I’ve been in the ELT profession for 26 years and believe I have gone a long way as far as “traditional” investment in professional development goes:
- I’ve invested in formal qualification: a Teacher Training Course, a Master’s Degree in TESL and a Doctorate Degree in Education;
- I’ve invested in conferences: I attend regional and national Braz-TESOL events and support the local chapter; I have attended ten TESOL Conferences and presented in eight;
- I’ve invested in academic literature: I read academic journals regularly, particularly TESOL Quarterly, TESOL Journal and Journal of Second Language Writing; I also try to stay abreast of current developments in education, especially by way of ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) and its outstanding publication – Educational Leadership; I also read about education in my own country and the main challenges faced.
- I’ve invested in publishing: I have written a few (though not as many as I would like!) articles for local and international journals.
However, in the past two years, a whole new world of professional development and PLN’s has been unveiled, a world that is less traditional, formal, linear, or hierarchical; a world that doesn’t have such rigid rules about who gets to publish and who only gets to read; a world where ideas bounce back and forth in all continents in seconds through social networks and specialized websites. And I have a confession to make: though I did learn a lot in my formal academic endeavors, I believe I am learning much more now and from a greater variety of people. How did this all happen? Well, one thing just led to another, like a stone tossed into the water, creating ripples:
- Though I had been a TESOL regular since 1995, I had never really gotten involved with the association beyond reading and rating proposals. Thus, I decided to volunteer as one of the interviewers for the NNEST-in-TESOL blog, started by my wonderful colleague Ana Wu. By way of the blog and the NNEST Special Interest Group, I have met truly engaged colleagues from all around the world and learned immensely from the rich and diverse personal experiences of our interviewees.
- I work for a Brazil-USA Binational Center (Casa Thomas Jefferson), so my most obvious professional connection is with the United States and TESOL. Last year, though, I decided to join IATEFL and attend its yearly conference in Glasgow. I had heard wonderful things about the IATEFL Conference from some colleagues, and I was really glad I took this leap into the unknown. I attended fabulous sessions, with renowned and not-so-renowned but still great presenters. I enjoyed the smaller, cozier community and the greater focus on TEFL rather than TESL. I also became more aware of the major role Twitter, Facebook and blogging plays in professional development nowadays. For example, I wasn’t so familiar with ELT Chat or even our own Brazilian ELT Chat. Though my family duties (and sometimes work, too) refrain me from participating in either of them, I developed the habit of checking out the notes from these chats, so now I’m aware of the topics that are being discussed and what my colleagues from around the world think and do.
- Inspired by IATEFL and its bloggers, I decided to start my own blog in order to connect to these wonderful people in the blogosphere and to try out a new genre of writing and see what works well and what doesn’t. Blogging was also a way to force myself to write, research and reflect about issues in TEFL. Today I feel more inclined to write a blog post than an academic article for publication.
- By way of my blog, particularly a post about an online English course mocking non-native teachers, I have made new friends, who became my blog followers and whom I’ve also been following regularly, such as Tony Gurr, Mike Griffin , and Güven Çağdaş. I already followed my Brazilian colleagues’ blogs ( e.g. Carla Arena, Luiz Otávio Barros, Henrick Oprea, Cecilia Lemos, Cláudio Azevedo, Willy Cardoso, Dani Lyra, to name a few), renowned bloggers such as Scott Thornbury, Jeremy Harmer, Ken Wilson, Lindsay Clandfield, Larry Ferlazzo, Lisa Nielsen etc., as well as popular blogs such as Midshift, and Edutopia, but I wasn’t so familiar with other popular bloggers around: Shelly Terrel, Vicky Loras, Marisa Constatinides, Chia Suan Chong and the list goes on and on. I’m sure there are many many more that I haven’t had a chance to get acquainted with yet.
- I’ve been on Twitter for a while now, but it was in 2012 that I started using it more regularly for professional development, following a greater number of professionals and, consequently, also being followed by more people. I tweet articles and blog posts that I find interesting and retweet the ones that are particularly meaningful to me.
- I took a big leap in my teaching career by creating and teaching a blended Writing course for teachers and teachers-to-be in my institution. I had to learn how to use MOODLE and how to engage students effectively in online learning. I learned from MOODLE presentations on Slideshare and other sources in addition to more formal books. I also took an online course myself, in order to have a firsthand experience in online learning. In the course, I made new ELT friends from around the world, some of whom have become my Facebook and Google + friends.
As the descriptions above clearly depict, my world of ELT is expanding and becoming more diverse. I’m also getting out of my comfort zone and trying out new things and engaging in new experiences. Though I still read journal articles and research in the field, I also read blogs, watch webinars and videos online, and participate in interesting online discussions. I follow the lead of my colleagues on Twitter and Facebook and read what they recommend. In doing so, I feel I’m more connected, more involved, more aware of a wider range of issues and topics. The traditional journals – and their editors and reviewers – are not the sole mandators of what I read anymore. I now have a myriad of digital curators who suggest enticing readings / videos / webinars every day.
It is natural for teachers in the beginning of their careers to be more concerned about teaching the lesson than the students. It takes time and maturity to change the prism. Likewise, my professional development journey has evolved from a desire for new TOPICS, TRENDS, and IDEAS to a desire for new connections with PEOPLE who inspire me.
Images courtesy of freedigitalphtos.net