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.


The first 90 days

3 08 2014
Every cloud has a silver lining - @cgoodey #eltpics

Photo by @cgoodey #eltpics


If we decide to offer you the role, what would you aim to achieve in your first 90 days?

This was one of the questions I thought I might be asked when preparing for the interviews I had to undergo for my new DOS job.

In the event, it wasn’t one I was asked, but, having got the job, and now that I have passed that mini milestone, I thought I’d look back at my notes to see how I am doing so far, and how closely I have followed my scribbled plans.

To put my notes into context, it is worth pointing out that I was interviewing for a school that had recently been rated a centre of excellence after their BC inspection, and rated Outstanding by ISI.

I was going to be in the ELT equivalent of David Moyes’s shoes, taking over from a ‘title-winning’ Director of Studies. And it didn’t turn out so well for Moyes!

So, taking over a team which has been assessed as excellent – how do you make your mark whilst at the same time ensuring the level of quality at least stays the same, if not improves? And coming back to the hypothetical interview question – what to do in my first 90 days?

These are my pre-interview notes:
[screen pic of my evernote]



A smooth transition was my first goal – keep the school running as seamlessly as I could.

The scale of a larger school can be initially daunting – the number of students, classes, teachers, classrooms, the timetable spreading over multiple pages; everything much bigger than my old school. And with weekly enrolment, that’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, and I felt it was really important to make sure there were no operational cock-ups.

I also knew that previous senior appointments in the school had come internally, so having an outsider take on the DOS role would be a significant change for everyone. I wanted to quickly reassure and build confidence in me as the new DOS.

Getting to know the team – the next main goal.

It was going to be so important to get to know my new team as quickly as possible – line manager, academic management team, teachers, and registration team. It is a lot of people, and the opportunities for getting to know everyone are not always apparent.

I knew there would be regular management meetings; it would be relatively straightforward to get to know the Principal and his management and communication style.

I would be working in an office together with the ADOS – we would have to establish a close working relationship quickly, and thankfully that has been very easy to do.

There would be weekly teacher meetings; a chance for teachers to get to know me – and I made a point to prepare a short introductory presentation of me and my background, my first impressions of the school, and my beliefs and goals, for the teachers meeting at the end of my first week.

But getting to know a large team of teachers individually – over 40 of them – has been harder. As etched out in my pre-interview notes above, I knew I would need to be visible and approachable. The DOS office is great for concentrated work, but a too-easy hide-away, and I knew I would have to make an effort to get out and be around the staffroom – ‘MWBA’ as I’ve heard George Pickering call it, Management By Walking About. So, lunches taken with the teachers in the staffroom, milling around with them in coffee breaks, little chats and small talk here and there – all have been ways to gradually get to know the teachers.

Another key strategy for really getting to know your team is having a regular one-to-one chat with them; I call these ‘catch-up chats’ and tried at my last school to ensure I had a 121 every 8 weeks or so with each teacher. It is a great way to find out more about ‘the person behind the teacher’ – what their motivations are, their interests outside of EFL, their hidden talents. This part of my plan has been harder to achieve; I’ve managed to have chats with some but not all, including some of the senior teachers who I intended to prioritize – I need to find a better way for scheduling these catch-ups at times convenient for them and me.

Of course, another great way to get to know your new teaching team is to observe them in the classroom – and, as planned in my notes,  I quickly organized rounds of buzz observations (also called drop-ins) to see teachers in their teaching context. Although you don’t get to see the full arc of a lesson in a 15-20 minute buzz obs, you can still gain a good idea of how each teacher works in the classroom, and an overall sense of the strengths of the team; and as long as you let them know more or less when you will be dropping in, then I think this kind of observation is less daunting for teachers, and also perhaps less artificial – which more ‘formal’ observations can sometimes be.

I also felt it would be important to get to know the students in the school, or at least for them to know who I was. I made sure that I went round to every class in the first week and introduce myself, and ask the students a few questions. I also wanted to ensure I was able to meet and greet new students each Monday, and be visible where possible during orientation.

Other goals at the start

If I were to get the job, I knew the first big event wouldn’t be too far away – and so getting started on planning for the summer would also be an important initial objective. Recruitment can be so time consuming, and is so critical that I knew I would need to devote time and energy on this; I felt that the first few appointments I made would reflect strongly on me, so it has been important to get them right.

The new school is part of a group, and I thought that I might find benefits from becoming part of a team of other DOSes, so finding ways to get to know new colleagues at sister schools, and explore ways to collaborate was also an objective for the first three months. I have managed to achieve this with the DOS at the closest school, and it is really reassuring to know there is someone from the group I can contact to ask questions and share ideas with.

Finally, a welcome drink also seemed a good idea to organize within the first 90 days. A social event is a great way to show yourself outside of the role, and can help to ‘demystify’ the manager.

