Continuing professional development or CPD comes in a variety of forms: conferences, workshops, learning groups, etc., and with all the great online opportunities booming around these days, you might have at least experienced a few of them in your teaching career, so far.
Whether you would like to enhance your practical skills in the field, stay up-to-date with the current affairs or simply add to your CV, there are numerous benefits associated with CPDs, but the question is are we taking what we are supposed to take out of them? Why is it that many of us teachers take course after course, workshop after workshop with no significant change in our actual pedagogical skills? Today, I’m making a few suggestions on how to make the most of any CPD event, whether online or face-to-face, to produce long-lasting effects.
I have organised these suggestions into specific actions you can do before, during, and after each CPD event to maximise your learning experience.
Before the event
The insight: OK. You have chosen to commit your time and probably your money to a specific CPD event in the hope of satisfying your ever-increasing appetite for learning. Great, but it is absolutely essential to bear in mind that the process of self-improvement begins not on the day of the event, but long before that?. The more curiosity and research you put before the event, the better learning time you will experience during and after the event. Act proactively.
Actions: Here’s a list of actions you can take before any CPD event:
Get to know the people; organisers, presenters, etc.
Make a request to serve as a volunteer. This is a not only a great way to get to know the insiders behind the event but also a chance to see the mechanics of its organisation in case you are interested in setting up one in the future.
Get in touch with participants who wish to attend the same event and look for possible networking opportunities. You might also want to share with each other some of the information you have found interesting when attending different sessions.
Check the event calendar for sessions timing and see which ones you wish to join. This saves you a lot of time looking or scrolling up and down the schedule during the event.
Do some research about the topic and prepare a couple of possible questions you might be able to ask the presenter. Having a little background knowledge can truly enhance your CPD experience.
During the event
The insight: True professionals do not passively consume the information. They know that CPDs are great places to maximise their engagement with the field. There’s nothing wrong with listening to the presenter and absorbing information, but as educators we all recognise the power and the role of active involvement to install the learning blocks in mind. Deeper understanding is the gift of getting yourself engaged with the content.
Actions: Here’s a list of concrete actions you can take while attending a CPD:
Make notes. Utilise the power of writing to make things more memorable for you. Write down a couple of things you learned as takeaways and think of the concepts you would like to do more research on.
Approach the speaker, either at the event (if onsite) or through email and social media (if available online). Do not be afraid. Ask questions, request materials and resources for further reading.
Start genuine networking in any possible form. This is your greatest chance to build a strong, professional relationship that can do you a lot of good. Don’t just pass on information about yourself. Engage in some meaningful conversation. You can always start by reflecting on the presentation you have attended.
After the event
The insight: This is the time when you might feel overwhelmed with loads of information you have received. But the real work starts here where a well-engineered plan can lead you to your desired achievement.
Actions: Here are some post-event activities you can do to make your learning experience even greater:
First of all, make sure you thank the organisers. Remember, it is’s often not a piece of cake to get things done for a typical CPD event. Receiving more acknowledgments will encourage them to keep going and organise more events. Do not forget that most of them welcome constructive feedback, as well.
Follow up on the people you have met. Talk about your experience on social media or in your teaching community and help spread the word.
Find a close friend and teach them something you have found interesting. Remember, the teacher learns the best. You can also do this in a study group where the participants are eager to discuss current issues.
Start reflecting on every single session and on the whole CPD experience. This might not be possible only after the event is over but typical reflective questions you can ask include:
How do I generally feel about my experience?
What have I learnt and how is it going to help me, my students and my colleagues?
Is there anything I need to learn more about? Which areas could I do for more research on?
Am I going to contribute to the event in the future? If yes, how?
All in all, attending CPD events is not just about learning the content. Use the time wisely. Make connections and have fun. Be smart, take your experience further and learn more about communication / presentation skills and professional conduct. I love this Stephen Covey’s quote: “The key is not spending time, but investing it.”
About Farid Bashiri
Farid Bashiri is a Trinity College London DipTESOL graduate, and a teacher trainer certified by the British Council. He has completed his MA courses in TEFL and holds a BA in English literature. He’s been in ELT for more than 15 years and has presented at a number of prestigious conferences and ELT events. His main areas of interest include teacher education, educational technology and learner coaching.
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