Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

This is a summary of the #CELTAchat which took place on Monday 7th May 2018. The topic was ‘The trainer’s well-being: what can/should be done to protect the trainer when things get rough?’ You can read the full transcript and find out who the chatters were here. Below you will find some of the challenges which were mentioned for trainers, and possible solutions for them.

Image of the CELTAchat question from above

Institutions should have mechanisms in place to protect tutors from burnout. All trainees are experiencing the course for the first time, and a burnt out trainer can’t help them properly. It’s not necessarily very healthy to do CELTA after CELTA. For example, you could have at least a week off between courses or take a break and teach, though one trainer pointed out that some institutions overdo this and give the trainers too many hours to teach, so they still don’t actually have time to reflect and develop. It’s also really helpful if the centre has a spare tutor available, so you know that it’s possible to take time off sick if you need it without worrying too much. Cathy Bowden asked if we sometimes feel guilty about making a scheduling decision because it’ll make life easier for trainers, but as Fiona Price pointed out even though she thinks about trainee needs first, if something makes trainees’ lives easier, it normally makes everyone’s lives easier. I personally find two input sessions on one day really tiring, even if that means I have a morning/afternoon off at another time in the week, but some trainers prefer this pattern.

Five-week intensive courses can also take some of the pressure off both trainees and trainers, where circumstances allow. This normally works as four days per week, with either Wednesday or Friday off. However, this can be more expensive for potential trainees as they have to pay for accommodation for longer and miss work for an extra week.  They also might not believe just how tough the 4-week course is until it’s too late! Freelance trainers may also find it a challenge to combine 5-week courses with their other work. Another way to help trainers is to not require them to be at the centre for set hours – if they can leave once input sessions are done, or only come in when they’re needed, they can manage their time in the way that works best for them, instead of trying to find work to fill the time that they’re at the centre. Another variation is to have a maximum number of trainees per course which is lower than the six per trainer official maximum, for example maximum 10 trainees rather than 12. This is not so common nowadays though, as it’s often not financially viable. To help trainees, Tom Flaherty says: “On intensive courses, Ss struggle to process overwhelming amount of info provided, though. What about 6-to-9 month part-time course that provides trainee Ts with apprenticeship & time to learn, reflect on & research their teaching, leading to Qualified ELT Status?” Fiona Price pointed out that it is possible to run part-time CELTA courses providing the 120 contract hours over a period of up to a year.

Working with ‘difficult’ trainees can be very challenging, and trainers don’t tend to get taught how to do this. Instead they have to learn from experience. Angeles Bollas did a presentation at IATEFL 2018 talking about this. It’s a skill which trainers need to reflect on: some trainers are unnecessarily strict and demanding – this can end up causing stress for the other tutor, not just the trainees! It’s not always easy to make feedback wholly developmental, but it’s very important, though some trainees can be uncooperative or potentially disruptive for other trainees.

Anthony Gaughan mentioned that a lot of the day-to-day stress on the course is related to discrete grading of lessons. On Trinity or UK state teacher training individual lessons aren’t graded (or they weren’t in his day!). He asked: “How do you feel before you have to tell a trainee their lesson was not to standard, especially when a) they won’t agree, or b) it will lead to a Stage 3 not to standard, a warning letter, etc.?” – I, for one, hate all of that, though I also know that we need to let trainees know as soon as possible if there’s a problem, and help them to resolve it. As Cathy Bowden said, we have to bite the bullet to maintain the standard of quality, and make sure trainees know they’re in danger of failing.

Anthony also asked about immediate feedback/paperwork return, versus delayed feedback. For me, immediate feedback is OK, as long as I have can return paperwork later, as I rarely get it all finished during TP. A delay for trainees can allow more time to reflect, but also to brood. This link about emotional intelligence and why it matters may help during feedback. Assignments are another area of potential stress. For example, getting all of the assignments marked, especially at the end of week 3 and in week 4, can be quite overwhelming, particularly if there are a lot of resubmissions. Trainers often end up taking them home to get them all done.

It’s important for centres to set expectations during the interview process so that trainees know what they’re getting themselves into. (You might also find the links in the first section of my Useful links for CELTA post useful for this.) Additionally, it’s very useful for trainers to chat and share experiences, through things like #CELTAchat or private messaging. Adi Rajan mentioned that his own levels of stress are directly related to the trainees’ attitudes and behaviours on the course and how well the group works together, and this is something I find too.

Angelos suggested getting feedback from the trainees every Friday, not just during tutorials and at the end of the course. He uses a feedback sheet with prompts, and gives trainees 30 minutes to discuss the prompts and write down ideas/views/opinions. Examples of prompts include:

  • What I liked this week
  • What I didn’t like this week
  • My favourite session was
  • My least favourite session was
  • For next week, I want more of
  • and less of
  • Feedback has been

It’s important they do this as a group, so that if someone is irrational about something, they will figure it out on their own if they see that the rest of the group are OK with it. This also emphasises the fact that teaching is also about team building. Once Angelos has read them, they have a discussion about an action plan for the following week. To fit this in, trainees stay a little longer on that day or have slightly shorter input sessions. This can help maintain a dialogue between trainees and trainers, and nip problems in the bud. These strategies also demonstrate reflection and professional development in action: we’re learning trainers, just like they’re learning teachers (or should be!)

Giovanni Licata asks for informal feedback every week on-site and every other week offsite. He also suggests having a neutral person on site who trainees can speak to, somebody who’s not involved directly with the course, though Fiona Price said that if trainees feel they have to go to a third party, this could suggest a bit of a disconnect. Giovanni emphasised that the third party should be there for trainees to vent to, but not to offer suggestions.

