And now for number four:
  • Peer Observation

Don’t run away scared just yet!! 🙂 

 

I know that even just hearing (or reading) those puts the fear of god into some people, and conjures up nightmarish observations and evaluations that had to be endured on initial training courses!! But that was then. And this is now. And peer observation can be a very useful tool to use to enhance your development as a professional teacher. 

Peer observation can be ‘either way around’, so to speak. So either you can observe one/some of your peers teaching, or you can invite one/some of them to come along and observe one of your lessons. The main difference to observed lessons on training courses is, of course, that now you are PEERS, on a level, not judging each other and giving grades – so a non-threatening and (hopefully!!) far less scary set-up altogether! 🙂

IMG-20160223-WA0005

One key advantage of this kind of CPD activity is that it is local – you don’t need to travel anywhere but to your normal place of work, and it is free! Of course, it might take some careful planning to fit it in to your schedule, but where there is a will there is a way! And a boss or DoS who cares about their staff should be understanding of your endeavours and at least try to accommodate you, if you ask nicely!

Observing your peers…

gives you a clearer idea of what actually happens in colleagues’ classrooms and may serve as a more concrete basis on which to base your reflections and considerations surrounding your own teaching. This is probably much easier to work with than theoretical or abstract descriptions of teaching practices in textbooks and in other resources; and much more authentic than the ideal scenarios you might otherwise be led to imagine when thinking about other teachers’ lessons! I remember the first time I went and watched a colleague’s lesson, and being so relieved that some of her students were distracted, spent ages blankly staring at her when she asked a question, didn’t have their materials, etc. etc. Not because I would wish anything bad upon her!! But because this also happens with my students, and I’d previously thought I was doing something wrong as my lessons never seemed to work out as textbooks/online lesson plans/etc. said they should! I had my eyes open to the reality, and decided the best thing to do was to observe various colleagues and how they actually dealt with these situations, rather than thinking I had to magically try to avoid them! 

Likewise, being observed…

and getting feedback from a trusted colleague might give you a fresh perspective on your own teaching practice and help you identify more areas you would like to develop. The danger, of course, is that the colleague you ask might fall into the ‘expert’ role and try to get you to do everything their way! Try to stay constructive and reflective when they tell you their thoughts on your lesson; ask them to remain neutral, too. You could ask them just to describe what happened, hearing how someone else saw your lesson might already give you enough food for thought! Or if you’d like their slightly more evaluative opinion, make sure you always ask for justifications and don’t simply accept that ‘their way is best’!! It is YOUR CPD journey, so make sure you stay in control of it! (Yes, I’m talking from experience here. But I hope that your colleagues are all more supportive!)

IMG-20160303-WA0003 

To make peer observation most effective…

you can make the whole thing as in/formal as you like – with forms to complete, or just noting down whatever occurs to the observer. But it is important to have something to base the post-observation discussion on – again, as formal/informal as suits you! However, I would suggest that you have some sort of focus before you start. Especially if you want to work with a colleague and observe each other’s lessons, it should be clear from the start what the focus and purpose of the observations will be. Some example aspects I’ve look at through peer observation include:

  •  instructions for tasks 
  •  response to / feedback on students’ oral contributions
  • explaining aims of activities
  • encouraging oral participation
  • how many times I say “OK” ((worringly often, and for about 500 different things!! Oops!!))

 To come back to the framework I introduced in post #1 (Blogs), structuring peer observation around

Reflect – Plan – Evaluate – Act

can make sure that it has an impact on your development. So reflect on your own teaching and an area you’d like to focus on developing, plan to observe/be observed, evaluate the findings of the observations, and try to act on them and implement what you have learnt. This process will obviously be cyclical – then reflecting again on how well you’ve applied what you learnt, and using observations to evaluate this again, until you’re happy and would like to move on to focusing on another area of your CPD. 

Ultimately, involving your peers in observations means opening up the communication about your teaching practices, and that is developmentally very important and beneficial for all of you!

If you’re still apprehensive or would like specific ideas for how to set up observations, please feel free to ask questions or comment below or tweet to @Clare2ELT! And after you’ve done an observation or two, please let me/other readers know how it went!! Look forward to hearing from you all! 🙂

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development – 3) ELT Magazines & Journals

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development – 3) ELT Magazines & Journals

This is post number 3 in my series “7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development” in which I’m sharing ideas on how to integrate CPD easily into your teaching-packed lives! So far I’ve talked about 1) Blogs, and 2) Reflection Groups & Learning Networks

Today’s Way is…

  • ELT Magazines & Journals

To further develop as a professional teacher beyond your immediate context, you’ll need to be finding out what’s going on in the ELT world beyond your institution’s doors! This might mean looking at some of the latest research into langauge acquisition and teaching, adapting/adopting teaching ideas and materials, or gaining an understanding of key debates and current issues in the profession. An easy way to do this is to read an ELT magazine or journal, or other publications such as newsletters. 

