Do-It-Yourself Professional Development

If you’re reading this blog, then you already know how vital professional development is to our success as teachers. But staying abreast of developments in our field can also be a challenge.  For some, traveling to conferences may be too expensive or time-consuming.  Webinars, though often very informative, still lack the give-and-take of face-to-face interactions with peers and colleagues.

That’s where do-it-yourself professional development comes in. In New York, where I live, Ravneet Minhas, co-chair of NYS TESOL’s Adult Education Special Interest Group, organized an informal ESL picnic last year that brought together TESOLers from all across the New York City region to share ideas and resources.

On a stormy Saturday afternoon, more than a dozen of us gathered for 2 hours on a Hudson River pier in New York City. With the Statue of Liberty as the backdrop for our potluck, Ravneet invited us to break up into small groups to discuss a series of questions she had prepared and emailed to us in advance. Experienced instructors mingled with young TESOL graduate students to share ideas on how to incorporate technology into the classroom, how to encourage shy students to speak up, and how to manage mixed-level groups.

After an hour of small group discussions (and eating), Ravneet called the groups back together to report out. From an experienced instructor, I found out about a speaking/listening/writing activity known as a “Dictowatch,”  in which students work in pairs to try to retell in writing the story of a soundless video clip of which they each watched only half. From a young grad student, I learned about a curriculum he had created to teach “survival English” to immigrant workers in low-wage jobs.

In return, I shared the link to the one of my favorite teaching tools, “We Are New York,” an Emmy-award winning television show for adult ELLs, available online. This dramatic ESL soap opera series is riveting for students not only in New York City but anywhere ELLs want to learn how to interact with their children’s teachers, their doctors, or their bank. And, of course, I shared the link to the TESOL blog.

Shortly after we disbanded, Ravneet sent around an email with a master list of links to all of the resources that had surfaced at the meeting. Others who attended the picnic chimed in to share additional links and resources. We now each had a set of new teaching techniques to try out in our classes and a new group of colleagues to brainstorm with and run ideas by, all for the $5 cost of attending the picnic.

What are you and others in your program or region doing to get together informally to share ideas and teaching tools? How will those of you traveling to Toronto for the 2015 TESOL convention be sharing what you learned with your home-bound colleagues?


About Alexandra Lowe

Alexandra Lowe
Alexandra is an ESL instructor at SUNY Westchester Community College, where she has taught Speaking & Listening in the Intensive English Program, English for Academic Purposes, Business English, Accent on Fluency and a wide range of ESL levels. She has also served as a consultant to the Community College Consortium on Immigrant Education, which is based at Westchester Community College. Her primary interests are bringing authentic materials into the ESL classroom, connecting ESL students to the supportive resources available at many community colleges, and promoting self-directed learning strategies that ESL students can use outside of the classroom to accelerate their learning and enhance their speaking skills.
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One Response to Do-It-Yourself Professional Development

  1. Margaret Ristagno says:

    Thank you for this information. I teacher EFL in Barcelona, Spain at the Department of Education. My students are teachers and administrators. I know they’ll find this helpful to practice their English and benchm,ark!

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