The Power of Professional Development

Chris Mares

The Power of Professional Development
by Chris Mares.

 

In November 2017 I attended Colorado TESOL as a featured speaker and returned to Maine inspired, energized, and ready to hurl myself back into my teaching and writing with even more energy and enthusiasm than usual.

There is nothing quite like teacher energy, particularly at conferences and workshops. There we all were for two days sequestered in the Radisson South East, in Denver, surrounded by freeways and concrete, doing what we love – sharing our stories, listening for ideas, giving inspiration, pawing through texts, meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends, and realizing that what we have chosen to do is meaningful and worthwhile.

I was gripped by Andy Curtis’s pertinently brilliant talk on teaching as a political act and Dorothy Zemach’s artful commentary on music, metaphor, and teaching. Maggie Sokolik brought me down to earth with her pragmatic insights into writing, students, and classroom practice. Finally, the gifted and lyrical Thomas Healey, in the final session, had us all dancing The Chicken while revealing how it is possible for teachers to be in two places at one time.

I took frantic notes and my head span with ideas.

And I was in Denver, far from Maine, sitting at breakfast with a group of wonderful teachers attending their first conference. One was going to give her first ever presentation and our table hummed with supportive energy.

A month earlier I had been in Japan observing teachers in middle schools in Aomori Prefecture.  It was wonderful to see how far along public school teaching has come since I had lived in Japan, twenty years previously.

I even managed to inspire myself with my own talk on using teachers’ anecdotes and stories as material for classroom use.

What a giving lot teachers are. There is so much sharing of materials and ideas, so much time spent supporting and advocating for students.

I listened to teachers talk of the work they do with immigrants and refugees.  I was moved to my core by the lengths teachers go to on behalf of their students in various parts of Colorado.

Then, of course, there was the joshing and banter. Andy Curtis, who said to me, “Great presentation. So old school. No handouts, no power point, glasses up and down like a yoyo, get some gosh-darned bi-focals.” He had a point.

On the plane back to Maine, I looked down at the towns below thinking of all the teachers there are in the US and around the world. All of us trying to make a difference. And in these times of political despair, it struck me that we have a duty to do what we do as well as we can and to model acceptance and tolerance. We are in a position of power where we can inspire and motivate our students to become the best they can be, not only for themselves but for each other and for us. For the world.

And so I look forward to TESOL in Chicago in March of this year, and IATEFL in Brighton, in April. I know I will see familiar faces and meet new people, and return to Maine with that fresh feeling of wanting to make a difference.

In a good way.

My Journey in Professional Development

Aziz Soubai

My Journey in Professional Development
by Aziz Soubai.

 

What do you think happened in the summer of 2014? That summer is of huge significance for me. Why? I’m very sure the lives of so many teachers and educators around the world have changed a lot since that summer.

One of those teachers was me, a novice English teacher from Morocco. I was thrilled beyond description and this was the start of my professional journey as a language teacher and educator.The joy lasted for 10 weeks, but those weeks passed by like 10 minutes for me!

So, what happened exactly is that I was surfing the Internet one day and found the announcement of an online course called the iTDi Summer School MOOC for English Teachers. Something in this title made me so curious to know what this whole course was about. I decided to register and what followed that choice led to a tremendous achievement for me. Back then I didn’t have much experience in online learning and more particularly with WizIQ. It was summer time, a time when most people go to the beach, take a swim, wear sunglasses, and enjoy the freshness of water and the beauty of sunsets. I still remember the two voices in my head. One was saying, “What? Are you out of your mind? Do you want to imprison yourself in front of the computer for this whole time?!” The other voice, however, which was essentially supported by passion and curiosity, was a little stronger: “You have to see what’s going on in here. This looks like a huge learning opportunity – and it is free!”

