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Navigating Growth: A Practical Exploration of Teacher Development Circles

Navigating Growth: A Practical Exploration of Teacher Development Circles

In the context of this month’s theme on growth, I thought it would be appropriate to explore the ways in which we, as teachers, can enhance our professional development. Professional development is important because, as aptly pointed out by Foord (2019), “it isn’t the same thing having ten years’ experience as having one year’s experience repeated ten times.” In other words, development requires an explicit and conscious attention to our beliefs, knowledge, and behaviours.

Five circles of development

To discuss teacher development, we can use a model that organises developmental activity into five categories, proposed by Foord (2019) in his book Developing Teacher: Practical activities for professional development. They can be represented in five concentric circles:

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Source: Foord (2009, p.14)

The first circle, the inner circle is “you,” the teacher, working independently. Examples of individual activities would be reading this blog or reflecting on your own teaching.

The second circle is “you and your students”. This might include seeking feedback from students and experimenting with a new methods, materials, and techniques with them.

The third circle is “you and your colleagues”. This includes activities both inside and outside the classroom, such as observations or discussing a TEFL article with a colleague.

The fourth circle is “you and your school”. Activities involving the school and teachers in an institution context might include carrying out projects and working on soft skills.

The fifth circle is “you and your profession”. Examples would be attending or presenting at conferences, completing a recognized qualification, and writing for a website or journal.

These circles can prove helpful because they illustrate a natural developmental progression that is familiar to many: one that typically begins with individual reflection and gradually extends outwards as one gains experience. The circles also enable us to establish categories, facilitating a clearer understanding of our preferences. This categorization can help us discern the activities that we generally favour and those that may not be as useful. For example, a freelance teacher may not be extensively involved in activities related to “you and your school”.

Two practical activities

I would now like to offer you two practical activities that I have personally used and found effective- one for each of the initial two circles: “you” and “you and your students”.

You: Circles of development

A great way to start thinking about the first circle of development is to reflect on what activities you have done so far. You can follow the steps I took:

1. Identify six (or more) key moments, activities, events, or projects that you have recently engaged in to help you develop as a teacher.

2. Categorise them using the concentric circles.

3. Then, consider these questions:

Which circle(s) do you tend to focus on? Why?

Are you happy with the balance?

Can you think of one (or more) activity that you could do in the underrepresented circle(s)?

4. The above steps are reflective. Now looking forward, ask yourself: Are you going to change anything about the way you approach developing as a teacher? Do you think you need to do more (or less) in certain circles of development? Write down what you propose to do, for future reference.

You and your students: Feedback method I like… I wish… I wonder…

The second activity I have used extensively in my teaching is called “I like..., I wish…, I wonder…” This allows you to collect open feedback from learners and can be done at any point in their learning journey. Simply ask your students to write some sentences that begin with each of the phrases.

“I like…” is a starting point for what has gone well or is positive about the lessons.

“I wish…” is a starting point for what could be changed or improved about the lessons.

“I wonder…” is a starting point for pondering, questioning, or suggesting. You can change “I wonder…” to “What if…” or “How can I..” if you prefer. It is easy to change the headers to fit your context. For example, a student might write “What if we didn’t use this textbook?” or “How can I remember more vocabulary from the lessons?”


Foord's circles show how teachers can grow from personal reflection to broader experiences. These circles help categorize activities, showing preferences and areas to improve. The suggested activities for "you" and "you and your students," which I have personally found helpful, can provide practical initial steps for self-reflection and feedback, which are critical to professional growth for effective teaching.

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