Previously, I looked at all the basic questions we can ask about being an English language teacher trainer, educator or mentor. This time I would like to take the question, 'How can I do my job?' That is the topic of this article.

Tessa Woodward

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:

  1. What process option suits this particular content?
  2. What suits my personal style?
  3. What process option would broaden my style?
  4. What suits the level of experience, cultural or educational background, age, gender etc of the teachers I work with?
  5. What would broaden their style?
  6. How much physical space do we have?
  7. How many times will I meet the teachers and for how long each time?
  8. What resources do I have available?
  9. What is the learning philosophy inherent in this process and do I and do the teachers agree with it?
  10. Does this option fit the overall course model or metaphor?
  11. Is there any fit between the teachers’ final assessment/exam and the options we are using?
  12. What stage of the day/term/course is this option good for?

What now?

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



Submitted by thewomanindress on Wed, 10/21/2009 - 08:44


It takes a lot of interest to be effective.

Submitted by Tessa Woodward on Thu, 10/22/2009 - 13:24

In reply to by thewomanindress


Dear "Womanindress"!

You say, "It takes a lot of interest". Do you mean that it takes a lot of effort to stay interested in your job?

I wasn't sure if I have read you right?

All the best


Dear Bion RJ!

(Nice smiling picture you sent by the way)

Oh good ! Somebody asked! Thanks!

A course metaphor is an image or word picture that somehow captures the spirit of a course. May I offer two examples?

1. One trainer, who worked at a university, had a course where she had to cover a lot of different theories in a short time. She would sketch out each theory and then try to give a practical example or two from a course book or teacher's lesson for each to show how it worked in practice. Her course metaphor was " A hot air balloon" She said she felt like she was up in the air with her small group (all in the basket together)  drifting over the theoretical landscape and pointing things out. Occasionally they would land the balloon and look at things on the ground.Then they would go up and  float above it all again!

2. A different trainer felt that  "A warm greenhouse for young plants" was a good metaphor for her course. She worked with beginner teachers and tried to support them as much as possible while they were doing peer and micro teaching. When they were ready she would try to get them ready for life in the real world outside the greenhouse!

Does that make some sort of sense to you? If so, do write back and tell me a metaphor you might choose for a course you run?

Cheers for now!




Submitted by viola on Mon, 10/26/2009 - 09:38


Hi Mrs woodward

I'd like to thank u 4 this article ,u impacted me deeply especially the criteria i should put in mind concerning my training style.I have beein working as a trainer since 2002 and all the time i feel i have to work harder to improve my training skills ,and i believe after reading these criteria i know now wt to give due care in my training style

Also gaining new ideas is so important in training, to develop my presentation skills

really i'm so privileged by reading ur rich atricle

thnx so much indeed


Sypervisor of English and trainer



Dear Violet,

Thanks for your message written in very up to date texty language. I have to confess that I have only had a mobile phone for a few weeks (it's true!) and have not learned all the emoticons or text abbreviations etc yet so I enjoyed your message. Let's see if I can start using a few of the symbols right now! If you can, please tell me which ones are OK and which ones are not standard and so are hard to understand?? Thanks! OK here goes!

Thank U 4 yr txt. i cn understnd it prfctly. im happy 2 tht U found the article Uful. I agree tht we traners hav 2 keep learning up 2 date thingz  (including txting n emails.)

Have i dunnit rite?

Thanx !!!!



Submitted by claireross on Wed, 10/28/2009 - 07:59


Dear Tessa

Another thought-provoking article - thank you.  I was especially interested in your mention of Pecha Kucha and have just wiki-ed it.  I like the idea and my brain is whirring on how I could use it in future...

Also thank you for the important reminder that we do as teachers or trainers have to keep fresh and not stick to 'one way' - especially important if we are training teachers to employ a variety of teaching techniques.

Best wishes


Submitted by Tessa Woodward on Wed, 10/28/2009 - 13:53

In reply to by claireross


Hi Claire!

Thanks for your latest!

I have broken down Pecha Kucha for my language students and changed the rules! They have as much time as they like, on different days, to talk about themselves as they show x number of pictures from the internet or from their own stories in order to introduce themselves to the other people in the class. We have had some interesting ones so far including one student who chose a one minute video clip instead about his work as a commercial diver.

For teachers, I wonder if it could be used for course review? Participants could choose or be given x number of topics/concepts from a course and a set time to re-explain them any way they want to the assembled company of fellow participants. 

I haven't tried that but I might at some point! I learned about PK from Lindsay Clandfield. He wrote about it in the Teacher Trainer journal too. A shortened version of that article is availble via google if you put his name into the search box.

All the best and please do let me know if you arrive at some ace TT applications!


Submitted by Henry Griffith on Tue, 11/03/2009 - 10:11


A teacher or trainer can stand there and lecture all they want, it probably will not be effective. Holding your students interest has proven to be the most effective way. Everyone can come up with their own idea of what works for them.

Submitted by wahyuni Banjar on Tue, 11/17/2009 - 07:09

In reply to by Henry Griffith


Hi Tessa,

It is very interesting to read your article. I have a question for you what kind of trainer is the best for teacher, demoratic or partisipatory.

Submitted by Kerry Bullock on Fri, 03/26/2010 - 02:12


Dear Tessa,

Thank you for this insightful article. I am new at teacher training and know that I need to keep up to date and on track but with the vast amount of information available it is often hard to know where to begin and what to spend my time and energy on. 

We run a very practical course where we make the trainees put into practice all they hear and we give them feedback on their teaching.  A large part of our course is collaboration and teaching the trainees to observe each other and give each other feedback.  So I thought a course metaphor for us could be a group of teachers holding hands and moving forward together.

Thanks again,


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