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

The end (kind of)

This is the last of my weekly posts, started when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in Poland. I still have a couple of weeks of work left, but my teaching is done for the year and life outside the classroom seems to be opening up again, so this is a general reflection on what I’ve learnt since lockdown started.

Personal stuff

When we first went into lockdown I thought that it was going to be very difficult for me because I live by myself. I thought I would get lonely and depressed because that’s what’s happened to me before when I didn’t have friends I could easily meet. However, it was the complete opposite. I don’t think I have ever felt more connected to the world and to my friends and family since I started living abroad. As we all discovered the power of Zoom and how easy it is to connect groups of people for all kinds of different reasons I started to have regular group meetings with three different lots of friends as well as regular conversations with my mum and with two other friends. Together with professional conversations and online events, my social life has been very full, including games afternoons, pub quizzes and just having conversations on every topic under the sun, starting with the inevitable “What it’s like for you there now?”

Apart from the social side of things, I have continued to work on my cooking and baking. I can now confidently bake with live yeast, and have added a range of meal options to my menu, including pizza and experimenting with chickpeas. I have had more time to cook and bake than previously and I hope to maintain this to some extent when life opens up again completely.

Health-wise, it was a challenge not having physio for so long and since I went back a couple of weeks ago it has been quite painful, but nothing I haven’t had to deal with before. I have bought a bike and started to use it in the last couple of weekends and I’m really enjoying the new places it can take me to, including where I am standing right now. I dictated most of this post into my phone while standing in the forest taking a break from a bike ride. 🙂

I have hugely enjoyed all of the cultural offerings which have been made available to us during lockdown. I have watched almost all of the productions from the National Theatre and have learnt to notice staging in a way I never had before because of their simple but incredibly effective productions. I have filled a lot of gaps in my Shakespeare knowledge, watching at least five plays which I had never seen before, and appreciating all over again why he is such an amazing playwright. I’ve also seen a few musicals, and other plays and productions I would never have considered watching if it wasn’t for lockdown. I have given money a few times and hope to continue being able to support the arts in more ways after this.

Final lessons

My final two lessons with my groups were a grammar, vocabulary and writing test which involved me making sure they could all access the test successfully, then waiting for them to finish and providing activities for the fast finishers.

In the final lesson I shared the test results and we looked at websites that the students can use to practice English over the summer.

In the last Polish beginners lesson we did general revision from our 20 or so hours of lessons this year. We started with an ELTpics image of a person which my students had chosen and they answered simple questions about the person in a Google Doc. To help them do this we had Quizlet breaks, replaying set from earlier in the year including demonstrating the Gravity function. Pat way through the lesson we added a second image to the document and they answered more questions about that lesson. The lesson was only 1 hour long, so we didn’t have time to create conversations between the two people set in some of the locations we have practiced language for this year, for example the supermarket, the train station, or the police station. I think the structure of this lesson works nicely, particularly for the small group of three students I had, and it’s a lesson that worked very well in an online setting because we could move smoothly between the documents and the Quizlet sets.

My teaching

Like pretty much every teacher in the world, my teaching has undergone a huge transformation over the last 3 months. I have gone from knowing nothing about Zoom to being able to run a range of lesson types on it and integrate lots of different types of activities and tools to make sure that my students benefit from the lessons. I have learnt that it’s an incredibly versatile tool, and I know that it will be a part of my teaching from now on. I have also been able to incorporate many things that I probably could have used in a face-to-face classroom but never had the incentive to do so, or tried once a long time ago and never used again. There is no doubt in my mind that my teaching has developed a lot due to the challenge of the last few months, and I have found it very exciting and interesting to try to work out how to teach in this different way. I wish that it didn’t need to have happened in this way but I think that education will be richer for it.

Training and conferences

Today I attended the #excitELT conference online, which was a great format – 15-20 minute presentations, followed by 20-30-minute discussions in small groups with Google Docs, followed by a 5-10-minute round-up and a short break before the next session. This is just one of the new training formats I have been privileged to take part in over the last three months. I previously wrote about the IH Moscow event which I attended which had short presentations by lots of different teachers, and I will shortly be sharing a post by Alastair Grant about the weekly We’re all in this together meetings which features very vibrant chats run via Zoom based on prompts or guest speakers. If you know of any other interesting new training formats, please let me know.

All of this has come about out of the need to provide training and support with the sudden move to online teaching, and it has yet again demonstrated the innovation of the teaching community. A lot of conferences have had to move online and this has broadened access to these events, and enabled a wider range of speakers to take part. I hope that these models are maintained when the pandemic is over, and we can continue to look for new and innovative ways of supporting as many teachers as possible.

