The teaching profession is full of people who want to do good work and make a difference in the life of each learner. As a result, teachers spend the majority of their career focused on the needs and wants of their students and invest hours and energy on planning and developing lessons and grading coursework. In short, the students are teachers’ main focus. But sometimes teachers need to focus on their own professional development in order to continue bringing their best selves to the classroom.
In this month’s Teacher’s Corner, the focus is on professional development and how teacher-trainers can support and nurture teachers’ skills, knowledge, and teaching methods. The first week offers a simple (often free) solution to bring teachers together to discuss current language teaching research and issues. Week 2 presents suggestions for teachers to get involved and participate in professional development outside of their classroom. In Week 3, trainers learn how to conduct teaching observations that promote buy-in and trust from practicing teachers. Finally, Week 4 takes trainers through the aspects and components necessary in planning a small, low-cost teaching workshops.
For additional information about teacher training and professional development, check out a few of the many resources available on the American English website:
Although teachers spend much of their time working with students, it is very important that they connect with fellow teachers. These meetings and gatherings can be formal or informal and should give teachers time and space to discuss teaching challenges, student issues, content questions, and research on language teaching and learning. When teachers are given opportunities to talk with their colleagues, they can return to their classrooms feeling more energized and better informed. They also can feel comfortable knowing that they have a supportive group of colleagues who are experiencing similar highs and lows in their classrooms.
In this week’s Teacher’s Corner, teacher-trainers can learn about a simple way to bring teachers together while strengthening their language teaching knowledge. A monthly discussion group lets teachers read about new research in language teaching and discuss how that research might be adapted to their language classes. This week, we outline how to get a discussion group started, where to find content, and how to recruit and retain participants
DISCUSSION GROUP LOGISTICS
For some teachers and teacher-trainers, two of the biggest barriers to professional development are the time involved and the interest in the subject. Address the following issues before the first scheduled discussion group:
- Identify a time and day that is convenient for all or for most teachers at the school. Start by identifying times during the day when teachers are required to be at school but can use the time for different purposes. For example, if all teachers have an hour at the end of each school day, add this hour to your list of possible times.
- Contact teachers through e-mail and in person to get their feedback on a language teaching discussion group. Present the idea as a bi-monthly, monthly, or quarterly meeting when teachers read an article related to current research in language teaching then come together to discuss the article and how to move from research to practice. Remind teachers that participation is voluntary and that teachers can participate as time and interest permit. For example, some teachers might not be interested in every topic and shouldn’t feel compelled to attend every meeting. At the same time, encourage those who are not always interested to attend and share their unique perspectives.
- Offer teachers the opportunity to choose content. One option is for one person (someone new each time) to choose an article to read before the next meeting. Alternatively, teachers could vote on a set of topics that interest them. Then, the trainer could select the content to share with teachers before each meeting.
- Identify a location that is accessible to all interested teachers and that can accommodate a fluctuating number of participants.
- Offer small but appealing incentives to encourage participation. For example, hold the meeting over lunch time and suggest teachers bring their lunch, but provide a dessert. Offer coffee or tea at a late afternoon meeting. Also suggest that teachers can add their participation in this group to the professional development section of their résumés.
As previously mentioned, teachers can choose content each time, or teachers can create a list of topics and the trainer chooses content. Either way, teachers and trainers benefit from knowing about sites with free and open resources on language teaching and learning. Here’s a list of websites to get the selection process started.
- English Teaching Forum from American English is a quarterly journal that presents research, teaching ideas, and materials for teaching English.
- TESOL International Association offers several free online resources such as newsletters, bulletins, and blogs that present and discuss current research in the field.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education offers some free materials that discuss issues and research in higher education, including English language learning.
- The Center for Advanced Research in Language Acquisition from the University of Minnesota shares papers, conference materials, and resources related to language acquisition.
- Center for Applied Linguistics promotes, funds, and conducts research in applied linguistics and posts some research briefs as well as a number of links on their site.
Busy teachers are more likely to participate when meetings are engaging, relevant, and efficient. Try some of the following tips to make each discussion group successful.
- Offer an agenda. Let participants know how the discussion group will proceed and how much time will be spent discussing the research versus how much time will be spent brainstorming ways to apply the research to the classroom.