Fiona Price wants to experiment with the reflective cycle in assisted lesson planning, adapted from Gibbs (1988):

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Marisa Constantinides and Giovanni use the six thinking hats in peer observation, rotating the hats in peer feedback. Marisa also recommends the ’smelly foot tribe’ activity from Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield [affiliate link] to help trainees with team-building and collaboration. They have to come up with a group name, logo, slogan, rap, jazz chant etc, over the first 2-3 days of the course. She’s worked with groups like ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘The Elegant Dolphins’ 🙂

As Cathy Bowden and Adi Rajan pointed out, a lot of the chat ended up being about trainee well-being, rather than trainer well-being: ‘Are we too selfless for our own good?’ Fiona said that well-being is all about negotiation, between the centre and trainers, trainers with each other, and trainers and trainees. I think that’s a very good note to end on!

Attention, please!

I’ve just finished working on a CELTA course in Strasbourg, and one of the things some trainees had trouble with was getting and maintaining the attention of their students. Here are some of the questions I asked them and tips I gave in feedback after the lessons.

Do they know what signal you will give them when you want them to pay attention?

If you tell the students what signal to expect before the activity, they are more likely to notice. For example, you could tell them that you will:

  • Clap your hands.
  • Say ‘stop’.
  • Press a buzzer.
  • Ring a bell.
  • Switch the light off and on again.
  • Use a call and response signal, for example: Teacher: ‘Macaroni cheese.’ Students: ‘Everybody freeze!’ (Thanks Rose!)
  • Put your hand up and wait for them to put theirs up too.
  • Countdown from 5, starting quietly, and getting louder as you reach 1. (Particularly good for speaking activities.)
  • When the background music finishes playing, the activity ends.
  • Stand in a particular place.

It’s good to get into routines with this, and always use the same signal for the same kind of activity. For example, I normally put my hand up to signal the end of a pair discussion.

Did you give everyone time to respond?

After you’ve given the signal to pay attention, make sure that you pause for a few seconds to let them stop before you start speaking. Wait for attention from everybody – don’t just start with the next instructions or feedback, as you’ll only end up repeating it!

Try praising students who are paying attention, rather than picking out those who aren’t, especially with young learners: ‘Thank you, Sandy.’ rather than ‘Sandy, stop talking please!’

Is the signal visible/audible to everyone?

If you’re giving an audio signal, make sure it is loud enough. If you’re speaking, you don’t need to shout, but do project your voice over the volume.

If you’re giving a visual signal, make sure all students can see you.

Are they deeply involved in the activity they are doing? Are they ready to finish? 

Monitor closely to find out how students are progressing with the activity. If they’ve only done half of the activity, they are unlikely to want to stop when you try to get their attention.

If you know that timing will be a problem before you start, try to change how you set up the activity. For example, tell the students to do as many questions as they can in 3 minutes, rather than making them finish the exercise. Getting them to check in pairs can help them to fill in the gaps in their answers.

Have short extension tasks available for students who finish very quickly, preferably ones that don’t require too much extra input from you! For example, ask students to:

  • Read a sentence from the exercise, remember it, turn over your paper, write it from memory, then check whether you’ve got it right.
  • Change the sentences so they’re true for you.
  • Turn over the paper and remember as many of the words from the exercise as possible, either speaking or writing them. Then look and check.
  • Start saying the sentences/words to practise pronunciation.
  • Decide what was the most interesting thing your partner said, ready to report it to the class.

Is there a valid reason for them to need to pay attention to you or the other students who are talking? (i.e. Why should they care?)

For example, some teachers interrupt speaking activities to get everybody’s attention to try to elicit a single word from the group that one student asked for. This is unnecessary, as you could just give them the word without stopping all of the other conversations.

During feedback stages, students might pay attention at the beginning, but drift off if the stage gets too long or boring. Think of how to keep feedback concise, and try to give them a real reason to listen to the other students.

How long have you required their attention for? Can they maintain focus for that long?

It’s difficult to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time without drifting off and losing attention. Vary the activities and the interaction in the lesson, so that students aren’t just listening to you for long periods of time. Give them clear things to do and keep them active.

Do you truly believe that you have the right to their attention at this point in the lesson?

This may sound quite odd, but I’ve noticed that a lot of teachers feel like they’re being rude when they interrupt students, especially if the students are older than them, and/or if they’re inexperienced teachers. I think if you don’t believe that you need students’ attention right now, then there is less conviction in your voice, and they are less likely to listen to you.

What would you add to the list?

EU Parliament, with flags of all of the current EU nations flying in front of it

The EU Parliament in Strasbourg, which I visited during the course

A few weeks ago, a friend who was staying with me saw me after I’d come back from the pharmacy with a stock of tablets for my colitis. I pulled around 15 boxes and packets out of my bag, and she asked me how much I’d spent on them. Looking at the receipt, I realised that Polish pharmacies helpfully tell me not just how much I spent, but the full price of the tablets. For 75 Polish zloty, I got around 1200 PLN worth of medicine – full price would be about 1/2 of a first year teacher’s monthly salary at our school.The year after I was diagnosed with the colitis, I made the mistake of working out how much money I’d spent on my health that year, and realised it was upwards of £1000. Is it any wonder I don’t have any long-term savings?! Right now, I’m on steroids for a recent flare-up, but I shouldn’t really be – I’ve had too many courses in too short a time, but being away this summer means I can’t start the alternative treatment yet. That alternative is a one-year course of medicine that would cost around $5400 in total if I had to pay for it in full (at least, that’s the figure I found) and there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to take it, or that it’ll work. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a country with a good national health service which subsidises my medicine, and to be able to afford all of these drugs. I’ll be on them for life, unless somebody magically comes up with a cure for ulcerative colitis at some point.

