Having had a go at teachers with double standards in yesterday’s post (thus kicking things off unexpectedly by not targeting the poor presenters), today I have taken aim and am ready to let fly at much more elusive and often unseen target - the people responsible for organising professional development events (I’m talking local or in-house affairs here, not conferences) and communicating information to the speaker(s).
I have simply become fed up with the number of times I’ve sat down for a session only for the first words out of the speaker’s mouth to be: “Oh! There are a lot of you here…. I was expecting a workshop with about 15 people” or “Wait! You mean you all work in the primary school? I was told this would be for high school teachers!” Now, of course, this is not (always) the presenters fault. Indeed, I usually feel sorry for them having carefully prepared a session based on information passed on either by the school that invited them or the publishing/teacher training company that sent them (it’s happened to me too - I once prepared a 45-minute talk with enough handouts for 80 people only to find 12 people who were expecting a morning-long workshop!). Instead, it is often due to some breakdown in communication or lack of organisation in the time it takes from the session(s) being requested, dates and speakers being chosen and the actual event itself.
OK, but I can’t help but ask why?!? What is it that means a request from the primary school English department for a workshop on storytelling and drama ends up with a speaker prepared to do a critical thinking seminar with teachers of teenagers? If it’s the case that a speaker with expertise in the requested area is not available, why not just say so and suggest alternatives rather than just send some other seemingly random person? Or, upon receiving details of the proposed talk, why doesn’t someone check that it actually matches up to what was originally asked for? Who checks the expected numbers of attendees and why is this most basic piece of information so often miscommunicated?
(Also, if a speaker has been promised internet access, speakers and a projector, can someone make sure that they actually get it all? And that it works?)
And while we are here, on the organisation front, a key issue that needs to be addressed is the far too ambiguous term of ‘young learners’. One way to interpret this is as meaning ‘not adult’. However, the reality is that there is a huge difference between teaching pre-school children and 17 year-olds preparing for their university entrance exams. In fact, there is a huge difference between teaching pre-schoolers and first graders or 7 year-olds and 12 year-olds and this needs to be recognised when organising PD sessions. I once found myself at a workshop about developing critical thinking skills with both kindergarten and high school teachers in attendance. Although the presenter tried her best, it was impossible to make the session relevant to everybody and it ended up being another wasted opportunity.
All of this leads to a problem I touched on in my last post - that of teachers who don’t really want to be there or don’t see the point of attending such sessions. Why do they feel this way? Ask them and they’ll tell you it’s because the workshop/seminar is often disorganised or the topic/theme is not really relevant to their specific teaching context. So please, event organisers, department heads, school admin, training companies, publishers, presenters and whoever else is involved - can we please check and double-check that everyone knows what kind of session is needed, what the topic is and how many people will be there? And if we can avoid the temptation to tell every single teacher in the school from all the different year groups to attend, that would be great. Thus, we can avoid wasted opportunities and have well-taken ones with satisfied teachers instead.
P.S. Having written this last night, I must say that we had a workshop this morning about the new books we will be using this year and the speaker knew exactly what to expect and the session was on the whole useful and relevant - more of these please!!