The Secret DOS

The Little Emperor Strikes Back

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.


19 Mar 2013 - Posted by | Rants and ramblings


  1. I do hope this is a one off rant and doesn’t truly reflect your beliefs. It reeks of self-righteousness.

    It isn’t becoming of anyone to use or reference others as “these people” and my shyte detector goes off when I read anything written with this type of dehumanizing language. When we lump people into these types of categories, we only belittle ourselves.

    If you want to help your colleagues, continue to be a great model and to do what you do well. Learn that just like smoke is not the only evidence of fire, neither is twitter the only evidence of professional development.

    That’s my take this early morning over here ….. open your teaching heart and you’ll see things a little differently. We all can’t be like you – that would be a pretty boring place.


    Comment by David | 19 Mar 2013 | Reply

    • Oh dear…I find myself in a quandary because self-righteousness really is one of my less endearing qualities. Nevertheless, I really didn’t mean to come across as too self-righteous in this blogpost. I have tried to re-read the post to see what you took such objection to and could only see two references to “these people” – one was to “these people” that I had discovered on Twitter and one was to “these people” who I work with and who are cert-qualified and not interested in professional development. In both of these cases, “these people” was used in the sense of “the people that I have just referred to…not as some sort of shite-detector triggering faceless category. Hopefully you will have woken up more fully by now and see that “these” was being used as a determiner used to refer back to the previous sentences. Similarly, I hope it will be clear from my references to blogs, workshops, conferences, journals etc that Iam aware of other means of engaging in professional development. A world full of SecretClones would not only be pretty boring, it could verge on the downright unpleasant.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 19 Mar 2013 | Reply

  2. A few questions came to mind as I was reading this. One was, how have those teachers you describe as excellent and good become so, if they haven’t been developing professionally? They’ve apparently moved on in since finishing their CELTA, so how have they done this?

    I really enjoy being part of the twitter and blogging community that you describe above, but I don’t think it’s for everyone and I don’t think it’s the only way to develop professionally. It took me a few tries to finally ‘get it’ and having got it, I still take breaks from it and only use it when I want to. Nobody has told me I should and I’m not sure how I would feel if I was told to. Even something as impressive as the IATEFL conference, which I’ve only managed to get to once and I would LOVE to get an expenses paid trip to it, isn’t always going to produce the desired results. Sometimes, it’ll be a one-hour presentation or a short article that is directly relevant and applicable to our current teaching situation that will be most useful – as could noticing how and why a ready-made activity from a blog works with students.

    So, I’d be wary about imposing routes to CPD. If it were me, you’d get my back up. And, I would be wary about rewarding CPD. Why would anyone do it, without a reward after the challenge has finished or if they’re not that fussed about the prize?

    Rather telling the teachers at your school that they aren’t developing professionally and they should be, I’d be inclined to ask them how they are developing professionally? How have they become excellent or good teachers (for those that have)? What do they do to improve? It could be that they are not completely aware of how they are developing. You could discuss ways of recording this so that the school can show that the teachers are continuing to develop professionally.

    If you do want to encourage reading and reflecting on blog posts – which I do think is a good idea – perhaps ask people to find a post or article related to an agreed topic to share at an informal CPD session or team/staff meeting. Having to find one, means having to look at a lot more! Discussion around these could touch on ways to address current students needs, current issues, how it relates to the teachers’ own experiences, why it’s useful, why it’s not, etc. That, I would enjoy more than collecting points for a night out at Christmas when there’s quite a lot going on anyway.

    These, as you will have gathered, are my very personal suggestions. As I mentioned on twitter, a search for the #AsiaELT is an interesting read of people’s experiences of developing professionally and the discussion links to other sources, many of which you’ll probably be aware of already.

    You may have already considered much of what I’ve written, or I may have misunderstood your intentions, but whatever you do, I’d suggest you discuss your plans with your staff, get their input and suggestions before you send out the email – make it their idea too!

    You did ask for suggestions… 😉

    Comment by Carol Goodey | 19 Mar 2013 | Reply

    • Thank you, Carol, for raising some interesting questions, but before I try to address them, let me reassure you that I would never just tell anyone that they should be doing professional development. Tis is the kind of thing I am wont to think, but would never dare to say because I imagine the response would be, “how dare you tell me what I should be doing?”

      Your question about how sustainable it is to try and lure people into teacher development is a key one. My own personal bias foregrounds the professional development side of the job. I would rather see teachers as research practitioners than as out-and-out teachers. It follows that for me, the allure of filthy lucre is not necessary to engage in professional development. But a few of my staff are not like that. Teaching is but a means to an end. It is relatively undemanding, they have a great deal of autonomy and they can be out of here by 4. But the downside is that they risk falling behind and failing to meet the standards that we set as their employer. Their students complain, their classes appear ineffective and they wilt in their job. My hypothesis is that by exploring their work and their practice, they can discover untold wonders. But how to encourage them to even risk the destabilising practice of self-exploration?

