PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

New Year, Same You? 5 Ways to be the Best Teacher you can be in 2018

The new year is nearly here and with it comes the expectation to make resolutions to change something in your life; to become the best possible version of you. Or at least to make a list of the characteristics that the best possible version of you would have. Whether you will spend less time on Facebook, go swimming more often, and clean the juicer straight after using it, only you will know — but deciding to be the best possible teacher you can be will bring you joy, benefits to your students and to your career. 

Here are a handful of activities and habits that you can put into practice straight away to make you an even better professional.

1. Take a Course

While there may not be such a wide variety of courses for English teachers to take, there are some out there which are held in high regard and that will furnish you with ideas and inspiration that you can take with you for years to come. Some of the most well-known are run by Cambridge Assessment. TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test) is exactly what is says — a knowledge test that will bolster your CV. The DELTA is considered the main stepping stone after the CELTA. It is at master’s level, and for teachers who have been teaching for a few years. It is theoretical and practical and there is increasingly more flexibility in how you can take the modules. For something more specialised there is the Business Certificates (BEC) also from Cambridge which is divided into Preliminary, Vantage, and Higher.

 

Aside from these formal certifications there are online courses that you can do to support your development as an English-language teacher. For instance, Coursea and Future Learn offer MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which are designed as tasters to promote certain universities and their courses but nonetheless can have great content. With these you will not gain a qualification that you can necessarily put on your CV but you may well learn something useful and enjoy participating within the community of learners that attend the online courses.

2. Read Articles and Blogs

English teachers are often avid readers, and many of then are writers too. Sometimes at the end of a long day teaching a teacher would like to escape into the other-worldliness of a great novel. But putting aside some time to read around topics which interest you in teaching and learning can be equally engaging and can bring benefits to your teaching too. There are lots of academic articles and current research papers which can offer insights into what is happening now in the field of ELT and could help you to overcome issues you might be having with your own teaching.

Google Scholar is a good place to start for searching for articles on topics that interest you and institutions like The Linguistic Society of America offer insights and links to articles and here is a great website which offers lots of links to free articles on linguistics and teaching. If the day has been too chaotic for you to possibly read a full-length academic article then why not browse some of the many ELT blogs in cyberspace that have the right balance of light reading and deep insights? Check out this list of ELT Blogs to follow in 2018. And if you have something to say — why not create your own blog?

3. Join the Community

Being a part of something bigger and communicating with others about what you do can be reassuring and can offer much needed support. There are tons of different groups on social media where you can interact, share, and gain information. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ all offer something slightly different so take a look, join some groups and get involved! Additionally there are forums where you can chat about specific questions such as at TEFL.net and ESL Base.

Quora is a relatively new phenomenon which is somewhere between a forum and social media. It is a place to ask and answer questions, gain knowledge, and comment. There are not so many English teachers on there, but you can change that!

4. Self Appraise and Create a Training Plan

Reflection is a necessary step in effective learning, according to Kolb’s Learning Cycle. As teachers we might be too busy teaching to be learning because we might not have enough opportunity to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well in any given day. Setting aside some time for this and creating a learning path for yourself can give more confidence to your teaching, enable you to see what you have done in the past, and to make plans about how you want to develop in the future.

Self-appraisal is the start of this process. It can done as a simple list of Strengths and Weaknesses featuring what you know you are good at, and what you could do better. From there you can form personal objectives based on the areas you want to improve. You can plan how you will meet the objectives: will it be through peer observations? Reading contemporary research on the subject, or even carrying out your own small-scale research? Taking an extra qualification or attending a seminar? Any of the items in this post could serve as instruments for improvement, the important thing is to articulate what you want to do and follow through as best you can. If you would like a template for a teacher training plan you can contact me and I will send one to you.

5. Attend Conferences

From the plethora of conferences in the TEFL world we can see the dedication and vibrancy in the industry. There are conferences, large and small, across almost every continent, every month. Conferences serve multiple functions. The first of those is educational. When you attend you can prioritise the topics and speakers that mean the most to you. The speakers may be giants of the field or complete newbies giving their first presentation. The second benefit of attending conferences is meeting like-minded people. A lot is made in today’s world of social capital and networking but if that isn’t your thing then simply meeting people and having fun with TEFL professionals is a good enough reason to be there! And that brings us to the third point which is that conferences are exciting and fun. The vibrancy is tangible and it’s revitalising to mix with people who work in your field and with it comes a sense of community and mutual support.

These are some ways you can grow as a teacher but good habits, like dogs, are not just for Christmas; they are long-term investments in yourself that will pay dividends for a long time to come. But why wait till 2018!? There is time to do these things now!

