Professional Development: Cultivating rather than Training

Last Tuesday, November 18th, I had the pleasure to present in a Cambridge University Press panel at the BETT Leadership Summit. Here’s the full version of my very condensed talk about a topic that is dear to me.

In the past, when I thought about teacher training in the Educational Technology realm, it was in an unidirectional spectrum. I was the preacher of good practices. I preached about the wonders of technology. How those tools could make wonders in every class. How they worked in my classes. And how simple, easy to use they were.


As I  evolved as trainer, as new and emergent technologies were more pervasive in our daily lives and I became more involved in networking with other like-minded professionals, even venturing in designing and co-moderating online courses, it became clear to me that the training models we were replicating at Casa Thomas Jefferson were not efficient in their purpose of helping teachers feel more comfortable about integrating Ed Tech into their daily practice. It was something they admired from a distance. I learned that we needed to have a more flexible, fluid, dynamic approach to technology, one that is more in tune with how technology itself worked in our lives. We needed to develop an academic support system in which technology met pedagogy. I consider it to be just like chess playing. In chess, you need not only to evaluate your present situation, the options, the context, and your opponent (who your audience is), but also you need to strategize for the future, be some moves ahead, considering the options you have and the possible moves your opponent will make. We are now rooted in the present but with an eye in the future, always considering strategies that are more efficient in terms of support for teachers and students. We´ve gone from training to cultivating.

When we talk about the emergence of new approaches to learning, we need to have in mind not only our students, but teachers who have the challenge of dealing today with so many more variables added to the equation of being a highly-functioning professional. We need to have an umbrella of approaches from workshops, yes, but also a more personalized type of professional learning that involves coaching, mentoring, feedback in a retro-feeding system, incentives for self-managed professional development. We need to be working in the intersection of formal and informal learning.

So, here´s some background on where Casa Thomas Jefferson stands. We have face to face English classes, fully online courses and now testing the waters of hybrid, which I think is where we are heading to. For each type of course, teachers need to have a system in which they feel supported to develop their pedagogical roles. They need to feel competent and fluent in the use of the means to best reach students to make them learn. Thus, here´s the structural/pedagogical framework we´ve developed, considering the  the different types of possibilities we have for cultivating and helping teachers develop the mindset and skills they need for this more liquid, fluid type of teaching that goes beyond the physical classroom walls :

  • >>Ed Tech Team – a group of teacher support/coaching in each school
    >>Online Courses Supervisor –  formal training, feedback, accompanying teachers and students, planning, thinking ahead, innovating, being the link between teachers, students, CTJ leadership, project and pedagogy alignment
    >>Online Courses Office – administrative support for teachers´ work, technical assistance
    >>Online Platform – teaching support with samples, tools and resources for teachers
    >>IT support – publisher/internally
    >>Teacher/Student Guide – a plan of study that helps guide both
    >>Blend of formal/informal professional development program – face to face meetings, trainings, webinars, 1:1, online courses they take part in.
    >>Constant Feedback for Teachers – online observations – (instructional delivery, student assessment, interpersonal dynamics, digital literacy & innovative teaching, attentiveness to institutional regulation, commitment to professionalism)/annual teacher evaluation/emails/student surveys
    >>Virtual Classroom – content, resources, support from our partners

Even before we considered having a blended course and when we were still in the first steps with our online program, we already practiced that idea of chess playing, grounded in the present and an eye in the future. We have an online course, Web Tools for Educators that will now be called Digital Tools for Educators,  open to our teachers (scholarship) and to the community offered every year to help them develop their digital literacies, and we also designed an online program called eTutors. Our Teacher Development Program has a module on Educational Technology and is now being offered as a blended course. In these types of training, complemented by the face-to-face gatherings and teachers own self-paced informal type of learning, we are focused on helping teachers

By offering this more formal types of online training, not only do we give our teachers the tools to help them acquire the digital competencies we need, but we also spot hidden talents and create a database of teachers who are prepared for our blended and online programs as they evolve. Therefore, we add the flexibility layer in terms of staff to accommodate new projects and contracts as they come. We are working in the present to make our future viable, more flexible, moving from the doom to a more virtuous cycle of teaching and constant learning for all.

As Jane Hart, one of my favorite bloggers about workplace learning, mentions, “The modern workplace learning landscape therefore encompasses a broad range of approaches to learning.” In fact, she has this very revealing framework, which has much to do with what we believe is already happening in our institution with more or less focus, but is certainly a guiding principle to all educational institutions who want to have a meaningful and significant role in the rollout or online and blended programs. In Brazil, this trend of online courses is gaining a lot of traction, blended for language schools is still incipient, but with great market opportunities. We certainly need to be prepared for the future through

  • >>a structured pedagogical/administrative structure supporting teachers´ work

  • >>educational leadership that supports the vision and is willing to dare to innovate

  • >>strong partnerships with publishers

  • >>a blend of formal/informal learning

  • >>a new mindset of engaging teachers and cultivating their desire to evolve professionally, facing the new challenges and opportunities online/blended teaching bring

  • >>a continuous revision and realignment of pedagogical practices with ed tech in the equation

  • >>an online platform that promotes social learning, a space for sharing, collaborating, asking, testing



What we really need to understand in the Ed Tech area if we really want to survive and thrive is that it is like the math function, an asymptote, when we think we are getting there, new and emerging technologies are added to the equation. So, we need to have an open mindset, ready for change, we need to be prepared to deal with ambiguities, market oscillations, and scalability of our operations. We are still small compared to the big players, but we are trying to prepare ourselves and our academic staff for the next big thing. Let’s keep reeducating our perspective and sight to become the shapers, sculptors of the cloud. Let’s keep learning through collaboration, creation, ownership, agency instead of through an instructional model.

Thanks, Cambridge, for the invitation.


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