Teaching the teacher?

Sheela Ramakrishnan

It had been a long day for Maya and her group of primary grade teachers. They had just concluded a session on Learning by Doing by an experienced educator cum trainer and their heads were full of possibilities about what they could do in their classrooms for the new term. They rated the session a 9/10 overall and it seemed as if, though tired, they were ready to go on! Strains of conversation heard – “she really knew how we felt.” “…can take back so many ideas to class.”

The feedback form had just been passed out at the end of yet another professional development session. The question hanging in air was: “what can I take to the classroom” as the session by a very senior HR executive from the corporate world was largely theoretical. He spoke on Time Management, an extremely vital component in a school. However, the link between theory and the practical challenges in the classroom was missing. There was a mixed feeling among the group and they rated the session a 5/10 in spite of the fact that they received very professional inputs. Refrain: “I wish he showed me how to use it in my class.”

teachers-seminar-1 The banquet hall of the hotel room was full of language teachers from different schools across the grades. The session was on latest trends in language teaching and was being conducted by an eminent language professor. The teachers were a mixed bunch who came from schools following various boards and who taught levels ranging from kindergarten to grade 10. A leading publishing house that sponsored the session had put all its language books on display in the hope that it would generate interest among some of the schools present there. The session got a mixed rating that ranged from 2 /10 to 9.5/10. Not all went home very happy. Some voices – “How I wish we had not come – it was only for high school level.”

The above are real scenarios from what is now being called INSETT or PD (In Service Teacher Training/Professional Development) sessions that educators from most progressive schools attend. Fairly generous budgets are put out for these sessions and participation in these sessions also counts towards the professional growth of educators today through their appraisals.

The focus of this piece is to examine the issues behind WHY there were different responses to each of these sessions.

There is general agreement on the idea that every professional needs to be a continuous learner to cope with the dynamism of the world in which we live in today. The reasons are clear:

  • Education has shifted from being only a means to a living to development of the individual.
  • The superfast age of technology with access to information at the click of a button means the educator has to move from being a dispenser of knowledge to being someone who facilitates self-learning. Enabling students who can Learn to Learn is the new role of the educator – one that can some times leave the educator in unchartered waters.
  • The National Curriculum Framework recommends Education for All – which means that school classrooms are no longer completely homogeneous but hold learners with diverse learning needs. Inclusion – of those with physical challenges, of those with different learning styles, of those with specific learning difficulties – push educators to find new ways to reach learning objectives.
  • The shrinking of the globe and the entry of International school qualifications demands a paradigm shift in classroom emphasis – from being that of a centre stage artiste in the classroom to a skillful facilitator who can kindle minds rather than fill them.

Formal professional training that is mandatory to enter the teaching profession has not kept pace with the above changing landscape. It is for all these reasons that in-service professional update sessions have become almost necessary.

Besides, even that mandatory training is not absolutely essential for the lower grades – which is where maximum learning takes place! Add to it the fact that the profession itself receives very little “professional status” from the general public and we have a sure-fire concoction of those who take to it as the last option not coupled with passion! Unless we as a society do not give the “noble” profession its rightful professional place – we will fail to attract the best minds and souls into it. And that is a big disservice to the future.

Coming back to in-service training, there are different ways in which this is done:

Whole school

Participants: Usually all educators across all grades from the whole school are expected to participate.

Faculty: In an effort to make educators more aware, experts from other industries are invited to handle these sessions. Topics could range from team building to mindfulness to yoga or stress management.

Sponsored by: This is usually paid for by the school. Resource persons usually charge according to time or costs per head.

Advantages: There are some glaring advantages here, the foremost being that all educators are engaged at the same time. It is also economical as the costs of training are spread across a larger number of participants. It is useful if the subject matter is related to personal development rather than being of a pedagogical nature.

Disadvantages: The main disadvantage here is that there is lack of interaction if the numbers are large. In case the subject is pedagogy, then it does not help all as the pedagogical needs of each level are different. Usually these are in theatre style and lecture mode, thereby suffering severely from personal disconnect. While the faculty by themselves may be extremely good they have no idea of classroom realities. There is thus a disconnect between theory and practice that they are unable to bridge. (ref: scenario 2)

However, if the numbers are small (below 30) it makes for a model that may work in some cases.

