Professional Development – Not An Option

This post was first written as a comment on the blog of the Secret DoS. To read the interesting article that prompted it and the discussion that followed, including my original comment, click here. I have adapted the comment for this blog post.

Conferences are just one of the many PD options

I can never understand why some people think professional development (PD) should be optional. If we want to consider ourselves a profession, and I do, then we have to act like one. Why is it that teachers should be allowed the right to do their training, get a job and then coast for the next twenty/thirty/forty years? If I found out that my doctor, or the architect who designed the hospital he works in, or the engineer who constructed it, had the same attitude I’d be deeply worried and hightail it to the hospital on the other side of town.

Professional development means that a teacher is at the very least keeping up to date with developments in their field and updating their teaching accordingly. It can go a lot further than this, encompassing writing, reflective practice, presenting and networking, but it doesn’t have to. What it symbolises is that the teacher takes their job seriously.

This doesn’t mean that I think all teachers should be blogging or tweeting, far from it. PD can take many forms and not everyone needs to be doing it in public. A small discussion group is a great way to reflect and improve. Reading methodology books is enough, if that suits you.

So I think an employer is quite justified at looking for their employees to take some responsibility for their jobs and give something back to the students who are investing their time and money in lessons. And I see nothing self-righteous about demanding high standards. This is about giving students value for their effort, having a sense of personal pride and driving up the standards in our profession.

I love having a PLN, but this doesn’t make it the right PD option for everyone

But what to do if you are responsible for encouraging staff who have no desire to improve? How do we motivate those who don’t wish to be motivated? I have reservations about forcing them. To have any success, I think it has to come from them. I would also avoid an over-emphasis on tech and web based solutions as I think those who are resistant to change are most likely to reject these methods. You need as wide a range of options as possible, tech and non tech, so they can decide for themselves how they develop.

Ideally, they should lead this. If you plan on running an incentive scheme based on points and prizes, as the Secret DoS was planning to do, I would definitely ask them to create their own list of PD options, and they can even decide how points can be assigned. I think that if they feel like they own this process, they are more likely to engage in it. You can even ask them to choose the prize.

My final suggestion, and this is where I go back to being hardline again, is the true solution to this problem, but it’s not a quick fix and it needs institutional support. It involves a cultural shift I’d like to see not just in individual schools but across our profession. I think that when you employ someone, you make them understand in their interview that PD is an expected part of their job. PD can be tied to bonuses or whatever system your school operates. You have to get the right people in there from the beginning. I think this is the only real way to create that staff room that we all dream of.


20 thoughts on “Professional Development – Not An Option

  1. I agree that teachers, like any other professionals, must constantly learn and develop. However, I can also tell you that mandatory PD also has problems. Lack of flexibility of systems, pressure from schools,constraints of mothers, cause teachers to take unsuitable courses just because they have to have it on their record. @plugusin from “the Tempered Radical” had a great post about being required to take a computer course every few years yet all those offered are way way below his level. There has to be a middle way of getting teachers to take courses but being flexible as to what they can take.
    Naomi (@naomishema)

  2. Hi Naomi, thanks for your comment. I agree that it's very difficult to make it mandatory, especially when you have teachers that haven't been doing PD seriously in recent times. That's why I say the only real solution is to make sure you employ people who understand that this is part of their job.

    But if that's not possible, then you have to find a way to make sure that teachers know what is expected of them and let them lead how they their PD programme works. Easier said than done though, I acknowledge and as the Secret Dos was discovering.

  3. Agreed with what you're point is – mandatory PD (or what's better described as 'part of your job') comes in many forms. We are going to implement this into teacher contracts next year, but keep it extremely flexible in terms of what forms of PD can be done.

  4. That's the ideal way to go about it Tyson, and a good side effect is that by mentioning it in interviews, you'll have a much beter idea of who to employ or not!

  5. Would a “points reward” system really just be carrot and stick motivation anyway and all the evidence is point that this sucks as a form of motivation. Perhaps a focus on Intrinsic motivation would be better?

