Are teacher training and teacher development one and the same? How should they be scheduled? Should attendance be compulsory? Should they be compensated?
These are pretty fundamental questions in our profession that aren’t always easy to answer. They keep some teaching supervisors and coordinators awake at night, cause others to be lauded for their success, and relegate others to a despised role as the ineffective head of a teaching team...
While I might concede that teacher training can contribute to overall teacher development, I’ve found it useful in my own experience as an academic coordinator and “teacher trainer” to differentiate the two - and in fact add a third priority. The following are my own views, experiences and suggestions when it comes to teacher training, program development, and teacher development. They go beyond initial pre-service formal training qualifications (like a CELTA for example) and deal specifically with training and development as it happens in actual school/institutional contexts.
To me, this is the instruction to teachers most directly relevant to their jobs at a particular school or in a specific program. Through teacher training, teachers learn about the school’s program and methodological perspectives, the content they need to teach, any lesson planning requirements, how to test and assess, and various other administrative tasks that might be considered fundamental to their day-to-day jobs at the school. Generally speaking, the more organised and targeted a school’s program is, the more important effective training becomes.
I also distinguish between pre-service and in-service training.
New teachers at a school will need initial training to understand the school, the program, the levels and the overall job requirements. Unfortunately, there are many TEFL schools around the world that treat initial teacher training as a day’s worth of teacher observation, and from there they are basically forced to develop their understanding about the school and its programs through trial and error.
However, no matter how lengthy or robust initial teacher training is, it needs to be followed up regularly – through in-service training. This is how a school checks ongoing understanding of the program, improves the delivery of it, announces changes to approaches and materials, and explains clearly how they are to be applied. It could also include ongoing tips on ways to handle administrative tasks more effectively.
To some degree, I’ve always seen and applied teacher training through a bit of a top-down model. It’s a way of communicating clearly from the school/employer/manager level to the teaching team. The teachers are employed and expected to perform according to the school’s requirements – it’s their job. Now, before you go diving for the comments section with your fingers over the necessary keys to type out “authoritarian pig-dog!” please bear in mind that I also believe ongoing in-service teacher training in this fashion can only ever be effective if it exists alongside (and in fact feeds from) two other important applications: program development and teacher development. Without those, all you really have is actually an organised “ordering about” program. Some schools are satisfied with leaving it at that; some are even satisfied with something less (expecting things of their teachers and assuming things about the work role, but only ever informing them about it when the teachers “stuff up” in some way). Schools that only feature top-down training can sometimes be not particularly motivating to work with. Schools that don’t even provide that can be positively frustrating.
Program development (to me) involves improving the school’s overall curriculum, materials and teaching approaches. Some readers out there might be wondering why this is included in a post about teacher training and teacher development, as program development is often considered a completely separate and complicated priority. In many schools, program development happens behind doors between certain members of management, is delivered from afar from a head office of some sort, or may even include handsomely paid external ‘consultants’.
To me (as an academic coordinator or DoS), program development simply MUST involve the teachers – they are the people who interpret and deliver the school’s program and without them it is an empty shell without much real substance at all. It isn’t all that hard to include teachers in the process of selecting coursebooks, deciding on scheduling and necessary supplementary materials, etc. They can also help identify what sort of training will be needed to deliver the program most effectively. Aside from the fact that (in my experience) teachers tend to be excellent contributors to effective program development, by including them in the process you are giving them a direct say in what they will experience as part of teacher training (see above) – validating that application to a greater extent. If the teachers can contribute to and agree on the program to be delivered, they are more than likely to be more positive about attending the necessary training sessions to better understand and learn how to apply the program.
Note that I said “contribute to” program development. It’s not always a good idea to let the teachers by themselves decide the program from A-Z in some kind of open forum. Aside from teaching experience, the teachers don’t always have the necessary context-locality experience, nor the business know-how to incorporate a program that meets everybody’s needs. It will most often need to involve a series of compromises. In my opinion, it is this ability to listen and compromise that makes or breaks academic coordinators and school owners on the one hand, and teachers on the other. In an inclusive approach to program development, it is rare that both sides will have every single one of their preferences catered to. In worst case scenarios, some school managers just talk with their ears shut, while some teachers just resort to whining and criticising without being willing to make suggestions or back them up with examples or samples. The resulting program development and associated teacher training can become almost farcical. But if program development happens regularly in an open-minded and give-and-take spirit, both sides can have wins (perhaps enough to even make the work feel worthwhile), and some things can be won together. In this divide between teachers and management, we need more bridges – not widening gulfs. In my experience, involving (and I mean really listening to) teachers in program development creates more bridges than gulfs. Even if the teachers didn’t get their own way in all things, the very act of talking to and listening to (and even debating with) them can make a very big difference to effective program delivery and teacher training sessions. The surest way to turn a teaching team surly is to not involve or let them say their piece at all…
So we might conclude that inclusive program development can lead to effective and relevant teacher training, and can certainly alleviate some of the potential authoritarianism and “one-way-traffic” feel of it. What, then, of this notion of teacher development?
