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.
Teacher trainers are tasked with many responsibilities, but none cause as much stress for teachers and teacher trainers as evaluative observations. Teachers can feel intimidated by the presence of an observer in their classrooms, particularly if that observer is judging their teaching. Teacher trainers might feel uncomfortable in their role as an observer and with a position of some authority. At times, observations can feel awkward and insincere for everyone involved. What if there was a way to make observations relevant and empowering for both teachers and teacher trainers? One possibility is conducting an observation that ends with a robust discussion on language teaching strategies and techniques. In this Teacher’s Corner, the teacher observation is presented as a more collaborative and less intimidating opportunity for teachers and teacher trainers to review a lesson by discussing what actually occurred in the lesson and what variations and adaptations could be made in other situations.
Before an observation ever takes place, a lot of goodwill can be created simply by the teacher trainer talking with teachers about the observation process. To begin, the teacher trainer should explain the purpose and structure of the observation to any teachers who will get observed. The purpose of observations will vary depending on the teaching situation, but the structure of the observations can follow what is outlined in this article. As teacher trainers talk with teachers about the process, they should also encourage any and all questions teachers might have. It is important to that both the teacher trainer and teacher feel comfortable with the process and have a clear understanding of how the observation will proceed.
Schedule the observation by contacting the teacher and offering a few possible times and days that would work for the teacher and the students. Conducting an observation unannounced or without the agreement of the teacher can start the process off badly and defeat the goal of having a collaborative process. Once again, explain the process and outline of the observation and ask for questions.
The day before the observation, confirm the time with the teacher and ask if there is anything the teacher would like the trainer to know ahead of time. Plan to arrive to the class shortly before it starts. Greet the teacher and take a seat in a spot that is unobtrusive but still gives a clear view of the teacher and students. Leave it up to the teacher as to whether to explain the presence of the observer.
CONDUCTING THE OBSERVATIONAL OBSERVATION
In this type of observation, the observer logs, or records, the lesson as it happens. The observer writes down what the teacher and students do and discuss during the class. It is also good practice for the observer to first note some information about the class and the context. For example, the observer might sketch the layout of the classroom, write down the number of students, or note any other information pertinent to the observation. Once class starts, the observer begins by logging the first thing the teacher or students do upon the start of class.
|Time (minutses)||Teacher Tasks||Students' Tasks|
|0:00||(Teacher has written class outline on the board) Teacher greets students and asks them to take out their homework and review it with their partners||Students take their seats|
|1:00||Teacher readies handouts and circulates among students||Students find their partners and review the homework, comparing answers and discussing discrepancies|
|6:00||Teacher finds group for late arrival and then asks students to take one more minute to review their homework|
|7:00||Teacher asks students to come back together as a large group by ringing a bell to get their attention|
Included in these purely observational notes, the observer might note any of the following:
- Details about any interactions between students or students and teachers
- Language the teacher uses to present information or give directions
- Descriptions of processes, such as group strategies or transitions between tasks
- Language used to make corrections and give feedback
- Use of the classroom space throughout lesson
- Teacher’s movements around the classroom
- Technology and tools used to deliver the lesson
Once the lesson ends, the observer should take some time to review his or her notes, make clarifications, or add observations that he or she made but did not have time to log during the lesson.
LESSON REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
Ideally, the lesson discussion and reflection should be done immediately after the lesson or within an hour. This way the lesson and what occurred are fresh in the mind. After organizing his or her notes, the observer should try to make a copy of the notes for the teacher to reference throughout the discussion. In preparation for the discussion, the teacher can take a few minutes to reflect on the lesson and write down responses to the following questions:
- What went well in class for you??
- What was difficult about class today for you?
- • What was normal about the lesson? (In the sense that something in class happens regularly and is a good example of a typical day in the class)
- What was unusual about the lesson?
- What two moments in the class would you like to discuss in greater detail?
Once the observer and teacher are prepared, they can begin to discuss the lesson. First, teachers and observers should go through the observation log, focusing only on reviewing the observable events of the class. Both the observer and teacher can make note of points they want to discuss as they review the lesson, but they should avoid making extra comments or giving opinions during this part of the process. Instead, they should focus on remembering the lesson as it progressed.
After reviewing the lesson, the observer can begin the reflection part of the discussion by asking the teacher for any reflective thoughts. The observer can encourage the teacher to review the notes he or she made on the lesson log and the answers to the questions he or she prepared earlier. After the teacher has had a chance to speak, the observer can begin discussing the aspects of the lesson that were important to both of them. For example, if something happened with a student during the class that required discipline, the observer and the teacher should talk through the moment. How was the teacher feeling? Has the teacher seen this before? How has it been handled in other classes? If the teacher were to have a similar incident occur, how would he or she handle it differently? The observer should be a part of this discussion rather than simply asking questions. In that respect, both the observer and teacher should talk about the lesson as it occurred and how things might go differently in another class, with a different group of students, or with a different level of learner. Reflective discussion can be a difficult skill for teachers and observers to master, but the whole process should be a collaborative reflection that encourages a conversation about best practices in language teaching. Both the observer and the teacher should ask questions and reflect on the questions asked. Other possible questions include the following:
- How can we present the same topic using different types of technology?
