The five stages of PD for teachers

It’s unavoidable. When you first start working as an ELT teacher, you’re given some kind of training and the truth is that it’s so well delivered that you blindly follow everything you’ve been told to do. After a while, though, you realise that the things that you’ve been told to do are not as wonderful as you were originally told, or maybe you get a new job and you have a different kind of training. All is fine if you’re an open-minded person willing to experiment with different things and taking into account that you have already studied at least a tad about teaching and learning. But what if you’re talking about professional development with someone who is not willing to change, or who counters every little thing you say simply by saying, “You’re wrong! I’ve never done that and my lessons work perfectly fine,” but these people aren’t exactly listening to your point. I’ve once heard that teachers’ egos are enormous, and to a certain extent I agree with that – and teachers who are not in the ELT world have already stated the same thing. Anyway, when being told about professional development, I can’t help but wonder the stages these people go through. It might be something like the 5 stages of death, I suppose. Let’s see if I got this right, shall we?

Stage 1 – Denial

“Listen, what you’re saying is a whole bunch of non-sense” or “if this were true, I’d have heard it by now.” These are some common utterances you’ll hear from teachers who have a vast 3-month experience in the classroom and who believe they already know what it takes to be a teacher. Another characteristic of teachers in this stage is that they refuse to listen to any new idea and call it just a fad.

Stage 2 – Anger

At this stage, these teachers start realising that they’ve been mistaken and can’t help but think they’ve been fooled by those who initially trained them. It’s quite common for them to blame their practices on their trainer and say that their trainer wasn’t good enough, and sometimes ridicule them (a big no-no guys, seriously). Another possible characteristic is being angry at the fact that what they had been doing for ages will have to be changed somehow. “Why did they have to write a new edition of Headway when the old one worked so beautifully? These #&$(@ just want to make us by a new edition because of the money… and now I’ll have to redesign all my activities” is likely to be heard from these teachers.

Stage 3 – Bargaining

This is when those teachers start, well, bargaining. They might even concede there are certain things they need to improve, but they’ll expect you to acknowledge that they aren’t wrong. They will usually say, “All right, I’ll try this new thing you have told me to, but you’ll see it won’t work” or “if I try this and it doesn’t work in class, will you then let me teach in my old ways without bothering me?”

Stage 4 – Depression

This usually happens when they realise their new teaching practices are actually helping their learners and they come to terms with the fact they’ll have to start studying a bit more, and reflecting a lot more on their practices. Some of these teachers feel guilty about so many things they could have done to help their students for so many years but they didn’t. This stage might also show itself after a teacher has been made redundant by someone who actually embraces continuing PD and is keen on sharing and experimenting new ideas in the classroom. It’s now that those teachers finally see they had stopped in time and need to do something about it.

Stage 5 – Acceptance

Now your trainees are ready to receive your input. It’s now the trainer’s responsibility to make sure those who have reached this stage actually see it pays off to learn new things and that these things will help them in their professional career. If the trainer does nothing, then we might end up with a teacher simply becoming more resistant to the idea of PD.

In case you still haven’t seen the video “The 5 stages of a giraffe’s death”, it was an inspiration to this post. What I’ve been thinking is that we sometimes have got to accept that what we so deeply believe in may as well be wrong, and simply trying to adapt it might just postpone the fact that we will have to deal with the problem sooner or later. I don’t think there’s a right way for us to teach, but there may be certain things which we need to radically change in our teaching. If you don’t accept a revolution is necessary, your old practices will always get in the way.

8 thoughts on “The five stages of PD for teachers

  1. Most of the time I’ve done workshops, teachers have been very welcoming of the “new” ideas, thankfully. You’re right though. Occasionally you’ll get that teacher who’s been around for a while and dismisses what you have to say as rubbish. They’re often the ones that love cassettes and VCRs and will argue anything anyways. I dismiss them as quickly as they dismiss me. Move on.

    1. Hi Tyson,

      Most teachers who care enough to attend workshops tend to be very welcoming of new ideas – it’s the reason why they invest their money and time in it, I hope! 🙂 However, most teachers still fail to see the benefits of these events and are headstrong on doing what they’ve always done. I’ve interviewed teachers who told me the last book or article on ELT they’d read was more than 10 years before the interview, and they said they didn’t care much about it because, and I quote, “I’ve been teaching all this time without reading books or going to conferences, so I’m a good teacher because I have a job.” I can’t tell you how appalled I was when I heard that.

