Review: Trainer Development – Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho

A while ago I remember reading something from Rachel Tsateri and her experience with Wright and Bolitho’s Trainer Development. Rachel mentioned that some of her great ideas were influenced by and came from this book, so I knew I had to look more into it. After a little more reading, I came across plenty of really well-renown ELT professionals recommending this book (e.g. Sandy Millin). So, I found a copy online and got to reading, and all I can say is that this book is FULL of those oh-wow moments. I’ll do my best to sell it to you all here.

Three-sentence summary

Wright and Bolitho’s Trainer Development is a book that is aimed at trainers of trainers, and as such many of the activities, ideas, etc. inside are related to trainers getting better at, well, training. This being said, the book takes the reader through a journey of understanding many important aspects of training which are, and I will put money on this, entirely appropriate for training teachers. Readers of this book should expect to delve into the reasons behind certain processes that need to occur in training, relevant training and learning models, as well as plenty of practical ideas that can be adapted and used in various contexts, or used simply as reflective springboards.

Three takeaways

As usual, I have plenty more than three takeaways. If you would like to read some of my notes, feel free to peruse my notion page. I will do my best to put the ‘best’ three here:

  • You cannot move forward unless you know where you are: Wright and Bolitho stress time and time and time again that the most important starting point for new knowledge is existing knowledge. Our jobs as trainers is not to simply provide knowledge to teachers – in fact, the writers say that our job is NOT to provide knowledge most of the time – rather, our job is to help teachers understand, reflect on, make explicit, etc. their own values, attitudes and beliefs, and from there lead them through experiences in which they can build on this.
  • Successful groups have strong bonds: The writers put forward a very much socio-cultural approach to training, emphasising the need for teachers to co-construct meaning, build off of each other’s knowledge, push each other’s knowledge, etc. However, in order for this to occur in a safe place and in an appropriate and friendly manner, the group needs to feel safe with each other, the trainer included. There a number of things that can be done to ensure this:
    • At the start of a course or programme, spend plenty of time building the group’s identity, connections, etc. This can be done by well-structured icebreakers such as the classic trust activity, Lighthouse, in which one person walks blindfolded and the other guides that person to a specified place, ensuring to avoid obstacles. Another way is for teachers to spend time noting down their expectations, worries, burdens, etc. And then they share these (if comfortable) with the group.
    • Ensure that as trainers we value all contributions from teachers, no matter how ‘out there’ they may be. We need to ensure that our comments are non-judgemental and non-evaluative. That is, accept contributions, look to go deeper into the teacher’s thinking, and look for other contributions from the group.
    • If you ask teachers to do something, you should be prepared to do that thing yourself. So, if teachers are opening up and sharing certain information about themselves, we as trainers should do the same. The consequences of not doing so include a lack of trust and difficulty in establishing an effective trainer-teacher-group relationship.
  • There are some very interesting models that can be used to conceptualise teacher thinking and awareness. I ‘understand’ these models, especially Kolb’s, but I still want to learn more about them and ‘feel’ them in practice. Three of the models that the writers presented that I found exceptionally insightful and useful include:
    • Kolb’s learning cycle: Wright and Bolitho put forward their own modified version of Kolb’s learning cycle (with teacher training in mind); however, the general idea of this is that there are four steps in the cycle of learning (for actual learning to take place): Doing, reflecting, making meaningful, planning. We start from a concrete experience and then reflect on this. From here, even though most of our learning experience most likely stop here, for us to really learn we need to make meaning and really process the experience. After we have processed the experience and understood what happened and why, we can then plan for action, i.e. plan what we are going to do next. In between each of these stages, there are things that we as trainers can do to help teachers move through them (e.g. helping them process their experience through questioning).
    • Luft’s Johari Window: The Johari Window is a ‘technique’ that helps to conceptualise our knowledge of a situation and our relationships between people, events, etc. Related to training, we can use the Johari window as way to conceptualise awareness-raising activities, with the A/Open arena quadrant being what we and others are aware of, B/Façade quadrant being our private agendas which may make change difficult in social settings, C/Blind spot being things that other are aware of but we are not – a very dangerous situation at times, especially when we are in potentially face-threatening situations -, and D/Unknown being an area that can explored in numerous different ways – this area often hides much ‘potential’.
    • Handal and Lauvas/Claxton’s Levels of Teachers’ Thinking in Action: This model shows how teacher’s behaviour can on one level be accounted for by their pedagogical knowledge as well as institutional rules and constraints. And on another level by their values and beliefs, which may or may not be the same as the received knowledge. For example, a teacher may believe that English should be the main language in the classroom, but because of the social context in which most of the teachers speak the L1 more than the L2, they chose to do so as well.

