‘Thou shalt reflect…’: ‘Training’ as interference?

 Deniz Kurtoğlu Eken, School of Languages, Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey

DKEIn a research study I recently carried out on personal and professional development with over 100 professionals in 5 different contexts in Turkey, a teacher with 28 years of experience said, “You cannot develop or help trainees develop without developing your ‘SELF’! Personal development is key to professional development.” For the provision of effective training practices, we need to look at our ‘selves’ first and explore our potential, the vast reservoir within each one of us; our natural talents and abilities, the unlimited resource that we can tap into and develop and also our interference; our concepts about how things should be, our judgements and associations, often seeing things in terms of what ‘could have been’ (Green and Gallwey, 1986). In order to ‘grow’ as persons and professionals, we need to systematically reflect on and become aware of our qualities, received and experiential knowledge, and skills and abilities all as part of our unlimited potential but also explore possible areas of interference by usefully and critically thinking about what may be getting in the way of our vast potential, for example,

• the self (e.g. not treasuring what we already have/do, being concerned about how others may perceive us if we do/don’t do X , say/don’t say Y…, etc.),

• quantity (e.g. of work, the extent of involvement in a task, how much knowledge we possess in a given area, etc.)

• quality (e.g. same points as exemplified for quantity but from a quality perspective, the desire and need to do better and better, getting to a point where it actually interferes with potential, etc.)

and most importantly about ‘training’ as this too could be ‘interference’. This I discuss in detail in the next section. Although one might easily say, ‘Well O.K. but so many of these are beyond our control.’ or ‘O.K. so now I’m aware, what do I do next?’, I would strongly argue that with the potential we possess, almost everything is actually within our control and that the awareness I am referring to here is a rich, critical and ongoing self-exploration of all aspects of our potential and possible areas of interference that get in the way of our potential i.e. it is a semi-colon rather than a full-stop activity.

‘Training’ – even with the best of intentions – may in fact also get in the way of personal and professional development. Training at any level can interfere with personal and professional growth if it involves (consciously or unconsciously) one or more of the following orientations (not in any particular order of importance):

• Let-me-show-you, let-me-tell-you: This is where the trainer(1) assumes the role of all- knower and provider leaving very little space for the teacher to think and create meaning for her/himself. Everything is given, shown, ‘discussed’, written up, etc.

• D-I-Y: In a way this is the other extreme of the first orientation above, where the trainer assumes the role of a ‘facilitator’ (a misinterpretation of the role), but where teachers end up doing ‘it’ all themselves. One might argue that this is a useful orientation and I would agree that we certainly do want to maximize participant involvement and sharing in training practices and processes, but not to the extent that the trainer provides no input at all. I am sure we have all been to sessions where the session presenter has started off saying something like, ‘Can I just say at the start that if you have come here for answers to X, I am afraid I do not have the answers but I am sure we can explore together and learn from each other.’ and the session consists of one group discussion after another (or only one group discussion) with maybe some things put down in writing, which groups then report back to the whole group, the trainer listens and concludes thanking participants for the ‘rich and nice ideas’.

• One size fits all: This is where almost or exactly the same training is provided in any given context where the trainer assumes that it would be O.K. to ‘do the same thing’ in different contexts. What is interesting here is the trainer’s self-affirmation that the training will be useful no matter what and hence a conscious or unconscious reluctance or maybe laziness? to put further thought into that ‘same thing’. Now, again one might argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing and it may in fact be useful to present the same or similar ideas in a variety of contexts, but the key driving forces here need to be the audience as well as the purpose behind the training. As a teacher with 30 years of teaching experience reflected in response to a question related to the message she would like to communicate to ‘trainers’ in the field if she had the chance, “Opportunities for development should be varied to fit individual needs. A one-size-fits all approach is not a good idea and can be counterproductive.”

• Bag of tricks: I am sure we are all closely familiar with this one as well where the training is focused solely or almost entirely on a ‘Here’s another activity you can try out in your class on Monday’ approach and ‘It really worked in my class and students loved it.’ approach, which is akin to the Let-me-show-you, let-me-tell-you orientation where the trainer sees his/her role as a provider of ‘tricks’ and fun activities. There is no question about the need and interest for effective and fun classroom activities yet what mostly happens here is that the training ends up being a bitty and fragmented set of activities or tasks (i.e. ‘Here’s one..and here’s another one…and here’s a third one…and here’s a handout with more activities…’) bearing little resemblance to the complex nature of even a single lesson taught in the real world of teaching. There needs to be coherence and thread and once again space and opportunities for participants to think and create for themselves.