The next day the voice of passion emerged victorious. However, that was not the end of the story and I had to face many challenges. The sessions were utterly amazing and were mainly about topics related to teachers’ interests and classroom practice. There were sessions about teaching using games, videos, stories, web tools, and more. It was true enjoyment for me and I could attend most of the live sessions. I resorted to the recorded ones only to prepare for the quizzes (that were part of the MOOC program) or when there were connection issues. The thing that really bothered me, though, was the deadlines and the multiple-choice questions which needed a lot of concentration and effort. I know that it was not meant to be a self-paced course. Consequently, I sometimes had to stay up a whole night to make sure I could submit the quiz in due time. I learnt to be more active and get rid of procrastination, which is a pretty devastating habit. All this made me reticent and I realized that I got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. And then I really made a huge one!

That summer online course with iTDi created a kind of insatiable thirst for knowledge inside me. I have become a great online learner and this in turn affected how I now prepare my lesson plans and deal with my students. The tips, ideas, and strategies I gained and am still gaining from iTDi courses are countless. For example, I now rely more on technology, especially English language applications that teach spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary. I also train my students to use learning management systems like Edmodo to do homework or participate in global projects with other schools. Additionally, I use students’ portfolios for teaching, assessment and reflection.

I feel I have become a global citizen, and a more reflective teacher and thinker. I now firmly believe that “anything I can do, we can do better, an important message and one of iTDi’s principles as described by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto. In fact, this is very true for language teachers. We face more or less the same learning and teaching challenges and we share the same concerns. Here I’m specifically talking about language areas like grammar, especially for EFL learners, which was mentioned in one the talks of Betty Azar, Keith Floss and Michael Swan.

I realize now that my journey in professional development never ends. Every single day I learn something new. I learn from students who are constantly changing themselves. I learn from interacting with my colleagues. I learn from iTDi bloggers. I learn from bad experiences and, most of all, from my own mistakes and blunders.

“I’m praying for the rain and I gotta deal with the mud too. That’s a part of it.” 

 

Professional Development Makes All the Difference

Roseli Serra

Professional Development Makes All the Difference
by Roseli Serra.

 

As I wrote in my previous post, 2012 was a very peculiar year in my life. It was then that I got to know teacher communities on Facebook, built my professional learning network (PLN), and first heard about online professional development (PD) and iTDi.

Before that I had always been concerned about both my personal and professional development and never waited for any institution to support me. It was good to have support when I could. If not, I managed to save money and time to do face-to-face courses and attend conferences which, I believed, would bring good results for me as an educator.

Online professional development was a great discovery. Webinars and online courses I attended, discussions in Facebook groups and communities, and Advanced Skills Courses promoted by iTDi made a crucial difference on how to see education, how to grow professionally, and how to help those who seek development.

I started as an attendee and afterwards I was invited to deliver webinars, moderate courses, be a keynote speaker and a plenary speaker for worldwide audiences.

The size of the audience doesn’t actually matter, but the difference you make might be compared to those tiny drops that will eventually fill a jug. Even if you think you are doing something of little importance or if  you consider yourself not to be that famous person, believe: you are reaching hearts and minds and influencing other educators in a positive way.

I have lots of amazing examples to list how PD has changed my life. Among those, I’d like to highlight some of the Advanced Skills Courses held by iTDi. For me, it was fantastic to interact online and study with the authors whose books I used to read. It was fantastic to get to know educators from all over the world and their opinions. The courses I took gave me a lot of food for thought, a lot to learn from different cultures, colleagues, tutors, and friends. But most of all, I was once again made sure that every teacher matters. Isn’t it great?

We know that teaching is a very hard job. Those who really want to make a difference will seek out new possibilities to include in their practice and new methodologies that will contribute to their work and the quality of teaching.

Professional development as an ongoing process is an important issue since teachers need to be aware that training should be continuous and related to their day-to-day life in the classroom. As Romanowsky (2009, p.138) states, “continuous education is a requirement for the current times. So teachers cannot stop studying.”

Finally, teacher development is not only built by accumulation (courses, knowledge, or techniques), but also through a work of critical reflexivity on the practices and continuous (re)construction of a permanent personal identity.

