Personalised Development Groups – a new approach to TD

23 12 2015

Teacher Development (TD) has always been an area of interest for me as an academic manager. It provides a focus on a couple of key challenges which I enjoy taking on – how to raise teaching standards in a school, and how to grow a culture of learning and collaboration within a teaching team.

And managing change is something you always have to face as a DOS, and it also represents the kind of challenge that I relish.

They both allow us to prove ourselves, to set out a vision for quality, and to establish an identity as a Director of Studies.

So when I joined a new school (18 months ago), the TD programme was one of the first areas that I wanted to evaluate, and if necessary – change.


My beliefs about TD have evolved over the years and have been influenced by various ideas and guiding principles.

Teachers need to take ownership of their professional development:

“You can train me, you can educate me, but you can’t develop me. I develop” (Julian Edge, 2002)

Choice is an important element:

“Choice is a big deal. People can be subjected to assessment, appraisal and evaluation against their will. But no-one can be made to develop. Even if you have to compile a portfolio, you can’t be made to develop by doing it. Teachers are too good at faking it. We can fake development, and should do so, if someone tries to force it on us. But we develop as professionals if, and only if, we choose to. The motives may differ from teacher to teacher, but this we have in common: no choice, no way.” (Andy Curtis, 2001)

Too often, TD, unlike our aim for teaching, lacks differentiation:

“It is ironical that developments in education call for teachers to differentiate instruction as a pre-requisite for effective learning, while teacher education and CPD adhere to a one-size fits all philosophy” (Gabriel Diaz-Maggioli, 2004)

Being connected to the profession is an important factor – I have personally experienced the impact on my own development from connecting with practitioners both locally (for example via the London DOS Association) and more widely, via conferences or social networks (facebook, blogs) and online CPD (webinars).

Duncan Foord’s ‘The Developing Teacher’ (2009) has been a big influence; it contains a good section on theory, followed by loads of practical ideas for developmental activities.

Foord - The Developing Teacher

And finally, Catherine Walter’s study of evidence-based research (‘What professional development for teachers works best?’ 2012) gives us 2 important messages:

  • Good teaching leads to improved student outcomes
  • One of 3 key variables which lead to good teaching is: developing teachers ability to teach well

This study outlines 7 key ingredients for effective teacher development:

  1. It is concrete and classroom-based
  2. Involves teachers in the choice of areas to develop and activities to undertake
  3. Brings in expertise from outside the school
  4. Is sustained over time
  5. Helps teachers to work collaboratively with peers
  6. Provides opportunities for mentoring and coaching
  7. Is supported by effective school leadership

And these ingredients provided me with the criteria against which I could evaluate the existing TD programme when I took up my new post in the Spring of last year.


The school I joined was in good shape. It had recently achieved excellent results in a British Council inspection, the majority of teachers (almost 70%) were TEFLQ, it was a teacher-training centre for Trinity Cert TESOL courses, and part of a wider group with a strong reputation for quality.

So improving standards was not an urgent challenge, but it was what I set out to do, as I told the new team at my first staff meeting.

A weekly routine of teacher meetings already existed – this was a major plus – but I quickly realised there were some issues with the TD programme:

  • Not much time – around 20 minutes to squeeze in the TD
  • Not much space – 40 to 50 teachers in 2 joined-classrooms, so some teachers having to stand (not especially conducive to learning)
  • Some teachers needing to leave early to go to afternoon classes
  • A one size fits all approach – one TD session for whole team, so lacking in choice and differentiation
  • Passive format – easy to ‘consume’ without much engagement
  • Lack of ownership
  • Lack of follow-through into the classroom
  • Not much connection with the wider ELT community (some teachers had presented at the internal conference programme, but no-one had presented at IATEFL, for example)

The TD programme was coasting, so I started to introduce some changes to revitalize it.

The initial changes were minor and gradual; I set up some swapshops, included some split sessions to offer a choice of focus, had co-presenters deliver workshops with follow-up feedback sessions, and set up an online Wiggio forum to encourage ideas sharing and collaboration.

Then I had my big idea! Personalised Development Groups.

And here it is, set out in a slightly reduced proposal document.

Have a look at it.

What do you think of it as an idea? And what challenges do you think it presents in terms of managing and implementing change?

In my next post, I will look back at the PDGs project and comment on how to manage change, and I’ll reflect on the success (or otherwise) of introducing a new approach to the TD programme.


St Giles final logo

Personalised Development Groups – February to April 2015


To achieve a more tailored and personalised approach to teacher development at St Giles Central: Personalised Development Groups.

The aim is to break down the large teaching staff into small groups of teachers led by 1 or 2 Mentors (Permanent Teachers) with a focus on two areas:

  1. Individual teacher development needs
  2. A chosen Pathway (area of interest for research)

Individual teacher development – a more tailored approach within the Personalised Development Groups.

Pathways – to personalise Teacher Development by tapping into teachers’ areas of interest, and to explore questions related to it; to encourage teacher learning within a collaborative and supportive group.

Mentors take responsibility for a given Pathway; teachers are able to choose the pathway which they are interested in, allowing for personalisation and ownership.

Pathways include:

  • Learning technologies
  • Teaching exams
  • Learner autonomy
  • Pronunciation
  • Authentic materials
  • Language Awareness & Usage

Groups of maximum 8 people, comprising of 1-2 Mentors and up to 6 teachers – teachers should have a more active role in their development; groups stay together for a 2 month pilot period during which there are four sessions and a final meeting for groups to report back.

