We were asked, during one of the excellent workshops arranged by @iris_connect at the #ShapingCPD conference last week, to reflect on our best CPD experience. This was a question I could answer without hesitation.

In July 2012, luck would have it that I could take voluntary redundancy from the job I had and this meant I could finally afford the course I’d been longing to do for years.I completed the CELTA course in one intensive month before starting my new job down in Reading.

I’d been teaching since 2009 but this course would give me an insight into teaching English as a foreign language. In fact, it gave me far more than that.

The course was one of the most challenging learning experiences I’ve ever had. We spent the mornings learning grammar and approaches to teaching; the sessions were crammed with technical jargon and theory. After a lunch usually spent collaboratively planning and assignment writing, we would enter our afternoons of teaching practice. There was much modelling of different teaching approaches: we saw expert teachers in the morning and could see our peers in action in the afternoon.

These were the most intense and rewarding teaching experiences I can recall having. There was a small group of us (6) who would teach a class for a week or so, before moving onto a different level. Three of us would teach one day and three the next. One of us would teach some reading / writing / speaking & listening and sometimes we would be given some of the dreaded grammar to teach.

At the end of the teaching sessions, we would complete a reflection of how we felt we’d done. We would then have time as a group- with our expert teacher and 5 peers to discuss the lessons and the learning that had taken place.

They were full days and on top of them we had to find the time to write out assignments and plan lessons- it’s incredible how much longer your planning takes when you know other people are scrutinising your ever move… but connecting with peers on Facebook of an evening helped to ease the stress.

Feedback was specific- we examined the way in which we each questioned the students, elicited answers, and modelled pronunciation. It was the best lesson feedback of my teaching career to date. There wasn’t a ticking of a box in sight- it was about he specific teaching techniques we were practising and what we could have done to improve the quality of learning taking place. The emphasis was on the fact we were practising rather than there being any expectation that we should already be experts. Feedback became professional dialogue as we recognised there was no single way of doing things- we all benefited from the multiple perspectives and experiences we were surrounded by.

It’s sad to think that I might not ever experience such great CPD again but I can try to emulate such CPD for current and future teachers I work with in the form of activities such as lesson study, peer observations, professional dialogue and collaborative planning.

Perhaps more challenging to emulate will be the positive environment of CELTA- one filled with trust, honesty, mutual respect, the perfect balance of high challenge and low threat, and being surrounded on all sides by colleagues driven by a passion for learning. Now that’s what I call CPD worth getting involved in.

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