I’ve been delivering initial teacher training for Teach for Sweden each summer since 2013. Sessions have come a long way since my first attempts at practice-based training in that year. I refined the activities after a Teach Like a Champion workshop in 2014. I reworked everything from scratch last year, having attended the Teach Like a Champion Practice Perfect workshop, as I sought to ensure everything trainees learned they practised, I planned practice more carefully and refined feedback. I watched trainees teach better than ever before.
I was left unsatisfied. Most feedback was very positive, but a handful of trainees felt uncomfortable – particularly about classroom management. I spoke with individuals after sessions and emphasised the rationale behind the training to the group, but this year I sought to preempt and avoid such problems entirely. I adapted the training with a view to making it comfortable (and irresistible). (The methods described below build on what I was already going to create a culture of practice).
1) Framing the problems trainees face
In 2015, I had to return to why teaching is so difficult as a beginner repeatedly, and particularly why struggles with classroom management can undermine a teacher’s best intentions. This year, I sought to clarify that the choices I was making rested on the reality of Swedish schools. My opening presentation set out the problems Swedish schools face. I’ve expanded this presentation since into a series of blogs, discussing declining results, poor policy, chaotic behaviour, an unhelpful curriculum and weak training. I wanted to set the scene and make clear why we were doing what we were doing. It appeared to work:
2) Offering trainees a system
To further clarify what we were doing and how it all fitted together, I used a compass.
In 2015, the goal I shared with trainees was this:
In 2016, the goal I shared was this:
The priorities are identical – save my finessing of classroom management to incorporate building strong relationships. They are now much clearer however. This metaphor also promotes consideration of the ordinal points, so we discussed how assessment and planning (north-east), or inspiration and relationships (south-west) are related. This simple image became a framework to which I returned repeatedly, emphasising both how everything fitted together, and the iterative nature of the training.
3) Discussing the ethical dimension
Alongside this understanding of what we were doing and why, I sought to draw out the ethical dilemmas trainees face in using some teaching techniques. Introducing classroom management, I first described my own failings as a new teacher, then asked trainees:
I then asked teachers to stand where they felt on the continuum:
Is it OK for teachers to exercise control over students?”
Having revisited some of data on behavioural challenges in Swedish schools, I offered them some JS Mill:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
It turned out most trainees felt comfortable exercising a degree of control, and caveats focused on the importance of seeking to make trainees autonomous, in due course. This investment of time ran against my inclination to focus on practice over excessive discussion, but it proved worth its while in ensuring trainees understood why they were practising techniques like 100%, and the autonomy they retained in deciding how to use it.
4) Bright spots
Pulling out bright spots – things which are going well – is obvious for any teacher or teacher-trainer. It can get lost if you are concentrating on how to make newly-designed sessions work however. I planned to ask for ‘bright spots’ more frequently; the immediate, positive reaction, every time I asked ‘Whose partner did something excellent in this round of practice?’ proved immensely satisfying for all concerned.
Firstly, it’s worth making a point in sequencing: all these efforts would have been a pointless distraction had the training not been satisfactory to start with. This order is key: make the training strong, then you can focus on comfort. The better feedback, and smoother sessions, may be as much a reflection on technical improvements in the training, like greater clarity about techniques and how to use videos. Either way, the message in feedback sheet after feedback sheet was clear:.
Secondly, I’m forced to conclude that improving teacher-training is like riding a bicycle: a constant process of over-balancing and over-compensating. In my 2013 training, we spent a lot of time talking about beliefs and feelings. I removed this ruthlessly, to focus on practice. In discussing Mill, we weren’t so far from what we were doing in 2013 – but with effective practice built into the sessions. This iterative process: adding new ideas, then returning to revive old ones, feels like the essence of teacher improvement. (See my reflections on trying to habituate change as a teacher here).
Nothing about this reduces my conviction that this training, however effective it was at the time, is unlikely to stick once teachers enter the classroom: why doesn’t teacher training stick?
I’ve tried to formulate everything a facilitator can do to make practice-based training run well in a framework here.