Some of the best-known magazines that I like to read are:

English Teaching Professional: see their website here.

Modern English Teacher – a magazine that “keeps you up-to-date with the latest developments and trends in ELT theory and thinking” see here.

Humanising Language Teaching Magazine (HLT) – a magazine on the web for English “teachers looking for ideas and interested in teacher development.” see here.

And there’s also EL Gazette , which is a free “newspaper for English language and international education”, which can be found here

IMAG0663

If you’d like to know more about the theoretical side of things and get in touch with some of the latest research, some of the go-to journals for ELT include:

ELT Journal, which “links the everyday concerns of practitioners with insights gained from relevant academic disciplines such as applied linguistics, education, psychology, and sociology [and] aims to provide a medium for informed discussion of the principles and practice which determine the ways in which English is taught and learnt around the world. It also provides a forum for the exchange of information and ideas among members of the profession worldwide.” See here.

TESOL Quarterly, which “fosters inquiry into English language teaching and learning by providing a forum for TESOL professionals to share their research findings and explore ideas and relationships in the field.” See here.

There are also a high number of more specific journals, and subscribing to all of them would obviously be expensive and probably mean you don’t have time to read all of them! Maybe the instution you work for subscribes to the most relevant ones for your teaching context, so you could read a copy there. Or they might like to subscribe to a couple of journals if you suggest it. Otherwise, you can use Google Scholar to find articles, many of which are for free, on any specific aspect of ELT that interests you.

If you would really like to engage with a wider network of teachers and researchers through magazines and journals, you might also want to write your own article. I’d suggest writing for a magazine or journal that you actually read, since you’ll then be able to pitch your text at the right kind of tone and level, and also always contact the editor in advance with your idea, and make sure you follow the guidelines for contributors that you can usually find on the publications’ websites. 

So, that was day three -introducing some of the magazines and journals I would recommend for you to take a look at as one part of your CPD journey! If there are any other magazines or journals you think I, and other readers, should know about, please post the titles/links/etc. in the comments below! And for any more tips or advice about getting started publishling, feel free to get in touch!

 

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development – 2) Reflection Groups & Learning Networks

This is post number 2 in my series “7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development” in which I’m sharing ideas on how to integrate CPD easily into your teaching-packed lives! Way #2 was Blogs and that post can be found here

Today’s Way is…

  •  Reflection Groups & Learning Networks

As I mentioned yesterday, I believe reflection is an essential part of CPD. Even the informal chats you might have with colleagues over a coffee after class are very beneficial for your CPD as they (should!) encourage you to reflect on what and how you’re doing in your job. The idea of a Reflection Group is that a group or colleagues meet on a (semi-)regular basis to discuss and reflect together, and I find that giving a name to these get-togethers also helps the participants to really feel that they have done something constructive, rather than just ‘having a chat’. You can make your groups and get-togethers as formal or informal as you like, as long as the atmosphere is supportive and you can all talk though your experiences and questions, or strengths and weaknesses, or ideas and plans. You and the colleagues in your group can be at any stage in your careers, and with a focus in any field of teaching, but you will need be open for different perspectives and willing to make the most of the reflective environment. 

It might also be good to set up some questions, or take it in turns to present an idea, a problem, a discussion topic, etc. to get your ‘meetings’ going. I also find bringing choccy biccies along to the meeting gets people into a talkative and sharing mood quite easily! But remember that the aim of reflecting is to learn and further your professional development, not to fall into a complaints sessions about all your lazy students!!

Your reflection group may be part of what is commonly termed a  Personal Learning Network (PLN), built up of colleagues who provide each other with support and professional advice. Nowadays, many people, at least in ELT, use the term “PLN” to refer to an online group or community, so something like a reflection and learning group beyond your immediate and physical teaching context – an online learning and reflection network. To build up your own online PLN, you could…

  • reflect in a blog  – see yesterday’s post
  • use Twitter – I tweet from @Clare2ELT if you’d like to start by following me, or you can join love chat threads such as #ELTCHAT every Wednesday afternoon
  • use social networks like Facebook and join relevant groups – for example, I’m a member of “Teachers’ Awareness” and “TEFL English Teachers’ Network”
  • Professional networking sites like Xing.com or LinkedIn – you can find jobs through these sites, but also join groups according to your interests and goals
  • English teaching sites such as teachingenglish.org.uk where there are articles and downloadable resources, as well as forums where you can reflect and discuss with other English teachers.
  • join an online course or MOOC, for example at FutureLearn.com – and then keep in touch with people who you enjoy  working with throughout that course. 

Whilst preparing this post, I also found an interesting video about how to use online CPD opportunities, such as building your own online Personal Learning Network. Nik Peachy (from whom I first learnt this idea of PLNs!) also has a good long list of links to websites and social networking sites which you can use to “Grow Your Own Personal Learning Network.

By commenting on this post and following my blog, engaging regularly with me, with other readers and with other comment writers, you will already be starting to build up a an online PLN and supportive reflection group! So give it a try 😉