On Sunday 21st November 2020 I took part in the 2020 KOTESOL Daejeon-Chungcheong Chapter Thanksgiving Symposium. The theme was ‘Looking towards 2021’, with the idea of moving beyond the survival skills most of us have been working on in 2020 for the new world we find ourselves in.
My talk took a fresh look at a subject I’m passionate about, online professional development. This was the abstract:
In an increasingly online world, there are a huge amount of opportunities for teachers to access professional development via the internet, but it can be challenging to know where to start. I’ll introduce you to a range of online professional development resources which you can use, and offer you advice on how to decide which ones might be right for you.
I presented without slides, instead using the summary below as my guide and showing the relevant resources as we arrived at them. It’s a whistle-stop tour, with the idea that you can get an overview, then come back to this post as many times as you like to explore the resources.
This question is two-fold.
Firstly, why is online professional development generally worth exploring? I’ll answer this one.
- It’s (mostly) free.
- It’s available whenever and wherever you can get internet access.
- It’s wide-ranging: there’s a plethora of resources to choose from.
- It can fit around you: you can exploit it as much or as little as you like, at whatever time and location you choose.
Secondly, why might you specifically want to exploit it? You’ll need to answer these questions for yourself.
- Do you want to only consume content, or create your own content, for example building up an online portfolio, or both?
- Do you want to explore broadly and dip into lots of areas, or have a more targetted approach focussing on specific puzzles or questions you have?
Because resources available online are limitless, it can be hard to know where to start, and you may experience a feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) at the beginning – I certainly did! One way to combat this is to decide how much time you can dedicate to exploring, and how often you want to dive in. To some extent this will be determined by your answers to the second question above.
You may decide to set aside a dedicated hour or two a week, or five or ten minutes a day, to make professional development a habitual part of your routine.
Alternatively, you may decide that you prefer to set aside a few hours now and again to do a deep dive and really explore a particular area or resource.
Of course, this can change over time, but having an idea before you start can help you to decide what resources are most appropriate for you to explore, and/or whether it’s really worth starting that blog/podcast/Twitter account you’ve been considering.
It can also remove unnecessary pressure on yourself if you feel like you have to explore everything or produce the most amazing content ever seen in English language teaching – neither of these are likely, so accept it now and move on. You’ll be in a much healthier place if you go in with realistic expectations 🙂
This list is in no way exhaustive, and if I wrote it again tomorrow, next week or next year it would certainly look different. Please comment if any of the links stop working or you have other resources to add to the list.
Consuming content: targetted research
If you have a specific topic or puzzle in mind, you have two options to find useful resources.
- Choose one of the general interest resources below, then search their website for keywords connected to your topic.
- Explore my bookmarks. I’ve been curating a list on diigo for 10+ years, adding anything which I think might be vaguely useful to anyone else, anywhere. You can try to read my mind and figure out which tag I might have used or do a general search in my bookmarks. Here’s a more in-depth introduction to what diigo is and how it works.
You might not find anything at first, but try different keywords and different resources and you’ll inevitably find something.
Consuming content: general interest
It’s very easy to end up down a never-ending rabbit hole with a list like this. Rather than trying to explore everything, consider your answers to the questions above, and choose the way in which you prefer to consume information, then select one or two resources to look at initially. As you explore, you’ll find that some types of development work for you, and others are less engaging. For me, I spend most time on blogs and blogging, and a little time on podcasts and Twitter, but I know there is so much more out there. As time goes on, you can return to the list and investigate other resources which take your fancy. Bookmark this page 🙂
Three TEFL podcasts I enjoy are:
- The TEFL Commute – Shaun Wilden, Lindsay Clandfield and James Taylor present the podcast that’s not about language teaching, but the subject always comes up. Episodes are generally 30-40 minutes. In 2020 they did a series of 10-minute episodes covering a range of different topics connected to online teaching, including lots of ideas for the classroom.
- TEFLology – Matthew Schaefer, Matthew Turner and Robert Lowe produce a range of different episode types. The numbered episodes include TEFL news, TEFL history (focussing on historical figures) and TEFL cultures (focussing on a key concept). There are also in-depth interviews, excerpts from John Fanselow’s Small Changes, Big Results book, and other ideas too. Episodes are generally 40-60 minutes.
- TEFL Training Institute podcast – Ross Thorburn presents ‘the bite-sized TEFL podcast’, originally with Tracy Yu, and now with a wide range of guests. Episodes are generally 15-30 minutes. I reviewed the podcast here.
