There is a huge focus on continuing professional development in the UK – the Department for Education (DfE) outlines a five-part standard for teacher’s professional development to be used by everyone working and and with UK schools and, when judging the effectiveness of a school’s leadership team, Ofsted takes into account “whether continuing professional development for teachers and staff is aligned with the curriculum, and the extent to which this develops teachers’ content knowledge and teaching content knowledge over time, so that they are able to deliver better teaching for pupils” (gov.uk). Consequently there is a wide range of CPD available to suit all teachers’ needs, and many schools offer excellent in-house opportunities led by their own trained specialists.

Conversely, the CPD opportunities available at international schools vary greatly depending on budget, location and the importance assigned to it by the leadership team. Some schools have budgets of $20,000 a year for more than 100 teachers, most of which is swallowed by compulsory training for teachers of International Baccalaureate subjects, leaving only enough for the required annual safeguarding training. Other schools have annual budgets of more than $100,000 for only 80 teachers. The high concentration of international schools in the Middle East and Southeast Asia can allow schools to share the cost of inviting an expert from another country and, pre-pandemic, sending staff to these sessions was cheap and easy.

If a wide range of high-quality CPD is a priority for you when searching for your next international school, this may make the Middle East and Asia seem like the obvious choice, however sometimes the amount of CPD available can become overwhelming, and there can be a focus on sending teachers out of school for training, rather than recognising internal expertise and developing communities of practitioners internally. 

If you work in a school that prioritises CPD and has a huge budget, then you’re in luck! But, if not, it’s a fantastic opportunity to think creatively and create your own bespoke plan! Below we’ve outlined our top seven suggestions for international teachers to maintain their CPD. We’ve listed them in order of the time involved, and also included information about costs as well as ideas for how you could use them alone or with colleagues.

1. Enter the Twittersphere

Cost: Free

Time involved: Minimal

Why it’s great

Twitter is the perfect place for time-strapped teachers to pick up quick tips. Each Tweet is a maximum of 280 characters, guaranteeing you bite sized chunks of information. The average English reading speed is 15 characters per second (Szarkowska and Gerber-Morón), meaning it will take you around 56 seconds to read a  full-length Tweet and, as most Tweets are not full-length, you could read at least 10 tips in the 10 minutes it takes to drink your morning coffee. The content of Tweets ranges from basic observations about the life of a teacher, to an increasingly researched-informed community of teachers and educators sharing the latest insights. If you’re new to this, check out @TeacherToolkit’s lists of 101 Great Teachers to Follow on Twitter and 101 Educators to Follow as well as his super-useful 10 Top Tips for Tweeting Teachers. While it can be tempting to jump in with both feet and follow everyone on these lists, it can get overwhelming, as well as making it harder to find the most relevant Tweets on your feed. Instead, consider starting by searching for educationalists Tweeting within your specific areas of interest, such as phase and subject.

Do it alone

Allocate 10 minutes during your day to read the latest Tweets from the accounts you follow. Save any Tweets you find interesting and want to find out more about, then allocate an hour each week to reviewing your saved Tweets and deciding which things you’ll delete, which you’ll research further and which you’ll try out the following week.

Do it with friends

Don’t just read Tweets – interact! You can Tweet your own thoughts and findings, ask questions and reply to others’ Tweets, as well as collaborating with educators across the globes in online discussions using hashtags (#) to connect ideas, such as those hosted every Thursday at 8pm by @UKEdChat.

2. Read, read, read

Cost: Varies depending on what, and how much, you read

Time involved: Varies

Why it’s great

Reading is fun and can be free! There’s a huge range of material available, from short, free articles online, to books written by teachers for teachers with the aim of being quick and easy to transfer their ideas into your own classroom, and more meaty, academic books that may take a little more time. You also don’t have to limit yourself to books, there are plenty of thought-provoking films out there as well, like Most Likely to Succeed, about a high school in Texas adapting their curriculum to suit the demands of the twenty-first century; Miss Representation, a documentary looking at how the media’s portrayal of females affects the girls we teach; and Ken Burns’s documentary The Address, in which students with learning difficulties at a school in the US, overcome obstacles and develop their resilience by memorising and reciting the Gettysburg Address.

Do it alone

Curl up with a book and get started! Not sure what to read? My all-time favourite book about teaching is Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, which describes 62 simple teaching techniques and also includes access to videos of the strategies being used. If you want to be sure that a book’s for you before investing precious time and money, head to the Chartered College of Teaching’s book reviews archive.

