Thoughts (set off by Marc)

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(Marc/quotes from his comment on my previous post, in bold)

Is all this CPD a good thing for people with full-time work? 

CPD stands for ‘Continuous Professional Development”. Is what I listed in the previous post “CPD”? Let’s check…

Continuous = Yup, this PLN stuff is pretty darn continuous. Everything on that list happens and then keeps happening.

Recently I’ve noticed my niece, who is staying with us for a couple of weeks, watching a handful of web-only shows on her phone. Watching all. the. time. She watches the shows and also chats with other audience members about them on multiple social media channels (including twitter, as it happens). Being really into them, her engagement with them is….well, it’s continuous.

I’m into the world of ELT. Not only as my job/profession, but in any number of other ways; for me ELT is a nexus for people, places, ideas, etc. that I like a lot. I’m not at all like an accountant who goes to work and accounts and then goes home and obsesses over golf. I’m not at all like an architect who goes to work and archs and then goes home and spends all their time in the neighborhood community garden. I’m a teacher/teacher educator who goes to work and teaches and teacher edumacates and then goes home and spends a good chunk of time doing the stuff on that list. Being that into it, my engagement with it is…well, it’s continuous.

I’ve also recently been finding myself marveling just at the way life in general has changed since 2011 when I got my first iPhone. Previous to that I think I had an old Nokia – very very basic. I used it to call people and very occasionally, if I had nothing to read on public transportation, play that snake game. Going on the internet for real meant sitting down at a computer. The iPhone meant that the internet was imbedded with me, in my pocket, in my hand. So, whatever I wanted to do online I could do…pretty much continuously. This was when things like webinars where proliferating, and this was the “2.0” era. The online action-zone was exploding. 2011 was also when I got started on my MA TESOL, and 2011 was when I would say I got truly into ELT.

Since my first taste in Sri Lanka in 2004 I’d already been “into it” in a more local and limited way though, and used the internet – sitting down at a computer – to indulge, including in my free time.

I just checked: I’ve tweeted 10.8k times as @tesolmatthew. I tweeted 3.3k times before that as @newbieCELTA for a total of 13.8k tweets. But that’s only a bit past half of the times I posted on a vBulletin teacher’s discussion forum over a 7-year space beginning in 2005 (20k+). So, this is simply to say it’s nothing new.

Getting back to where I started, Continuousness: it’s that way because it’s what I’ve always done as a teacher and it’s that way because with an iPhone it can be.

It’s been continuous, but the quality and quality/level of engagement absolutely does vary. Right now I’ve got a university job and it’s summer session, snack between semesters, hot season, quiet time around here. The only thing happening is the off-campus practicum I’ve been writing and vlogging a bit about. Not many students around. Not many colleagues around either. My officemate is far away completing some research. That’s his empty desk behind the quote from a book I just picked up, opening to this page and thinking it was connected to what I was writing about here.

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Anyway, now is one of those times when my attention to PLN-based CPD spikes. It will go back down. Classes will start and there’ll be a pretty big shift. There will be re-prioritizing. That list? It’ll shrink. But in the main, the thing itself will Continue.

Professional = I’m not sure how to address the question of whether or not my list of “what I actually do on/around twitter” describes a purely “professional” thing. As mentioned above, it would seem that a lot of it is in fact Personal . I don’t need to read so-and-so’s blog post about such-and-such to maintain or upgrade my professional knowledge base per se; but I’m interested and it certainly does end up feeding my professional knowledge base in sometimes surprising ways. For example, right now there’s a debate going on about coursebooks (when is there not) and someone mentioned “local versions” of global coursebooks like Headway. The people debating are fun to read and there’s a certain nerdy but very real entertainment value to keeping tabs on it. But doing so for nerdy personal reasons has led me to google a few things and now I’ve got this to read and also this to read for professional reasons; students in the TEFL BA I work on need to grapple with opportunities and options in using globalized materials, and if and when I ever work as a tutor on CELTA again, I want to continue a trajectory of being more and more woke about the materials they’re given at such a crucial developmental stage. That’s certainly Professional stuff.

