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

Posts tagged ‘“group dynamics”’

Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho

This is part of a series of posts summarising the contents of some of the books I’ve read for the NILE MA Trainer Development module. They aren’t really intended as traditional book reviews, more as a way of reminding myself of what’s in each book and helping other people decide which ones might be useful to them.

Key details

TitleTrainer Development

Author: Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho

Publisher: Self-published

Year: 2007

Place of publication: Published online

Affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository (I’ll get a few pennies if you use one of these!)

Other links: Lulu

What’s in it?

12 chapters:

  1. Inside a training course 1
  2. A framework for training
  3. Working with groups in training
  4. Working with participants’ experience
  5. New and shared experiences in training
  6. The awareness-raising process and its consequences
  7. Talk in training courses
  8. Creating meaning: new learning
  9. Planning for action
  10. Feedback, assessment and evaluation in training
  11. Inside a training course 2
  12. Developing as a trainer

Chapters 1 and 11 describe a training course in full, with commentaries from the authors describing the principles the courses demonstrate (they ran one of the courses each). Chapters 2 to 10 expand on these principles, including acknowledging potential problems if you follow through with them in your own courses, all drawn from the authors’ experience. Chapter 12 summarises these principles and shows how the two authors have developed and will continue to do so.

235 pages of content, including a range of activities that can be used in the training room. These often have examples of responses to the activities taken from Wright and Bolitho’s real courses. There is a focus on the processes of training, and social and affective factors trainers should consider. There are also quotes from their previous course participants throughout to support their points.

Comprehensive list of resources for trainers (a little out-of-date now, as the book was published in 2007, but a lot is still relevant)

No index, and the typos are somewhat distracting at times, especially in chapter 11. One or two diagrams are missing and page numbers are sometimes incorrect when referencing other parts of the book.

What I found useful/thought-provoking/myself saying ‘yes!’ to

(These could be concepts, ideas or descriptions. Please note that quotes are obviously decontextualised here, and for the full effect you should read the book. Bold and italics are from the original source, not mine.)

The focus on starting from where the trainees are:

We have to be prepared to start where they are and to make the journey of professional learning with them, hand in hand, rather than starting from where we are, exhorting them to come over and join us and follow us. (p225)

We believe that the participants themselves are the preferred starting point in training courses. They come to courses with experience. They also possess a system of beliefs, attitudes and values about teaching and learning, and about how people relate to each other in a variety of contexts. They also come with expectations. We believe that it is imperative that a course begins with an exploration of all these elements, in any order that seems appropriate to the group in question. (p4)

Work from existing to new knowledge and constructs. (p16)

Training means change, and change isn’t easy:

Even if participants volunteer for courses (as opposed to being ‘selected’), they do not, as a rule, come looking for change. Or they might be unaware of the need to change in order to accommodate new knowledge or skills. (p107)

By involving them [participants] in activity to experience new ways of teaching and learning, we may invite irritation, anger, fear or silence. Reactions are more often than not defensive, no matter how well intentioned or motivated a group might be. (p108)

The unknown is frightening, possibly overwhelming. (p107)

As well as being uncertain, unable to make decisions, believing contradictory ideas, holding opposing positions, we are also ‘fragile’. We want the new awareness to go away. Its consequences scare us. (p107) [I’ve realised this myself over the past couple of years, and have therefore been more forgiving of trainees/new teachers when they’re stressed, and have been able to stay calmer myself when helping them.]

Talk is an important part of this process (Chapter 7):

We need to move away from a transmission approach to training towards a more participatory one. (p122) [This is something we’ve been trying at school over the past 6 months or so, based on an instinct of mine and my colleagues but without really knowing why or how to do it – this book helps! We’ve had good results so far.]

Change is unlikely unless we make our principles public. (p78)

The role of talk in the processing of ideas is pivotal, and the generous allocation of time allowed for focused discussion of issues is crucial. (p8)

…with the trainer’s role being one of facilitator and summariser:

We often find that, in the excitement of open discussion, so many ideas are reverberating around the training room that no-one can see the wood for the trees. Our responsibility in this case is to pull things together, to pick out and highlight key themes from the discussion so that a set of priorities emerges for the group to focus on. (p123)

True learning and development are about something deeper:

The real confrontation on any training course is between each individual participant and herself. The sense participants make of a course is essentially derived from the degree to which they are prepared to explore their own thinking and to relate it to their own context in the light of wider trends and findings. (p98)

The challenge for us, as tutors, is to provoke and promote the kind of thinking and conceptualisation which reaches the level of values and beliefs, and which involves participants in a principled reappraisal of their practices. (p227)

…and it takes time:

Our experience is that professional learning cannot be hurried if it is to be valuable and that time spent on follow-up procedures […] is an investment in depth and quality of learning. (p89)

People change and develop in unpredictable ways; the messages in a course component may take years to digest, and it may only be 5 years after a programme that real summative feedback can be given, usually by the participant to us. (p188)

This also means it’s worth following up on a course six months or so after it’s finished [I’m going to try this with the course I’m currently running]:

Many will not really know what the course means to them until long after it is over, and they have had time to digest all the ‘lessons’ they have learned and to try out their ideas in practice. (p177)

It gives us more useful balanced feedback than we could ever get through reviewing the course formally on the final day. (p177)

Emotions are integral to training, but rarely acknowledged as such:

When a trainee learns how to teach she makes a huge personal and emotional investment in the process, which is very close to our being or essence. (p106)

We believe that in the initial stages of reflection, participants need to ‘unload’ their feelings about an experience before proceeding to describing or reconstructing it. (p26)

The emotional side of being a trainer is one that poses us some of the greatest challenges in our own development and learning. (p61-62)

We would contend that one of the key development areas for us as trainers is in understanding the world of the emotions. (p106) [I think this is important for managers too.]

It’s important to be careful with our words and work on our interpersonal skills:

Participants are often at their most vulnerable in one-to-one sessions (especially after the high level of emotional investment in an observed lesson or an individual presentation in the training room). (p226)

[When we feel frustrated, often due to our expectations of participants] An ill-chosen comment in such circumstances can have a negative effect that is difficult to ‘undo’ later. (p228)

Some of our participants may not even be fully aware that they are ‘censoring’ their own contributions, since the avoidance of self-disclosure or public self-doubt may be so ingrained in their ways of behaving. (p71)

Listening is a key part of this, but it needs work:

A commitment to listening attentively to a participant as they make a contribution is not easy. (p119)

We have, on occasion, sat in with participants as they attempt to resolve a problem. It demands intense patience and we find ourselves having to resist the temptation to offer solutions. (p56)

Group formation and group disbanding are both really important, shouldn’t be rushed, and should involve the trainer where possible (p36, p180):

When things have gone wrong in a training group, and we wish to diagnose the problem, we find that this is a good place to start – to ask whether or not we have done enough facilitation of the ‘getting to know you’ process. While we can attempt repair, we have often, to our cost, found that it is difficult ever to achieve this fully. The learning experience suffers as a consequence. (p49) [Definitely something I’ve experienced with a couple of English classes, and to a lesser extent on training courses.]

We see it as a major task of the trainer to provide the conditions for the group to explore this experience [the collective experience of the group], to share their diversity and to establish points of commonality. (p113)

Trust and honesty are the basis of effective communication in groups, and are built progressively (and not without difficulty) through activities which promote disclosure. […] Disclosure can help to build mutual respect, and enable members to cope with the inevitable conflicts and disputes that characterise a working group. (p112)

Mutual trust cannot be taken for granted. (p36)

Add destabilisation and uncertainty to the group process, where people are struggling to establish identities and relationships, with perhaps undeveloped communication skills, and the training room is an even more stressful environment. (p107-108)

Thinking questions can be added to the end of written summaries of discussions and prompt further reflection. (p102-103)

‘Suitcases’ are a good way to start and/or end courses (mentioned on p44-45 and on p181, plus in an article we received when we were in Norwich)

Activity grids and ‘degridding’ (mentioned in chapter 5) can be used to go deeper into activities done in the training room. [Something I’m learning to do more consistently.]

