Helping and Supervising Fellow Professionals in ELT

Written by: Simona Mazilu [toc class=”toc-right”] (or Teacher Training Re-visited)


A. Why Teacher-training?

1) Over the last years I had a golden opportunity – to watch my peers (professional colleagues) and “under-peers” (read “student-teachers”) at work training each other. I have also had the concomitant chance to learn more about my own teaching and training styles.
Such beneficial and shaping exposure in terms of both professional and personal growth has mainly been possible as a result of my involvement in mentoring – the initiating, follow-up, and follow-through stages gradually leading my way from the level of “mentee” or “teacher-trainee” to that of “mentor” or “teacher-trainer.”
2) Last summer (16-29 July 2000) a new coordinate was added to the golden opportunity mentioned above. I attended a top-quality course for teacher trainers and/or mentors at Hilderstone College, in Broadstairs, the U.K. Hilderstone is a state college which specialises in writing programs for teachers, trainers, and students from schools, universities, and government agencies all over the world. These courses are credited by the British Council.
The Teacher Training Program in July combined a Language Development component with a choice of Special Interest Options, allowing participants to update and enjoy their English while developing their particular area of preference.
From the wide range of offers by the Hilderstone College team of teacher-trainers (Tessa Woodward, Seth Lindstromberg, Andy Caswell, Deborah Robson, John Carr, and Paul Bress) I opted for “Trainer Development” with Tessa Woodward.1
Being designed for both native and non-native trainers, educators, mentors, and course-directors, this course seemed to combine well with my training/mentoring background. The real thing, however, was beyond all expectations, making me wax lyrical about the experience.

B. Why “Helping and Supervising Fellow Professionals in ELT”?

Focused on

  • mentoring and supervising,
  • helping teachers plan,
  • observation,
  • discussion and feed-back,
  • listening and handling conflict,
  • working with different styles,
  • running workshops and refresher courses,
  • trainer support materials,
  • participant case studies, the course addresses anyone who has, or will have, responsibility for helping and supervising fellow-professionals in ELT.

In conclusion, the two-week immersion in such issues, in conjunction with my own experience and insight – limited as they are – in the province of mentoring, formed the basis of my topic choice for this Conference.


1) Sharing Information.

The section includes a series of suggestions for eliciting and transmitting information, ideas, opinions, and awareness in teacher-training sessions from and to all participants in the learning event.
The assumption that no trainee comes into the training room as a “tabula rasa,” upon which the trainer writes, that everyone in a group has knowledge and experience inside them, and that everyone present – the trainer included – can learn from the “encounter” and from one another lies at the very basis of the following selection.
a) Story Starters

  • We can start off the session by telling a story, an anecdote, or a parable that is related to the theme under discussion. Here are a few examples: “How I became a teacher,” “A lesson that went disastrously wrong ” or “How I feel when there’s someone observing me in my classroom.”
  • Trainees can either ask questions and comment or keep silent. They are invited to contribute anecdotes of their own to the same subject as a follow-up.

The stories can also be told at the end or in the middle of a session. The rationale for this activity is mainly given by two aspects: being fairly easy to tell. anecdotes, enable participants to learn something about the lecturer, and promote independence as the individual feels the need to make their own sense out of the message.
b) Lecture Discussion Scales
The preparatory stage consists of the following:

  • Selecting central points from a talk you intend to give.
  • Phrasing them as provocative statements to be agreed or disagreed with. For example, the main issues to be touched upon in a talk on the subject of translation could be made to sound debatable in the following way:
    • Though it is most natural activity, translation is out of date in language teaching.
    • Every word or phrase is translatable into the target language.
    • There is no such thing as a perfect translation for a particular word in a language.
  • Writing or typing central points and, under each, drawing a line or a scale like this: Agree <——–Disagree
  • Photocopying the completed sheets of statements and scales, cutting them into strips, so that each strip has a statement and a scale on it.

The procedure is equally simple:

  • Each trainee is given one statement and scale (one strip).
  • Everyone reads their own statement slip first, reflects on it, then marks the scale with an X according to whether and how much they agree or not. Strong agreement, for instance, will look like this: Agree <-x——Disagree
  • Participants now share what is on their slip and their feelings about it, in an attempt to find someone who is of the same opinion to the same extent.
  • Once all of them have spoken to several others, give your talk. Try to pay particular attention to your listeners’ reactions: they will tend to respond especially well to the part of the talk that deals with “their” perception of the issue. They may also show interest in your position towards the topic under discussion.
  • The last stage, when the lecture is over, sees the trainer encouraging the group to pool the key points they have been able to identify throughout. As an alternative, the talk may finish a little earlier then expected, leaving trainees to the open-ended discussion thus created. The chance is that individuals will readily, and strongly, recall the central aspects of the lecture referred to on their own sheets of statements and scales.

