Professional development: long and short courses that can make the difference in your teaching

Professional development refers to continuing education and career training after a person has entered the workforce in order to help them develop new skills, stay up-to-date on current trends, and advance their career.

A common misconception about professional development is that it only helps you. It’s important to remember that investing in yourself as an educator will also help your students. The more professional development teachers get, the more likely their students are to succeed.

Text by: Anastasia Spyropoulou

Professional development and training opportunities provide many benefits. Some of these are listed below, but this list is by no means comprehensive.

  • Earn TEFL/TESOL certification of at least 120 hours.
  • Specialize your training/certification.
  • Attend or present workshops in person or virtually.
  • Connect with EFL peers and influencers.

Without participating in professional development opportunities, teachers become stagnant in their practices and in their EFL careers.

Earn TEFL/TESOL certification of at least 120 hours

If you don’t already hold an internationally recognized TEFL/TESOL certification, earning this credential will open doors to a wider range of teaching opportunities. Most reputable employers require a certification of at least 120 hours. There are various types of jobs you can get with a TEFL/TESOL certificate.

Earning a TEFL/TESOL certificate online is an option, so it’s possible to take this step no matter where in the world you or your tutors are located!

Specialize your training/certification

If you’re already TEFL/TESOL certified, specialized courses will enhance your resume by showing employers that you go above and beyond and value continuous development.

Specialized Certificates

Teachers can specialize in high-demand areas, such as teaching young learners or teens or teaching Business English. Specialized training also provides opportunities for teachers to expand into new and growing ELT areas, such as teaching English online or using Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), which is growing in popularity all around the globe.

Short and inexpensive courses that can make the difference in your teaching

You can also take expert-led short courses (2-3 months in duration) via MOOCs. These short, targeted courses cover practical, current topics in language learning, deepen your knowledge and help you translate your new mastery into real world results.

I have taken many ELT courses in the past three years (the pros of the pandemic and the lockdown) and I enjoyed all of them. Learning is asynchronous, which means that you can have access to the course any time –day or night. Fees vary depending on the university (Harvard and Yale are more expensive) but, in general, they are very reasonable. In some courses financial assistance is available. I always apply and get a 90% reduction on fees.

All courses indicate the number of weekly hours required to complete the course. Take into account that this information refers to tuition hours, not study hours. You need three times more hours per week to write the assignments, study the additional material provided, conduct your own research, post on the discussion forum and prepare for quizzes and tests. Pass rates range between 70-80%. Each assignment is rated by three peers who follow a detailed rating scale. You are not allowed to proceed unless you’ve completed the peer rating.

After successful completion of the course, you earn a certificate.

I recommend the following ELT courses:

Language Assessment in the Classroom (British Council -platform Future Learn) –Extremely useful for practicing teachers. You learn how to construct your own tests focusing on the skills you want to test, how to rate the tests in a fair and consistent way, how to give positive feedback (that is to inform your students where they are at the moment and what they need to do to proceed to the next level) and how to plan remedial lessons focusing on your students’ weaknesses.

Introduction to Applied Linguistics and TESOL (University of Leicester -platform Future Learn) -As well as influencing developments in second language teaching, applied linguistics have also had a major impact on second language learning. In order to understand the best ways to teach a language, it is important to understand how learners learn languages. Researchers have uncovered many aspects of the learning process, including differences in acquiring a first and a second language, and the importance of cognitive, emotional and socio-cultural factors in language learning.

Developments in applied linguistics have also influenced the types of language learners are exposed to. For instance, research has led to an increased awareness of the fact that language is continually changing and evolving; this language change is normal and does not necessarily mean a ‘drop in standards’.

Different areas of applied linguistics, such as corpus linguistics and historical linguistics can help us get a broader perspective of how language is evolving and actually being used by a wide range of people; for example, showing how what we consider as grammatically correct or standard pronunciation shifts over time and in different situations.

Would you consider the following phrase ‘correct’ or ‘acceptable’ English?

‘That your new car, is it?’

Do you say ‘often’ with or without pronouncing the ‘t’? Which do you consider ‘correct’?

Deep Learning through Transformative Pedagogy (University of Queensland, Australia –platform edX) -you learn what is surface and deep teaching and learning (most of our teaching is surface teaching); you learn how to deliver student-centered lessons (most of our lessons are teacher-centered); you learn how to reflect on your teaching and modify your methods and approaches; how students are engaged and motivated; how to approach error correction and many more. One of the modules is devoted to feedback. What kind of feedback do we give our students? Do we give effective feedback? Effective feedback identifies a learner's level of understanding and skill development and provides advice and guidance on what they need to do next to achieve their learning intentions or goals. Although I have a long experience in teaching, I learned a lot.

Learning How to Learn (UC San Diego, USA –platform Coursera) –this course (by far the most popular online course) uncovers the secrets of learning. I hold two university degrees –one in History and Archaeology and one in English Language and Literature from the University of Athens and yet I didn’t know how to study. The course worked miracles for me. I am learning three foreign languages (French, Italian and Spanish). I was not particularly successful in any of them. In this course I found out that the study method I had been using, would take me nowhere. I modified my study method and, after two months, I made considerable improvement in all of them.

The ‘Learning how to Learn’ course is highly recommended to teachers of any subject who want to help their students thrive in school and in life.

How the Mind Works (University of British Columbia, USA –platform edX)a ‘must take course’.  You learn how the mind processes language, how we remember and why we forget; how many pieces of new information (e.g., unknown words or points in grammar) the brain can store at any given time; what we need to do in order to ‘push’ new knowledge from the short-term into the long-term memory, where it stays forever. It’s an extremely interesting course, which sheds light on what we are doing wrong in our teaching.

Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking (Harvard University -platform edX)

An extremely interesting course which shows you how to compose an effective argument and analyze the arguments of others. Conveying a convincing message can benefit your personal, public, and professional lives.

I’ve been writing articles and editorials for forty years. I consider my writing skills adequate. Yet I found out that there was room for improvement. We submitted two assignments, each of which was rated by three peers. We submitted them in the beginning of the course and we redrafted them as we were progressing. I redrafted both assignments five times before submitting the final version!!!

These short courses, and many others you can find on MOOCs are highly practical and give you a plethora of tips to improve your teaching as well as your students’ learning.



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