Desert Island Trainer

There’s quite a famous radio programme on BBC Radio 4 in the UK called ‘Desert Island Discs’, which started way back in 1942. I listen to it fairly often.  On it, famous actors, writers, TV personalities and public figures are invited to choose eight records which they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. They can also take one book; you get a complete set of Shakespeare ‘for free’. Finally, you can choose one luxury.

The programme is compelling for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that it makes you think what you would choose in the same situation. Anyway, it started me thinking about how you might transfer this to the training field. Clearly, as a trainer, being stranded on a desert island would mean you would have no one to train, so it doesn’t quite work, but the conceit is still an engaging one. It might go something like this: if you could only choose four items, apart from your materials, to take with you onto a training course, what would they be?   PowerPoint and a laptop are like Shakespeare in my little game; you get them as standard.  Well, it’s my game:)

So what would my top four be?  None of these are particularly new or revolutionary, but here goes.

1.      Well, as I have my laptop and powerpoint as standard, I’d choose a clicker. Actually, this is the one I have, and it’s wonderful. It means you can basically stand anywhere in the room and move your slides forward  or backward or point at them with a laser. A small investment for a really useful and practical tool. Fantastic!

click me

2.      The other little novelty-which is perhaps no longer a novelty for many- is wordle.  This is a piece of free software- at which makes word clouds out of any text you provide. I find it wonderful for all kinds of activities. There’s one that I made recently and put onto powerpoint for an activity I did with some trainers-in-training on the side bar of this blog.  Needless to say ,participants can also create their own. (Warning:if you want to do this, you have to make the wordle into an image)

3.      A low-tech item that I just have to have is some rolls of flip chart paper. Absolutely essential for making posters, putting up aims, collecting feedback. I really like to use the flipchart for collecting ideas before I even move to PowerPoint. It lets you have a much closer relationship with participants.

Look at that flip chart

4.      Now for another techy toy. I’ve just invested in a flipcam and am rapidly finding that I couldn’t possibly live without it! Great for showing bits of micro-teaching or training and activities.  It’s really small, too, like a camera, so it’s east to carry around.  Here’s mine. Lovely, isn’t it?

So my question is this: what are the items, high- or low-tech which you simply have to have on a training course? I’m looking forward to your ideas.


Teacher? Trainer? What’s the difference?

In a week or two I’ll be trotting off to train about twenty teachers to become teacher trainers. I imagine that they will be a group of good, experienced English teachers working in primary or secondary schools across their country.  Most of them will have had no experience of working with teachers in a training role.

Before a course like this, I always try to put myself into the position of those teachers. I try to imagine how they’ll feel, having offered and been selected to take on this specific job. Will they be excited? Enthusiastic? Worried? Perhaps a little scared?  What will they be thinking about as they travel across the country by train, plane or bus to the place where we’re running the course? How will they be imagining their future role?

Like many trainer trainers, I imagine, early in the course I discuss with the participants the similarities and differences between being a teacher and being a teacher trainer. The aim of this is partly to assure them that they have many of the skills they need already. They know how to  manage a group of learners, give clear instructions, get people into pairs and groups. They have experience of planning and of focusing on what they want to achieve in the lesson. All this knowledge and the skills they’ve developed will stand them in good stead when they move from teacher to trainer.

Teaching kids in class

Then we get on to the differences. Well, what are the differences between being a teacher and being a trainer?  A few things come up in our discussions. I’d like to focus on just three- not necessarily the most important ones. One thing is that teaching adults is different from teaching children. Adults, for one thing, have well established ways of learning and expectations about learning that trainers have to find out about, and then take into account. How do you acknowledge and  build on the experience that teachers bring to the training room? An additional aspect of working with adults is that there is almost always an expectation that practical activities will be linked to some theoretical schema. How can you as a trainer, then, bring in a bit of theory, without losing the practical focus of your work?

Another difference is that teachers may be ‘unconsciously competent’ – to use a term from Maslow’s ‘Four Stages of Learning.’ (See here for a reminder of Maslow’s model. In other words, teachers don’t need to explain the principles their teaching practices are based on.  They just do it.  Trainers, though, have to somehow take a step back to ‘conscious competence.’  In other words, they need to be able to articulate the principles they work by and ‘consistently exemplify these in their practice,’ as Lubelska & Robbins put it.