I’ve also written previously about the problems I have with my leg following an accident in 2006. Since September last year, I’ve been seeing a private physio pretty much every week. Over the course of a year, that works out at around a full month’s salary for me. Again, I’m lucky to be able to factor in a cost like that into my life. It’s a cost that won’t be going away any time soon, but slowly, very slowly, I’m seeing the benefits.

A third long-term health problem I have is connected to my sinuses. For as long as I can remember I’ve had problems breathing through my nose, especially the right side. I’ve been variously diagnosed with cough asthma and nasal sinusitis, had tablets, nasal sprays, inhalers…I’ve lost track! And all of them cost me at least a little money. Now that I’m more settled in Poland, I’ve been following up on this over the last academic year, and have now had allergy tests (dust, grass and wheat – nothing that would explain it), an X-ray, a CAT scan, and an endoscopy. The upshot is that one of my sinuses on the left is very small, and the right is overworked and inflamed (I think!). I can have a simple operation called ‘FESS’ which should hopefully sort it out. That’ll have to be completely private though. As the doctor said: ‘If anyone asked if you’re sick, I’d say no. But it’s clearly causing you discomfort and we can try to treat it.’ So that’s 6000PLN (around £1200) I need to save to get that sorted…theoretically. Maybe this problem will go away one day.

It’s not just the money though. None of these low-level health problems stop me from being able to get on with my life, but they do eat into my time. Here are some examples:

  • 30-45 minutes every morning doing physio for my leg and hand (too much computer use!), plus 2 hours every Wednesday when I’m in Bydgoszcz to get to and from the physio and have my appointment
  • Working out food so that I can eat 6 times a day – thankfully not as carefully as when I was on my strictest diet, but it still takes time and mental effort, especially if I want to not be lazy and just buy stuff, but actually eat some form of balanced diet.
  • An average of one visit to a medical professional every couple of weeks, dealing with one or another of these problems (not counting physio). That’s up to an hour for the visit plus the waiting, plus an hour or so to get there and back.
  • Time to get to the pharmacy, pick up the tablets, and (often!) go back a second time when they haven’t got what I need in stock. That’s a good 30 minutes per trip, sometimes more if there’s a queue.
  • Planning time to organise said visits to the doctors/pharmacy and/or to work out what I’m supposed to do next in my quest to improve my health at least a bit. Thankfully I have some amazing colleagues and friends who help me out with those bits.
  • I don’t know how much time each day being frustrated because I can’t breathe properly…

So I reckon that comes to about 12-15 hours a week on average, or at least one day a week! That’s 52 days in a year, or about 1.5 months, give or take.

Mostly I don’t think about all of this too much, because if I obsessed about it, it’d just be depressing. But sometimes it does get me down, especially when I’m already tired, or ill, or stressed, or all three. It’s not the end of the world at all though: I’m organised, I have coping strategies, and I’ve learnt more and more about what I need to do to keep going. They are all a normal part of my life. I distract myself by filling my time with other things. And I focus on the positives as much as possible: these are all investments of my money and time, fending off to some extent what could be much worse if I didn’t make these investments. At least I can afford the money and the time to deal with these problems, and live in a place where it is possible, and have the good fortune that these are low-level health problems. Those things aren’t true for so many people.

If you have your health, enjoy it to the full. Appreciate it. You may not realise just how free you really are until it starts failing you.

Further reading

Kirsty D Major’s fabulous post, ‘I’m tired – the disability reality that people don’t talk about‘ prompted me to finally write this today, a few weeks after the initial conversation with my friend. There are whole paragraphs in there I wish I’d written, but she did it first and better. Here’s one:

On some days, all this extra work builds up. If I’m tired anyway – because life happened that way, it can make me feel exhausted. Most of the time I just take it in my stride, but each of these things saps a little bit of energy, and when you add them all together, it accumulates.

I don’t want to whine about it. I don’t want others to feel sorry for me. I don’t necessarily need people to come up with solutions because chances are I already have one.

And another:

It doesn’t last long. A good night’s sleep, a good distraction – and the next day I’m ready to face the world again with new energy. But on a particularly tough day a couple of weeks ago, I did ask the question as to why we never talk about this.

‘Why do we never talk about this?’ is the reason I keep sharing things like this post on my blog. So many of us think that what’s happening to us is our problem, but if we hear other people’s stories, it starts to normalise experiences, and people can talk about them more freely if they want to.

Please read the whole post, and others on her blog. Kirsty has done more than any other person I know to show me the everyday realities and normalities of being blind. She has shown me what is and isn’t possible for her, and made me try to make sure that my blog is as accessible as I can make it, to try and remove those little stumbling blocks where I can. One example is providing text alternatives for non-text content (those alt-text things in images). I don’t always manage it, but I try!

Another person who has written about the problems with her vision is Joanna Malefaki. I’ve learnt a lot from her about colour blindness, how it affects her life, and what other people can do to help. Her recent post on achromatopsia was particularly important.

Three teaspoons lying side by side, each with a raspberry hat, a face painted on, and a little silver bow

Finally, for those of you who have never heard of spoons and how they relate to energy, please read this article by Christine Miserandino. I’m lucky to have a lot of spoons, but sometimes they start to disappear faster than they might for other people.

This is a message I wrote a few months ago for a friend of a friend. She had just started a CELTA course with no prior experience whatsoever and was lacking confidence. Here’s what I said:

  1. Stop aiming for perfection. Perfect teachers are robots, not humans. Do what you can, then stop. A well-rested teacher with a 50% lesson is better for students than a teacher who is exhausted with a ‘perfect’ lesson. You’re teaching the students, not the presentation. And everything we do should be for our students. There’s no point killing yourself.
  2. Remember that everyone is assessed individually and the course is designed for people with no experience. The people with experience might be OK at the start of the course, but they sometimes struggle to accept feedback. You’re a blank slate so will probably develop more as long as you listen to the tutors’ feedback. Also, learn from their experience – ‘steal’ techniques and ideas from them. You’re also expected to make mistakes and need feedback. Otherwise your tutors have no job! Be open to all of the learning opportunities you have on the course, and know that it will take time for you to absorb them all, and you’re not expected to get everything in 4 weeks. Just do what you can and keep improving bit by bit.
  3. Ask for help from the tutors and coursemates. That’s what they’re there for. You will not be penalised for it. Teachers in good staffrooms ask for help all the time.
  4. Confidence takes time to build up, and will improve with experience. Know that you are doing your best at any given time.
  5. Try sitting down at appropriate points in the lesson – that can anchor you and make you feel less exposed. For example, when giving instructions and getting feedback.
  6. Remember that learning to teach is a skill, just like any other: playing the piano, playing tennis, learning to drive, learning English… You don’t sit down at a piano and expect to play Chopin instantly. You learn little bits, practise them, and gradually build up bit by bit, getting closer to your final goal. I’m 10 years in, a CELTA trainer, and a manager, and I’m not sure I’m at the Chopin stage yet. I’d be impressed if you are after 3 days! That’s one of the reasons I love this job: you never stop learning, both from those more and less experienced than you. Reduce the pressure on yourself and you’ll teach better.
  7. Have a minimum of 30 minutes every day when you do something that isn’t CELTA. It may feel like you don’t have time, but believe me, that 30 minutes will be your lifeline and your sanity, especially once you hit week three.
  8. They wouldn’t have accepted you on the course if they didn’t think you had the potential to pass it. That’s why there is an interview process.

These things weren’t in my original message, but might help too:

  • Useful links for CELTA is a list of resources to help you out throughout the course.
  • Here’s 5 minutes of pure, unadulterated enjoyment:

  • And here’s a picture of some kittens to calm you down 🙂

Stock photo from Pixabay (via Pexels)

Good luck! (and when you’re done with the course, look here…)

Regular followers of this blog may have noticed I’ve been writing and talking a lot about working with new teachers, particularly over the last year. In the last month, International House have shared three of the things I have produced on this theme.

The first is ‘From survival to thriving: how to help new teachers‘, a 30-minute talk as part of the 10th International House Teachers Online Conference on 18th May 2018:

In the talk I suggested a range of different ways that managers and trainers can support teachers as they take their first steps in their careers. I based it roughly around an extended version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’m not going to share the slides separately, as I don’t think they’ll tell you much by themselves, so you’ll just have to watch the presentation! 🙂 You can watch all of the other sessions from the day here and there was also a parallel Modern Language Conference, with sessions on teaching Arabic, Italian, Russian, French and Spanish.

The second is part of my series for the IH Journal, published in Issue 44, entitled ‘Working with new teachers: the things they say’. It’s the first of two parts (the next one will be in the autumn edition) where I list some of the typical comments I hear from new teachers at our school, and the things that I normally say in response. It’s written for both new teachers themselves and the people who work with them. Again, I’d recommend reading the whole journal, as it really showcases the diversity of knowledge within International House.

The final thing is another video, recording at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers Conference in January this year, and published this week.

This one is aimed directly at new teachers, and gives 3 minutes’ worth of tips to help them out.

If you’re a new teacher, I hope you enjoy your time in this amazing career. If you’re working with new teachers, I hope there are some useful reminders here for you. 🙂

I’ve been thinking about what support we can give newly-qualified teachers for a while now. I was very lucky when I started out as a teacher, because I ended up in a school with a strong development programme for fresh teachers, but I know that’s not always the case. In February 2018, I published the results of this thinking, which eventually turned out to be ELT Playbook 1. Inspired by a talk given at IATEFL Manchester 2015 by Jill Hadfield, I also decided to document the process behind putting together the finished result, which is what you’ll find below.

The roots of the idea

The original idea I toyed with was to put together an ebook of tasks that could be worked through week by week in the first year after qualifying from an initial certificate course, like CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL. Tasks would build on each other and cover areas that had probably been included in the initial course, like classroom management, teaching grammar and teaching reading. I put together a speculative proposal and sent it off to a publisher, but they didn’t accept it as they said they had something similar in the works.

This then developed into something in the form of a course, similar to the International House courses that I’ve done throughout my career. I was thinking along the lines of a CELTA revision course which goes over the main areas of the course again, but with the trainee having more time to absorb the ideas and to experiment with them with real students over a period of time, instead of intensively in just six hours of teaching practice. However, there were various problems with this approach.

  • Participants might not have completed an initial certificate course.
  • The initial certificate might have covered very different areas, so it was hard to make assumptions about what they’d covered.
  • Contexts could differ widely, so it would be hard to produce generic tasks that all participants would work through.
  • The timing of academic years varies widely, adding another variable that would make timing a course very challenging.
  • The whole thing would require a lot of work from the trainer.
  • It would be difficult to decide on assessment criteria.
  • How do you decide how much to charge?

I shelved the idea for a year after this, and continued in my position as a Director of Studies, working mostly with freshly-qualified teachers. Through this job, I developed a better understanding of what teachers in this position might need in the way of early career support.

Initial planning

Gradually I came back to the idea of an ebook, partly due to a very positive experience working with The Round and Karen White. This time, though, it would be arranged such that it could be followed in a range of ways, depending on the teacher’s preferences:

  • from beginning to end of the book;
  • category by category (there are six strands in the book, each with five tasks);
  • by looking at how long a task might take and seeing what can be fitted in;
  • by choosing a task completely at random.