      I think your advice about asking about how people are engaging in professional development is wonderful and perhaps based upon the premise that as professionals they must be engaging in such activity. I often forget the reflective power of the “how” type of questions and tend to bludgeon in with the blunter”what” questions. Perhaps this is where I have led David to infer what he has inferred.

      I did ask for suggestions…I hope I can count on you for future contributions? I leave the blog today a more reflective DOS than I was when I sat down this morning to write. Thank you!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 19 Mar 2013 | Reply

      • Perhaps an additional question might be “how would you like to engage in PD?” (after how are you doing so?)

        Comment by mikecorea | 20 Mar 2013

  3. Won’t anyone from your school instantly be able to recognise you now?

    Comment by Ebefl | 19 Mar 2013 | Reply

    • Hehe! If I could get them reading blogs!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 19 Mar 2013 | Reply

  4. It’s probably an 80/20 situation – with 20% of teachers taking an interest in professional development, or as we could call it, professional enrichment. Chomsky applied the same law to life itself, with 20% of all people wanting to learn more about their society, culture, history etc, while the rest are happy to watch Coronation Street and fill their faces with Walkers (paraphrasing Chomsky a bit there.) So, if it’s true for life, why would it not be true for EFL teaching?

    But would the world be a better place if its entire population started burying itself in Noam? Mmmm….

    At times, when I dip into the EFL blogosphere and Twittersphere I feel that I am eavesdropping on a dialogue between exiled Russian Marxists in Geneva, sometime in the 1890s. There is lively and heated debate on every conceivable minutiae and nuance, while the peasants starve.

    Anyway, I digress. How to get teachers into this culture of professional enrichment? I’m not sure offering beer and cake is the answer. As someone who lurks around on the fringes of this culture, I feel such an incentive would drive me away. But that’s just me (someone so nerdy that not only do I get the reference in the last line of the blog – I once spent a whole school summer holiday translating the book into English from the original). So, bribing teachers to retweet? I’m not sure. Is the idea that they’ll come for the beer and stay for the scintillating debate and interaction?

    Perhaps the first step would be to get teachers to see the benefits of this engagement to their personal professional development, and to see what those benefits are exactly…assuming there are benefits…or specifically benefits to everyday classroom practice. Self-reflection and opening oneself up to other ideas are of course beneficial. However, you mention the utopian staff room populated with your blogosphere compadres. Again, I envision my Russian Marxists in exile. What would happen if we brought them all together and handed them the reigns?…oh! I’ve known a good many teachers who blog, read journals, present at conferences etc and, while most are surely great teachers, there are some who are an utter train wreck if allowed anywhere near a classroom. A teacher’s inability to engage with students on a personal level can derail any lesson plan.

    Personal professional enrichment has to come from within, has to be molded and encouraged by others, and does not necessarily have to involve writing a blog.

    When I worked at the British Council in Kuala Lumpur (with Steve Brown), a few of us teachers began a small lunch-time discussion group. It started with three of us (before Steve’s time) just grabbing a room and chatting about our classes. Before long it had a name (The Stone Soup Group – don’t ask!), and attracted up to 30 teachers, sometimes involved pre-reading of literature on a certain topic, generated great debate, termly schedules (and hardly ever a “here’s something you can go and use in your class this afternoon” type activity). It was the subject of a presentation at IATELF last year (or was it two years ago?). The absolute key to the success of this group is that it was set up by teachers, attended by teachers, driven by teachers with no involvement by managers (other than praise and encouragement and sometime attendance) – no incentives, no forcing, no (five-year) planning.

    Comment by Paul Duffy | 19 Mar 2013 | Reply

    • I think the 80-20 proportion is also known as Pareto distribution: 80% of a particular feature is caused/used/exploited/etc by 20% of the population.

      I note that you are the third person to be critical of the plan to incentivise the development model an so am beginning to reflect a little on this. Thanks for stopping by!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 19 Mar 2013 | Reply

      • Interesting comments all around…. I wanted to throw in a quick thought on the incentivizing model.

        Speaking just for myself I am not sure that such a model would work. I would probably want to engage in twitter on my own terms…. And if i did do it i probably wouldn’t publicize it or do it for the points. That is to say that I would likely actively avoid the points and the game and everything even if I was doing the things “the man” wants me to do.

        That said, what the hell do I know? Maybe people would be into it and getting wasted at someone else’s expense and not being labelled a nerd or a suck up is good enough motivation.