Mixed schools and levels

teachers-seminar-2 Participants: Educators across schools, either from a particular range of grades across subjects or a particular subject across grades.

Faculty: Usually a pedagogy or subject expert is the one who handles the sessions.

Sponsored by: Textbook publishing houses pay for the resource person and sponsor the whole program usually in a 3-star hotel in the city. This is an opportunity for them to promote their publications or offer after sales support as a retention strategy.

Advantages: If the SME has a teaching background in school and is able to tailor the session accordingly they can be very useful for young educators to gain knowledge and strategies in handling the classroom and for older professionals to update themselves. It also provides a great opportunity for educators to network and exchange ideas and forge new relationships.

Disadvantages: Usually they are large groups and therefore limited in interaction and personal connect. Quieter educators find it difficult to share their fears or doubts in public. The linear or lateral diversity makes it difficult for the resource person to pitch to any one group in particular. Sometimes the content of the session is based on a particular series of books that the publisher wishes to promote and that could be limiting for participants who do not use those books.

Single school – customized

Participants: Educators from within the school community of a single school who come together to attend the sessions.

Faculty: Usually a pedagogy or subject expert is the one who handles the sessions. They could either be for improvement in classroom strategies or for self-development or awareness.

Sponsored by: Schools set aside budgets for staff development each year based on the needs of the school. The resource persons are usually paid by the school on time costs or per head basis.

Advantages: These are need based sessions and therefore the educators are keen participants. The groups are small thereby providing enough opportunity for interaction. Solutions to problems can be easily sought without fear of breaching privacy as everyone belongs to the same community. They are the best received sessions. (ref scenario 1 )

Disadvantages: Sometimes sub groups maybe too small to be viable if the school is small and the number of educators not large enough. For example, if a session is required only for those handling mathematics in a school, there may be very limited numbers – thereby making the per head costs too high as resource persons need to be paid either time cost or a fee that is in line with the time spent in preparation and delivery.

Online and face to face training for international curriculum

The growing number of schools offering international qualifications has necessitated a new breed of educators who necessarily have to train or rather retrain to learn the nuances of the shift in methodology and assessment of the new system. These trainings are usually provided directly by the qualifying body or by their authorized trainers or training partners. These trainings are expensive but provide an internationally recognized qualification for educators and school leaders. Hence management of schools may prefer to follow the shared cost model where the educator and the school share the costs of training. In case the educator serves the institution for a certain agreed period of time, the incurred expense may be reimbursed. This builds a sense of accountability as well as commitment on both sides. These trainings are global and expose educators to new strategies and thought processes apart from building new networks among the fraternity.

teachers-seminar-3 The other view
Viewing it from the trainer’s angle, from the other side of the fence, the faculty with the most homogeneous group may feel most comfortable as the pitch level does not become an issue. Mixed levels are most challenging as one has to have sufficient ‘meat’ to keep everyone engaged and interested. In spite of this because of the large numbers and diversity, one does not know how much of what is presented, gets implemented.

Speaking as both a practitioner and a trainer, I can say that customized sessions are the most satisfying professionally. One is able to cater to individual needs of the group. Since they are tailored, there is a fair amount of certainty that at least some of the strategies will reach the classroom.

Having said all of the above, in the entire analysis, I am a firm believer that once in the field of education, one strives to be a life-long learner. Therefore, each day and every moment is a learning opportunity in some way, shape or form. It is impossible to either present or attend a session, of any type and not gain anything. For if one’s mind is open and alert there will always be something to take away from every session – however much one feels that one knows it all! Every session leaves both – the participant and the presenter – enriched and evolved.

Workshops, PDs, trainings, call it by any name – they are an extremely useful way to build capacities and learn about new trends. And these two factors alone provide an exciting opportunity for all of us to teach and learn.

The author is a Consultant, Counsellor (trained e-coach by the Stanford School of Medicine for students with anxiety ) and Trainer. She is also a partner in Edcraft, a firm engaged in development and distribution of teaching and learning materials as well as a partner in ‘Two is Company’, a firm engaged in providing counselling services. She can be reached either at edcraft94@gmail.com or twoisco@gmail.com.

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