Tony Gurr

So…What Exactly Should PD Look Like?

In Conferences, ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 17/07/2017 at 1:55 pm

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There I am…under my favourite olive tree, looking out at the point where the Aegean almost meets the Mediterranean…on the Turkish Riviera.

Sounds like heaven, yes?

So what the hell am I doing on my MacBook Air?

I’ll tell you – looking at the marketing bumf for the training courses that support a book entitled ‘A Handbook for Personalized Competency-Based Education (PCBE)’ from Robert Marzano and his gang at Marzano Research. Yes, as the sun goes down, the soft Aegean twilight floods the mountains and bay around Akbuk (near Didim)…here’s me reading about the type of Professional Development (PD) needed to ‘inspire’ teachers to breathe life into PCBE.

BTW – Did you know that the word inspire is derived from the Latin ‘inspirare’ which literally means to breathe life into another? Stephen Covey learned me that a few years back…

I am such a sad, sad man!

Neyse, and I know I have been critical of such terms as ‘competency’, ‘personalised instruction’ (esp. when linked to ‘standard operating procedures’…sorry, that combination just makes me pee a little in my underpants every time I see it!) and ‘content delivery’ (in earlier blog posts), but what I found in this set of marketing materials was a model for ‘getting PD right’.

Douglas Finn III, one of the authors of the book and designer of these training courses, tells us that ‘…this customizable on-site training will prepare your team to begin your school’s transition and offers practical strategies for addressing seven key design questions’ – which are:

  • What content will be addressed within the system?
  • How will the learning environment support student agency? 
  • How will instruction support student learning?
  • How will student proficiency be measured?
  • How will scheduling accommodate student learning?
  • How will reporting facilitate student learning?
  • How do we transition to a personalised, competency-based system?

OK – these questions have been imagineered to ‘change’ teachers (never a good move) but a sensible set of questions to structure a training module or PD event to be sure – especially if you want your PD to have an impact on student success. I like many of them…I do!

However (you knew it was coming…you know me so well), I can’t help feeling that this set of questions (and the type of PD it would lead to) is light-years ahead of the actual, real-world needs of most schools and teachers…it certainly isn’t the type of PD that we need in my adopted homeland – canım Türkiyem!

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What’s the alternative, Tony Paşa? I hear you cry…

Well, it certainly ain’t the kind of PD and conference sessions I mentioned in my last post – what I should have dubbed, in hindsight, the ABCD’s of PD and Conference practices:

  • Amuse (or ‘titillate’ with BS stories…half of which are made up)
  • Bribe (with free books or even tablets…extorted from publishers)
  • Comfort (with guitar recitals)
  • Distract (with magic tricks and the like…)

I used to blame publishers for a lot of this but have come to see that it is schools, colleges and universities (at least in Turkey) that have caused this awful situation (as well as presenters, with far too little classroom experience trying to fake-it-till-they-make – it in a business they really have no right to be in) – by failing to make teacher learning an integral part of how they conduct busyness and by refusing to create PD budgets that can be used to develop fit-for-purpose learning opportunities and events for teachers.

This is even in the wealthier private sector – where conferences and PD events are seen as little more than PR or marketing opportunities ! These are the same schools, BTW, that tell teachers and Heads that they are ‘too fat’ or ‘not attractive enough’ for the schools ‘image’ (yes, they exist…and know who they are)!

So this is my heartfelt listicle for getting PD ‘right’ in a context like canım Türkiyem…Let’s start with a pretty obvious one:

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A ‘C’ definitely needs to be added to the ‘PD’ component (and not just because it is trendy or sexy to do so). Teaching has changed so much since the 1960s, the mid-80s and even over the 17 years we have been in the 21st century! PD must enable teachers to move to the next level of expertise and enhance their ability to make changes that will result in increased student success and learning – this will only occur if teachers are provided with expanded learning opportunities, loads of peer support, and extended time to practice, reflect, critique, and practice what they have been learned.