• ‘Thou shalt reflect’: This is when there are too many ‘reflection’-focused tasks ‘facilitated’ by the trainer either in a session or in an observation cycle where the trainer keeps asking the trainee how s/he felt and what s/he thought and what it means to him/her, why s/he thinks it means that to him/her, etc. where it just gets a bit too much (maybe one of the reasons why reflection’s getting a bad reputation these days) and when – I would in fact argue – healthy and in-depth reflection is most usefully an individual process.

• Training at 10,000 feet: This is when the trainee is unable to cope with the cognitive and affective demands of the training, e.g. in a session where the presenter uses complex metalanguage, little exemplification or clarification, too many contextual and unfamiliar aspects, little time to process or even think, uses a scattered line of thought, etc. (cognitive demand) and also makes little or no attempt at eye contact with his/her audience, uses only one channel of learning (e.g. only auditory) while maybe even reading out a full paper, does not use anecdotes/little jokes etc. (affective demand).

• ‘I know this already!’ trap: This is the negative washback on both the trainer and the trainee when a trainee says ‘I know this already.’, ‘We’ve seen this before.’, ‘This is nothing new.’ It is a trap for the trainer because what happens is the trainer then may fall into the trap of, ‘I have to keep on producing and creating new things.’ and ends up abandoning a useful idea/task/process etc. without necessarily considering alternative ways of exploiting it. Instead what could usefully happen is to explore what is in fact ‘new’ and ‘not new’ to individuals and what meaning they attach to it and why. It is also a trap for trainees because when a familiar idea is uttered or presented, there is a tendency to switch off instead of thinking carefully about the what and the how of what is perceived not to be new. Needless to add, we are never the same we when we hear the ‘same’ idea at another time mentioned by the same or another person; what we need to do is to interact with the idea again and look at the meaning and value it carries for us at that point in time.

• Me and my audience: This is where the trainer is so happy presenting that s/he loses touch with the world of the audience. The audience is in fact an ‘audience’ who in the trainer’s subconscious mind, are there to watch, listen and applaud rather than participants engaging in what is presented. Even when there may be direct questions posed to the audience, there is no real questioning or awareness of where participants are, whether they are following and what they are actually doing, what their body language is saying, etc.

• i – 1: Input minus 1 refers to training where there is very little, if any cognitive challenge with little to really think about, to question, to analyze, etc. resulting in a lack of interest in trainees but most importantly missed opportunities for tapping into trainees’ vast potential. Once again, in the research study I conducted, with professionals in ELT, a teacher with 14 years of teaching experience said, “Do not spoonfeed teachers. Do not give them recipes. Look ahead and see the whole picture. If your sessions are not demanding and interesting, you lose your trainees’ attention.”

These nine orientations – deliberate or unconscious – naturally embody core principles for training and supervision. For training effectiveness, we need to systematically explore our ‘selves’ and critically reflect on our own approaches and practices as trainers. Before anything else we need to build greater receptivity to ourselves and towards others; respect teachers and carefully consider their contexts; and become aware of how training can in fact interfere with our vast potential and development. We need to create ongoing opportunities for experiential learning through a variety of training processes involving both synchronic and sequential coherence of practical tasks and input where there is a strong thread, principled recycling, space and opportunities for in-depth explorations, critical analyses and individual reflection. We need to keep challenging our own thinking as trainers and create similar opportunities for our selves and teacher and trainer trainees, engaging them and with them, in thinking-focused tasks and processes.


Green, B. and Gallwey, T. 1986. The Inner Game of Music. Pan Books

(1) I am using the word ‘trainer’ to refer to any professional involved in any teacher or trainer training activity from giving a workshop/input session to supervising teachers/trainers in classroom observations and not only to those who have the title ‘teacher trainer’ or ‘trainer trainer’.

[Published in Teacher Trainers and Educators IATEFL SIG Newsletter April 2007, Issue 1 pp. 10-12]