There are lots of options in this category, but I’ll just explore three: webinars, lessons, and YouTube.
A webinar is an online presentation, similar to a conference session. One example is the presentation at KOTESOL which this blogpost is based on. They can range in length from 10 minutes up to a couple of hours, and might be a one-off event or part of a series or event like an online conference.
You can either search for a particular topic e.g. ‘business English webinars’/’English reading skills webinars’, or find providers who have a large collection of webinars and explore their catalogue. For example, here are all of the IH Teachers’ Online Conferences (TOC).
Other providers include publishers like Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan or Delta publishing, teaching associations like IATEFL, TESOL or EAQUALS (though recordings tend to be available to members only), or schools who run training events online, like IH Moscow or IH Bucharest. It’s generally possible to subscribe to a mailing list to find out about upcoming events.
Here is my diigo list of webinars to give you a starting point.
There are hundreds of lessons available to watch online. I compiled a list (warning – clicking on the link opens a very bandwidth-heavy page!) which you can choose from. This is a great way to observe other classrooms, pick up activities and techniques, and hone your observation skills.
Apart from webinars and lessons, there are lots of ELT-related YouTube channels. Any large organisation probably has a channel. Publishers often share short tips, like these ones from Cambridge on ideas for teaching outside the classroom. International House has a series of Timeless Teaching Tips. I’d welcome links to channels from individuals which I could also recommend.
You can watch hundreds of grammar presentations on YouTube to get ideas for how to explain grammar to your students, though this comes with a caveat: just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s a model you want to follow. Philip Kerr explains. This could be a good way to hone your skills by working out what not to do!
Again, there are various options here. I’ll look at blogs, magazines, and journals.
Blogs come in all shapes and sizes, from light bite-sized activity ideas to lengthy in-depth research-based posts. They’re written by people from all walks of ELT: teachers, trainers, materials writers, researchers, lexicographers, and those who don’t fall into any one particular category.
You can find blogs in many different ways:
- Search for topics of interest plus ELT blog, e.g. ‘young learner ELT blog’.
- Look at the blog roll on somebody’s blog (mine is to the right if you’re viewing this on a computer) to see who they recommend.
- Search for a big organisation like a publisher or teaching association, plus the word ‘blog’.
- Explore my list of diigo links.
Once you’ve found a blog you like, you can subscribe to it, either by getting emails when a new post appears, or using a blog aggregator like Feedly to collect new posts in one place. I explain how Feedly works in a paragraph and a few screenshots in this post (press CTRL+F/CMD+F on a Mac and type ‘Feedly’ to find it quickly).
Here are four blogs which are currently active to start you off:
- Kate’s Crate – Katherine Martinkevich links to articles she has read with a short paragraph explaining why she thinks they’re interesting. Good for business English, management and teacher training.
- ELT planning – Peter Clements shares activity ideas and reviews of resources, plus concepts he’s learnt about in his own professional development. Posts vary in length. Good for young learners, teens, and learning about a huge range of concepts and resources across all areas.
- What they don’t teach you on the CELTA – a group of bloggers covering a wide range of different topics, particularly relevant to private language school ELT. Many are aimed at relatively new teachers, but posts often make me think too.
- TEFLtastic – Alex Case is probably the most prolific ELT blogger on the internet, constantly sharing new resources. His blog is a goldmine of resources covering every area of teaching you can possibly imagine.
Apologies to blogging friends who I haven’t included – there are so many great blogs out there!
Most ELT magazines require a subscription, but some are free. Even paid magazines tend to have some free content, such as sample issues. They cover a wide range of topics in a single resource. Here are a few to investigate:
- IH Journal – although it is called a journal, it’s more of a magazine in my opinion. Completely free, with articles available separately or as part of full downloadable magazines. Many articles are written by IH teachers past and present, but other writers are featured too. (Disclaimer: I’ve written a regular article for every edition for a few years now.)
- English Teaching Professional (ETp) and Modern English Teacher are both published by Pavilion Publishing and Media. They feature articles from around the world and across the teaching profession.
- EL Gazette – this is more news-based, so is a good way to get a sense of the wider profession. It also has a reviews section.
An alternative source of magazine-type content is newsletters if you are a member of a teaching association or special interest group.
