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Professional Development Through Teachers’ Associations

Written by: Laura Baecher
Published on: Sep 18, 2023

Teachers association
Photo credit: dglimages/Adobe Stock

For the next few months, I will be inviting voices from a variety of contexts to share their work and thinking on professional development (PD). This post, guest written by IATEFL President Aleksandra Popovski Golubovikj, focuses on the value of teachers' associations as a way to engage in ongoing professional development.

Aleksandra Popovski Golubovikj
Aleksandra Popovski Golubovikj

Aleksandra Popovski Golubovikj is a teacher and teacher trainer with a strong passion for language education. She holds an MA in professional development for language education from the University of Chichester. Her interests include incorporating visual arts into language teaching, exploring effective reading comprehension strategies, and creating original readers for her students. With her expertise and enthusiasm, Aleksandra is committed to helping her students succeed and grow as language learners. Aleksandra has also been a volunteer in national and international teachers’ associations for more than 20 years. She is the current president of IATEFL.

What Is Professional Development?

Fullan and Stiegelbauer define professional development (PD) as “the sum total of formal and informal learning experiences throughout one’s career from pre-service teacher education to retirement.” OECD gives a broader definition of PD, explaining that  it is “activities that develop an individual’s skills, knowledge, expertise and other characteristics as a teacher.” In addition:

Effective professional development is on-going, includes training, practice and feedback and provides adequate time and follow-up support. Successful programs involve teachers in learning activities that are similar to ones they will use with their students and encourage the development of teachers’ learning communities.

Padwad and Dixit write about “a planned, continuous and lifelong process whereby teachers try to develop their personal and professional qualities, and to improve their knowledge, skills and practice, leading to their empowerment, the improvement of their agency and the development of their organization and their pupils.”  

All these definitions reflect the lifelong learning nature of the teaching profession in which educators learn, grow, and develop as professionals from the very first day of their career to the day they put down their pens and books (whiteboard markers and tablets) and retire.

According to Crandall and Finn Miller, in their chapter in Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, effective teacher PD

  • involves learning opportunities over an extended period of time,
  • engages teachers in deepening and extending skills,
  • challenges teachers’ assumptions about learning,
  • involves teachers in talking with one another, and
  • has administrative support.

These learning opportunities can take different forms, ranging from reading professional articles, writing a blog, creating a professional learning community within one’s place of work, mentoring and coaching (e.g., EVE-Equal Voices in ELT Mentoring Programme), or joining teachers’ associations. (Note: I am using the terms teachers’ associations and English language teachers’ associations interchangeably.)

Teachers’ Associations: What Are They and Why Are They?

Teachers’ associations are formal organizations that bring together teachers from different subjects and levels of education into a professional community. Lamb defines them as “networks of professionals, run by and for professionals, focused mainly on support for members, with knowledge exchange and development as well as representation of members’ views as their defining functions” and Mahboob and England refer to English language teachers’ associations “as one of the most powerful channels for supporting [English language teaching] professionals.”

There are several reasons why teachers’ associations should be a part of teachers’ PD. They provide a safe environment to share experiences, ideas, hopes, and fears. This process of sharing encourages collaborative work with other teachers that can lead to improved knowledge and practice, but it also strengthens a professional community. Price writes about English language teachers’ associations as knowledge producers and knowledge providers, where members develop themselves both personally and professionally, which in turn gives them their collective identity and sets them apart from a group of friends or a network of connections between people. As a member of a teachers’ association, a teacher takes ownership of the profession and gives back to the profession as well.

Teachers’ associations can support their members on their PD journey by providing access to PD and networking opportunities. They organize various PD events such as conferences, workshops, and seminars. These events are a perfect place for connecting with other educators in a particular field, both locally and internationally. They also provide a platform for teaching professionals to learn about the latest research and add to their existing knowledge and practice as well as to connect with other teachers.  New connections and networking can lead to interesting new collaborations, projects, and the sharing of various resources.

Another way in which teachers’ association can support teachers is by providing various resources. Many teachers’ associations offer access to a wide range of resources, such as publications, research papers, case studies, teaching materials, and online courses. These resources can help educators stay current with trends, develop their skills, and improve the quality of their teaching and, consequently, the quality of their students’ learning and performance.

The Giants

The two largest international associations for English language teachers are IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) and TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). Both associations promote PD of English language teachers from different contexts by organizing face-to-face and online events and publishing magazines, newsletters, and other materials. IATEFL and TESOL have smaller communities of practice within themselves — special interests groups (IATEFL) and interest sections (TESOL) that focus on specific areas of English language teaching (materials writing, teacher development and education, ESP, etc.). Members of these associations can benefit from discounted prices for their events, scholarships, and awards and grants. They also support national teachers’ associations, which can apply to become associates of IATEFL and/or affiliates of TESOL. 

Final Thoughts

Teachers’ associations provide a valuable platform for teachers to develop their skills, stay current with trends in teaching and learning, and connect with other educational professionals. By joining a professional association, teachers can advance their careers, improve the quality of their teaching, and contribute to the overall development, growth, and improvement of education in their local communities, but also on a national and/or international level. Why not give it a try and join a teachers’ association today?

This post first appeared on the TESOL Blog. Reprinted with permission.