Teacher Professional Development – Why to Do It, How to Do It, and Its Potential

Within education, professional development refers to improving your teaching skills, abilities, and overall know-how in order to better connect to your students, create a more efficient and engaging classroom, and, well, develop professionally.

Here at GIFLE, we’re big fans of professional development all around. We believe that PD can be done by anyone at any point in their career – not just those at the bottom of the ladder, but even by those at the top of their game. In this article, we’ll be going over different types of professional development, links and resources you can use for your own professional development journey, and talk about how professional development can help you out not only in the classroom, but in your overarching career. This is a pretty long post, so you can bookmark it and come back it anytime for all the professional development goodness you crave.

Why should I bother with professional development?

So, you already have a solid job in the ESL/EFL field, years of experience, and are overall feeling settled and comfortable in your classroom. You’re pretty good at grammar and have a good relationship with your students, co-workers, and principal. Why should you spend your time, money, and effort doing professional development?

The phrase “teachers are lifelong learners” sounds cliché, but it holds true. As educators, our field is constantly growing and expanding as our knowledge about how people learn does, and it can be important to keep up with new methods. Doing professional development can help you bring new ideas, teaching methods, and lessons into your classroom, expand your horizons as an educator, and even help you move up in your field. Furthermore, doing professional development can help you create connections that may be helpful to you in the future.

Lastly (and we know we sound like complete nerds here) professional development can be both rewarding and fun. It’s great to spend time talking and listening to other professionals in your field, bounce ideas off each other, and grow more as an educator. Don’t take our word for it – get out there and do some professional development yourself!

Okay, got it. Isn’t professional development really hard and time-consuming though?

While it’s true that high levels of professional development can take months or even years to complete, there are also plenty of easy options that you can do! In this post, we’ll look at some different ways that you can begin doing more professional development. We’ve divided it into three different sections for you – Easy-Peasy, Medium, and For the Enthusiastic.

The”Easy-Peasy” category represents free things that you can do with minimal time commitment. These are things you can easily incorporate in your everyday life without having to change or plan ahead too much.

The “Medium” category consists of things that will take a longer time commitment (hours and days, rather than minutes) or might have fees involved. These will boost your knowledge of your field more than the easy category; however, they are likely more difficult to accomplish.

The final category, aptly named “For the Enthusiastic,” will take a minimum of weeks to accomplish. They also may have quite a financial commitment attributed to them. However, doing this level of professional development may offer many more chances of career advancement than the first two categories, will add something substantial to your resume, and give you that oh, so satisfying sense of accomplishment.


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  1. Read the literature, websites, blogs . . .

A lot (and we mean a lot) gets published about education, and specifically ESL and EFL every year. Why not take advantage of other people’s hard-done research and ideas for your own classroom? The great thing about using reading as professional development is that you can do it almost anytime or anywhere, and do it for as long or little as you like. It’s also easy to jump from subject to subject or even go down a rabbit hole of your interests (do you remember “footnote chasing” from your undergrad? It can get even more intense when you find a subject that interests you!). To get you started with reading, we’ve put some of our favorite websites, journals, and other resources down below, along with a brief description.

Description from the website:

Colorín Colorado is the premier [USA] website serving educators and families of English language learners (ELLs) in Grades PreK-12. Colorín Colorado has been providing free research-based information, activities, and advice to parents, schools, and communities around the country for more than a decade.

Description from the website:

The WIDA Consortium is a member-based organization made up of U.S. states, territories and federal agencies dedicated to the research, design and implementation of a high-quality, standards-based system for K-12 English language learners.

The Internet TESL Journal is collection of resarch papers, articles, handouts, lesson plans, links, teaching ideas – you name it, they probably have it. This is a great resource to go to when you need something specific, or even if you just want to browse for new ideas.

Description from the website:

The Korea TESOL Journal is a refereed academic journal concerned with teaching English as a foreign or additional language and related issues.

TESOL Journal (TJ) is a double-blind peer-reviewed, practitioner-oriented electronic journal that publishes articles based on current theory and research in the field of teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). TJ is a forum for second and foreign language educators at all levels to engage in the ways that research and theory can inform, shape, and ground teaching practices and perspectives. TJ enable an active and vibrant professional dialogue about research- and theory-based practices as well as practice-oriented theorizing and research.  

Description from the website:

Since 1981, Education Week has been America’s most trusted resource for K-12 education news and information. 1.6+ million readers. National Coverage. From teachers to principals and district leaders across the country. Education Week’s diverse audience turns to us for the most up-to-date information on K-12 education in the U.S., as well as innovative, high-value tools and solutions.

Google Scholar, JSTOR, and other similar scholarly search engines are also great if you want to read up about a particular or specific topic.

