Why doesn’t my staff care about training?
Down with in-service training! It t is not the place of the school owners to offer training to their staff! Why for? They will learn more, become better and then open a school across the street and bite the hand that fed them. No way! After all, teachers do not care about training. They think they know everything and most of them do not even try to hide the fact that training is not a priority! Enough with this in-service training (IST) nonsense!
If you are a school owner and you have never thought along these lines, you are probably one of the select few. Most school owners these days consider in-service training an expensive, difficult to organise and semi-useful habit which is not appreciated by the staff. To my mind, the situation is slightly different. School owners spend money, energy and resources to ensure that the students’ learning is fun. Is training equally fun for teachers? From the outside, the situation seems much more complicated than this simplistic complaint. For one thing, it seems necessary to discuss the connection between the learning culture the institution puts forward and IST.
The learning culture of the school.
IST can be defined by stating what it is not. IST is not a random training session that comes up out of the blue. IST is defined by its frequency, diversity of means, consistency and its relevance to the needs of the participants. Actually, training should be the follow-up stage after the needs of the teaching staff have been identified. If training caters for those needs and it offers tools and practical solutions to teachers, it will not fail to engage the teaching staff. On the contrary, haphazard sessions (offered usually free of charge for promotional purposes) that do not take into consideration the level of education, the years of experience and the areas of specialization of different educators are destined to fail because they are too generic to manage to engage all the participants. This is closely related with the learning culture of the school.
The learning culture of any institution is defined by the attitude the owners themselves have towards learning and how they communicated it to their staff. As leaders, they should lead by example and make sure that as managers and as teachers they too participate in training sessions. Finally, attitude towards CPD should be part of the things discussed during the interview. There is no point in hiring a person who wants to find a comfort zone and live there forever without worrying about stagnation if the school wants adventurous minds and ingenious professionals who will keep pushing themselves to accomplish more.
Part of the learning culture of the school is to manage to offer training to its staff with respect and to change the attitude certain teachers have that training is an insult to them who have learnt everything at university or hold an MA or have just gained a demanding teacher training qualification. The truth of the matter is that even if the things we are listening to are not the most innovative, we still have a lot to gain and there is still room for useful input and further development. In fact, being a participant in a training session tends to make professionals better presenters and therefore better trainers, as they get to notice what goes well in other people’s sessions or what these sessions lack.
Avoiding the common traps
Undoubtedly, schools have a lot to gain from IST, so it is essential to find ways to overcome the traps that make training unappealing. Below, I have listed some of the arguments against training and some suggestions as to how we can deal with them.
1 It is too time-consuming and too expensive
Indeed it is and it is also never ending. In order to avoid having absent staff members of staff, owners need to budget the IST projects before the school year starts and estimate how much IST the school can afford. Once owners have an idea of the amount of training to be offered, an annual calendar of IST events needs to be created which will allow teachers to organise their time.
2 It is the same thing again and again!
Training can become repetitive and although most trainers try to make their presentations interactive, both time constraints and the personality of the trainer might make it difficult to have workshops and not ‘’talks’’. In order to avoid this, schools can opt for a variety of teacher training means. One idea is to have one or two paid trainers per year who will deliver workshops or talks. It is very important for school owners and teachers to be clear in their communication of what they want the trainer to do and not to ask for additions or changes in the last minute, especially when the trainer is already on site, presenting. It is also of essence to ask teachers to give you feedback after the session is over. Even if teachers like a particular trainer, it is always wise to change trainers in order to benefit from their experience.
The rest of the annual IST can be handled by the teachers and the owner. Teachers can work in teams and present articles or blog posts of famous bloggers. If time permits and there is planning, teachers can be asked to read ELT methodology books and present the activities found there. Changing medium, webinars are a cost-free and flexible way to train staff. Participants can watch the webinar at home or at school and then there can a discussion group which will exploit the points raised. The same can be done with videos from channels related with ELT or education. Ideally, the person who will be responsible for that session will have created a worksheet or some questions on the topic discussed. Personally, I find these last three ideas more engaging and more active for teachers who have to see themselves are presented and prosumers (producers + consumers) of the educational products created.
3 One size fits all does not work out.
It has already been mentioned that teacher training should be related with what teachers do and their level of knowledge and experience. This should not be seen as an attempt to limit teachers and keep them from developing, but rather as an attempt to avoid having bored participants in training sessions. Sessions should be addressed to particular groups of teachers They can be open to all but with an emphasis on a specific group. This style of training also gives owners the chance to use experienced teachers as presenters and trainers within the framework of the school. There is nothing more motivating than having to present in front of one’s peers.
And then what?
The point of training is not to add certificates in our portfolio. The practical application of what has been learnt is what should concern teachers and school owners. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss with the staff after the training, how they are going to put in practice what they have learnt and to set a timeframe within which some of the skills honed during the training session will be applied. It is also inspiring to ask teachers to write about their experience in trying out a new way of teaching or a new activity which completes most appropriately the circle of reflective learning and teaching.