Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

A no-prep workshop*

*or at least, very very low prep!
Thursday night: nobody had suggested any queries or problems for our one-to-one troubleshooting session tomorrow. What should we do instead? There wasn’t really time for me to prep anything else, and Ididn’t know what to pick anyway. Cue a quick email:

Please think about 2 things you’re proud of in your lessons (group or 121), and 2 questions you most want answered. We’ll use that as the basis for the session tomorrow.

At the start of the 60-minute session I spread out a pile of A4 scrap paper on the floor. Everybody took a piece, folded it in half, and wrote two questions they had, one on each half. They put them on the floor for later.
They then took another piece, folded it again, and wrote the two things they were proud of. This took a lot longer, and I had to point out that ‘proud of’ doesn’t have to mean finished or perfect, just something you’ve worked at and know you’ve improved. We got there in the end! It reminded me of Sarah Mercer’s IATEFL plenary, when she told us to spot our strengths, the inspiration for the strength spotting task in the Teacher Health and Wellbeing section of ELT Playbook 1.
Everybody mingled, chatting to everybody else, holding up their strengths in front of them, including me. We talked about why we chose them, what we’d done to work on them, and asked each other questions. That took about 10-15 minutes.
I asked for a show of hands to see if any of the strengths matched any of the questions. Only 3 or 4 of the 20 teachers put their hands up, so I changed my mind about the next step.
Instead of pairing people off, I ended up putting them in groups of 4 or 5. They had about 15-20 minutes. This time they all read out their questions in their group, then chose which ones to discuss and offer answers to in a free discussion.
Meanwhile, I took photos of all of their questions and wrote them into a single list. It was an excellent indication of the range of concerns that our teachers have, from classroom management and better pacing to more effective listening lessons and challenging students more. This is a great starting point for deciding the topics of our upcoming workshops.
At the end I asked for another show of hands: who’s learnt something today that will help them with their teaching? Every hand went up.
The feedback was very positive. Teachers said they particularly enjoyed the small group work and the freestyle nature of the session. It worked well at this point in the year as everyone is settled and feels comfortable as a group. Definitely a format I’ll use again!

Not bad for one quick email 🙂

I just wrote these guidelines for post-observation feedback to supplement an MA assignment and feel like they’re worth sharing. What would you add/remove/change?

The aims of post-observation feedback are to:

  • boost teachers’ confidence.
  • develop teachers’ ability to reflect on their own teaching.
  • help them build on their strengths.
  • identify 2-3 key areas to focus on developing and come up with concrete ideas for how to do this.
  • deal with any questions or concerns the teacher may have.
  • explain, if necessary, any areas of methodology or terminology which may be useful for teachers in examining their future practice.

Effective observation feedback is

Timely / Prompt
The closer in time the feedback is to the observation, the better, as events will be fresher in both of your minds.

Factual and non-evaluative, describing behaviour without judgment
Feedback should clearly establish what, when, where, and how, and avoid commenting on why. It should address the actual lesson based on direct observation, rather than the assumptions and interpretations of the observer, or criticisms of the person (You’re not organized at all, are you?). It also avoids value judgments (The students were engaged in the activity. rather than That was a good activity.)

Specific
Feedback should address specific aspects of the lesson and provide clear examples of what was observed.

Balanced
Both positive and negative aspects of the lesson should be discussed, and always should always be reinforced by specific examples.

Something which can be acted upon
Action points should be based on things which the teacher can do something about, not things over which they have little or not control (e.g. Teachers can make sure late students come in quickly and quietly, but they can’t stop them from being late). Any suggestions for action points should be accompanied by discussion about how to work on these, with ideas preferably coming from the teacher rather than the observer.

A space for learning within a dialogue / Not over-directed
The observer should ask relevant questions to encourage teachers to come to their own conclusions as far as possible, rather than presenting them with the observer’s conclusions (How do you think the lesson went? Why do you think the students took a long time to complete that activity? rather than I thought that lesson was too difficult for the students. They didn’t understand the activity so couldn’t complete it.) If the teacher is talking more, they have the space to formulate and articulate ideas, process thoughts and form new understandings – they are less likely to do this if they are just listening. The more the feedback comes from teacher reflecting on their lesson, the more ownership they have over it, and the more likely they are to be able to act on it. Dialogue also reduces the danger of giving advice without fully identifying the problem.