Development = More and more I want to use the word “learning” rather than “development” because that’s most of what these activities are about. Development is a symptomatic outcome of learning. It’s a bit on the nose, is it not, to slap the label ‘development’ on so many things? The term learning is better, I think, because it’s a more accurate descriptor (of a longer-term, more complex process) but also because it reminds us that, like our students, we as teachers should be studying and learning. This will, we predict, lead to development. There’s that new book “Teacher Development Over Time”, right? I love that title, because of/despite the fact that in some sense it’s just so redundant. That’s what I want to use the word “development” for and then go ahead and use “learning” for what we’re talking about. It’s so much more humble! It’s so much more real.

So anyway, I think the previous bit about the P actually gives an example of something I have or will learn/learn about based on my twitter/PLN activity.

Now to the question of if it is “…good for people with full-time work”.

Above I think I’m clear that it’s something I’ve felt is “good for me”. But I can certainly entertain the notion that an empirical accounting might supply cause to wonder. The question you pose and the way you pose it, I think, go a bit beyond any particular personal accounting: it’s about the larger context of bad working conditions, teacher burnout, and perhaps a professional culture (or lack thereof) with some highly dysfunctional features.

“Full-time work”, one imagines, ought to imply a certain ‘fullness’ that includes one’s fill of CPD. But it often doesn’t, even while the dramatic complexity of teaching work demands infinitely more attention to supported teacher learning. And we know that full-time teaching work – as tough a job as any – will leave a normal human being quite sufficiently spent at the end of any given day/week. Working more – if our CPD entails work – can seem downright inappropriate, even inhumane.

And there’s that quote from the book in the pic above, it’s rather haunting actually. But it suggests that IF the CPD one does is social and interactive, that maybe it does more than the particulars on each tin? So that then begs the question of whether online interaction generally actually is social in the way we want it to be.

Anyway, I guess I’d just say that if it’s not in fact a personal hobby, the answer to your question would be a pretty easy NO from me. No, it’s not good for a people who teach full-time to do the things on that list if what they really want to do is play a shitload of tennis.

There’s maybe a sense, behind the question, that my description amounts to a celebration which amounts to a promotion: a promotion of off-the-clock, unpaid CPD that – whether it’s my intention or not – legitimizes and perhaps even contributes to injustice in ELT.

Are some of us doing a bit too much [CPD]?

Right now I feel it’s ultimately up to each individual to say, really…even while I want to acknowledge that there’s a corporate consciousness that links our decisions, thoughts, and beliefs which we can and should attend to. The latter is, I think, the arena which the more critical/political take you very rightly responded to my post with belongs.

There’s all that and then there are individuals. When you work with teachers as a trainer or mentor full-time, I think, especially student and/or novice teachers sometimes that more macro stuff tends to yield to a much more individual focus. THIS teacher should do MORE to fulfill their potential right now. THIS teacher should perhaps do less to fulfill theirs. The reasons, in both cases, have everything to do with distinctly personal factors.

If you feel like you are doing too much, stop right now.

I think there have been times where I’ve used this or that activity – including online PLN/CPD stuff, yes – to avoid something else in my life, or stay busy so as to not confront something looming, or whatnot. I’d say that’s not a particular feature of what the list was about, however. But there have been times where I should have immediately stopped doing EVERYTHING on that list and did not stop.

Are we hooked on the apparent benefits without considering the detriment to work-life balance and such?

So much to unpack there and discuss, Marc. Hooked, apparent, benefits, detriments, balance. I look forward to more of your thoughts!

I am not criticising you; I am reacting to the thoughts you set off in me.

Goes both ways. Thank you for setting off my thoughts!

