The options for personal growth in the information age are astounding – from MOOCs on astrophysics or social psychology to self-paced language learning apps or Skype lessons, there’s something for everyone on the worldwide web, whatever your interests. There’s no shortage of development opportunities for ELT professionals either. However, whilst it’s great to connect with educators from around the globe, peers closer to home may be more familiar with your teaching context or be experiencing similar problems. So, let’s take a look at some options to access professional development on a global scale and in the local area.
A global PLN
Connecting with other ELT professionals on Twitter or Facebook allows you to learn more about teaching in different contexts – teachers who commute across Tokyo to various business English classes, a CELTA trainer in Greece or a teacher of English to deaf and hard of hearing learning in Israel – these are just a few of the people I have encountered and their stories have opened my eyes to a much wider world of ELT than I had previously imagined. Sharing experiences with teachers from around the globe, some of whom have taught in a wide range of environments, makes you more aware of some of the bigger issues in ELT such as the incredible native-speaker bias of many Asian teaching contexts or the perceived Euro-centeredness of preliminary training courses (not to mention the ongoing debate of just how valid such courses really are!).
If you’re not on Twitter, I really do recommend checking it out to see if it works for you. It can be a little overwhelming at times but a great starting point would be #ELTchat held every Wednesday at 7pm UK time – there’s a weekly topic which educators from around the world “meet-and-tweet” to discuss and it’s the perfect opportunity to make new connections with like-minded people if you’re unsure of where to start.
I had a colleague who once said that the first place he would go in a zombie apocalypse would be the library to grab as many books as he could on basic survival skills. His reasoning was that we live in an age where we Google every query and that in a zombie apocalypse, your internet connection would not be guaranteed – without Google, you’d be helpless and therefore more at risk of having your brain nibbled by a zombie.
There are abundant resources available online nowadays, from easy-to-use lesson plans on anything from the present simple to aviation; self-guided exam practice to bots which correct your writing or answers your queries about the language. Each time you search for something on Google, you’re likely to end up with millions of options – grammar pages, lesson sharing sites and blogs. And blogs are a great way to get new ideas and expand your repertoire – though similarly to Twitter, the amount of input available can be overwhelming and it’s not always easy to know where to start. Ask colleagues if they can recommend any good bloggers and, if they can, check out the blogger’s favourite sites sometimes listed as a blogroll (she says with a shudder). You may also find blog writers who work in the same context or country as you, which will probably make their articles more immediately relevant to your own situation.
Closer to home
Which brings me to my final point – how can you connect with local ELT professionals? Strange as it might seem, the worldwide web may again be the best starting point – check Facebook to see if there are any teachers’ associations in your area or email the national TESOL association to see if there’s a representative in your area. It may be that there are already events happening and if not, start your own! TEFL del Sur was founded a few years ago in Cádiz as a local association for ELT professionals as we found that the annual conferences on offer didn’t provide us with enough development opportunities or were prohibitively expensive taking into account entrance fees and travel costs. And you don’t need a big-budget event in a hotel with swanky name tags and a publishers’ exhibition – just get a few like-minded people together and hold a Swap Shop to share what’s been working for you recently or ask for advice on a tricky situation.
If you’re interested in setting up a local event, please feel free to get in touch to find out how we went about doing it. It really is a wonderful opportunity to connect with people working in similar environments to your own and to make new friends in the process. However, if you are teaching in the back of beyond and the local ELT vibe consists of me, myself and I, an online PLN offers a wealth of support in 140 characters at the click of a mouse.