You might well argue that if teachers are involved in program development and attending regular teacher training, then they are developing – and “teacher development” is happening almost by default. I don’t quite see it this way.
To me, program development and teacher training are most directly related to teachers’ day-to-day work challenges in a particular school or context. Teacher development, on the other hand (and while closely linked to those processes), should be more expansive and more creative. It should have the teachers’ own concerns and interests at heart, and to that end it may involve exploring things well beyond one particular context or set of coursebooks. Teachers may bring experience of teaching in other contexts or want to develop aspects of their teaching that will be more relevant in contexts beyond the one they currently find themselves in. It could involve almost anything, but to me the golden rule is that it is the teachers themselves who decide everything in a teacher development program.
That might sound too vague to implement in any sort of effective way. In fact, in my own experience, many teachers have found the notion of open teacher development a bit baffling or even intimidating. Dare I say it, in some cases it’s been like watching prisoners subject to gruel and water day in day out being taken out to a smorgasbord lunch. In some cases they dive in and eat ravenously of anything and everything – making a complete (but delighted) mess of it. In most cases they stand back – suddenly not sure what to partake of, and perhaps not quite sure that they are actually allowed to!
A good way to get a teacher development program started is to start simple, for example by having an activity swap-shop session. Teachers have 15-20 minutes to present and demonstrate their favourite teaching activity, taking turns and according to who is willing to get up and give it a shot.
The opportunities to go on from there are almost endless. Teachers can be invited to suggest things they’d like to know more about (anything from a teaching approach to what it’s like to teach adults – if in a YL setting), and then someone from the teaching team can volunteer to host a small session exploring that area. They could take turns conducting fun-style lessons in other foreign languages they happen to know, or even contribute to a Lonely Planet style presentation series about different TEFL contexts around the world (if you have teachers who have taught English in multiple locations).
Teacher development can also be more guided and facilitated (and yet still have teachers’ interests and priorities at heart). For example, they could be asked to get into teams and come up with a completely new and innovative teaching approach, or talk about their favourite student, or even present some new culture tips about the foreign language context they are working in. They could also present some ways they have managed to cut down on the time needed for lesson planning or administration. They could take turns presenting a particular problem they’ve been having with their teaching, with the rest of the team makes suggestions about how to overcome or at least handle it. Perhaps they could be asked to showcase how they use technology in their own teaching development. It could even involve debate, with a particular proposition given to them (like “we should be doing TPR with all learners under 10 for at least 5 minutes at the start of every class”) and then letting them go nuts with it.
The very best in-house teacher development sessions I have seen, however, were the ones where teachers got up and did whatever the heck they liked (so long as it had some sort of link to teaching).
I guess my main point here is that involvement in program development and associated teacher training can certainly help teachers to do their jobs better, and even more happily. But to me, teacher development is very broad, very inclusive, creative, and as much about sharing and exploring as it is listening and learning. It focuses on the fact that teachers are human beings, all human beings are different, and all of them have something different to contribute (or similar things to contribute in different ways!). It gives each of these different people a voice that is entirely their own – and values it. Even when teacher development topics have apparently tenuous links to actual teaching, they can still be enormously entertaining and insightful.
And let’s not forget that it also creates potential benefits for schools.
Aside from the fact that teacher development sessions of this nature can be very enjoyable, entertaining and motivating (having much needed positive impacts on overall teacher morale – and remember: happy teachers = happy students = happy school…?), they can also feed back into program development and teacher training in often positive and sometimes unexpected ways. Culture tips, creative new method or techniques, debate outcomes, technology innovations, tips about effective lesson planning – they can all potentially become ideas on how to improve the school’s program in ways that all (or at least the majority of) teachers can agree on. They can also lead to areas of interest or concern where specific teacher training is actually requested by the teachers. Program development and teacher training alone are not always well equipped to facilitate this sort of lateral thinking and creative innovation, but a good approach to teacher development often is.
Well, up until now we’ve sort of treated teacher training, program development and teacher development as valid necessities. However, whether or not they go ahead and work well depends a lot on some more pragmatic considerations.
Let’s start with scheduling. Too much or too little of anything is rarely the right portion, and the same applies here. Remember that the following recommendations are based only on my own experience and opinion!
Generally speaking, teacher training should involve at least a week of pre-service training and then monthly or bimonthly ongoing in-service application (it depends a lot on the particular context and program, but whatever is decided on, it is important to create a reliable routine). Alternatively, teacher training can follow immediately or close after the program development sessions attended by teachers, if they are the primary source of teacher training priorities.