Caring and respectful
The amount of feedback given should be limited to what the teacher can handle, rather than covering everything the observer would like to say. Equally, don’t be afraid to challenge the teacher to push their thinking. The teacher needs to know that we have their best interests at heart. Remember that the teacher’s nonverbal behaviour can be a clue as to how they feel about the lesson and the feedback, not just what they are saying.

Checked for clarity
You need to make sure that the teacher has understood the feedback you have given, and what they need to do to work on action points. Asking teachers to summarise the feedback at the end of the meeting is an opportunity for the teacher to tell you the positives from the observation as they understand them, plus what the teacher needs to do next, and for you to clarify any confusing points.

Part of a process
Emphasise that you don’t expect teachers to be able to resolve any issues you have noted instantly, and that it may take time to work on them. Request feedback on your feedback too, so that teachers see you as a learning observer and feedback giver and you demonstrate how to successfully receive feedback.

A positive experience, balancing feelings and rationality
For post-observation feedback to be successful, teachers need to trust the observer and feel comfortable receiving feedback from them. They also need to feel ready to receive feedback. If they are already feeling very stressed, anxious, angry, or in any other way negative about the situation, ask them if they would like to rearrange the feedback session for a later date. If you are not sure about how to give feedback in a particular situation, discuss it (confidentially) with somebody else first if you can. Teachers have the right to have an emotional reaction to observation feedback – their feelings should not be discounted. Equally, don’t be afraid to say how things in the lesson made you feel as an observer. Emphasise strengths and improvements made, and encourage confidence and positive thinking as much as possible. Make sure the feedback meeting ends on a positive note.

References

These guidelines are adapted from the following sources, with my own ideas added:

  • Diaz Maggioli, G. (2012) Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education (page 92)
  • Mann, S. and Walsh, S. (2017) Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching. London: Routledge. (page 165 and page 159-160 based on Waring 2013:104-105)
  • White, R. Hockley, A., van der Horst Jansen, J. and Laughner, M. S. (2008) From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organisations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (page 65-66 based on Porter 1982)
  • Wallace, S. and Gravells, J. (2005) Mentoring, 2nd edition. Exeter: Learning Matters. (pages 55, 58, 69, 70, 74).

This was the topic for my presentation at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference in Greenwich on 9th January 2020.

Background

Although I’ve been doing teacher training since August 2014, the last year has given me a much better theoretical background due to my MA Trainer Development module and the associated reading I’ve done for it. I discovered there are a lot more resources out there about training than I realised. It’s helped me make my training more principled, in the way that Delta did for my teaching. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learnt and how it’s influenced the training I do.

Working with humans

Pay attention to group dynamics before you do anything else, because without that nothing else will work: use icebreakers, share experience and manage expectations. In this session, I started by asking participants to write a definition of teacher training before the session started, then introduce themselves and compare their definitions. Another idea (thanks Simon Smith) is to use post-it notes at the start of a course for participants to write one thing they are excited about during the training and one thing they’re worried about. They can compare these and generally find that there are similarities with their colleagues. 

Training is about changing how somebody thinks about something. This can mean needing to get at their beliefs and that means in a small way changing who they are. Without making people feel comfortable, they won’t feel ready to share and take risks during training. I could have talked a lot more about beliefs but didn’t have much time – it’s something I’m planning to return to on my blog as I experiment with them further.

Group dynamics are also important at the end of a training session or course for a sense of completion – I’d always done some form of icebreaker at the start but never really at the end before, and had only focussed on getting to know you, not expectations or worries. I used the post-it idea on a course in the summer. We left the post-it notes on the wall all week (I’d done one too), then returned to them at the end of the week to see whether these hopes and fears had manifested themselves during the course.

Start where they are

This is mentioned in a lot of the literature, but particular in Wright and Bolitho. Start with trainees writing down questions they want the training to answer, or get them to brainstorm ideas connected to the topic. We can learn a lot from each other and this puts everybody on an equal footing, rather than the trainer being the only ‘knower’.

Brainstorms that you use at the beginning of a session can also be added to at the end and displayed. For example we have them in our kitchen so teachers can refer back to them. This helps teachers realise what they’ve learnt and shows you what you don’t need to spend as much time on in the session.

Experience-based rather than information-based

We know teaching works better when you experience it but for some reason training often ends up being more lecture-based.

I used to give people a lot of information and not really any time to think about it because I thought they’d do that later. That tends to be how I work because I’m lucky to have a good memory and I like collecting information 🙂 but I realised that that’s actually quite unusual. 

