Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community (Innovate ELT 2021 plenary)

I was very happy to open day 2 of the second online Innovate ELT conference on 2nd October 2021 with a 15-minute plenary. The topic was ‘Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community’ and the abstract was:

Sharing your ideas with others is a great way to develop professionally. But where do you start? There are now myriad ways of getting your work out there, without having to go down the traditional route of writing for publishers. In this plenary, I’ll talk about some of the ways in which self-publishing, blogging and other ways of sharing practice are changing the landscape of teacher writing, and how you can get involved too.

In The Developing Teacher, Duncan Foord talks about 5 circles of development as a way of thinking about how you can develop professionally in a range of different ways. [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]

Image from Duncan’s TED Afyon May 2016 presentation

I’ll look at how you can write professionally at each level of this framework. You could start from the centre and work outwards, or jump in wherever you feel comfortable.

You

The simplest way to start writing professionally is to keep a teaching journal for yourself. You can make notes after every lesson, choose one group or student to write notes about each week, summarise what you’ve learnt at the end of each week and what you’d like to work on in the following week…the only limit to what you write is your imagination! If you’re stuck for ideas, my ELT Playbook 1 has 30 ideas for possible journal writing tasks [find out more].

You and your students

Most of us adapt or create materials for our students. Getting feedback on your materials from students is a great way of developing your writing skills. You could ask them about the amount of information on the materials, the layout, the clarity of any explanations, and/or the way you used the materials with the students. Find out what does and doesn’t work, and experiment with new ideas.

You and your colleagues

Once you’ve started reflecting on your lessons and getting feedback on the materials you produce, why not discuss this with your colleagues? You could share materials you’ve created with other teachers working with similar groups, and find out how the materials worked with their students. You could have a go at writing some teachers notes to go with the materials too. With your reflections, you could share key points you’ve learnt, activities you’ve tried, or questions you have in a WhatsApp group. Alternatively, organise a meeting with colleagues to share your ideas and volunteer to write a summary of what you all learnt. These are all ways to share your writing with your colleagues.

You and your school

The next step is to share your writing more widely, potentially creating something more lasting for the school community rather than purely for colleagues you work with right now. You could put together a course of materials which could be run over a number of sessions and reused multiple times. What about creating an introductory guide to particular aspects of your job, for example, how to run conversation classes or how to teach young learners on Zoom?

You and your profession

Now that you’ve got all of this writing experience behind you, you can really start to exploit the many opportunities there are out there for sharing your writing with the wider profession, many of which weren’t possible 20 years ago but have now made it possible for anybody to share their writing. You could start a blog – I did this over 10 years ago now, and in the process I’ve developed hugely as a writer in the process. Short-form writing works well on Twitter, Instagram or other social media – there are huge communities of teachers on most platforms. For longer-form writing, why not look at writing an article for magazines like English Teaching Professional, Modern English Teacher or Humanising Language Teaching, or for teaching associations like IATEFL or your local association? For full-length book projects, you could try completely independent self-publishing, though this means you need to do all of the marketing yourself, or contact small independent publishers like these to help you with your writing projects:

But why me?

As there is already so much writing out there, you might wonder why anybody would want to read what you have to offer. Remember that your voice and your experience is unique – nobody else has experienced teaching in quite the same way you have, and what you have to share is valuable. It may take a while to build an audience, but with time, patience, and consistently good quality writing, you will.

Getting support

When publishing your writing for a wider audience, especially if you want to make some money from it, I would highly recommend paying for an editor to look at your work before you share it. The feedback and support you will get from them will increase the quality of your writing, and you’ll learn a lot from the process. No matter how good you think your materials are or your proofreading is, your work will always benefit from somebody else looking at it.

For more ideas and support, I recommend joining IATEFL MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) [disclaimer – I’m on the committee!] Even if you don’t join, you can still find lots of information on their blog, covering many different aspects of materials writing: everything from producing materials for your classroom right through to working for publishers. You could also look at MATSDA, the Materials Development Association.

What are you waiting for?

If this inspires you to get writing, or to share your writing for the first time, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Good luck and happy writing!

2 thoughts on “Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community (Innovate ELT 2021 plenary)

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