Alternative Activities for Teachers’ Sustainable Professional Development

 

 

 

 

*Gobinda Puri

Abstract

“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better,” said Dylan William, a British Educationist. As said in the quote, the teacher has to continue learning to make his/her profession creative, enthusiastic, interesting and rewarding as a part of professional development. This article attempts to present some major alternative activities and techniques for teacher professional development giving details how a teacher can groom professionally. It begins with brief introduction of PD and explores some practical activities to keep teachers updated and engaging in his profession. Moreover, it emphasizes the collaborative techniques, MOOCs, Webinar and Teachers Support Groups for sustainable teachers’ professional development.

Keywords: Collaborative techniques, MOOCs, online courses, TPD, teachers support groups, webinar

Introduction

Teaching English as a foreign language provides a career for thousands of teachers worldwide, and the vast educational enterprise of English language teaching could not operate effectively without the dedication and effort of such teacher day-by-day and year-by-year throughout their careers. Maintaining the interest, creativity, and enthusiasm of teachers in their profession is one of the challenges faced by the government, program coordinators, school principals, and teacher-educators. Teachers need to expand their roles and responsibilities over time if they are to continue to find language teaching rewarding, and it is the responsibility of schools, government agencies and other educational institutions to provide opportunities for teachers to develop longer-term career goals and opportunities over time. Hoa & Van Anh (2015) assert that the field of language teaching is subject to rapid changes, both as the profession responds to new educational paradigms and trends and as institutions face new challenges as a result of changes in curriculum, national tests, and student needs. As a result, teachers need regular opportunities to update their professional knowledge and skills, that is, their opportunities for professional development.

Language teaching is an exciting profession where we can sustain and enjoy our professional life because it is valued much in comparison to others. It can be made more beautiful and respectful profession through various TPD activities. To be specific, teaching the English language can be made more charming being involved in the activities like online learning, webinars, and teacher support groups.

In recent days, teachers in Nepal have been blamed for being involved in political and trade affairs, and not being professional. It is said that the teachers normally do not engage in professional development activities in private institutions because they think that their jobs are not secured and they take teaching as an only transitional job. The teachers in public institutions think that they have already got the jobs and no one terminates them even if they do not involve in professional activities. So, they may not think that it is necessary to carry out the professional activities much. However, the government has made some provisions to recognize their research and publications during recruitment and promotion. TU service commission has allocated the marks for the research article published in newspapers or journal. Similarly, teachers’ service commission examination has also allocated marks for Action Research during the promotion.

What is Professional Development?

PD is the process of updating and refreshing teachers in the educational institutions for the better performance. According to the Glossary of Education, the term ‘professional development’ may be used in reference to wide variety of advanced professional learning intended to help administrators, teachers, and other educators improve their professional knowledge, competence, skill, and effectiveness. It enables teachers to update their knowledge, sharpen their skills, and acquire new teaching techniques, with the intent of enhancing the quality of teaching and learning (Darling-Hammond et al. 2009). So, it is the process of furthering education and knowledge in a teacher’s subject area—e.g., learning new scientific theories, or learning how to teach subject-area content and concepts more effectively. Different scholars have different views on professional development. Richards and Farrell (2005, p.1) mentions that ‘professional development is the next step when teachers’ period of formal training is over. Craft (1996) says professional development ‘is sometimes used to describe moving teachers forward in knowledge or skills’ (p.6). From these definitions, we can understand that Professional development is taken as activities that develop a teacher’s skills, knowledge, expertise and other characteristics as a professional.

 

Training and professional development

Some teachers may take PD as synonymous with training. However, training is a part of professional development. Head and Taylor (1997) as cited in Shrestha, 2012 maintained that the difference between teacher training and teacher education as follows:

Training                                                             Development

Compulsory                                                      -Voluntary

-Competency-based                                         -Holistic

-Short- term                                                       -Long- term

-One-off                                                              -Ongoing

-Temporary                                                        -Continual

-Skill/ technique/knowledge-based              -Awareness based

-Product/certificate weighted                         -Process weighted

-Done with experts                                            -Done with peers

The distinctions show that the teacher development is holistic, long-term, voluntary continual ongoing process. It is not covered by any pieces of training and research alone. A teacher should be involved in numerous activities to keep him/her updated with knowledge and skills for language teaching.

Why professional development?