What I liked

  • Raw experiences: Wright and Bolitho are super experienced trainers, even at the time of writing. What I really enjoyed was how they went through their own AND their trainee-trainers’ thoughts. They looked many training experiences and broke them down, looking at many different aspects in great detail. I found their thoughts on the processes, sequences, activities, etc. just as useful as the other ideas.
  • Applicable to all trainers: As mentioned, this book is aimed at trainers of trainers, but I really feel that the principles are the same and that any trainer can gain a great deal from the book. I also feel that the way it is written means that any trainer, at any stage in their training career, can pick this up and feel comfortable with the content.
  • Loads of training session ideas: Ok, so this for me has been one of the biggest positives. There are plenty of session ideas that can be very easily adapted to a variety of training contexts. The writers also cover in detail two courses, and the activities they covered in these courses. I remember reading and being like, ‘oh, ok well that is going in the development programme next year’ and ‘so if I change that, that would be great for induction week’. I can guarantee that you are going to come away with. few ideas for sessions.
  • Very clear writer opinions: Wright and Bolitho make it very clear from the outset what their opinion is. And they go back to it many times throughout the book with plenty of anecdotal evidence and well though-out reasoning.
  • Great advice and very down-to-earth: Plenty of advice for a wide range of topics, and it is delivered in a personal way. One of my favourite lines from the book is: We are sometimes aware of an ‘alter-ego’ talking to us in training sessions, telling us to tread carefully, or to intervene, or even to stop bullshitting. The advice we get from this source is often the wisest! (Wright and Bolitho, 2007, p. 228).
  • Super cheap: So I paid 13 euro for this bad boy on Amazon – so cheap for what you get!

What I didn’t like

  • A little dated: This was written in 2007, and so many of the references (e.g. Overhead projector) are quite old. I have wondered if any of the points would change if there were to be second edition. I imagine technology would need to be mentioned, but the rest would most likely stay the same. I also imagine the authors have plenty more experience now, and so it would be interesting to see if their thoughts have changed.
  • Some printing errors: For some reason I am getting a little fussy with books. There are quite a few printing errors in the one that I got. Nothing dramatic, but it is one of those things that I remember stopping while reading thinking that it had annoying me.
  • It is not focused so much on observations, etc.: I know that this book was aimed at trainers of trainers, but I thought that there might be more information or focus on observations, providing feedback, etc. They do have a lovely activity for training trainers (trainers watch a recorded lesson, then in threes they carry out oral feedback. One trainer is the teacher, one the trainer, and one observes and takes notes from a neutral standpoint), but that is really all.

Who should read this book?

  • Teacher trainers: This is a must for teacher trainers looking to really build on understanding of what it means to be a trainer. I have been training for a ‘short time’, and I learnt loads. I imagine that experienced trainers would still learn quite a lot, although perhaps some of the experiences mentioned would be quite familiar.
  • Trainers of trainers: The book is intended for trainers of trainers, so if this is you, definitely take a look.

Final notes

Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho’s Trainer Development is one of those books that I think will be on my desk for a while, likely to be used as a reference as I go through the next training year. As mentioned, there were plenty of oh-wow moments, and I think it is a must for all trainers. But what about you – have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment and let me know what you think!

Book details

Title: Trainer Development

Authors: Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho

ISBN: 9781847532329

Pages: 254

Amazon link

References

Claxton, G. (1989). Being a teacher. London: Cassell

Handal, G. & Lauvas, P. (1987). Promoting Reflective Teaching: Supervision in action. Milton Keyes: Open University Press.

Luft, J. (1984). Group Processes: An introduction to group dynamics – 3rd Edition. Palo Alto: Mayfield.

Wright, T. & Bolitho, R. (2007). Trainer Development. Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho.

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