  6. Hi James,
    Sorry it took me so long to sit down and comment–better late than never I suppose! A few thoughts–PD should indeed be mentioned in job interviews as part of the job, but then that begs the eternal question of pay. I'm going to play devil's advocate, because I really agree with a lot of what you say, but where's the fun in that? 🙂

    Let's look at an example, using France (since I live & work here). Bob the teacher goes in for a few interviews and gets offered an average of about 18€-20€/hr before taxes (roughly 16€/hr after). That fee includes both teaching and prep time, as well as time spent going from company to company, sometimes 3 different places in one day. That makes the employers' offer about the equivalent of minimum wage, which I think is around 9-10€/hr or so in France.

    Now, does the employer tell Bob that PD is going to also be expected of him as “part of his job”? That means that technically Bob will be making a bit less than minimum wage. But Bob is nearly bilingual, has done a BA (and possibly an MA), and maybe has some other specialist knowledge from his former job as, let's say an accountant, in the UK. And now an employer is asking Bob not only to just do his job, but to do it well and put effort into getting better at it? And this boss expects the will and enthusiasm to come from Bob? Really?? Well, his UFO is parked behind the office…

    Incentive to develop would be good, but like you said, it has to come from the teachers and not just be a carrot. I'm not sure how that would work and Tyson, I'm very curious to know more about how you are going to implement such a program ( and bravo to you for doing it!).

    If it's a point system, what do the points add up to or what do the teachers get for accumulating points? Does incentive always need to be financial? That seems to be the sticking point–schools don't want to (or can't afford to) pay much more than the minimum and yet want qualified teachers who invest themselves in their jobs.

    Hope I haven't battered you too much there 😉 Like I said, this is definitely a question that must be addressed and across the profession, not just in a handful of exceptional schools that we all will want to work for.

    There is a new system being developed to rank teachers according to their skills, similar to the CEFRL levels. I can' for the life remember what it's called and just spent about 20 minutes searching for it but couldn't find it on the net (does anybody else know what I'm talking about?) It looks like a promising tool, but will it lead to any change in terms of pay and professional standards? Or will the higher-ranked teachers just be seen as over-qualified , too expensive, or too threatening? (Even Frendo has an interesting post on this point at

    Going freelance is one option. That way the boss (you) is heavily invested in the quality of the trainer (again, you)! But I digress…

    Great post!

  7. Hi there!

    Your post made me think a lot as I would have written something very similar a couple of years ago.
    PD is extremely important to me but to be honest, I finally start to get why teachers are not so much into it.

    A good quality ELT conference in Spain (where I live) or abroad costs me a third or about a half of my salary (transportation, fees, hotel etc) and considering that I get 3 months pay-free holidays that is a lot. I work mornings and evenings, when I'm at home for 3 hours during the day I honestly prefer to have lunch and relax in a non-ELT way (so much for reading methodology books).

    None of my employers ever offered to help me financially with conferencing, even when I was accepted as a speaker. What is more there has always been an issue with getting time off.

    We do get occasional workshops at work, it's not so bad! But the topics are frequently boring and the presenters lack professionalism and don't know how to do it well.

    I earn 30 euros more a month than a teacher with no experience. That's how much my 10 year experience is worth. I was thinking of continuing with the DELTA but hey, that 3000 euros will probably never pay off if I continue being a regular teacher.

    Sorry for all the whining but you know, I've been where you are now. What I'm trying to say is that there are tons of external factors 'preventing' PD.

    The easiest thing is to leave your job or move to a different place. But what if you can't?


  8. Nice. At our boarding school (grades 8-12) we've grown over the last four years professional learning that has been optional, classroom-based, collaborative … all hallmarks you are touching on here.

    I've been sharing the website with whomever is interested – if it is any use to you feel free to have a look: – I always love comments about it – and what you are doing that is in the same spirit!