      Now, even teachers who attend conferences and read articles, books, blogs and what have you have difficulties implementing the new ideas. Old habits die hard, I suppose. And I don’t need to go very far to exemplify that. I have already caught myself trying to implement new ideas into my teaching, but I clearly saw that my old habits were getting in the way. The first changes were the hardest – once you keep an open mind to change, it’s a lot easier, but until then… I remember I had a hard time. It was as though I wanted to change and even accepted what I had seen in this or that workshop, but there’s a gulf between hearing and doing, right? 🙂

      Thanks for the comments! Trying to get back to the blogging world little by little… 🙂

      1. It is difficult to implement new strategies, no matter how great they sound; that’s true. And to be fair, the teachers who attend my workshops predominantly are paid to go to them by their managers, so they aren’t always that willing to negotiate change.

  2. Hi Henrick, great post – it’s important that we see PD as a process, a journey with twists and turns rather than a sudden arrival in the land of good practice (however that’s defined)!

    I can’t help thinking that the public nature of our job means we adopt coping mechanisms pretty much from the start. The shock of ‘being the teacher’ – actually, finally being that person we spent so many hours and years with at school – means that we quickly need to locate ourselves emotionally as well as professionally. If we feel threatened on some level, it’s natural to become defensive.

    And it’s even more complicated than that. Teaching is public in the sense that we are ‘in front of’ our students (and being ‘in front’ can be one coping mechanism!), but private in the sense that we aren’t usually observed by our peers. So our coping mechanisms can fossilise. They are unseen by others (because we adopt quite different behaviours for official observed lessons), and unacknowledged by ourselves – because the coping mechanism has to be unconscious to work!

    I’m a great fan of peer observation, and maybe building this into school timetables as a reciprocal and non-judgmental learning process, starting from our earliest days teaching, can help with the PD journey. Maybe without filling in any kind of form, just having a coffee afterwards and chatting. Sitting in, like we do when we read each others’ blogs.


    1. Hi Luke,

      Oh, the shock of being the one in front of the class. This was a place I dreaded when I was a student myself so going into the classroom for the very first time and being the one who had to speak and lead was a different experience for me. I guess teachers, at least most novice teachers, still cannot fully grasp the influence they may have on their pupils, which is yet another trait to be developed. The sooner teachers understand they are in the public eye (a very small audience, but a watchful one it is!), the easier it is to change certain attitudes.

      Back to the comment, all I have to say is, “I concur.” Peer observation, and any kind of lesson observation should be encouraged as a way for us to improve. And I kind of agree with your last bit – no forms are required, just an informal chat over a cup of coffee about what was done in the lesson. If done properly, I think it might spark more reflection than a formal lesson observation.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  3. I worry when teachers are referred to as separate from others involved in education. Teachers represent a wide variety of learning styles and educational backgrounds. Teachers like me who have been in the profession for 25 years have seen trends come and go — we’ve been “trained” by many, some who had really great information to share, and others who seemed more interested in their own ambition than the mission of educating children. Recently, I sat in a room with over 100 educators to listen to a keynote speaker, Ellin Oliver Keene. The response was overwhelmingly “acceptance” because the educators in the room, teachers and administrators, could see that Keene had done her research, understood schools and wanted to work with teachers to educate students to the best of our ability.

    1. Hi Maureen,

      This particular part of your comment called my attention,

      we’ve been “trained” by many, some who had really great information to share, and others who seemed more interested in their own ambition than the mission of educating children.

      The point is not passively accepting everything that’s thrown at us, but being open to new ideas and, most importantly, being able to reflect on such new ideas in order to find out whether or not the suit your particular teaching context. It’s always easy to see when someone has done their homework and prepared for their speech. However, it’s not that easy to avoid the pitfalls of ill-prepared speakers who cite a whole bunch of quotes and authors to look like an expert. Experience is always valuable when it comes to making our decisions regarding listening to the speaker and letting his or her ideas sink in, or simply dismiss them out of hand!

      Many thanks for the comment! Hope you drop by more often with comments like this. 🙂

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