Photo by @fionamau #eltpics

Photo by @fionamau #eltpics

Being new

These first 90 days have whizzed by. There has been lots to learn and learn quickly; it has been refreshing to see new ways of doing things, and to bring fresh eyes and perspectives on things; it has also been good to establish new norms in the way I work – things I wanted to introduce before in my old school but found the norms there hard to break.

The goals I imagined before my interview were fairly obvious; the school hasn’t needed a dramatic and immediate sea change, and I have been lucky in that respect. A DOS taking on a failing academic team would have needed more radical objectives in the first three months.

But I’d be interested to know of other experiences or suggestions for the initial goals of a new team manager. What else could I have planned for?



The Challenge of Change

13 01 2013

‘Throw out the old and bring in the new…’

'Old and new' @sandymillin #eltpics

‘Old and new’ @sandymillin #eltpics

Looking ahead at what the new year will bring, one thing for sure is that 2013 at the school where I work will see change. Change because of new students, new courses, and new resources. Change can happen sometimes in unnoticeable and organic ways. Just business as usual.

But the school this year will also see change to operational systems, academic procedures, and teaching routines – change which will have to be introduced, managed and reviewed. And that is where the challenge lies. Because change isn’t always easy.

So why all these changes?

Well, firstly, I’m an aspirational DOS, and aim to create a culture of learning at our school, not only for our students, but also for our teaching team, and myself. We can continuously seek to improve, because generally, things can always be done better, especially in the imperfect world of rolling enrolment.

And secondly, as an accredited school, there are regular nudges and prompts from the bodies who come and visit us – inspectors (lovely people!) and their inspections – and this naturally tends to push re-evaluation and change to the fore.

(shh! secret: I enjoy inspections, and some inspectors actually are lovely people 😉 )

Aspirational changes over recent years have included, among others:

  • A school teaching style:- touches of consistency to glue together our wonderful individual teachers, moments that each week, each lesson, create a sense of team.
  • Professional Development Portfolios, with templates for teachers to record different kinds of CPD, and to guide reflection on what has been learnt and how/when new ideas have been tried out.
  • Introducing technology into classrooms, and integrating it into teaching and learning
  • Launching an eLearning platform with online tutorials and individual learning plans

So if we have a culture of learning and development, where change is not uncommon, why is managing it a challenge?

One of the main reasons is that change leads to moving away from our usual route, from our familiar and comfortable routines. And not everybody likes this. People can be afraid of change, and fear can provoke resentment and negativity.

So what are the key elements to managing change successfully? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Communication. The aims and rationale behind change need to be explained, discussed and agreed by both those responsible for implementing it and those who will be affected by it. An open, two-way channel of communication needs to run through the whole process.
  2. Ownership. If the communication is effective, ideally a sense of ownership can be created among the team, and then the responsibility for change becomes a shared one.
  3. Piloting. When possible, a small group or groups of those affected can spend some time trying out the proposed change and then report back with suggestions for improved implementation.
  4. A champion. Try to identify enthusiastic early adopters who can bring to the process a positivity and a willingness to try change, perhaps led by a ‘champion’ who can help to maintain momentum.
  5. Pace. Change won’t work if rushed or if it happens too slowly – a good sense of timing is needed to achieve the right balance.
  6. Review. And keep reviewing until the change becomes BAU – business as usual.

Sounds quite straightforward, no?

Well, no actually.

If I look back at my attempts at managing change, how have I fared? I would have to say that I have yet to achieve change which has been fully 100% successful. Partial, near successes yes, but reflecting on each of those aspirational changes mentioned above, none have entirely got to the BAU stage.

So where did I go wrong?!

There are probably 2 or 3 overriding reasons.

The first is that as a DOS I am faced with constant demands from multiple directions…students, teachers, timetables, course enquiries, course admin, emails, rooms, books, resources, technology, classroom equipment, wifi and Internet connection, publishers, exams, references, interviews, inductions, and none of these relate to academic strategy…I know it all sounds like an excuse, but if you’re a DOS reading this you’ll know what I mean. To be honest it’s what makes the job fun. But time management is a challenge, and getting on to the strategy work – which for me is the most fun – particularly so.

The second issue is that change will be most successful when part of a greater vision, a clearly planned  strategy or mission, and I would wager that many EFL schools do not have such a thing. Or if they do, it is rarely communicated clearly to all the staff. Our aim is of course to be a successful and competitive provider of quality English language courses – and I’d say we achieve this – but an academic vision or strategy requires more detail and definition than that.

So, I have found that when managing change, new ideas might sometimes take over, or new demands may supersede old priorities.

And perhaps I just haven’t been able to follow the steps above as effectively as I could have. Perhaps my communication could have been more two-way, and more compelling? Perhaps I haven’t created that sense of ownership for change within the team? Perhaps I have not reviewed enough and made change stick? These elements are not straightforward at all, and do require skills which I know I am still developing.

So, as I return to work at the start of the new year, and once again pick up the many balls I have to juggle, and immediately feel a little overwhelmed, I wonder if I will achieve smoother and more effective change in 2013?

Whatever, I know it will be a challenge. At least that is my experience. What about yours?