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Archive for the ‘Director of Studies’ Category

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Continuous professional development

One of the reasons that I go to the IATEFL conference so regularly is to give me a boost for my own CPD. It’s always a bonus when I get ideas of alternative ways to develop too, and that’s what these sessions reflect.

Glasgow continues to develop

Glasgow continues to develop, and so should we!

Continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises (Gabriel Diaz Maggioli)

The opening plenary of the conference gave us an overview of how CPD could be integrated into professional organisations more effectively. You can watch the full plenary at IATEFL online, or read my summary here. 

There’s also an interview with Gabriel recorded after his plenary.

Much CPD is decontextualised, one size fits all, prescriptive, and not relevant to the teacher, leaving 90% of the profession behind, with only a few ‘lighthouse schools’ as the exception to this. A lot of it is self-driven, and it can be very superficial. If they do anything, teachers pick two or three techniques from superficial learning, for example from a one-day conference once a year, and use them too much, meaning it is not effective as it should be. They are often not given the time or support to follow up on CPD, and if an expert comes in to tell them how to teach and they don’t implement it, it’s considered their fault, not the management’s.

Teachers need time, resources and support to ensure that CPD is neither useless, nor pointless. Real life CPD needs to be timely, job-embedded, personalized and collegial. Diaz Maggioli says we need to think in terms of learning communities to come together to investigate areas of mutual interest.

CPD is an investment, not an expense. The end user of CPD is the student, not the teacher, and more investment in CPD benefits everyone.

Diaz Maggioli suggests that every school should provide one hour of paid CPD, away from the students. He’s created a framework: ‘The Teacher’s Choice Framework’ (2004). On the vertical access, we have outdated/updated knowledge, and on the horizontal access, we have aware/unaware. In every organisation, there are people in all four quadrants, for example who are unaware that their knowledge is outdated. Here are some ideas for differentiating CPD to ensure that there is something for people in each quadrant:

  • Mirror coaching: ask a colleague to come and write ethnographic notes about your class. No judgements, just notes about what you do, which you then get. You access your behaviour through somebody else’s eyes, in a way you can’t with video. You can ask them questions too. This is great for teachers who are unaware that their knowledge is updated or outdated.
  • Collaborative coaching: especially co-teaching, which is good for those who are aware their knowledge is outdated.
  • Expert coaching: for those who are unaware their teaching is outdated. This is not a deficit view: you are giving them the strength to renew their teaching.
  • Study groups: a teacher volunteers to show a sample of student work, and explain how they got the students to learn. They have 5 minutes to describe it, then other teachers have 10 minutes to ask questions, then a 10 minute break for the teacher to build a case to respond, then 20 minutes to form conclusions as a group. 
  • Critical friend teams: this works as a sounding board, especially when teachers are struggling with new methodology or classroom management. Some of them look for resources for you, others ask questions. Groups are adhoc, but the results should be recorded. It may lead to ideas like collaborative action research, with teachers planning and implementing ideas together.
  • Exploratory action research: teachers are taught to answer questions that are in their context. They communicate this through posters that they share with their colleagues, and it is highly contextualised. It gives the teachers a voice.
  • Lesson study: a group plans a lesson together, then one of them teaches it while the others observe the students learning, They get together and decide whether it needs replanning, then another teacher teaches it, and the process repeats. It’s also highly contextualised.
  • Learning circles: ad hoc professional development meetings. One person has something they want to find out about. They open the circle by asking others what they know and what they want to know. Teachers work together to plan a project together and implement it. They then decide how to publish the knowledge, and close the circle when they’re ready to do so.
  • Mentoring: working with a more experienced teacher who helps you to work throuh changes. These are more personalised approaches to CPD, and work best when pairs are self-selected. 
  • Professional portfolio: by putting this together, you reflect on your own development.
  • Dialogue journals: work together with another teacher to record your development and ask your own questions.

These are all things which can be done within work time and don’t have to be self-driven.

Follow-up ideas:

  • Explore one of the strategies in depth and share it with colleagues.
  • Help administrators find resources to start a small-scale pilot programme, using money in the budget that won’t be used. Gather evidence, and build a case for the maintenance of the project.
  • Talk to colleagues and administrators to start a discussion about embedding PD in your workplace.
  • Come up with your own PD strategy and share it with the world.
  • Join IATEFL, and get involved in the amazing communities of practice that are the SIGs.
  • There’s a summit on the future of the TESOL profession that you can find online and get ideas from.

Blog posts following Gabriel’s plenary:

The selfie classroom observation (John Hughes)

John described six possible observer roles:

  1. As assessor
  2. As trainer (often mixed with role 1)
  3. Observer as peer
  4. As learner
  5. As researcher
  6. As yourself (through photos or audio/video recordings)

The last is the one he terms the ‘selfie’ observation. He did a survey to find out more about these, and shared some of the results with us in the session, as well as on his blog.

Benefits of self-observation:

  • more flexibility
  • can focus intensively on one area over a series of lessons
  • observing students’ reactions is easier
  • you can question your own assumptions
  • more ‘real’, less ‘staged’ than formal observation
  • snapshots of a lesson help you to remember it better
  • observations become then norm, not the exception, so teachers become more relaxed

The #eltwhiteboard hashtag is a good place to find and share pictures of whiteboards. In the session we looked at one particular whiteboard and our impressions of the teacher and lesson behind it. John also mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink [affiliate link] and a study about teachers and first impressions, which Gladwell also referred to in this New Yorker article.

If you do decide to video a lesson, remember that you don’t need to watch the whole thing.A lot of self-observations are focussed on what’s being said (e.g. instructions, student talking),more than what’s seen, but remember that you can use different kinds of observation task to help you notice different aspects of the lesson. John has a range of them on his blog. Ways of using self-observations:

  • Observe yourself teaching out of general interest
  • Observe yourself to address a specific issue
  • Personal record-keeping and reflection
  • Part of certification/further study e.g. DipTESOL, Delta
  • Share with other teachers e.g. #ELTwhiteboard
  • Observe the students
  • Videos can be sent to students to help them to catch up on lessons they’ve missed
  • Create worksheets using whiteboard photos to provide a follow-up in later lessons
  • For use on teacher training courses by trainers
  • To enrich a ‘blind’ observation when describing a lesson to a peer

John also highlighted the importance of training teachers to observe, so it’s not just the preserve of managers and teacher trainers. I think this is really important, and takes a lot of the mystery out of the observation process. If you know what’s happening from the other side, it shouldn’t be as scary any more. According to a friend who teaches in state schools in the UK, this is a normal part of training new teachers there – I’m not aware of it happening in any kind of formalised way in ELT.

Developing through IATEFL

Jon Burton is the new CEO of IATEFL. In this interview recorded at IATEFL Glasgow 2017, he talks about what IATEFL is doing to attract younger teachers, and the #myiatefl hashtag which you can use to give feedback on the organisation.

Tweets from other sessions

Me three! I think we all started blogging at a similar time 🙂

My first year as a full-time DoS

Richard Branson, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.”

I saw this quote on Jane Cohen’s blog a few days ago, and feel like it sums up my job at IH Bydgoszcz pretty perfectly, as well as being from one of the managers I admire most.

When my predecessor, Tim, first mentioned the possibility of taking over from him as Director of Studies (DoS) managing a team of 18-20 teachers, I really wasn’t sure I could do it. After all, I’d only finished Delta a year or so earlier, and had done very little teaching since then to see if I could apply what I’d learnt. I was a fledgling CELTA tutor with only four courses under my belt, and still very much felt like I was learning how to do that job. Although I’d worked as the DoS at IH Sevastopol, it was a very different school with a much smaller team of only 3-6 teachers, and where I was still teaching 18-24 hours a week. Thankfully Tim talked me into visiting the school to see what the job really involved.

