In the 6 years I’ve been teaching I’ve encountered a lot of negative attitudes towards professional development. Sure, at times I’ve been negative or cynical too – no-one’s perfect! It’s just that over the last few years I’ve really come to value the opportunities I get to develop my practice. That makes me feel guilty for being negative towards development opportunities in the past.
I’ve come across plenty of teachers who don’t share my opinion. In almost every teaching job I’ve had there’s been at least one, sometimes many people who don’t take kindly to staff development sessions. I understand when people have disagreements about the content of a session, or annoyances over its poor scheduling. I also understand that not everyone wants to (or feels they need to) develop their skills. That’s up to them. However, I’ve heard some pretty negative feedback about training sessions in the past that really wasn’t conducive to a positive staffroom environment. Not only have I heard it, I’ve actually said some of the comments below myself. I feel like a terrible person right now…
‘that was all just common sense’
What makes this a difficult comment to hear is twofold. Firstly, if you’re speaking to someone who felt that the development session was fruitful and that they took a lot from it, you’re condescending them a bit. Secondly, the development session itself may have come about due to reflection from the management team about what staff need to improve on. If you felt that the content of the session was straightforward or obvious you could be right, or you could be refusing to reflect on your own areas for development.
‘that’s an hour of my life I’m never getting back’
It’s also at least 3 hours of time that the person taking a session has put in to plan it and deliver it. Even if you didn’t take anything concrete from a session, there’s plenty more you can gain from it. It’s a chance to build rapport with colleagues, understand others concerns and their stage of development as teachers, share your own ideas which complement the topic, etc.
‘I hate it when they treat us like we’re students’
Some teachers seem to really hate it when a trainer does the ‘CELTA’ act: every time they present a handout it’s always chested, they use ICQs, praise, funny noises and gestures to organise teachers into pairs, etc. I quite like it! It models good practice. Each to their own though. This is not really a negative attitude to development sessions as a whole, more the style of delivery.
‘I thought this was going to be about practical activities…’
I’ve been to talks before which have covered more research or theory than they have practice. However, normally teaching practice is underpinned by some kind of theory. I can see why people think that just because they leave an input session without something to directly apply in the classroom the next day then the session has been a waste of time.
It seems strange to neglect or simply dismiss a wealth of research into ELT (which could inform our practice) on the basis that it ‘has no practical application’. It’s often written by people with a wealth of practical experience! Personally, I find it quite interesting to understand the theory behind what I do. It helps me engage more.
Penny Ur makes some good points in this article about our attitudes toward ELT research and literature, it’s well worth a read.
I’m not trying to be all ‘peace and love’ here or anything, but sometimes it might do us good to reflect on how our comments might affect our colleagues, and how they define the way we’re perceived by others in the workplace.
If you’re still reading, that’s just been 5 minutes of your life that you’re never getting back…
Update: Here’s a great post by Sandy Millin on how to make development sessions more varied. Watch this space for a post on quality circles too. Enjoy!