Martyn Clarke has worked in ELT classrooms as a teacher and trainer for over twenty years and in more than fifteen countries. He has taught English at all levels and in many contexts from one-to-one in financial institutions to rural schools with classes of eighty students.
Running a workshop for teaching colleagues is a very useful form of professional development for the following reasons:
- It can encourage us to focus on an area of teaching in more detail than we normally would.
- It gives us the opportunity to consider why we do things as teachers and colleagues.
- The semi-formal setting allows us to exchange ideas with a wider range of colleagues than usual.
- The change of dynamic can be motivational in a long teaching year.
Successful workshops usually happen as a result of good planning. Whether you are new to running workshops or have run them on a number of occasions the following 5-point checklist might prove useful.
Workshops have different purposes, which will dictate their objectives and the processes. Of course, more than one of the purposes identified below may be involved.
- An awareness-raising workshop will focus on discussion of classroom issues and sharing of experiences and opinions. Outcomes of these workshops are often guidelines, points to remember, or outlines for future professional learning activities.
- A materials-analysis workshop will focus on the analysis of learning materials which might be published or teacher-generated. There is usually sharing of ideas on what makes good materials and then some form of evaluation. Adaptation activities are sometimes included.
- A skills development workshop explores what we do as teachers. It may look at teaching techniques, resource management, or even how we work with each other as colleagues.
Effective workshops have a clear process of learning. A basic and very adaptable model is Input, Task, Output.
- What information will be the focus of the workshop? Will it come from the participants or the trainer?
- What form will this information take? (video/materials/opinions/demonstration, etc.)
- What status does this information have? Does it have to be complied with? Is it an example of best practice? Is it a prompt for discussion and can be adopted, changed, or rejected?
- What will the participants do with the information? Will they practice it? Analyse it? Evaluate it? Or adapt it?
- Will all the participants be doing the same thing? All will different groups work on different aspects of the topic? Will the task take place in the workshop, or afterwards in the classrooms?
- How will you record the work done during the task? Will you create action plans? Materials? Procedures? Or discussion points?
- Will participants record these individually? On posters in groups? Will you record them yourself in plenary?
- What will you do with the output after the workshop?
An effective workshop sits comfortably in its real setting. Making sure the event works on a practical level is a key aspect of preparation.
- Is the timing appropriate? Will participants be able to focus on the workshop and not be distracted by lessons later that day, marking they may need to finish, or any other external concern?
- Is the content of the workshop appropriate for its length? In general, things always take longer than we expect. Teachers like to talk.
- Is the space of the workshop sufficient for its activities? Have you ensured privacy or will there be other staff/students walking in and out?
- Do you have all the materials you need?
- Does everybody know who needs to know?
Effective workshops have strong links to practical professional practice. Teachers are busy people and it’s easy to attend a workshop, find it interesting, but then return to work and carry on doing exactly the same thing that you have always done. Ensuring a workshop has a follow-up activity is a useful way of making it effective.
- What impact do you want the workshop to have? What changes do you hope will happen as a result of the workshop?
- What will be the evidence of this? Will teachers record their experiences for a follow-up session? Will they share new materials in staff folders? Will there be peer observations to understand how new skills/resources are being used?
You can evaluate a workshop in different ways. The key is to identify what information you want and to make enough time to collect it effectively.
- Do you want information about your performance? The activities? The content? The resources? The impact of the workshop?
- How will you collect the information? Interview? Questionnaire? Observation? Etc.
- What will you do with the information? Who will you share it with? Will you follow up with the evaluators?