Peers hold no fears

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Teaching colleagues is never an easy - or enviable - task, but someone's got to do it. Sara Bubb offers ideas to make it less scary

When it comes to training teachers, especially colleagues, a wet Friday afternoon with your most dreaded class seems infinitely preferable.

Suddenly you regret that display of enthusiasm that landed you with this staff meeting or Inset day to prepare.

Skilled teachers don't always make brilliant learners, especially at the end of an exhausting day, or in an Inset session when large numbers of your audience want to finish their packing or talk about their holiday. You're bound to have some people who don't want to be there, and others who delight in finding fault with your teaching strategies.

Don't panic. You just need to prepare with the cunning of a battle strategist. Start with the obvious, and the rather difficult. What do you want people to get out of the session? As with any lesson, a focus on the learning objectives is key. You might want to refine it by asking yourself what you hope the new teacher, the deputy and the seen-it-all-before cynic will get out of it. Are your aims realistic for the time allocated? Probably not.

How are you going to achieve your intended outcomes? Few people like going to meetings, so how are you going make sure their time is spent well? Will they come prepared? Do you need an agenda? What snags can you foresee?

Take account of the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles.

Think about what sort of meetings or courses you've enjoyed and got something from - the two don't necessarily go together. What were the elements? What sort of training don't you like? What's worked for your staff in the past?

For instance, I hate courses where you're expected to do an activity every five minutes - and, no, I don't suffer from attention deficit disorder. Nor do I like hundreds of PowerPoint slides being flashed at me, or speakers who recite every word of every slide. I like a bit of pace, a chance to talk through issues, and a trainer with personality and a lot of humour who can keep control of the group, especially that pain who keeps asking such stupid questions.

Think about seating and groupings. Plan the session to a tight schedule.

Think of what will work best at the time of day you'll be doing the training. What about handouts? If you have some, what will be on them and when will you give them out? As a participant, I want them stapled together, but as a trainer I don't like people to read ahead.

Aren't these just the sorts of dilemmas you face when teaching classes? Yes, but unfortunately you can't tell adults off when they misbehave, as you can children. They'll think it strange when you give them a sticker, too. But you can think about how you'll deal with mobile phones going off and people who are late and who wander off the point. Public humiliation is tempting, but remember that you have to work with the culprits.

Expect to be nervous. Being prepared and organised will help, but also give yourself a bit of quiet time before you start so you can focus on the task ahead.

Practise your opening line. If you find the thought of everyone looking at you terrifying, get them to look at a screen or a flip chart. Give the group a clear purpose and outcome for the session, and the big picture - what's going to happen.

Make sure you explain any activities clearly - and why you're asking people to do them. Give people tight time limits so they get on with the job. Be selective in the amount of feedback you ask for, because it can take a lot of time and get repetitive.

Keeping to time is tricky. Finishing early is never a problem. Over-running is a big no-no, so you'll need strategies for moving things on. In your plan you might want to distinguish absolute must-dos from items that can be omitted if you run out of time. No matter how well you plan, you'll have to think on your feet.

One last tip: don't apologise for having no time for a certain activity - it will make that part appear highly attractive, and people will feel cheated. Pull the learning together in a slick way with a few minutes to spare and everyone will be happy.

Sara Bubb is a lecturer at the Institute of Education, London University

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