Tony Gurr

Bedtime Reading – for TEACHER TRAINERS this time…

In Book Reviews, Teacher Training on 01/03/2011 at 8:24 pm

This post “was born” from a simple question – posed by Gamze (thank you, canım – and you “will” make it work)!

Gamze asked for a list of my recommendations about “teacher training books” and some resource books to help her make her sessions “sexier” (OK – those were my words) – she is far too nice to use a phrase like that!

But, I thought I had to “contextualise” a book-list within a few reflections…


I think it was Disraeli that said that the three pillars of learning are “seeing much, suffering much, and studying much” – as teachers we can all relate to this.

As a teacher-trainer you will “feel” this much more in your bones.

I work with a lot of young “trainers-in-training” and also talk to a lot of teachers who ask me: How can I become a teacher-trainer?

I always refer them to few good “starters” on the web to get to get them thinking:

  • Tessa Woodward wrote a really good “Think-Piece” (in 2009) entitled Am I ready to be a teacher trainer? Tessa’s advice will help you see if there is a “fit” between your ambitions and your abilities.
  • Scott Thornbury offers some solid advice and gives over the letter “T” to teacher training on his excellent blog (go through his alphabet some time). His advice to roll your sleeves up, get your hands dirty, and gain confidence before taking the “leap” is some of the best I have seen.



Then the hard work begins….

As both Scott and Tessa note there is no simple answer to the question. There is no “CELTA or DELTA in Teacher Training” (yet) – there is no one best way to become a teacher trainer.

It is true that the core ability set of both a teacher and a teacher-trainer have a lot in common – but as a teacher-trainer you have got to take things to “the next level” (teachers are a “tough” crowd to please – trust me)!

And, there is a lot of “noise” about what it takes to be a good teacher trainer – sadly much of this is from “non-teachers”.

I was one of the first “teachers” to be hired by a publishing company in Turkey (as long ago as as 1987) to be a “publishing house trainer”” and I am still offered a lot of “training gigs” (people actually say this to me). Usually the first thing the “sponsor” tells me is “they must have fun in your session – dance around, be crazy” or “you must give them a bag of tricks to take away“. I’ve even heard people say “teachers are lazy and just want to be spoon-fed ready-made recipes to take into the class“.

I disagree (as I did in 1987)! Actually, I’m going to say something stronger – “crap” (I wanted to say something even more obscene – but Gamze will read this)!

This is my blog.

It’s not just about “winning the crowd” or “having a laugh” (that’s what I call the “ka-ka-kee school of teacher training”). This approach to “teacher learning” is a bit like having a Chinese meal – great at the time but leaves you feeling “peckish” a while later – and wondering why you did not have something more “substantial” in the first place.

Teachers want to make a real difference – they want to be inspired and they want to learn how to do both better – for their own students! If you want to graduate from the “ka-ka-kee school of teacher training”, you are reading the wrong blog!

Teacher training is about “service” – to teachers and the profession. It’s about “serving” not being “served”.

If you “get” this – you are a probably a good potential trainer!

That’s the job description! That is “service” – just like teaching!

What I have found is that you either “fall into” teacher training by accident or you make a conscious decision to do what Stephen Covey refers to as the “8th Habit” – “find your voice & inspire others to find theirs”.

And the best trainers fall into the second group!


However, “finding your voice” means a lot more than those three simple words.

“Inspiring others to find theirs” is a whole new ball-game for most teachers (ask the guys that come onto our “train-the trainer” programmes).

The two elements of Covey’s 8th Habit rely on your “experience” (lots of it), your “creativity” (even more of it) and “your own ability to learn” (perhaps the most important of all).

Teacher-training is really about who you are, what you know, what you stand for and how you share all of that and get others to share what they have to offer.

The first three of these are the “voice”, the fourth is the “inspiration” side of things. Without knowing your voice, it’s difficult to inspire others.

I know this might sound a bit like the “nature or nurture debate” when we discuss leadership – it is not. No-one is a “born” teacher trainer.

But you can learn how to be one!


Just as we are starting to realise that “intelligence is learnable” (finally), we are starting to see that teacher training abilities can be learned – but require Disraeli’s “three pillars”.

