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IATEFL Conference 2023 - Michelle's thoughts on Sarah Mercers' Self-Directed PD talk

The Distance Cert IBET approach to delivering the Cert IBET is built on the principles of autonomy and self-directed learning. So of course, I went along to Sarah Mercer's talk on #IATEFL2023 Thursday.

More than Sarah's highly engaging style of presenting on teacher-centered topics, I also got access to a report she and colleagues, Chris Farrell and Donald Freeman had written on behalf of OUP. More on the report at a later date - I'm still reading through and reflecting, but it includes a useful 7-step framework of the self-directed professional development process that I want to delve into more deeply.


I know we ought to attend conference talks with one ear of criticality always open, but Sarah talks my kinda language (and I don't just mean English language!!). I admit, I went along for the enjoyment of having my views on professional development and human flourishing confirmed! So rather than a report on what Sarah said in the presentation, this is a reflection on how I feel about the points she covered in relation to my own professional (and personal) development.


With her opening gambit, I felt a degree of surprise (shock?) to discover that professional development (PD) is often the butt of jokes among teachers. As an inveterate developer of my professional self - and when permitted, of others - I find it hard to imagine other people not taking it as seriously as me. But there you go. It seems that this may be due to a deficit approach to PD - a 'failing' teacher needs fixing, send them on a PD course. Or, if they're doing a really poor job, call in the school coach. (This I heard from a family member who reported that in her school, being sent for coaching was used as a remedial tool - something that goes against EVERYTHING I learned about coaching).


The point about PD is that it has to be a choice - not foisted upon anyone. Development only works when it is sought out and actively engaged in by an individual. Equally, it shouldn't be used as an incentive, or as a substitute for a decent wage. (Also something I've come across working in companies: management has no budget left for a pay rise? No worries, send people on some PD course somewhere. Can't give that promotion your junior manager has been after for years? Send them to London on a 2 week language course. Whether they want to go or not!)


Anyway, back to Sarah's talk...

The focus was on self-directed professional development (SDPD) and the premise that this avenue offers an autonomous way to intentionally engage in our own PD. The caveat being that we should watch out for when PD is becoming a burden - are we doing another PD / SDPD course because we feel pressured into doing it? Do we have enough time and capacity to truly engage with the content, and reflect on the learning we are gaining from the course?


Sarah's points about good PD recognising the teacher, being learner-centered and being principles-based rather than prescriptive made me review our aims at TDCI. I genuinely believe that our values and principles are very much in line with Sarah's here. Of course, the proof is in the learners' experiences and feedback. It's early days for us with the Distance Cert IBET self-directed course we offer; there's always room for improvement and we welcome any and all feedback from our participants. We want to provide a "satisfying and meaningful" PD experience for fellow teachers who put their trust in us to accompany them on their ongoing CPD journey.


As Sarah maintains, professional development is not only for job improvement, it's also for life beyond teaching, a life that should be lived well.


Quote from Sarah: "Learn, grow, flourish> Self-directed professional development and wellbeing over a picture of germinating plants in pots on a table in the garden

To download the OUP report Sarah referred to in the talk (it's free!), go to:


When I have finished reflecting on the report, I'll get back to you. There's lots of good stuff about SDPD worth sharing, so if you don't feel like reading the original, perhaps my summary / review will be worth a look!


And if you want to explore more about what OUP offers for teacher PD, check out:









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