Do it with friends

Start a book or journal club with your colleagues. Books are long and teachers are time-pressured, so consider a twist on the traditional book club and, instead of reading an entire book, agree to read a chapter at a time, or perhaps an online article or short journal article.

3. Observe and be observed

Cost: Free

Time involved: 10 minutes to an hour

Why it’s great

Looking back on my ten year teaching career, I’m sure that I made most progress during my training year. Obviously, starting from a base of zero knowledge or experience had a lot to do with it, but I was also observed weekly by a variety of people. I had no fear of observation because it happened so regularly, I was always given feedback, and it was always useful. The trained professionals who carried out the observations focused on my strengths, making me feel positive about the experience, but still gave me one or two specific suggestions for improvement which ensured that I had a target to help me to get better. My experience of international teaching is that observations are few and far between, feedback is rushed because nobody has time and it feels awkward, and the points for improvement are often woolly, if there are any at all. While some may breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of a life without lesson observations, others may feel like they’re missing out on an invaluable CPD opportunity. The good news is that it’s free and easy to have someone observe you, or go to observe someone else. Ask a teacher whose practice you respect and, whether they’re the observer or the observee, they’re sure to be flattered that you involved them. If you’re not sure which teachers would be good to observe, ask your students to tell you which of their teachers they think you could learn from, then get in touch and go and watch.

Do it alone

This one’s a bit difficult to do alone! The most straightforward option is to ask your line manager to observe you. Give them a focus for the observation and let them know in advance that you’d like a suggestion for improvement. Schedule feedback at the same time you schedule the observation, to ensure that  it happens. If you have a class you feel comfortable with, you could ask your students to give you feedback on a lesson – you may find it useful to give them key aspects to focus on and try to make it as objective as possible. 

Do it with friends

Set up a weekly timetable in the staffroom or perhaps on Google Drive or Microsoft Teams where staff can sign up to be observed. Teachers sign up with a name of the teaching group, the topic they’ll be teaching and a specific strategy that they’ll be using. Other teachers can look at the timetable when they have a free moment and pop in to see someone and learn something. This is a fairly informal system and teachers may drop in for as little as five minutes, or stay for the full lesson. Take time when introducing the system to establish the expectation that it should be a positive experience. Ask colleagues to thank the teacher they visited and perhaps tell them their favourite thing about the lesson. Encourage the teachers being observed to seek constructive criticism, but make it clear that observers should only offer suggestions for improvement if invited.

4. Seek out the experts

Cost: Free

Time involved: 10 minutes if you’re an audience member, 20 minutes to an hour if you’re presenting

Why it’s great

It’s free, it helps to develop relationships between colleagues, and it makes people feel good to be recognised for being an expert at something.

Do it alone

If there’s an aspect of your practice that you’re struggling with, whether it’s a challenging class or that your engaging starters don’t seem to be engaging anybody, ask your head of department, colleagues or students who’s really good at it, then seek them out and ask their advice.

Do it with friends

In my first international school, there was a weekly informal CPD session run by teachers, for teachers. Staff signed up in advance to share a simple tip that worked well in their classrooms and could be described or modelled to others during a 10 minute slot. The idea is that preparation is minimal – teachers sharing a technique don’t need to spend huge amounts of time planning their session. Some examples of popular sessions at this school include My three favourite starters, Four strategies for group work and Engaging students during the last lesson on a Friday. Other colleagues could then check the schedule and go to the sessions that interested them. They had the opportunity to ask questions and could then adapt the strategy for use in their own classrooms.

While working at another international school during the covid pandemic, we offered a similar CPD opportunity to that described above, with the key differences being that staff joined virtually using Microsoft Teams, and all of the strategies focused on the effective use of technology to support online learning.

What both initiatives had in common was their popularity and the fact that they were an excellent way to develop a supportive, informal community of like-minded people. If you want to go one step further with this idea, as well as finding out who the experts are, you could also survey colleagues to find out whether there’s anything in particular they want to learn about and try to find others willing to share their strategies in these areas.

5. Join the Chartered College of Teaching

Cost: £47.50 a year for standard teacher membership

Time involved: 15 minutes plus

Why it’s great

Joe Treacy, Head of Membership at the CCT, explains that “The Chartered College of Teaching is the professional body for teachers. Our whole mission is to celebrate, support and connect the profession. We are quite literally a body of professionals, governed by our members on our council. Membership gives you the knowledge and confidence to make the best decisions for your pupils, from just £1.96 a month.” In keeping with the theme of this article, Joe says that CCT membership is an opportunity to develop your teaching expertise by leading your own CPD rather than relying on your school, as well as allowing you to keep up to date with the latest research and insights, not only from the UK, but also internationally.