The field of language teaching is subject to rapid changes. It is no doubt that everything keeps changing according to the time. Accordingly, the needs of students, testing system and curriculum keep on changing. Therefore, the teachers need regular opportunities to update their professional knowledge and skills. One of the main reasons of professional development is to be empowered- to have the opportunity and the confidence to act upon your ideas as well as to influence the way you perform in your profession (Murray 2010). So, it is necessary to be empowered. As teachers, we can empower ourselves if we keep in mind the following concepts.

  • Be positive
  • Believe in what you are doing and in yourself
  • Be proactive, not reactive
  • Be assertive, not aggressive.

. Moreover, we need to be able to take part in activities such as:

  • engaging in self-reflection and evaluation
  • developing specialized knowledge and skills about many aspects of teaching
  • expanding their knowledge base about research, theory, and issues in teaching
  • taking on new roles and responsibilities, such as supervisor or mentor teacher, teacher-researcher, or materials writer
  • developing collaborative relationships with other teachers
  • gaining knowledge of the various technologies and how to integrate them into their instruction.

Professional Development Activities

There are so many activities which can contribute more or less to professional development. The activities can be in various levels and forms: local, regional, national and international. Some are individual or informal while other occasions are collective structured.   It can also be carried out collaboratively and individually. Murray (2010) has shown the professional development techniques into two forms, individual and collaborative Techniques. Some of the techniques are as follows:

  • Keep a teaching journal share journals (Individual)
  • Analyze critical incidents (Individual)
  • Try peer mentoring and coaching (Collaborative)
  • Form a teacher support group (Collaborative)
  • Join a teacher support network (Collaborative)
  • Form or join local and national teachers’ association (Collaborative)
  • Urge your association to connect with other associations (Collaborative)
  • Become active in an international professional association (Collaborative)
  • Participate in workshops and conferences (Collaborative)

From the list above, we can see that teachers can do a lot in collaboration with others rather than doing alone. Teachers can grow professionally when they engage in those activities.

Some common activities are listed as follows:

  • Courses and workshops
  • Reading professional literature
  • Education conferences and seminars
  • Professional development network
  • Individual and collaborative research
  • Mentoring and peer observation
  • Observation visits to other schools and colleges
  • Qualification programmers
  • Classroom research and action research
  • Self-Study teacher research
  • Informal dialogue to improve teaching
  • Peer teaching, peer observation and feedback

Regarding the professional development, TESOL has also shared a guide to professional development for its members on its website. According to the website, the professionals can enhance their career by the following activities:

  • Administering programs
  • Developing materials
  • Becoming active in professional organization
  • Conducting language research
  • Presenting at conferences and seminars
  • Writing for professional publications
  • Pursuing post-graduate degrees
  • Becoming lifelong learners
  • Focusing on you

The teachers can share ideas with their colleagues, and look for opportunities to learn from their colleagues’ ideas, share lesson plans; write materials for their institution; give talks to other teachers on campus; and write articles or give interviews for professional and scholarly journals, school-based publications, and local, regional, or national media.

For the sustainable professional development, we can keep doing a number of activities in different levels and different forms. In a brief survey, 30 teachers were given the list of professional development activities and they were also asked to tick 5 most practised activities. All teachers ticked three activities in common: workshops, classroom and action research, and conferences. The next question was to tick 5 least practised/ new activates from the same list. All teachers ticked three activities in common: webinar, online courses (MOOCs), and teacher support group. Here in this write-up, I would like to highlight conferences, webinar, MOOCs and Teacher support group with my personal experiences.

Conferences

I didn’t have any idea of conferences till I joined NELTA in 2002. Since then I have been attending NELTA conferences and also have made few presentations. These conferences boosted up my confidence to handle classroom activities and made me stand on my own feet. NELTA conferences not only have increased my confidence in delivering the lessons in the classroom but also encouraged me to carry out some classroom research and share the findings in different forums. Moreover, they exposed me to a wider web of English teachers and teacher educators throughout the country and beyond. As a result, I  got different scholarships to travel to the UK, Japan and the USA, and present my paper in IATEFL, JALT and TESOL conferences respectively. By attending the conference, I learned a lot and improved my own skills and knowledge in my field. The impact of conferences can be seen even in research, classroom and society as well. In my view, the most important advantage of the conference is networking which can support in sharing best practices and doing some collective research projects. So, attending and presenting at conferences is the best way for teachers’ professional development.

Webinar

It was quite a new word for me and I think it may be still new for some teachers. Webinar stands for Web-based seminar. The webinar is an educational, informative or instructional presentation that is made available online, usually as either video or audio with slides. A key feature of the Webinar is its interactive elements, is the ability to give, receive and discuss information in real-time.

