In the introductory article in this series we looked at teacher educator self-awareness, what it is and why it is important in our work. I offered a couple of ideas for self-observation which is a starting point for self-awareness. In this article I will explore the idea of openness as a feature of self-awareness.

What is openness?

How would we define the concept of openness? Could we say it is an honest way of talking or behaving in which we do not try to hide anything? Maybe it also involves a tendency to explore and accept new ideas and to entertain change? We may feel that we are quite open by nature. So, no work to be done then.

An interesting way to explore the meaning of a concept is to think about its opposite or antonym for a while. So, in this case, let’s consider a teacher trainer, teacher educator or mentor of school or university teachers who we and others describe as being rather closed or closed minded. What might this entail? Here are the things I thought of. You can add more ideas, I am sure!

Body language. Crossed arms and a grumpy face. Perhaps a bit of sighing and tut-tutting.
A closed office door.
A closed classroom door.
Uses the same materials and processes over and over again. Does not risk or experiment.
Never shares lesson or session materials.
Closes down conversations by ignoring other people’s remarks, disagreeing or stating that they already knew that. ‘That’s old hat. I was doing that already in the nineteen nineties!’
Hides at break times and in meetings.
Hides things that others need…keys, resources…
Hides opinions and information.
Or, alternatively, is intransigent and dogmatic about aspects of their work and role.

I hope I am not describing myself, or you!

Why is openness important?

We teacher educators are in the business of adult education, of lifelong learning. We are helping people to confirm some aspects of their practice and also, probably, to change other aspects. If we truly believe that it is possible for others to change, then we need to apply this idea to ourselves. We need to prove to ourselves, and demonstrate to others, a capacity for learning.

Finding out if we are open or closed

One question we could ask is, how would we know if we ourselves are just a bit, sometimes, and in some areas, somewhat …..um…closed? We could say that even my assumption that I am open to ideas and open to change, is itself an assumption that may need a bit of change! Doing the two self-observation practices mentioned in the first article in this series would certainly help us to find out in what circumstances we are open or closed. Here are some other ideas to try.

  • When working with teachers, we can check to make sure we have a neutral or pleasant expression on our face and look relaxed and open to interaction.
  • We can make sure that teachers know when and where they can find us for professional conversations.
  • We can risk and try out new materials, and practices and tell those we work with about these experiments, admitting when things go wrong as well as when they go right.
  • We can share some of our resources.
  • We can work on challenging our own attitudes and assumptions by asking ourselves, ‘Why do I do this? Why do I assume this? Where does this practice or assumption come from? How could I be wrong here?’
  • By sound recording ourselves in our work and listening back to what we actually say, we can see if our utterances allow space for others. If you are interested in this idea you might like to read the article on interactivity in this series, especially the section on roadblocks to communication.
  • We can invite a trusted colleague into our training room and ask them to look out for particular aspects of our work, speech and behaviour.
  • We can ask to observe others, explaining carefully that the question we will be thinking about the whole way through the observation is, ‘What can I learn about my own work from watching you, my colleague, at work?’. Later, in any post observation conversation, we need to make sure we follow through on this promise and only talk about what we have learned about our own work from being hospitably invited into our colleague’s classroom. (Cosh, 1999)
  • In some cultures, it may be possible to share the idea of trainer development with the teachers we work with, inviting comments from them on targeted areas that we feel bold enough to tackle. Concentrating on our own role, we can start simply and safely with a question such as, ‘Do you know my office hours?’. Starting to be more open to others, we could ask, ‘If there was one thing you would like me to know about you, what would that be?’.
  • Writing down the results of the activities above, as in the self-observation idea in the first article of this series, should give us a feel for how open we are to other people and to considering new ideas and practices.

Further reading

Peer observation: a reflective model by Jill Cosh (1999) in ELT Journal, Volume 53, Issue 1, 1 January 1999, Pages 22–27.

About the author

Tessa Woodward is an ELT consultant, teacher, and teacher trainer. She has trained teachers in Japan, Switzerland, the UK, USA, and in many European countries. She is the founder editor of The Teacher Trainer journal (Pilgrims), Past President and International Ambassador of IATEFL and founded the IATEFL Special Interest Group for Teacher Trainers (now the SIG T Ed/TT). She is the author of many books and articles for language teachers and teacher trainers. Tessa is also the founder of The Fair List.

The other articles in this series discuss ways for teacher educators to develop:

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