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! 

ELT Conferences: Highs and Lows

Pravita Indriati

ELT Conferences: Highs and Lows
by Pravita Indriati.

 

Conferences. It is one of those words commonly used in ELT that sound formal and professional yet fancy to me (like CELTA, DELTA, Master’s, and PhD). It is formal and professional in how much it is worth for our professional development, but fancy since we need to have enough money to afford the registration fees and travel expenses. Unless, of course, we are lucky and the company or school where we teach offers the opportunity to attend it for free. 

I attended my first conference back in the year 2013, when I first joined iTDi community and was invited to do a group presentation. I was still “green” in the world of professional development at that time and did not have any experience in attending conferences, not to mention presenting. But deep in my heart I was convinced that this would be a great step for me and would be good for my future. For my debut, I went through worries and stage-fright. I was worried about my presentation, worried that the audience would be more experienced than me, worried about the questions and public opinion. But then it went well, people in the audience were engaged and interested in the topic. It was quite an adrenaline and emotional rush, I must say! Ever since, I became addicted to learning with and from other teachers, presenting and networking at conferences, and part of the reason could be that I enjoy the rush and that feeling of accomplishment in the end. 

After that first presentation, I have been participating and presenting at several conferences, both online and offline: RSCON, TEFLIN, JALT, and GESS Indonesia. Some proved to be the greatest experience, with lots of fantastic, long-lasting impressions, not to mention worth the travel. Others ended up disappointing due to the disorganization and were not worth the money spent on them. 

After some of those experiences, I feel that conferences find their ways to make more money. With the word “international” in the title, an event immediately sounds more appealing and attracts more attendees. Holding the conference in a beautiful location makes for yet another good selling point. I went to one international conference in Indonesia that took place in a wonderful tourist destination. The scenic location worked as a perfect bonus to why people went there, and I was one of them.  In addition, they worked in partnership with a luxurious 5-star hotel as their venue so that the participants could take the expensive hotel-conference package, which cost an arm and a leg for  Indonesians who presented in their own country. However, the conference turned out to be not as good as it promised to be. There were many short presentations that were not inspiring at all as some of the presenters were simply chasing for the conference certificates as a part of their employment requirements. The fact that I did not learn much left me feeling disappointed. On top of that, the way the organizers worked with the presentations and rooms was completely messed up. If it were not for the networking (and travel), I would think twice about coming there. 

For me, a regular teacher who does not have a teaching degree, joining conferences really opens doors and creates opportunities for networking and future career. Some colleagues might say I am being an attention seeker by choosing to attend conferences. Well, if you work for your career and love professional development, going to a conference is a great way for you to learn. I love learning and going to conferences helps me to expand my knowledge and professional network, especially with some ELT experts who are really open to giving other teachers help and support. I am not a conference certificate hunter, I join conferences as I find it beneficial for me. I have the thirst for knowledge and learning and I will go an extra mile for this. I have never been one of those lucky employees who get financial support from the company, nor am I paid well enough to afford this. In fact, I save up. 

So, if you like learning, sharing ideas and networking, attending conferences will be a good opportunity for you. You might find that some conferences are better than others, but ultimately it will be worth your time. If you are a language school teacher like me, presenting for the first time might be challenging, but trust me, it is worth it, too. You won’t know what you can get unless you try. And here, I would also like to give a big shout-out to iTDi for continuously supporting and encouraging me to develop professionally!  

Conference Presenter: Yes, Maybe, or Never?

Patrice Palmer profile picture

Conference Presenter: Yes, Maybe, or Never?
by Patrice Palmer.

 

When I sat on my local TESL Board of Directors, we spent months planning our annual spring conference. Most years, the call for proposals yielded a very low rate of return. In fact, most years board members had to personally reach out to teachers to encourage or even persuade them to present. In this post I would like to explore the reasons why that happens.  

My good teacher friend Joan Bartel and I share the view that presenting at conferences is not only fun but also quite addictive. So far, I have presented at least 30 times in the last 20 years both locally and internationally. We often see each other at conferences including last year’s TESOL Convention in Seattle. Over the dinner one evening, we shared how our presentations went and talked about the thrill of presenting at an international conference. However, obviously many teachers do not share our excitement.  

Was I always such a conference-keener? Of course not! I can clearly remember my first conference presentation. I was working in a Teaching and Learning Centre in Hong Kong and I was told (not asked) that I would be presenting at a conference for local language teachers. My topic was how to teach English using a new virtual 360° panoramic website, which was brand-new technology back in 2005. Not only was I nervous about actually speaking to a large group, but also worried about demonstrating the technology itself operating live. While I waited patiently to be called to the podium, my mouth got dry and I was sweating! I remember the papers shaking in my hands… And before I knew it, my 30-minute presentation was over and I was sitting in audience with the conference participants. Even though I was terrified and anxious, I am very glad that I was forced to present. Without this prompting, I am not sure that I would have had the confidence to submit a conference proposal on my own. The best thing about that first presentation is that every time after that, it just got a bit easier because I knew I could do it.   

Do I still get presenter jitters? YES! As an example, moments before my TESOL Convention presentation in 2016, I was still reviewing my Power Point slides right up to my curtain call, but it was all worth the butterflies in the end. I knew that I had a good grasp of the content, but I just wanted it to go well.   

I certainly understand one’s apprehension in presenting, but the low rate of presenter proposal submissions for last year’s local TESL conference still perplexed me. I wanted to find out the reasons behind it so I designed a simple 2-question survey and sent it to my blog followers.  

My first question was, “If you haven’t presented at a conference, is this something that you would like to do in the future?”  Surprisingly, more than 46% of teachers responded with a YES. Approximately the same number replied “Maybe”, and only 8% said “Never”, which is much lower than I expected. 

My second question was, “If you are not interested in presenting at conferences, what is the number one reason?” Only 10% of the teachers said that they are too busy, which is understandable given our profession. Unfortunately, 20% of the respondents stated that they are too afraid to present in front of colleagues. Again, this is understandable since glossophobia (or the fear of public speaking) is the number one fear for many people. About 35% of teachers said that they are not interested because they would not receive any money (it is expensive to attend conferences). What was most surprising to me is that the same number of teachers said that they do not feel like they have the skills or expertise to present at a conference. Personally, I believe that all teachers have the skills (many of us teach presentation skills to our students) and we certainly have expertise from our own classroom experiences that could be shared to help other teachers.   

For this year’s TESL Ontario Conference in Canada, I invited a former colleague to co-present. Drew had always wanted to present but said that he didn’t have the confidence to do it alone. The day after our presentation, I received an email from him: “That was fun. Thanks for asking me. It was a great experience”.  

If you are an experienced conference presenter, think about inviting a newbie to co-present with you. I would also recommend that you start with a small, local conference first. Panel presentations are also a good way to get started and for you to gain experience and confidence.   

What else do you think we could do together as a teacher community to help other teachers feel more confident and believe that they have something worthwhile to share at TESOL conferences? If you are an ESL/EFL teacher who has never presented at a conference, please write in the comments below why you made this choice. If you know of any resources to help teachers feel more confident about presenting, please share. If you are a blogger, think about writing a post to encourage teachers to put themselves out there on the conference stage. Then, together we can see how teachers could be supported in this exciting professional development opportunity.