This was originally going to be the topic for my IATEFL Manchester 2020 talk, so the ‘this year’ referred to in the title is 2019-2020. Although the IATEFL conference moved online and to 2021, it’s still relevant and still true, and serves as a good reminder to me about what I was thinking a year ago when I first presented it at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers conference in January 2020. If you’ve read that post, you’ll find that this is the same thing again but with a few minor tweaks for online training 🙂 I gave this version of the talk on Saturday 19th June 2021.
Here is a video of the session which I recorded before the big day in case of technical problems:
Although I’ve been doing teacher training since August 2014, 2019 gave me a much better theoretical background due to my MA Trainer Development module and the associated reading I did 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 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 the live version of 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. Online, you could use the chatbox for a similar activity, or put people into breakout rooms. 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 (still!) 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 summer 2019. 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. This served as an interesting way to reflect on the week.
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 at school 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. Online, you can use tools like Google Jamboard, Mentimeter or AnswerGarden for a similar activity.
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.
As we shifted online, I moved to completely the other extreme content-wise. I ended up having almost no content as I thought that teachers had far more first-hand experience of the online classroom than I did and would therefore appreciate being able to share their ideas with each other. After a couple of workshops which fell flat, I realised I still needed to include content which came from me, and I’ve hopefully moved towards a better balance now.
I’m trying to maximise transfer from the training room to the classroom with more action planning time and reflection time.
In most of my workshops I 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, teachers choose two or three to try in the next week and (ideally) their mentors ask them about it to see how it’s gone. I aim to dedicate at least 15 minutes of a 60-minute workshop to this.
I’m still thinking about how best to do this on CELTA courses, but if anyone has any ideas I’d really like to hear them. I always try to make explicit connections in input sessions to particular lessons I know trainees are going to teach, as well as referring back to input sessions and handouts when doing assisted lesson planning, but I’m not sure how successful this is.
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 teachers 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 realise that it’s OK to have different teaching styles.
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. This was something else I had trouble with when we moved to online workshops, as I fell into a trap of always having experience sharing sessions with ideas pooled in a Google Doc – this got old very quickly! I feel like I’ve been able to move past that now with a lot more online workshops under my belt. Walking the walk means that teachers/trainees are more likely to respect your advice, not least because they are experiencing what it feels like to benefit from techniques you’re recommending.
Having said that, trainers need to 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.
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 realise I haven’t carried this through to online workshops, but we’re done with them for this year!
I’m still quite form-based in the way that I get feedback on training I’ve done, so would welcome ideas from others.
[During the session, Rachel Tsateri shared the idea of MSC: Most Significant Change]
Does your training follow similar principles? Will you reconsider anything in your training based on anything here?
If you’re interested in developing as a teacher trainer, 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 ZX79U until 17th July 2021).
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: