Alastair Grant and Florencia Clarfeld have been doing amazing work over the past couple of months, running a weekly gathering on Zoom called ‘We’re all in this together’. I saw Alastair share links on facebook to the resources they created, and it seemed like an intriguing and original response to the crisis and the need for teacher support, so I asked Alastair to tell us more about what the community is and how it’s organised. Here’s his response. Thanks for writing this Alastair! (Note: the post was written on 4th June, but I’ve been slow to upload it so some of the time references are wrong.)
Crises bring out the best and the worst in people, especially on social media. And by midnight on Friday 20 March, a few hours after quarantine was announced here in Buenos Aires, there was plenty of both.
Facebook here is the preeminent form of media (social or professional) for teaching. From posts asking how we would be able to teach our students now, to offers of help with online tuition (most of which came at a price), Facebook seemed have become a pedagogical free-for-all in a matter of hours.
I coordinate the English department of a local secondary school and my teachers wanted ideas and so did I. But it wasn’t only us – everyone seemed to be asking for the same, whether it was advice on using Google Classroom, what Zoom was and how to use Live Worksheets, there was a huge and sudden need. And I wouldn’t call it a need for help with what I’ve seen described as “emergency teaching”. I’d describe our situation more as “response pedagogy”, whereby the way we lead our students (as the original Greek suggests), needs to effectively respond and evolve to fit with a new situation.
Back to Facebook, and there was everything and nothing on offer at the same time. But certainly what there wasn’t, was a space for people to share or ask for advice on teaching under lockdown. Nonetheless, Facebook was still the connecting thread for everyone, so I decided to create a forum for people to share material and experiences of this new way of teaching. And it was a way of teaching that needed to be constructed pretty fast, as here at least, we were in lockdown in a matter of hours, with only the weekend to prepare for a new world on Monday morning.
My partner, Florencia Clarfeld, who has been working on this with me since day one, chose the name of the event which is now a weekly meeting: “We’re All In This Together”. I love the name, because it feels like a counterpoint to the social distancing that has been enforced. We decided that the event should be held on Zoom but that they were to be meetings, rather than webinars. I wanted to give teachers a space where they would be able to share their experiences and ideas rather than just listen to one person speak, because that was not the point at all.
The first invitation to the event drew nearly 200 enrolments. Now, when you ask 200 people, most of whom have never met, to starting chatting about a totally unfamiliar situation, you might well be met with total silence. So I prepared some PowerPoint slides in advance to help things along. The slides were a collection of about six games and warmers and my idea was to show/demonstrate one and then ask the teachers if they had anything similar. So that was the plan. But would it work?
Not only did it work, but something very unexpected happened. As soon as I asked people if they had any similar activities to the one being shown, the Zoom chatbox flooded with links, website names, activities and apps that teachers were using. Without wishing to sound corny, it was quite an emotional moment. So then it became clear that the meeting was going to do its job, whereby the chatbox became the main source of material.
Now after every “We’re All I This Together”, I put the session video and the PowerPoint into a Google Drive folder. You can find the link at the bottom of this page. But, like I say, the real “pull” of the sessions is the chatbox transcript. In every chat transcript (we’ve had eight session so far), there are hundreds of tips, ideas, suggestions, games and activities shared by teachers from all over the world. Each session has its own topic, so future teachers coming to the Drive folder will be able to find them.
For the first Zoom meetings, I had only room for 100 people, and for a while there were many people left outside, which was a great shame. Then we were offered a 500-person Zoom room by a bookshop from called Advice here in Argentina and since then we have had space enough. Until, that is, I invited Dr. Stephen Krashen along to be interviewed on his thoughts about teaching during Coronavirus and his parting of the ways with The Natural Approach. The meeting was oversubscribed but well over two hundred people, so we had to live-stream it by Facebook, the video to which has now been viewed nearly 18,000 times.
Events like this are normally paid, but I believe that under the circumstances everyone should, for example, benefit from the privilege of hearing what Krashen has to say as well as being able to ask him questions. For me, education is both a right and a privilege – but not for a privileged few.
This coming Sunday we have Adrian Underhill joining us for an interview and we expect another full house. [Note from Sandy: this has already happened as has an interview with Sarah Mercer, and the recordings are in the folder.] The generosity of the interviewees is overwhelming. People might well ask for some kind of fee but I have explained the situation and people have been more than willing to be interviewed pro-bono. In Dr. Krashen’s own words, he said, “I’d love to”.
So now the meetings have evolved, just as our teaching has evolved. Some are interviews with inspirational figures from ELT and some are workshops. We want to keep this mix as it is, so that the original mission statement, the “why”, is never lost. We’re All In This Together is a safe space for teachers to share ideas and exchange suggestions and experiences.
There’s a new world coming after COVID-19, and we, the teachers, are the ones who are helping to build it. As always.
Alastair Grant is an English Teacher, Teacher Trainer and ELT materials writer. He is the Academic Director at Colegio Nuevo Las Lomas and a teacher trainer for International House Montevideo, where he runs the Cambridge Delta 1 teacher-training course. He is a consultant on the profesorado de inglés at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional in Buenos Aires, where he has currently lectured in Discourse Analysis and Methodology.
He holds an Honours Degree in English Literature and Philosophy from the University of Warwick in the UK, has completed the International House Certificate of Advanced Methodology, all modules of the Cambridge Delta and the Cambridge Train the Trainer Certificate.