Less than a month later I spent four days in Bydgoszcz and Torun, visiting the school and the surrounding area and shadowing Tim at school for two days. I spent the first day continuing to think there was no way I could possibly do this job, and it took a couple of conversations with some of the teachers on the second day to persuade me that I would manage it. Thank you – you know who you are!

The result was that when the end of August 2015 rolled around, I found myself moving to Bydgoszcz, and entering a near-empty school just waking up from the summer break for the best induction I could possibly have hoped for. Tim spent nearly three weeks with me, introducing me to various procedures at the school and helping me get a handle on many of the things I’d need to do the job. He’s always been on call to help me throughout the year, and I’m immensely grateful for his help.

At the beginning of September, the senior teachers arrived and together, with Tim’s help, we planned the induction week for new and returning teachers. Throughout the year Luke, Sam and I have worked well as a team (in my opinion!) to support the teachers and keep everything running smoothly. I have relied on their prior knowledge of systems at the school to help me work out what needed doing, when and how. This is also true of the admin staff, and especially of the school Director, who is amazingly supportive, and one of the best bosses I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

Together, we have:

  • placement tested new students and organised the timetable
  • done drop in and formal observations to help our teachers develop
  • provided weekly professional development workshops
  • run collaborative level planning meetings covering about half of the groups at the school
  • had weekly meetings and senior meetings to keep everybody up-to-date
  • organised a teacher training day, two adult social events and two young learner socials
  • run a day of Cambridge mock exams
  • coordinated and checked reports for students
  • organised tutorials and parents’ meetings
  • recruited new staff and organised accommodation for them
  • dealt with problems that teachers, students and parents have had
  • chosen new course books for the next school year
  • and probably many other things which I’ve forgotten!

Needless to say, I had no idea how to do a lot of those things before I started the job! I was lucky to have inherited a lot of systems which I’ve been able to build on, making the whole thing a lot easier for me. A selection of the skills I think I’ve learnt or developed over the past year include:

  • using many features of Excel I had no idea even existed before!
  • how to use Outlook (something I’d thankfully managed to escape before – I hate it!)
  • communication skills: when to listen, what to ask, when to talk, what to say, how to say it
  • awareness of relationships around the school and how they impact on people
  • recruitment
  • balancing timetables fairly and taking into account the needs of teachers, students and the school
  • helping teachers fresh off the CELTA to build on what they’ve learnt
  • classroom management with teen classes (I had my own teen group for most of the year)
  • time management, and knowing how to manage my office door
  • balancing school work and out-of-school activities (I’d say ‘life’, but a lot of it has still been work this year – already have plans afoot to change this next year!)

Of course, there’s still a lot I need to work on, including many of the areas mentioned above. To help me with this, I’d like to get some more formal management training, as like many people I’ve been learning on the job. So far I’ve been relying on a combination of instinct, past conversations with my mum when she was managing a large organisation, Business Studies from school, management books I mostly read as a teenager, and asking for help from my ever-supportive network.

As I enter my second year at IH Bydgoszcz and am now more aware of the background I’m working with, I’m starting to make deeper changes, beyond the occasional rewriting of a document or update of a system. These include modifying the already very strong professional development structure, changing the way registers are set up with the aim of making them easier to fill in, and introducing some shared groups. Watch this space to find out what works and what doesn’t!

Thoughts on giving feedback to teachers

As both a CELTA trainer and a Director of Studies, a key part of my job is giving feedback to teachers after observations. I was prompted to write this post after listening to Jo Gakonga, a fellow CELTA trainer, talk about feedback on the TEFLology podcast, and looking at her new teacher feedback site. One of the things she said was that after our initial training as managers or tutors, we are normally left to our own devices with feedback, something which I’ve often wondered about. It’s useful to reflect on how we’re giving feedback, and I’d really like to develop this area of my practice more. Here’s a bit about where I am now…

I’ve just finished working on a CELTA at International House Milan, where I had two main development goals for myself as a tutor. I tried to revamp many of my input sessions to make them more practical and to make the handouts more useful and less overwhelming, and I also worked to improve both my written and oral feedback, again to be more practical and less overwhelming.

I have previously been told that sometimes my feedback can come across as negative, and that it’s not always clear whether a lesson has been successful or not. I also catch myself taking over feedback sometimes, and not allowing trainees the time or space for their own reflection or to give each other feedback. Timing can be a problem too. On the CELTA course, you can’t really afford to spend more than 15 minutes on oral feedback for each trainee, as there are other things which need to be fitted in to the day. The positive response I got from trainees at the end of the Milan course in response to changes I’ve made means I think (hope!) I’m heading in the right direction.

We had 45-60 minutes for feedback after each TP (teaching practice). By the end of the course, we were breaking it down into 15-20 minutes of peer feedback, with trainees working in pairs for five minutes at a time to give individual feedback to each of the three teachers from that day’s TP, with the person who taught reflecting on their lesson first. I then summarised the feedback and added my own for another 10-15 minutes, and answered any questions they had about the lessons. This was based on three positives and three areas to work on for each trainee, and I tried to make sure that they were given equal weight. The last section of the feedback involved taking an area I felt the trainees needed to work on and doing some mini input, either demonstrating something like how to give instructions to pre-intermediate students or drawing their attention to the good work of their fellow trainees, for example by analysing a successful lesson plan to show what they might be aiming for themselves. Where possible, I also referred back to handouts from input sessions to strengthen the link between input and TP. This seemed to work, and is a structure I’d like to use again.

Other feedback activities I’ve used successfully are:

  • a ‘kiss’ and a ‘kick’ (thanks for teaching me this Olga!): trainees share one positive thing from the lesson, and one thing the teacher should work on. This is done as a whole group, and everybody should share different things. The person who taught should speak first.
  • board-based feedback: divide the board into +/- sections for each trainee. The group should fill the board with as many things as they noticed from the lessons as possible, which then form the basis for discussion. The teacher can’t write on their own section.

Another thing I’ve been trying to do is make the links between the skill of teaching and that of learning a foreign language as explicit as possible. Reflection on teaching should be balanced between positives and negatives, in the same way that you wouldn’t let a student continue to think that they are the best/worst student ever. During input sessions, I highlighted things that trainees could steal and take into their own lessons, like how to set up particular activities, and also made clear what areas of my own teaching I’m working on, such as giving instructions, and when they were and weren’t successful, to exemplify the nature of being a reflective teacher. Although it’s often quite natural, trainees also shouldn’t beat themselves up for not taking previous feedback or new information from input sessions on board instantly, just like it’s not possible for students to use the present perfect without any problems as soon as they’ve learnt it. One mantra during our feedback sessions was that CELTA tutors are looking for ‘progress, not perfection’.

If you’re a trainer or manager, do you have any other feedback techniques you can share? And as someone who’s being observed, what do you want the observer to do/say in feedback?

