Of innovations in CPD

Geetha Durairajan

Innovations in the continuing and professional development of English language teachers. 2014. Edited by David Hayes British Council.

Bolitho and Padwad (2013), at the end of their book on Continuing Professional Development: Lessons from India, in the section on concluding reflections and questions, state that nobody stands completely still in their professional lives, that all of us get stuck in nuts and routines from time to time. They go on to explain that when this happens, teaching can lose its challenge and charm; this affects students who begin exhibiting ennui in the classroom.

teaching-english The collection of articles/essays edited by Hayes on innovations across the world in the area of Continuous Professional Development (hereafter CPD) with particular reference to English teachers stands as an excellent example of how hundreds of teachers did not get stuck, and therefore, indirectly also celebrates the thousands of students who must have benefited from the practical realizations of these innovative practices.

A variety of projects spanning a wide range of countries is presented in the collection of articles. The countries even span continents: from Australia to India and Bangladesh, the spread moves to Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Greece, Brazil, and Uzbekistan. Similarly, the articles have been written not only by professionals and teacher educators, but also by practicing teachers who have stepped out from their safety zone.

As I read the chapters in the book three words kept echoing in my mind: initiative, responsibility, and commitment. It is true that for any innovation to happen, change is important. As Hayes rightly points out, such change need not be something big, radical, or wholesale. It could be small scale and incremental but ‘huge’ for that context. But for this change to happen, in whatever form, someone has to take the initiative. No employer or organization can ‘thrust’ that initiative on anyone else. It is always taken. Responsibilities can be given but even there ownership has to come from within. Last but not the least, in order to see a project through to its completion, commitment is required. The varied projects reported in the articles are excellent examples of such initiatives taken, responsibilities accepted, and commitments fulfilled. A few of these are highlighted below.

The chapter that reports curriculum reform in Uzbekistan also has an interesting set of teacher narratives. The value of the chapter on action research in an Australian national programme is in the way the process of action research (and not the what and the why as a product) has been captured. The changes that had to be made in the programme to take into account the needs of teachers have been well-documented. To echo the authors: innovation can never be simplistic or pre-determined. It is recursive and complex and success depends on context sensitivity.

The report on teacher research as CPD in Chilean secondary schools is a validation of the argument that it is context that determines what innovation is. School teaching in that country still has a low status and 35 hours of teaching per week seems to be the norm. In such a context, getting teachers to move from a one size fits all transmissive input-led training based paradigm to take initiatives and manage their own development is not an easy task. The collating of participants’ experiences adds richness and value to this study.

Similarly, self-access and learner autonomy have been explored in the work done in Ethiopia and Afghanistan. The chapter on CPD in Greece is special for its creation and sustenance of the Communities of Practice (CoP) programme. Creating a CoP is not easy in the context of a centrally governed and managed education system. The teachers involved in the project have taken the initiative to collaborate and work together, and have also reflected on their own experiences. The online platform created for this purpose has helped override problems of not only physical distance but also group dynamics.

Over and above the actual documentation of the CPD studies, the geographical spread, and the range of contexts covered, I would like to send out a loud cheer to the hundreds of teachers in classrooms across the world who, in some small way, feature in this book. There are many such narrative voices, ranging from frustration to satisfaction. It is not easy to prepare for class, teach, correct papers, handle all the administrative work that goes with the job and then literally make the time (we will never find it) to do that little extra bit that is required (make notes, keep a diary, write a log, add to a blog).

However, there is one set of voices missing in this book; all our explorations into CPD are in the end, meant to help the student in the classroom learn better. We want our teachers to become empowered professionals, who find joy and satisfaction in their work. Our hope and dream is that all teachers will realize their full capability. We need to remember, however, that this urgency to push for professional growth is because all of us want the citizens of tomorrow, (to use an old phrase) to be individuals who can think for themselves and be empathetic leaders. Our students are, therefore, our primary stakeholders. The articles in this book do not have a space for students’ voices, and these have to be gleaned from statements made by trainers, from the narratives of teachers. I am aware that this set of articles is not about the growth of students or their reflections. However, the reports and the discipline of CPD itself will benefit if some space is found for students’ voices in such reports.

The author is Professor, Department of Testing and Evaluation, EFL University, Hyderabad. She can be reached at gdurairajan@gmail.com.