Headache approaching – get me an aspirin (or ten)!

So, what does all this mean for teachers who are thinking about moving into teacher training:

  • Watch a lot – go to as many training sessions as you can, check out as many conference papers as you can, get on the web and find other presenters (remember the TED videos). Learn!
  • Reflect a lot – think about the sessions you go to and draw up a list. Think about the “best” training sessions you have been to – ask yourself: What worked? What mattered most? What did the presenter/facilitator “do” and how did that make you feel?DO IT! Also, think about the “worst” sessions you went to – ask yourself: How did I feel? What got in the way of my learning? What stopped my engagement? DON’T DO IT – EVER!
  • Get your hands “dirty” a lot – as a wise woman once said “risk taking is inherently failure-prone – otherwise, it would be called sure-thing-taking”. You will learn more by doing “teacher-trainer-type” things and “failing” than by reading a book – and you will figure out how to make it happen, if you really want it!

I’d love to hear some stories about how people became teacher trainers – or advice from those going through the process as we speak (you know who you are)!

Take care.


My thanks to John Hughes who also has a super blogTraining ELTeachers – pop over and say “hi”!

  1. Hi Tony
    Great post. I really think your comment about watching other trainers in action is crucial – especially given the lack of formal ‘training the trainer’ type courses available. And here I don’t mean so much people at conferences etc as training in these contexts tends to be one-off and there are usually a lot of other motives going on (e.g. selling a new publications, representing the interests of someone, raising credibility)but try to observe trainers on ‘normal’ courses where trainers are training the same people over time. You pick up a lot from watching them and the how the trainees respond.

    • Thx a lot – totally agree. “Watching, Reflecting and Trying Out” are a big part of “REAL Learning“. Check out the earlier post on this – big fan of Guy Claxton 🙂

      Take care,


  2. Find Your Voice and Inspire the Others
    I consciously chose to be a teacher trainer. It has been a long, challenging journey but I enjoyed evrery moment of it and have never regretted.
    So, what made me choose to become a teacher trainer?
    a) I owe so much to the alumni of ‘ka-ka-kee school of teacher training. If it weren’t for their invaluable help, I wouldn’t be what I am now. As a young teacher, during their ‘fun’ and ‘bag of tricks’ sessions, I came to realize that I had lots of fun and when the workshop was over I left the room with nothing in my hand! Yeah, this is what every teacher wants, isn’t it? Who wants to learn how to manage a group of frenzied kids or to minimize mother tongue use or to present grammar in a more meaningful way, anyway? Crazy!All my students and I needed was ‘ a bag of tricks’, which almost all alumni presented religiously in great confidence.
    b) My deepest gratitude also goes to ‘ Never do What You Preach School of Teacher Training’. The alumni taught me what the ideals in ELT were: ideas, concepts, activities, principles and even theories. Wow! Perfect! Just the thing I was looking for: the ideal.But then, I discovered something: What trainers preached was not what they actually doing during the sessions. ” C’ome on Zeynep, of course they wouldn’t” I said to myself. They were trainers, for God sake, not ordinary teachers.
    c) I am also indepted to ‘The School of Teacher Training for Gods and Gods and Goddesses. Most of them being native speakers, they gave me a valuable lesson in helping me discover my weak points in teaching. I learned that I was starting the game 1-0 since I wasn’t a native speaker of English. Fair enough, after all, English was not my mother tongue and I couldn’t possibly know as much as a native speaker does. They also taught me what a trainer said was carved in stone, it was not to be ‘amended’.God, I loved: ” No L1 in class,only L2, please’ sooo much. Life was easy, the manifesto was there: no exceptions, no initiatives!
    d) I wouldn’t have chosen to become a teacher trainer unless ‘No Practice but Theory School of Teacher Training’ helped me. Well, this was the most enlightning approach I had ever come across to. During the sessions, I was mesmerized by all that terminology, jargon, theory I had forgetten or never heard of. Then again, in class I could barely remember them. Was there a way to apply them in class? How come the trainer was so sure that they would work and I wasn’t? ” Patience, Zeynep” I said once again, ” Remember what the trainer said: It’s not easy to register this information, in time you’ll find your way”.
    e) Last but not least, ‘Producing Prototypes School of Teacher Training’ deserves my deepest appreciation. Thanks to them I learned to become a ‘good’ member of the herd with a standardized lesson plan in my hand!