I wrote up the basic idea for the ebook in my shiny new MaWSIG notebook after the Pre-Conference Events at IATEFL 2017, with the initial strands chosen as:

  • Back to basics
  • Exploring your context/The wider world of ELT
  • Being creative
  • Examining language
  • Upgrading skills
  • Health and wellbeing

I also wanted to use the taskbook to encourage teachers to reflect on their own teaching, perhaps through a blog, a teaching journal, or video- or audio-bites. This was partly inspired by Shelly Terrell’s excellent 30 Goals Challenge, something which I took part in a couple of times when I started out with my blogging.

At IATEFL 2017 I was very happy to see Sarah Mercer’s plenary, where she focussed a lot on the psychological health of teachers, which validated the decision to include the final category. ‘Health and wellbeing’ then became the first one that I wrote notes for when I had nothing else to do on a train journey to Torun. I decided at this point that I would like to include a quote before each strand and each task which would somehow link it back to the literature and back up the suggestions I was making. Hopefully this would also give teachers an idea about where to find out more. It would also force me to do research to support my ideas, and not just include things I instinctively felt would help.

The name The Teacher’s Taskbook came to mind pretty quickly, and after searching for it a few times and discovering that the title didn’t seem to be in use either for a book or a website, I decided it was worth using (though see below…)

As I thought about the ebook more, I realised that 30 tasks wouldn’t be enough, and have since decided that I’d like to put together a series of ebooks, so watch this space for more!

Developing the structure

At the beginning of June 2017 I watched a webinar by Nik Peachey about becoming your own publisher, organised by the IATEFL Materials Writing SIG, and available on the IATEFL webinars page for IATEFL members if you’d like to watch it yourself. He shared lots of tips from his own experience of self-publishing.

A few days later I came across a blog post by Adi Rajan on Open Badges for CPD. Although I’ve been somewhat sceptical about badges in the past, I thought it might be a good idea to offer people the chance to collect badges to document their progression through the tasks in the book.

On the same day I decided that if I want to put together a series of books, and perhaps accompany them with badges, it would probably be a good idea to have a logo, but had no idea what I wanted to do. See below…

A few months later

It’s now 4th July 2017, and things have moved on a bit. I’ve got a clear idea for the structure of each task, with about half of the tasks now written out on paper, plus the titles for the rest of them, and a bit of my introduction. I’ve also changed the title from the original idea of The Teacher’s Taskbook: Year One, which I thought was a bit too functional, to ELT Playbook 1, inspired by a conversation with Adi Rajan. To find out why I chose this title, take a look at the introduction of the book 🙂

Other things I’ve done:

  • Sketched out a rough logo with a graphic designer friend.
  • Researched the possibilities for awarding badges, though the costs for many of these seem to be quite prohibitive.
  • Decided to use icons for sections of each task, inspired by Nik Peachey’s webinar mentioned above. Watching another webinar by Lindsay Clandfield today, I came across The Noun Project, which is the perfect source for my icons – I’ve just paused in my search to write this update!
  • Started a spreadsheet to keep track of what I spend when preparing the book, though there are no entries yet.
  • Shared the idea with a few people, and it seems to have got a positive response so far. Here’s hoping I can get it published by September, ready for the new school year in a lot of the world!

Draft one complete!

It’s 16th August 2017, and today I’ve finished hand-writing the last of the tasks. I decided to write everything out longhand first as I find it easier to think of ideas that way (unless I’m blogging!), and it meant that typing up the tasks would then be a process of redrafting. By limiting myself to one small piece of paper, it also encouraged me to keep the tasks short and of a similar length.

I started typing up some of the tasks a couple of weeks ago, in between some teacher training I was doing. I’ve now got about 24 of the 30 tasks on the computer, and will hopefully type the rest of them up tomorrow, as well as looking for the quotes to accompany each task.

I’ve also contacted an editor in the last couple of days, as I want to make sure a professional looks over what I’ve been doing before it goes public. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been building up a list of questions I’d like her to answer, covering things I’m not sure about or which I think could be expanded or changed.

Coming together nicely

A couple of weeks ago I sent off a complete typed first draft to my editor, Penny Hands, along with a list of questions I would like her opinion on and some of the conventions I’ve used throughout the book. These are both things I’ve picked up as tips during previous IATEFL MaWSIG events – the Materials Writing SIG is a great one to join if you’re interested in writing materials at all. They have so much helpful advice.

I’ve also just had an email from my friend who’s working on a logo for me. She sent me a range of different options for me to choose from. It was very exciting to think about which one most suits the idea I have for the book, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final results.

So that’s it for 18th September 2017: apart from choosing the logo, I’m taking a short break as our induction week started today. It’s a very busy time for me, helping new teachers settle in at our school and working out the timetable. Listening to them talk about qualifying and hearing their hopes and fears for their new jobs and lives reinforces my feeling that a book like this is necessary – I hope it proves that way!

Looking back at my previous entries in this post, it doesn’t look like the book will be ready by the end of September, but hopefully it won’t be too long after that. I’ve also now decided against awarding badges with the book, as it seems like it would involve a lot of complicated logistics and/or a large financial outlay on my part. If anybody has suggestions for how I can get around this, I’d really appreciate them!

Here’s a quote from a blogpost I read today which kind of chimes with what I’d like ELT Playbook 1 to do:

Maybe the provision of so much scaffolding for trainees on a course like the CELTA helps fuel things ‘forward’ and accounts for why I’ve enjoyed and been positively affected by it so much…scaffolding which does provide ‘data’ (written and oral feedback galore), at least some collaboration (in teacher-tutor guided lesson co-planning, minimally), plenty of non-written forms of reflection (though I do wish I’d already have tried giving the option to replace written post-feedback reflections with other kinds!), and detail, detail, and more for sure. Now if this aspect of an intensive one-month course like the CELTA could just be unfurled, exploded, and evenly distributed throughout an entire career path!

