Background: in 2018 I had a chance to facilitate a unique PCELT course in Rabat, Morocco. One may say that each and every training course for teachers is unique, and I agree. The course I am talking about was special for me, as all the participants there were either ELT supervisors, or ELT trainers from various regions in Morocco. Most of them had had 10-30 years of teaching and training experience, had degrees in Teaching or Applied Linguistics, and were mature ELT professionals. Having read their application forms, I… almost had a panic attack. What can I offer to them? Why would they need to take a teacher training course? Are they forced into the training? These were just some of the questions running through my head. Then we met… and the 4 weeks with them were perhaps the most rewarding and special professional experience to me. I could see how these super experienced teachers/trainer could focus on learning from teaching experience, how they wanted to reflect on the practices they have been implementing and serve their students and teachers more and better. As you have probably guessed by now, Samira was one of those course participants.
[Note: this conversation originally started in our multiple e-mails to each other, and then I came up with several questions to ask Samira. Below you will see it in the form of Questions (Zh) and Answers (S), and at the end of the post you can read Samira’s bio]
S: Thank you so much Zhenya for inviting me to be a guest on your blog. Thank you for a very inspiring learning experience in PCELT Morocco.
Zh: Thank you for the kind words! I can honestly and whole-heartedly say I learnt a lot from you. And… keep learning! Isn’t it great to have a chance to stay in touch post-course and keep our conversations and reflections going… Now, can you remind me what it means to be an ELT supervisor in Morocco, and how different it is from being a trainer?
S: I would say one difference is that in our context a trainer is responsible for pre-service teacher training and a supervisor for in-service teacher training and evaluation. Part of the role of an ELT supervisor is to diagnose training needs, plan, facilitate and evaluate teacher professional learning courses/sessions; to conduct classroom visits, observe lessons, provide feedback and write reports; to carry out teacher evaluation which counts in teacher promotion; to conduct tenure and recruitment examinations.
S: Yes, those are written and oral examinations to select candidates who would go through one year training in teacher education centers to become teachers. After a year of training, they join schools where they get the practice part. Then, we conduct other examinations for these teachers to get a permanent post.
Zh: Thank you! Sorry for interrupting you. What else do supervisors do?
S: We observe the quality of the administration of regional and national standardized exams, participate in conflict resolution and school inspection committees. ELT supervisors also conduct research on classroom practice and educational issues, and are also often involved in the in-service training of school principals and supervision of field training of supervisor trainees.
Zh: I can see how busy supervisors are in Morocco! How did you decide to work with other teachers as their mentor/helper/coach/trainer?
S: I taught English for 14 years. During this time period, I had many opportunities to facilitate professional learning sessions for colleagues either through professional associations’ conferences or in formal professional development sessions. I also worked on several (collaborative) educational projects in my school and beyond. This helped me acquire a lot of experience in facilitating professional learning and leading projects. When the opportunity to formally facilitate teacher professional learning presented, I applied for it and was accepted. I graduated from the National Training Center for English Language Teaching Supervisors in 2014.
Zh: What kind of courses or sessions do you usually run?
S: There are different formats of teacher professional learning sessions I usually run for the community of teachers I work with. There are hands-on workshops revolving around teaching language skills, assessment or other ELT topics. I also try to provide opportunities for lesson observation and discussion through demonstration lessons run by teachers. One-to-one coaching feedback sessions, based on issues that emerge during classroom observation or upon a request from a teacher, is also another way of working with teachers that I found very effective. I also try to work on projects that include planning several sessions a year with a group of teachers who would like to lead projects. It is a form a self-directed professional learning where teachers lead a project for a whole year and share their work in a conference we organize locally at the end of the year.
For example, I tried to start a mini-PCELT like group this year but we had only two meetings before schools stop. I call it “mini” because there are no students. Teachers teach their colleagues. They reflect on the lessons taught using the reflective cycle you shared with us and they get feedback on their work. At the end of the meeting, they would collaborate to plan a lesson. I don’t know the impact of what I tried yet, but I hope to continue with the experience next year.
Zh: Re the course model: yes, I have facilitated several courses using micro-teaching (or peer teaching) instead of real language learners, and I think it is better than a purely theoretical course: there are still chances to apply what is taught in practice, work on the detailed lesson planning and take part in the reflective session afterwards.