Journals are generally peer-reviewed and edited, as opposed to blogs where the writers can publish whatever they want to. They are generally more academic and research-based than magazines. Some are behind paywalls, but KOTESOL have compiled a long list of ELT journals with free content available. LearnJam have a shorter list of 5 online journals, including some which are subscription-only, with more detailed information about each journal. Although the ELT Journal from OUP is subscription-only, the ‘Key concepts‘ section of each is freely downloadable, and is an excellent place to start if you want to find out more about research.
So far all of the resources can be accessed in under an hour, but you might prefer something more in-depth or structured, and the internet can provide this too.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free programmes which run for a few weeks. They generally involve you studying at your own pace and participating in text-based discussions. FutureLearn and Coursera both have various courses connected to ELT. I found the Coursera Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach course particularly useful, as well as the FutureLearn Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching one. Courses are free, but you can get a certificate if you pay.
The International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) is a very active community run by teachers, for teachers. They run a variety of courses, from basic TESOL certificates to ‘Advanced Skills’ courses, with tutors from all walks of ELT. Their Teachers’ Room is open to all members to participate in discussions.
The Association for Quality Education and Training Online (AQUEDUTO) is an accreditation body for online teacher training. They have a directory of courses which have been checked for quality.
Online professional development isn’t just about consuming resources created by others. You can also learn a huge amount by sharing content you have created. The act of preparing your thoughts for other people to see/hear forces you to reflect on what you want to say and how best to say it. It can also start conversations which take you in directions you’ve never considered before.
Writing gives you the chance to take time over framing your thoughts, and go back and edit. Looking back over things you’ve written in the past is a fascinating way to track your professional development over time – I certainly couldn’t have predicted where I would be now when I started my blog ten years ago.
Writing tweets can be a great way to get started with writing your own content. You can join in discussion in Twitter chats like #eltchat, ask questions, or answer questions from other educators. To find people to follow, find out who is sharing on a hashtag like #eltchat, then see who they are following. You could also start by following me @sandymillin.
Blogging and commenting
Explore your ideas in writing, share activities, and build a portfolio. I’ve written a fuller post on making the most of blogs, including advice for how to start your own and what to write.
If you’re not ready to start your own blog, commenting on other people’s posts with your own thoughts is a good way to start writing too. I don’t think I’m the only blogger who really looks forward to conversations in comment threads on my blog.
Interviews and discussions
The internet gives you direct access to members of the ELT profession from around the world. A polite email with some questions or thoughts about their work, or even a request to interview them, might bear fruit for you. Or perhaps you could write to the author of a book you’ve read about how you’ve used their ideas? Or ask an academic some questions about their research? You never know where these conversations might lead.
If writing isn’t your thing, you can also use the internet to speak about your ideas. This could be public, for example by creating a podcast or a YouTube channel, or private, maybe by arranging to interview somebody who works in a similar context to you, but in a different country.
The book Podcasting and Professional Development: a Guide for English Language Teachers by the creators of the TEFLology podcast is a good place to start if you want to find out more about how to create your own podcast. A lot of this advice would also be relevant to creating a YouTube channel. (Disclaimer: my blog is mentioned in the book!) (Affiliate links: Amazon, Smashwords)
Reflective practice groups
These are self-selected groups of teachers who come together to discuss a particular topic as equals. The range of potential topics is limitless. All you need is at least one other colleague who is willing to meet you for an hour or two, and you’ve got a reflective practice group. Zhenya Polotosova and Anna Loseva have written quite a lot about participating in groups like this. You can find out more using this list of bookmarks.
Once you’ve put in all of this effort to start developing online, what can you do with what you learn?
Once you’ve found or created something, share what you’ve learnt with somebody else. This might be in your staffroom, or on social media. There are active communities of teachers on facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. It can take a little time to be brave enough to share in one of these communities (I lurked on Twitter for at least 6 months before I joined in), but if you take the plunge, you have the chance to learn so much.
Ask yourself questions about what you’re reading and producing:
- How will you apply what you’ve learnt?
- What else do you want to learn about?
- Who else do you want to learn from?
- What biases might the people you’re learning from have? How can you get a fuller picture?
- Are you satisfied with your progress with teaching puzzles? What other puzzles do you want to explore?
If you’d like more reflection questions to answer, I’ve written two books of them: one for relatively new teachers, ELT Playbook 1, and one for teacher trainers, ELT Playbook Teacher Training. You can find out all the information about how to buy them on my books page.
I hope you’ve found that whistle-stop tour through the world of online CPD useful. I’ll leave you with three questions for you to think about and comment on below if you like:
- What area or resource will you explore next?
- What have you tried above?
- What else would you recommend?