Client-driven teacher training at IH Doha – thinking outside the box (an evaluative case study)

by Peter Frey


When I arrived in Doha as the Academic Director of the new IH school last January, I was prepared to offer our academic team a fairly standard package for teacher training in an emerging market, including:

  • the FTEB for Business English
  • the IH Young Learner Certificate
  • training to teach IELTS and TOEFL.

According to Malderez and Wedell (2007), there are three main elements in designing a teacher-training programme:

  • needs of the teachers
  • goals of the programme
  • local context.

It was this last point that was a new experience for the entire academic team as we began work last February with Qatari energy company XX. Courses were intensive, with five hours of classes per day and training that took place both at the IH Doha premises and on-site in the city of Ras Lafan, where natural gas is produced 24/7 and shipped around the globe. At the time, none of us realised just how much we would need to ‘think outside the box’ in terms of teacher training in order to meet the needs of this important client.

There is, of course, no shortage of literature that offers guidance on how to set up effective teacher training programmes (e.g., James 2001; Bailey 2006). However, the context in these works is that of local schools or universities. Although Huttner, Smit and Mehlmauer-Larcher (2008) do address the challenges faced in training teachers of ESP, their research focuses on pre-service teachers and tends to concentrate on language production to the exclusion of improving job performance. In our specific situation with Qatari energy company XX, improving performance at work by addressing training gaps is probably the most important reason for English language training.

Accordingly, in direct response to our client, I set out on my own to design a programme for Company XX that would:

  • support learners from different departments of mixed levels at the same time
  • allow for varying lengths of training time for each participant
  • provide Company XX with evidence that training gaps were being addressed in order to improve performance.

To support the delivery of this new programme, a different kind of teacher training would be needed. With a team of only four teachers (including myself), a non-prescriptive, collaborative approach to training was implemented, based on Freeman (1989a). This included raising awareness in four areas: skills, techniques, learners and each other. To do this, we used a mix of team teaching, peer observations, shared lesson plans and materials and daily feedback sessions. Above all, as a team, we learned to be flexible and adaptable to course participants and to each other.

From February until now, the client feedback has been very positive, and from this perspective, the Company XX programme is a success. At the same time, in order to address both the growing need for in-service ESP teacher training that is client-driven, and the apparent lack of research in that area, this small evaluative case study (Nunan, 1989) has been conducted. As an evaluative case study, both written questionnaires and a filmed focus group for triangulation have been used to collect data in response to three research questions that focused on the three teachers’ experiences, feelings and thoughts. For validation, the three teachers were shown a copy of the data analysis as a member check. Furthermore, all references to names and genders have been eliminated for reasons of confidentiality (Cresswell, 2007). In the next section, after each research question, a brief interpretation of the teacher responses to both the questionnaires and focus groups is provided, followed by the verbatim remarks of the teachers (Holliday, 2007).

Findings – Analysis and Results

Research Question (RQ) 1- What has been your experience as a teacher with the Company XX  programme at IH Doha?

In response to RQ 1, using a key word analysis (Nunan), we can see that:

  • the experience of teaching with the Company XX programme is positive in the questionnaires
  • a new level of flexibility and adaptability is required according to both questionnaires and the focus group

Questionnaire, RQ 1:

Teacher 1: ‘We are all benefitting from the experience.’

Teacher 2: ‘My overall experience with the Company XX programme has been extremely rewarding.’ ‘I had very little input in the first Company XX group…apart from standing in…However, this gave me an idea of the type of flexible syllabus they were following…’

Teacher 3: ‘I think I have benefitted from the unusual style of the Company XX courses in terms of my own ability to tailor projects to the specific demands of clients.’ ‘This level of adaptability is quite unique in my experience.’

Focus Group, RQ 1:

Teacher !: ‘Because we have had the EMS (emergency management system) guys, the offshore technicians and then we have office workers. I think that has required a lot of adapting as well.’ ‘So we did have to adapt a lot’

Teacher 2: ‘The Company XX project was quite flexible to do what we wanted with it.’

RQ 2 – Up to this point in the Company XX project, in what ways (if any) do you feel this experience has impacted on teacher training at IH Doha?

The responses below to RQ 2 show that, as a result of the Company XX programme, teacher training has become

  • less formal and prescriptive,
  • more interactive in terms of mentoring, discussions and feedback.

Questionnaire, RQ 2:

Teacher 1: ‘Teacher training has become more an interactive, sharing experience rather than formal training session.’

Teacher 2: ‘ Overall the impact on teacher training at IH Doha has been positive in my opinion.’

Teacher 3: ‘I don’t feel like the Company XX project has impacted on official training up to this point.’

Focus Group, RQ 2:

Teacher 1:  ‘I think basically what we’ve done, instead of formal teacher training, is taken on for a short period, the last 3,4 months maybe, a mentor type programme.’

Teacher 2: ‘…the programme has allowed teachers to become better able to adapt exercises to a variety of different levels within the same group and I think that’s had a positive impact on teacher training because we’ve had to think differently.’ ‘…we have a lot more discussions as a team and I think that has had an impact on me, how I see teacher training as well.’

Teacher 3: ‘…we haven’t had the formal training as such, have we? But it’s created more staff discussions and feedback amongst ourselves.’

RQ 3 – What impact do you think the XX project will have on teacher training for the rest of 2012?

The continued impact of the Company XX programme on teacher training in the responses to RQ 3 will promote

  • further collaboration, flexibility and adaptability
  • professional development and professional experience

Questionnaire RQ 3:

Teacher 1: ‘I believe that teacher training will “dovetail” with the Company XX project, so we will continue this collaborative work, as well as the formal FTEB which should stimulate group reflection and growth.  Workshops where teachers bring ideas from individual study/research will all feed into the Company XX project, and should make this a very good year for each of our professional development.’

Teacher 2: ‘The programme will allow for continued flexibility throughout the year…It will therefore have a positive impact on teacher training as new teachers are integrated…’

Teacher 3: ‘The ongoing course will continue to push us to be creative and adaptable as teachers, thereby improving our professional experience.

Focus Group RQ 3:

Teacher 1: ‘I think that the impact of XX on teacher training is quite positive because it’s really challenged us to be flexible and collaborate.’

Teacher Three: ‘I think the word that keeps coming up is flexible, isn’t it? Flexible and adaptable…’


In this short evaluative case study, three IH Doha teachers have confirmed that teacher training has moved forward in a positive way as a result of the project with company XX. Furthermore, teachers expect that both formal and informal teacher training will continue to improve. In spite of the limitations of the scope of this work, the results suggest that client-driven ESP teacher training can be innovative, engaging and successful. More research in this area is needed and it is hoped that this paper will contribute in some small way to supporting other IH teacher trainers as we continue to add to the rich IH tradition of teacher training. Finally, I would like to express my thanks to the General Manager at IH Doha and the Training Department at company XX for their encouragement and support.

Author’s Bio: Peter Frey has been the Academic Director at IH Doha since January, 2012. He is currently reading for the EdD TESOL Programme at the University of Exeter in Dubai and may be contacted at Sample copies of the questionnaires, focus group transcripts and bibliography and references are available from this writer on request.