- What is the advantage of giving feedback to students as in this instance? If feedback was done differently, what might change on the part of the learners?
- The structure of the lesson started out like this… What additional techniques could be used for organizing this type of lesson?
- What other assessments can be used to achieve the same goal? What are the strengths about the assessment that was used?
- How are objectives usually communicated to students? In this class, how were the objectives communicated? What are other ideas for explaining the objectives?
Before concluding the discussion, the observer can take a few minutes to review some of what was discussed and to explain any next steps regarding the observation, such as if the observation will be part of the teacher’s professional development file. It is also good practice for both the teacher and observer to finalize the lesson log and write a summary of the reflective discussion to share with one another. This way, both the teacher and observer have a written record and an understanding of how the conversation was perceived by their colleague.
At the end of this discussion and reflection, observers should feel that they achieved their purpose and carried out a successful observation of a colleague. Teachers should leave the discussion feeling as though the lesson was objectively observed and that they had an opportunity to share their teaching knowledge and skills. Both the observer and the teacher should feel as though they had participated in a fruitful exchange of language teaching practices and strategies.
Teacher training and professional development opportunities do not need to be complicated or expensive. One simple resource for improving teaching and learning new methods for language teaching is fellow teachers. In most teaching contexts, teacher colleagues can offer a wealth of language teaching tips and suggestions that come from research, education, and teaching experience. This week, Teacher’s Corner offers teacher trainers a way to utilize the resources and expertise available on site to coordinate a small, low-cost teaching workshop. Teacher trainers see more enthusiasm and support for professional development activities when teachers choose and design the content. In this workshop, teacher trainers will ask on-site teachers to present a 10-minute teaching activity to their colleagues. In this design, all teachers are involved and given an opportunity to share something that aligns with their own language teaching interests or expertise.
This teaching workshop can be structured in a number of ways depending on the size of the school and the number of teachers. Here are a few ideas for organizing the workshop:
- For teacher trainers working in schools with more than 15 teachers, it may be best to organize sessions by language-teaching level and/or learner age. Instead of having one large workshop, plan to have several smaller, simultaneous workshops. In smaller schools with fewer than 15 teachers, a single workshop is possible.
- Schools that have a single level of language learners and a large number of teachers could divide the workshop sessions up by language skills.
This type of workshop can be made longer or shorter, but it should be scheduled at a time that works for all potential participants. Teacher trainers should find out if there are existing professional development days scheduled or if they would need to schedule the workshop during a shared free period in school when all teachers are available. Ideally, in this type of workshop, every teacher would be asked to participate.
Once the teacher trainer has identified how best to organize the workshop, he or she can put out a request to teachers for the upcoming workshop. Depending on the context, teacher trainers can begin by requesting that teachers prepare a 10-minute presentation on a language teaching activity they have used in their classes and feel confident in sharing. Teacher trainers may also want to specify topics, language skills, learner levels, or learner ages. Whatever the teacher trainer decides, the request must be clear: teachers will have 10 minutes to present a language-teaching activity. In the announcement, teacher trainers should include the time and date of the upcoming workshop and how it will be organized.
Organizing the workshop can depend on the number of teachers but could be similar to the following structure:
- Teachers are grouped as one large group or into smaller groups, with a maximum of five people.
- Each teacher in the group will have 10 minutes to present and a 2-3 minutes for questions at the end of the activity. This way a new teacher presents every 15 minutes and the whole workshop might only take 75 minutes.
- Alternatively, five teachers could present at the same time, and other teachers could choose which session to attend. This structure might work best for a large group of teachers; however, keep in mind that transition time between one group of teachers presenting and the next group could add some time to the workshop.
- Every 15 minutes, the organizer notifies participants to start the next session. americanenglish.state.gov
- This type of workshop could go on for any number of hours, but after five presentations, it would be good to give participants a short break before another round of presentations begin.
It is also a good idea to send out the request to teachers a few weeks in advance so that they have time to plan their activities. Additionally, it is helpful to specify a due date by which teachers submit their topics to the teacher trainer or the workshop organizers before the workshop. Getting the topics in advance helps with the organization of the workshop and would also make it possible to print descriptions and schedules. Other considerations for teacher trainers:
- Ensure there are enough rooms available with any necessary technology or teaching tools.
- If grouping teachers, have groups made up in advance and simply send each group to their designated rooms when they arrive.
- Remind teachers that they should bring whatever tools and materials necessary or request them in advance.
- Plan to have a clear way to notify participants that one activity has concluded and that it is time to move on to the next. For example, each room could have a designated person keeping time, or someone could walk past the rooms ringing a bell.
- Have all printed materials organized and ready to distribute when participants arrive.
This type of workshop is often well-received by teachers. Each teacher has a voice and gets to share something that he or she is confident in teaching. By using one of the best practices that language teachers use with their students, teacher trainers can create positive and exciting professional development opportunities for their teachers.