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Self-Directed Professional Development at an Intensive English Program


I am interested in teacher agency the extent to which English language teachers seek out professional development on their own.  After nearly a year as curriculum coordinator at an intensive English program (IEP) at a regional public university, I have informally observed my faculty colleagues' approaches to professional development as a prelude for a more formal study I may initiate in the following year.  This blog synthesizes my observations with Dr. Jackie Gerstein's blog User Generated Education, specifically her post on self-directed professional development at https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/teacher-agency-self-directed-professional-development/

Acknowledging Differences

Dr. Gerstein's blog seems to be mainly aimed towards K-12 educators of all disciplines, whereas my interest is specifically focused on English language teachers (ELTs) but broadly focused on ELTs in many contexts, including public and private K-12 schools.  For this blog post, I am reporting specifically on ELTs at one IEP.  During this past academic year, we had around 20 full-time instructors.

Professional Development Activities

About halfway through her post, Dr. Gerstein lists 16 different self-driven and directed professional activities, which she sourced from the British Columbia Teacher Federation.  Below is my screenshot of this list.

Attending conferences

Items 1-3 address attending different types of conferences.  All of our faculty to some extent attended and participated in our homegrown regional conference or "unconference," which I blogged about a couple times earlier. (See http://jesl1.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-shawnee-hills-iep-camp.html and http://jesl1.blogspot.com/2016/02/developing-successful-edcamp-for.html) Many of our faculty, mostly our newer faculty, also attended the 2016 International TESOL Association's Convention and Expo in Baltimore.  For many of them, it was their first TESOL Convention. A few faculty members also attended and participated in regional conferences in Iowa, Illinois, and Louisiana.  Perhaps there were more conferences our faculty attended that I was not aware of, but I was quite impressed by our IEP's attendance and participation in these venues.

To continue to item #4, one of our faculty members facilitated a workshop locally and regionally, and he was one of the few who attended all three types of conferences I listed above. I really appreciated his dedication to his learning and the profession.

Item #9 is also related to conferences because joining a professional organization such as TESOL or a regional affiliate because conferences offer the most convenient time and place to join these organization. Discounts are nice incentives at this time as well.  However, I'm not sure how many of our instructors are members of any professional organization.

University studies (item #5)

Many here say our program is unique because we have employed several graduate teaching assistants who teach IEP courses on their own, but with guidance and supervision. Some of these teaching assistants were pursuing their MAs in Linguistics while others their PhDs in Curriculum & Instruction or other areas, but most of our TAs have been graduate students in the two departments mentioned.  We also have had some of our full-time IEP instructors pursuing their PhDs in various disciplines, but mainly Curriculum & Instruction.  At times, it seems that roughly half of our teaching staff are enrolled in graduate programs at the university.  This is another area in which our IEP faculty excels well in.

IEP Service

Several other items on the list above can be categorized as service within the IEP. They are as follows: 7) Participate in group planning, 10) Observe another teacher, 14) Share with colleagues what you found at a conference or workshop.  Item #7 is part of IEP committee work, such as developing the curriculum and assessments.  Our IEP requires our TAs to do #10, but some full-time instructors do this as well.  Item #14 is often reserved for a faculty meeting that is scheduled after a regional or national conference.

I have found that our more experienced faculty participate in these areas as opposed to their newer counterparts who attending conferences more frequently.  However, to formally participate in group planning, one had to be voted into a committee.

Unknowns

I don't know about a few of the items listed because I haven't observed or asked most of our faculty.  These items are 8) Job-shadow in a related work situation, 11) Read professional literature, 12) Reflect, discuss, and research for the purpose of planning individual or group ongoing professional development, 13) Develop the discipline of reflective journal keeping, 15) Subscribe to or read professional journals, and 16) Watch professional videos. I'm aware of at least one instructor per item engaged in these practices, but there could be a few more or a lot more than the one.  And I'm not including myself.

In Progress (item #6)

I have initiated a research writing group this academic year to faculty in our IEP and in the Linguistics department, but we only have had a few meetings so far.  We hope to expand this group next year.  Also, my plan for next year is to offer formal opportunities to our faculty to form or join teacher research groups in collaboration with our curriculum and assessment committees. My goal here is to help achieve praxis within our IEP.  Praxis is the process of applying theory to practice.

Conclusion

Through reflecting on my observations, the majority of our faculty have been engaged in at least one type of self-directed professional development.  This is perhaps what contributes to our long history of success with student engagement.  However, some of this professional development is not shared within the IEP that well, but this is typical for almost all types of programs and schools.  One reason for this was that our faculty pool grew very large within a short period of time, which reduced emphasis on the management of professional development.  Now that that era of rapid growth has passed, our program should be able to develop the quality rather than the quantity of our faculty.

Our goal should be to determine what types of professional development are most beneficial for our teachers and how to identify how each instructor's professional development impacts student learning within the next year or two.

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