Designing a Professional Development Program at an EAP School: Drawing from a Canadian Context
Raj Khatri *(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Continuing professional development (CPD) is a carefully planned, continuous process that involves activities for teachers that will enhance their skills and knowledge for their professional and personal growth. This ultimately empowers teachers and leads to the development of their agency, the strengthening of their institution, and the growth of their students (Padwad & Dixit, 2011). Professional development (PD) for teachers is a lifelong process that can deepen their understanding of pedagogical knowledge and practices and help them perform their daily teaching and learning activities. The immense importance of PD has been recognized in recent years; as a result, the planning of PD activities has increased in schools, while at the same time challenging stakeholders to implement suitable PD programs (Villegas-Reimers, 2003). And as Whitehouse (2011) claims, these kinds of PD activities have recently received major attention from teachers and stakeholders in countries around the world.
The English Language Program in our college offers English for Academic Purpose (EAP) and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adult international and immigrant students. The Program provides two types of PD opportunities for teachers, in addition to a wide variety of workshops year-round at the teaching and learning centre. One type of PD is a school-wide workshop that takes place at the end of every semester, and the other one involves several training sessions that the EAP department organizes for teachers on topics of interest. The days for such opportunities are generally set in advance so that teachers can attend sessions that are of their interest. When our school decided to offer additional PD opportunities, I volunteered to develop our PD program. This program had to align with the PD standards that the school had in place. The PD standards at our school comprise both those related to adult education and those related to language learning. They address such matters as quality, professionalism, professional knowledge, cooperation, planning, teaching, assessing, language proficiency, and pedagogy. Additionally, we draw some of our PD standards from the document Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLBs): English as a Second Language for Adults, which is a
descriptive scale of language ability in ESL written as 12 benchmarks or reference points along a continuum from basic to advanced. The CLB standard reflects the progression of the knowledge and skills that underlie basic, intermediate and advanced ability among adult ESL learners. (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2012, p. v)
We are CLB-based and outcome driven, and we adhere to the theory of communicative competence, so whenever teacher training is conducted, we ensure that CLB documents are consulted.
In creating this PD program, I followed a four-phase PD plan: 1) forming a needs assessment team, 2) carrying out a needs assessment, 3) compiling resources, and 4) implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the PD.
Phase 1: Forming a Needs Assessment Team
It is important that schools evaluate their needs and practices for them to decide upon the particular model of PD they wish to implement (Villegas-Reimers, 2003). It is also essential that PD be participant driven and that any PD keeps teachers engaged in different tasks, including teaching, evaluation, monitoring, and reflecting (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1996). Therefore, taking into account Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin’s claim as well as Corcoran’s (1995) guiding principles for developing and implementing PD programs, while also respecting colleagues as professionals and as adult learners, I initially formed a five-member needs assessment team (NAT; Rubadeau, 2015), which included teachers and administrative staff with specialized expertise. As Corcoran (1995) suggests, PD should include constructivist activities that focus on issues and themes of teaching and learning in the classroom as encountered by teachers everyday. As the planning continued, teachers were added to the NAT based on their areas of expertise and their availability.
For the data collection stage, which I discuss below, all stakeholders were invited to participate and encouraged to provide input. Those who were available joined and contributed to the needs assessment. Suggestions from stakeholders were also accepted electronically.
Phase 2: Carrying out Needs Assessment
Scholars (e.g., Witkin, 1984) suggest that in planning PD, it is essential that a needs assessment be carried out among participants or colleagues in the program department. With the help of the NAT and the participating stakeholders, I conducted a needs assessment among colleagues for the PD program at school. This phase laid a foundation for planning. The needs assessment was important in helping me identify concerns that existed in our previously run PD programs and provided direction for the future PD program. This phase involved the following two stages:
Stage I: Data Collection
During this stage, with help from the NAT, I incorporated a SWOT analysis, which is a strategic planning tool to collect data: (S)trengths and (W)eaknesses are internal factors (e.g., classroom activities and processes, and physical, financial, and human resources), whereas (O)pportunities and (T)hreats are generally external factors (e.g., future trends and weather; University of Guelph, 2016). Using this analytic rubric, I carried out a needs assessment, determining the major areas of focus needed for planning an appropriate PD program.
