Andy Hockley’s Six Ways to Survive the Crisis through Professional Development

I met Andy Hockley through Twitter and he has become an important member of my PLN (Personal Learning Network). Andy’s got a fun  sense of humour and a great passion for teacher development. His blog, From Teacher to Manager is, as the title suggests, all about managing teachers and has lots of interesting readable pieces on areas such as communication, leadership and feedback. Andy’s quite an expert on this, having also written a book by the same name available from Cambridge University Press. I had been hoping for a good list on the topic of professional development during these difficult economic times. And hey presto, here it is!

I’ll skip over the long introduction as to why professional development is a good thing, and assume we can take it as read. However, when times are hard, it can be one of the first things to get dropped off the budget (as many managers of language schools are only too painfully aware being providers of PD as well). But it’s very important to keep thinking about PD and how you can offer your teachers as much as possible – and it doesn’t have to involve a huge expense.  Here then are 6 ways of developing your teachers without breaking the bank:

1. Peer observation

Peer observation serves both observer and observed. Both can learn a lot from the process and as professional development opportunities go, it is, I suspect, one of the richest.  However, I know of some managers who’ve tried to institute a peer-observation programme and then later given up on it as being unworkable or ineffective. I’d argue that this is because it wasn’t set up properly or because there was a lack of purpose behind it. Peer observation needs work.  It needs to be clear to everyone why they’re doing it, and what the benefits are.  Above all people need to know how to do it.  People are rarely trained in observing lessons and in giving useful feedback afterwards (and on the flip side people are rarely trained in receiving feedback either!) .  I’d recommend working with the teaching staff to set up a scheme that works for everyone (and is clearly perceived as being entirely developmental and not in any way judgmental), and providing effective training in using the system and in observing and giving and receiving feedback.

2. Reflective Practice

Like peer observation, I think most teachers know the value of reflective practice, but like observation, many don’t really know how to do it. Provide some training in reflective practice, and follow some other ideas I listed here.

3. Online conferences

Attending conferences (and paying for teachers to attend them) can be a very expensive option, though it is, I’d argue, an extremely valuable one. If there is an ELT conference going on nearby to you, then I’d suggest taking the chance and getting as many people to attend as you can. If however this is not possible, these days it is increasingly possible to “attend” conferences online.  This weekend just gone for example, the huge and obviously excellent ISTEK conference in Istanbul was streamed online and provided many people with the opportunity to be involved without leaving their front rooms/offices/wherever people like to sit with their laptops. This post by Mark Andrews in Budapest is a great one about the experience of being part of ISTEK from afar. There is also of course the upcoming IATEFL conference which will also have an extremely high online presence.

4. The web (twitter/PLN/etc)

Mark’s post about ISTEK above also talks a lot about twitter and other ways of being involved and keeping in touch online. Personally I have found twitter to be an invaluable tool for keeping up to date with ideas, thoughts, articles, and above all people who can all help me develop. My PLN (personal learning network) has grown hugely since I got over my skepticism and really started getting involved. You can’t force teachers to go on twitter or other online communities (nings, blogs, etc), but you can make them aware of the benefits and possibilities out there

5. Outreach

Particularly for managers in “offshore” schools (that is schools which operate in countries where the first language isn’t English), outreach is an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone – develop your teachers and be more a part of your community.  What I mean by outreach is to set up a regular ELT training session for local state sector English teachers. (Say on one or two Friday afternoons a month). The trainer is one of your teachers, and they choose what they want to train (or, better, you  come up with an arrangement whereby the local teachers specify what they’d be interested in learning about, and teachers agree to take on one of the sessions identified).  I’d go as far as to say that these sessions should be free. (The financial benefit to you is that those teachers who attend are more likely to recommend your school if a student or parent comes to them asking how they can improve their English outside class). The teachers who do the trainings get experience in doing teacher training, a very useful and marketable skill, and also through the act of preparing a session, end up really developing themselves in the area they have agreed to train. You have to be careful to ensure that there is no sense of condescending “we know better than you, let us teach you” in the advertising and training itself, but done well, this is an excellent way of getting professional development (As an aside, my first teacher training experiences were through such a programme, and I would say that it was possibly one of the most valuable forms of PD I ever got)

6. Performance management systems

That sounds a bit grandiose, so let me explain a bit. Most schools have an annual performance review/appraisal system, whereby the teacher meets with the DoS (or whoever) to  look over what they’ve achieved in the year and perhaps look forward a little (often there is a teacher observation as part of this process). It would be better to use this meeting as much more of a performance preview – allowing the teacher to talk about what they would like to learn in the upcoming year, and such that both parties can discuss options to that end. This could result in something relatively inexpensive – like that teacher taking their first business English course in the upcoming year (with support of course!) or less so – like that teacher attending a training course or international conference or doing the DELTA etc etc.  But the point is, that it is a discussion, and one in which the teacher feels valued, listened to, and like their development is important.

The 6 things limitation means I haven’t touched upon other ideas like mentoring and coaching, for example, but I think this provides a good list of ideas that you can use to get teachers developing.

The crucial thing is to get people involved in their own professional development, and make sure that they know the possibilities. It’s true you can’t make the horse that you lead to the water drink, but can you make it thirsty?

Published in: on April 4, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love this post. I love this blog. I love English. I love teaching English. And I love teaching others to teach English. Thanks for the valuable input!

    Suzanne Sullivan, Corporate Language Trainer

  2. Agree with you there Suzanne! Great blog Lindsay! Many thanks Andy. Lots of very valuable input every time I read… Inspiration for all to blog (at some stage…)


  3. A nice read, thanks Andy. The above comment is, I think, enthusiastic enough for the both of us.

  4. That’s a wonderful post.

    But –

    what if the horses are thirsty and want to drink but the farmers are not willing to let them do so?

  5. Thank you! I’m a self-employed trainer, which has its pros and cons. Mentoring and coaching play a big role for me, to give my own self-‘performance review’ some continuity. Peer review with other freelancers is great, but while it’s easy enough to do at college or at the private schools I’ve taught at, I haven’t been able to do it incompany, which is where I’m mostly teaching at the moment. A dilemma, its really down to frequent learner feedback. And blogging helps/forces me to reflect.

  6. Thanks Suzanne and Adam!

    Anita: There comes a time when if the farmers are stopping the horses drinking that those horses need to think about finding new farmers.

    (I think we may have stretched that metaphor to the limits of its endurance, now)

    Thanks Anne. Yes, in-company courses are a problem for peer observation. Good point about blogging – it works for me as a reflective tool as well, and I suspect others.

  7. Thanks Andy for an excellent post, and the reminder that we HAD met in real life (ahhh, my virtual and real selves are constantly getting mixed up). I particularly like suggestion 6 of yours, as I think it is an excellent way to make a teacher, a good teacher, feel really valued. I remember when I got a little bit of funding from my school to go to a conference in Spain – I felt so grateful and really worked my backside off to give something back in return. It’s an example of what I think they call a virtuous cycle.

  8. Thanks, Andy
    I really enjoyed reading these practical ideas. Would you be able to do another six things and let us know how to set up and get the most of of PLNs?
    I’m seeing an increasing number of people saying how much they get out of these and my skepticism is fading.

    All the best


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