Collaboration

In the last week I’ve received logos for the different parts of my book, which I really like. For me, they capture the essence of ‘play’ which I would like to be central, while also incorporating both analogue (book) and digital (the mouse) elements. This one’s my favourite colour too 🙂

ELT Playbook 1 logo Back to Basics

Designed by Ola Walczykowska

A couple of days ago I got an edited version of my book, along with a few questions covering areas which I’d been a bit concerned about too. One of these is how much I’ve emphasised the community/sharing in many of the tasks. While I believe this is an important element to the book, I don’t feel that it should be highlighted as much as it is, as I don’t want people to feel like they have to share with the community if they don’t want to. I think it should be an option that’s available, but not something obligatory. I’m going to try to rewrite the reflection ideas to make them mirror my beliefs more.

It’s the beginning of October, and I originally hoped to publish the book in September, but I’ve now realised I was too ambitious in terms of managing my time around my work. I’m not going to put pressure on myself for the sake of having it published – I’d rather it was ready to the standard I want it to be, and that I have a work-life balance, than that it’s published before it meets the standards I want it to.

Editing

A month later on the 29th October, I’ve finally got time to take a look at the edits that Penny has suggested, almost all of which I’ll keep, as they certainly upgrade the text. I think it’s really important to have a professional editor for a project like this, as Penny has caught many things I wouldn’t have noticed. She’s also been able to point out some of the ways in which my book might not be clear to a reader, like places where some of my assumptions have come across. The biggest change is the addition of a subtitle: ‘Teacher development in an online community’, which conveys what I hope is one of the key characteristics of the book, as can be seen in this section from the introduction.

Learning together

A key objective of ELT Playbook is to give teachers who are new to the profession the chance to become part of a wider community. You can find other members of the community on the following social media channels:

Via these forums, you will be able to benefit from looking at and commenting on the reflections of other people, and sharing your own reflections if you want to.

We also took out a quote which didn’t really fit the structure of the book. I liked it though, so I’m going to share it here 🙂

Many teachers find that writing a short journal about their experiences and lessons is a great way to reflect constructively on their teaching. Putting your ideas down on paper sometimes gives you a clear perspective on the problems and issues that arise, and may help you to reflect on possible solutions. These days, more and more teachers even make their experiences public by sharing them on blogs. It might be worth reading some of them to discover you are not alone!

John Hughes (2014) ETpedia: 1,000 ideas for English Language Teachers. Pavilion Publishing and Media, page 25

Another thing I’ve really benefitted from when writing the book is sharing the concept with friends and colleagues, and taking on board their ideas and suggestions. For example, this week my friend Natasha suggested publicising the book using the #weteachenglish hashtag on Instagram, something I’d never heard of before.

Finally, I now have a cover (though the subtitle means it’ll need a bit of editing). Thanks to Ola, Penny and Natasha for their help!

A bit of a hurdle

I’ve just looked at the 2nd edit of my ebook, and in Penny’s email she let me know about something that had never occurred to me: if you use a lot of quotes in your work, it’s a good idea to find out whether you need permission to use them or not. This is something I now need to follow up on, as I don’t want to get into trouble. This is why it’s important to have an editor! Thanks Penny 🙂 (though it does mean delaying the publication date while I make sure…it’s 20th November, and I’d hoped to publish next weekend)

Hiatus

Oops…it’s Christmas Eve and I haven’t looked at my book for over a month. Instead I’ve been prioritising differently at weekends and doing a lot more baking, as well as consciously trying to relax more. However, if I ever want this to be published, and to get back the money I’ve paid my editor it’s time to crack on again. So Guys and Dolls is on TV, and I’m refamiliarising myself with the manuscript. (I don’t usually double-screen, but Christmas is different…)

A few hours later, and I’ve responded to all of the comments from Penny, and added a few quotes to try and balance out the male/female balance. I’ve also managed to write a contents page for ELT Playbook 2, which I hope will make the process of writing the follow-up a little faster than this one!

On Boxing Day, I’ve opened it up again and spent another 90 minutes or so checking all of the hyperlinks in the document, and adding a further reading section to make it easier for readers to explore further if they want to, as suggested by a couple of people. I’ve now sent it to my mum for a final proofread before I write to the publishers to ask for permission to use their quotes.

Permissions

29th December – Things I have discovered while writing to publishers to ask for permission to use quotations from their books:

  • I should have written down ISBNs for every book. I can find them on Amazon, but it would have been faster to write them down originally.
  • It’s easier to do this with the books in front of you, not in a different country (they’re in Poland, I’m in the UK for Christmas!)
  • Each publisher does things very differently. My favourite is Cambridge at the moment, because they currently grant permission to use up to 400 words of prose freely as long as it is accompanied by a full citation (according to their permissions page as of 29th December 2017) [Please check there – don’t take my word for it!] Some publishers require word counts, some have email addresses, some have forms to fill in. One publisher has a Word form to fill in and send back, where the formatting is quite troublesome. Another couple use external sites to do their permissions.
  • If a publisher no longer exists, you might be able to find out who bought their list using the Association of American Publishers lookup function.
  • Some places charge, some don’t. This is something to factor in when you’re thinking about costs.
  • Asking for permissions takes a good 2-3 hours if you decide you want to use 30 or so quotes from at least 15 different sources!

A major change

11th February – by a week ago, I’d only received about 25% of the permissions I need to publish the book. Apart from that, everything else is ready. After discussing it with a couple of people, I’ve decided that the inclusion of quotes in the book doesn’t add enough to the book to justify the amount of work it’s taking to get permission to use them, and that a further reading list is enough of a pointer. It’s disappointing as I do think they added something, but if I want to write a series of these books (and I do!) then I need to make the process as easy to repeat as possible.

In the last week I’ve also decided that the official launch date will be Valentine’s Day, a nice easy date to remember, and conveniently in the middle of a two-week school holiday, so I have time to get everything finalised before I publish, including putting together a blog to complement the series, an idea I toyed with previously and have now decided I definitely want to have.

