The Journey to Professional Agility and Excellence

The journey to teachers’ personal and professional development is nonstop. Most teachers in my circle have been on their toes trying to upgrade their skills toolkit. Setting goals is part of the game and soon one is disillusioned of the initial impression that there is an end to training. Experience speaks loud and clear and reminds us that professional perfection is a utopian concept. One needs to enjoy the pathways, the surprises, the downfalls, the pits, the clearings, the hurdles, the joys which pop up along the way to professional development. I personally respect my inner voice because it has been wisely shaped by all seen, read, heard, felt and experienced. The real value of the route to “perceived perfection” is the set of challenges to meet and overcome.

Text by: Zafi Mandali

A teachers’ professional development is serious business. Teaching in the way we were taught is simply ineffective. Unlearning practices we already know is certainly more difficult than learning new ones. Teachers who are reluctant to re-train in their teaching practices, pay the price. They stagnate and deprive themselves of job satisfaction even when they have secured a teaching position and salary. Teaching the generations of now differs from teaching the generations of the past and of the future. Those who fall behind get unresponsive classes in the best of cases or disruptive ones in most cases. Surgeons who do not use laser technology to operate are marginalized. Similarly, teachers who do not sharpen their current professional axe, end up self-defeated and unfulfilled.   

Professional development opens up employment and financial opportunities.  So does experience. Experience which equips you with the means to surmount the arising challenges is invaluable. Teachers who leave their stamp in various educational contexts, are prepared to experiment, adjust, offer expertise but also learn from new requirements and new environments do not get trapped into comfort areas which worked in the past.

One should never abandon professional training. And while in the past professional training was restricted to theoretical university studies, we now find ourselves spoilt with choice of seminars, webinars and conferences.  How did we come from the one state to the other? A 20-year hindsight can explain how the plethora of training opportunities mushrooming and knocking on our social media doors has come about.

Twenty years back there was TESOL Greece, ELT News, IP exhibitions and some seminars here and there mostly from publishers. IATEFL existed but few participated or knew of its existence. Little by little, a structure of professional qualifications was developed in post-graduate university courses and CELTA, DELTA, RSA appeared in private sectors. Career advancement was linked with the acquisition of higher degrees, MAs and PhDs. Training and testing industries grew. Attention focused on research and technical expertise.  

The IT revolution forced publishers to place much emphasis on audiovisual material, images, whiteboards. Exposure to new linguistic and pedagogical principles changed teaching in most academic disciplines. Professional associations such as TESOL and IATEFL expanded the activities nationally and internationally thanks to emerging social networks and created space for Special Interest Groups, SIGS like “English for specific purposes”, “Computer assisted Language learning”, “Teaching young learners”, “Drama and literature” etc. Now the ELT community is enriched with the Panhellenic Network of Teachers, blogs, websites, projects shared in personal growth areas, Facebook groups like “Teachers of English”, ‘Teachers make a difference”, “Teacher’s coffee”. They all allow a peek of the buzz of our profession.

The exposure to so many sources, earned us invitations for zoom or other forms of distance learning seminars: some for free, others on payment. National and International publishing companies joined with impetus and it all peaked with the Covid disruption. For a good reason too. Vibrant State School Advisors summoned teachers to training session to adjust to the new reality of distant teaching. FLS owners, private or state school teachers, self-appointed trainers, joined in and of course YouTube tutorials, online platforms became part of the deal. We learnt about Edmodo, Webex, cloud storage, online tools, apps, screen sharing, breakout rooms, quizlet, Word wall, kahoot, padlet, quill, canvas.  The labyrinth of digital tools promised to jazz up emergency remote teaching and hybrid learning. Google docs allowed us to collaborate from a distance, Issue helped us create eBooks in flipbook fashion, Genially helped us create interactive presentations, images, mind maps, board games, infographics.  More was heard about Inquiry or project Based Learning, Humanistic Education, Lexical Approach, NLP, CLIL, Flipped learning, Story telling. The plethora of ideas dazzled the uninitiated. Those who could not define their needs suffered.

Professional development exploded. Choice is fine provided our critical thinking helps us discern the useful from the redundant, the essential from the sensational, the practical from the showoff, the effective from the ineffective, the valuable from the time waster, the real from the farfetched, the relevant from the irrelevant, the meaningful from the misguided, the true from the vain, the genuine from the opportunistic, the giver from the taker. It is up to us to determine what, why and how our teaching practices and contexts will be enriched. This knowledge comes with careful consideration and professional training. Choice helps us in emerging needs and Covid proved it. Those who adapted without neglecting the human skills of teaching, connected, combined theory and practices, weathered the challenge.

Some leaders in school environments role model the practice of lifelong learning. They are disciplined and hardworking individuals who have their eye on what is out there with a discerning look. They allow room for the new and tell the fake from the real. But even if we are not within an inspiring environment, we can create our own niche circle of leading colleagues who will help in this non ending game of personal and professional development.