It’s not what you do. It’s the way that you do it
Well, of course it IS what we do, for content is very, very important in teacher training and mentoring. But, when we are giving workshops or talking with teachers in the staff room or conversing after an observed lesson, the way we do what we do also has much value for raising motivation, maintaining interest, and providing congruence between intention, messages meant and messages understood by all parties as well, of course, as for the clarity of the messages themselves.
The what and the how
So, we could usefully make a distinction between the WHAT of training, (the content we share with teachers or teacher trainees) and the HOW of training (the processes we use to work with the content). On one hand, we teacher trainers, teacher educators and mentors need to keep learning about the content in ELT. This might be developmental stages in children and neuro-plasticity in adults, or differences between written and spoken grammar, or about how we can encourage thinking in our classes, or whether any instructional sequences are implied in a DOGME approach, or systems of discipline in secondary schools... and that's just to mention a few examples. On the other hand, we can simultaneously be working on building a repertoire of process options for all the core tasks of our work. So, we can think of the core tasks of our job as being, say, planning teacher training courses and workshops, helping teachers to plan lessons, observing lessons and giving feedback on the work, setting and marking assignments, interviewing, hiring and assessing teachers, making resources available or whatever… You will be able to add a vast number of your own tasks to this I am sure! Whatever our tasks, we can check that we know many different ways of doing each of these tasks. But first, why should we know more than one way?
Basic routines and richer ones
When a new, beginner teacher starts off in their first teaching job, she or he is usually happy to be able to know how to do just one way of, say, calling the register, one way of setting homework and one way of attracting students’ attention. But once this elementary set of routines is ‘in the bag’, the teacher’s next step is often to get a larger repertoire of options sorted out. It saves the teacher from getting bored, adds variety for the students and is simply more effective since techniques can be varied to suit people and circumstances.
Similarly, as teacher-teachers, knowing just one way of giving a presentation to teaching colleagues, one way of taking notes while observing a trainee at work, or one way of structuring time and commentary when giving feedback on an observed lesson, will get us started in our work. But it is only going to keep us and our colleagues and trainees satisfied for a short time. We will soon be casting around for different ways of doing the core tasks of our job. We will want a bigger repertoire.
Actually, on consideration, it is not just when we are relatively inexperienced that we could do with a bigger selection of process options. For sometimes, if we have been in the same job for long time, we can get into a bit of a rut. We know ‘what works’ for us. We can also save time liaising with colleagues if we do much the same thing each time. After a while we can then find we are working with an ever-shrinking stock of techniques. On a different tack, if we do take the time to reflect, as I did recently, we may suddenly realise that our respectably large stock of techniques nevertheless looks a bit old-fashioned these days because technology has moved on so far, so wide and so fast. Whatever our situation then, we may need to rustle ourselves up a bit.
Gaining new ideas
Do you remember what it was like as a starter teacher? You have your groups and your lessons always in your mind’s eye. Every magazine you read has to be cut up, every funny TV commercial videoed, every menu and bus ticket collected, every short newspaper article snipped out!
Well, if you get interested in training processes, you tend to see them everywhere you go too! Conferences with poster walls or Pecha Kucha sessions get you thinking about how you could adapt these ideas for your training group. Unusual TV programmes, using audience participant voices, they all give you ideas. And then of course there are books and journals and internet sites to help too.
What criteria for use do we have?
Having gained some more process possibilities, this may well also start us off considering which of our store of options we might use in which situations. In other words, we’ll start considering criteria for the judicious use of the options we are gathering and trying out.
Some of the criteria we might consider are:
- What process option suits this particular content?
- What suits my personal style?
- What process option would broaden my style?
- What suits the level of experience, cultural or educational background, age, gender etc of the teachers I work with?
- What would broaden their style?
- How much physical space do we have?
- How many times will I meet the teachers and for how long each time?
- What resources do I have available?
- What is the learning philosophy inherent in this process and do I and do the teachers agree with it?
- Does this option fit the overall course model or metaphor?
- Is there any fit between the teachers’ final assessment/exam and the options we are using?
- What stage of the day/term/course is this option good for?
If anything in this article sparks your interest or a feeling in you… whether positive (‘I have a great idea I want to share!’) reserved and conservative (‘I don’t see why we can’t just lecture all the time’) inquisitive (What on earth is a course metaphor?’)… why not join our online discussion by adding your comment or question below?
Article by Tessa Woodward