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan, as seen from the roof of the Duomo

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan

IH AMT conference 2016

From Thursday 7th to Saturday 9th January, I had the pleasure of attending my third IH DoS conference, or the AMT conference as it’s now known: Academic Management & Trainers. As always, the conference was a very useful weekend, not least for the networking. It was a great opportunity to meet with representatives from across IH Poland since I started as the Director of Studies at IH Bydgoszcz:

IH Poland contigent at the IH AMT conference 2016

Monica Green‘s presentation about how to maintain positivity and morale in our schools was one of the highlights of the first day. A key point was that the focus should be across the school, including support staff, not just in the staffroom. As she said, “You’re paying the same whether teachers are happy or not, but it’s nicer to work somewhere everyone is happy.” Here are a few of her tips:

  • Morale has to start with managers. If they’re positive, their team is more likely to be.
  • Simple things make a big difference: say ‘Good morning’. Be warm, kind and considerate, show an interest, and listen to people.
  • Be approachable. If you have your own office, leave your door open whenever you can.
  • Make the physical environment pleasant to be in.
  • People who eat together work better together.
  • Make a particular effort with THAT member of staff, rather than avoiding them and hoping they’ll go away.
  • Build relationships based on trust and fairness. Be genuine and believable. Be consistent.
  • Give credit. Show respect. Define your expectations. And avoid micro-management!
  • And if all else fails, great wifi is a good way to increase morale 🙂

The change in name led to a slight change in focus, with two tracks of afternoon sessions for day one, one covering management issues, and one focussing more on training. It was a difficult choice, but I ended up spending all of my time in the training sessions.

It made a pleasant change to hear Paula de Nagy speaking up for pre-service courses, and highlighting all the ways they really do help teachers, rather than focussing on all the problems with these short courses, which is all too often the dialogue we hear.

Magnus Coney shared some of the things he’s learnt from three books. All of them sound interesting, and the first was mentioned a few times during the conference. [These are all affiliate links, so I’ll get a few pennies if you buy through them.]

  • Visible Learning by John Hattie.
    A meta-analysis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement in learning in general, including a ranking of which factors have the most impact on learning. The two excerpts from the list we saw during the conference included some surprises! Hattie has also published a couple of other books following up on the original.
  • Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham
    An explanation of how and why students learn, courtesy of a cognitive scientist.
  • Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger and Mark A. McDaniel
    Magnus shared a few interesting tips from here about how to help students remember things. One of the most interesting was that students learn things better if they’ve been tested on them before learning. I assume this is because they notice what they don’t know and are therefore motivated to fill in the gaps – a definite argument for test-teach-test! Another idea which I’ve got personal experience of is that things which are harder to learn stick better because you’ve processed them more.

By far the most useful talk on day two of the conference was by Jon Hird. His title was ‘Reaching every student in the classroom: dyslexia and learning English’. I’d highly recommend heading over to his blog and downloading the handout to find out more about what causes dyslexia, and how you can adapt materials so that they are more accessible for dyslexic students. Spoiler: dyslexia doesn’t just mean problems with reading and writing, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the person is not intelligent.

Day three brought my first experience of an Open Space event, ably coordinated by Josh Round. Here is a brief description of the format. We started by suggesting ideas/posing questions on post-it notes, which were then loosely grouped. I ended up in a group with questions about supporting newly-qualified teachers. Each group had a secretary who summarised the discussion, and all notes were shared on the IH management pages after the conference. It was a fascinating way to deal with issues pertinent to us, and to remind us that we’re not alone, and many other people have had the same problems as us!

Looking forward to next year already!

Alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar

For the last few months I’ve been considering different ways of offering professional development to teachers within a school. To that end, here is a collection of alternatives/supplements to weekly seminars in no particular order. 

Lesson jamming: get together with a group of people for a couple of hours, take a prompt and come up with a lesson plan or two, which you can then take away and use. Read more about it (the penultimate section of the post) and an example.

Examining principles: consider your beliefs about what happens in the classroom and the materials you use in more depth, perhaps using some of the activities shared by Jill Hadfield in her IATEFL 2015 talk (the second section of the post)

Debate: take a controversial subject in ELT, and have a debate about it, perhaps encouraging teachers to find out more about it before the time. Potential topics could be the use of course books or whether testing is useful.

Webinars: watch a webinar together, then discuss it. Find some here to start you off.

Reading methodology books: but not alone! You could try something like Lizzie Pinard’s ELT Book Challenge or start a reading group as Gemma Lunn did. And it doesn’t have to be books, it could be blogs too.

Using ideas from one of these books about professional development

Action research projects: running workshops on how to identify areas of teaching to research and/or how to make the most of peer observation (or here), sending people off to do their projects, then bringing them back to report on their progress and share their results. Read about examples of projects.

Project-based professional development: as proposed by Mike Harrison, with the idea that teachers do a series of things related to a particular area they would like to investigate. I think it could be seen as a variant on action research.

Reflective practice group: encourage teachers to share reflections on their teaching regularly. Here’s an example from Korea.

Sharing is caring: as an extension, teachers could bring along their current problems in the classroom and the group can brainstorm solutions. This could also lead into more in-depth action research.

Critical incidents: “A critical incident is any unplanned event that occurs during class.” (Farrell in the Jan 2008 ELT Journal) Share an example of a critical incident and discuss different ways of responding to it.

Activity swap-shop: every teacher/four or five teachers bring along activities and share them with the group. They should take about ten minutes, and probably involve a demonstration followed by reflection on which groups it might (not) work with and why.

Video observation: watch part of a lesson together and discuss it.

CPD and a cup of tea: as run at IH Palermo, with teachers working in small groups to discuss various questions related to teaching, with the hot drink of their choice. 🙂

Open Space: a kind of mini conference, as seen at bigger events like IATEFL conference

Scholarship circles: as run at Sheffield University, consisting of a series of teacher-led groups focussing on different areas, as chosen by the teachers involved. You can join in with as many circles as you like.

Professional development groups: a suggestion from Josh Round where teachers take control of their own development.

Exploiting materials: brainstorming as many ideas as you can based on particular materials through the use of post-it notes.

Bite-size reflection: Anthony Gaughan and Phil Wade have put together a free e-book containing twenty 5-minute reflective ideas.

Abstract art on a classroom wall

Working through the maze of professional development (From ELTpics by Carmen Arias Blázquez, used under a CC 3.0 license)

Let me know if you try out any of these ideas or if you have any to add to the list. 

Update

Zhenya Polosotova shared five different types of reflective sessions on her blog back in December 2013.

 

Diary of a new DoS

This is a record of my first three weeks as a Director of Studies at a large school. Although I’ve held a DoS position before, it was at a much smaller school and my job looked very different, consisting mostly of teaching, with some management. Here I’ll only teach one group a week, with the rest of my time focussing on admin and management activities. This diary should give you a taster of the kind of things it involves.

Day 0

I’m on my way to Bydgoszcz, Poland, to start my new job and new life as Director of Studies of the International House school there. The offer to take up the post came when I met the previous incumbent, Tim, at the IH DoS conference in January this year. At the end of January I visited Bydgoszcz for a few days to see the school and decide whether I wanted to work there. I love Central Europe and it seemed like the right step to take, so I accepted after a little persuasion – I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to manage such a big school, but the more I think about it, the more I think I can do it.

It seems like I’ve been waiting forever for this journey, but it’s only been nine months. In preparation for moving I’ve been using memrise to learn Polish vocabulary for a few minutes every day, have listened to a few management podcasts, and have read management blogs with an eye to what I can bring to the school. Really though, I’m not sure exactly what to expect or what else I can do. Luckily I’ll have three weeks before the teachers arrive and four weeks before classes start to try and get my head around everything.

View from Kaminskiego bridge - sculpture of a man on a trapeze wire over the River Brda

Later: I flew from London to Luton to Poznan, and the director of the school, G, was waiting to meet me at the airport – it’s so nice when someone from the school is there to take care of you when you arrive in a new place. It makes you feel so welcomed. Two hours later, we got to my new flat, next to the university’s botanic gardens, and a ten-minute walk from the school. I think I’m going to like it here.f ☺

Day 1

The first job was to brainstorm all the areas Tim and I thought I needed to know about in order to do the job successfully, then work out where to start. Since writing the initial list, it’s pretty much doubled in length and only two things have been crossed off it so far!

