Making the most of training sessions


For many teachers, what separates a ‘good’ from a ‘bad’ school is how much development is available. I once worked for a school that offered zero training. Ever the optimist, I often approached the director with the suggestion that the odd training session or two might not be a bad idea. Invariably, he would splutter into great guffaws of laughter – recovering enough to thank me before shoving me out of the office. I soon left.

There are some schools out there offering a veritable smorgasbord of training opportunities. If that’s yours, make the most of it. If your school is less generous, don’t despair – this is the digital age – you can be the master of your own development.

Whether face-to-face or online, here are my tips for making the most of training sessions.

1. It’s about you, not the trainer!

The trainer’s life can be daunting. I remember one teacher who would shake his head continuously and make pained noises at inopportune moments during my early training sessions. At the end of the hour, he would proudly declare that he hadn’t learnt anything. After much therapy, I’m now able to reflect on that and I would politely suggest that he was wrong – there’s always something to learn from a training session. It’s really not about what the trainer’s doing – it’s about what you are doing – make sure you learn at least one useful thing from every training opportunity –  make it your responsibility.

2. Make notes

There aren’t many benefits of having absolutely no memory. However, it has forced me to develop one really useful habit – writing everything down. (Something I share with Richard Branson – I wait patiently for the millions of dollars…)

Even if you, unlike me, don’t require a note to remind yourself that socks go on before shoes, you really should be making notes during training sessions. It will help you focus better and serves as a permanent reference. You can make notes any way you like. Although I would never admit this in  the football pub, I actually have a system – the Cornell note-taking system. It’s an effective method for recording notes that you plan to review – See how it works here.–take-study+worthy-lecture-notes

If tablets (the non-medical kind) are more your thing, there are lots of great note-taking apps. My favourite is Penultimate – It allows you to create countless notebooks and is great to write on with a stylus. Penultimate synchs with another great app, Evernote – a cross-platform repository for all your notes, PDFs, etc. Paying the yearly subscription offers the advantage of using Evernote’s smart search engine which is able to read handwritten notes (even my terrible scrawl.) Thanks to Nik Kiley for turning me on to these!



 3. Note down questions

Don’t just record what comes out of the trainer’s mouth, record what happens in your brain too. Throughout the session ask yourself questions –

Is this something I can use? When? With which class?
Is it really the case that …? Does my experience confirm this?
Where can I find out more about …?
Did I remember to feed the cat?

Write them all down – you never know where they’ll lead!

4. Review your notes

It takes discipline to revisit and review your notes, but if you don’t, all those good ideas and questions will disappear. It’ll take you just ten minutes to flick through and it can pay dividends.

Put your notes in a folder labeled with the theme of the training session. You may want to look at those notes a year down the line. If they are buried within the pages of a notebook gathering dust in your wardrobe, you won’t bother. If they are clearly filed away, you’ll know where they are when you need them.

5. Set yourself one or two action points

A review becomes especially effective when you can convert your notes into some action points.

It might be – “Read Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener by 30 May – report back to DoS with opinion.”

Adding a date and someone to report to makes an idea into an action. Do this with every session and watch your skills grow and grow.

6. Take charge of your own training

In the digital age it is much easier to take control of your own development and stay up-to-date. Create a Personal Learning Network using –

•    Twitter – e.g., @macmillancampus
•    Blogs – e.g., this one!
•    Publisher websites – e.g.,
•    Webinars
•    YouTube
•    Online conferences – e.g., IATEFL

7. Go beyond EFL

There is more to life – and education -than EFL! Learn about something completely different. You never know where it will take you. A course about the American Civil War might lead you to giving a training session on Lincoln as classroom management guru (as it did for me)

Here are my favourite places to go for inspiration


•    ITunesU

I hope that helps you get the most out of your training – maybe it’s even inspired you to run a training session of your own?


Read more in Mike’s ‘Making the most of…’ series by following the links below:


Making the most of observations

Making the most of your time

Making the most of your career

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