***

OK, it’s now 3pm. I had no plans to blog today but I’d gotten enough done here at my desk to feel the coast was clear and the urge to respond to Marc’s comment was too strong. It took me about 40 minutes to write the post above. So now, back in the mode of the previous one, I’ll simply describe what I think the rest of my day might look like, and note how twitter/PLN stuff will likely fit into the nooks and crannies:

  • Post this.
  • Clean up my office a bit.
  • Send a short message to my practicum supervisees.
  • Check twitter here, scrolling for a couple of minutes.
  • Go find out how I can log into my uni web access, etc. account. I found written instructions for this on my desk when I came in…sadly, my Thai reading is not good enough yet to understand them!
  • Leave campus, drive to HomePro to look for puppy fencing. Practice my Thai speaking and listening (much stronger!) as much as possible during my errand.
  • Sitting in parking lot with or without the fencing I’m hoping for, open my WordPress app ‘reader’ and scroll the blogs. Read maybe one, and bookmark a few others for bedtime reading.
  • Arrive home with dinner, eat with my wife and niece. Play with the puppy. Shower and do some house stuff. Hopefully jog, starting off with music in my earbuds but also probably listen to the latest episode of TEFLology while I run.
  • Yadda yadda, bedtime: read those other blog posts, scroll twitter a bit.
  • Finally, set morning alarm and fight the urge to keep looking at the phone, maybe watching the latest Stephen Colbert monologue. Instead, shut it down and talk to my wife! Pick up my detective novel, pass out after 3 pages. 1 out of 7 days my bedtime reading might be ELT-related. This is down from maybe 4 out of 7 at peak ELT times. 

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A “TD success story” about slowly but surely developing my post-lesson teacher feedback skills as a CELTA course tutor

The theme of this year’s TDSIG web carnival is “TD success stories” and this is my contribution to the call for blogposts on the topic.

Perhaps a little sadly, I have a sense that this word success is not all that often associated with teacher development (TD) or really teachers and teaching generally. You don’t find ELTers on the cover of Success Magazine (that’s a thing, right?). And, because we rightly recognize that ‘development’ is an open-ended, ongoing, cyclical process it can be an awkward challenge to portion out a particular segment of it for specific evaluation. Do we even really want to be evaluative, anyway?

On some level, I think we can’t and don’t avoid it…I know I often look at my teacher development from a deficit-perspective: focusing on what I’ve yet to learn or skills I want but don’t have. There’s an implicit negative evaluation there. I also tend to land on the cynical side of a lot of programmatic professional development efforts, especially the more top-down, conventional kind. But…I realize that stepping back and really appreciating what I have learned, how I have managed to develop into an expert teacher/trainer, that many PD activities have worked some magic on me, and actually soberly celebrating my development “successes” should be a thing.

A thing that doesn’t naively revel in positivity while ignoring what’s broken in an imperfect support system, but rather builds a platform for clear-eyed looking (forwards and back) and also feeds the soul in an atmosphere where burnout can be fueled by even the sincerest negative appraisal on top of everything else.

So, with that said…here’s my short “TD success story” tale for the 2018 #tdsigcarnival!

***

So, I trained up as a CELTA course tutor in Boston and New York during the spring of 2014. Part of this was being asked to produce a reflective essay focused on what I’d learned throughout the process, submitted towards the end of a course on which I shadowed a couple of experienced trainers. I’d actually forgotten all about this until very recently when I came across the essay in my files. It was a quiet thrill to rediscover. Because it had disappeared from conscious view, reading it back again felt like opening a little reflective time-capsule!