Teacher learning is an ongoing process of reflection, risk-taking, feedback, reading, talking and adaptation – it needs to be continuous and ongoing, continuously supported and funded on a continuous basis.

Despite this shift in (global) conventional wisdom in PD practices, the vast majority of professional development in canım Türkiyem still consists of teachers attending one or two workshops on traditional themes or on topics containing the latest, sexy buzzwords in education. Participants listen passively to so-called ‘experts’ and are waved off with an encouraging pat on the back to apply the strategies in their own classrooms – no one ever does! We offer no support to link these new professional development events to past training and follow-up activities are rarely applied when teachers return to their classrooms.

And…we wonder why teachers start to hate PD!


CPD (look…sadded the ‘C’ already) should never aim to change teachers and their beliefs. As Peter Block noted, ‘We cannot change others, we can just learn about ourselves’.  However, CPD opportunities and events can be conceptualised as ‘learning conversations’ driven by questions – such conversations are not just ‘talk’ (from a ‘sage on the stage’ as is usually the case)…they need to be viewed as ‘action’.

Just as is the case with students:

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Afterall, The best way to solve a problem is to first come up with a better question…

CPD activities organised around questions (not answers spoon-fed via an over-crowded powerpoint slide) help teachers reflect on how they present content to students themselves and demonstrate the value of thinking (and sharing) productively rather than simply ‘reactively’. This type of approach also allows presenters to really engage with participants in an authentic and meaningful manner – making sessions more interactive, spontaneous and (dare I say it) ‘fun’!

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CPD opportunities should be also built on a progressive (and research-based) model of what good teaching looks like – to counter the effects of the fact that many teachers still teach the way they were taught. Teachers need to see this ‘model’ and be given the chance to weigh and measure themselves against it.

I’m not advocating the introduction of a formal set of standards at the start of every professional development activity – but teachers need to know where they should be going (esp. in an institutional context) and clarity in this area can be a friend to both teachers and school leaders.

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CPD Programmes must help teachers understand that ‘poor teaching’ is essentially down to the over-emphasis on ‘teaching’ itself (especially when ‘content’ is spoon-fed via PPP and translation-driven approaches models and ‘practice’ is little more than textbook grammar boxes or handouts packed with fill-the-blank exercises) and the lack of attention to the ‘processes of learning’ by teachers themselves. This is hard for many teachers to ‘hear’  – but it’s important that CPD opportunities emphasise that our job is about expanding and improving student learning…not just about increasing the number of teaching tools and activities we have in our armoury.

Of course, CPD sessions that provide teachers with (easily-adaptable) tasks activities that help teachers get out of these vicious cycles really help reinforce these messages – if we ask teachers to reflect on why these activities / tasks impact learning so much more than simplistic worksheets.

It also goes without saying that schools dropping those infamous ‘pacing guides’ they create every week would be a great start – least that might give us a chance at cutting down the amount of coverage-based (or CYA) teaching and timetable slots given over to teaching the same tired ‘grammar McNuggets’ again and again.


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CPD and professional development opportunities need to be grounded on an approach that recognises that all teachers (regardless of experience) need to further develop a ‘reflective disposition’. I have never met a teacher educator that has disagreed with this idea – or not criticised the reflective skills of their teachers-to-be.

Maybe it is a bit more about ‘cultural baggage’ here in Turkey (reflection is not a big part of our DNA…and we are doing a lot to ensure that what we do have is expunged) but I have also met many native speakers from the UK or USA that lack this disposition. You see…it’s also about character as much as it is about reflective skills – being open-minded (and open to learning), entering into CPD activities with whole-heartedness and accepting the imperfect and paradoxical world that is teaching…with humility and sensitivity to the needs of others (trainers and facilitators included).

REFLECTION 02 (Wheatley quote)


Then, we have two thorny issues:

  • What topics or themes should we focus on in CPD opportunities?
  • Who should ‘lead’ them?