This activity of sharing information is particularly useful when content is likely to go against established opinions, the initial stages of reading, thinking, and exchanging ideas
making participants aware of their own knowledge or opinions on the theme while keeping their attention focused on the task in which they are engaged.
Knowing they have already got the key-points through discussions between them, trainees can finally relax and enjoy the lecture – a well-deserved reward and also the best part of this training encounter, as nothing compares to the excitement given by the sense of achievement.
c) The Mind-Map Lecture
There are mainly five procedural steps in this information-sharing activity:

  • The title of the talk is stated and written in the center of the chalkboard.
  • The chief areas to be covered are specified. While explaining them, the trainer is drawing main branches out from the central title on the board, giving each one a label to show the main area it represents. The labels are written in CAPITALS along the branches.
  • As the lecture progresses, more branches, and even sub-branches, are added in order to map further ideas and information onto the board. The result is continuous talk and visual support. Any statistics or heavy detail are to be recorded separately, in note form, on another board.
  • Any extra points that arise via questions or comments are instantly recorded in the mind map.
  • The colour code and graphics are sure to enhance perception: main ideas are to be written up in one colour, side details in another colour, arrows and lines being drawn between related points.
  • The rationale behind this strategy of sharing information may reside in the following aspects:
  • Being non-linear, the mind map does not force a particular sequence onto the lecturer, who can develop or extend it according to what comes up in the monitored lecture and in the group. Despite the continuous flow of additional data, it still retains organisation and overview.
  • Visually appealing, easy to rewrite or reorganize if too disorderly, mind maps are especially good for showing priorities as well as networks of possible connections between numbers of points.

The Curran-Style Lecture, the Buzz-group Lecture, Pre-lecture Unfinished Slips, Lecture Key-words, Socratic Questioning, the Interactive, or Interrupted Lecture, Listen, Read and Rest, Participants Mini-Lectures are as many enjoyable options to look at for a profitable interaction between trainer-trainees, both engaged in the process of sharing information.
Possible adaptations to the main idea :

  • The trainer drawing their mind map before the lecture, to serve as a pool of prompts from which to speak.
  • Trainee drawing their own mind maps before or after a lecture with a view to measuring how much they know or remember of the subject.
  • A volunteer trainee standing at the board and drawing a mind map for the lecture while it is being delivered, thus providing the trainer with an immediate visual feedback of what is being understood by one trainee, the others being able to check on their group simultaneously:
  • The trainer distributing copies of an incomplete (half filled-in, for instance) mind map before a talk, for trainees to contribute the missing information as the lectures progresses.

d) A Question Matrix
This can be regarded as a variation on the mind-map lecture, the main areas to be covered in the talk being phrased as questions. The rationale behind choosing this format is based on a well-known truth: one way of spotlighting a subjetct so as to think about it in detail is to ask a number of simple, fundamental questions and then to generate a variety of answers to them. Here are some possible questions on the topic of being a teacher trainer:

  • What is a trainer?
  • Are trainers necessary?
  • What does a trainer have to be/do/have/know?
  • How do people become teacher trainers?
  • How do trainers continue to progress/ develop once in the job? What do they need for this?
  • What useful frameworks/constructs can there be used throughout the training session?
  • Where is the language learner in all this?
  • What are the current approaches to training?
  • Are there any dark sides to them?
  • How do people get trained in other fields?
  • What can we learn from their methods?

Those who do not feel attracted to such linear formats can always have recourse to the mind-map display.
A mind map display.
Being a teacher trainer

  • Where is the language learner in all this?
  • What useful frameworks/ constructs are there to use in our job?
  • How do trainers continue to progress/ develop once on the job?
  • How do people in other fields get trained?
  • What is a trainer?
  • Are trainers necessary?
  • What does a trainer have to be/do/have/know?
  • How do people become teacher trainers?

2) Observing Teachers at Work

As many terms in any field, observation can be defined in different ways, strictly or broadly speaking.
It can cover a wide range of possibilities, from visiting a class to observe different aspects of teaching to “seeing with your own eyes,” as Woodward explains it (“Observation and Feedback,” The Teacher Trainer, 1989), that is from the traditional to the newer approaches to the issue.
Imparting knowledge and constructing it are two different worlds, and the distinction between them has a strong, far-reaching impact on teacher development. Therefore, the entire teaching program should be organised in a way that trainees play an active role in the process of becoming a teacher and/or, further on, improving and growing as one.
Irrespective of the form in which observation is carried out, it involves a lot more than the physical time spent visiting in the classroom or watching a recorded lesson or reading a lesson transcript. It can not be restricted to the events seen or heard during a particular lesson or series of lesson, as it is not a linear reality. It is a process that has to be followed both on the surface – preobservation sessions, where various aspects of observation are discussed, and feedback sessions as well, where the experience is analysed and commented on – and on a deeper level, where it becomes an invaluable learning tool, by which teachers can learn and develop, as it is where high cognitive processes as involved. Thus observation helps trainees make their own constructions of the world explicit and add newly acquired information to the already existing schemata. Needless to say that the next step will inevitably engage learners in relating the fresh data gained during observation to their past experience in analysing and reinterpreting it. Such processes, complex and long-term as they are, lead teachers to form their personal theories of teaching and learning, which will represent a solid basis on which to make informed judgments in any teaching situation.
It is exactly this learning aspect of observation that will be looked at in this section.


1. Tessa Woodward: Professional Development Coordinator at Hilderstone College; Teacher, trainer and ELT author of international standing; Editor of The Teacher Trainer; Publications include: Loop Input, Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training, Ways of Training.

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