Article by Kate Copeland | May 20, 2021
Despite its challenges, this year has provided a rich opportunity for me as an educator to explore new approaches, not only teaching English but also in teacher professional development, at a time when it has been most needed.
Professional Development Then & Now
Professional development in the “pre-pandemic era” could best be described as episodic and intense; teachers would brace for the “fire-hose effect,” gathering as much new information as possible, promising to digest and apply it at some future time. Educators have long complained about insufficient time to develop new teaching strategies following these jam-packed events; perhaps why teaching practice has often been known to lag behind research-based innovation. The implications are even more compelling for international teacher training programs, which the English Language Institute has facilitated for over the past 30 years.
Then came the pandemic. Technology solutions, long biding their time in the wings, seized their moment to save the day for classrooms around the world. Teachers who had been tourists of the virtual environment migrated en masse, reinventing themselves to navigate within this new culture. While the ELI had long offered online learning through tutoring services, alumni support, and hybrid courses for K-12 ESL teachers, COVID-19 catalyzed a new era in virtual language learning and teacher professional development.
The Medium of Instruction
What is the nature of this medium in which teachers now function? This question has echoed through cyberspace all year. The range of meanings of the word “medium”, as listed at dictionary.com, is itself insightful for our profession as English teachers: “the natural habitat, environment of, or influences on an organism”; one of the “channels of general communication of information in society.” And a third definition, to which I am most drawn; “the material or technique with which an artist works.” Is not teaching an art in any medium?
Cultivating our Craft
As an ELI faculty member, what I have experienced and observed in the last year stands as confirmation. Out of crisis, seeds of creativity and innovation have germinated, adapting and evolving within this novel substrate. Through a wide array of digital tools and technology, we have been able to cultivate new fertile spaces for teaching and learning that are not only viable but thriving.
- Facilitating online program capstone events and forums that have engaged audiences far beyond the halls of the UD campus.
- Reconnecting with ELI alumni teachers from across the world through Twitter, WhatsApp and Zoom to learn about their successes and challenges.
- Collaborating with colleagues across UD departments to conduct research on the impact of our teacher training programs in far away lands, something that would not have been possible only a few years ago.
- Engaging in online professional learning networks to explore a full range of ideas; from new pedagogies for virtual ESL instruction with ELI colleagues, to advocacy for Delaware K-12 ELs with area ESL teachers, to the decolonization of educational leadership with teachers from Africa and the MENA region.
- Co-presenting at national and international conferences, such as the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement, and the virtual International TESOL Convention, right from the comfort of our homes – a previously inconceivable opportunity.
Through these experiences I have learned that, with the right technology and clear instructions, robust interaction – the holy grail of online ESL instruction and teacher PD – can occur in any setting. We incorporate flexibility through Canvas, FlipGrid, Perusall, NearPod, Discord, WhatsApp, Twitter, and the full range of Google collaborative tools to support the learning of teachers and students in our home state of Delaware and all around the globe.
Professional Learning for the Future
By fully leveraging all the collaborative capacities of the digital environment, and adapting program design to meet teachers’ specific needs, the ELI is able to facilitate professional learning experiences with the potential to be transformative in the way Ruben Puentedura (2013) envisions at the top of his SAMR model. Thus, professional learning can be ongoing rather than episodic, providing meaningful opportunities to test new approaches at the peak of learning momentum, benefitting from immediate peer and mentor feedback. Most importantly, it has new potential to have lasting impact on teaching practice, and ultimately on student learning outcomes, in education communities around the world. The possibilities for professional learning through virtual technology are limited perhaps only by our imaginations.
Connect with Kate on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/kate-copeland-udeli.
Puentedura, R., (2013). SAMR: Moving from enhancement to transformation. AIS ICT Management and Leadership Conference. Canberra, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/000095.html