We began with looking at the recruitment Tim had done over the summer and deciding whether we would need any more teachers before the beginning of the year. Tim told me about each of the teachers returning from last year, and we looked at the CVs of the new teachers. That gave me an idea of the team I’ll be working with and I’ve already started to think about what classes would and wouldn’t be suitable for each teacher.

I spent the evening unpacking, making my first trip to the supermarket, cooking, and generally settling in at my flat.

Day 2

Following on from discussing recruitment yesterday, Tim showed me how to advertise jobs on the IH website and we put together an advert to fill our last vacancy.

Later in the day, ST1, the senior teacher from last year, came in for a chat. This was a chance for us to get to know each other a bit and decide what we need to focus on when he comes back to school next week. He also showed me the coursebooks and associated materials available for the teachers and talked me through the school’s placement test, ready for us to begin testing new students next week.

In between all of that I’ve been reading various documents on the computer and generally familiarising myself with the files there, which Tim has thankfully left in brilliant order for me – it’s so much easier taking over an organised computer system and knowing what’s relevant!

Day 3

I started off reading more of the files on the computer and asking Tim a long list of questions based on them. We archived a few things and updated a few others.

For lunch I took advantage of the sunshine and the warm weather to eat outside. Tim told me about a park hiding behind the buildings opposite the school – it took me a whole 30 seconds to get there. 🙂 I think I’ll be spending as much time as I can there in my breaks to make sure I get out of school when I can, helping me in my quest for a good work-life balance.

After lunch we met a potential senior teacher (a returner from last year) and talked to him about what the job would involve. He’s going to think about it and come back to us tomorrow.

We then started out on the timetable, which is probably the area I’ve been most worried about because of the number of permutations it involves. Everything revolves around getting the timetable right, and while I’ll inevitably make a mistake with it at some point, I’d like to put that point off for as long as possible! Tim talked me through his timetable spreadsheet and I made notes with codes and tips. He also explained how the 121 system works.

To finish the day we toured the classrooms and he showed me the technology set-up with projectors and provision for laptops.

Day 4

Tim and I spent a large chunk of today working on the timetable. We started by working out who’s probably going to travel to our other two sites, followed by dividing up teen and young learner classes based on preferences and experience. We’ll continue with adult classes tomorrow.

The teacher we offered the senior position to yesterday accepted, and will henceforth be known as ST2 😉 I’m pleased about this because it means there will be more people to share the workload with, and whose experience and knowledge of the school I will be able to draw on more easily. I spoke to him alone, my first individual act as DoS.

I spoke to G about a couple of conferences I’d like to go to this year, and he is willing for me to attend them as long as I make provisions for any days I might miss. It’s wonderful to be working at a school which is so supportive – exactly the kind of ethos I would like be able to offer to my teaching team.

Tim showed me around Outlook, a programme I’ve mostly managed to avoid so far but will now have to get to grips with. The added challenge is that it’s all in Polish! We weeded out messages which are now irrelevant and saved examples of emails which might be useful to me in the future – it’s good to see how certain communications can be worded to make sure I am as clear and diplomatic as possible when it’s called for.

The gaps in the day were filled with general introductions to standby/overtime, ordering books, the young learner classroom management system, and a few other things which I can’t remember now.

Day 5

After being shown how to use Outlook yesterday I was able to weed out a lot of emails from last year which I don’t need any more, save a few examples of useful communications and organise what was left into folders, meaning I reached Inbox Zero 🙂 I don’t expect it to last…

We finished the timetable so far, adding in the final classes that we didn’t manage to do yesterday. Tim helped me to post my first job advert on tefl.com.

Apart from that I finished going through all of the folders on the computer, deleting old files, creating a few templates for future years and blank documents for this academic year and writing a list of questions to ask Tim on Monday.

All in all, it’s been a productive week. I feel like I have a basic handle on a lot of aspects of the job, and feel much more aware of the kind of tasks my working week and year will involve.

Days 6 and 7

To begin my quest to have a healthy work-life balance, I spent a lovely weekend doing lots of relaxing things, with a tiny bit of finishing off some writing work from the summer and a couple of quick journal articles. I visited the forest park on the outskirts of the city by myself, and went to a food and handicrafts fair and explored the old city centre with a new, local, friend who I met through a member of my PLN (personal learning network).

Myslecinek park

I finished the weekend off by enjoying the final ‘River Music’ concert of the summer, a jazz band playing on a boat outside the opera house in perfect weather conditions.

Boat and crowd in front of the Opera Novy for the 'River Music' concert

Day 8

Today was long! The school has come to life with lots of students coming in for placement tests; the senior teachers were there putting everything back into the newly refurbished staffrooms, and the IHCYLT (IH Certificate in Young Learners and Teenagers) started, meaning we have two trainers and eleven trainees here for two weeks, including our first two young learner/teen groups of this academic year.

I went through applications sent in reply to the advert from Friday and made my first steps in solo recruitment, speaking to some of the applicants on the phone. I’ve realised I’m not really a phone person, and really ought to do something about that!

I shadowed Tim on a few placement tests, getting a feel for the way they are similar and different to ones I’ve done before.

At the end of the day I stayed a bit later to reorganise the big pile of paper I’d built up over the previous week. The main thing I wanted to achieve was to salvage useful notes from a double-sided piece of A4 that has so many ideas, plans and crossings out on it that it’s become overwhelming – I feel so much better now that they’re organised between my weekly planner, my academic year diary and a couple of post-it notes. There’s no organisational task you can’t improve with the right stationery. 🙂

Day 9

Today has been in the diary for about two months, so it was good to finally get to it. The DoS and senior teacher from IH Torun joined our senior management team for the day to plan the shape of our year. This was achieved through a large wall planner and a copious amount of post-it notes, with reference to last year’s year plan. We also tried to move things around to avoid bottlenecks that happened last year. I feel much more prepared for the year now I know roughly what’s going to happen when. It was also a great opportunity to identify areas where the two schools can collaborate and ease the workload for all of us. All in all, a very useful day.

Day 10

Now that the year plan has been done, I feel like the year has started properly and I can begin to get my teeth into it. ST1 and I worked out how many teachers’ sets of books we need, particularly of new editions of books which we’ll be using for the first time. The sooner we get them, the sooner we can plan the pacing schedule for each book for the year in order to help teachers stay on track.

Tim showed me how to calculate overtime each month – it’s quite an overwhelming spreadsheet when you first look at it, but you don’t actually have to enter that much information as most of it deals with automatic calculations based on what you put in. After that we finished going through the questions I’d built up through last week based on the computer system – it was a great feeling to throw away the piece of paper with them all on! Meanwhile, the two STs planned the seating arrangements for the staffrooms and checked what stationery we already have. We also all did a few placement tests. It’s great to know that I have so much support as I’m going through this whole process.

Staff room, IH Bydgoszcz

The whole senior management team looked at sessions for induction week and checked what we already have for them to work out how much planning we each need to do to prepare for it. We also started to consider our first teacher development sessions for the year.
Having finalised everything for induction, I dealt with email from today, following up on a few bits of school preparation with the owner and sending out my first email to all of the teachers, including information about induction and start dates so they know what to expect in their first week.

Day 11

We started the day with a chat about fixtures and fittings with the owner, following yesterday’s email. I also dealt with a few job applications left from yesterday.