I organized the essay this way:

  1. Things I believed going in
  2. Things that changed, how and why
  3. Things I believe coming out
  4. Key areas to work on
  5. What’d I’d tell a future trainer-in-training

As it turns out, my concern for post-lesson teacher feedback was in place from the start of my time as a trainer; I mention something about it all five sections of my essay. Here are just a few quotes:

“I was constantly reminded of how important post-lesson feedback was to me as course participant. It was clear that trainees both depended on it in order to fully process the experience, get a felt sense of their progress, and gain real confidence that what was presented and practiced in input sessions could be depended on after all”

“How much feedback is enough and not too much feedback? Such a tough nut to crack. And how to avoid it feeling like so much picking over the past? I’ll never forget one of my mentor trainers saying “avoid past modals like ‘could’ve’ and ‘should’ve’ to avoid a focus on past-oriented evaluation. Instead, frame your feedback in terms of future action: ‘You can…’ and ‘You’ll be able to…’. I found this extremely helpful!”

“It will help to talk to other trainers about their own approaches to feedback. I’m not sure it’s actually the subject of a whole lot of regular trainer cross-talk, so this might sometimes be a challenge”

My evaluation of the nut’s (lack of) crackability, I know now, was sound. During my first year or so as a course tutor I constantly struggled to find a comfortable balance between too much and too little, to direct and too passive, too simple and too sophisticated, etc. in post-lesson feedback. Sometimes I’d try so hard to ‘get it right’ that I’d get overly self-conscious, slip into trainer-talk mode, lose track of time, and unintentionally end up forcing trainees to stay through absolutely precious minutes of their lunch hour!

Because of these challenges, along with my belief that expert facilitative feedback is crucial to the learning process on an initial teacher training course, I made post-lesson feedback skills a particular focus of my personal efforts to develop and grow as a trainer.

Here’s some of what those efforts involved:

  1. finding and reading articles about this area very specifically and about related, more general topics around feedback and post-lesson reflection in places like ELT Journal and (the open source!) ELTED
  2. asking fellow trainers for advice about post-lesson feedback – or if not advice per se, simply to describe any experiences or opinions about it (both face-to-face and online)
  3. occasionally recording (with permission) and listening back to post-lesson feedback sessions to reflect and construct action plans
  4. using Jo Gakonga’s elt-training videos and, more recently, her teacher feedback materials to reflect on feedback
  5. seeking out presentations related to this at conferences, sharing experiences/asking questions in sessions, and following up with presenters later
  6. requesting (shyly, but with determination) the masters’ thesis of a colleague I found out had studied the topic in depth
  7. engaging in topically related #ELTchat discussions and reading chat summaries in the archive, as well as joining #CELTAchat for trainers specifically
  8. collecting and reviewing feedback from trainees for reflection and action planning
  9. …and more!

All of those actions compose the ‘story’ of my TD in this particular area. But why, dear reader, would I call this a “success story”? Here’s some of the feedback I got on my facilitation of a post-lesson feedback session a couple years later:

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Reading that, I don’t feel quite as epically pained typing out the word ‘expert’ about myself like I did in the second paragraph of this blogpost. And I don’t feel as much of a *thud* sound behind the word “success” when it’s mentioned near the words “teacher development”.

My route to success in this area involved regular reading, connecting with colleagues, and active reflection and experimentation – three strategies I heartily recommend to the same trainee teachers I give post-lesson feedback to. And I’ll recommend them to you now, along with an invitation to identify, appreciate, and be inspired your own successes as we continue through cycles and stories of development.

***

Once again, this is a #tdsigcarnival post for IATEFL’s TD Special Interest Group’s 3rd annual web carnival event. I sincerely hope it inspires you to write about a “TD success story” of your own and join in. As far as I know, this is the second in the series for this year; Fiona Price’s post here was the first.

Hopefully these are but a couple on a long list! Please consider writing, and of course reading others. Let’s carnival! 

*If you do write a blogpost, make sure to let TDSIG know about it – tweet TDSIG at @tdsig, or tweet or email me at @tesolmatthew or noble.elt at gmail dot com (since I happen to be a main web carnival organizer this year!).

Finally, here’s hoping to see you at the live (and recorded), free, open-to-all TDSIG web carnival 4-talk series with IATEFL-affiliated teachers’ association representatives discussion panel on Saturday, February 24:

carn poster.jpghttps://tdsig.org/webcarnival/