PD-Quick: Making time for personalized professional development

By Heather Giles

The start of a new school year is the ultimate reboot—new students, freshly waxed classrooms, revised instructional units, and a renewed sense of purpose. And, of course, there are also new state, district, or school-level initiatives with their accompanying professional development. While some of these are useful, many have limited relevance for world language teachers. We have all been in that “one-size-fits-all” workshop or training session that does not meet our needs or capture our interest. When it happens, it feels like mind-numbing drudgery that is simply to be endured.

But, consider this: What if we designed our own professional learning, rather than leaving it at the mercy of others? How might we make ourselves stronger and more versatile language teachers? By choosing our learning goals and experiences, we can cultivate and elevate our skills in meaningful ways that feel like adventures rather than chore lists. As you return from summer, refreshed and ready to reconnect with your students and colleagues, consider setting some personal goals for your own professional growth. Here are five easy ideas to jumpstart your personal PD in 30 minutes or less per week during this school year:

  • Reflect on your personal strengths and opportunities for growth.

A great tool for getting started is the Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) framework and self-assessments, found at www.tellproject.org. The self-assessments each take around 10 minutes to complete and can help you identify what you are doing well and potential areas for growth or improvement. After you identify an area in which you would like to improve, you can look for resources and strategies to support you in that area, such as…

  •  Seek out new collaborators for your Personal Learning Network (PLN).

Whether you join a professional organization like AATSP or ACTFL, follow an online blog or discussion, or simply chat with a colleague down the hall, you can gain a wealth of ideas from others. Taking part in #langchat on Twitter at least twice a month is one of my goals for this year and has already allowed me to connect and exchange ideas with other language teachers. The World Language Corner app and Global Education Conference http://www.globaleducationconference.com/ are groups with a wide range of members and interest groups for language educators. These professional conversations may prompt you to…

  •  Carve out time for professional reading.

Professional reading does not have to be dry and peppered with pedagogical jargon. Blogs, short articles, and non-education books can provide you with fresh perspectives in an easily digestible format. Sign up for the RSS feed for Edutopia, ACTFL briefs, or other publication to have a selection of articles delivered to your email. It’s easy to read one or two articles per week that catch your attention. Who knows? You may read something that leads you to…

  •  Learn a new skill.

Teaching for language proficiency is as much about HOW we teach as it is about WHAT we teach. Technique does make a difference! Whether you are experimenting with one-to-one technology, flipped instruction, TPRS, gamification, project-based learning, or other approaches, you are bound to acquire new skills. Consider observing or brainstorming with a non-language colleague as you develop and adapt new techniques for your classroom. Interdisciplinary projects between different content areas are wonderful opportunities for students to problem-solve and apply what they are learning in new ways. They also provide for valuable cross-pollination of ideas between teachers, which allows you to…

  •  Share what’s happening in your classroom.

This goal surfaced for me rather unexpectedly, while I was attending a conference this summer. I was talking with a couple of administrators from a career/technical high school about ways to keep learning relevant and authentic for students in our respective areas. One of them asked me, “How do you share what your students are learning and doing with administrators?”  After thinking for a moment, I realized that I don’t share much about our curriculum and instruction because I assume that everybody is already busy handling their own slice of the educational process.

Many of us studied (or perhaps I should say “survived”) language using the audio-lingual method long, long ago in a classroom far, far away. How will someone in a different content area know that today’s language instruction is less about translating sentences and memorizing dialogues and more about managing authentic texts and tasks for real life situations? We must share our craft and our practices. We must consider how the “world-class knowledge and skills” referenced in the recently-launched Profile of the South Carolina Graduate (http://ed.sc.gov/newsroom/profile-of-the-south-carolina-graduate/ ) are utilized and synthesized by all content areas.

In closing, I wish you many successes in the new school year and hope that you find ways to make your professional development manageable and rewarding.