Tim and I finalised my job description, updating it from his. The bulk of the day was then spent considering teacher development. The STs worked on the workshop programme for the year, while Tim talked me through the observation process. We also looked at student feedback, dealing with student issues and following up on suggestions from teachers at the end of last year. I also did a 1-2-1 placement test for a high-level student who would like medical English. Can anybody recommend good materials for that?

There were lots of bitty things, and I sense this is going to reflect my average working day much more than some of the others I’ve recorded so far!

On a happy side note, I finally managed to get the wifi connected at home. Without it, I’ve managed to go for a walk each evening and keep working on my cross stitch. On my first night with it, having made sure I went for a walk before I tried to connect to the net, I’m already staying up later than normal to spend time on the computer… Definitely need to stop that if the work-life balance is going to be healthily maintained!

Day 12

Timetabling was the order of the morning, returning to the work Tim and I did last week to update it with information from new placement tests. I also continued to work on recruitment. I went through my contract with the school director, made arrangements with a teacher about the very young learner playgroups and wrote out my to-do list ready for next week. Written like that, it doesn’t look like much, but it definitely filled the day!

Day 13 and 14

To continue the process of setting up my new life, I went to a board game shop which was recommended to me, and where I will probably end up spending quite a lot of time and money! Hopefully it will be the source of a few new friends, especially as my Polish improves. You can also borrow games from there, so I’ll see if anyone from school will join me to play them 🙂 I’ve also registered for the bikes which are all over the city, making it easier for me to travel even further under my own steam. I discovered that I can do the 20-minute walk from my flat to the Old Town almost entirely through or next to parks – amazing!

Cathedral of St. Martin and Mikulas and archaeology museum

Day 15

Today was all about two things: recruitment and the timetable. I started by re-reading the school handbook. I first read it in January, when I applied for the DoS job, but had forgotten quite a lot in the interim. Since I was assuming that our interviewees had read it, I thought it was probably a good time to revisit it! I listened in to Tim doing one interview, then did my first one. It was extremely useful to do this because it helped me to notice things I would probably have taken much longer to arrive at if I’d started interviewing alone. The rest of the day was spent beginning to put 121 and business classes into the timetable, a much more challenging process than the groups we started with, as now there are irregular time slots, more preferences, and fuller timetables to juggle with. It’s one big jigsaw puzzle, and we won’t have all of the pieces until late next week, but we have to start somewhere!

Day 16

This was my first day of independence, as Tim won’t be in again until Friday. It gave me a real flavour of what my working days will look like from now on: I planned to do about eight different things, managed about three, and had about six other things added to be done throughout the day. It was actually much more what I was expecting the job to be like when I arrived, so I’ve been grateful for the days when I have managed to do everything I wanted to so far!

I spent a large part of the day with ST1 and ST2, looking at two areas identified as problems last year and coming up with potential solutions for them, resulting in a long email summarising our discussion and a few new tasks for each of us to get the ball rolling. We worked on their training sessions for induction week, and I realised yet again how valuable the experience of being a CELTA tutor for the past year has been, and how much I’ve picked up from my colleagues about what makes a good training session (I hope!)

Other tasks for today included: finalising my contract, interviewing a Polish language teacher, doing a 121 needs analysis, following up on references, playing with the software to accompany one of our course books…and probably a few more things I’ve forgotten!

Day 17

This morning I took part in my first business meeting, when G and I went out to a company to ‘sell’ them the school and tell them what we can offer. Even though I’ve only been at IH Bydgoszcz for a few weeks, having worked for International House for seven years meant I could still contribute evenly to the discussion, something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do before we went.

The afternoon was dedicated to getting my sessions ready for induction week, and checking that ST1 and ST2 were happy with the revisions they’d made to their sessions. I also started planning a placement testing schedule for next week and replied to a few emails.

Day 18

My last ‘free’ day of no teachers, no students and working on my own priorities! We’d already decided that Tim being back on Friday would mean focussing on the timetable, which meant this was my last day of induction preparation. I made sure that I am comfortable with all of the admin systems that I need to present to the teachers next week, reorganised a few of the relevant documents and put together my session. In between those things I placement tested three students, one of whom had spent six months at primary school in the UK. If you have any suggestions for resources for him, I’d be really grateful! I have a few ideas, but more are always welcome. The two STs got through a lot of their pre-induction things too – it’s a pleasure working with two people who are so professional. 🙂

Day 19

Today was dedicated to the timetable. Tim showed me how to calculate how many teachers we need based on the latest information about business and 121 classes, and we fitted as much information as we could into the paper versions of the timetables we’ve been using as a draft. On Monday I’ll need to put it all on to the computer as soon as possible so that we can confirm it with the students. There is still some information coming in with more students signing up all the time, so it won’t be finalised until next week, but I feel like we’ve broken the back of it. I’m happy with the balance of classes, support groups for teachers, and being able to satisfy the majority of the teachers’ requests. As a result of this, I also did my first full job interview and made my first hiring decision. To round off the day, I finalised the induction week placement testing schedule and timetable, and answered last-minute questions on induction sessions from ST1 and ST2.

Church of St Vincent and St Paul

Reflection

Tim has staged this three-week transition process so well that I feel like I really know what to expect from the job. The support I’ve had from ST1 and ST2 has been invaluable in getting my head around the systems at the school, and we’ve already made some slight changes based on feedback from last year. I’ve learnt so much already, and I know that process will continue.

Before I arrived I wasn’t sure how I would manage to juggle everything at the same time, but having this time to settle in before induction and the students’ arrival has given me the opportunity to put various systems in place which I hope will make my job easier as the year progresses. I’ve also been able to kick-start my social life and make myself feel at home in Bydgoszcz, a very important part of having a healthy work-life balance.

I’m looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring, and to sharing some of that journey with you here (although I promise it won’t normally be this long!)

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Professional Development and Management

From August I’ll be the Director of Studies at IH Bydgoszcz in Poland, and in preparation for this I’ve been reading and listening to blogs, books and podcasts about management. Observation will also be a key part of my role, as well as being relevant to my work as a CELTA tutor. I’ve therefore grouped the talks I saw at IATEFL on these topics into a single post.

Forum on peer observation

This was my first experience of an IATEFL forum, and I decided to go on the spur of the moment. I’m glad I did, as it gave me ideas for how to encourage teachers to take part in a peer observation programme, and showed me some of the potential problems with setting one up.

EFL Teachers and Peer Observation: beliefs, challenges and implications – Gihan Ismail

Gihan works at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. She decided to research how experienced EFL teachers (5-20 years) perceive peer observation, in contrast to most research which focuses on relatively inexperienced teachers.

Experienced teachers had multiple identities as teachers which came into conflict when considering peer observation, contrasting their personal identity and the value of the observation to them as individuals with their professional identity and observations as CPD (continuing professional development). Her findings showed that there was a relatively negative attitude towards peer observation, despite experienced teachers knowing that it can be beneficial. This encompassed the following factors:

  • School culture.
  • How the outcome of observations may influence their career.
  • Psychological/emotional tensions, including a potential distrust in the peer doing the observation.
  • Feeling threatened because there’s a risk that they might lose some of their reputation if the peer doesn’t understand what they are doing.
  • A rejection of changes in their habits: comfort zones are difficult to leave.
  • Doubt in the outcome of any changes they might make as a result of observations.
  • The potential stress involved in participating in peer observations, and the fact that this can be avoided by doing other forms of CPD, like going to conferences.

Their beliefs were also shaped by past experience and ‘professional coursework’ (e.g. formalised training, books read).