To me, it comes down to the idea of Deliberate Practice, and if teachers are aware of the reasons and purposes behind this structure of the course, it becomes a great experience. This article can be helpful (even as a course reading, I think).
S: The article reminded me of an audiobook I listened to a while ago called “The little book of Talent” and it describes the idea of deliberate practice necessary to grow talent mostly among athletes and musicians. I am glad to discover that it can be applied somehow in teacher education and training. I will try to explore more on that.
Zh: I am now looking forward to reading this book! Let’s get back to the classroom: what are your most important teaching beliefs? What shaped them?
S: For me an important belief (quoting a former teacher educator I had) is that ‘teaching need not be boring’. I believe in variety and creativity in the classroom and its impact on motivating students to engage with the lesson and learn. Students also need opportunities to work together on hands on activities, discover rules for themselves and try new ideas, make mistakes, ask questions, get opportunities to think critically and reflect on their own learning. They also need opportunities to lead projects and conduct small research projects for their class and share their work and get /give feedback to their peers. The teacher is not the only resource in class but other students could be “experts” on different topics and could contribute to ‘knowledge building’ in class.
I think my beliefs were shaped by my own experience as a learner and teacher, my own education and training, my readings and my own learning from the different projects I led. My beliefs were also shaped by interaction with colleagues, by the different conferences and educational programs I participated in both in Morocco and abroad. I got opportunity to learn from amazing colleagues from different cultures. My beliefs are also continuously shaped and reshaped by present experiences and future goals and aspirations.
Zh: It is so true about shaping and re-shaping our beliefs as we keep learning. Now, what can you call your most core training beliefs are?
S: I think working collaboratively is important for teacher learning. Usually when planning sessions I try to make sure that there are enough opportunities for teachers to collaborate and share thoughts, reflections and expertise. Teachers are a wonderful resource and they could sometimes benefit a lot just through sharing experience. Opportunities for deep thinking and reflection on practice, is also an important component to keep in mind while planning a professional learning session. Reflection could be on the content of the workshop as well on the way activities /tasks are weaved. This will give teacher opportunity also to learn how to plan their own sessions for their colleagues (I usually encourage everyone to plan and share a workshop when they feel ready to do that). It is also crucial that sessions with teachers gradually contribute to building a community where trust and deep conversation can take place. A lot of learning happens in informal conversations that sometimes take place during the break or while working on a task or activity so it’s important that there is space for that.
Zh: I am so much with you on trust and deep conversations. Could you say a little bit on how you do that? I am always in search for new ideas and strategies.
S: One way of building trust, in a professional learning session, is to believe in everyone’s potential (either students or teachers), to use a motivating language, and to create an optimum environment for experience /expertise sharing. An interesting idea that I learnt from an English friend is that she would always open a session with displaying a picture of a hat and then invite participants to wear a learner hat. She would also say “what‘s said in the room stays in the room” to establish a positive space for sharing successes and challenges. There is an interesting video by Simon Sinek (at the Global Leadership Summit 2018) on the importance of trusting teams in organizations. Developing trust in our schools as organizations, in our classrooms and among the teams/communities of teachers we work with, will certainly help sustain collaboration and increase performance.
Concerning ‘deep conversations’, I believe teachers as professionals, have a lot to contribute with. So, we need to create a space for sharing thoughts and ideas in our training sessions. One possible way of doing it, is to structure conversations and choose the type of questions to ask before any planned task/activity, while working on the task and after. I usually try to vary questions and focus more on questions that trigger HOTS (higher order thinking skills), creative and reflective skills instead of limiting to closed questions. Moreover, it is not only the type of questions asked that creates deep conversations but also the type of tasks/activities planned in a session. If we ask a question like: ‘What is collaboration for you?’ Participants would probably share their definitions of collaboration. But, if we ask a participant to share ‘how collaboration looks like in their schools’ and/or ‘how they would personally encourage collaboration in their classes’, the conversations might probably be richer and deeper. The ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions are important to ask in a class/session. However, the ‘Why?’ type of questions can also trigger interesting conversations in a class or in a training session.
Zh: Love the ‘Why?’ questions so much, sometimes, too much… Now, this is my favorite question to all my fellow trainers: how do you keep your training skills up between the courses? I personally run intensive courses 3-4 times per year, not all the time.
