Conference notes: Oxford TEFL Training and Leadership in ELT

Today, I had the pleasure and privilege of not only attending, but presenting at Oxford TEFL’s Training and Leadership in ELT conference. I have to say, hats off to Oxford TEFL. They put on a FREE conference focused on training and management, something I think is super rare in our industry, and something we need more of. What follows here are my notes from the day, and a review of my own session – looking at how I felt, the preparation I went through, etc.

Plenary – Duncan Foord

Duncan’s very short plenary focused on the difference between training and leadership. Quite strangely, this was the opening slide:

Through Duncan’s plenary, he looked at ‘dolphin’ trainers, and then made comparisons between ‘trainers’ in ELT and leaders. He then asked us to think about the difference between the training and leadership by presenting a list of teacher actions, which we had to classify as ‘training’ or ‘leadership’:

In our breakout rooms, we got to discuss these and one thing that came up was the idea that many of these may be discrete behaviours, but knowing how to use them requires pèdagoic reasoning and decision making skills, which come with experience. So, training can help get the skills ‘in the room’, but through experience they will be developed. Some of the skills certainly focused on leadership, from both a teacher and a trainer/manager perspective (e.g., develop me career).

At the end of the plenary, Duncan said that training often looks at skills, whereas leadership looks at how we deal with people, which I thought was an excellent way of looking at it.

Helping teachers plan their careers using lesson-planning skills – Rubens Heredia

Rubens’ talk asked us to think about our career develop as if it were a lesson plan. So, we started by looking at lesson aims, and how, generally, teachers’ aims are too vague, both in lessons and in career focus. So, the answer? Make these aims SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. You’ll know that I’m a fan of these if you’ve read my blog before.

Next, we need to think about stages, stage aims, etc. And here Rubens introduced Freeman’s KASA framework. I had seen this before, but I haven’t actually worked with it. Rubens showed us how this framework could be used to help teachers plan their development goals, which I thought was excellent.

Next, we need to think about our anticipated problems and solutions. Just like in our lessons, there may be bumps in the road in our career development. By encouraging teachers to plan for these, they are more likely going to be prepared for them.

For those of you who are interested, I highly recommend checking out Ruben’ blog What is ELT? – there are some really informative posts, including one on the KASA framework.

How to actually get useful feedback from people – Duncan Foord

Duncan’s talk focused on getting feedback from people as a manager (and also as a teacher. We looked at a few really interesting ‘getting feedback’ ideas, but before we look at those, I want to highlight what Duncan mentioned regarding the rationale for getting feedback.

He spoke about the Johari window, which is a framework for conceptualising what you and others know about ‘you’. There are four areas (see below), and basically by getting feedback, we can make the ‘Not known to self’ square smaller.

He also mentioned some reasons why we might not seek feedback, and some possible solutions:

I would add to this list the fact that collecting feedback, if done at an institutional level, can take time and energy. It is not something to do half-heartedly.

Now, the ideas. Firstly, Duncan spoke about the types of questions we ask, and emphasised that we need to help those giving feedback by making these questions specific. Secondly, he spoke about the idea of 360º feedback; that is, getting feedback from loads of different stakeholders. Thirdly, as people are sometimes reluctant to give ‘negative’ feedback, Duncan mentioned his 3:1 idea – ask them to give you three positives and a ‘something to improve’. This way, they are more likely to feel good about giving you positive feedback and an idea on what you can change, and you are going to feel better about the feedback because there are some positives chucked in there as well.

At the start of the session, we were asked to think of something we’d like to get feedback on. And then at the end of the session, we were asked to reframe our point bearing in mind what we had covered. So, here is what I would like to try:

  • What do I want to get feedback on? How teachers perceive the value of my contributions in our coaching sessions
  • How? Through a questionnaire with two ‘parts’
    • Part 1: The question will be: How useful were my contributions in our coaching sessions? Why?
    • Part 2: I’m going to try Duncan’s 3:1 idea with the task: Think back on our coaching sessions: Write three things you liked about my contributions, and one thing about my contributions that you feel could be improved.
  • Follow up: Collect data and then try to take this into account for next year’s coaching sessions.

Top Ten Tips for Training Teachers, Trainers, and Writers – Fiona Mauchline

Fiona shared her ten tips for training teachers. She mentioned that some of them are obvious, but they are worth revisiting.