It is necessary to go beyond the activities themselves and to ‘excavate’ them to uncover the principles which lie behind them. (p90)

In order for meaning to be derived from any activity, structured and, if necessary, guided reflection need to take place. (p25)

Better to explore activities in depth and to gain insights that are generative than to attempt to cover too much and spread ourselves to thinly. (p90)

All of this reading I’m doing is worth it!

Professional reading has a vital part to play in teacher and trainer development. It is an opportunity to be alone with ideas, to make connections, to find support, to open horizons, to excite, to inspire, to consolidate and to help gain ownership of ideas. (p156)

Part of the process of training should be to enable participants to select and add to their bookshelf titles which they find useful. (p155)

…but it’s vital that theory is connected to participants’ experience whenever possible:

We have found that completely abstract ideas on training and training processes mean little to participants without the concrete reference point of personal history or shared experience in the training room. (p29)

Experienced teachers and trainers have often well-developed and well-thought-out personal theories on teaching, learning, people and so on. These personal theories inform action and reaction. They are usually developed, maintained and used unconsciously. (p144)

Training that explicitly draws upon participants’ personal theories and the capacity to theorise is likely to be perceived as more ‘relevant’ by participants. […] A specific time when we can do this is when exploring training or teaching experiences. (p144-5)

Assessment on training courses should be as practical as possible, reflecting things they need to do in their professional lives (Amen!) and should be based on clear(ly communicated) criteria. (Chapter 10)

Assignments should have professional face validity. (p175)

We believe that the basis of a developmental assessment and evaluation system is the effective communication of intents, purposes, process and outcomes. (p173)

For training to be truly effective, it’s important for trainees to do some form of action planning at the end of their courses, both to summarise what they have learnt and to prepare for the transition (back) to their workplaces. (Chapter 9) [I’ve tried this for the first time on the course I’m running at the moment for participants leaving after one week, and I think it worked pretty well.]

Our aim is always to try to pace our courses in such a way as to allow time and opportunity for participants to plan for this [their return to teaching or training] towards the end of their course by bringing together the ideas they have accumulated and putting them into some kind of organised framework for implementation on their return to work. (p158)

There is no guarantee that transfer will take place, that participants will change and develop, and adopt new principles, and put them into practice. (p168)

We can easily forget the strains on a course participant whose worldview has been disturbed to the point that they are still in flux when the course is finishing. (p168)

They will benefit if they can go back to work not only with renewed vigour and zeal, but with usable materials and plans, and a clear notion of what they might achieve. (p172)

The authors demonstrate a continued desire to learn and be challenged, including in public: [something I hope I share!]

Our knowledge and expertise will always be incomplete. (p1)

We have to remain flexible in order to respond to these twists and turns, and it is from the surprises and unexpected turnings that we learn and develop. (p231)

[Going public] Both of us speak regularly at conferences and participate in other professional activity in publishing, examining and consultancy. In all these endeavours we find our principles challenged, open to the scrutiny of our colleagues and we value this immensely. (p233)

The act of articulating one’s thought processes is a valuable way of clarifying why we take certain courses of action. (p141)

Once we take the decision to involve training participants in an open discussion of training issues, to interact as a learning community, to acknowledge the resources for learning available in a group, and to set out deliberately to understand and work with the social and emotional world of trainees, we create a challenging agenda for all concerned. (p63)

Questions I still have

To what extent could a transmission approach work on pre-service courses? Especially if they really are pre-service and don’t include experienced teachers!

Why has it taken me so long to realise that group dynamics are such a key part of teacher and training?! Really need to find the time to read Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield, which I’ve dipped into before, but never gone through completely. [Amazon affiliate link]

General comment

I really liked this book, and often found myself agreeing with points made about social and emotional aspects of training. I liked the way that the two courses described were for teacher trainers, so there was a kind of meta aspect in two of the chapters. All of the activities described as part of those courses could be adapted for other training contexts. There was a real sense of the authors’ voices, and what it would be like to be trained by them. I also liked the exploratory nature of the book, with the recognition that they are not ‘finished’ as trainers and still have things to learn.

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