Love the players, hate the game
Things are relatively quiet at work and nobody is being particularly obnoxious (I include myself there). It feels unsettling to have no big issues bubbling away in the background. But it means that I have had time to think. One of the questions that I have turned my mind to, at the prompting of my ever-sharp ADOS, is how the hell do we get people interested in professional development?
Where I work is not like my Twitter network. This latter is full of people who write, who read, who think, who ponder, who ask, who share etc. At times I wistfully gurn and wonder what it would be like to set up a school staffed with these people. It gets me through the darker moments. If nothing else, Twitter and blogs serve to reassure me that there is a strong sense of enquiry and commitment to self-betterment. Where I work, the drive for professional development is not always so obvious.
The majority of teachers have been there for a number of years. Some of them are excellent teachers, many of them are good, a few are average and a small minority should really be looking for professional opportunities outside of the classroom. Staffroom conversations are much more likely to be about your favourite yoghurt flavour or what a tosser your manager is than about how to develop an objective from the syllabus or whether or not it is really possible to teach listening. People who do try to initiate conversations about language pedagogy have reported being ridiculed and labelled suck-ups. Development targets tend to be rather unimaginative and there is only a tiny amount of learning going on. There are people who have been CELTA-qualified for years and who have no interest whatsoever in furthering their professional qualifications. When Twitter is mentioned to these people, their response is to scoff, “I have a life!” The only blogs that interest them are those which provide ready-made formulae for their lessons. God! It’s grim…
Over the years we have tried all sorts of initiatives to get people interested: we have had research groups, reading groups, online presence, Twitter accounts, Moodles, wikis, blogs, bulletin boards. We subscribe to some five or six journals, are members of three or four professional bodies; hold regular in-house development sessions, offer expenses-paid trips to IATEFL and regional developmental opportunities; offer cash incentives for getting higher professional development qualifications; host an impressive annual conference. Yet it doesn’t seem to work.
This year we are taking a different approach. This year, a couple of hundred pounds is being taken from the development budget and is being used to buy a big, big prize. The big, big prize is going to feature a lot of alcohol so that it isn’t “tainted” by worthiness or “suck-up-icity”. It is going to be a prize for hedonists: sugar, fat, alcohol will be the main components.
We are going to resort to gamification to see if people might be induced to develop themselves. For every original re-tweet (is that an oxymoron?), people will get a point. For opening a twitter account, they will get two points, for subscribing to a blog: one point, for starting a blog: 3 points, for writing a blog: post five points. For sharing an article: 2 points; for leading a development workshop: 5 points etc etc etc. Each week the points will be tallied and a leaderboard will be established. Come Christmas time, we will take stock of the progress made and the person with the most points will get the prize.
I am going to use the Easter break to come up with a series of levels that people can aspire to. A regular email will go out, exhorting people to level up. This is inspired by the freakishly wonderful work of @stevekamb from Nerd Fitness. The idea of levelling up is that it is hard for people to take big bounds in new directions. After all, new habits create new personalities and this is not something that people are always keen to rush into. But levelling up is about doing something small each day and letting the small things bring about gradual (but deep-rooted) change. Turning the whole thing into a game is an attempt to win people over through competition and allowing them to geekify themselves without feeling that they have to commit themselves to righteousness and sainthood. They don’t have to share things on Twitter because this is what the blessed do; they have to share things on Twitter because they want to get wasted at Christmas at somebody else’s expense.
I’ll keep you posted (if you’re really that interested). In return, I’d love to hear your suggestions. Nobody ever writes to this colonel.