I’m learning more about experiential learning and I’m in the process of getting more of it into my training room so this is still a work in progress, but I’m moving towards less content and more depth. My past workshops might have included seven or eight activities in 60 minutes and now it’s just three or four with more processing time.

Increase impact

I’m trying to maximise transfer from the training room to the classroom with more action planning time and reflection time.

In all of our workshops we now have a section where teachers use a coursebook or a lesson plan and talk about how they can adapt it in light of the workshop. If it’s a list of techniques like error correction, they choose two or three to try in the next week and their mentors ask them about it to see how it’s gone. We aim to dedicate at least 15 minutes of a 60-minute workshop to this.

I haven’t done a CELTA recently so I’m still thinking about how to do it in that case, but if anyone has any ideas I’d really like to hear them.

Learning through dialogue

Reflection and discussion time is maximized. This enables teachers to learn from each other, formulating their own thoughts and getting at their own beliefs through the questions of others. 

Mann and Walsh recommend reflection through dialogue as the best way to develop and I’ve realised the importance of this in my own development since I read their book. It also helps group dynamics and helps everybody to feel valued if they’re learning from each other and reflecting together.

As part of this process, I emphasise that there’s no one right way to teach but that they should experiment with different things to find out what works for them and their students. This also comes from finding out about how other teachers talk about teaching and learning, so teachers can see what they have in common and where they differ and that it’s OK to have different teaching styles.

Model

Practise what you preach throughout. If you tell trainees to do something, make sure you’re doing it yourself! For example, if you tell them they must include a variety of activities, make sure you’re doing it too. It means that they’re more likely to respect your advice and they are experiencing what it feels like to benefit from techniques you’re recommending.

Having said that, make connections explicit between what happens in the training room and what could happen in the classroom – they can be hard to notice, especially for new teachers, when trainees are in ‘student’ mode.

Evaluate

Get feedback. We introduced a post workshop feedback form with 5 questions:

  • What do you need more help with?
  • What will you take from this session into your lessons?
  • What should we keep the same?
  • What should we change?
  • Anything else you want to tell us?

This has helped us to refine our workshops and make them more suitable for our teachers. It also models how to get and respond to feedback.

I’m still quite form-based in the way that I get feedback on training I’ve done, so would welcome ideas from others.

Follow up

Does your training follow similar principles? Will you change anything in your training based on anything here? 

If you’re interested in developing as a teacher training, you might find ELT Playbook Teacher Training a useful starting point for reflection (and there’s 10% off on Smashwords ebooks using the discount code MG24Z until 14th January).

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

There are 30 tasks with reflective prompts, and if you complete 5 of them in any one section you can get a badge to display wherever you like:

10-year challenge

You may have seen the 10-year challenge meme on facebook or Instagram. Here’s my take, and something of a reflection on the decade, one in which I’ve grown and developed enormously as a person, and learnt so much.

Here’s the first photo of me I can find from 2010, from January 9th:

Sandy sitting in an armchair

I was halfway through my second year of full-time teaching after university/CELTA. I’d completed the IH Business English Teaching Certificate and was partway through the IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners (before teens were included).

It was another 10 weeks before I presented at a conference for the first time (March 2010 – though I’d attended a few one-day events in Brno, Bratislava and Prague), 6 months before I joined Twitter (June 2010) and 10 months before I started my blog (October 2010).

Here’s a picture of me from Christmas Day, three days ago:

Here are 20 things I’ve done in the intervening period, ready to launch into 2020:

  1. completed the IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology, IH Certificate in Online Tutoring, and Cambridge Delta.
  2. started a Masters in Professional Development in Language Education with NILE.
  3. become a CELTA trainer, and worked on 14 courses with a range of great trainers.
  4. realised that I can be a Director of Studies, and been one for 4.5 years.
  5. published 674 blogposts (this is number 675) on this blog, and many posts and articles in other places too.
  6. written three books, and contributed to a few others.
  7. tweeted over 29,000 times, mostly at conferences I think!
  8. helped to curate #ELTpics and the #ELTchat summaries page.
  9. become addicted to IATEFL conferences, volunteered on the IATEFL Membership and Marketing Committee, and set up and run the IATEFL blog for a couple of years.
  10. presented at a lot of other conferences and online events.
  11. been diagnosed and learnt to live with ulcerative colitis and become a much better cook and a considerably healthier eater in the process.
  12. got a Fitbit, and drastically increased the amount of exercise I do.
  13. visited a lot of new cities and countries.
  14. learnt 2 new languages to a reasonable level, and had a go at 7 others to fuel my addiction.
  15. met a lot of fascinating people and made a lot of new friends.
  16. taken around 60,000 photos, give or take.
  17. become increasingly aware of my massively high carbon footprint, and started trying to reduce it.
  18. bought a flat.
  19. found other people who enjoy board games as much as I always have!
  20. learnt to answer back to my inner voice, deal with my thoughts in a much more constructive way, and stay calm and manage my emotions in challenging situations.

