Interview with ptec Members: Mike Griffin

It is the third post in our ‘Interview ptec Members’ series: you can read about Josette and Wilma in the previous ones.

This time my privilege is to talk (or write to) Mike Griffin: my friend, fellow teacher trainer and mentor trainer, ptec member and my role model in both online and off-line professional development (PD).

What is PD for you?
Wow. Tough question. Especially for the first one! Hmmm. I guess, broadly speaking, it is anything that makes me a more skillful, knowledgeable, and aware teacher or something that helps me reconsider my beliefs or practices.

It is sort of funny for me when I think about PD because it is not like I ever planned to be so into it. I think part of this drive was something of an “imposter syndrome.” When I first got started presenting a lot the push was from running training sessions for future teacher trainers and part of the course called for them to do presentations and run workshops. It didn’t seem quite fair to expect course participants to do something I wasn’t doing much of myself so I got more into PD and started trying to present as often as I could.

Next thing you know I was co-founding and co-facilitating a Special Interest Group, editing a magazine, blogging, participating in the leadership team for #KELTchat, and doing about 10 or more presentations a year. It all happened very quickly. It has been very in interesting and I think I have gained some skills and awareness I might not have gained otherwise. Things like marketing and social media use come to mind as key learnings.

Luckily, I am not still doing all the things listed above and hopefully listing them all does not sound too strange or arrogant.

What have you done for your PD yesterday/last week/last month/last year?
[At the time of writing] In the last 7 or so days I have attended a conference, started a few blog posts, read parts of some teacher development books (on curriculum development), read a bunch of blog posts, and co-hosted an event (KOTESOL RP SIG “Day of Reflection”. This post from Anne Hendler provides a nice summary of the day.)

I have also done some planning for the fall term which starts next week but I am not sure how much that last one is PD or much it is just “doing my job.”

Another thing to add is that in the last year I have taken some MOOCs on topics pretty much unrelated to my field (courses on Korean history). I wasn’t a great student in these, however and I am not sure how successful it was for me. It was nice to see things from the other side, though.

How do you organize your time in order to have those daily/weekly ‘PD injections’?
I honestly cannot say I am very good with this! I just try to leave a lot of time for things as they come up, I mentioned above how I almost suddenly started doing a bunch of different things. One thing that has been important for me is learning how and when to say no. With experience and some clarity I am getting better with this. About 5 years ago I’d say yes to pretty much every invitation but now I am more picky. I think I mostly base my decision on the topic and the setting and my perception of the freedom I will have to make choices I believe in. I still think I am refining my criteria on when to say yes and when to commit myself and my time to something.

I think I’d like to chart out the percentage of time I spend per week on various activities  and compare the results to my perceptions of what an appropriate amount of time would be. Balancing things well is very much a work in progress for me.

What is the most unusual/creative/crazy/… (insert other adjective) form of PD you have ever done in your career? What was your learning out of it? 
I think I have been pretty unusual or creative in terms of workshops and sessions on training sessions I’ve run.  A few workshops I’ve done were based on the concepts of open space and I thought this was fun and interesting. As for training sessions some of the more unusual sessions include “fish bowling” real conversations with a co-trainer. Two memorable ones were live lesson planning using a candy bar wrapper and another was doing a feedback session on a mini-lesson with a co-trainer. In that case I intentionally had done very strange things in the mini-lesson (like invading participants’ personal space and taking 50% of class time to ask random and unrelated questions). My co-trainer was, as we pre-planned, quite harsh in the feedback he gave me. Things got a bit heated. It was fascinating because I didn’t agree with what I had done in the mini-lesson but the words still stung and while we were play-acting I was still a bit annoyed and offended by his feedback. This was a very valuable moment for me which was also hopefully valuable for participants as well.

What are some PD ideas you have never tried but would like to do in the future? 
An idea that always intrigues me is to plan a lesson or training session for someone else and for that person to plan a lesson for me. I think it would be very interesting to see my plan put into action and check out the different wrinkles a colleague might put into it and to see how they approach different things.

I am also generally interested in the idea of swapping classes for a day or longer, just to get a different perspective or experience.