The number of strategies and suggestions for PD is huge. I’ll suggest some of the ideas I learnt from Jack Richards and that have helped me a lot along my career as a teacher and as an educator.

  1. Talk to people who have taken part in a PD activity. Sharing is caring.
  2. Decide on what kind of support you will need. Remember nobody is an island.
  3. Select a colleague to work with. Two is better than one.
  4. Set realistic goals and establish a time frame. Plan and be organized. This way your results will be a lot more effective.
  5. Evaluate what you have learned and share the results with others. Show your work and be humble to learn from your peers.
  6. You might find, as you progress, that there’s an area of knowledge you need to know more about. So never be afraid to ask for help or advice.

There’s nothing wrong with asking yourself, “Can I do it better?” Doing this is not a sign of being an underperforming teacher. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it shows you are brave and professional.

Wishing you all a year full of joy, hope, and achievements!

 iTDiers, You Make Me Aim Higher

Faten Romdhani

iTDiers, You Make Me Aim Higher
by Faten Romdhani.

 

I do not know where to start or what to say to voice out the unvoiced and give a shout out to the amazing founders of iTDi, because whatever I say or I write, I cannot fully express in the exact words the gratitude that you deserve.

My CPD journey started to gain momentum as soon as I became familiar with learning technologies and got connected with the iTDi community. Back to 2013… I still remember the thrilling moment that was a turning point in my professional growth. As a matter of fact, I was nominated as an Ed Inspiree among other professionals from around the world and I made the acquaintance of the Ed Guru of iTDi Chuck Sandy. What a memorable day! Being present in a webinar by Shelly Terrell and being asked to express my feelings along with Chuck, who was also nominated as an Ed Inspiree 2013. I still remember those “virtual moments” as very influential ones. What really amazed me is the humble characters of both Chuck and Shelly. Their openness is unique and both of these Ed Gurus enthused me with much passion to my professional experience. To be true, those days had a lasting impact on my unstoppable quest for a professional identity. Furthermore, the fact that I felt I was surrounded with inspiring high-caliber professionals made me recognise the strong impetus I had for continuing professional development. To crown it all, being a member in iTDi fostered my strong belief that physical boundaries between professionals in ELT exist only in maps.

iTDi community, or family, with all its members from all corners of the world, adds a culturally rich aspect to its audience. Thus, iTDi, despite all the differences amongst its members, manages as a strong community to empower teachers to be the best versions of themselves, no matter where they are teaching, even in low-resourced areas or classrooms.

Receiving regular e-mails from the community directors, especially Barb, the most compassionate and diligent ELT professional I know, bolstered my community sense and reminded me of the special bond I have tied with this community of creative teachers and writers. It also harnessed my will to start penning down my reflections for iTDi and, as usual, this community of wondrous professionals reignited the spark of writing. I did not only try my pen but also satisfied my thirst for innovative ideas by reading the many inspiring writers of iTDi.

To add to this, I may assert that belonging to iTDi gave me wings to fly on my own and boosted my self-confidence. Networking, collaborating online are part and parcel of today’s CPD. Teachers who enrol in this rewarding experience gain years of professional maturity just by connecting with like-minded professionals. Thus, the impact of such experiences could be visible and take shape in the teachers’ classroom practices. Such networking, if seeded with well-devised goals, will do wonders not only to teachers on a small-scale, but also leverage the whole classroom culture and upgrade the whole educational sphere.

Heartily, I thank you all and wish you more success to come, more inspiring and creative ideas to bring richness to your classes. Let me now end on a high note with these lines that might tell you more about my feelings:

I’m thankful to all of you for the immense help you show

Thanks, are not enough, yet, to make you see how

 Deep you are intertwined in my CPD

I’m proud I belong to you, my bigger family. Peace.

