Megan Domenichelli, Director of Studies at Global Village Victoria, shares her research and practical experience in CPD for teachers in the ESL/EFL field.
Professional development includes both formal and informal education and training which increase capabilities of staff. In the field of language teaching, ongoing instructor professional development plays an integral role in improving student learning and enhancing the overall student experience. In my role as Director of Studies at Global Village Victoria, I have found that not all PD activities result in improved teaching practices and the transfer of knowledge into the classroom. I have admittedly received lukewarm responses to some approaches I have tried over the years, but I have also seen a great deal of success with others.
I feel that the effectiveness of a professional development program is greatly influenced by the following factors:
Schools need to build time into their schedules for professional development, and budgets need to factor in both planned and unplanned sessions and other learning opportunities. Further, instructors need a space conducive to collaborative practices so that professional learning becomes a part of their daily routine. The physical layout of a workspace and accessibility of shared information and resources can both help facilitate ongoing professional learning, as learning can take place as a result of regular interactions, not just from planned learning sessions. Global Village Victoria views the time, space, and resources required to support ongoing professional development not as merely an operating cost, but as an investment of the future of the school.
An effective PD program recognizes that there is no “one size fits all” approach and should address instructors’ different levels of expertise, interests, and career stages. While novice instructors may benefit from traditional training sessions where knowledge is transferred from an expert, and more experienced instructors can get re-energized by attending external workshops and conferences, it is the ongoing professional learning opportunities built into the job that can be especially beneficial. Examples of meaningful and relevant PD approaches include the following:
Both the mentor and the less experienced instructor benefit from this arrangement. While newer instructors can gain new knowledge and skills to be used in the classroom, the more experienced instructors are required to reflect upon their own practice and develop communication skills. This approach is especially helpful during peak seasons when new teaching staff join the school.
Instructors with similar levels of experience can improve teaching practices through giving and receiving feedback with a peer. Peer observation relationships can lessen the feeling of isolation which can sometimes exist in teaching, but in order for the arrangement to be successful, there needs to be a feeling of mutual trust and the observations should not be evaluative in nature.
Study groups focus on ongoing learning about a particular topic of interest, such as learning technologies. The study group’s findings can then be shared with the larger teaching group.
Improvement processes: The expertise and experience of instructors is a valuable resource for the school. Involving instructors in improvement processes such as curriculum development can not only produce superior results, but can also enhance instructors’ knowledge and create a sense of cohesion. Although I have discovered that not all instructors want to devote their time and efforts to such projects, I feel that those who do appreciate the opportunity to provide input.
Just as students have different abilities and learning styles, instructors have different interests and professional development needs. Supporting instructors in their own self-directed activities allows them to grow professionally in a manner which is relevant and meaningful to them. Such activities might include enrolling in outside courses or attending seminars. It is, however, important to ensure that the learning goals of the instructors are in alignment with the needs of the school and students. For example, GV Victoria would be open to contributing to the cost of a course to help upgrade an instructor’s computer skills, but would be reluctant to fund an instructor’s registration in a cooking lesson!
Planned learning sessions are valuable because they allow instructors and program managers to get together as a team, share ideas, reflect on problems and solutions, and remain connected to the values and mission of the school. However, meetings focused exclusively on the needs of the organization and led by administrators do not necessarily translate into improved teaching practices. The most effective planned sessions allow instructors to have a voice in the selection of the topics and format of delivery. Instead of relying on program managers or outside speakers from the larger community, experienced instructors or groups of instructors can take on the role of facilitating sessions. It is not always necessary to look outside the organization for inspiration when talent exists within!
It is of course unrealistic to engage in all the activities listed above at the same time. My 2015 PD plan consisted of a variety of improvement projects, while 2016 is focused on the formation of special interest groups who will work together closely for much of the year and then facilitate planned PD sessions based on their topics of interest. Although some instructors may prefer a more passive approach, I am hoping that most will become engaged in the project and find it to be a worthwhile experience.
Finally, an effective PD program should include a feedback component. Instructors should receive feedback on the effects of professional development on student learning and satisfaction so that they can see if their efforts have been effective or not. At the same time, instructors should be able to provide feedback on the PD program itself and indicate which learning activities were useful and relevant. Continual learning and improvement should be a driving force in every school and should extend to all aspects of operations, including the professional development program. At the end of the year, I plan to collect anonymous feedback about GV Victoria’s 2016 PD program so that I can assess its success and consider which aspects can be improved upon moving forward.
To conclude, I truly believe that if a school is committed to student achievement and satisfaction, it needs to offer ongoing meaningful learning opportunities for its instructors.
Having motivated and engaged instructors with up-to-date skills can have a significant, positive impact not only on student learning, but also the overall success of the school.
Megan Domenichelli is Director of Studies with Global Village Victoria. She recently completed a Master of Education, Leading and Managing Organizations at University of Southern Queensland – Australia.