Program development? Well, depending on the given “session” (whether it is 9 weeks or a spring term), I generally go for two (or three) program development meetings – one at the end of a session to reflect and make necessary changes for the next session, another mid-way through the session to see how things are going with actual implementation, and then again toward the end to complete the cycle and lead into the next session again.
As for teacher development, this needs to be determined and agreed upon by the teaching team themselves. Bear in mind that the more teachers are asked to attend program development or teacher training sessions, the less inclined they may be to give up even more time for teacher development. Ensuring all three can happen in one school usually involves some sensitive attention to overall balance.
In all three applications, I have a 90-minute time limit for a session. Anything more becomes tiring and potentially tedious for the teachers. I always gave at least a week’s notice and set them (when possible) for low-maintenance days where teachers may not need to do a lot of planning for their regular classes. I scheduled them before classes rather than after (most of the schools I worked at had afternoon and early evening shifts); never on weekends, Mondays, or Fridays; and I always harassed the school owner to shout the teachers for lunch straight after the session.
Attendance and compensation
So, should attendance at these different sessions be mandatory or voluntary? Should they be paid? These are not easy questions to answer, because teaching conditions and contracts vary from context to context and school to school. If teachers are paid strictly on an hourly teaching basis, being forced to attend any sort of meeting or development session can feel like a serious rip off to them. There are also difficulties when teachers are part-time and may have other scheduled duties to attend to (family, study or other jobs). The opinions and suggestions I express below are grounded in my experience in a context where teachers were mostly employed on full-time contracts and schools made enormous profits from their programs; hence, they may not be as applicable to contexts where the situation is different.
For me (in the programs I led where training and development actually worked well), I made attendance at teacher training sessions compulsory, had that written into teaching contracts (with reasonably specific information on how often they would occur and at what times), and always ensured that salaried teachers were doing less classes per month than the contract stipulated (with an allocated monthly allowance of hours for lesson preparation and professional development). Part-time teachers (almost always on hourly wages) were asked and paid to attend, but given consideration if they couldn’t due to other commitments. If teacher training is incorporated into teachers’ overall hours and contracted duties and salaries, and focuses on how they are to do their jobs (better) at the school context level, I think it is fair to make attendance at them compulsory.
Program development, on the other hand and in my opinion, should be a voluntary affair. Not all teachers care that deeply about the program or want to influence it. To them, teaching may be just a job involving going into a classroom and teaching learners and that’s that. Alternatively (and more positively) some schools are so well run and already incorporate a lot of ongoing feedback and suggestions from teachers that they already feel confident with the program and don’t feel any pressing needs to go in and starting banging it around the walls. However, if these teachers do attend program development sessions, I would be willing to pay them a small stipend for their involvement and time. After all, they are contributing to a program which may well create more profit (in various mediums) for the school not only now but in the longer run.
As for teacher development, you’ll probably be unsurprised to hear that I think this should be absolutely voluntary. It’s for the teachers and hopefully by the teachers, so everything from scheduling to attendance should be decided by them. Given it may not always have much direct relevance to the school program or overall success of that particular school, I generally avoid paying teachers for teacher development sessions. I believe in this case the reward should be intrinsically motivated rather than financially compensated. Some things I have tried, however, were paying a small fee to whichever teacher (or teachers) hosted a particular session, and even a monetary award for the teacher host to give out as a special reward to whichever teacher (or teachers) they felt helped their session the most. Some school owners were happier to facilitate this through small gifts or movie tickets or lunch/gift vouchers, as a more “from the heart” gesture for teachers’ voluntary efforts to improve themselves and each other (and the spirit of the teaching group in general) – and these were the “payments” that probably felt most appropriate and maintained the right mood for teacher development programs that I was involved with.
However you look at professional development at an institutional level, whether it is through these interconnected prisms of teacher training, program development and teacher development or through some other lens, making it happen can be a big ask. As an academic coordinator, I faced the particularly challenging situation of being in a context where training was either completely absent or applied like a straitjacket, with willy-nilly scheduling, compulsory attendance and no compensation being the norm. To incorporate program development and teacher development in an organised and considerate way, at times I felt like I needed to be a freight train engine covered in silk (admittedly sometimes the silk fell off and the train started crashing through every wall in sight; at other times I forgot to bring the engine and was left standing there with silk and the distinct appearance of being on my way to an obscure fancy dress party).
However, when these three things actually happen and work effectively, the chances of being in a positive, progressive and motivating professional teaching environment increase exponentially. They are worth struggling for, and should be very high up on any serious coordinator’s list of priorities.