2. Share ideas with your fellow teachers

Sit down with your fellow teachers (in-person and online both work great here!), pour yourself a cup of your favorite brew, and talk through all of your classroom ideas. Here at GIFLE, we brainstorm about our ideas, struggles, and successes within the classroom.

Another great way to share (and frankly, steal) ideas with your fellow teachers is to sit in on each other’s classes. Every teacher runs their classroom differently – why not take advantage? You can individually talk to teachers in your school to plan when you’re going to sit in on a lesson, or use tools such as pineapple charts to collaborate.

3. Listen to a podcast

If you’ve not drunk the podcast Kool-Aid quite yet, let us try to get you on board. Podcast are excellent, very convenient little snippets of information, conversations, interviews, and more given by live people. You can get a feel for personality and passion more than by simply reading a text. Plus, podcasts are very widely available nowadays, – you can listen on your phone while taking the bus, put one on while you’re scrubbing out your bathtub, or even have one talking to you while you’re directly making a lesson plan. There are a ton of education podcasts out there, ranging in topics from curriculum design to classroom management. Below, we’ve included a few of our favorite podcasts at GIFLE to get your new playlist started.

Description from the website:

“Teaching strategies, classroom management, education reform, educational technology — if it has something to do with teaching, we’re talking about it. On the podcast, I interview educators, students, administrators and parents about the psychological and social dynamics of school, trade secrets, and other juicy things you’ll never learn in a textbook. Other episodes feature me on my own, offering advice on ways to make your teaching more effective and more fun.”

Description from the website:

Talks with Teachers brings you the stories and inspiration behind America’s great English educators. Each episode features a master ELA/Literacy/English teacher sharing what worked, what didn’t and the wisdom gained from their years of classroom experience. Intended to boost morale and help teachers find joy and purpose, Talks with Teachers is a great resource for K-12 English, Literacy, and ELA teachers

Description from the website:

FreshEd with Will Brehm is an interview-style podcast that showcases cutting-edge research in the field of education. It is used in dozens of university courses around the world. All episodes are transcribed and some are then translated into Mandarin, French, Arabic, Vietnamese, and Portuguese.

Description from the website:

The Google Teacher Podcast is designed to give K-12 educators practical ideas for using G Suite and other Google tools in classrooms and schools. Hosted by Matt Miller (Ditch That Textbook) and Kasey Bell (Shake Up Learning).

Description from the website:

The PBL [Project-based learning] Playbook from Magnify Learning is meant to help you navigate your PBL questions and problems, build your PBL confidence, and add strategies for success to your own playbook! 

What the “Easy Peasy” stage unlocks:

By doing the “easy peasy” stage of professional development, you’ll gain knowledge of new teaching methods, curriculum design, projects, lesson plans, and more. You’ll also be able to hold your own more when talking to other education professionals. People at dinner parties will relish conversation with you.


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  1. Gain new certifications

It’s likely if you’re reading this that you already have a TESL or TEFL certificate of some sort. However, these are truly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to certificates within the ESL realm, especially as ESL certificates have no overarching certifying board, no set number of mandatory hours, and some don’t even offer real classroom experience. If you want to increase your teaching knowledge (as well as pad your resume and get more professional clout), there are many more courses and certifications you can get within the ESL sphere that are guaranteed to impress.

Nowadays, certifications are offered both on and offline, which makes them more convenient to those currently working or unable to take time off. What certifications that you do are, of course, dependent on your interest and where you want to go within your field. Some popular certifications are:

Description from the website:

The CELTA course covers the principles of effective teaching, and gives you a range of teaching techniques and practical experience. You get hands-on teaching practice and observation of experienced teachers, and you’ll apply your learning by delivering communicative teaching with English language learners.

Description from the website:

DELTA is an advanced blend of theory and practice that provides professional development for teachers with at least one year’s experience. It gives you skills and techniques that will help you throughout your career.

Description from the website:

TKT is a series of modular teaching qualifications which test your knowledge in specific areas of English language teaching. It will help you to build your confidence, and is a cost-effective way to get an internationally recognised qualification. Whether you are a new teacher or have years of experience, TKT is ideal for people who need to prove their teaching knowledge with a globally recognised certificate.

These three certifications are all offered by Cambridge and are widely, internationally recognized. (For similar certificates, you can also check out these offered by Trinity College in Dublin.)These certifications are all different, targeting different learners and aspects of education, so make sure you do your research about what exactly you want before obtaining it.

There are also a lot of free certificates out there, for those interested in learning for the sake of learning. Sites such as Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy offer courses developed by universities online, for free, which offer tons of great information to those who are willing to take the time to complete them. For example, recently, our instructor Autumn has been doing a course on Coursera in order to learn more about how to teach students studying with learning disabilities such as Dyslexia.

Note: certificates obtained on sites such as Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy might not be recognized by an employer, but they’re still useful for expanding your knowledge and trying out new interests.