Presenters and Participants: Keeping in Sync at the Mind Spa

Ruthie Iida

Presenters and Participants: Keeping in Sync at the Mind Spa
by Ruthie Iida.

 

As an EFL teacher, I listen to, guide, correct, challenge, question, encourage, and console young learners on a daily basis. My mission is to both provide rich input and help equip and inspire my students to produce their own output. With all that in and out-putting, how do I recharge my batteries after a particularly intense class? Well, I don’t. Like many other teachers, I plow through stolidly until the door closes behind the very last student of the day. Then I check the bathroom for stray students before allowing myself to flop down on a chair and let out the tension I’ve been holding in.  

And that is why I relish conferences. They provide mental refreshment and spiritual sustenance (as in, “Yippee! Like-minded people, and I don’t have to teach them! I can listen and learn, offer ideas, and collaborate! They will understand me! Sure, I’m nerdy, but they are, too!”). I think of an ELT conference as a spa for the mind: frustration drains out and inspiration soaks in. Accordingly, I always set off on the day of a conference with high expectations, anticipating an interesting speaker or an insight that could be the key to a problem I’m mulling over.  And I go with the intent of relaxing my guard and relinquishing my authority. I expect participants to behave themselves so that I can sit back and focus on taking incisive notes with my dazzling array of color pens;  I also expect presenters to be sensitive to their audience as well as properly prepared. When both participants and presenters are in sync, the room buzzes with positive energy and real learning takes place.  

By “in sync”, I  mean working together to create a dynamic atmosphere. Since many conference participants have also been presenters and all presenters have most probably been participants, they should have a mutual understanding that facilitates their interaction. When the presenter and his or her audience engage with each other, there’s a sense of forward momentum that ensures boredom will not set in.  On the other hand, when one or both sides fails to notice and respond to the other, a presentation remains static. Assuming that a dynamic presentation is the ideal, here are two things to keep in mind.   

Participants: Rivet your attention! 

It’s hard to be standing in front of a room full of people. Audience participants can make things easier for the speaker in many ways; for instance, if the room isn’t full, move to the front. There’s nothing more demotivating than speaking to a handful of people who are far removed from the podium. Close proximity between speaker and listeners creates an intimacy that makes it more difficult for either side to disengage. If the room is full, behave as if it isn’t. In other words, don’t assume that checking your mail or texting  a friend will go unnoticed in the crowd. Give the speaker your full attention. Good speakers are constantly scanning the room; they draw energy directly from their listeners, so make eye contact and respond naturally to what’s being said. The more participants backchannel  by responding visibly or audibly, the more encouraged and enthusiastic speakers naturally become.  

Presenters: Take your cue from the audience!  

You know that feeling of trying to stifle a yawn that really wants to break loose? At a seminar two years ago, I was trying in vain to stay attentive after sitting for a full hour. The effort must have shown on my face, because the lecturer suddenly stopped short and said, “I think we all need a little break. Let’s stand up and move around – you all have been great listeners today and I really appreciate it.”  What a sweetheart: rather than pushing through till the end of his lecture, he took his cue directly from the faces of the participants. We all stood up and after a good stretch and a drink of water, our wilted backbones perked up straight again. This lecturer knew his material well enough to be able to focus on his listeners as well as his notes. When it’s our turn to be speakers, we too need to be well-prepared and flexible enough to spontaneously adapt to situations that might arise. We may have a specific body of knowledge that we’re determined to convey, but determination alone won’t make that possible.  

The bottom line is mutual awareness and mutual respect. Participants are responsible for respecting presenters not only because they are “experts” but because they are human beings who have invested time and effort to share their knowledge. Likewise, many participants are also experts in their field and have invested time and effort to get to the conference venue for the day in the interest of professional advancement and collaboration with fellow teachers and scholars. Both presenters and participants often have children they could have been playing with or tests that still need to be graded. In other words, everyone deserves to be treated well and everyone benefits from working together to make a conference successful. Stay in sync and enjoy your day at the mind spa that a conference can be!