I want to share my experience of attending first webinar session. I applied to Regional English Language Office (RELO) for American English Webinar series first and they sent me the link. The first session could not be successful since I didn’t have a strong internet connection and technical idea to go to the presentation. I spent almost an hour in vain. Then, I improved the connectivity and skills from the second session and that went really well. After the completion of webinar series, I was invited to receive the certificate at the U.S. Embassy which meant me a lot for me to complete other series. Eventually, I collected 6 certificates of the webinar and now I am attending webinar series as a group viewing host in my region as well. This experience has also contributed a lot to my professional development.

The useful webinars for English language teachers are available in www.americanenglish.state.gov. We can apply through regional English language office (RELO) Kathmandu and attend the session of our interest. Other webinars can be found in a different special interest group (SIG) of IATEFL, TESOL and some other renowned universities of Europe, Australia and America.

MOOCs

As given in free Wikipedia, a massive open online course (MOOC /muːk/) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive user forums to support community interactions among students, professors and teaching assistants (TAs). MOOCs are a recent and widely researched development in distance education which was first introduced in 2006 and emerged as a popular mode of learning in 2012. Teachers can take a number of teacher development courses online. I have completed some MOOCS from https://www.edx.org, https://www.coursera.org/ and www.americanenglish.state.gov. The courses like the landscape of English language teaching, shaping the way we teach English: paths to success in ELT, English for journalism, etc. have not only enriched my knowledge expertise but also provided groundbreaking techniques for effective teaching. So, MOOCs can be the best way for PD.

Teacher Support Groups

Teacher Support Groups are highly effective Professional Learning Communities that use emotional and relational data to improve teaching and learning. Support groups are a great way to grow professionally. As a teacher, you fulfil a number of roles for your students both intellectually and socially. In addition to learning about different teaching techniques, support groups can help you deal with the responsibilities and pressures that come with the profession.

If there is not a teachers’ support group already at your school or in your area, you may choose to start one. Taking the sole responsibility for starting a well-planned support group can be time-consuming. It may be helpful to invite colleagues to meet for a general discussion about what kind of support group everyone would like. As the group evolves, the details concerning agenda and procedures will iron out as you customize the group to fit your needs. This may be the new concept for us but it will be of great help for teachers to develop professionalism in the institution or region.

Conclusion

Teacher’s professional development is to empower teachers in their profession for adaptive, refreshing and effective teaching. It is holistic, long-term, voluntary continual ongoing process. So the teachers can develop their professionalism through various activities individually and collaboratively. Collaborative efforts seem to be more effective. They can also be choosy in activities according to the contexts and levels. The modern ways of professional development are emerging day by day. Therefore, they need to be trained on alternatives modes of online learning, webinars, MOOCs and teachers support groups timely

References

Craft, A. (1996). Continuing professional development: A practical guide for teachers and schools. Rutledge Famer: London; New York.

Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R.C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., and Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Professional Development in the United States and Abroad. Washington, DC: National

Hoa, L. H. & Van Anh, N. T.(2015) Team -Teaching as a Tool for Professional Development Retrieved from http://www.vnseameo.org/TESOLConference2015/Materials/Fullpaper/Dr.%20Le%20Huong%20Hoa%20+%20Ms.%20Nguyen%20Thi%20Van%20Anh.pdf

Murray, A. (2010). Empowering Teachers through Professional development. English Teaching Forum. 10 (1): 1-10

Richards, J.C. and Farrell, T.S. (2005). Professional development for language teachers; strategies for teacher learning. Cambridge: CUP

Sah, P. K. (2015, December). Nepalese EFL teachers’ professional development: Present practices, realities and looking forward. IATEFL TDSIG, 73, 5-17. Available at: http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/Launch.aspx?EID=4a155c8a-a933-4ddc-bd2a-0d4d5482ab4c.

Shrestha, R. (2012). Teacher Professional Development (TPD) Program: Boon or Bane? NELTA Chautari. Retrieved from https://neltachoutari.wordpress.com/2012/09/01

The Glossary of Education. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/professional-development

(Gobinda Puri is a lecturer of English at Janata Multiple Campus, Itahari, Sunsari. He is also an alumnus instructor at English Access Microscholarship Program, Nepal. His main research focus is on teacher education, critical thinking, ICT and English as a foreign language teaching. He has presented papers at IATEFL, TESOL and JALT conferences besides NELTA. He is NELTA executive member in Sunsari Branch.)

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