OR: Why traditional teacher training courses do not work any more
So last year I have held over 50 events and gave workshops and talks in all kind of places. Mostly these were teacher trainings or workshops on different topics like GeoGebra, OneNote and Office 365. To understand the following ideas I have to explain the special setup in Austria with teacher trainings and workshops.
Teacher education in Austria
So first of all, every teacher in Austria has to pass a university or educational college to get into the teacher business. There
is was this Austrian specific thing, that there are two different ways to get a teacher. Here is a very simplified explanation: On the one hand you can get through university, having decided two subjects you want to teach and get a master’s degree in these two subjects and then you were „allowed“ to teach in federal schools. (I took this path and studied Mathematics and Physical Education and I am teaching since 2006 – first in a grammar school and since 2010 in a business college)
On the other hand you can attend an educational college, choosing one „main subject“ like English, maths or German and one „side subject“ (this is also very incomprehensible, why this subdivision is made) to get teaching in a lower secondary school (NMS) or you choose to get an educator for the primary school (Volksschule).
All these things are now changed in Austria and in 2016 the „new teacher education“ started with universities and educational college working together and trying to reform the traditional teacher education, so there is a lot of transformation going on and I have to admit that I am not really into the details, but let’s see, where this will get to in the future.
Teacher training in Austria
After having your degree you are allowed to teach in different schools and the educational colleges in Austria are n charge of the further education/trainings of teachers. So every teacher HAS TO attend teacher trainings (depending on „which“ employment these trainings should sum up to 15-20 hours a year) and there is a vast offer every year for lots of different subjects. So this is where I take advantage of: I have built a bit of a reputation for holding effective teacher trainings and therefore I am often asked to hold two or more workshops on specific topics. It has to be mentioned that these workshops are paid (in my opinion sub-standard rates according to business comparison) and that teachers get back all their expenses (which is different to Germany e.g.).
So these teacher trainings are often one-day or one-half-day workshops and teachers from different schools with different backgrounds are coming together. There are also school specific workshops (called SCHILF), where educators from just one school are gathering for more school-relevant topics.
To be clear, this is all working very good; from an organizational level to evaluation and offers, BUT I do not think, that this should be the future of teacher trainings! Why? I am missing the continuous exchange and often it is just a one-way communication! So if s teacher decides to get into on of my training sessions on OneNote for example, then he get’s a lot of input in this four to five hours but after that, he is left alone with his questions and it is up to him, that he work on with the information by himself.
I have experiences some problems with this format and get lots of feedback, that could be summed up like this:
- very heterogeneous groups in the workshops, so it is hard to offer the „right“ information
- too much information in a short time
- in a fast-changing and „super-evolving“ e-learning environments the information is pretty soon outdated
- the questions often arise some weeks after the workshops, when the educators are trying things on their own
- there is often not the time to so through all the single steps in the teacher training session
- topics have to be put on the agenda over 12 months before (to get it through all the organisational stuff), what is really destroying spontaneous offers.
- especially in the edtech-field there are lots of side-conditions that does not work in all environments and it is hard to get around these issues. I mean, when I talk about using OneNote in the classroom there are only a few teachers who have actually access to WiFi or a projector
- lots of time-consuming traveling for educators to get to workshops
- only „selected“ educators are attending the workshops
So there is a already a cool initiative in Austria called the „Virtuelle PH“ or „virtual educational college“, where every educator from Austria can subscribe to online offers.
In my opinion this online format is the biggest chance to get teacher training onto the next level. But it is just one step. For me effective teacher training can be described by these tags:
There is so much on the web for improving your teaching capabilities, but most teachers are not aware of that. They just search the web for content, just for a worksheet or an online test. I have seldom heard of one of my teacher colleagues that they have watched a YouTube video or made an online course for their improvement. In addition, when I am asked why I am so active on social networks I often tell colleagues that I have learned more by Twitter in one week than in my entire „teacher training career“. And that I can reach out to my Professional Learning Network (PLN) if I want to learn something or have a problem I need help for.
Online Courses are great resources and it is a pity that sites like www.edx.org or education.microsoft.com are not know by many educators, but the essential part of effective teacher training is EXCHANGE! To talk to other teachers and educators about your profession and therefore I strongly believe that every teacher HAS TO be active on social media to build up his or her PLN. For example: There are over 3000 (!) educators in the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert-group on Facebook from all over the world. And it is truly inspiring to see what they are creating with their students and sharing it to the world. Here are just three examples:
I monitor not only this group to get inspired but also lots of other feeds and especially Twitter is really powerful not only to get information, but to reach out to educators all around the world to discuss and exchange! So I am really looking forward to the skype-session with Stacey Roshan at her „Teach Like a Pirate style conference“!
What to change?
So what should we change on teacher training? I strongly believe, that – like students‘ education – teacher trainings has to be more individual and active. So firstly the teachers have to be qualified to built up their Professional Learning Network! It is an absolute must, that teachers are active on social platforms outside their „normal“ school environment and know, how to connect to the educator communities out there. I know that there are lots of teachers are not willing to get onto Facebook or Twitter, but because they have the wrong assumptions about these platforms. They often think, that it is a waste of time with no benefit. So maybe there should be some basic courses to show, what these social platforms can be about. It is essential to connect to educators from outside the school!
One-time workshops are outdated and do not provide the essential part of effective training: EXCHANGE. Last May I have founded a weekly German-speaking OneNote-Chat on Skype (every Tuesday 19:00) and although there are just a few educators coming together and we do talk about lots of other things (like O365), I feel, that this exchange is really powerful and useful for most of us.
The most educators do not connect with others from outside and talk about professional things. I see a lot of great work going on in my school, but it is neither shared to the outside world nor getting feedback by other „outsiders“. It’s a shame that all these great projects and work do not get the attention and therefore lots of educators think, that their work is not important. In lack of „comparison“ or knowing what’S going on in other schools, they think, that this is all „standard“ and they do not see, that they are doing a great job! This has to change! Get your ideas out there and get feedback and learn together from a worldwide community of educator!
So what I want to change? In the upcoming year I am going to try to get more moderated workshops out in the wild. I want to give some space for feedback and questions and get more teachers comfortable to share their work. Also I want to take part in one (or more) of the edX-courses. I know that the biggest challenge will be time, but I think that this is well-invested time, for my personal improvement!