The ABC of ELT

Minimalist continuous professional development

...and on... and on... and on...
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 My self-directed professional development has been messy to say the least.

I’ve been running this blog for about a year now and I’ve touched on many topics across a broad spectrum. There have been posts about quantum mechanics and lesson observations, activities to use with pet groups, videos about the lexical approach, ELTchat summaries about creativity and even the odd story about a problem student…or two

The fact of the matter is that in most cases I’ve skimmed across so many topics so quickly that I haven’t really had a chance to take in what I’ve learnt, I haven’t deeply studied anything and I hadn’t had a chance to really implement many changes.

Okay I am definitely over reacting (a bit), as a fairly new teacher perhaps it is better to touch on a broad range of topics and my teaching definitely has changed over the last year but I think a minimalist approach would have been better

What is a minimalist CPD approach.

The essence of minimalism is free from distraction, focused effort on a single idea and the essence of an idea. As such, I believer there are three ideas that make up a Minimalist CPD approach.

A single idea.

One of the biggest problems is switching between one idea and another very quickly. It’s inefficient and unproductive. Instead, focusing on a topic (general or specific) is more likely to lead to more development. Trying to focus on two very different ideas at the same time is just overwhelming.

In depth and wide study

Using the ideas of depth and width can be quite useful here. If we are spending more time on a single idea then we have the chance to study it more. We can look at the factors that lead to it, how it is different in different situations, different activities that involve this idea and more.

But what is different between deep and wide study?


If it is the amount of articles and research we find out about a topic then we can talk about deep study. So reading a variety of sources, for and against and not just trusting our own reflections but seeking other peoples reflections and academic studies as well. These would all lead to “Deeper” study of an idea than just our own reflection and implementation.


Wide study is when you look about how this idea fits within the spectrum of other aspects.

  • Is it only for one context or not?
  • How does it compete with other ideas,?
  • What is the impact not only in the classroom but outside the classroom?

and so on.

Practical application.

One of the most important points, how do you want to put this idea/methodology/techniques etc in to practice, how do you put it in to action, how does it work out. If we keep changing our focus then it’s easy to not actually but things into practice. Giving yourself the time to implement an idea means that you can clear space for action rather than further input.

Giving it time

It’s important to not just accept the first findings we find. “Great! this activity really worked, it’s based on great methodology and was really easy to set up. That it for life!” or alternatively “this is rubbish, I’m never doing this again” Both are completely wrong. We need to constantly be observing and not always tweeking. Sometimes the variable is out of our control and so we can over tweek a good thing.

If you’ve ever had three groups covering the same material from a coursebook which group was the best? I find most people say the second as they can adjust what they got wrong from the first, but by the time of the third they have over adjusted. Maybe it’s just an example of feature creep or maybe it’s just late in the evening by that point.

Add on to that the fact that some things don’t produce instant results. we need to make sure we allow proper time to see all the advantages and disadvantages.

There is the famous quote by Zhoa Enlai when asked in 1970 about the impact of the French revolution

“The French revolution? Too early to say.”

Implementing a minimalist CPD approach

There are a few areas and methods that I’m going to try a Minimalist approach in to see what the benefits are. Blogging and Social Media.

Minimalist Blogging

The practical way I’m doing this right now is I’ve spent the last month focusing on the theme of minimalism, I’ve looked at a few ideas attached to minimalism. ideas of complexity and simplicity, feature creep, and now minimalism in continued professional development. This isn’t something I’m stopping thinking about but for the next month (December 2012) I’m re-looking over my blog posts from last year and checking what I have done over the last year so that I can evaluate how effective they were, and what ideas I should look at again in more width and depth next year.

After that I’m going to choose a theme for each month and try and do a post a week on that theme. Some will be practical, others theoretical, some will be writing and others (as soon as I actually get my computer back from the repair shop) will be video or other format. My hope is that I will cover the topic more with more depth and width

At the end of the month I’ll do a summary of my findings from that month.

Minimialist Social Media

I’m sorry to tell you this but I’m going to have a social media un/de friending/following/circling drive.

It’s not that I don’t love like you all but it’s overwhelming! Following so many people who are all tweet and writing great things just takes too much time and is too stressful! It’s stupid how horrible it can feel when you get that fear that you might be missing out on something great someone is saying because it has slipped off your twitter feed due to cat pictures Justin Beiber songs rubbish.

I don’t need that to be honest.

Instead I’m limiting myself to 15 mins on twitter a day (exception of ELTChat’s that I can attend) and 30 mins on Facebook (double as I have other friends on there). I’m also getting rid of the Facebook page for ELTSquared (no one really uses it anyway!) but I’m keeping the Google+ one (Confession, for some strange reason I like Google+ and once I have my computer back which can actually log on properly we should all have a hangout there…okay…deal)

Of course, there is a risk that I won’t catch all the great posts that you blog, or interesting questions you write so I have a favour to ask.

If you see something good can you either

  • Use the #eltchat hashtag
  • Use #elt2 (get it, ELT to the power of 2…or Squared…)
  • Or mention me in the tweet.

That way I am sure to see it!


I’m sorry if I stop following you but I’m going to use some tough criteria. If you don’t interact with me or post stuff I read a lot then i’ll probably unfollow you. The simple reason…well I’m not really following you anyway! I know it sounds tough and I know it can sound hearless (what you don’t follow people back who follow you? Why? They have to listen to your rambles and see the cat pictures links you post) but if you aren’t interacting with me then why are you following me? So that I will follow you back and you’ll have another follower number?

Psst! the simple solution is to actually start messaging me occasionally or start posting some amazing things! That way I will know you are a real person and not some automatic blog post splewing machine.

Some kind of ending

Wow this has ended up being a not so minimal post but I wanted to really explain why I was doing this and why I think it’s a good idea. I hope you can see some benefits too and I’m very open to being corrected but this feels right. It feels like a really good place to put a pause on this blog series as well. Two definitive pieces of actions to takeaway and put into practice.

I hope you’ll consider joining me in adopting a more minimalist approach

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

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