Hats Metaphor and Teacher Training

Context: this was an intensive course for teacher trainers planning to run a communicative methodology course for primary school teachers. For many of these participants it was the first time to ‘officially’ become trainers and play a new role in class, or wear a new ‘trainer’ hat.

This post will describe one (half-spontaneous) activity used on the course.

Day 1 started with a kind of warmer, or an ice-breaker, or a filler (before everyone was in the room ready to start the course day). It was about 9 a.m. (the course began at 9.30) and we trainers/trainers of trainers (TOTs) were running around making various last-minute preparations, photocopying, decorating the room with quotes and posters, etc. Some participants were already entering the room, looking enthusiastic and ready to begin.

The poster on the board said: ‘Hat Design Competition’, and the task was as simple as ‘Design a creative/unusual hat and draw it’. (write your name on the other side of the picture)


Rationale/background: to help the participants (trainers-being-trained, or TBTs) to try a new role, we were planning to use the idea of ‘hat switching’ when some activities or tasks would be experienced from a language student point of view (language learner hat), some from their future course participant’s viewpoint (participant hat), sometimes they would be asked to think and/or act as a trainer (trainer hat), etc.


  1. the pictures created by the participants were much better than this collection/brainstorm exercise I had been doing the night before to check if a variety was possible;

    How many hats, how many bags? :-)

    How many hats, how many bags? 🙂

  2. we never had any follow-up on the idea of Hat Competition after that morning activity (all the hats were collected and displayed in the four training rooms we were using)

Day 3 began with some ‘trainer talk time’ when I briefly elicited/reminded of/explained the idea of stand up comedy, improvisation art, where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed. The decisions are made in the moment, in front of the audience. On the one hand, it takes a lot of time and practice, on the other hand, it means agreeing to follow certain rules, or being ‘in the role’, the idea of agreement, accepting all the offers made (by the other team members, or actors), not denying a single suggestion. Let’s call this communication strategy ”Yes, and …’

Task for the participants:

  • take a hat that belongs to someone else
  • add one element (of design) only
  • return it to the author
  • read the agenda for the day: Principles of Adult Learning , Group Work/Co-training and in your journal, reflect/ make a connection about the relationship between this activity and the role of group work in adult learning (or something like that)

A couple of my immediate ‘Trainer Hat’ reflections:

  • right after the activity finished and the room got quiet, one participant asked me: ‘What exactly do you want us to write about: the connection between the adult learning and the activity? About the hat metaphor? What do you mean by your question?’ – which made me think there needed to be a more specific question so that the writing/reflection was deeper. Something like this: ‘In your opinion, what might this activity tell/teach us about working with others, and working with other adults?’
  • some follow-up discussion could be organized to let the participants share what they thought about (and let us, trainers, see what connection was found, etc.)

Some later ‘Participant Hat’ reflections (browsing though the course journals)

Entry 1

This activity drew my attention to the fact that the individual can modify without changing the concept or the core of the main theme. We should fit in and modify at the same time in order not to disturb the harmony of the things. The personal touch of each individual plays a very pivotal role in shaping our lives and societies.

Entry 2

The “Yes-and” strategy helped me give credit to the previous experience and wealth of knowledge that participants have and build on it. This helps creating a friendly atmosphere between the trainer and the teacher and thus releases any tension that might appear during the sessions.

Entry 3

People can add to each other’s work and look at it as something positive and even helpful. That was a warmer to prepare us to understand how to accept co-trainers and what they can add to our teaching. We shared the new hats and thanked each other in friendly atmosphere.

Which hat are you wearing while reading this post? :-)

Which hat are you wearing while reading this post? 🙂

More distant thoughts, and my learning from this experience

  • leaving some reflecting/journaling time immediately after an activity ends might bring more ‘breathing space‘ and ideas
  • you never know which activity can become memorable, or meaningful, to individual participants of the learning process (so even if it seems small, or less important, do the above — allow some reflection time after it finishes)
  • simple visual/creative elements used on a course might bring unexpected results (perhaps not the insight I had on the course, but rather a belief I confirmed)

References and notes

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and The Decision Book by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler (both mention Appreciative Inquiry**)

** note: interesting that the strategy ‘no, the idea isn’t good because…’ is called ‘the school teacher’ in the book

the Wikipedia entry on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a way to approach a discussion, or communication

Jim Carrey movie Yes Man (2008) (not about teaching or training but more about saying ‘yes’ in life…)


Also (most importantly!) the idea of hats and hat switching is not mine. 

Mike Griffin wrote about it briefly in his post about a similar course (by the way, a great post to learn about various resources for different ‘hats’ in ELT).  I really like this paragraph describing the idea:

At times on the course it can be confusing to determine where we are and what “level” we are thinking and talking about.  I like to use the idea of “hats” to help make this distinction clearer (although to be fair it can make things more confusing at first). For example, we might do an activity where participants act as students and then they think about this might apply to their teaching. This is what we might call thinking with their “Teacher Hat” on. They might have experienced the lesson with their “Student Hat” on but when we start talking about how to apply it to their teaching back at school they are most certainly wearing their teaching hat.

I am not sure where the original idea of using the Hats metaphor comes from. My (very careful) guess is that maybe it has some connection with Dr. Edward de Bono’s thinking hats  but I have no evidence to that.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/.
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Hats Metaphor and Teacher Training

  1. careymicaela says:

    Hi Zhenya! I noticed Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink’ in your list of references. I really enjoyed that book! It was fascinating to read about how our brains make decisions before we’re even aware of it. What did you think of the book?


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Micaela! Yes, I enjoyed the book a lot: took many notes, and was inspired on the professional level (as teachers, we are making so many decisions every minute in class, and while planning…) Maybe we need to write a post on this (together?) Hope the end of summer is good for you! Thank you for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: One More Reflective Metaphor | Wednesday Seminars

Eager to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s