IATEFL Belfast 2022: Tokenism or engagement? A new model for teacher development – Claire Steele and Sarah Smith

Claire and Sarah run eltonix.

How engaging are the CPD initiatives in your context?

Draw a ladder and place these initiatives on the rungs.

How do you measure engagement?

Is it the ease with which the programme can be carried out?

Did you receive good student feedback on what the students did?

Was there a tangible impact on the classroom?

Was it time well spent for the person controlling the CPD / teachers?

Was there an improvement in student performance?

Did it leave you with inspired / motivated teachers?

> Have you ever really thought about this at your school?

When Claire and Sarah started running CPD programmes, they were very enthusiastic, but the teachers weren’t engaged, despite being dedicated teachers. To find out why, they did research and spoke to the teachers to find out about their lack of engagement.

Some of the comments:

Observation is like a twice yearly ‘magic bullet’. The observers are always looking for the same thing. It isn’t really personalised to my needs. It feels like ticking a box than anything else. There’s a fear that if I don’t perform now, what will happen next year.


This is a summary of what the teachers mentioned as problems:

Though Kat also said it provided more choice for her and was more personalised.

This is a ladder of participation published by UNICEF, about engaging with children. It could also be applied to teachers. Sarah and Claire reflected on to what extent engagement with teachers went beyond tokenism and was actually empowering and emancipatory.

Three possible CPD initiatives


Two regular observations by line manager. Regular training delivered by senior members of staff.

Partial engagement:

Teachers might deliver some training sessions themselves. The school encourages peer observations and critical friends groups.


Teachers collect feedback from students and based on what they say/notice, teachers reflect and choose how they develop and how this should be measured. They carry out action research. Teachers seek guidance and advice from colleagues and senior members of staff.

Non-engagement – top down

Classic observations, INSETT etc.

This can be a form of manipulation – teachers don’t fully understand or aren’t’ involved. (these ideas are from the ladder above)

Decoration: teachers display their progress but no tangible reward.

Tokenism: teachers asked their opinions but are given no real choice or decision-making power.

Moving towards ‘recipe-following’ and ‘faking it’ (Walsh and Mann, 2015)

Reflection becomes blind (Dewey, 193_) – what’s the point?!

Partial engagement

Assigned but informed: teachers given specific duties/tasks and told how this will help them develop. They might be given specific roles in the organisation.

They might have a little more agency, but it’s still very much managed by the school

Big improvement on the above, but does not tap into full potential. D

Does not engage all teachers.

Is still not always relevant to immediate teacher needs, or have an impact on students.

Engagement – bottom up

If student voices are borne in mind, teacher development will be happening too.

The five principles of engagement:

  1. Do the teachers initiate their professional development and take the lead?
  2. Are student voices and feedback prioritised in the choices that teachers make?
  3. Is the CPD relevant to the immediate needs of the teachers and their students?
  4. Do the teachers fully understand why they are developing and how they need to do that?
  5. Is there a measurable outcome?

You can use these principles to reflect on your CPD programme. They think they’ve found an initiative which actually meets these principles: exploratory action research.

Exploratory action research

These are the steps.

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