Most studies focus on external factors influencing whether teachers are willing to participate in peer observation schemes, but Ismail found that actually internal factors were dominant. For example, issues like fear and/or a potential loss of face in front of a less experienced colleague were more likely to make teachers want to avoid peer observation than factors imposed by their employer. It wasn’t helped by the fact that in most cases there was no pre-observation meeting to set up what the observed teacher and the peer wanted to get out of the observation. Her research suggests that teacher needs should be examined more carefully in workplaces, where student needs tend to dominate and teachers’ needs are secondary.

Peer observation: introducing a system that actually works for everyone – Shirley Norton

Shirley described a successful peer observation scheme which was set up at the London School of English, where teachers have between five and thirty-five years of experience.

Before the scheme was set up, peer observation was:

  • officially encouraged, but rarely happened unless there was an inspection.
  • management-led, with teachers being told who they should see.
  • contrasted with the atmosphere of collaboration in the staffroom: you can’t come into my classroom!
  • mostly focussed on quality control, rather than developmental aims.

To be able to implement a peer observation scheme which would work, they started with a questionnaire to collect opinions about peer observation, and discovered many points which echoed Gihan’s findings in the previous presentation. Everyone agreed peer observation was a good thing, but nobody actually wanted to do it!

All the research Shirley did said that teachers need to be involved from the beginning when setting up schemes like this, so that’s what she did. They had a focus group discussing the possible benefits of peer observations and potential obstacles. All ideas were accepted, and they came up with over 100 obstacles! Previously, this is where they had stopped when thinking of such schemes, but this time they went through each obstacle and came up with potential solutions. This led to the creation of clear guidelines for the scheme, including the role of the observer and the teacher, how to give feedback, and how to focus on development rather than judgement. Throughout her talk Shirley emphasised the importance of these guidelines, and the fact that a peer observation scheme is unlikely to be effective without them. Guidelines on feedback are particularly important, as this is where observation systems often fall down. Here are some examples:

  • Problem: Increased workload for teachers.
    Solution: No formal paperwork required for management. Peer observation is supposed to be development, and there doesn’t need to be proof of this. It’s between the teachers involved.
  • Problem: Lack of management buy-in.
    Solution: Make it a sacred part of the timetable and find a way to ensure it is never dropped.
  • Problem: There’s no chair for the observer.
    Solution: The teacher doing the observation provides the chair.

Spending time on these ‘what ifs’ makes teachers more relaxed and more likely to want to participate. No matter how minor they may seem, these are genuine fears which may scupper your programme, so you need to take them seriously.

The scheme has gone through various incarnations, with Shirley trying to match teachers up with their observation wishlists (logistical nightmare), then telling them who to observe (teachers were unhappy), before finally settling on teachers deciding for themselves (success!)

Now each teacher has an allocated week in the school year which is their opportunity to peer observe. Within that week they are allowed to choose anybody to observe and they will be covered if necessary to enable them to do so. This happens regardless of anything else going on in the school (illness, inspections etc) as otherwise the programme would fall apart. Up to two teachers may have the same week allocated – more than that makes it difficult to cover everyone. Even generally disengaged teachers did peer observations willingly with this system. As for those being observed, you can only say no to somebody coming into your classroom if you’ve been observed within the previous four weeks. Observations are included on the school’s weekly planner and email reminder is sent out to those being observed. Management doesn’t tell them who or what to observe: that is entirely up to the teachers involved. The only requirements from management are that each observation has three steps: pre-observation meeting, observation, post-observation meeting (these can be as long or as short as the participants like). Everything above is codified in the guidelines for the scheme.

Overall, the aim of the scheme is to share best practice, with everyone learning from each other.

Peer observation: making it work for lasting CPD – Carole Robinson and Marie Heron

Maria and Carole work at NILE, where there is a relatively high turnover of teachers. These are the benefits of peer observation as they see them:

  • New ideas.
  • Learning ways of dealing with critical incidents in the classroom.
  • Building peer-peer trust.
  • Observing learners from a different perspective (when observing a class you also teach).
  • Extended professional development.
  • Enjoyment!

They have tried a variety of different peer observation systems. An open-door policy was seen as being too radical, so they decided to have a sign-up sheet instead. Teachers have been issued with red cards which they can put outside their door if they feel it would be a bad time for an observer to come into their lesson. Although they have never been used, it makes them feel safer and more willing to accept observers.

Because of the problem of cover, many observations are only 10-minutes. These are particularly useful at the beginning of a class as teachers are more likely to be willing to relinquish their students to another teacher at this point while they go and observe. Once every two weeks, they also run workshop sessions for the students which require fewer teachers than traditional classes do, leaving teachers free to observe other classes.

Other possible observation systems are:

  • Blind observations: The lesson is discussed before and after it happens, but there is no observer in the room during the class.
  • Video observations: The lesson is discussed before, videoed on a mobile phone, then specific sections of the lesson are watched with the observer. This removed the fear of having another person in the room.

The pre-observation chat is very important, regardless of the manner of observation. This is when the focus of the observation is decided on as well as how feedback will be conducted.

To reduce paperwork, teachers only complete an observation log showing the time, date and focus of observations. No other paperwork is required by management. To maximise their potential, observations take place throughout the year, rather than only once or twice, and they vary in length to help teachers fit them in. Teachers are encouraged to keep a reflective journal of what they have learnt from the observations, both as observed and observer. They don’t have to show it to anyone, but can if they want to: What have I learnt? What questions does it pose?

Peer observations are also the subject of workshops the school holds, including discussion about how to develop the scheme further. These workshops take the form of debates and happen every 2-3 months, covering a whole variety of topics (not just peer observations). They sound like an interesting idea, and one I’d like to experiment with.

Better together: peer coaching for continuing professional development – Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell

Ela has been telling me about the peer coaching project she has been running with Dita over the past year since it started, so I had to go to this talk to find out how it all panned out in the end 🙂

Dita and Ela met at IATEFL Harrogate last year, and quickly realised that they had quite similar teaching profiles in terms of their experience and length of time in the classroom. They were also both based in Oxford.

Ela returned to the classroom at around the same time, having taught 121 for a long time. She asked Dita to observe her to check some of her classroom management techniques. Dita asked Ela to observe in return because she didn’t want to get stuck in a rut. They found the experience so useful that they decided they wanted to turn it into something more formal, and their peer coaching project was born.

Peer coaching is:

A confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; or solve problems in the workplace.

Robbins, P (1991) How to plan and implement a peer coaching programme Alexandria, VA; Association for Supervision Curriculum Development (may be a slight mistake in the reference – tweet not clear)

Or, as they said:

Reflecting together, learning from each other.

Their project involved:

  • Listing their individual and professional goals before the project started.
  • Meeting regularly to discuss their lessons, things they had read/watched and teaching in general, working together to solve problems and build their knowledge. Because they were working with an experienced peer, the discussions could go into a lot of depth. They supported each other as critical friends.
  • Observing each other’s lessons for specific details. They originally taught at different schools, but Ela later moved to Dita’s school. They told their managers what they were doing, and received support with timetabling (among other things) to make their project possible.
  • Audio and video recording lessons.
  • Giving feedback to each other on lessons and suggesting small tweaks they could make to change them.
  • Keeping a teaching diary, which formed the basis for future meetings and ideas for observations. Ela colour-coded hers: change, improve, important.
  • Teaching each other’s classes: they could focus on their learners while the other teacher led the class. When students asked why this was happening, it evolved into a discussion about the nature of teaching and learning, and students were interested in how they were developing their teaching. As a result, Dita became more comfortable with asking her students for feedback on lessons.
  • For Dita, the project encouraged her to leave her comfort zone, and she decided to work on a CELTA at a different centre, giving her more material for development and reflection.

