Professional development means learning to earn or maintain professional credentials such as academic degrees to formal coursework, attending conferences, and informal learning opportunities situated in practice. It has been described as intensive and collaborative, ideally incorporating an evaluative stage.
The last conference I attended got me asking a few burning questions concerning professional development. Although I believe I already have an idea of what professional development means in the ELT world and I engage in it whenever I can, I’ve never really thought about the tangible outcomes of my PD.
I imagine that at every point of our career, we teachers find ourselves at a certain stage of development. This means that we are aware and capable of things while unaware and incapable of others. For example, on the way to the conference, my friend was reading through the programme when she suddenly asked me, looking pretty frustrated: what the hell is emergent language? And what are infographics? I helped her with the former but had no idea what the latter meant. So, at that particular moment, we had no knowledge of some of the concepts mentioned in the programme. This doesn’t imply, though, that my friend was unable to deal with emergent language in class or that I had never worked with infographics before. The obvious conclusion would be that one of the outcomes of professional development is facts and knowledge. But, although knowledge is precious, it is by no means all-powerful.
Before the conference, and specifically before Daryna Luhovska’s excellent workshop called A New Life for Speaking Tasks, I thought I was familiar with ICQs. Instruction Checking Questions are used after a teacher has given instructions to make sure students have understood what they need to do. I was convinced I used these questions in class effectively. However, it was not until I had put myself in the students’ shoes in one of the activities Daryna was demonstrating when I realized the real impact of well-structured ICQs. I came to the conclusion that when introducing an activity with many complex rules and restrictions, it’s sometimes better to switch from affirmative sentences or imperatives to simple questions. So, now your partner is going to retell the story. Ok? Can you speak or are you just listening to your partner? The latter is definitely more powerful at this point because the question virtually drags your out of the semi-passive mode you probably find yourself in while listening to the teacher’s multiple instructions. So, my knowledge and the assumption that I had used that knowledge in my teaching effectively shifted a bit after this workshop; it evolved into a precious realization that ICQs are not just a CELTA thing (yes, you can immediately tell who has gone through the CELTA experience) but that they are actually quite useful.
One thing I’m not very proud of is the fact that my short-term memory is really short. My 10-year-old son will always beat me in a game of Pelmanism. This weakness of mine was ultimately proved during Andy Hockley’s workshop on reflective practice for teachers (and managers). It’s not just Andy’s fault, though, this is one of the things good presenters love to do to us, teachers. You know, I could swear that I pay 100% attention to the talk but I’m totally lost when the speaker asks: Ok. Now, what has actually happened in the past 25 minutes of this workshop. Let’s recap it step by step. I usually remember the first step and the last one but I only have a vague memory of what happened in between those stages. I mean, and this will sound pretty irrational, I’m sure that the vague part is lurking somewhere in my short-term memory looking for its way to the deeper structures of my brain and it’s probably doing what it should be doing – it’s changing my mindset and turning me into a better professional. That I’m sure of although I have no proof. The thing is that I just can’t remember the details when I’m asked. Well, I said it before: knowledge and details are not all-powerful, right?
Tomorrow, when I’m back at school teaching my teenage classes, I’ll see how my newly attained knowledge and the eye-opening realizations will be put into my teaching practice. I’ll certainly try out some of the activities. But I’ll probably try to incorporate new techniques into my reflective practice too, such as spending 20-30 minutes a week (preferably not on a Friday afternoon) reflecting upon my teaching, as suggested by Andy Hockley. For starters, I’ll ask myself these 3 questions: What happened? What possible explanations are there for these events? Having reflected on the action, what will I do next? Emergent language is another area I’d like to work on more. For example, I’d like to play with the idea, suggested by Neil Anderson in his workshop, that emergent language can, to a certain extent, be predicted. Since I only teach monolingual groups of students, with whom I share the same L1, predicting problems should be much easier for me. I think I already do this type of fortune telling at a subconscious level but I’d like to make it a bit more conscious and systematic.
These are some of the tangible (and potential) outcomes of my professional development at this particular stage of my career. Let’s see where this takes me next.