Several concerns arose during the data collection stage, and it took several days for us to complete the task. One of the most important aspects during this stage was that multiple stakeholders collectively provided informed decisions about PD activities for implementation in the school. Learning outcomes, teachers’ pedagogies, content knowledge, teacher qualifications, teacher/student behaviors, student culture, and teaching and learning activities were only a few among the many topics discussed during the data collection stage.
Stage II: Data Analysis
The analysis of the SWOT matrix helped me explore possibilities for the PD program and revealed that second language reading comprehension was one of the key areas that I needed to focus on when planning a PD program for the school. There were several areas to focus on, so it was important for me to initially prioritize these areas for a PD program. Therefore, following Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943), a Tiers of Needs graphic was created. Although the results suggested that Gaible and Burns’s (2005) site-based model be incorporated and that teachers attend this PD program, individual teachers could also pursue Sparks and Loucks-Horsley’s (1989) individually guided staff development and inquiry activities if they had interest and enough time.
Phase 3: Compiling Resources
The in-depth analysis of needs was followed by the daunting task of gathering resources needed to develop and deliver my PD program. Appropriate personnel were contacted for support related to funding and human resources. The model adopted was the site-based model for PD, and it was not possible for me alone to prepare all the materials and deliver the PD program as described in the Tiers of Needs graphic. Therefore, some of my colleagues volunteered to prepare and deliver presentations based on their areas of expertise. Collective effort was truly appreciated!
Phase 4: Implementing, Monitoring, and Evaluation
The PD plans were put into action during this step. The PD was then monitored and evaluated. Planning and implementing PD activities and then monitoring and evaluating the effect of these activities through the viewpoints of both teachers and students has continued for months and is still taking place. Evaluation, in particular, takes time; an entire semester is needed to carry out a summative assessment in class and record students’ progress. The evaluation findings paved the way for changes to activities of the PD program. While some PD activities are completed, some others are ongoing and still others are yet to take place.
During this process, from the forming of the NAT until the first evaluation was carried out, I kept reflecting on the spectrum of the PD program. It has been a very effective, yet challenging, process throughout. Every phase has been informative and productive, but the SWOT analysis was one of the most daunting tasks in the whole process. Evaluating the implementation of the PD program fully is taking a long time. However, its importance as one of the most essential components of the process cannot be ignored. It has really been a learning experience for me, as I am an EAP/ESL teacher, not a leader or administrator who would execute this plan with ease. Beyond my original comfort zone as a teacher, I had challenging, yet rewarding opportunities when working with colleagues as a team. There were some limitations, certainly! A few workshops were postponed due to poor attendance; teachers had a full teaching load and could not always participate in activities. Fridays were not always the most creative days for workshops! External experts are yet to be invited. Despite these challenges and limitations, I am struck by how rewarding the entire process has been. It has developed my knowledge, disposition, and practices that are essential when making important decisions, communicating with several stakeholders, delivering engaging presentations, planning events or activities strategically, managing time and scheduling appointments, enhancing group processing skills, keeping things moving and on track, meeting deadlines, creating collaborative communities of practice, and taking leadership roles. Intellectually, this process exposed me to a wide range of activities, which I would otherwise never have engaged in and been able to learn from. This opportunity is much appreciated!
In order to contribute to the knowledge base of teachers and administrators who are enthusiastic about and are engaged in PD, I believe this article offers information on a process that I incorporated in the planning, implementing, and evaluating of the PD program at my school. I hope that this PD process can be adapted to the needs of the student/teacher populations of programs at other institutions, although as Whitehouse (2011) cautions, different countries can have very different teaching and learning environments, irrespective of the fact that some of these countries may even share some outcomes for student achievement.
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(*Raj Khatri is a TESL practicum supervisor and doctoral student at the University of Victoria in Canada, Raj has facilitated EAP and ESL classes for over fifteen years at a variety of settings, including at the University of Regina, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, Centennial College, all in Canada, and Padma Kanya Multiple Campus, and GEMS in Nepal. A life member of NELTA, Raj is an accredited member of TESL Canada, the Ontario College of Teachers, and the Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board. He also holds professional membership in TESOL and BC TEAL. His areas of interest are L2 reading strategies, L2 writing, intercultural communication, and teacher professional development.)