The big day!

14th February 2018 – I went through the book one last time, making a couple more minor tweaks and making sure that none of the questions referred to the quotes I’d removed. I also set up the facebook page, and put together a page of content for the new ELT Playbook blog explaining what the book is and where to get it from.

Once everything was ready, I uploaded the ebook to Smashwords and Amazon’s KDP platform. These were the hitches:

  • My cover image was a bit too small for Smashwords. I used http://resizeimage.net/ to make it the required 1400 pixel width.
  • When I downloaded a sample .epub file from Smashwords, I noticed that the icons for the sections were all giant, even though they were only about 2x2cm in the file. I then had to save small versions of each icon onto my computer, and replace 214 of them. Luckily that only took about 20 minutes, and also reduced the file size from 10.5MB to 1MB, which means Amazon will hopefully not charge me as much when people download the file.

A few months down the line

It’s 3rd June 2018, and the ELT Playbook 1 ebook has now been available for a few months. By my calculations I’ve sold 22 copies on Smashwords and about 21 copies on Amazon (it’s a bit harder to work it out there!) I’ve talked about it at IATEFL and in a webinar for EFLtalks.com (see below), as well as in passing at the IH Torun Teacher Training Day and in a webinar for International House as part of the latest Teachers’ Online Conference. IATEFL was also a great opportunity to get ideas from people like Dorothy Zemach about what to do next with the book and the series.

As part of the prep for IATEFL 2018, Rob Howard gave me the excellent idea of making postcards advertising the book, with a space to sign or write notes on the back, and I was one of the authors who benefitted from the chance to do a signing session at the independent publishers’ stand.

ELT Playbook 1 postcards

On 2nd May I went back to the idea of badges that I discarded earlier as being potentially too much work. This was as a direct result of the fact that thus far nobody has posted their responses to any of the tasks on the social media platforms (facebook, Twitter and Instagram) – I just need somebody to be first, so if that’s you, I’ll be incredibly grateful! If you complete all of the tasks in one section or in the book, you can get one of these badges:

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

The badges aren’t proper Open Badges, as the expense of me paying for an Open Badges scheme is prohibitive, but I think these ones will do for now. I look forward to adding names to them and sending them out!

Rereading this post before I publish it, I also noticed that in the end I didn’t use the subtitle that was suggested ‘Teacher development in an online community’ – I can’t remember why, but I suspect I simply forgot about it. What do you think? Should I use it? I ended up adding the strapline ‘Learning to reflect, together’ on the ELT Playbook blog – maybe that would be better?

It’s been great to hear people’s responses to the book and the idea of a series, and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried out any of the tasks. I already have the contents page for two more books (ELT Playbook 2 and ELT Playbook: Teacher Training) and have started writing tasks for the teacher training book. I can’t wait to share them with you, so watch this space!

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Dan Baines‘ talk on sharing whiteboards at IATEFL this year, so I asked him to write a guest post to share his ideas, especially because one of the tasks in ELT Playbook 1 is all about taking photos of your whiteboard and reflecting on them. He’s previously written a post on this blog about Rethinking reflection in initial teacher training. Over to Dan…

When I finished my CELTA many years ago in Prague, I was fortunate enough to be offered a job at the school which I took, starting the following Monday. So, after a very brief trip back home to say my good byes and almost missing the flight back to Prague I started work. It was intimidating. I got 2 days of induction and then received my timetable and the intimidation continued. As is the case for many teachers, my first day of professional, paid teaching consisted of more hours than I had taught in the preceding 4 weeks.

At this time, the school had a very large core of teachers and a really communicative staffroom. Most of the teachers were very experienced and many were also DELTA-qualified. Around peak teaching times, the room was buzzing with people talking about teaching: what they’d just taught, what they were going to teach, what had gone well and what had fallen flat. This was the start of my own teacher development story and how I went from being a nervous new teacher who thought he’d be exposed as a fraud any minute to a competent and then a good and confident teacher. The endless discussions filled my head with ideas and the advice and support was invaluable. The teachers I met in the first two years are still some of the biggest influences on my teaching as I sit here a decade and a half later.

That wasn’t the only perk. I had a full-time teaching schedule and paid holidays. I got lunch vouchers, phone credit and a travel pass provided. The money was poor, but I had real job security and after committing to staying a number of years I had my diploma paid for. Teacher development wasn’t only encouraged, it was compulsory and time was set aside for it every week. CPD just seemed… normal. It was what teachers did.

After taking DELTA and becoming a much better teacher, I did what most people in my situation do. I left the classroom and went into academic management, running the CPD programme in a very similar school to where I started (in fact the same school in a different city) with similar working conditions. After a couple of years of this, I returned to Prague and went into full time pre-service teacher training, effectively leaving the world of language schools behind me.

In June 2016 I returned as the DoS of a small language school in Prague tasked with, amongst other things, developing the teachers. The teaching landscape had changed since I began. Teachers on full-time contracts wasn’t the norm any more – they mostly worked on trade licences. There were no paid holidays and cancelled lessons meant teachers not getting paid. Many schools operate more like agencies than language schools, meaning that their teachers spend a big chunk of their day travelling from company to company. Language schools were in so much competition that rather than selling courses on the expertise and experience of their teachers, they sold them on price, the knock-on effect being that teachers were paid less and had no job security.

In designing a CPD programme I needed to find options that would that would meet the needs and fit the schedule of my teachers. I went for the more traditional approaches.