        Reading this I was reminded of a few things. One was a friend that used to oversee/manage/whatever the right word is a bunch of foreign teachers here in Korea. The district that he worked for paid for all the teachers and insisted that they attend the KOTESOL International Conference. I never thought this was a workable model because I couldn’t see how making someone attend a conference would help them develop the desired skills, knowledge, attitude, or awareness that those controlling the pursestrings were looking for. Yes, people did actually attend the conference but I’d wager that those who paid their own way (on average and all that) tended to get more from the conference. Maybe this is too obvious.

        The second thing is hopefully more interesting. I read somewhere (probably both “Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell and “Justice” by Michael Sandel) about a daycare in Israel. The short version (and from memory so please forgive exaggeration and inaccuracy) is that the daycare was sick of parents not picking kids up on time. The teachers and staff had to stay after and it was a burden. They created a new system… Late parents would have to pay a fine. Makes sense, right? People respond to incentives, we all know that. Can you guess what happened? The amount of late pickups increased dramatically. Sandel says that introducing a market to such things sort of crowds out the other (more important?) things at play like manner and inconveniencing the school staff. Parents were happy to pay it. (One could argue that the fine was not high enough but that is another issue for another day). In fact, even when the daycare realized it wasn’t working and changed the policy the late pickups remained the same. Now it was a market issue. Why am I telling you this? Well, for me PD is almost always going to come down to the teachers actually wanting to do it and incentives might even backfire as the noble goal of self development could get crowded out by market forces.

        (Just a few quick thoughts I said…)

        To respond more directly to your post I have a few questions .
        (Im not really expecting an answer here but these are just some things that came to mind)

        What exactly do you want/expect to get out of having teachers reading blogs and tweeting and the like? You wondered, “How the hell do we get people interested in professional development?” and I wonder, “Why?”

        I guess I also wonder how easy it is to hire new teachers and replace those that are not meeting the standards that you expect.
        (Assuming of course that these standards have been made clear.)

        Finally, you wrote about the efforts you make and said it doesn’t seem to work. What would working look like? People being interested in teaching outside of the time on job?

        I hope these questions might be of some help.

        Thanks for the interesting window into your context!


        ps- Kudos to Paul Duffy for the lines related to exiled Russian Marxists in Geneva. 🙂

        Comment by mikecorea | 20 Mar 2013

  5. Hi Mike
    Thanks for your questions. They most certainly do help. I am also familiar with that story about the day care and can easily see the parallels that you are drawing. The issue here is whether or not engaging in PD for extrinsic purposes actually dilutes the value or the potential of the PD. It’s a good question.

    It puts me in mind of the Daniel Pink argument that people really respond well to autonomy, mastery and purpose. These above all else, he says, are what underlie our motivation. If we are given enough space to improve and left to do so, there is a natural drive towards this goal. In fact, the Daniel Pink book is promoted here ( with the following blurb: “while carrots and sticks worked successfully in the twentieth century, that’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people for today’s challenges.” I think, perhaps, that it would do me no harm to go back and read this book before implementing any changes.

    I also appreciate your focussing questions: what will my ideal future look like? You come close to it in your guessed answers: for me, a staffroom that is bustling with discussion about teaching and where people stay on and talk to each other about what they do is a pretty attractive end-point. A workplace where teachers are constantly engaged in a search for a better way of doing what they do and where support can be found from colleagues rather than just from the DOS or the ADOS would also be a boon. A creative team that came up with innovative approaches towards the problems that they encountered in their daily working practice and felt more confident in their abilities as a result would also be one of the purposes. There are undoubtedly more things I could write, but duty calls.

    Thanks again for making me pause. The Daniel Pink book has been put back on my Kindle.

    Comment by thesecretdos | 20 Mar 2013 | Reply

    • It was after listening to Dan Pink a while ago that I became more aware of the possible drawbacks of rewards. More recently, I read a short book by Carol Dweck, who discusses being careful what you reward in order to encourage effort and learning. It was that book that came to mind when you mentioned above that some teachers risk falling behind and failing to meet standards because of their apparent unwillingness to learn. Dweck talks of learners and non-learners, of people who seek learning opportunities to develop and others who see their abilities as fixed and effort and learning as evidence that they are not as good as they should be and so they avoid it. I’m maybe not explaining this very well – I really need to get another coffee and get to work – but I did write a wee overview of what I had read for James Taylor’s blog “Think”. I’m not sure how much help it’ll be but as long as things are still relatively quiet there and none of you are being particularly obnoxious…

      Comment by Carol Goodey | 20 Mar 2013 | Reply

  6. The lack of obnoxiousness was temporal…there have already been handbags this morning!

    Thanks for the read (both of your guest blog and the Dweck book).