S: I continuously learn from different sources and different people. An important source is reading and researching. I invest a lot of time in planning or researching materials for my professional learning sessions. So I learn a lot along the way.
Zh: Did anything inspire you recently?
S: For example, the question about beliefs and what shaped them made me think of an interesting article written by Gusky (2002 p. 383). It illustrates a model of teacher learning and change. He states that after a professional development session, teachers would change practice which will affect students results and after teachers notice the impact of their practice on students results they would then change their beliefs. However, it would be easy if learning is that linear. It’s very much probable that beliefs affect experience and experience affects beliefs. I just thought it would be interesting to know more about how teacher beliefs about teaching and learning change. That would help us plan professional development better.
Zh: Thank you for the link!
S: Besides, I often look for opportunities to attend conferences and educational programs. Networking and attending conferences locally nationally and internationally is also an excellent source of learning. Online courses also provide additional way of keeping skills up. I enjoyed some previous MOOCs such as: Content Based Instruction Course, Teaching English for Young learners and professional development for teacher trainers all listed here. I just joined this one: Filmmaking and Animation in the Classroom (with FutureLearn)
Zh: Filmmaking and Animation! Now I am getting super curious!
S: I also love to try new ideas, lead projects or collaborate with colleagues on joint projects. Critical friends are also a great source of learning and support through the joys and the challenges of the job.
Zh: Yes, those are so important! I feel what we are doing in this post is that kind of conversation (or very close to it?) What questions about teaching or training have you always wanted to be asked about?
S: Yes, probably this one: ‘How can we help students and teachers plan, lead and evaluate their own learning projects?’
Zh: Can you answer it, please? 🙂
S: The project idea could be very simple depending on the level of students. Let’s say students are taught a new (course book) unit on the topic of Food, for example. The teacher can tell students that they are expected to prepare and present a poster for their peers on good/ bad eating habits at the end of the unit. The poster as a project serves to recycle what was taught in the unit. It is also an opportunity for students to conduct further research on food / eating habits. They can learn from additional sources outside class. Planning and presenting their project is another opportunity for learning because they will have to decide how to present (individually or in groups if it’s a group project). They will get / give feedback to their peers after they present their work. So, planning, implementing, presenting and evaluating their projects (self or peer –evaluation) could offer opportunity to learn more content, practice language skills, as well as gain presentation skills / planning / evaluation skills etc.
[Zh Note: for more details please check Samira’s article on Enhancing project-works in EFL classes.]
Teachers can also benefit immensely from the same learning process (planning/implementing/ presenting/evaluation). It all starts with a question or challenge I have. I can then research the idea, choose the strategies or activities I can implement in my class. Observe/reflect on learning, take notes, document the whole process in their portfolios, and share their projects with colleagues for feedback. Learning from each other’s experience can bring to the group a practitioner’s perspective that enriches discussion and learning for everyone.
Zh: Agree so much about the reflective practice perspective, rather that ‘knowing’ the right answer. Learning from each other and with each other is so enjoyable. Now, are there any questions about teacher training have you always wanted to ask other colleagues?
S: Probably, these are some of them:
- How can/do we teach/train for impact and how to develop teacher expertise and leadership?
- How can/do we motivate adults to learn?
- How can/do we provide feedback that leads to action?
- How can/do we encourage teacher inquiry?
By the way, I’d happy to hear your own thoughts on the same questions, when you have some time.
Zh: I love the questions, and would love to think about them. Maybe this is another post in the series? Or maybe readers and/or other trainers would want to take some/all of them?
Meanwhile, thank you for the conversation. I am learning a lot from our e-mails and chats, and hope they continue. Take care!
Samira Idelcadi is a Moroccan ELT supervisor. She holds a MSc in Public Services Policy and Management from Kings College London (2011). She is an active member of MATE (Moroccan Association of Teachers of English), co-founder of Tiznit – MATE branch and a former president of AMA Association (Association of Moroccan Alumni). Before becoming an ELT supervisor, she taught English in secondary schools for 14 years. Samira worked on several educational projects and programs as well as presented at many national and international conferences. Her main interests are teacher professional learning, teacher leadership, educational change and educational policy.