  • Workshops – They were received well. However, it was impossible to find a time when all the teachers could attend. There are many times in the day when none of the teachers are working for me, but none where they aren’t working for someone else.
  • Peer observations – A great development tool and a huge influence on me. Unfortunately, most of our teaching happens in peak times, meaning that if the teachers aren’t all teaching for me at that time, they are for someone else.
  • Lesson planning surgeries – A nice idea, but never took off. Mostly due to lack of time and availability on the part of me and the teachers.
  • Developmental observation – I do this a lot, all teachers are observed 3 times a year with a strong developmental focus. It’s stressful, it’s time consuming and because of clashing schedules, it can sometimes be a week or more before there is chance to do feedback.
  • Action research – This was discussed with the teachers, but the time investment was more than they could realistically commit to as some were working more than 20 classes a week just to pay bills.

If the CPD on offer wasn’t accessible to all teachers equally, it felt token at best and far too exclusive, and therefore pointless at worst. So, the challenge was to create something that was:

  • Free – rent prices in Prague have rocketed in recent years, teacher salaries have not.
  • Inclusive – in the private sector, the working day in Prague is typically any hours between 7.30 – 21.00. Any successful development would be able to be done by all teachers and at their leisure.
  • Guided – autonomous development is one thing, but many of the teachers I employ are fairly newly-qualified. Not everyone is really aware of how to begin their CPD journey.
  • Classroom-focused – much of the teachers’ time is spent in the classroom and many are fairly inexperienced. The development should reflect their daily life.

I’m an occasional Twitter user (@QuietBitLoudBit for anyone interested). I use it almost exclusively for following accounts related to ELT and it could be said that my posts are a bit… samey. Basically, I like posting pictures of my whiteboard after I’ve taught and looking at others. Maybe I’m an exhibitionist and/or a voyeur, but either way, it’s great to see into the classrooms of others and it has given me some great ideas.

If it could give me inspiration, I figured that sharing pictures of whiteboards with some discussion could be an interesting way to carry out professional development with my teachers, so I set up a Facebook group and added some teachers (some local and some from far away). The idea was to post a weekly or bi-weekly “task” for teachers to carry out, which involved taking pictures of and sharing their boards at some point during the lesson. They were then encouraged to comment on the pictures of their peers.

It ticked a lot of boxes. It allowed some form of peer observation, but importantly without the teachers needing to cancel their own lessons or travel. It was development that could be done from anywhere – most of the teachers involved used Facebook on their mobiles, so they could participate from trams or buses as they bounced round the city from class to class or just from home, in bed, at the end of the day. The tasks provided reflection in a guided way, an unseen peer observation task.

This was the first task…

Whiteboard task 1

It was deliberately left very open and general. I posted the first one (a picture of a substitution drill I’d done that day) and encouraged them to do the same. The response was underwhelming. One person responded with a picture and explanation, someone else with a description of an activity (both great), but nothing much else. I decided to change the way the tasks were set up. For the posts that followed I posted my board with commentary and encouraged them to comment on mine and discuss a few questions. There was greater interaction this time with good discussion based around how (or whether) to teach subject questions, confidence using the board and phonology related activities. Some, however, fell flat and got no interaction at all. I was pretty disappointed.

As a final attempt to get some interaction and engagement I mixed it up again. I didn’t post my board, but found two similar boards on Twitter (using #ELTwhiteboard – a great hashtag to look up) and asked members to compare them and find a board that they liked and explain why. This was the first task to get the teachers sharing pictures to discuss and it raised some interesting conversation. It was a small victory, but I was still left disappointed at the relative failure of a project I had such high hopes for.

ELTwhiteboard examples

I decided to seek some feedback on the group and why the teachers didn’t participate. A couple of things became apparent quite quickly. Firstly, sometimes people get so involved in teaching that, unlike me, they focus more on the students than taking pictures of what has gone on the board and simply forget. Others feel that what they have produced just isn’t interesting enough to share with the rest of the group or are too self-conscious to open this window into their classroom. Others just prefer to watch from afar.

The biggest surprise was how positively the group was received. When asking a colleague if she found it useful, it was met with a heart-felt “HELL YES!”. She never gets to see what other people do and even just seeing my boardwork helped her with ideas and made her feel better about what she was doing. Others said it had given them great classroom activities to try out and others just liked reading the discussions under the posts, but just didn’t feel the need to contribute. I’d been disappointed, but only because the project didn’t pan out the way I’d envisioned it. It wasn’t a hotbed of activity, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t useful. Teachers don’t need to actively participate to take something from it, or at least that’s how it seemed.

It’s hard to design effective CPD that serves everyone equally and effectively, and this isn’t it, but it is a nice supplement to a more traditional CPD programme and is very easy to set up and maintain. A few things I realised for anyone attempting to do the same:

  • Facebook works well. People use it (at least for the time being) and the nested comments on posts are perfect for replying to other people’s pictures.
  • It needs a “leader”. Someone needs to make the posts that serve as reminder for people to participate. It doesn’t need to be someone more experienced. The person responsible can be rotated.
  • Pictures can come from anywhere. You don’t need to take the pictures yourself. Twitter has a nice community of people sharing theirs that can be good for discussion.
  • Language related tasks work well. They generated a lot of discussion, particularly those tasks related to phonology. Boards showing actual activities also tend to get more engagement.
  • Tasks should be simple. At times I let things become over-complicated and I think they just looked intimidating. One person actually commented that they didn’t know where to begin.
  • Not everyone will actively participate. And that’s just fine.

I’ve checked my expectations and I’m satisfied overall. The group exists and I’m getting back to posting more regularly in it. If people don’t engage, I don’t take it personally and hope that everyone involved takes something from it and that maybe one day they’ll decide to photograph their work and share it with us all.

About the author

Dan Baines

Dan is director of studies at Oxford House Prague as well as a CELTA and Trinity DipTESOL trainer. He really likes whiteboards. Join the group and share your board or follow him on Twitter @QuietBitLoudBit.

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