In my career to date, I have been lucky, and unlucky, enough to deliver and attend quite a number of staff training events. Some have been good, some have been mediocre and some have been downright awful. And as much as I might like to have the whole lot replaced with nothing but systematised action research, I realise that this is not terribly possible and therefore it might be nice for me to reflect on what has made staff development events good, based on ones I have delivered and on ones I have attended.
So here goes.
1. Give them something useful
This should almost be a given, but in the rush to get across the latest policy information or Ofsted directive, it gets forgotten. Teachers are practical creatures and when they are giving up at least a little mental energy, and possibly their own time, they want something which is practical, and relates in a useful way to their teaching. Best bet for a quick win would be a classroom technique, resource or something along those lines: “You can use this tomorrow”.
Yeah, I know, tacky but true. The aforementioned quick win of a practical activity is a good way of winning teachers over, but being genuinely passionate about it is a big help. One of the reasons for some of my own weaker sessions is because I was mentally crossing my fingers behind my back while doing it, or doing the training because of some higher directive and not really seeing the value in the message myself. If you don’t care for it, try to find someone who does, and get them to do the training, and then maybe they will engage you as well.
3. Presentation Software
The very worst of teacher development activity almost always involves PowerPoint. In capable hands, PowerPoint, or indeed any other presentation software, including Prezi, can be truly brilliant, but it can also be dire. My personal beef is not so much using the slides as a text, but cramming stacks of stuff onto a slide so it’s almost impossible to read. The trick to PowerPoint, by the way, is simply that less is more – go easy on the fancy effects and the bullet points. This follows through to the most extreme point: when it comes down to it, do you actually need any presentation at all, or are you just doing it because, you know, it’s a teacher training thing and, well, you should have PowerPoint? I’ve done successful development activity with a single slide with instructions on and that’s it, and with no slides at all.
4. Listen to people
You may have something to say. You may even be right (although you may merely have a point of view). But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen, and listen properly to what people have to say about your subject. Other people have opinions and views about your subject and this should be acknowledged properly and honestly, and not in a bland “I hear what you are saying, but…” manner. That is bad manners, and horribly common. And, mea culpa, I have done this before. If it needs to be shelved, then do so with actual respect. And don’t use ofsted as an excuse, either.
5. Don’t assume they want to be there, (or that they don’t).
Teachers might, in theory, have some time off teaching to attend your event, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to be so pathetically grateful for this that they will sit through any old rubbish. If you have a training event and by the end of that event the teachers in the room are thinking “I wish I had been in class” then you have failed. Epically so. As a trainer, perhaps one who has been out of the day to day teaching loop for a while, you may have forgotten that teachers often do their jobs because they like doing them, and that actually instead of you talking at the front of the room for a couple of hours, they might want to actually be doing their jobs. So you owe it to them to be interesting, varied and motivating. Which sort of brings me to the last point.
6. “Do as I say and as I do.”
Ok, this is the big one. When teachers come to your session they want something useful, of course, but they also want to be interested. They are also teachers, whose job is to do to others what you are doing to them. So bloody do it well. Be a good teacher. The teachers you are training are learners, just like the adults and young people you might otherwise teach, so do all the good things that good teachers do. Use varied, active learning tasks, group work, discussions, pair work, discovery tasks, all of it. (Don’t use role play, mind you, if I am in the room, because I hate role play with a vengeance.)
When it comes to staff training, hypocrisy is the worst sin of all. Things like:
- Talking for hours about the perils of talking too much (This is the classic one).
- Discussing and presenting assessment for learning without actually assessing where your workshop attendees are and tailoring your content accordingly.
- Running a workshop on planning where you clearly have no plan.
- Using technology badly while telling people that they should be using technology effectively (cf. PowerPoint…)
It’s hard, I know, to deliver a session to 40 or so tired teachers and to engage them all. I really know this. Sometimes a development and training session leader seems to work on the assumption that “everyone has the day off, they are tired, so I’ll give them all a break from that active learning stuff.”
The best training sessions and workshops that I have attended (not many in the last few years) and that I have been involved in delivering have, then, included the following:
- honesty and integrity
- variety of interactions and tasks for attendees
- stretch and challenge for all attendees
- clarity of focus
- usefulness / practical application
This looks remarkably like a brief checklist for a good lesson – which, in effect, a teacher development session should be. It’s just a shame, that so many trainers forget that, up to, and including, me. Certainly as I am about to go into a new year of CELTA and of various staff development events, then I definitely need to keep these at the top of my mind.