Teacher Development? What do you mean?

by George Vassilakis


In view of the presentation on professional development I am giving at our first teacher development symposium, I have been thinking about the terms teacher education, teacher training and teacher development quite a lot recently. Because, in fact, to define teacher development, I think one would first need to look at what teacher education and teacher training involve.

Teacher training

A teacher training course is (or should be) a prospective teacher’s way into the profession; it would help him/her develop some competence with regard to things like:

  • Analysing the language (grammar, lexis, pronunciation)
  • Understanding language skills (listening, reading, speaking and listening)
  • Learning what materials and resources are available for language teaching
  • Becoming aware of a range of techniques and activities that can be used in the language classroom
  • Planning a lesson and a series of lessons taking into account the learners’ level and needs

Teacher education

What an initial teacher training course cannot do is to enable the teacher in training to think critically about their own practices, to help the teacher understand the principles behind their (and others’) practice and to foster the development of informed evaluative criteria that go beyond recipes and activities that work. In other words, an initial teacher training course cannot help the teacher acquire teaching competence, because a prerequisite of such competence is experience, the ability to reflect upon and analyse experience, and the will and willingness to question and change established practices in the interest of their learners.

Interestingly, if you look at the syllabus of both initial teacher training courses such as the CELTA and more advanced teacher education courses such as the DELTA, professional development beyond the course itself is, in fact, a prominent component of the course syllabus (Unit 5 in the CELTA Syllabus and Unit 6 in the DELTA syllabus). Which suggests that even a very advanced post-experience course like the DELTA not only takes it for granted that teacher development ought to continue after the end of the course, but even requires that the path to continuing professional development is paved as a prerequisite for success in the course.

Teacher Development

Thus, teacher education, unlike initial training, is a continuous process with no foreseeable end. While teacher education courses can contribute to the process of teacher education, there is no sense in which a teacher can “finish” their own education no matter how many courses they attend, how successful they are or how many professional and academic qualifications they earn. Professional development, then, for a teacher is part of their on-going, and, I am afraid, never-ending education.

Professional development clearly involves attending courses and workshops for teachers, especially if these courses and workshops encourage reflection upon practice and the critical examination of teachers’ beliefs and assumptions. Professional development is not, however, limited to courses and workshops; it requires that teachers actively seek ways of educating themselves throughout their careers. Richards and Farrell, in their 2005 book Professional Development for Language teachers, list the following teacher development activities:

More, and more immediate, opportunities for teacher development

What they do not list, and this is perhaps an indication of how much has changed in education in the last five or six years, is activities like the following, which nowadays give teachers countless opportunities for professional development in a rich interactive environment:

  • Creating and participating in a personal learning network on the web
  • Sharing experiences and ideas (including visual and audio material) through facebook and nings
  • Exchanging views and ideas through Twitter
  • Chatting with teachers from all over the world via Skype, text chat, etc.
  • Creating, contributing to or simply learning through a wiki
  • Blogging, photo-blogging, podcasting
  • Participating in webinars
  • Exchanging views on books that you have read on shelfari
  • Sharing articles, diaries or lesson plans that you have written on scribd

My colleague, Marisa Constantinides, who will be giving a presentation on creative thinking skills in our symposium, has been doing a lot of work on these new media in the last few years and has managed not only to take full advantage these new opportunities for professional development in her own professional development, but also to help other teachers and teacher educators make use of these, and other, Web 2.0 tools to further their professional development! You will find a lot more information about this if you visit her blog.

PeopleCert and Teacher Development

At PeopleCert, we are trying to contribute to teachers’ professional development both in more “traditional” ways and by exploiting the opportunities that the Internet and new media afford us. So far, we have tried to contribute in the following ways:

  • by publishing our quarterly newsletter, Lion’s Voice, which is mailed to the 15,000 members of our teachers’ club and can also be downloaded from our site
  • by organising  frequent face-to-face seminars and workshops for teachers
  • by publishing examination handbooks, assessment guides and other support material for teachers preparing students for our examinations
  • by sharing presentations that we have given on various topics in methodology on our slideshare channel
  • by setting up a facebook group for teachers where they can get information and share ideas
  • by sharing presentation handouts and methodology articles via our scribd account
  • by sharing videos of successful and less successful exams on our youtube channel
  • by communicating the latest, up-to-the minute information through twitter and SMS messages
  • by starting this blog where we are hoping to not only share ideas and give information, but also to discuss with you issues that concern us all

Let me end this post then by asking you to share and contribute to our collective effort to develop professionally as teachers:

  • how do you view professional development?
  • in what ways do you think an examination body like ourselves could contribute?
  • what issues in language teaching and language testing would you like to see discussed here?

Just leave a comment on this blog and start the ball rolling!

  1. #1 by Ron White on February 8, 2011 - 11:39 am

    Interesting to learn that you’re committed to PD, which is, not before time, starting to receive the attention it deserves. Are you familiar with Duncan Ford (2009) The Developing Teacher, Practical activities for professional development. DELTA publishing.

    Very good point about how things have moved on since Richards and Farrell, with social networking tools opening up ways and means of sharing and creating learning communities.

    English UK is now devoting itself to PD and there’s a meeting next week in London of key stakeholders to take PD initiatives across the sector further. I’ve told Mark Rendell, the Deputy CEO professional services, about your paper, which needs to be shared widely.

    Best wishes


  2. #2 by Marisa Constantinides on February 8, 2011 - 9:48 pm

    Dear George,

    A great inaugural post confirming your commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) . I fully agree with the Mr White’s comments and think this is a post truly woth sharing more widely.

    In a recent talk I did for the Reform Symposium 2011 (http://reformsymposium.com/), I also found myself talking about CPD through Social Media, especially Facebook, which seems to be turning into a mainstream web application where Twitter still isn’t – it does take me more time to get teachers onto Twitter but once there, they realize it is truly the hub of CPD – until of course, something else takes its place, for which we also need to be ready.

    There is an urgency to disseminate these ideas and pull teachers out of a complacent state – following a course, no matter how good it is, cannot just be the end, but only the beginning.

    I would add that the mark of a truly good teacher education programme should be this: that it succeeds in helping teachers build or expand their PLN (Personal Learning Network) which will support and maintain their Professional Development for life!

    As I am currently involved in an EU funded project (aPLaNet) whose aims are exactly these, to help teachers in their Autonomous Professional Development through the use of social networks, I am extending an invitation to your readers to join and will soon be publishing a related post on my blog and my website.

    Marisa Constantinides

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