The TD Programme includes at least 2 PDG Sessions per month; the rest of the monthly TD Programme continues to include INSET for the whole team, and split workshop sessions.

PDG Activities to include:

  • Discussing individual teacher development needs
  • Planning interventions by mentor to support those needs, such as peer observations & mentor observations
  • Planning classroom based activities for teachers to explore needs-related development
  • Paired action research (related to chosen pathway)
  • Planning self observations (related to pathway or own development)
  • Setting up Group ‘Class Focus Days’ – each teacher in the group to carry out a set task/approach on a given day; to feedback later
  • Group reading/research
  • Workshop (led by Mentor and/or group member) – input related to pathway; feedback on paired action research
  • Watching webinar; online presentation; using youtube recordings of teachers
  • Keeping a teacher portfolio
  • Sharing / posting online (team wiggio)


The role of the Mentor-trainers

  • Coordinate their PDG and Pathway
  • Encourage, inspire, motivate, guide, facilitate…
  • Lead the Friday group sessions
  • Find/share relevant resources, reading, articles
  • Use PDG wiggio to prompt & steer the group
  • Set up and facilitate PDG Activities
  • Set up and oversee (paired) action research
  • Monitor group, and individual teacher, objectives (and re-set when necessary)
  • Record group & individual successes (or absence of participation)

Coordinating and supporting the mentor-trainers:

  • Senior teachers
  • Teacher trainers

Overall aims

To tap into the talents, interests and desire for added responsibility among the Permanent Teachers, many of whom are keen on the idea of mentoring / teacher training.

To provide a structure for mentoring

To tailor CPD to teachers’ areas of interest.

To encourage teachers to take more ownership for their CPD, with greater involvement and input on what they do and how.

To foster new working relationships and provide opportunities for collaboration.

To help teachers develop good habits in reflective practice through adopting an enquiry-based approach to teaching and classroom practice.

(For the Academic management team) to gain further insights about individual teacher strengths & areas for development.

To gain new insights and develop knowledge about best practice in ELT through multiple small scale action research projects.

To make the first steps towards presenting research/experience at IATEFL.




8 responses

23 12 2015

This TD plan looks great. I wish the schools I’ve worked at had similar programmes. The main problem for me, as you point out in the post, has been tge one size fits all approach to weekly TD workshops. Another one are once in a blue moon observations, unconnected to any PD goals, basically used for quality control. There’s also usually very little help from or contact with teacher trainers or senior teachers to help you carry out a meaningful and personalised PD plan.
What was the response from the teachers?


24 12 2015

Thanks for your comment Marek.
Yes, with 40+ teachers, a one size fits all approach is not very effective. And the issue of ad-hoc, and rare, observations is indeed also a common problem. Here we do up to 3 per year, and we are doing more goal-setting, identifying specific teaching areas to work on and improve. A peer observations framework can play an important part in this too. But a cohesive and linked-up system is a challenge.
The response to the PDGs was good! I will go into this more in my next post 🙂


27 12 2015

Wow, Anthony, this looks conducive to development in the sense that there’s choice for the teachers and very specific goals.
Just two questions:
A) would the teacher’s effort be taken into account by the school to reward the teachers (e.g pay for a conference or get a bonus) and
B) it looks time consumming, are most of the staff staying at the school or does it vary a lot from year to year?? Otherwise, it may be a waste.

I also remembered that the IHWO website, has lesson plans for trainers on different topics such as teaching exams, that may save some time!


27 12 2015

Sorry I called you Anthony. I’ve read too many blogposts today and I somehow thought I was reading Anthony Ash’s blog since he shared. So sorry!! Great stuff really!!


27 02 2016
Alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar | Sandy Millin

[…] development groups: a suggestion from Josh Round where teachers take control of their own […]


27 02 2016
Sandy Millin

Hi Josh,
I haven’t read the next post yet (in fact, I haven’t checked to see if you’ve written it!) and I’d like to ask you a few more questions. This sounds like an interesting approach, especially since one of the things I want to do at IH Bydgoszcz next year is differentiate our training a bit more.
– You said you have 40+ teachers. How many people does that include in your ‘support staff’ category (i.e. DoS, teacher trainers etc)?
– Does it include many new teachers?
– Did you suggest groups or did people choose their own?
– How much time do you estimate support staff spent on this per week? How much time did participants spend?
Thanks a lot,


31 03 2016

Hi Sandy,
Thanks for your comment (and sorry for extremely slow reply!). The second post is coming – honest! – but after Iatefl 🙂
To answer your questions…
– there are around 6 or 7 support staff, as you say, but most of these get involved in one of the groups.
– there is only one newly qualified teacher on the team at present
– I invited suggestions for the group pathways, and included some of my own; everyone indicated their first and second preferences; and then groups were formed based on that.
– it is hard to say how much time participants spend on their pathway each week; when you hand over the ‘control’ of the development to the teachers, it will inevitably depend on how much each individual buys into that. I rely on a kind of peer pressure or peer encouragement, i.e. when groups meet to share ideas/questions/set experimental tasks, you’d hope that everyone will want to contribute, and not be the one saying nothing in the corner…There is also a final feedback session where all groups present to everyone what they did and where they got to, and this sharing session also, you’d hope, will spur people on to get involved. I hope to say more this when I get round to writing the second post 🙂

Liked by 1 person

5 08 2016
Sandy Millin

Hi Josh,
Just starting to look at development options for our teachers next year, and wondering if you have time to write your second post, as this was bookmarked as one way for my school to approach it 🙂 I’d love to know how it went!
Thanks a lot!


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