‘Teaching teachers’ is a positive way of facilitating development within your school. Elizabeth Holmes discusses how to tackle this challenging area of CPD
CPD Week info sheet – Checklist for facilitating.doc
In teaching others we teach ourselves.
Teaching teachers: The positive approach
There will be occasions when you are in the position of delivering or facilitating development sessions for colleagues, whether to convey some school-specific information or to explore potential change in the way your school and its staff operate. Not surprisingly, these sessions can challenge even the most competent of classroom teachers!
First things first. Any kind of professional and personal development needs to acknowledge the fact (and, after years of working with teachers on professional and personal development, I do mean fact) that all learning is dependent to some extent on what I call the CPD mindset. By this I mean the willingness that we all have for seeing, and being changed by, the learning opportunities that surround us each day.
The word ‘training’ can itself seem limiting. Invariably, what you are doing when working with colleagues is facilitating their development, rather than training them (like a dog!) to think, act and operate in a certain way. What they do with the skills, knowledge and opportunities that the training offers them may well surpass any intended or anticipated outcomes; something the modest trainer will always factor into his or her work.
Here are six key thoughts to keep in mind when starting any planning for facilitating development for teachers:
1. Open-ended learning – Teachers can be a curious audience, as anyone who has delivered training to a room of teachers will agree! It seems to work best when there is a clear understanding that true learning and development is found in the blend of what the facilitator and the individual teacher both take to the table. It’s also worth reiterating that the true depth of the learning and development isn’t always possible to determine until after the event (sometimes a long time after).
2. The value of doing – Experiential learning is important but not always practical in the time available. A nod towards the experiential is a great compromise, however short the timescale involved. Even in a ten-minute presentation it is possible to incorporate some form of doing, whether that’s a discussion, some kind of movement around the room, or a practical task. The core aim should be to offer colleagues the chance to bring their experiences to the room.
3. Reflection for generalisation – Reflection, either as individuals or as a group, is another key dimension of the task of teaching teachers. From these reflections, it is possible to deduce certain generalisations which may be incorporated into future practice. In other words, these generalisations (or lessons?) may form the core of professional and/or personal development.
4. How to be a guide – The role of a trainer when facilitating development sessions with other trainers (for example, teachers teaching colleagues) is as guide. It’s not so much about leading the session as it is about gently nudging it in a contextually useful direction. You would be looking to draw out similarities and differences, interjecting with examples, making connections with past, present and future directions, summarising and drawing potentially useful conclusions. It’s important not to present learning as the only way. This is rarely the case. Think of such sessions as creating fertile soil in which each individual might grow their own development at a pace that is appropriate to them.
5. A common aim for all development – Regardless of any specific aims of the sessions you run, there will always be an underlying aim: motivation. Training and development is nothing if it doesn’t motivate, or at least facilitate self-motivation.
6. Dealing with criticism – Know that it is impossible to please everyone! That’s a hard lesson to learn but as soon as you try to plan sessions to please, you risk focusing unduly on your critics. Aim to do what you, as a professional, deem to be appropriate for the current needs of your school and staff, rather than plan to avoid potential criticism. Once you acknowledge that relatively minor point, facilitating is a far more liberating experience! Trust your judgements, and deal with any criticisms as potential discussion points and development opportunities for the future.
For further details download this information sheet which includes a checklist of practical tips for successful facilitation.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008
About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.