  9. Thanks for the great comments everyone, let me take them one at a time…

    Firstly, Christina (aka ilovetefl), you make some very good and perfectly valid points that demonstrate what a tricky and difficult to negotiate topic this is. With your case study Bob, it’s important to note that I didn’t mention frequency. Bob has to make a decision what kind of PD he thinks he needs. As his employer, they would have to be realistic about what they expect from him. If they don’t pay him commensurately, they can’t then place unrealistic demands upon him.

    So there basically has to be a realistic negotiation of expectations based on the conditions they have created. But Bob should bear in mind that he probably won’t always want to work for this employer, and to ensure his future employment prospect, he should at least keep up to date with what is going on in the ELT world.

    I’m a bit suspicious of points schemes too, and as I said before, there has to be some desire on the part of the teacher to want to learn. Frankly, if there isn’t, then you’ve employed the wrong person.

    The ranking system seems to be an interesting development, and I’m curious to see how it will be implemented. I would hope that by evaluating on a fair basis, it would offer those who take their profession seriously some validation, but we’ll see.

    Anita (aka littlemissbossy), thanks for your comment which is a great example of how my theory bashes up against your reality! But I think your points, which while being perfectly applicable, are really criticisms of how PD is available to you, not PD itself.

    The cost of conferences is very expensive, undeniably and unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean all association created events should involve travel and accommodation costs (depending on the country of course). The limited free time you have means that books are out (although I’m grateful you found time to read my blog post!).

    The fact that your employees don’t offer you financial support or adequate PD opportunities can be seen as a criticism of how they choose to support, or not support you in this case. And the pay discrepancies are utterly unacceptable and are an unfortunate effect of the lack of professionalism in our field.

    So these problems are all surmountable with a change of approach and attitude, leaving the path clear to the kind of PD which can only benefit teachers, employers and most importantly, students.

    Lastly, thanks for your comment Paul. It looks like you are trying to put into practice something I could only suggest, so congratulations!

  10. Great topic and discussion. PD is an essential part of any job or profession and most times it is not part of a working day or paid by employers, I can´t understand why we, teachers, consider this a necessary condition for PD.
    I agree with James, it is not an option, it is an essential part of the job.

    In my experience it does have to do with attitude, some teachers will make every effort to stay updated, attend conferences, read books and what not, others will only find excuses for not getting involved in any, no matter what time, form, cost it takes.

    As you can see, I also agree with your hardline!

  11. Thanks for commenting Gladys. It's interesting, because some of the objections that people seem to have to PD are, as you mentioned, time, form and cost. I like the way you have flipped this around and say that no matter how it's arranged, they will still find a way to object. Sadly, I suspect you are right which why they need to be given responsibility for organising it themselves.

  12. You know what they say – when there's a will… 😉

    The real problem, as we all know, are people who simply don't care. And there is nothing more depressing than working with them.

    PS Happy to have found my way here (finally)!

  13. I agree with little_miss_bossy. I read somewhere 60% of the population is not interested in development. That's why I think you are right James when you say you need the right people there from start.

  14. I'm not sure how I arrived here this late in the evening, but felt compelled to comment. After the contributions from France and Spain I felt Italy needed to comment.:-)

    As a part-timer I earnt just over €6000 last year, and anybody with knowledge of Italy will appreciate what the netto is! Although I had the contacts to get on the coach to go down to the publishers training day in the nearest big city with the local state school English teachers I'm not sure what other PD I should be expected to do.

    My personal library would suggest that I'm interested in it, but I rather resent the assumptions behind the contributions of one or two of the below the line commenters.

  15. Dear anonymous, I empathise with your situation. My spirit of my post was meant to be that PD is essential, however the teacher has to decide when, how and how much they do it.

    Real life can make it difficult to get the development we may want, but my point is that if we want to be taken seriously as professionals and offer the service that we are being paid for, we have no choice but to develop at some point. If the teaching environment makes it very difficult for you to do this, then it's the industry that needs to change, but that's tough for an individual teacher like yourself.

    Thanks for commenting.

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