Teacher of the Year: Kickstart a Professional Development Program

Professional development has always been near and dear to my heart as I am a self-declared lifelong learner. Sounds like a cliché, I have to admit, but it has transformed my career as an educator and my life. Like many of you, in addition to all of my teaching duties, I do my best to keep abreast of advancements in the field to keep relevant, dedicated, and inspired. Most of all, I do it for my students, because they deserve it.

Almost a decade ago, I spearheaded a professional development program at my institution, inspired by my learning at TESOL conventions. What began as simple, informal brownbag lunch discussions have blossomed into a professional development program for the entire department. So what’s stopping you? Here is a trouble-shooting guide to help you get your professional development program off the ground.

1. I don’t know how to start

Start with a Snack and Share during lunch hour. Invite your colleagues to spend their lunch hour discussing some hot ESL topics. Don’t worry if only a few people show up. Embrace colleagues who share similar passions and drive. Slowly, you’ll see the others hop on.
With time, dedication, and networking skills, you will see your noon hour Snack and Share evolve into a formalized program consisting of a range of activities—ranging from 1.5 to 3 hour workshops with a variety of contributors from teachers in your school and guest presenters from your community.

Here is a range of topics from past workshops at my school, just to name a few:

  • Testing for Deeper Comprehension
  • Appreciative Pedagogy
  • Social Intelligence
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Timely and Effective Feedback
  • Designing Assessment Rubrics
  • Classroom Citizenship
  • Community-Based Service Learning
  • Ambassadors of the World
  • New Technologies
  • Exploiting Classroom-Based Input
  • CEA Accreditation

2. I don’t have time to research and prepare presentations

Why not begin with sharing your own learning? I’m a regular attendee of local, national, and international workshops and conventions. For example, each year we hold a session called, ‘’What’s New at TESOL?’’, and this is by far the most attended presentation of the year as it allows all teachers to benefit from the annual convention, even if they didn’t have the opportunity to attend! TESOL attendees share their golden nuggets of best practices from TESOL and, in turn, many of the great ideas we’ve heard at TESOL have been integrated into our program. This workshop has also sparked interest in our instructors to join professional associations and attend conventions. (Last year, we had eight of our teachers attend the TESOL convention in Toronto!)

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Invite creative colleagues to present on classroom projects they are working on. Even if these ideas are in the early stages, what better way to collaborate with colleagues than to share your ideas and get feedback on them?

Ask your colleagues! What do they want? What are some hot topics in ELT that they would like to explore?

3. I don’t have a budget

No money, no worries. In my experience, academics and teachers are more than generous with their time and are willing to share their practice most graciously. Invite grad students to present their research and professors to share their expertise, and call on experts in support departments of your school, university, and school board—learning specialists, librarians, etc. Keep your eyes and ears open for interesting projects going on in your school and community. Invite those key players to come speak to your teachers. They will be more than willing to share.

Ask if your administration will spring for some coffee and snacks—a small gesture—always appreciated after a long day of teaching!

4. I don’t have the support of my administration

You don’t know if you don’t ask. Speak to your administration to get them on board. They will most likely be very supportive of this initiative as it is only to their benefit to have a thriving program and engaged and lively instructors.

5. I don’t know if it’s worth the effort

Having planned, coordinated, and delivered more than 50 professional development activities for my program in the last decade, I have witnessed that professional development fosters collaboration among faculty and provides an opportunity for personal growth and reflection on our practice. It also allows instructors to showcase their teaching and learning and ignites passion in teaching. It has helped our program create a bridge with many departments within our university and gives us visibility and recognition as experts in language teaching. But most important, it has become an integral part of who we are as a program and sets us apart from the others.

If you still don’t believe me, read what my colleagues have to say:

Our highly popular professional development program of activities has contributed greatly to the intellectual life of the Language Institute. Through her work as Professional Development Consultant, Sherry connects with people and helps to build a community of practice by organizing opportunities for exchange and professional enrichment and by encouraging instructors to take on the challenge of creating and animating professional development activities. People leave these events inspired, motivated and energized. Thank you Sherry!

–Brenda Grant, Administrator, Curriculum Development, Centre for Continuing Education Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

As a teacher and a presenter, I find that professional development workshops enrich our teaching practice and the benefit to our students and ourselves is there for all to see. TESOL conferences offer an opportunity to gather up a number of “gems” and then sharing these with our “Highlights of TESOL” workshops invigorates our practice.

–Marylee Wholey, ESL Instructor, Centre for Continuing Education, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

Professional development seminars at CELI have been a great way to strengthen the teaching community. Each instructor has his/her own methods and strengths, and the opportunity to share these diversifies the entire faculty’s pedagogical toolbox. As a presenter myself, it felt great to see my approach acknowledged, and the questions and discussion from my colleagues challenged me to keep evolving and working on what I’m doing in the classroom.

–Dean Garlick, ESL Instructor, Centre for Continuing Education, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

About Sherry Blok

Sherry Blok

Sherry Blok is the assistant director of programs at the Centre for Continuing Education, Concordia University. Montreal, Canada. She holds a master’s degree in second language education from McGill University and has more than 20 years of experience as an ESL lecturer in the intensive English program at Concordia University. She received the TESOL Teacher of the Year Award in 2015 and has presented nationally and internationally on topics related to English for academic purposes, global citizenship education, assessment, and teacher feedback.

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One Response to Teacher of the Year: Kickstart a Professional Development Program

  1. Perry says:

    I am sure your ideas will interest a lot of teachers!
    Looking forward to more posts.