Preparing the soil
TESOL qualifications tend to be seen as discrete products leading to fixed outcomes - a CertTESOL, CELTA or similar level of certificate. After gaining the qualification, it is expected that teachers go out into their classrooms and continue developing as they gain experience. In reality, however, for the majority of ESOL teachers worldwide this very generalised goal is simply not realistic. The wide range of educational settings which has emerged as a result of shifting migration patterns, global socio-economic forces, the rise of digital technologies and the localisation of English language teaching and learning means that teachers are finding themselves in ever more diverse situations.
One or two Initial Teacher Education (ITE) qualifications following the same general mode of certification simply cannot meet the developmental needs of teachers working in the huge range of settings which exist around the world. A native-speaker teacher working to the local market in a private centre in Europe has very different developmental needs to a non-native speaker (NNS) teacher of English working to a strict curriculum in a public school in China. The language being taught may be the same, but the local context impose very different demands on teachers at different levels of development. Other factors which affect how, or even if teachers can develop in their context include day-to-day workload, the amount and type of support they receive from their academic managers, access to resources, restrictions of individual curricula, local assumptions about the nature of teaching and learning, and the level of experience of themselves and their colleagues. Effective, lasting development activity needs to take all of these factors into account.
True sustainability in education can only be achieved by putting positive changes into effect in a scaffolded way, enabling autonomous application of better ways of doing things. It is important to remember that the purpose of scaffolding is to provide enough support during training or development activity so that it can be withdrawn, leaving teachers stronger as they come out of the developmental period and re-enter their teaching setting as a stronger practitioner. The application of learnt methods needs to be sustained long after the training activity itself has ended, without input from the trainers themselves. This is the biggest challenge to education developers, and one which most discrete teacher development projects do not overcome.
In order to achieve long-term sustainability, a teacher development project should constitute a developmental flow for participants which goes beyond the points where the trainer arrives and leaves the training setting. The foundations for sustainability in training start some time before the trainer meets the participant teachers, and includes some important groundwork to clarify the specifics of the participants and their setting. Without these points of understanding, training may lack relevance and therefore will not be picked up and owned by participants in the long term.
1) Understanding of bottom-up, broad-based approaches to teacher development
The traditional, top-down model of teacher development is quite rightly coming under fire. An approach based on an ‘expert’ trainer arriving in a workplace, delivering a few days of sessions and then leaving expecting everything to magically improve in following months is simply not realistic. Educators need to find ways to take power over their own development without too much input from outside. After all, they are the ones working in that environment, with those resources and that set of specific needs.
More sustainable solutions are possible when we start thinking beyond the closed training event and incorporate pre- and post-course guidance on how to sustain development in that specific context. A good trainer is a facilitator, not a dictator, so should aim to take their hands off the reins and allow development to come from the bottom up, from the teachers themselves.
2) Understanding of the local educational context and the setting where participant teachers work
Without a good idea of the challenges faced by teachers in their local environment, training is likely to lack relevance and usefulness. Factors such as the role of English for local students, the assumptions that underlie teaching and learning in the local region, and common challenges for teachers in their setting are essential starting points for the design of development activity.
For this reason, it is essential that training activity is broadened to include senior teachers, managers, students and even parents to ensure that development is holistic and effective for all those concerned in the students’ education. Again, pre-event needs analysis and goal-setting is an important process for this to happen.
3) Pre-training consultation and needs analysis to identify the purpose of the development activity
Focusing on the participant teachers, it is important to understand why they are attending the training event: How aware are participants of their own developmental needs? Do their areas of focus match those of the school or centre? Are there distinct groups within the body of participants? These are important factors when preparing events for a specific group of teachers in their workplace. With focused planning and attention to all participants’ needs through differentiated modes of development activity, there is no reason why all teachers in a team cannot get what they need.
Equally important is finding out what level of understanding host managers have about the nature of CPD and the responsibilities that continue beyond the training event: How much value is given to professional development in the host centre? Is the management prepared to devote the necessary time and resources to continued development activity? How involved in continued development activity does management want or need to be?
4) Observation of participant teachers working in their regular environment, either in person or via video recordings
Prior to formal training activity, or early in the process, taking a day to observe what happens in participant teachers’ classrooms can be more informative to a trainer than any number of interviews or discussion. The classroom is where the teaching and learning happens, so it is here that the true needs of the teachers and their learners will emerge. A set of pre-training video observations is an effective way to give trainers a realistic idea of where the participants are, what they are doing well, and what could be improved in future. Video observations (filmed on a phone from the back of the room) are a sustainable solution to real needs analysis as they cost relatively little and can have minimal impact on the authenticity of classroom practice.
5) Clear, focused goals which have been agreed with all stakeholders involved in the project
Goal-setting is key for trainers, managers and teachers alike. Comparing the targets that each of these stakeholders have in development activity can reveal outcomes that focus the project in specific ways. An essential question for trainers, teachers and managers is ‘what do you want your workplace to look like after the project?’ The development process is much broader than the development event itself, continuing on to future practice and eventual sustained change taking place. Keeping everyone’s eyes on the purpose of continuing development activity will help things to run smoothly into the future.
In part 2 of this article, we will look at some types of content which can be included in an effective, sustainable training programme, and think about the types of activity which can happen after a project finishes to ensure long-term benefits for the participant teachers.
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