    One day, I was in class, teaching. I was trying a technique dictated to me by a trainer when I found myself stuttering. I decided to try another approach but my stammer got worse. The bell rang. I went to the teacher’s room, looked out of the window and I shouted ” I HAVE A VOICE”. ( King’s Speech: George VI argues with Lionel, which is an acknowledgement of HIS ABILITIES. I hereby apologise to Her Majesty the Queen for this presumptuos simile.)
    So, I decided to follow my voice, not others’. I revisited all schools of training (a,b,c,d,e) and visualised myself in the sessions and gave a long thought to my feelings, reactions and reflections. I eliminated the things that did not and would not work and kept the ones who would help and set off…
    I’ve been working as a teacher trainer for 12 years now and I am grateful to the trainers who skilfully found their own ways and rejected the dogma from abcde schools that helped me through my journey. I particularly am indepted to Tessa Woodward, my mentor, trainer, who taught me how to be an effective trainer.

    • Zeynep – and what a beautiful voice you now have. Thank you.


      • Dear Tony,
        Thank you. You have a beautiful voice, too: I loved the way you said: “inviting OUR trainers to events around the world.”
        I am soooo glad that we have an ‘enişte’ like you 🙂

    • Zeynep Hocam, thanks for sharing your quite inspiring story about the steps you have needed to climb. It made me feel encouraged to go on walking on this toilsome but rewarding road. To be honest, I sometimes feel overwhelmed in the face of so much information to discover coupled with the workload but the good news is I am curious in nature as long as given the opportunity to create. And the hope for creation I guess is one of the fundamental qualities of a teacher trainer. And Dear Tony, thanks a lot for pushing us – your trainees- (so muchhhh :p 🙂 to explore more about teacher training with the help of resources and your jokes.:) Otherwise, I am afraid that we may ignore the importance of our endeavour paralyzed by the hassles of the day. Elçin

      • Elçin,

        As Zeynep says it is “a long, challenging journey” – and anything worth “getting” is worth “working for”. Zeynep touched me deeply with her comment – especially about starting the game “behind” native speakers. You know I am “the eniste” – and you know where my loyalties lie (the beautiful and sharp woman that is my wife – and the even better “melez model” she gave me). We grow by questioning, by learning – and by breaking the rules. Break more – and you will reap the benefits 🙂

        I want a group of TURKISH teacher trainers that will take on the world in the next five years – are you game?


        P.S: Go Cim-Bom-Bom! Please…………………………………

      • Dear Elçin,
        Thank you for your comments. Well,we never promised you ‘a rose garden’ the journey is tough! But as Tony says it’s worth it. Taking over the world in the next five years? I think this is a great idea but we need ‘YOUNG BLOOD’ like you guys. Are you ready for the quest? Hassles will always be there,let them be, you focus on the target: the quest! 🙂

      • Zeynep Hocam,

        Could not have said it better! I have a “dream” – in (less than) 5 years, people will be banging on “Turkish doors” inviting our “trainers” to events around the world 🙂

        Doable! Very doable!


  3. Dear Zeynep Hocam,
    You have just explained what I meant on your last session very well above. Although invaluable, I feel this teacher training programme we have at Gazi is or should be just a beginning for us; at least I feel like that when I consider how much you and all our other trainers have had to do to get this ‘ulu yüce’ title ‘teacher trainer’. Thanks for sharing your experience with us sincerely because it is so encouraging to hear real-life stories from our trainers 🙂


    • Dear Elit,
      In time the ‘ulu/yüce’ ‘title’ becomes a life style, then you actually don’t care what your title is, at least I don’t! And your life changes exceedingly, for the good. As you’ve said, the Gazi program is just a beginning for you guys. Stick to it,get as much as you can,then begin your own journey: read,write, observe, ask questions, take risks and try to find your own voice. It could be poor,adequate, disturbing, creaking or harmonic, challenging. Never mind it! Listen to it, it’s your voice and it’s good. 🙂

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