• Gene Tavernetti

TOTS: Has Your District Been Infected?

Is your staff suffering from Trainer of Trainers Syndrome (TOTS)?

What is TOTS: The disappointment/discouragement felt by administration and teachers when professional development presented to implement an important initiative by using in-house district staff does not have the expected impact on behaviors/outcomes.

Symptoms can include:

  • Lack of direction given to trainers by administration:

Trainer of trainers graduates are situated in either one of two places. The first place is at their own sites. The trainers have received specialized training and then are tasked to do their thing with the rest of their staff. The site administrator is rarely a part of the inside circle of folks included in the planning for implementation. The administration leaves the trainers to their own devices to do whatever it is they are supposed to be doing.


The second place a trainer may be situated is off-site. This usually occurs when one individual is responsible for providing services to staff at several different sites. This exasperates the lack of direction as site administrators communicate less frequently with the trainers. Because every site has its own stuff, and every administrator is busy, the trainers are left to fend for themselves. As staff observes the lack of direction from their administration regarding the trainers, the staff infers the training is not important.

  • Lack of respect shown trainers by other staff members:

The lack of respect will manifest in lack of commitment by staff to the training, being compliant but not committed, and passive aggressiveness.

There are two competing bits of wisdom that creates this symptom. The first is the belief that teachers learn best from their peers. This is an emotional/psychological reason for adopting a Trainer of Trainers model. The second, contradictory bit of wisdom is that no one is a prophet in his own land. Or, stated differently, “Who is she to tell me how to teach?” This is closely related to, “Why was she selected to be a trainer?” Or, in the case when the trainer has the credibility to pass the above two questions, the criticism morphs into, “Easy for her to say. She isn’t in the trenches anymore.”

When the two bits of wisdom compete, unfortunately it is not a fair fight. The prophet in her own land is crucified.

  • Role of trainers is split between usual duties (teaching) and adjunct duties (training):

A major reason districts adopt a TOTs model is to save money. The districts believe they can save money by adjusting the duties of current employees rather than paying outside consultants to perform the task. The role of trainer is assigned to either a current district level employee who is assigned the additional duty of trainer, a district position which is created for a person to become the trainer, or site level staff, teachers, are assigned to become the trainers. When the role of trainer is assigned as an extra duty, the training does not receive the priority status it deserves. If a teacher must decide between her classroom and adjunct duties, neither gets the necessary attention.

  • Good teachers are removed from the classroom:

One of the valid criticisms of our educational system is the lack of a career ladder for good teachers that does not necessitate leaving the classroom. It is human nature to want to advance, or just to do something different. So, begrudgingly, because no one wants to remove good teachers from the classroom, teachers are removed to become trainers.

Sometimes in an effort to keep good teachers in the classroom, not as good teachers become trainers. Sadly what are administrative decisions to move sub-par teachers out of the classroom becomes ammunition to justify the lack of respect shown the trainers. (See "Lack of respect shown trainers by other staff members")

  • Other, more urgent, duties filling the trainers day:

Compared to private enterprise, school administration is staffed at a skeletal level. When something needs to be done now, i.e., regulatory reports, compliance issues, testing, the person with the important, but not urgent duties will be the one to step forward to complete the urgent task.

Afraid your district might have contracted TOTS? Though not dangerous to humans, this condition can be very serious for worthwhile district initiatives. A cure for this condition is available. Stay tuned for more information on how this condition found its way into our schools.

#TOTS #Symptoms #TrainerofTrainers #ProfessionalDevelopment

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