I'm in with the Inset

26th January 2001 at 00:00
In-service rebel Gemma Warren finds it's different when she's the one standing at the front

I turn into the one-woman class from hell when I go on in-service training. I sit at the back, muttering into my cup of tea about teachers who obviously can't hack it, when really I'm consumed with envy at their expertise. I whisper to my colleagues and write funny messages on the free notepads.

But what happens when you are the one giving the training? Suddenly you're on the other side of the fence - and it's disorientating. Considering that teachers carry such a wealth of educational experience, it is surprising that they give in-service to their colleagues so rarely. It's a shame, because no one knows the demands of a school better than its teachers. People develop their own specialisms and interests, and it's so unusual to have an hour's talk without interruption.

Last term I presented an hour's literacy in-service at a whole-school staff training day. I've always been interested in the subject and had been on a couple of in-service courses myself. Now, on my home patch, it was pay-back time. All of a sudden your relationship with your equals changes. You're in a position of authority; how will they take you seriously?

My main fear was seeming to patronise more experienced colleagues. What if they thought I was a secret pretender to the senior management team? What if no one would make me a cup of coffee any more, or let me sit on their table at lunch?

I wanted to share good practice, but I didn't want to set myself up as a paragon of excellence. I wanted to talk about my specialism, but somehow I had to find a way to make it relevant to all the different specialists you find in a secondary school. I also had to find a way for people to see why I thought what I was saying was important.

When you're providing in-service as a teacher, you are blessed and cursed with being able to see both sides of the coin. You know your colleagues want new ideas and examples of good practice. But you also know they are reeling from initiative overload, and you don't want to be the final straw.

I thought about how I would teach a lesson to a particularly demanding class. I asked around to gauge what my audience already knew and I tried to get an idea of what they wanted to know. I thought about what activities I had found useful and which topics had the widest appeal, so my audience wouldn't be bored. It can be hard to think of subjects that wll appeal to everyone from the mathematicians, to the historians, to the PE department, to the food technologists.

Most in-service sessions are aimed at a specific group - special needs co-ordinators, year heads, NQTs. In your own school, you've got the whole bunch rolled into one.

Following my ideal lesson plan, I tried to use a range of media: interspersing teaching with video clips, and using a range of visual aids. I used a few activities that were lighthearted, some that were challenging, some that involved paired or group discussion, and some I hoped would be thought-provoking.

I remembered to start with a punchy opening, state my objectives, and recap at the end. Year 11 would have been proud. I remembered the vital rule: always leave enough time for coffee. I tried to sell myself as the friendly colleague who knows something but not everything and who is just trying to share ideas.

It's best to be true to yourself and not pretend to be someone your colleagues know you're not. And most of all, I tried to convey to them why I think literacy is an exciting and important subject. I think it went okay. The one good thing about giving a whole-school in-service is that they don't have to fill in an evaluation form. And someone still made room for me on their table at lunch.

Gemma Warren teaches English at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north London. She is also a columnist for Friday magazine and has written a guidebook for new teachers, published by The TES. Order your copy from The TES bookshop at www.tes.co.uk or tel: 01454 617370. Price pound;2.99


* Plan what you are going to say carefully. It will not come to you as you stand up in front of the whole staff.

* Rehearse your talk aloud. It does not sound the same as just repeating it in your head.

* Consider your audience. The aspects of your subject that you find most useful may not apply to others. Show how your ideas can be adapted.

* Plan your in-service as you would a lesson. Mix activities and intersperse your teaching with other resources.

* Make your ideas as practical as possible. Let people see the value of what you are saying.

* Don't set yourself up as an expert if you're not. Establish from the beginning what your interest is, how you got it, and why you have it.

* If you need audience participation, ask a friendly colleague to be a "plant" in the audience. Nothing is worse than a sea of blank faces.

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