A “TD success story” about slowly but surely developing my post-lesson teacher feedback skills as a CELTA course tutor

The theme of this year’s TDSIG web carnival is “TD success stories” and this is my contribution to the call for blogposts on the topic.

Perhaps a little sadly, I have a sense that this word success is not all that often associated with teacher development (TD) or really teachers and teaching generally. You don’t find ELTers on the cover of Success Magazine (that’s a thing, right?). And, because we rightly recognize that ‘development’ is an open-ended, ongoing, cyclical process it can be an awkward challenge to portion out a particular segment of it for specific evaluation. Do we even really want to be evaluative, anyway?

On some level, I think we can’t and don’t avoid it…I know I often look at my teacher development from a deficit-perspective: focusing on what I’ve yet to learn or skills I want but don’t have. There’s an implicit negative evaluation there. I also tend to land on the cynical side of a lot of programmatic professional development efforts, especially the more top-down, conventional kind. But…I realize that stepping back and really appreciating what I have learned, how I have managed to develop into an expert teacher/trainer, that many PD activities have worked some magic on me, and actually soberly celebrating my development “successes” should be a thing.

A thing that doesn’t naively revel in positivity while ignoring what’s broken in an imperfect support system, but rather builds a platform for clear-eyed looking (forwards and back) and also feeds the soul in an atmosphere where burnout can be fueled by even the sincerest negative appraisal on top of everything else.

So, with that said…here’s my short “TD success story” tale for the 2018 #tdsigcarnival!

***

So, I trained up as a CELTA course tutor in Boston and New York during the spring of 2014. Part of this was being asked to produce a reflective essay focused on what I’d learned throughout the process, submitted towards the end of a course on which I shadowed a couple of experienced trainers. I’d actually forgotten all about this until very recently when I came across the essay in my files. It was a quiet thrill to rediscover. Because it had disappeared from conscious view, reading it back again felt like opening a little reflective time-capsule!

I organized the essay this way:

  1. Things I believed going in
  2. Things that changed, how and why
  3. Things I believe coming out
  4. Key areas to work on
  5. What’d I’d tell a future trainer-in-training

As it turns out, my concern for post-lesson teacher feedback was in place from the start of my time as a trainer; I mention something about it all five sections of my essay. Here are just a few quotes:

“I was constantly reminded of how important post-lesson feedback was to me as course participant. It was clear that trainees both depended on it in order to fully process the experience, get a felt sense of their progress, and gain real confidence that what was presented and practiced in input sessions could be depended on after all”

“How much feedback is enough and not too much feedback? Such a tough nut to crack. And how to avoid it feeling like so much picking over the past? I’ll never forget one of my mentor trainers saying “avoid past modals like ‘could’ve’ and ‘should’ve’ to avoid a focus on past-oriented evaluation. Instead, frame your feedback in terms of future action: ‘You can…’ and ‘You’ll be able to…’. I found this extremely helpful!”

“It will help to talk to other trainers about their own approaches to feedback. I’m not sure it’s actually the subject of a whole lot of regular trainer cross-talk, so this might sometimes be a challenge”

My evaluation of the nut’s (lack of) crackability, I know now, was sound. During my first year or so as a course tutor I constantly struggled to find a comfortable balance between too much and too little, to direct and too passive, too simple and too sophisticated, etc. in post-lesson feedback. Sometimes I’d try so hard to ‘get it right’ that I’d get overly self-conscious, slip into trainer-talk mode, lose track of time, and unintentionally end up forcing trainees to stay through absolutely precious minutes of their lunch hour!

Because of these challenges, along with my belief that expert facilitative feedback is crucial to the learning process on an initial teacher training course, I made post-lesson feedback skills a particular focus of my personal efforts to develop and grow as a trainer.

Here’s some of what those efforts involved:

  1. finding and reading articles about this area very specifically and about related, more general topics around feedback and post-lesson reflection in places like ELT Journal and (the open source!) ELTED
  2. asking fellow trainers for advice about post-lesson feedback – or if not advice per se, simply to describe any experiences or opinions about it (both face-to-face and online)
  3. occasionally recording (with permission) and listening back to post-lesson feedback sessions to reflect and construct action plans
  4. using Jo Gakonga’s elt-training videos and, more recently, her teacher feedback materials to reflect on feedback
  5. seeking out presentations related to this at conferences, sharing experiences/asking questions in sessions, and following up with presenters later
  6. requesting (shyly, but with determination) the masters’ thesis of a colleague I found out had studied the topic in depth
  7. engaging in topically related #ELTchat discussions and reading chat summaries in the archive, as well as joining #CELTAchat for trainers specifically
  8. collecting and reviewing feedback from trainees for reflection and action planning
  9. …and more!

All of those actions compose the ‘story’ of my TD in this particular area. But why, dear reader, would I call this a “success story”? Here’s some of the feedback I got on my facilitation of a post-lesson feedback session a couple years later:

Assessor TPFB Feedback in Nice Script copy.jpg

Reading that, I don’t feel quite as epically pained typing out the word ‘expert’ about myself like I did in the second paragraph of this blogpost. And I don’t feel as much of a *thud* sound behind the word “success” when it’s mentioned near the words “teacher development”.

My route to success in this area involved regular reading, connecting with colleagues, and active reflection and experimentation – three strategies I heartily recommend to the same trainee teachers I give post-lesson feedback to. And I’ll recommend them to you now, along with an invitation to identify, appreciate, and be inspired your own successes as we continue through cycles and stories of development.

***

Once again, this is a #tdsigcarnival post for IATEFL’s TD Special Interest Group’s 3rd annual web carnival event. I sincerely hope it inspires you to write about a “TD success story” of your own and join in. As far as I know, this is the second in the series for this year; Fiona Price’s post here was the first.

Hopefully these are but a couple on a long list! Please consider writing, and of course reading others. Let’s carnival! 

*If you do write a blogpost, make sure to let TDSIG know about it – tweet TDSIG at @tdsig, or tweet or email me at @tesolmatthew or noble.elt at gmail dot com (since I happen to be a main web carnival organizer this year!).

Finally, here’s hoping to see you at the live (and recorded), free, open-to-all TDSIG web carnival 4-talk series with IATEFL-affiliated teachers’ association representatives discussion panel on Saturday, February 24:

carn poster.jpghttps://tdsig.org/webcarnival/

 

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