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

Introduction

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:

  • DOS/ADOS
  • 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.

 





Is teaching a team game?

19 01 2014

Goal!

To what extent is teaching a team game?

Is the teachers’ room filled with individuals?

When and how does this group of individuals become a team?

These questions, among others, came up in a recent talk given by Loraine Kennedy to the London Directors of Studies Association (Londosa). I found them interesting questions because I like to see myself as a team player, and when recruiting for teachers, I tend to look for team players. But why?

When it comes down to it, teachers in a school don’t necessarily operate as a team. The DOS allocates them a class or two and off they go, on their own…to teach. Their primary company function is inherently individual – the classroom door is closed, and for the the next hour or two, what happens is between them and their students (the employee working alone with their customers), and so long as the students leave happy, there is very little impact on anyone else.

So why were we all there at the LONDOSA meeting, 25 directors of studies, focused on gaining new insights into team work and managing teams?

Well, it is because when we are able to build a sense of teamwork, to mould our group of individual teachers into a teaching team, then we – the school, the teachers, and the DoS – can all start to achieve something greater than we could otherwise:

  • greater standards of excellence in the classroom
  • greater learner experience
  • greater individual and organisational development and learning
  • greater adaptability to change
  • greater ability to innovate
  • greater sense of harmony and morale

Is that all true? Maybe. Some teams win the Champions League, others fail and fall to the bottom of the league.

defeat

So how do we shape our group of teachers into a successful all-achieving team?

Simply put, you need to give them cause to work together.

Loraine used an analogy in her session which made me smile (because this happened to me once): “A group of people gets into a lift. A team occurs when the lift gets stuck.” A team is more than a group. They have a common goal.

One simple way to give teachers a common goal is to timetable classes with co-teachers. In other words, a three hour class is split into two sessions with teacher A and teacher B. This will inevitably lead to discussions between the co-teachers about their learners’ strengths and weaknesses, about material and task type preferences, and involve them in problem solving. You may need to prompt or facilitate this kind of liaising between co-teachers, but a co-taught class provides such a classic information gap between colleagues that they are more likely to discuss the class than not. We have always done it this way in my school, and I think it is fairly common practice – but if not, perhaps explore ways to tweak your timetable to allow for co-teachers. It is great way for new teachers to get to know new colleagues, and gradually over time it helps teachers develop a strong sense of trust – and this is a vital component of a great team.

Providing opportunities for teachers to collaborate on projects and developmental initiatives is another way of getting the team working together. The Food Issues Month in October (promoted by the IATEFL Global Issues SIG) was a perfect chance to set up a project for the team to explore a common theme, and share ideas with each other – outlined in this blog here. It resulted in two pairs of teachers team-teaching; shared resources and ideas; a video conference lesson between one of our classes in London and a class in Russia; and a good degree of experimentation and reflection.

And making this kind of project part of a common goal, part of a grander vision – to foster a culture of learning and of continuous improvement – helps raise the interaction to a higher level. Peer observations and mentoring, for example, then become more than an activity between two individuals working together but part of the team drive to keep learning and to keep improving standards.

A shared vision is important for a team and you need to be transparent about it. State it as an explicit goal in appraisals, for both you and your teachers, and then make continual reference to it in meetings and in communication face to face or by email. And then get buy-in from your team – by leading by example, by sharing successes, and by giving recognition to those who put the vision into action.

Challenging, stressful situations may test the spirit of a team, but can also be used to strengthen a team bond. Preparing for an inspection is a good example of this. Look together at what the last inspection report said, debate whether you agree, which comments are true, and which comments miss the mark; highlight what the reality is; discuss how you are going to respond, and what action you can take. The inspection becomes a team challenge – ‘we’re in this together’ – and the pride of achieving success can be something you all share in.