    Comment by thesecretdos | 20 Mar 2013 | Reply

  7. I just read this again, and all the comments, and I’m going to find it hard to boil down without writing another blogpost of my own, but here goes…

    I can never understand why some people think professional development should be optional. If we want to consider ourselves a profession, and I do, then we have to act like one. I find it frankly ridiculous that teachers should be allowed the right to do their training, get a job and then coast for the next twenty/thirty/forty years. If I found out that my doctor, or the architect who designed the hospital he works in, or the engineer who constructed it, had the same attitude, I’d be deeply worried and hightail it to the hospital on the other side of town.

    This doesn’t mean that I think all teachers should be blogging or tweeting, far from it. PD can take many forms and not everyone needs to be doing it in public. As Paul says above, a small discussion group is a great way to reflect and improve. I’d be delighted to see someone reading methodology books.

    So I think you are quite justified at looking for your employees to take some responsibility for their jobs and give something back to their students who are investing their time and money in their lessons. And unlike David, I see nothing self-righteous about demanding high standards. If I detect anything in your tone, it’s more desperation and an attempt to try and understand why they feel this way.

    But this doesn’t really help your current predicament, and like many of the commenters above, I have some reservations about your idea. Firstly, it seems a little tech heavy, which may just be the way you’ve written it, but if it is a fair reflection of the objectives, then I think the ones who are resistant won’t change. You need as wide a range of options as possible, tech and non tech, so they can decide for themselves how they develop.

    I would also agree with Carol when she says that they should lead this. I would ask them to create their own list of PD options, and they can even decide how points can be assigned. I think that if they feel like they own this process, they are more likely to engage in it. You can even ask them to choose the prize (I’d be annoyed if the prize was booze, as I don’t drink – not much incentive there!).

    My final suggestion, and this is where I go back to being hardline again, is that when you employ someone, you make them understand in their interview that PD is an expected part of their job. I think this is the only real way to create that staffroom that you and I both dream of. PD can be tied to bonuses or whatever system your school operates (I have to give a lot of credit to the school that I worked in Korea who gave me the maximum bonus, not because I was the best teacher but because I cared. The gesture was more of an incentive to me than the money). You have to get the right people in there from the beginning. But that’s easier said than done.

    Comment by James Taylor | 23 Mar 2013 | Reply

    • Thanks for the supportive comment, James. You make a very good point when you say that professional development is actually a part of the contract and, therefore, not an optional extra that marks you out as a good teacher. I also think you are right to draw parallels between our profession and others where CPD – accredited CPD- is a vital part of maintaining employment.

      You too highlight the need for choice and combine it with an expectation of commitment. I think that it is this duality that my original plan was missing. The choice was akin to me waving my arms around and saying, “There is so much for you to do,” but as you, Carol and others have pointed out, it would be better to say, “There is so much out there, not what is it that you propose to do?”

      Inexplicably, this is something that has never really occurred to me (and, consequently, I feel as if I am on a pyschiatrist’s couch right now). I think we do something similar, but it tends to be more focussed: setting SMART objectives that are usually goal-bound: “build an ark and house the male and female of every species by the time that the flood comes.” One woders if the angry god who chose to drown millions of people might have been more loving and compassionate if he had offered the same choice to his minions: “Look, painful death by drowning is only one outcome here; is there any other outcome that you would like to see and how do you propose to reach that outcome?”

      From the discussion so far, I think I will end up radically overhauling my plan and, perhaps, investing that £250 more wisely. Fingers crossed!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 24 Mar 2013 | Reply

  8. Hi Mike,

    I don’t know how helpful this is going to be, but I am very fortunate to have worked at two different schools in the UK where there was quite a bit of talk in the staffroom about aspects of teaching. I think the thing these schools had in common was that they both trained teachers for the CELTA and DELTA, as well as teaching English. This meant that there were trainers in the staffroom as well as trainees. The trainees were always looking for advice and the trainers, or past trainees, were usually happy to give it.

    The exception was in the summer when the school just needed a body to stick at the front of the classroom to keep the students relatively happy.

    Comment by Stephen Greene | 02 Apr 2013 | Reply

  9. A bit of a chicken and egg situation Stephen? I mean maybe the staff were keen on professional development because they were trainers, or maybe they were keen on PD and therefore had become trainers?

    Comment by Paul Duffy | 02 Apr 2013 | Reply

  10. […] article that prompted it and the discussion that followed, including my original comment, click here. I have adapted the comment for this blog […]

    Pingback by Professional Development – Not An Option | The Teacher James | 22 Jan 2016 | Reply

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