So what’s next?

The biggest thing I’d like the 2020s to bring for me is an answer to this 2016 letter, though point 20 means that it’s not even close to the issue I felt like it was before. I don’t think about it anywhere near as much as I used to, but it’s always there a little bit. I know time will tell, and I’m happy either way, but a family would be nice (yes, I know there are other ways that can be achieved!)

Apart from that, more of the same please. That includes the next ELT Playbook, which I’ll be starting soon if all goes to plan. I love my life, I don’t regret anything from the past 10 years, as even the bad things have been experiences I’ve learnt from which have made me who I am today, and I’m excited about what the future holds.

Have a great decade. Enjoy!

In August 2019 I started doing the NILE MA Trainer Development module and discovered there’s actually quite a lot of information out there to help teacher trainers, a lot of which had passed me by. This post aims to collect what I’ve found. Please let me know if there’s anything you’d add or if any of the links are broken.

Training for trainers

International House offer a Teacher Trainer Certificate. It’s a 14-week online course, with 12 weeks of input and 2 weeks to finish your portfolio. There is also a new (at the time of writing) Observation and giving feedback course, which I think is around 7 weeks long. IH teachers get a discount on both courses.

NILE (Norwich Institute for Language Education) offer a Trainer Development course. This can be taken as 2 weeks face-to-face or 10 weeks online. It can form one 30-credit module of the full NILE MA programme, the MA in Professional Development in Language Education (MAPDLE). I’ve written quite a lot connected to the MAPDLE on my blog.

IH ILC Brno run an annual trainers’ weekend. The first one was in 2019. Full details on their website.

British Council have a comprehensive teacher educator framework which you can use to help you identify gaps in your skills and work out what to develop next.

Training blogs

Jacqueline Douglas writes bite-sized blogposts covering all kinds of aspects of teacher training.

Matthew Noble currently writes the Muddles into Maxims blog, and previously wrote the Diary of a newbie CELTA trainer. Both contain lots of thought-provoking posts and first-hand experiences of training.

Zhenya Polosatova is a teacher trainer and educator from Ukraine. She regularly blogs ideas and reflections on her Wednesday Seminars blog.

John Hughes has written a lot about observation and teacher training on his blog and in various other places.

Jim at Sponge ELT has recently (at the time of writing) become a teacher trainer and has started to blog about it. For example, he wrote this post about observer effects on teaching and learning.

Jeanette Barsdell has posts about observations, connected to her book (see below).

I’ve written a lot of posts connected to teacher training. They’re all in the training category, and include this guest post by Lauren Perkins on principles for designing INSET (in-service) workshops for teachers.

Websites

Jo Gakonga shares lots of resources for teacher trainers.

Video in Language Teacher Education is a project by the University of Warwick and the British Council.

Social media

On the first Monday of each month, CELTA trainers meet on Twitter for CELTAchat. Even if you’re not a CELTA trainer, I’m sure you’ll find useful ideas there. Summaries of chats are published on the CELTAchat blog. The Twitter handle is @aChatCELT and you can read the hashtag even if you don’t have a Twitter account: #CELTAchat.

Journals and papers

The IH Journal regularly has articles connected to teacher training, all free, for example this one by Jacqueline and Alastair Douglas describing a CELTA course at IH London.

If you have an ETprofessional subscription or Modern English Teacher subscription, you’ll find lots of articles there. I particularly liked the No one told me that!

You can also get a subscription to the Teacher Training Journal.

Silvana Richardson and Gabriel Diaz Maggioli proposed the INSPIRE model for effective professional development. Both have spoken a lot about CPD, for example this IATEFL talk on inspired professional development based on their white paper.

Books

I’ve listed all of the teacher training books I’m aware of, including affiliate links to Amazon and BookDepository (meaning I get a few pennies if you order them that way) and a non-affiliate one to BEBC if possible, plus my posts about them if I’ve written one. I’m working through the backlog of books I’ve read for the MA and will be adding more over the next year or so if all goes to plan. Quite a few of these books are available secondhand a lot cheaper than you might expect!

  • Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho (AmazonBook Depository, Lulu, my post)
    Very practical: a focus on the humanistic side of training and working with the people in front of you as much as possible.
  • Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning by Gabriel Diaz Maggioli (AmazonBook Depository, my post)
    Possibly more for MA TESOL trainers? But good for general theory too.
  • Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh (Amazon, Book Depository)
    I devoured this, and got so many ideas from it – highly recommended!
  • Language Teacher Education by Jon Roberts (AmazonBook Depository)
    A classic, I believe. Great for background theory, and has lots of examples of courses.
  • Teaching Teachers: Processes and Practices by Angi Malderez and Martin Wedell (AmazonBook Depository)
    Another good one for background theory, with a worked example of how to approach creating a course.
  • Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers by Angi Malderez and Caroline Bodóczky (AmazonBEBCBook Depository)
    Specifically for mentoring and training mentors, but has some useful things for general training.
  • Advising and Supporting Teachers by Mick Randall with Barbara Thornton (AmazonBEBCBook Depository)
    Particularly good for those doing longer-term advice and support.
  • Ways of Training by Tessa Woodward (Amazon, Book Depository)
    A recipe book with loads of ideas for different ways to tweak your training.
  • Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies by Tessa Woodward (Amazon, Book Depository)
    The origin of loop input, full of worked examples of training sequences with a bit of theory at the end to tie it all off.
  • Readings in Teacher Development by Katie Head and Pauline Taylor (Amazon, Book Depository)
    A collection of excerpts from various different sources touching on a wide range of areas for teacher development, including mental and physical health.
  • The Lazy Teacher Trainers Handbook by Magnus Coney (Amazon, Smashwords (affiliate), the round)
    Ready-made workshops that largely depend on the input of the trainees and involve minimal preparation but maximum output. e-book only, but you can print it (I did!)
  • Professional Development for Language Teachers by Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell (AmazonBook Depository)
    While aimed at teachers, this is good for ideas of different modes of training.
  • The Developing Teacher by Duncan Foord (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
    Another one aimed at teachers, but covering with lots of different tasks you could adapt for the classroom.
  • Classroom Observation Tasks by Ruth Wajnryb (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
    [I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I know it’s a classic!]
  • ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook by Jeanette Barsdell (Amazon)
    [I haven’t read this one either, but have heard good things about it.]
  • The Routledge Handbook of English Language Teacher Education edited by Steve Walsh and Steve Mann (Amazon, Routledge, Book Depository)
    [The price of this 2019 617-page book means I’m unlikely to get my hands on a copy any time soon, but the sample chapters and pages I’ve managed to read through Amazon LookInside and Google Books show that this is a fantastic compendium of up-to-date information about teacher training. P.S. If you buy a copy through my Amazon link, I’ll probably be able to afford one of the other books on this list!] 😉
  • A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT by John Hughes (AmazonBEBCBook Depository) – I think this is the best basic introduction to teacher training, and as practical as the title claims.

And last but not least, the book I wrote 🙂 ELT Playbook Teacher Training:

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

…for which you can get badges if you share your responses to the reflective tasks included in the book using social media:

It’s available as a paperback through the BEBC website and can be shipped all over the world. You can also get it via as a paperback from Book Depository or Amazon’s print-on-demand service, as an Amazon Kindle e-book or an e-book in various formats (including .pdf) from Smashwords.

Podcasts

These podcasts have occasional episodes or sections devoted to teacher training or which might be useful in your training context:

Special interest groups (SIGs)

IATEFL has two SIGs which teacher trainers may find useful:

Other links

Here are my diigo bookmarks, which I’m constantly adding to:

I’ve also written other Useful links posts on CELTA and Delta which may be useful. The CELTA one contains links for CELTA trainers at the end.

Paul and I are working our way through some old posts of mine on the British Council Teaching English website. Here are two which were published in November:

You can find the full list of all of the posts I’ve written for TEBC on my Writing page. Look out for more coming soon.

And to make this post look pretty, here’s a gratuitous picture from the country where I work (there are more of those here).Bydgoszcz Filharmonia wrapped up for Christmas

Enjoy!

Issue 47 of the IH Journal has just come out, including articles by me on Work-life balance for new teachers. Amy Gowers has written about Taming Teens, which I’ll definitely be sharing with lots of my colleagues and taking note of myself! There’s even an article called How effectively are you using your PowerPoint, which I think a lot of teachers could do with reading Here is the full contents page:

IH Journal Issue 47 contents page

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