Professional Development: From Online to Real World

(This post was written as part of the TDSIG Web Carnival  #tdsigcarnival)

If you have read my blog or Twitter feed, you probably know that I am quite involved in CPD – continuous professional development. My professional development consists of reading and writing about research (ELT Research Bites), blogging here, sharing ideas via Twitter, and when possible, attending or presenting at face-to-face conferences. Most of my PD operates within an online space, often among an echo-chamber of like-minded English language teachers who all share similar aspirations, and even hostilities (those darn coursebooks!

In an attempt to pull my passion for PD offline and into the real world, I have, for the last year or so, been in charge of organizing professional development opportunities at my institute. I was given this informal role because it was recognized that I was serious about professional development and had access to a lot of ideas and information.

Brown Bags

My main task as a PD coordinator thus far has been to organize what we call “Brown Bags” – weekly professional development sessions held during lunchtime. These are typically between 30-50 minutes, take place in our conference room or a classroom if there are many attendees, and are held no more than once a week.

At the beginning of each term, I put out a call to our faculty about leading a brown bag session. I ask not just for presentations but also simply topics and issues for discussion, ideas to share, interesting readings, etc. The purpose of the brown bags is to be bottom-up, faculty-led opportunities to share ideas in a relaxed and informal setting. I also think about possible guest speakers from the university that could potentially come. I typically lead a few myself.

We typically have about 5 or 6 brown bag sessions per term (every two months). Attendance varies from 2 to 10, depending on topic, weather, mood, publicity, etc. Some of the brown bag sessions we have held over the past few terms include:

  • Faculty-led presentations on a topic of interest
    • Recruiting in Mali
    • Teaching and travelling in China
    • Using grammar logs in the classroom
    • Takeaways from SETESOL
    • Integrating reading and writing with Newsela
    • Quick and dirty online video quizzes
    • Mining texts with online vocabulary tools
    • Myths and controversies in ELT
    • Using Canvas in the classroom
  • Watch parties
    • IATEFL webinars followed by discussions
    • EnglishUSA or other related webinars
  • Reading circles
  • Guest speakers
    • Discussing Trump’s travel ban with
    • Universal Design for learning and ELT


While I would like to claim this initiative as “successful”, I am hesitant. This current term has only had a few brown bags, and during the past few terms attendance to these has been low. It’s likely I need to get more involvement from the faculty in leading sessions rather than me developing topics or leading them myself. We all have interesting ideas to share, but we may not be motivated to share them.

In addition, while we have certainly had interesting topics and presentations, I haven’t seen any radical transformation in the faculty (or myself). But, I suppose radical transformation is not the point of brown bags.

Instead of claiming brown bags as a success, I will call them hopeful. This format of informal, bottom-up PD has great potential. They are a method to share ideas, build faculty relations, and, most importantly, carve out a place for PD during our busy work week.


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