Why are we still talking about CPD?

18 12 2012

‘Track’ by @cerirhiannon (eltpics)

Or rather, why am I still talking about CPD?

Or rather still – why are people coming to see me talk about CPD?!

I’ll try to answer these questions shortly, but perhaps I should start the first post for this new blog again…


I have had the pleasure of presenting at several conferences and events this year.

Well, it became something pleasurable. The first presentation in March actually filled me with terror! It was my first time giving a conference presentation, and the prospect of presenting at a management conference to a room filled with experienced peers filled my every waking and sleeping thoughts for months leading up to it! But it has been a new challenge for me and one I have in fact relished. It has been part of my own professional development. And it has taken me to Oxford, Glasgow, Moscow, Eger in Hungary and back to London. Great!

I have done evolving versions of the same talk, on the topic of Continuing Professional Development. If you’re interested, here is the link to my prezi 

But why talk about CPD? In 2012, don’t we all see ourselves as professionals in a professional industry where becoming better at what we do is a natural, conscious and inevitable process? Well no, we don’t and it isn’t.

I recall a former Londosa colleague at a conference in 2009 saying that “CPD is the zeitgeist, an idea whose time has come.” But did it all change that year? What has changed since then? Have the minds of ELT professionals been captured by the spirit of CPD?

I happen to think it is changing. But it’s changing slowly, and it is still a struggle sometimes to motivate teachers, colleagues. What we need is to see CPD in a new light.

First of all, we need to realize that CPD is important.

In a great OUP webinar back in July, Catherine Walter from Oxford University presented findings from a  study of evidence-based research into ‘What professional development for teachers works best.’ The first point she made was that ‘Good teaching leads to good learning’ – not rocket science you might think, but what factors lead to good teaching? She found that 3 key variables made the most difference to improved learner outcomes:

  • getting the right people to become teachers
  • ensuring the best possible instruction for every learner

(and the third one…Wait for it…)

  • developing teachers’ ability to teach well

But I suppose we knew this all along, right? Deep down it just makes sense, but on it’s own it is not enough.

Second – we have to realise that professional development is not done to you, but something you do yourself.

Too many teachers believe that their development is the responsibility of the institution where they work, whereas the opposite is true. The trouble is that CPD is too often seen as something big, and feels like a kind of assignment with a deadline. It is thought of as a series of scheduled events, organized by someone else, and covering topics or skills decided by someone else. And in my experience both teachers and managers are guilty of this perception.

Of course a good school (& a good DOS) should try to organize a programme of developmental events. Ideally, there should be some consultation with teachers on the areas of focus.  But INSET sessions are not the only way to develop. What happens in between?

A teacher can develop in many small, and continuous, gradual on-going activities…
CPD Wordle 3

Trying out a new activity or resource – and then evaluating why it worked or didn’t work – is, in my opinion, an example of useful CPD. Many teachers do this all the time. The key is to recognise that you are doing it – and critically, make a note or record it in some way. That reflective moment, when you consider the merits of what you did, and whether or not – and how – to best incorporate it into your teaching repertoire – that is you developing.

Lastly, CPD is the best way to maximise your career opportunities.

As a DOS, you won’t believe how many speculative applications and CVs I get coming into my inbox every week. Loads. And to be honest there is very little which distinguishes one teacher from another:

‘Experienced, qualified teacher…’

‘I have a Masters degree, a CELTA qualification and X years’ experience teaching a broad range of levels, ages and nationalities…’

‘I am a super enthusiastic, self-motivated teacher and I enjoy incorporating a variety of aids in to my lessons to make them more enjoyable for the students…’

And so on. Obviously, the right experience and the right qualifications are relevant when recruiting, but how many teachers do you think highlight the importance of professional development in their cover letters and outline their CPD track record in their CVs?

Hardly any.

So start that reflective record. Keep a teaching diary. Create a portfolio of your work. Show your commitment to your profession, and then you have a great chance of being among the stand-out candidates at the top of the DOS’s shortlist.

And to change perceptions, to help colleagues see it in a new light – let’s keep talking about CPD.