If you have any other suggestions, then leave them in the comments below. Otherwise, have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

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Posted by rfieldenwatkinson@gmail.com

The DoS Within

This blog post looks at the Director of Studies role, what it’s about, who is suited to it, and how it could be a great way for a teacher to gain a new perspective of the school he or she works in.

It is commonly claimed that teachers are born; not made, but can the same be said of a Director of Studies?

Another common claim is that often those who get into managerial positions are the ones least suited to them. That may be because the people who get supervisory roles are more motivated to find ways to achieve a promotion rather than being the best candidate for the position. Of course there are some ambitious people in the TEFL industry; those who see themselves as managers, but I think you’ll agree that most English-language teachers are happiest working alongside others in a team, and do not by nature seek authority over others or have large appetites for administrative work.

So, why do teachers become Directors of Studies, how, and what makes a good DoS?

The role of the DoS depends on the centre’s size, ethos, and overall objectives but we can broadly say that a DoS is charged with maintaining or even improving the quality levels within the school. The role often involves recruiting teachers, delivering training sessions, observing teachers and delivering feedback, reporting to a centre manager, and the role may include aspects of business promotion and strategy.

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As is suggested in the introduction the role of DoS is a supervisory role, usually filled by someone who wants to progress in the the field of teaching. But there is something inherently paradoxical about a teacher steping into the position since inevitably a DoS will have less opportunity to teach, as his or her time is filled with other obligations.

Add to this the implicit responsibility of the job, as well as the creation of spreadsheets and the administration and organisational tasks, and you can see why at first glance the role might hold little appeal to a dyed-in-the-wool teacher.

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On the contrary, the role of the DoS utilises many of the skills we develop as teachers.

It is based on building rapport by implementing strong communication skills. Of course the presonell change but the task is the same — give clear instructions, listen to others, and communicate openly. Working with others in a team is essential for DoS just as it is for a teacher. A school is the sum of its parts, and each of those parts need to work in unison.  One of the clearest similarities between the Director of Studies and the teaching role is the in central tenet of educating and inspiring those around you. Educating teachers might seem condescending but if we see this through the lens of contemporary teaching as: facilitating others to reach their goals, then we can see how similar they are.

And so a teacher can reap a lot of satisfaction from applying these skills in a new context. Of course there are new skills to develop that may not be standard for TEFL teachers such as leadership and managerial skills, planning and learning how to balance many different needs such including those of the business, those of the the students, and those of the teachers. These skills are all useful skills to develop and if necessary are transferable to other parts of life or other jobs.

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A good DoS will need to be analytical and organised, as part of the job can be anaylsing data and statistics. Planning and preparation go hand-in-hand and are fundamental to being a DoS. This will include planning any events that the school puts on and planning in regards to the staff.  It’s necessary to anticipate busy times of the year and ensure you have recruited the right people at the right time. As with teaching you will need to think on you feet and deal with problems as they arise. Always have two solutions to every problem is a phrase I have heard a lot recently. Most of all being a team player and getting the best out of people will determine your success in the job. People around you will expect you to lead from the front, to be worthy of trust, and to be a great communicator. So much of the job is, again like with teaching, getting people to move forward with you.

Teachers who show they have the potential to develop these skills will be in contention to become a DoS, but I would add to that that becoming a DoS is also a progression in your own education. It is an opportunity to see the school as a whole and this can feed back into one’s teaching and one’s overall professional development.

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The position requires dedication and flexibility. It requires you to wear many hats in a short space of time. A DoS needs to be comfortable creating spreadsheets one minute, covering for a sick teacher the next, while the next leading a meeting with a sales team. But as with teaching the most important and consistent thing is that you are dealing with people. The ability to work well with and get the best out of people is what made you a good teacher and what will stand you in good stead to be an excellent DoS too.

There are many people who simply love teaching and the idea of doing anything else doesn’t hold any attraction, and then for others becoming a DoS is a great way to grow and to experience the school in a different way.

To return to our first two generalisations: are teachers and DoSes born; not made? The answer is: neither; it is a choice we make to improve ourselves and the lives of others. Are those who become DoSes simply ambitious authoritarians? May be, but if so they will need to learn to change their expectations of the role because the power in a school is always with the students and the teachers, and both of these groups famously give short shrift to dictators.

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If you are interested in growing professionally and experiencing the school in a fuller way, then I would wholeheartedly recommend applying yourself to becoming a Director of Studies, and likewise if your ambition lies in being a great teacher then that is an equally noble ambition.

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Read: The Future of English-language Teaching

Read: Is There a Need for Coursebooks in ELT?

Read: Teaching Pronunciation

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Posted by rfieldenwatkinson@gmail.com in Director of Studies, Professional Development