Being trained to train: Is it necessary?
Many teachers become engaged in training when their boss approaches them and tells them: “Okay, you´ve done your DELTA or you´ve been teaching here for many years: let´s make you a Coordinator, Assistant Director of Studies, etc. However, rarely do we get training on how to conduct these activities. Of course, we can always draw on our own experiences as both learners and teachers, though I have met several trainers who feel lonely in their chosen profession since they don´t have a fellow colleague fulfilling the same role. Fortunately, the current Assistant Director of Studies at IH Recoleta decided to sign up for the International House Certificate in Teacher Training and I just thought: that´s exactly what I need!
Given my lack of time, I was able to join this course mostly because it´s online and asynchronous, which meant that I didn´t need to attend lessons at a certain time or venue. Instead, I would log in onto the IH on-line training platform (the OTTI) and let the learning begin. This was done by interacting with the two course tutors, the course participants and of course all the background reading and forum discussions. But that wasn´t it – we also had to make sure we submitted a written portfolio on a weekly basis which helped us to consolidate all the points we´d learned from every single module, and got good quality feedback from our tutors on completion of such tasks.
This three-month course is divided into twelve modules and sees a wide range of topics which are extremely relevant to any trainer or mentor: from how to conduct in-service sessions, to observing teachers, managing feedback and supporting trainees and teachers, among many others. As a Coordinator, I have been doing many of these things for years, but now I can make more sound decisions.
My development as a trainer: what I have gained.
- 1. With a little help from my friends.
As mentioned above, many trainers feel this is a lonely profession. However, doing this course means I now have a network of trainers I can consult. In fact, I believe the most interesting aspect is sharing with people from different contexts: there were course participants from four different continents, some of them already CELTA trainers, others school mentors and they all had something to say about their areas of expertise. Each module starts with discussions based on our personal experience and the most important message I have learned from my peers is that in training, there is not a one-size-fits it all way. For instance, when discussing in-service sessions we liked, we discovered that some people prefer a good lecture, whereas others are really into practical workshops with very little theory. Of course, after doing the background reading and the course tasks for each module, we draw several principled conclusions, but always bearing in mind possible outcomes in different contexts.
- 2. The perks of portfolio tasks.
I have taken part in some other on-line courses which only involve forum discussions, and I usually feel I don´t gain as much as I could. However, this course expects participants to submit one piece of writing per module and then receive feedback. Fortunately, most portfolio tasks are based on projects which can actually be implemented in your school or career as a trainer. For example, we have created guidelines for trainee teachers on lesson planning, in-service session plans, along with watching videos of trainees and discussing how to give both written and oral feedback to them. This means all of the tasks have a very practical application.
- 3. Principled decisions.
Each decision is based on the background reading and comments from trainers from different parts of the world. For instance, having read about Malcom Knowles’ views on education, I now understand that trainee teachers are adult learners who need to acquire an understanding of their own skills and learn how to develop the ones they need to address. However, raising awareness and reading theory is not enough to achieve this. This means for instance that in-service sessions should strike a good balance between theory and practice and that teachers can gain a lot from peer observation, rather than just attending talks.
- 4. Observations on Observations
One of the main reasons why I chose to do this course is because I wanted to address lesson observation. Now I see observation as a cycle, which starts way before the observation takes place, when it comes to making decisions as regards when to observe and what the teacher would like to develop along with writing the lesson plan. Moreover, I feel it is a cycle that does not really finish because after feedback the teachers and trainers follow different steps (e.g. background reading, reflection & observations) to continue developing professionally and this can actually be assessed in a second or third observation. I have also come up with a list of guidelines for observing and I have analysed different observation tasks. One of these, for instance, focuses on students´ reactions throughout a lesson, helping the observer to assess the learning taking place in that classroom and to avoid concentrating on the teacher exclusively.
I would recommend this course to anyone who is interested in training, whether experienced or not. However, those who apply need to make sure they have enough time to complete the course work. A good idea would be to set a fixed time to work on the forums every single day and a different time to work on the assignments. Once you have organised yourself, you´re ready to enjoy all the background reading, the forum discussions, the portfolio tasks and of course all the support from your tutors. Personally, I feel I have become a better trainer, especially when it comes to conducting sessions, observing teachers and giving feedback. I still dream of becoming a CELTA trainer, but when the day comes, I´ll feel more prepared.