- At the beginning, offer a little background information on the topic to get participants thinking about the topic and the article they’ve read. Background information might include information about the researchers, the project, or the origin of the research.
- Prepare a few questions to initiate discussion. Teachers could even submit their own questions ahead of time or write them down on note cards to give to the trainer. This way, if the discussion starts to go off topic, the trainer has a way to steer the discussion back to the topic.
- Open the discussion up to the whole group by asking for reactions and thoughts on the reading. Encourage everyone to speak openly about their reactions. Explain that the discussion is intended to enrich their own thinking about the topic.
- When the conversation slows or the meeting is at the halfway point, begin to switch the focus of the discussion to how the research and its results could be used in the language classroom. What are the implications for teaching? For learners? How might this research inform lesson or curriculum design?
- Take notes throughout the discussion and spend the last two minutes reviewing what was discussed and the options for applying the research.
When language teachers and professionals take time to review current research in the field, they expand and add to their own language teaching and learning knowledge. By sharing their knowledge with colleagues, they further challenge themselves to think about who they are as teachers and how they can grow professionally.
Language teaching professionals have many opportunities for professional development that are outside of the classroom and school. Although the cost can sometimes limit participation in some organizations, local organizations and resources found on the Internet offer many ways to become involved where teachers can find options locally, internationally, and digitally. This week’s Teacher’s Corner shares a comprehensive list of organizations, groups, and resources for language teaching professionals to engage and participate beyond their classrooms.
Becoming a member in professional organizations is a great way for teachers to participate in professional development on a global level. Membership in the larger, international organizations can give access to publications and research, grant funding, and conferences and conventions that bring together professionals from all over the world. Smaller, regional organizations often offer the chance for teachers to connect with colleagues who understand the particular issues facing the schools, teachers, and learners in their region.
TESOL International Association is an international professional organization, and perhaps the largest on this list, that serves teachers, teacher trainers, researchers, and students in teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Local TESOL Affiliates are listed on the TESOL website. Affiliate organizations are in almost every country around the world and provide a local connection for professionals.
AAAL is the American Association for Applied Linguistics. While the organization focuses on language acquisition issues for all languages, there is a significant amount of attention, focus, and research on English language teaching and learning.
ACTFL, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, provides a number of valuable resources and connections for teachers of all foreign languages. This would include professionals teaching English in foreign language settings.
ILA is the International Literacy Association and focuses on literacy education around the world.
LESLLA, Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults, brings together professionals interested in teaching adult language learners.
PROFESSIONAL EXCHANGE AND ONLINE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
Teaching and research exchange opportunities give teachers a chance to immerse themselves in new language teaching and learning contexts.
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in the U.S. Department of State, has a complete list of all of their exchange opportunities that are available to non-U.S. citizens. The programs below have differing application and qualification requirements so read the instructions carefully before applying:
- American English Webinars offers webinar programming for English language teachers around the world. Topics range from teaching strategies to classroom management to related research topics. Previously-recorded webinars can be found here, and live ones are held on the American English for Educators Facebook Page.
- The American English E-Teacher Program offers English teaching professionals the opportunity to take online university-level classes related to English language teaching and learning.
- The Fulbright Foreign Student Program offers young professionals and students opportunities to study and conduct research in the United States.
- The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program is an exchange program for mid-career professionals from around the world to come to the U.S. to study and collaborate with professional colleagues.
ONLINE GROUPS AND COMMUNITIES
Social media has made teacher collaboration even easier for English teachers everywhere. Teachers can join an online group and become a member in a professional teaching community. This list of resources shares a small portion of what is available to English teaching professionals.
- American English for Educators on Facebook is a Facebook page that provides selected content in a community forum for American English teachers.
- Dave’s ESL Café Teacher Forums is part of Dave’s ESL Café website, which is a longtime source of activities, lesson ideas, and professional teaching tips. The teacher forums are facilitated group discussions covering a range of English teaching topics.
- TESOL Communities of Practice are limited to TESOL members, but the main page is a great way to understand what Communities of Practice are online and how to find (or start) one that works for you.
If teachers in your area are unsure where to start, try some of the resources listed here or contact the Regional English Language Officer (RELO) from the U.S. Department of State in your area. RELOs can connect you to local professional organizations in your area. Additionally, consider submitting articles to journals such as English Teaching Forum as a way to become more involved in the field and build your professional résumé.