Like most institutions, we too conduct workshops for teachers throughout the year. We select the best resource person in the field so that teachers are exposed to the latest trends in the subject and can update their teaching methodology. At the end of the session, a very enthusiastic vote of thanks is given by the teachers and the contact details of the resource person are taken. However, the enthusiasm diminishes and vanishes, and there are no visible attempts to incorporate even the simplest idea taught in the workshop. What can we do as an institution to ensure that the knowledge transfer taking place during a workshop finds its way to the classrooms?
Unfortunately, this is the story in most schools. Teachers aver that they will be in contact with the trainer, and E mail IDs are requested. The resource person leaves the school feeling elated, and the principal strongly feels that there will be a total difference in the way the subject will now be handled, and of course the teachers now have an expert to rely on. And so they lived happily ever after ….because that is the end of that workshop story.
The next month it is another narrator, another set of characters, and another scene or perhaps the same scene is enacted. Yet, there is no reference by the participants to the kind of discussion that has taken place in a previous session. Such references could actually aid the resource person because he/she gets to understand how and where the participants require help. Unfortunately this happens only once in a blue moon, but when it does, the workshop really comes alive! Perhaps teachers are just as intimidated as students are by a new face and a new method. The head of the department should have a half-hour sitting with the teachers concerned giving details of the resource person (qualification, kinds of workshop conducted), nature of the workshop at hand, (theoretical, motivating, activity based) and encourage teachers to come up with questions that they are sometimes struggling to answer or doubts that they themselves would like to have cleared.
For example, if the workshop is on grammatical concepts such as the teaching of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, it would be a good idea to have the teachers write down the kinds of questions students normally have when teaching these concepts. The participants should be told by the principal that questioning does not mean they do not know their subject, it only indicates that they are trying to find a better answer to some of the issues they face in class. An example of a question could be (and this is a question that many young children ask) “Why are the words giraffe, elephant, and snake common nouns? They are the names of animals!” If such queries are addressed in a workshop, it would not only make the workshops more effective, but it would also make it more rewarding for the resource person who is otherwise groping in the dark because there are no clues about what it is the teachers want! When games and activities are done in the session, the participants should also be more responsive, otherwise the resource person will be unable to proceed with further activities. Teachers must also give the resource person a feedback on whether a particular activity was interesting, informative or totally off track. The experience and knowledge of the resource person should make it possible for him/her to offer a modified version of the activity to suit the needs of a particular set of students.
For example, if students still have problems in classifying words into nouns and verbs, it would be helpful to initially divide the students into groups rather than have them work as individuals. Students then have time to discuss the words at hand and classify them, relying on one another. Once they learn to do this confidently, they can then be allowed to play the game in pairs and then as individual players. Unless teachers constantly refer to the difficulty level of their students, the trainer may not be able to come down to their level and offer solutions to their problems. A workshop is not a lecture, it is meant to have the participants engage in discussions actively so their teaching tasks are made simpler and more effective.
Once a workshop is over, the teachers should, within two weeks, try out some of the activities or methods suggested by the trainer and write down whether they worked well, and more importantly, why there were hiccups. This feedback should be sent to the resource person. Most resource people will get back, offering solutions or otherwise suggesting a more suitable activity for the class concerned. Getting a good resource person is a luxury today, and so once teachers have been introduced to a good one, they should understand that together they can educate students more effectively. Most resource people are open to this kind of partnership with the school. The teachers must find a little more time to make this person their ally and be more open to adopting a different teaching style.
Workshops work wonderfully well when the participants loosen up and become enthusiastic students themselves …by asking, probing, and reacting in the exact manner that they expect their ideal student to.
The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.