These are the benefits of peer coaching according to Dita and Ela:

  • Easy to incorporate into your work schedule (especially with the support of managers).
  • Inexpensive.
  • Two heads are better than one!
  • You build a closer relationship with a colleague.
  • Hands on.
  • In depth.
  • Mutual motivation because you don’t want to let your peer down.
  • Can see continuity and progress throughout the year.
  • Fun!

Here are their tips if you’d like to set up a similar project:

  • Choose the right person.
  • Set up ground rules, including confidentiality and how you will give feedback.
  • Decide what forms of coaching you will include (see ideas above for inspiration).
  • Set goals before you start and review them regularly.
  • Create a schedule and stick to it.
  • Decide what you hope to achieve with the project as a whole.
  • Inform management and gain school support if possible.
  • Be open and honest about what you are doing.
  • Evaluate the project when you have finished.
  • Share the results.

Because there was no requirement to grade or assess the lessons, they both found it very liberating and learnt a lot.

I’m here to improve and to learn.

Their students also benefitted. They both gained confidence in their own practice and abilities as teachers, as well as the courage to experiment more with their teaching.

Here’s Olga Sergeeva’s summary of the talk.

Dita and Ela also spoke to IATEFL Online about their project. You can watch the interview here:

Lesson jamming: planning lessons in groups – Tom Heaven

I was interested in this session because IH Bydgoszcz has a system of lesson planning in groups, and I wanted to see how someone else uses the same technique.

Tom is a member of a group called Berlin Language Worker Grassroots Association (or Berlin LW GAS for short), which was set up for a whole range of reasons, one of which was to help reduce the feeling of isolation among the many freelance teachers working in Berlin.

Lesson jams were designed as a fun way to get together for a few hours with other teachers and be inspired by each other and a random prompt (you might find some inspiration on my other blog!) to come up with a lesson plan. There is a step-by-step process for this, culminating in each group sharing their plan with everyone there. The aim of the jam is to be creative and to learn from each other. They also share the final plans on their website, and they’re currently looking for more ideas on how to work with the finished products after the lesson jam. So far, they’ve had two very successful jams and will continue to hold them in the future.

If you’d like to set up your own lesson jam, there is a downloadable guide including all of the stages on the Berlin LW GAS site.

Aspiring to inspire: how to become a great LTO* manager – Fiona Thomas

(*Language Teaching Organisation)

What is the difference between an inspiring manager and a mediocre one? How does an inspiring manager make you feel?

How an inspiring manager makes you feel

Why is it so hard to be inspiring? It requires time to connect with people at an emotional level, and if there’s one thing managers are short of, it’s time. Our stress levels build up because we’re constantly ‘on’ and this leads to us ignoring the warning signs of stress until it’s too late, much like boiling a frog. This leads to us becoming uninspirational micro managers.

To combat this we need to stake a step back and analyse what we are doing with our time. Fiona suggested creating a pie chart and using this to decide whether you are spending appropriate amounts of time on each area. These are the categories she suggested:

  • Operations management;
  • Strategic management;
  • Being an academic expert/mentor;
  • Emotional intelligence.

Fiona decided she was spending too much time on operations management and looked for ways to delegate some of the more administrative parts of her job. Technology could also help you to make some of these areas more efficient. This frees time to focus on developing ‘distinguishing competencies’, thus making managers more inspirational. These differ from ‘threshold competencies’, which are the minimum skills required to do your job. For a DoS, this would be areas like timetabling and conducting observations. ‘Distinguishing competencies’ include:

  • Social intelligence: understanding relationships.
  • Emotional intelligence: being aware of your own emotions.
  • Cognitive intelligence: interpreting what is happening in the world around you.

Research shows that outstanding managers create resonant relationships with the people they manage. This reminds me of the idea of one on ones from the Manager Tools podcast I have been listening to, which seems like a very effective way of building up these relationships. So what is a resonant relationship? It’s one which:

  • Communicates hope: the belief that the future will be good and things are possible;
  • Reminds people of the purpose of the organisation and encourages a shared vision (If you have a mission statement, refer to it!);
  • Demonstrates compassion (showing that you care and that people feel you care) – following the recipient’s agenda: what motivates them?
  • Shows mindfulness (you are ‘with’ the people you manage, not thinking about other things) and attention. Be fully aware of where you are and what you’re doing. If you know it’s not a good time and you can’t give your full attention, act accordingly: postpone the meeting, ask to speak to them at a specified later time, etc.
  • Has participants who appear to be authentic, genuine and transparent and act with integrity;
  • Includes quality time spent with the people you manage, in which you learn about their aspirations and motivation – it’s easy to make assumptions about people if you don’t get to know them properly;
  • Spreads positive emotions: the more powerful your position is, the more likely your emotions are to affect other people.

Fiona was put this talk together as a result of a free 8-week Coursera course she followed called Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence, which she highly recommends. Her blog contains many more insights into managing LTOs.

In summary

These talks have given me many ideas for how to implement observations when I become a DoS, the most important of which is to make sure that any peer observation scheme comes primarily from the teachers themselves. I am also more and more sure that I want to include one on ones in my timetable for next year to get to know the people that I am working with as quickly as possible. Lots to think about 🙂

IH Director of Studies Conference 2015

From the 8th-10th January 2015, I was lucky enough to attend the International House Director of Studies (DoS) conference at Devonport House, Greenwich. As with most conferences, there was a lot to think about, and the conversations between the sessions were just as useful as the sessions themselves, including many things I can build on over the next year, I hope! Watch this space 😉

Here are some of my highlights from the sessions:

Maureen McGarvey – Doublespeak, Disconnect and Blah, Blah, Blah…

Maureen’s talk was focussed on the language we use as managers, how it is interpreted by teachers, and some of the particularly annoying phrases we should try to get rid of. Many of these became catchphrases of the conference, mentioned again and again, and even featuring in some of the team names for the quiz. Here are some of the phrases she highlighted:

It’s developmental.

You’re the first person I thought of.

I sent you an email about this last week.

Customer journey

Managing expectations

Her advice is:

  • don’t use empty phrases, as they’re often lies (It’s not really developmental – I just can’t find anybody else to do it!);
  • make sure that what you’re saying is truly sincere, and that you’re not just saying it;
  • be precise: when we are not precise enough, anything we say can be seen as meaningless;
  • avoid patronising people – they can see through your language;
  • remember what it’s like to be a teacher! What they really want to hear is “I trust you.” and “I sincerely have confidence in you.”

Shaun Wilden and Nikki Fortova – Coming soon to a classroom near you…

Shaun and Nikki showed us how to use the iMovie app on an iPad to create fun trailers with your students. If you don’t have access to iPads, you could also use Mozilla PopcornMaker or WeVideo on Android. Students could also use their own iPads. Shaun told us about the ‘guided access‘ function which you can use to lock the iPad on a single app if you want them to use the teacher’s one.

They suggested creating trailers as part of a task-based lesson, with the main language practice being done during the planning and collaboration stage rather than in the trailer itself. Another alternative would be to have a competition with students creating trailers to advertise the school. The Learning in Hand blog has planning templates, and links to examples of trailers made by students. I’ve also found this step-by-step guide to using iMovie trailers in class.