Finally, a great team has different characters and personalities. You have to get to know your teachers, and identify their team roles. Who are the captains in your team, who are the ones who keep morale up, and who will go that extra mile to help and support others? And, how do you fit into the team? The DOS is the leader – all teams need one – and you play the key role in setting the tone for the team. Practice what you preach. Be demanding but fair, transparent and flexible, listen, and know the capabilities of your team. And if the tone you set is right, then there will be a sense of belonging, people will want to be part of the team, and the individuals performing the individual function of teaching can become and can achieve something greater.

victory





Launching a team project

10 10 2013
Food glorious food

Food glorious food

Cross posted at TESOL Training blog

How many times have you taught a ‘Food’ lesson? Too many times to remember, no? Lessons around topics like this, perhaps:

  • Your favourite/worst meal
  • Ingredients and cooking
  • Traditional food in your country
  • Recipes (good one this – maybe a student will come to the next lesson bearing culinary gifts!)
  • Eating manners and customs
  • Food idioms
  • Weird and wonderful dishes around the world

Food is universal to the human condition, and makes for a popular topic, for teachers and students alike. But how often have you taught a lesson about one of the big issues surrounding food? Issues such as food scarcity, food waste, hunger, or obesity, for example?

This is a question posed by the IATEFL Global Issues Special Interest Group (GISIG), who are inviting teachers during the month of October to contribute and share ideas on how ‘we can teach “food” with a conscience’.

GISIGThis month-long event will be co-ordinated online via the GISIG website and a special Facebook event page.

When I heard about this event, it immediately caught my attention. For me, as a Director of Studies, I could see the potential for it to work as a school project, a ‘theme’ to really stimulate student engagement on the one hand, and teacher development on the other, and so it ticks a lot of boxes.

For our students, being in central London is one of the key ingredients (sorry, no pun intended!) to their course with us, and we have a great social programme which helps them to make the most of their time in this amazing city. And we have an excellent team of teachers who are, I think, incredibly creative and engaging, and they regularly challenge their learners to reflect on big global issues – but in their own individual lessons. This Food Issues project gives us a cohesive ‘theme’ for a month, and with it the opportunity for teachers of different classes and courses to do things together – it would be interesting for example to get Business English students interviewing a group of General English students, and then putting together a business-style presentation of what they found out – and vice versa.

For our teachers, we offer a lot of different things to promote and stimulate ongoing professional development, such as our internal & external workshop sessions  but I am particularly interested in collaborative learning: teachers trying out new ideas in their teaching, and sharing ideas with colleagues – and tapping into personal interests.  The GISIG Food Issues month clearly lends itself to experimenting with new topics, creating new materials and trying out new activities, and I have a feeling that most teachers will be engaged by the many possible food issues which could be explored, and will want to share their ideas with each other. I am also really interested to see to what extent our teachers will interact with the online event, and share ideas with teachers around the world.

So, last Thursday, I attempted to launch this as a team project for our school.

As part of our staff meeting, I asked everyone to look at two images and discuss their reactions to them:

BigMac1

BigMac2

 

[Images credit: Adbusters]

There was interest, much comment, and it was easy to elicit Food as the underlying theme, and what the potential related issues were.

I then introduced everyone to the GISIG project idea, and we discussed how we could get involved as a school.  Some initial suggestions were made, and overall I was really happy with the response.

I followed up the meeting with an email giving everyone the GISIG links, a reminder of the suggested Food Issues, and some initial ideas for how to explore them in class, as follows:

Is there a topic which catches your attention? Which might engage your students? How could you explore it with them?

A reading followed by a debate

Design some spoof ads of your own

Create a survey to ask other students? To ask Londoners? To interview students elsewhere?

Presentations of a solution to a problem

Design a poster

Create a digital poster? (www.glogster.com )

Film a news report summarizing an article

Put together a class magazine

Create a radio programme

Of course I know that suggesting something in a meeting and an email will not necessarily get buy-in from everyone. And I will not oblige any teacher to teach Food Issues lessons – a ‘command and control’ approach never works effectively when it comes to collaborative learning. But the idea has been ‘launched’. The seed has been planted. I will try to facilitate now – nudge, prompt, suggest – and will try to keep the idea bubbling away and see if it takes off.

I am excited to see how much we can get involved as a team, and a school, and what we can all learn from the project.