Stop making a monkey out of CPD… or the evolution of teacher development

by Alastair Grant

Teachers must be encouraged – I almost said ‘freed’, to pursue an education that strives for depth of understanding.

[Howard Gardner]

Speaking from bitter personal experience, I’ll never forget looking at the traffic-infested road I had to cross on the day of my first formal observation at IH San Isidro, and half hoping that I wouldn’t actually make it to the other side.

Because you see, no matter how many times the DoS says “the observations are about helping you develop as teachers…”, said teachers still get that look of gaunt and sepulchral horror etched across their faces when this calendar date rears its head.

That day was in 2007. Specifically, Wednesday 30 May 2007. Both date and the events of that bemused Upper Intermediate adolescent class are emblazoned on my mind, as I struggled to impress my DoS by ineptly haring through an assessed reading, grammar presentation and choosing a class reader in one go. Poor kids. Poor DoS. Poor me.

All this flashed though my mind during my first CPD meeting as DoS when I mentioned the observations. And you can see why, because it doesn’t matter how you put it, the term “formal observation” just sounds kind of scary. This isn’t surprising: assessment is part of life during our first steps in teacher training, on whichever kind of TEFL course you go on. I remember standing in class at 106 Piccadilly trying to work out what the grimaces on the face of my CELTA tutor meant, and arguably spent more time concentrating on this than my lesson!

Then three things happened here at IH San Isidro that changed all of this. Firstly, we decided to link the weekly CPD sessions to the teacher development, so that it was clear that the weekly teacher development sessions were targeted at opportunities for development within the classroom, such as giving instructions, eliciting, dealing with incidental vocabulary etc.

Secondly, we overhauled the observation feedback forms we give to teachers. Traditionally, we have always had these feedback forms as the classic “positive-negative sandwich”, whereby teachers got to see the great things they did in the class and then the points to work on. What we have now done is divided the form into categories, so that teachers can see specific aspects of their teaching, rather than everything together.

It might be easier just to show you rather than play textual charades – as you can see below the form is divided into separate sections, depending on the skill we’re talking about:

On top of this we have a separate ‘professional development’ section, so that now, when we decide with a teacher that they would like to develop a certain area of  teaching, we both know to look at this area at the next observation and see how they are getting on. In this way, it’s clear that we are not ‘assessing’ a   teacher’s  performance, rather helping them develop from observation to observation.

It might look a bit check-boxy, but I think if teacher development is to be sustainable and accountable and lots of other word ending in “-able”, it needs to allow us teachers to… develop, right?

Oh, and thirdly… we recently had our visit from IHWO. Way back when the River Plate schools down here in Argentina were considering who we would like to have for our visit, the great Shaun Wilden’s name came up in his role as teacher training coordinator for IHWO, and he certainly delivered.

We went through some of the teacher development feedback that we had been giving out and Shaun suggested (apart from many others things too numerous to mention here, but I am onto them Shaun, honest) that the CPD be linked directly to the teachers’ PDIs  so that they know from the outset of their employment that we will be helping them to develop. This is a great idea, making the process an accountable cycle and for teachers to get the most out of working for an IH school and giving them the tools they need to continue progressing.

But… the buck shouldn’t necessarily stop with us DoSes. We know that as a DoS, ADoS and Teacher Development Manager, we are responsible for ensuring the quality of the teaching in our schools is sustained and improved. But we also know that we learn so much from each other as teachers during observations: it is not the case that any people in the above-mentioned positions simply preside as judge, jury and executioner over their teachers’ classes. It’s about helping everyone learn from each other – the much-lauded ‘facilitator’ teacher role does not end when you leave the classroom.

So, integral to the above is our Peer Observations system. At any time during the academic year, a teacher may ask to observe another teacher if they wish to – and we also have two periods a year when there is a set round of peer observations. We can watch each other for half a class and then have a group feedback during a CPD meeting, where we are all able to share our experiences and give back activities we liked to the school as a whole.

And our teachers also know that we are not alone… apart from our IH San Isidro CPD programme, there ae great web-based resources on (affiliates area)  and indeed our own TD blog too

It’s early days, but instead of having a system where each new observation throws up different unrelated challenges, we now have a cyclical CPD programme where all the staff share their knowledge. We are in the midst of a new chapter in teacher development and we will see what happens – certainly in the next few months, if Shaun or someone reminds me, I’ll report back to you.  Just as soon as I’ve got through everything else on his list!

And hopefully it’ll make fewer teachers feel as though they want to go play in the traffic.

Author’s Bio: Alastair is an English teacher, Director of Studies and the Teacher Development Manager at International House in San Isidro where he runs the CPD programme. Alastair has completed the International House Certificate of Advanced Methodology and all modules of the Cambridge DELTA.
As Teacher Development Manager at San Isidro, Alastair organises and delivers sessions in teacher training both in-house and at local schools, institutions, and conferences, including the I.H. Director of Studies conference in London. His special interests are developing students’ receptive skills as well as Discourse Analysis, Dogme ELT (Teaching Unplugged), and, more recently, teaching beginner-level students. Alastair also hopes that this year will be another good one for Argentine wine, as he’s running a bit low.