IH Journal of Education and Development

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IH Journal Issues:

Teacher Development by Alastair Grant

“There can be no educational development without teacher development”

Lawrence Stenhouse

So there you are, the DoS, at the beginning of your institute’s academic year, re-enacting a scene which is, frankly, becoming a little too familiar: surrounded by last year’s dog-eared coursebooks and this years’ hopefuls (all bright covers and glossy gimmicks), the year calendar spread in front of you like the map of some upcoming military campaign, a pile of CVs, a mug of tepid coffee in hand and you STILL haven’t thought about the teacher development yet, have you?

But… is it really that important when I have all THIS [indicates mess on desk] to get through before we open the doors? Well, yes – and nowhere are we more aware of that than right here in the southern hemisphere, with our own doors a week or so away from opening on the new academic year. As the opening quote suggests, we can’t expect the students (our clients!) to develop, if we’re not developing our teachers.

Speaking to many of our colleagues at the IH DoS conference in London this year, it seems there’s a general concern that teacher development needs to be run by the DoS because “it’s the DoS’s job”… but does it have to be the DoS who does everything? Ok, traditionally this kind of thing has always been down to you, (along with everything else!) but does it have to be?

Well, this is where your teachers’ experience comes into play: a certain Mr Thornbury once said that your students are the greatest resource in your classroom1 – the same can be said for your staff. In the last issue of IH Journal, I wrote about how at IH San Isidro there is, as there must be in your institute, a wealth of pedagogical knowledge and teaching experience which we decided needed spreading around in weekly development meetings.

Indeed, in 2008, we created the position of Teacher Development Manager (TDM – which would be me!) so that there is a teacher responsible for organising the weekly development sessions. There’s a schedule on the staffroom wall where teachers sign up for sessions they’d like to give and I also organise for the teachers to go into local schools to deliver sessions, as well as holding in-house workshops for local teachers. In the entire academic year 2010, I never had to pick on anyone to deliver a session: the teachers were only too happy to sign up and share with the group.

Our programme is very successful: instead of having one or two people (namely the DoSes) who are supposed to be the fonts of all teacher development knowledge, we are keenly aware of the fact that our whole institute is made up of qualified, experienced and enthusiastic teachers who have an enormous amount to share for the benefit of the other staff and, crucially, our students.

This awareness we have also means there isn’t any feeling that the Delta dictates who delivers! We’ve noticed that experience and passion are the most important qualifications to make a great TD session – and that experience needn’t be a lifetime’s service in ELT: one of our best sessions last year was delivered by two bright young things fresh off the CELTA course.

And it’s not like the Teacher Development is out of the DoS’s hands, but trusting in the daily classroom abilities of your teachers has to be a great compliment to your team and to your directorship.

Ok Alastair, so this sounds interesting, even though I’m a little loathe to let go of reins right now… what’s next? Here are five easy steps to TD:

  1. Choose a member of staff to be responsible for organising weekly development sessions (your new TDM!).
  2. Ensure your TDM liaises well with other staff members and researches the teaching background of each to get a full picture of the resources that your staff can offer.
  3. Arrange for your TDM to invite the staff to give a session: they can present anything from a different methodology they’ve researched to a few activities that have worked well for them in the classroom.
  4. Your TDM now needs to schedule the sessions, liaising with you to ensure no clashes with public holidays etc. and then be there to help the teacher set up their session on the day.
  5. Oh, and make sure the TDM knows about the wealth of resources available on the IHWO website – there’s so much here to share and, ironically, as busy teachers, we often simply don’t have time to look at it ourselves!

Right… but what if you have a teacher who feels they are just way too new and/or nervous to give a session? Well, they need to know that there are the materials available to present should they be lacking in personal inspiration. Apart from the above-mentioned IHWO materials, there is also a whole world of fellow teacher-developers out there who have tons of ideas too: a glance at our TD blog will show you some top links to these: http://ihsanisidro.wordpress.com/

Remember, as long as the staff can go away after each session with a few ideas for using in the classroom, you’re already developing your teachers. And going back to conferences for a second, think back to when you last attended one and noticed the studiously bowed heads and furious note-taking when the speaker you were listening to finally said something that you and your teachers could use in class!

Once the system is up and running, you’ll wonder why you never did it before, and just one glance at the face of our DoS actually looking relaxed during the Friday TD sessions proves to me that we’re onto something:  and, perhaps most importantly, she no longer has to worry about her coffee going cold.

[1] Teaching unplugged (or: That’s Dogme with an E). It’s for Teachers, Issue 1. February 2001. 10-14. (re-printed in In English, Autumn, 2002 (British Council, Portugal)).

Author’s Bio:
Alastair Grant is an English teacher and the Teacher Development Manager at International House San Isidro. He received the International House Certificate of Advanced Methodology in 2009 and is currently completing the Cambridge DELTA.
As Teaching Development manager, Alastair organises and delivers sessions in teacher training both in-house and at local schools and institutions. Alastair has spoken at a number of conferences, including the IHWO DoS Conference in January 2011. His special interests are Process Writing, Discourse Analysis and trying to understand where all the small change disappears to in Buenos Aires.

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