Teacher educator self-awareness: Conscientiousness

In this article Tessa Woodward explores the idea of conscientiousness as a feature of self-awareness.

In the introductory article in this series we looked at teacher educator self-awareness, what it is and why it is important in our work. I offered a couple of ideas for self-observation which is a starting point for self-awareness. In this article I will explore the idea of conscientiousness as a feature of self-awareness.

Why is conscientiousness important?

I lived in Switzerland for a couple of years and was very impressed by the apprenticeship system there. Young people who are not particularly academic by nature and do not wish to go to university can still attend college one or two days a week while also working, on the other days, at a junior level as postal, hotel, nursery, catering or other workers. The apprenticeships are well-constructed with appropriate training, practical experience, mentoring, tests and qualifications. Young people who go through the apprenticeship system end up with a useful trade and a sense of pride in their work. As a result, you can, for example, go into a post office or hotel reception and be greeted pleasantly by a young person who is neat and tidy, knows all aspects of their job thoroughly and carries them out well, answers your questions effectively, is organized, and generally has an air of confidence and competence. These members of staff often appear to have a genuine desire to do their job well. In the presence of such a conscientious, competent staff member, we customers and clients can relax, trusting them to do their job efficiently, and thus being free to get on with what we have to do.

What helps us to be more conscientious?

It seems to me that certain things are essential for an employee before we can be conscientious. Important basics are that we employees have a clear, job title and job description so that we know exactly what we are supposed to be doing. After all, it is difficult to be conscientious in our work if we are not quite sure what we are supposed to be doing! If the title and job description are public knowledge, then others know what they can expect of us too. Adequate training and practice time need to be given for all the tasks that we are expected to carry out. And it helps if there is some form of mentoring and feedback in place too.

This much seems obvious but I mention it because quite often we teacher trainers, teacher educators and mentors gradually drift from classroom teaching into our new roles, invited, persuaded or pressed to take them on without too much discussion, or detailing of tasks, or training for the tasks. It is hard to do a job well if parts of it are a surprise, or if we have had no support or training for the more difficult or sensitive roles we are expected to perform.

Part of being conscientious at work then is making sure we are clear about what we have to do and ensuring that we have the support and training we need to do it well. It makes sense then to list all the tasks we are charged with e.g. helping teachers with lesson planning, observing teachers and giving feedback on their lessons, creating a resource bank, attending conferences, running training sessions, or writing teaching or training materials.

We can then consider how much reading about, discussion, and practicing of these tasks we have done. If not much, we can list what areas we need help with. If we don’t have a supervisor or experienced colleague or mentor to go to, we need to identify resources that will help us to gain skill. The British Council CPD Framework for Teacher Educators, can help us here, as you are currently, hopefully, finding out! It reminds us of ten professional practices we need to gain facility in, through four stages of development. It discusses seven enabling skills and five self-awareness features. And, throughout this guide to our own continuing professional development (CPD), it offers webinar recordings, articles and research papers all of which are free and downloadable from this site. No excuses then!

But even given a clear job setting and a helpful framework and resources, we might still have to battle our own proclivities in order to become more conscientious. If we are by nature forgetful, a bit lazy, or have a tendency to procrastinate, we will have to come up with coping strategies to get around these character traits! Alternatively, if we are perfectionists, trying too hard to make sure that everything is exactly right, in all areas, all the time, we may have to learn to stop and rest, to delegate, or to gauge when things are ‘good enough’ and then let go before we get stressed out.

Writing ‘to do’ lists, recording what we have promised to do, by when, with whom, on calendars or in diaries so that we follow through on what we have promised……these constitute a good start! A strong cup of coffee? A chat with a colleague? We need to employ whatever means we can, either to give ourselves a burst of energy and motivation or to take stock and draw a line under our efforts. After all, what we want is for the school and university teachers we work with to feel they are in the presence of a conscientious, competent professional so that they can relax, and trust us to fulfill our side of the training bargain while they get on with what they have to do!

Further reading

Woodward, T (2010) ‘Being a teacher trainer; Am I ready?’
Woodward, T (2010) ‘How can I do my job as a teacher trainer?’

About the author

Tessa Woodward is an ELT consultant, teacher, and teacher trainer. She has trained teachers in Japan, Switzerland, the UK, USA, and in many European countries. She is the founder editor of The Teacher Trainer journal (Pilgrims), Past President and International Ambassador of IATEFL and founded the IATEFL Special Interest Group for Teacher Trainers (now the SIG T Ed/TT). She is the author of many books and articles for language teachers and teacher trainers. Tessa is also the founder of The Fair List.

The other articles in this series discuss ways for teacher educators to develop:

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