To become a good trainer, remember…

Do no harm.

A technique is only a technique. It is not an objective by itself.

Any technique is a trade-off between various objectives. You must accept noise at some point, if you want your students to share their ideas. If you must explain key concepts, you must reduce the students’ choices etc. No single method works in every situation, because the subject-matters and the students are incredibly diverse.

Don’t try to improve what is already good. Save your time and efforts for what can significantly change students’ learning.

Don’t caricature other methods when promoting your favorite one. They can have their utility as well. Rote memorization is a bad habit, when it’s the only method. But people do need to memorize facts, dates and charts.

Increase the possibilities, don’t reduce them. Add new techniques to what your mentees or trainees can already do. Don’t try to replace a technique with another. If the new one is more efficient, it will replace the previous one naturally. If the advantage is not obvious, well, better have two options than one.

Teachers are the masters in their own classrooms. Set up objectives, provide techniques, but practical decisions are up to them.

Decisions are generally a matter of “how much” or “when”, rather than “if”.

Too much is too much. Challenges and efforts make people grow better, provided that they are successful. What is true for children is true for teachers as well.

Apply your pedagogical principles to the trainees themselves. They too have self-esteem issues. They too need to practice, to think, to express their ideas and so on. Besides, they need examples of the good practices, if they are to reproduce them.

Let new teachers express their concerns and opinions. When it comes to teaching, they have circumstantial knowledge that you don’t have. They are in the classroom, when you are not.

Listen first, give advice later. Willingly or not, when someone who has an authority expresses an opinion, he prevents the others from speaking. You risk missing crucial information if you speak too much. In a group, the lowest-ranking worker should always speak first.

Don’t assume that everything is good when people don’t complain. People in distress are often silent, especially when it comes to relationships, it’s true for couples, it’s also true in professional relationships, when salaries are at stake. People can bear incredible burdens, when they fear to lose everything if they complain (divorce, unemployment etc.).

Build up a professional relationship before you have urgent business to do. Nobody can create trust and confidence in a state of emergency. Meet your coworkers and subordinates on a regular basis, to talk about small or important things, even if there is no immediate necessity.

What kind of professional relationship?

The right to fail is essential. A teacher can do a poor lesson. He can have a conflict with a student. He can make mistakes about academic contents from time to time. It’s acceptable as long as he’s ready to correct his mistake and improve his practice. What you want for yourself must be granted to others.

Leaders need feedback. It’s true at any level.The higher you are, the more difficult it is to know if your work is correct. Students are used to get that knowledge from their teachers. But who should tell the teachers when they are wrong? And the teacher trainers? And the supervisors? And the school principal? It’s a serious problem when you are creating a new program. It’s still a problem during your ordinary duties as a leader. Nobody can really know what is wrong until something unexpected happens.

We, the Center Faculty, need feedback as much as you will when you become mentors. But people might be afraid to tell the truth. A teacher might fear to ask his students what they think of him.

If the information is collected to decide who should keep his job and who should be dismissed, people are very likely to embellish the situation or even lie. But if the information is used to improve our methods and find solutions to our practical problems, we have good reasons to be honest. One can’t be both judge and jury. And one should not be required to condemn oneself.

That’s why we’ll put a suggestion box somewhere in the training center, when you can submit your questions or opinions to be discussed during specific lessons. 

Asking questions should become natural. But it is not, in fact, something easy. It’s difficult even in the friendliest environment. It can be extremely difficult where there is some cultural reluctance. Don’t be afraid to embarrass your teachers. They know better than that. They can help, even if they don’t know the answer right now. Don’t be afraid to look silly. There is always a good reason to ask a question, even if you cannot formulate it very well.

As educators, we should get used to say things such as:

  • “You should have asked the question.”
  • “What do you need to know to solve the problem?”
  • “Do you have any question?”
  • “Did I answer your question?”
  • “If I understand your question/remark…”
  • “By saying that, do you mean…”


  1. Sure, it’s difficult. That’s why I use this article during the opening session of our training program at NGRPC. We try to prepare a new kind of leaders. We have one year to create better habits.

  2. > The right to fail is essential.

    I would tweak this a little to: “Everyone has the right to fail, but everyone is expected to improve over time”. I know this is exactly what you wrote about, but fail/learn should be captured together instead of just labeling it “right to fail” in a summary.

  3. > Willingly or not, when someone who has an authority expresses an opinion, he prevents the others from speaking. You risk missing crucial information if you speak too much. In a group, the lowest-ranking worker should always speak first.

    Very important point, especially in Asia where traditionally senior people are expected to speak first. It requires an extraordinary effort to reverse the habit.

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