Management

The pandemic has probably thrown up the most challenges for me as a manager. Working with the rest of the management team, we were lucky enough to have two days to make the transition to online teaching and be able to provide training for our teachers to make this move as effective as possible.

I have had to learn to be more effective with my email communication, as in the beginning there was so much information which needed to be given to the teachers, and the only way to pass it all on seemed to be via email. I tried to speak to every teacher over the phone or on Zoom at least once a week. While this was not always possible I know I managed to speak to people at least every two weeks. I created a virtual staffroom on Zoom so that people could meet me easily and I could remain as accessible as possible, as I would in my office at school.

We continued with weekly meetings and workshops, and I tried to maintain the social aspects of this by having some time for us to have a chat at the beginning of the meeting before we started the main event. I’m not sure how successful these things were, and the last three months have shown areas where our admin needs to become more efficient, as it’s not possible just to pop into another room and have a quick chat with somebody if there’s a problem. When you have to make an appointment or send yet another email, it’s all more screen time and shows up the holes in the system.

We now have two weeks at the end of the school year to try to work out some of these problems before the summer, and I have time during the summer to think about what I can do to improve the situation. The fact that we will inevitably enter some new mode of working in September gives us the chance to have a kind of reset. I’m not sure we would have done that without the need to work in such a different way during the pandemic.

Reflection

Writing weekly posts since the beginning of the pandemic has allowed me to really think about what has happened to me and to our profession and lives over the last 3 months. I have thought about my teaching more deeply than for a long time. Overall, I know that I have been very lucky to always have a little bit of freedom during lockdown, to continue to have work to keep me busy, to have a range of challenges, and to not have to deal with the challenges of having children suddenly at home. I have been very grateful for the support and comments I have received in response to my posts.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I hope that the end is in sight for you as well before too long. I hope that the end is really here for us in Poland too, and that it’s not a false sense of security before a second wave comes. As always with these major events, we are reminded that life is short and we never know when it will change dramatically, so we should continue to live every moment to the best of our abilities, including when we are in lockdown. Good luck and stay safe.

Tips and useful links

If you need to present from PowerPoint via Zoom, go to File > Set up show > Browsed by an individual (window). (Thanks Kelly Cargos)

If you’re having trouble downloading the chat now, there’s been a setting change in the latest version of Zoom, which you may need to change back. (Thanks Ruth)

John Hughes has five activities for introducing Zoom to students, including functional language they may need to use when things go wrong.

Peter Clements talks about peer observation, and what’s changed with it since he’s started online teaching.

Rachel Tsateri talks about connecting classrooms using Flipgrid.

Jade Blue suggests four activities to help teens build social connections.

ELT Campus has some incredibly useful tips for giving instructions online, and a whole series of webinars for teachers on how to teach English online. Thanks to Katherine Martinkevich for bringing their site to my attention on her ever-useful blog. She also led me to this Padlet of fun activities for the Zoom classroom.

Sharon Hartle reflects on the experience of teaching online at Verona University, and provides tips on using a combination of Moodle and Zoom.

Leo Selivan has a Zoom activity using the photos of the week on BBC, The Guardian or The Atlantic.

James Egerton talks about how IH Rome Manzoni have taken the CELTA course online.

Hana Ticha was back in the classroom with some of her younger students.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Comments on: "The end (kind of)" (6)

  1. Just stunning and awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandy your blog is wonderful and so inspiring. I admire you so much and don’t know how you can create such good tasks for lessons and write this blog including great links as well! Thanks to you, I have been able to adapt to these troubled times and have been using Zoom in lessons, too, though not as adventurously as you I’m afraid.
    I live in Spain and would love to see you at the TESOL-Spain convention, held in early March every year. I am also an Area Coordinator so I organise small regional events. Please contact me if you could consider coming.

    Like

    • Thank you very much for the lively comment Anita, and I’m glad you’ve found the posts useful. I’d love to come to TESOL Spain at some point, but not sure I’ll be able to do it while I have my current job as it’s in term-time. Happy to try to do something online if we can find a suitable date though.

      Like

  3. Very impressive, Sandy, and a really useful resource. I have a few posts to catch up on here but really appreciate you sharing your experience and so many tips. Thanks!

    Like

  4. Rachel Tsateri said:

    Great post, Sandy. Thanks for the mention and Katherine’s padlet is brilliant!

    Like

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