2. Take courses and join seminars

If you’ve ever been in school – and chances are that you have – you’ll know that courses and seminars are a great way to not only learn about a subject matter, but to get the chance to talk with an expert in the field, socialize with classmates, and get some hands-on practice. There are a myriad of courses and seminars out there, ranging from ones you can complete within a few hours to ones that last for months. Even if you’re loathe to get up off of your sofa, a lot of these courses and seminars are held online nowadays, making them accessible to anyone who has an internet connection.

The courses or seminars you join are probably contingent on your own personal interests and professional development needs. You can simply join a seminar that’s taking place in Korea (Autumn’s local library in Suwon used to offer free seminars in English on Saturdays!), check out online courses (a quick Google search will show you heaps), or even go as far as to look into university courses.

3. Attend a workshop

As an ESL teacher in Korea, there are a lot of different types of workshops that you can attend for free. If you’re reading this and are familiar with us at GIFLE, you’ll already know that we provide many different kinds of teacher trainings and workshops for those living within Gyeonggi Province. However, if you’re living outside of Gyeonggi-do, don’t worry! There are plenty of other resources for you to take advantage of. One of our favorites here at GIFLE that we ourselves take shameless advantage of is KOTESOL.

KOTESOL (the Korean branch of TESOL, that is, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) alone has chapters in almost every province that offers seminars and workshops – many of them free – along with larger (but paid-for) conferences. These workshops are generally run by instructors or other education professionals and can give you everything from lesson ideas to new know-how of how to best run an online classroom. You can also walk away with new friends, networking opportunities, and even full PPTs and lesson plans to use in your own class.

What the “Medium” stage unlocks:

Doing midlevel professional development will help you increase your knowledge in the field of education and gain more hands-on experience. It will also add great things to your resume.

For the Enthusiastic

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  1. Give a presentation at a workshop or seminar

Chances are that you’ve had some absolute smash-hits with your class, or have some really great ideas about how to implement different things into your classroom. You might have also studied a lot of different teaching techniques or pedagogy that you want to share with the world (or at least, some colleagues).

Workshops, seminars, and other professional events are a great way to share what you’ve learned with others, and get some professional, resume-boosting clout while you’re at it. In Korea, conferences are regularly held both in-person and online by KOTESOL, but many, many more opportunities to present exist. Start by performing a simple Internet search to see what’s happening around you in the professional world, gather your materials to create a killer presentation, and get started! If you’ve not done a conference or seminar before, it might be useful to watch and participate in one beforehand, so you have a clear idea of what’s expected.

2. Do research and publish an article

At first, this option probably sounds a bit intimidating, especially if the last paper you wrote was done during a Red Bull-fueled writing frenzy during your undergrad at three in the morning. However, it’s likely that within your classroom you’ve done research, whether advertently or not. You’ve probably searched for activities and lesson plans that work for your students and classrooms, tried out different methods, and might have even kept track of your students grades and test scores. Even these simple things can have great value to research and other educators within the EFL sphere.

As mentioned in the “Easy Peasy” section of this post, there are a lot of publications and blogs focusing on ESL and EFL. You can start by seaching which one fits your research the best, send them what you’ve written, and (hopefully) get published.

3. Become a licensed teacher

Gaining your licensure in teaching is a great option for those who want to really expand their knowledge of the teaching field. If you want to teach in your home country in the future (or level up to working at international schools or other such institutes), this is likely a great option for you, since you’ll need certification to legally work in most public (and some private) schools. Each state has different requirements for licensure, so make sure you do your research about what is required and the proper steps you’ll need to take in order to become a fully legal licensed teacher.

Believe it or not, it’s possible now to become a licensed teacher from abroad, through online programs such as TeacherReady or Moreland University.* These can be a great option for those currently abroad or those who have busy schedules.

*Note – these programs are for teacher licensure in the United States only. If you’re from another country, you’ll need to research licensure requirements

4. Get a Master’s or PhD

This is the granddaddy of all professional development. The big one. The top. If you get a Master’s (or PhD, if you are really blazing towards it), you will be an expert in your field. There are a ton of different choices for which direction you want to go in with your Master’s degree within the ESL field. Some popular choices are:

  • Masters in TESOL
  • Masters in Applied Linguistics
  • Masters in Education

However, as everyone has different wants and interests, the choice of the best Master’s or PhD degree varies from person to person. Here at GIFLE, five completely different Master’s are held by six instructors. Although we all followed our different interests in education, it still gave us the opportunity to work together and become professional education experts.

What the “For the Enthusiastic” stage unlocks:

At the highest level of professional development, you’ll be able to advance your career as an educator. All of these things will look fantastic on your resume, and give you an in-depth knowledge of your field.

This post should serve as an guide for how to begin your professional development journey. Remember, every person needs to engage in professional development depending on who they are as an individual, interests, education, and more so there really is no “one-size-fits-all” model you can follow.

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