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Let me tackle the second of these first. While many teachers do enjoy listening to ‘experts’ (if they know how to engage participants and keep them from falling asleep), I’ve always found that teachers really enjoy CPD sessions grounded on personal experience, facilitated by people they trust (and who demonstrate both passion and integrity…bit like regular students in class!) and are infused with challenge and an abundance mentality.

It is this last characteristic that inspires others to become ‘students of their own teaching’ (my lead-in quote at the very top of the post), reflect on their strengths and ‘soft spots’ and share these insights by finding their own voices. In this light, leading CPD sessions is about leadership (and not just ‘formal positions of power’) and collaboration…and draws on Stephen Covey’s ‘8th Habit’ – CPD that helps educators and teachers move from ‘effectiveness’ to ‘greatness’. Anyone in a school (including students) can do this…

What about that first issue – topics and themes? Well, in the last few years we have seen a lot more research into this area:

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Teachers clearly want these issues addressed…they want more of a ‘grass-roots’ or ‘bottom-up’ approach to be taken. Come on…we are talking about Teacher Learning…after all and it ain’t rocket science, guys!

Teachers want CPD that is relevant to their students and classrooms, treats them as professionals (not burger flippers) and, as noted above, is led by someone who understands their experience and issues.


…what about CPD that teachers ‘need’and is hidden from sight by that lack of reflective disposition we noted earlier? 


In an institutional context, there has to be a role for CPD that deals with the wider challenges the school has identified…and the strategic priorities highlighted for both school and teacher improvement. This means there will be need for PD that teachers have not ‘requested’ – and this is where we need the wholeheartedness and humility I noted earlier…the most.

The problem here, of course, is that so many schools in Turkey are pretty awful at planning and despite the growing interest in accreditation, still fail to see that ‘quality enhancement’ is very different to ‘wall decoration’. Many schools do not have improvement plans (fewer have annual operational plans…god-forbid you mention…a 5-year Strategic Plan)!

It’s difficult to plan CPD, if you do not have a culture of planning and quality enhancement – but just muddling through and making last minute calls to trainers or publishers to help you keep bums on seats ain’t gonna win you any friends… 


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While the CPD models being developed in the States by Marzano and his pals appear, on the surface, to represent ‘Next Practice’ in connecting student and teacher learning, on closer inspection we have to admit that they were not developed for countries with educational cultures like Turkey in mind.

While Marzano is totally correct in believing the effectiveness of professional development should not be measured by how teachers feel about it, but by the impact that it has on their practice and – more importantly – the achievement of their students, we have to recognise that we first need to have more impact on teachers…if we want to have more of an impact on student learning…in the long run.

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For now, this needs to be teachers…and the type of CPD opportunities we co-create with them.

I’ve tried to outline a few of the priorities I have seen with my own eyes in this post (which is now much longer than I ever planned it to be).

Canım Türkiyem (TG Ver 03)

Would YOU add any others?


  1. I really needed reading this kind of reflection, Tony! Thanks for writing it. I’m working with more than 100 professors in Higher education. My job is to help them move from focusing on teaching to focusing on learning so we have an ongoing PD now. One of the actions was to invite from each faculty a professor who have shift or is trying to do the shifting to lead a workshop for their colleagues. We’ve discussed several times teaching, I’ve learned more about their realities, their classroom dynamics, faculties and students. Although most of them still wait for ready answers, I’m trying to stimulate them to research their own practice by identifying their own problems and finding the answers with their peers. It’s amazing how this type of CPD is really empowering. It takes time though. I believe that next year, instead of one professor sharing, we will have most of them sharing their practice and open to discuss it. I’m very excited. But my new job is not ELT related though. 😦

  2. Reblogged this on I Love Being a Teacher! and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more with dear Tony! CPD sessions are important for all teachers because we should know ourselves much better to help our students. Teacher training is like life-long learning-it never stops! Also, school administrations should give more importance to this issue instead of ignoring its importance and its staff.

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