Balancing the training equation

A colleague recently returned from a series of training programmes feeling very disheartened, primarily about the apathy of the participants. They were unenthusiastic, lacked energy, and seemed downright uninterested in the whole process. It seemed that they had been forced to attend, with no choice in either the topic or the dates of the event. Or indeed, whether such an event should be held at all.

It’s not a scenario that is new to us. Many of us have been forced into training programmes that held little or no interest for us, happening at a time when we had hoped to do other things, or cut into precious downtime, during the annual vacation period. Usually, attendance at such events is a requirement for promotion or sometimes, even for keeping the job.

While some institutions and education systems try hard to make workshops and in-service training offer true enrichment for participants, too often they become just token gestures to make up the obligatory number of continuing education programmes. Sometimes, they are complimentary add-ons from textbook publishers or other service providers. The quality of the programme also may vary from indifferent to inspired, but as far as the teachers are concerned, it’s always a gamble.

But it’s not uncommon to find, even in the most well-planned and executed workshops, several participants who are just not happy to be there. For the trainer, it is extremely disheartening, and for those who may be interested, extremely irritating. It’s funny how quickly we revert to “back bench” behaviour when the opportunity arises!

If the trainer has developed a thick skin of indifference (or perhaps, detachment), she continues to do her job, attempting to generate interest even as she knows, deep inside, that it’s a doomed project. Sometimes she is rewarded when one or two teachers hang back after the workshop to tell her how much they’ve learned. Other times, she leaves to the echo of weak claps and a standard vote of thanks, nursing hope, to the next venue.

It seems like an equation that will never really be balanced – on the one side, participants who feel like they’re forced to sit in a space they resent, and on the other, a facilitator/trainer who is doing a job (to varying degrees of sincerity and energy). Not really a recipe for success.

How can we break this impasse? If we assume that such workshops are conducted because there is some real need, and that they provide value, then what can be done to generate the buy-in of teachers? For one, they need to be brought into the planning and decision-making process – and that means, all of them, not just a few seniors. For another, there needs to be a climate of openness in the school, about articulating needs and fears, and later, real feedback on how the workshop went. Facilitators respond to the climate of a classroom – as teachers do, in their own classrooms. If a degree of empathy and open-mindedness can be created on both sides, there is a possibility for a favourable climate to be generated.