In January 2019 the UK government published the Early Career Framework (DfE), which underpins the training and support that all teachers are entitled to during the first two years of their career following their initial teacher training. In response to this, the Chartered College of Teaching launched the Early Career Hub which, despite its name, Joe says is a useful resource for any teacher as it includes over 50 videos of academics, experts and teachers teaching.

MyCollege, the CCT’s member-only website has one of the world’s largest education and research databases, which makes it a one-stop shop for any teacher or school leader who wants to develop their own teaching and learning or lead its improvement across their school. Membership also gives you access to the print and digital versions of Impact, the CCT’s termly journal, which “connects research findings to classroom practice, with a focus on the interests and voices of teachers and educators” (Chartered College). And if you’re interested in making your classroom practice more research-based, membership also gives you access to the EBSCO research database as well as research digests and reviews and tips on how to engage with and apply what you read.

Do it alone

Get online and read one of the CCT’s many publications, sign up for one of their free online events, spend less than five minutes reading one of their compact guides, read about how teachers have applied a strategy in their own classroom or read an article from Impact. Joe also recommends that every international teacher submit an article for publishing in Impact, saying “I have been enormously impressed with the expertise I’ve seen from working with international school groups and I think the expertise they bring back to the UK, whether digitally or in-person is a real asset to the wider profession.”

Do it with friends

Joe suggests forming a journal club using the CCT’s resources or downloading one of the CPD packs available and delivering a staff training session.

6. Subscribe to TES Magazine

Cost: £54.00 a year

Time involved: 3 to 15 minutes

Why it’s great

As well as being a fantastic source of classroom resources for all ages and subjects, TES also has an excellent News section. In fact, it has two – one for UK-centric education news, and the other for international teaching news. By logging in for free with the same details you use to search for resources, you can get access to a wide range of up-to-date articles about education, such as mental health issues students may face this summer, how to implement the new EYFS without stress and how to teach in extreme heat and still keep your cool, among others. If you want to take it one step further, you can sign up for the TES Magazine – £54.00 a year gives you digital access to articles and research not available in the TES News section, many of which also have an audio option so that you can give your eyes a rest from the screen and listen instead.

Do it alone

Articles in the TES Magazine have approximate reading times next to them, ranging from 3 to 15 minutes, so you’re sure to find an article suitable for whatever amount of time you have available. Anna Ravenscroft, Professional Learning Lead at Dulwich College Yangon spends some time reading TES Magazine during the school day in her free periods. She says, “it allows me to keep on top of what is happening in the UK and it has an increasing amount of content about international schools. I like that there are lots of case studies and the articles are nearly always written by teachers who are still in the classroom.”

Do it with friends

TES articles are an ideal length to read as part of your school book club. Email the link to teachers in the group and meet later the same week to discuss your thoughts.

7. FutureLearn

Cost: Free to more than $1000 for courses that gain university credits

Time involved: Most free courses require around 3 hours of study a week including interaction in online forums

Why it’s great

FutureLearn is a great source of online courses of varying lengths delivered by world class universities and organisations, such as The National STEM Learning Centre, University College London and The Mind Lab. Most courses are free to complete and you can pay to upgrade in order to receive a certificate of completion.

Do it alone

Work through a course of your choice.

Do it with friends

Send out an email to your colleagues telling them you’re doing the course, send the link and ask if anybody would be interested in meeting on a regular basis to talk about the content and what they’ve learned. This is something we did in my last school with Evidence Based Eduction’s Science of Learning course. As busy teachers it can be easy to prioritise other responsibilities over completing a weekly module, but knowing that you’ll be meeting with colleagues to discuss the content can be the push you need to do the work.

Teachers are always pushed for time and, much as you may love CPD, if someone’s not making you do it, it can be easy for it to slip to the bottom of your to-do list. In order to prevent this from happening, you may find it useful to schedule time into your day or week for your personal CPD, and even block it out in your calendar. Someone once suggested to me that you then view this “meeting with yourself” as equally as important as meeting with your boss – you wouldn’t cancel on them, so don’t cancel on yourself!

References

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Written by Kay Brown
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