Building effective CPD for language teachers

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) session for language teachers

For every language educator, the development and progress of their students is, of course, the number one priority. But it’s vital to ensure that all educators place high priority on their own continuing professional development (CPD). As Lord Knight, a former UK minister of state for schools famously put it: “When teachers stop learning, so do students.”

CPD helps to ensure that teachers continue to be proficient and competent in their  professional practice; it helps them keep up with constantly evolving languages and equips them with key skills to progress with their chosen career paths. This blog post therefore looks at what CPD is, what good CPD looks like and outlines some of the main types of CPD that are commonly available for language teachers, whatever the stage of their career.


What is continuing professional development?

According to FutureLearn, continuing professional development, or CPD for short, “is the phrase used to describe the supplementary learning that professionals undertake.” Of course, this applies to all employment roles and in education should apply to all staff (teaching and support) across every individual institution.

Like the best lessons that language educators deliver themselves, CPD should aim to make learning “conscious and proactive, to enhance personal skills for application in the workplace.” It should build on existing knowledge and qualifications, enhancing both subject-specific and generic teaching skills. As such it helps educators to stay ahead of changes in the language they teach and on top of developing pedagogical best practice.

Similarly, CPD activities invariably feature groups of teachers working collaboratively – to identify the best ways to deliver improved learning outcomes for their students. 

A note for school administrators! Do take time to ensure that CPD fits alongside educators’ existing work commitments. Otherwise, it can be easy for teachers to focus on the work they have to do so that they don’t get the full benefit of the planned training programme.


Why should every institution deliver CPD for their staff?

An effective CPD programme is essential for all schools / staff, but we’d argue that it’s even more important for language teachers. As Gilbert Highet said:

“Language is a living thing. We can feel it changing. Parts of it become old: they drop off and are forgotten. New pieces bud out, spread into leaves, and become big branches, proliferating.”

If the aim is to train students to be able to excel at all forms of real-world communication in their target language, then their educators need to understand what that looks like in 2022. Relying on the language they learnt many years ago as an undergraduate will not be sufficient to engage and prepare today’s students.   

Furthermore, educators need to address the current educational needs of their students and reflect modern pedagogical best practice. The increased use of digital technologies has, for example, fundamentally changed teaching and learning and all teachers need to ensure their skills are up to scratch. Similarly, language educators need to ensure that adult learners are fully equipped for the skills that they need in their careers now.

Let’s also be honest and say that being a language teacher is hard work and can sometimes be challenging and demoralising!? So CPD can be a real benefit in helping educators to find new motivation and new skills. This unusual focus on themselves can inspire new energy and help make them feel more effective and inspired in their everyday teaching.


What sort of CPD opportunities are available?

There’s no one-size fits all approach to CPD that will work for all educators and all settings. Equally, there’s a range of different methodologies available for educators to call upon including social media, webinars, further qualifications, workshops and events.

CPD can and should include formal, structured activities that are typically organised by your institution / organisation. These sit alongside projects that can be easily undertaken in educators’ own time and which only require their own proactivity to get underway.

In their helpful structure for the topic, FutureLearn identifies three main types of CPD that educators can / should undertake. 

1. Structured or Active CPD

This form of CPD usually involves some form of interactive participation / study and takes place in a formal learning environment. It therefore typically features planned training courses, study programmes, events, conferences etc. Educators are either signed up to attend by management or request to be included on the course.

2. Reflective or Passive CPD

Reflective learning involves no participant-based interaction, and is therefore much more passive and one-directional. It typically includes listening to relevant podcasts, keeping abreast of industry news and reviewing case studies of inspiring teachers or schools.

3. Unstructured or self-directed CPD 

Self-directed CPD is considered more informal and unstructured – it doesn’t always follow a consistent approach or programme. It includes everything that an individual might consider when they’re focused on being the best teacher they can be. The use of social media and an associated personal learning network is a great example of this approach. As are reading news articles, blogs or books; reviewing industry research and watching relevant videos. Do take care to ensure that this sort of CPD is carefully focused on the requirements of your job. Otherwise time can be wasted down interesting but irrelevant rabbit holes!

In addition to the above, many teachers may be required by their schools, or organisations that they are members of, to regularly complete accredited training. This helps ensure that staff continue to meet the high standards deemed essential by their profession. These professional development frameworks from the British Council, Cambridge English and EAQUALS are an excellent example of such a requirement. 

Of course, CPD may also involve studying for formal teaching qualifications. Many of these are internationally recognised and can act as a door-opener to a global range of exciting employment opportunities in language teaching. This would include courses such as CELTA, DELTA and TKT, which are offered by Cambridge English. (Other courses are also available!)


What does high-quality CPD look like and include? 

As outlined above, it’s important to recognise that teachers are balancing their own professional development with multiple other demands on their time. It is therefore essential that CPD activities are carefully-designed and selected to ensure that benefit is maximised and that any financial investment can be justified.

A 2021 report by the UK’s Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) identified three key recommendations, after reviewing international research and current best practice. These are summarised below and help individuals and institutions to effectively select external CPD providers and to design / deliver their own CPD programmes.

Recommendation 1 – When designing and selecting professional development, focus on the mechanisms. Such mechanisms are identified as “the core building blocks of professional development. They are observable, can be replicated, and could not be removed without making PD less effective.” They include “revisiting prior learning, goal setting, providing feedback, and action planning.”

Recommendation 2 – Ensure that professional development effectively builds knowledge, motivates staff, develops teaching techniques, and embeds practice.

Recommendation 3 – Implement professional development programmes with care, taking into consideration the context and needs of the school. It’s vital that all CPD is carefully aligned with “the needs of the school and is supported by school leadership.” Without this it can be difficult to get educators to actively participate and fully commit to the programme!

To conclude, the process of continuing professional development is a vital part of being a professional educator. How can you encourage your students to learn new skills if you’re not practising what you preach! Take the time to ensure that you and your peers have a detailed CPD plan in place so that you can enjoy continued success in your role and best support the students in your care.

Don’t forget to check out another article on CPD here: “How Sanako supports teachers’ continuing professional development”.

Whatever language you teach and whatever CPD you might need or be undertaking, Sanako’s market-leading tools are here to help. We’re constantly innovating and looking to use technology to enable language educators to teach languages more efficiently and more successfully. It’s why the world’s leading educational institutions choose Sanako as their preferred supplier to support online and in-person lesson delivery.


If you are interested in learning more about how Sanako products support language teachers and students and would like to see how they could benefit your institution, click here or the banner below to learn more and to book a FREE remote demo.

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