It’s always challenging to take a step back, isn’t it?  I sometimes think of this as a bit like riding a bike. I learnt to ride bike years ago, and do it without even thinking about it. But if I try to teach my neighbour’s child to do it, I have to try to articulate things I’ve done for years without thinking. It can be really tricky!

The training room awaits

One other difference that I sometimes focus on is that teacher training implies change at quite a deep level.  I feel that as trainers we are agents of change, and can see people become resistant or even ‘destabilised.’ It doesn’t always happen, but it can, and we need to be aware of it. Trainers need to develop tools to deal with that, I’d say.

So what do you think? Do you agree with my points about the differences between teachers and trainers? What would you tell my group of trainers-in-waiting? What do you think is the main difference?


Lubelska, D. and Robbins, L. (1999) Moving from Teaching to Training, IATEFL TT SIG Newsletter 3/99.


What are your development goals for the next few months?

If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of your professional life setting goals for your students or trainees, supporting them, giving them feedback and urging them to reflect. As teachers, trainers, mentors and coaches, that’s what we do.

But what about ourselves?

We know that learning new skills restores and energises us; it also helps us to have more impact on our learners. But sometimes our own learning takes a back seat. We get busy; there are so many demands on our attention.  Walt Disney famously said that change is inevitable, but growth is optional- in other words, we each have to make a positive choice about how to grow and develop. It doesn’t just happen.  So how do we ensure that we focus on our own development too? How do we prioritise our own learning? How do we manage our own growth?

In some parts of the world we’ve recently celebrated the start of a New Year. One of the reasons that I like this time of year is that I can take time to reflect on the past twelve months and think about my goals for the next.  In my first blog, I’d like to share with you my framework for goal-setting and one of my own goals, and invite you to take time to reflect too- and jump with me!

Well-formed goals

From time to time we write down our development goals. We want to learn a new language, prepare a good presentation for a conference, learn more about how to give effective feedback… and so on. We feel happy about them.  They look great. Then we get busy, and pretty soon it’s June and we find that we haven’t even started on achieving them. (I know, I’m speaking from experience!)

So how do we make sure we actually realise our development goals?

Here’s a 4-point framework for goal-setting :

1. Know your positive outcome

Know the outcome you want and phrase it in a positive way. The language we use to talk about goals is important. Avoid saying what you don’t want and avoid ‘I’ll try to…’ I find writing it as if it had already happened helpful. So, for example:  ‘An excellent workshop at X conference in October’ is a well-formed outcome.

2. Make your first step specific and achievable.

It’s important when goal-setting to chunk it down to achievable steps- and the first step is particularly important. Write it down and say when you will do it. Make it SMART. Starting well is crucial.

3. Know what you will see, hear and feel when you’ve achieved it.

It sounds an odd question, perhaps, but how will you actually know when you’ve achieved your goal? It’s good to think about that, because often we don’t take time to acknowledge our achievements. Taking the example of our workshop, we might consider what indicators would make us know that we’ve achieved it. Will it be the feedback we get? The applause from the audience? Getting to the end?  There’s no single answer to this- because it will be your goal. But you do need to think about it.  Visualising helps too.

4. Stretch

Stand up and draw an imaginary box around yourself. This is your ‘comfort zone.’ Now jump outside the box. That’s where you need to set your goal. Is it something that really stretches you? Excites you? Maybe makes you a little afraid?  Do you want to try a new technique? A new piece of software? Inserting video in your presentation slides? This jumping outside of the box will help you to develop new skills. It may be scary, but this is a great way of pushing yourself to learn more.

Sometimes you just have to jump!

So, how have I applied those four points to one of my goals this year-the The Training Zone blog?

Well, I know my outcome: I want my blog to be practical and to discuss current topics in teacher and trainer development. I want people to come here, and to get involved in discussions of ideas. I want to be in touch with old friends, and make new ones.

I think I know what steps I need to take, and I’ve written down how I`ll know if I’ve achieved it. I have my targets set. Is it stretching, exciting? Definitely. As I take this first step of publishing my first blog, I’m jumping into the unknown. Here we go……

It feels a little bit scary- but  great!

What about you? Do you take time to set your development goals? How do you go about it? What are you planning for yourself? I’d love to hear from you!