Continuing Professional Development

This week I attended the Cambridge English Global Schools Forum, held at the Møller Centre, Cambridge. This event brings together individuals in key decision-making positions in language education around the world. Around 40 delegates from 22 countries were represented and the theme of the event was teacher development and support. My contribution was a presentation about the characteristics of effective continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers (the slides for this talk are available here).

Events such as these are always a fantastic opportunity to learn about what is happening in ELT around the world and I was particularly interested in hearing about the different ways that teacher support and development are being addressed in a wide range of contexts. Despite some obvious differences of scale across countries (Chile, for example, needs to support around 7000 teachers of English, while China has 1.12 million), common challenges and concerns were evident, such as the following:

1. Simply finding enough qualified individuals to teach English in response to growing national demand.

2. Improving teachers’ English proficiency. Especially, in contexts where English has been introduced at primary level, teachers do not always have high levels of proficiency in the language (countries vary in what they define as the basic requirement in this respect – from B2 to C1 on the CEFR). Supporting such teachers has become a key focus of CPD in many countries.

3. Motivating teachers to engage in CPD. A key related question that arose here is whether CPD should be compulsory.

4. Teaching English across the curriculum (i.e. through CLIL or bilingual programmes). This is a growing global trend, with increasing numbers of countries now requiring subjects such as Science or Mathematics to be taught in English. This creates new demands for teacher support.

4. The role of social media and technology in CPD.  

6. Systematically evaluating the impact of CPD – this rarely occurs.

It was very interesting to hear about the innovative ways through which the issues above were being addressed across the world. I think we were all particularly inspired by the presentation about the educational reforms Uruguay is implementing (Plan Ceibal) and particularly by the approach that is being taken within this plan to implement English in primary classrooms (Ceibal in Ingles). Generalist primary schools teachers there do not have sufficient proficiency in English to teach the language and rather than engaging in mass upgrading of these teachers’ English language skills, Uruguay, working with the British Council, has implemented an innovative form of telepresence through which English lessons are taught remotely by a specialist teacher with support from the class teacher (as shown in this video).

Going back to the focus of my own talk, I discussed some of the characteristics of CPD which is more likely to have transformative impact (i.e. to lead to lasting change in what teachers do). While CPD in foreign language education remains largely under-researched, the broader educational literature does provide some direction here (an oft-cited study is Garet et al. 2001; see also Villegas-Reimers 2003 and Walter & Briggs 2012Loucks-Horsley et al. 2010 is also an excellent source). What studies of effective CPD commonly conclude is that it is more likely to have a lasting impact on teachers when it:

  • acknowledges and challenges teachers’ prior beliefs, knowledge and experience
  • provides opportunities for active experiential teacher learning
  • is seen by teachers to be relevant to their needs
  • promotes collaborative teacher learning
  • is job-embedded, situated within schools
  • is aligned with the broader system teachers are part of
  • promotes inquiry-based learning through reflection and teacher research
  • is a sustained process rather than a finite event

Do you think CPD should be compulsory? What kinds of CPD are you able to do in your context? To what extent does this CPD influence what you do in the classroom? And what for you are the characteristics of CPD that has an impact on how you teach? These are still issues which have not been widely researched in our field and it would be interesting to hear about your experiences.

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3 Responses to Continuing Professional Development

  1. Imdad says:

    Thank you Simon for sharing your experiences and insights.

    Most of CPD aspects discussed in this post are relevant in the context of EFL teaching in Pakistan but what strikes me the most is the aspect of bridging the gape between what is included in CPD and what actually happens in the context of the teachers.

    I have been working with many teachers who have been attending CPD courses over a period of time but it had little effect on what they actually do in their teaching context. I have worked with teachers who had taken several CPD courses under USAID teachers education project but had not embedded their newly learnt methods and techniques into their teaching practice.

    I feel that there is a strong need for a rigorous need assessment of the teachers who are going to be part of a CPD course in order to tailor the course in such a way that it remains immediate and relevant for them in connection with their teaching context.

    Simon also points out very aptly that systematic evaluation of the impact of CPD is rarely carried out, which is another aspect of CPD that is very much relevant and needed in my teaching context where teachers’ education and CPD courses are conducted on small and large scale but are rarely followed through with a systematic monitoring and evaluation strategy.

    Best wishes,


  2. Simon says:

    Thanks Imdad for these comments. The issue to think about further is why the teachers you refer to have not been able to apply learning from CPD to what they do in the classroom. Are there aspects of the teachers’ context that prevent this? Are there (also) features of the CPD which limit its impact? Important questions for all of us to think about.

  3. Hello Simon and thank you for sharing your expertise with all of us.

    Teacher Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is, as I put it during the wrap up session (Hammamet ELT Conference, Tunisia, 13-16 February 2013), the only way practitioners can avoid professional atrophy; the feeling that one has done it all before. It is an obligation that is common to most professions and a rewarding challenge for those who embark and a dream for those who stay behind.

    The most commonly used forms of CPD here in Morocco are:
    * presentations
    * workshops
    * demo-lessons
    * peer observation
    * blogs/forums/networks

    Workshops, demo-lessons and peer observation are, to my mind, the most likely to coax teachers to inject new habits into on-going practices (learning by doing and/or learning by watching others doing).

    Few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with the Minister of National Education who officially announced that in the next two years to come we will probably insert English in the primary education curriculum. We will have to worry about the levels of proficiency of the teachers we will recruit.

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