  • 1 – Objectives: Get teachers to regularly state their reasons for being there! And then review these needs at the end. In essence, don’t let them lose sight of their goals and objectives!
  • 2 – Team build… and do it fast: Spend time building the rapport of teachers – strengthen these relationships as much as you can! In the ‘study’ context, try to get teachers to get accountability/study partners.
  • 3 – Rapport: Ensure that you as the trainers builds a strong level of rapport with the teachers you’re working with.
  • 4 – Perform: We need to be engaging with teachers, and we need to ensure that any ‘teaching’ that takes place ‘connects’ with teachers. We need to remember that when we are working with teachers, we are ‘teachers’ and we need to remember to be present, active and aware!
  • 5 – Energy: Ensure that you are healthy and fit as a trainer so that you can be energetic in sessions. Also, remember to check the energy of your teachers. Fiona used the term ‘energy manager’ – basically, we need to take stock of what’s happening, identify energy levels and work towards what’s most beneficial. Fiona mentioned that if you’re training teachers online, you can use the emoji function and get teachers to show how they are feeling (this can also be done in class by printing out a set of emojis).
  • 6 – Engage the senses: Fiona mentioned that engaging all the senses is really important as there are part of the brain that are engaged by certain senses, or better said, that sense can strengthen learning. We want to trigger episodic memory.
  • 7 – Hooks and (cliff)hangers: Include puzzles and questions at the start of the session, but don’t tell them the answer (or allow them to answer) until the end of the session.
  • 8 – Check, check, check: Make sure to check that teachers are understanding throughout the course, programme, session, etc. An idea that Fiona included was getting teacher to ‘write the presentation slide’, i.e., after ‘teaching’ something, ak them to create the presentation slide for a lecture.
  • 9 – Your inner Socrates: Ensure that teachers learn the content but also learn to walk the talk. Basically, raising awareness of how teachers see and engage the content, and how they use the content/ideas.
  • 10 – Let’s juice: If you use captions in Zoom calls, ensure that these are checked because teachers may go back and read caption to understand what you said. Obviously this may be difficult if some words are spelt wrong or are completely wrong.

My own workshop! – Getting bottom-up and top-down right: meeting everyone’s needs

This was the abstract for my session: Within INSETT programmes, we often make the distinction between bottom-up, i.e. teachers’ needs and wants, and top-down, i.e. management’s needs and wants. These two distinctions need not/cannot be separated. In this workshop, we will look at collecting information on both sets of needs, and a number of ways in which these can be brought together so that the in-service programme has the best chance of leaving the biggest impact on learners, teachers and the institution itself.

You can find the handouts to the session here and the slides here.

So, in looking back on my session, I wanted to answer the following six questions. I hope that by answering these, I can provide those of you out there who are thinking about running a workshop at a conference some idea of what it’s like.

  • How were you able to present at the conference? Well, I applied through the call for proposal section on the Oxford TEFL blog. All conferences will have a call for proposals ‘ad’, so look for these.
  • Why did you choose to present? Over the last few years, together with my director Patrick, we have been developing a programme that aims to collect data on and work towards meeting as many bottom-up and top-down needs as best as possible. I wanted to show the ‘tools’ and ‘processes’ we are using because I feel we moving in a very good direction, and I think that the tools and processes would be useful to others.
  • What’s your preparation procedure? Well, once I’ve written the abstract and submitted my proposal, I wait. When I got confirmation, then I created the session. It took me a few weeks to go through all my data and get my written plan (usually a mind map) of what I want to include. Then it took me about another two weeks to get my slides and the ‘what I’m going to say’ in place. I also did a rehearsal with Patrick the day before (after doing three or four alone). On the day, I do a silent rehearsal half an hour before the session.
  • How do you feel before the session? I was really excited. I get excited up until about an hour before. Then I get a little nervous.
  • What do you do to calm your nerves? Funnily enough, I walk around and talk to myself. I jump up and down, and repeat my first few ‘lines’ from the session until I get my voice at the right ‘tone’ and my ‘nerves’ are calm.
  • How did the session go? I feel that the session went really well. I know that I had a lot that I wanted to get out, and I think that I did it fairly well. I was able to include two breakout rooms, and from the discussions that I heard, participants seemed to understand everything. I did ask participants to write their success criteria and assess the session against this – unfortunately, I didn’t get to see their results.

Final notes

Overall, this conference was a great event. Some great sessions and there were plenty of moments for working with others. I look forward to future Oxford TEFL conferences – hopefully with all of you there!

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