I remember you were using an expression ‘paid PD’ — can you give an example of this? How do you search for such opportunities — or do they find you?
Did I say that? Oh, it sounds pretty clever. I am not sure exactly what I meant by that. I suppose it could have been about opportunities that are good for my own professional development but I also receive money for. An example of this might be running a training course that was previously a bit outside of my experience or skill set. I think these are nice opportunities because I might have otherwise paid for the privilege of learning and experiencing such things but it is also great to be compensated monetarily for such work. I can’t say that I have a great method for finding such opportunities. I think it is just about being out there and doing similar things.

Something I know I consider a lot (and probably say) is “paid work.” This is a reminder to me that it is usually a better idea to focus first on work that I am being paid for rather than volunteering to do. Sometimes when I have a long to-do list it is a bit challenging to prioritize but this criterion often helps me decide what needs more of my attention. “Paid work first” is a mantra I repeat at times when I get particularly busy.


Mike and Zhenya 2013 TEC

In one of your recent #iTDi posts you wrote about your colleagues and how talking with them about teaching can be a great PD tool. Can you say a little more about it?
I think exchanging beliefs about teaching and learning can be incredibly valuable. I feel this works best when such beliefs are labelled and recognized as beliefs and not immutable facts and there is nothing wrong with sharing different beliefs because they are just beliefs.

On what might sound like a more practical level, I think it is also valuable to simply talk shop and discuss how we handle or might handle routine and typical situations. This is actually one of the big things I miss about teacher training on a more regular basis, because I had a lot of great conversations on the nuts and bolts of teaching and training.

What questions about PD do you like to ask your colleagues about?
I think one of the magical things about being connected online with teachers around the world is that I can easily learn about their contexts and students. This one of the most interesting things for me. As above, I am also interested in learning about the teaching beliefs of my colleagues around the world.  I realize I might be using the world colleague more broadly than you intended it but I tend to think of my worldwide network first when it comes to colleagues and PD.

Do you think any of the things you initially started as merely fun and/or PD activities could grow into a business or a job for example? (or have you already had examples of this in your career)?
Great question! I suppose I haven’t thought too seriously about it. An example that comes to mind is about presenting. I mostly just do it for fun or for the experience or for the simple reason that I feel like going to a conference and presenting is a nice motivation for me. I have done some presentations that were compensated. It has not been enough money to buy a tropical island but the extra money is pretty nice for something I might do for free otherwise.

An interesting thing I am working on now is curating the New School TESOL blog and this is something that would not have happened without my blogging and editing experience.

What would you recommend a busy teacher who does not have any time for any PD (‘I have so much paperwork at my school, there is no time for PD!’)

It might sound too standard but I think it is really about finding what works for you and what you like doing. I like doing PD online, for example, but I would not say it Is for everyone or that doing so online is a must.

I think a busy teacher who wants to do PD could start by thinking honestly about strengths and weaknesses and consider how to improve on the latter. I’d say it is probably better to start small and build on successes.

Also, reflecting on classes alone or along with a colleague is not necessarily a big time commitment. It can often be done alone on the commute home from school.

And finally, it could be something as small as just sharing resources with a colleague and trying to use new resources every so often. I think PD in this way doesn’t require a major time commitment.

If you had all the time in the world, what would you be blogging about?

I thought about this answer for a while. I think to start, I’d just like to write more. I am intrigued with the idea of writing (a little) something (nearly) every day but I doubt this is something I could pull off anytime soon. In terms of what I’d like to blog about, I think I’d be interested in blogging about culture and some bigger picture issues. I am increasingly interested in the role of English in the world and what that might mean for English teachers as well as policy makers and of course for students.

I guess the other thing is that I’d like to experiment more with writing in places other than my blog. I think it is a nice challenge to write elsewhere for a different audience and this is something I wish I could do more.


Thank you very much Mike for the time to answer the questions – to me, reading your answers is already an inspiration to keep experimenting with various things as a teacher and trainer!


About Mike

Mike has been teaching English for over 15 years and has been involved in teacher training and development for over 7 years. He is currently located in Seoul, South Korea and is proudly involved with: #iTDi, #KELTchatTEFL Equity Advocates World Learning/SIT TESOL  and The New School MATESOL program. Mike tweets as @michaelegriffin, and writes on his blog, where the about page tells much more about him.


posted by Zhenya

One thought on “Interview with ptec Members: Mike Griffin

  1. Pingback: Just a simple idea … | How I see it now

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