By Pauline Taylor & Katie Head

Our workshop was scheduled for the last morning of a busy and exhilarating conference. The session, which we called ‘Revitalising your Teaching’, attracted a good number of conference-weary IATEFLers, intrigued by the title and curious to know what recipes for teacher refreshment were on offer.

The activities we chose reflected our own beliefs about the nature of personal and professional learning. For example, we believe that:

  • Personal awareness is the key to change and growth
  • Revitalisation begins with recognising that some of our existing beliefs and behaviours may no longer be serving us well, and identifying areas of both in which change is possible
  • Humanistic exercises help to develop personal awareness
  • When using humanistic exercises with groups of students or teachers, it helps to have ground rules, so that people feel safe enough to talk freely
  • It is sometimes easier to gain a fresh perspective and to talk more freely if you work in a pair with someone you don’t know
  • People often discover new things about themselves when they talk to someone who is a good and attentive listener
  • People think more creatively when they focus on positive things
  • People learn better when they feel comfortable, so ft is good to pay attention to people’s physical and mental comfort throughout the session
  • It is important to offer people a choice of ways to do a task
  • Quiet times are needed during a session to allow for personal reflection
  • Sharing ideas generates more ideas
  • When a person’s behaviour matches their beliefs, they appear congruent. When there is a mismatch between beliefs and behaviour, the result is incongruence

We suggested some ground rules at the start of the workshop (e.g. confidentiality of any personal information shared in the session, the right to pass in any activity), and began the workshop with some ‘active listening’ exercises. Participants worked in pairs, with one listening attentively (i.e. not interrupting or asking questions) while the other talked. The topic was “what I like about my own teaching”. Afterward we discussed what makes listening easy or difficult, and the skills of ‘good’ listening (Carl Rogers defines them as genuineness, acceptance, and empathic understanding). When we listen well to our students, every interaction becomes an opportunity for us to learn more of the essence of person-centred teaching.

We asked participants to select an area of their own teaching that they would like to revitalise, and to tell a partner about it. Another person listening with full attention can often help the speaker to clarify and focus their thinking.

Next we introduced an activity called ‘the can of worms’, a metaphor borrowed from Chris Aldred. We asked participants to write down, on the left-hand side of a piece of paper, some of the beliefs they have about what ‘good’ teaching involves; and then, beside each belief, to list the ‘worms’ that emerge to obstruct them when they try to teach according to these beliefs. The worms might be their own negative inner messages or fears, or they might be connected to what students seem to expect or demand from the teacher. They are the psychological blocks that undermine self- confidence and weaken the resolve to trust your beliefs and apply them in your teaching.

For example:


I believe that we should negotiate the rules for the classroom


1. I’m the teacher. My BUT students expect me to set the rules.

2. I’m afraid they won’t do it well and then things will get out of control.

Participants were given some quiet time to .notice the gaps between what they believe about teaching and what they actually do in the classroom. These gaps can become focus areas for development. In becoming aware of them, a person has taken the first step towards considering alternative behaviours which might be more congruent with their beliefs. Diagrams of the stages and emotions of change can help us and our students to understand the roller-coaster effect of the change process. After looking at some of these diagrams, we finished the workshop with ,confessions’. In small groups, we suggested that people should own up to some of their most ridiculous classroom habits, and consider whether they still served any useful purpose or could be safely abandoned. Finally we invited everyone in a few quiet moments right at the end to focus on one idea or activity that they would like to take away from the session and try out, to revitalise their own teaching.


These activities, and many more, can be found in Readings in Teacher Development by Katie Head and Pauline Taylor, published by Heinemann (1997) in the Teacher Development Series, edited by Adrian Underhill.