To show us how easy it is to make a trailer, we had 20 minutes to produce one for the 2016 IH DoS conference in groups of 8. My tip would be to watch the trailer structure before you start planning, as this will give you a better idea of what the final result should look like, then use the planning sheet, then come back to the app. Unfortunately, our group ran out of time, but I can certainly say there was lots of language and it was great fun! Here’s one from a group that did finish:

Alastair Grant – Keeping your teachers at the cutting edge of teacher training (and thereby keeping your teachers)

Alastair is the DoS at IH Montevideo, a school which I think I have a lot to learn from. They provide teacher training courses for schools across Uruguay, including a highly respected two-year degree and academic consultancy. I’m pretty sure Alastair and other teachers at IH Montevideo would be happy to talk to you about it if you have questions 🙂

Speed dating

This was a return to a successful format which was tried for the first time last year. This time 7 presenters, including me, gave 15-minute talks to small audiences sat around tables, one per speaker. At the end of each 15-minute slot, the speaker moved to the next table, meaning they did each presentation four times, and each audience saw 4 of the 7 presentations.

My talk was inspired by a question from Daniel Miller, the DoS at IH Quito, on the IH DoS forum. He asked us to suggest ways to help new teachers settle in. My reply was so long that I thought it was perfect for a speed dating session 🙂 Here’s an 8-minute recorded version of the talk which I did the next day.

Sandy presenting at the speed dating

Sandy presenting at the speed dating

Anthony Gaughan – The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT

This was the second time I’ve seen this talk. The first was at IATEFL Glasgow – here are my tweets from the session from 2012, going in reverse order (press CMD/CTRL + F and search for ‘Gaughan’ to go straight to the relevant section).

Anthony is a very entertaining speaker, with a lot of ideas to make you think. The sins he discussed were:

  1. Drilling
  2. Translation and use of the L1
  3. Students using dictionaries in class
  4. Teacher explanations
  5. Reading texts aloud in class
  6. Telling students they are wrong
  7. Teacher talk time

He asked us what problems people have with each sin, then went on to debunk some of the myths that surround them and offer ideas for how they can make our teaching more time efficient and effective.

Michael Hoey – All in the Mind: Corpus linguistics and lexical priming

I’ve never seen anybody move quite so much while presenting as Michael Hoey! The energy he put into his talk was amazing, and, somehow, he managed to get through 289 slides in 50 minutes without it feeling rushed or dull – well done, that man!

You can watch Michael Hoey’s IATEFL 2014 plenary on a similar subject below, or by following this link.

I’ve heard the term ‘lexical priming’ being bandied about for a while, but I didn’t really understand what it meant until I heard Hoey speak about it. Essentially, it is the way that we store lexical items (words or phrases) in our brain, and the information about those items which we automatically store alongside them, for example:

  • collocations (‘a word against’);
  • semantic associations (knowing that it’s normally used with sending and receiving communication – ‘hear/say a word against’);
  • pragmatic associations (normally denial – ‘wouldn’t hear a word against’, and hypothetical – ‘wasn’t prepared to say a word against’).

This information then ‘primes’ us to use the lexical item again within similar constraints, namely with the same collocation/semantic association/pragmatic association. Repeated exposure to the item, and negative evidence about what is not acceptable (e.g. ‘drinked’ to a child or L2 learner) helps us to refine our use of each piece of lexis. That’s a lot of information for our students to learn and store, and a lot of repetition required to get there!

The theory seems to make a lot of sense to me, and is something I’d like to find out more about. I also started noticing instances of ‘priming’ around me all the time, which I’d never thought about before.

Lou McLaughlin – Managing Cognitions in the Workplace

This was a talk which I didn’t really understand from the title, then spent the whole thing figuratively nodding my head, and wondering how I could apply it in my training courses!

Lou used Borg’s (2003) definition of cognitions as ‘beliefs, understanding and knowledge’, which I shortened in my head to ‘beliefs’, as it helped me to understand the idea, although I know Lou would probably cringe at that! Her talk was about the potential disconnect in the relationships between various people in the workplace due to their cognitions, for example:

  • teachers and DoSes: teachers might not agree with the way the DoS thinks things should be done, and vice versa;
  • front-of-house and management: the ideas management have about school culture may not be fully understand by front-of-house staff, which can be a particular problem when they are selling the courses – Lou gave an example of receptionists saying that YL students ‘play games and do colouring’ with no real understanding of what happened in the classes and how learning takes place there;
  • trainees and trainers: trainees can be very resistant to ideas presented by trainers, making it harder for them to meet the requirements of a course and/or making them unlikely to get anything from it because of the conflict with their beliefs, so they reject it automatically.

This talk is one I think (hope!) I’ll have in the back of my head during any future training course, as well as if and when I work as a DoS again. Lou suggested mentioning the idea of cognitions explicitly on the first day of a training course, and acknowledging immediately that some of the ideas may conflict with trainees’ beliefs, but that they should still consider them and not reject them outright. I’d be interested to see whether this idea works, and have asked Lou for suggestions about how to do this. She’s also an advocate of a ‘whole-school’ approach, where admin are as much a part of CPD and training as the teachers are – I believe this is the only way to have a great school.

Andrew Walkley – Part 1: The questions we ask

Andrew’s talk at the DoS conference last year was one which really got me thinking, so I was pleased that he was given the opportunity to extend on the theme in two 90-minute workshops at this year’s conference.

‘The questions we ask’ was centred on the idea of making our questioning more reflective of real life, and thereby allowing breakdowns in interaction to happen, which provide an opportunity for real learning to take place. For example, rather than using traditional CCQs to check vocabulary concepts, we can ask questions that encourage students to actually use the language, or respond to it in some way that would demonstrate their understanding, e.g. you’ve taught the word ‘binge’ and you ask ‘What other things can you binge on?’ If the students say ‘dancing’, they’ve probably misunderstood. This also helps them to find out about acceptable collocations, and gets them using the language in sentences immediately.

There was an analysis of the input related to questions and question formation in three coursebooks, highlighting that many books include lots of examples which don’t really reflect real-life usage, but are instead focussed on manipulation of the question form. Andrew, of course, promoted Outcomes [affiliate link], the series he wrote with Hugh Dellar, as an example of books which have natural questions 😉

Andrew discussed how we can make the questions we focus on in class more useful and more relevant to real life. For example, when we prepare to ask students ‘What did you do at the weekend?’, we should consider common responses and the kind of language we can teach to extend the conversation, so if they answer ‘I went shopping’, we can teach them clothes, things, compliments… Gradually, students will produce longer, more natural-sounding conversations in collaboration with each other.

He also advocated practising language with the most common associated question forms, e.g. we should spend roughly 80% of our time on present perfect questions practising the ‘Have you been…?’ construction, since it’s by far the most common.

One of the best points from the questions part of the workshop was that in real life, it’s unusual for you to get the response ‘Ask a partner’ or ‘What do you think?’ when you ask a question, so we should just answer our student’s questions if it would be more natural to do this!

The end of the workshop was about questions we can ask for reflection on our lessons. I think these would make a really good post-TP (teaching practice) reflection task for CELTA trainees:

Andrew Walkley – Part 2: The words we teach

Andrew and Hugh are firm believers in the lexical approach, and to start this session, Andrew gave us a simple question to make our teaching more lexically minded:

What vocabulary did you/are you going to teach today?

For me, the most striking thing from this talk was the idea of collocations of collocations, and the different ‘networks’ that can be associated with words. If we teach in lexical sets, we often focus on the words in isolation, but consider the words and phrases that you would associate with ‘old car’ and ‘new car’ and how different these might be. Andrew said it’s important to teach the words around the words you’re teaching, since it can be difficult to turn a lexical set into real/natural usage, particularly because of this problem of the differing networks of words around them. He used a great metaphor for the way we acquire and store lexical items by comparing them to shoes: you normally store them in one place, but you acquire them at different times in different places, and not always in a planned way.

Because coursebooks are unlikely to change, we need to learn to exploit the language they include, particularly in the texts they contain. Training ourselves and our teachers to identify the frequency of language is a good first step, as purely by discussing frequency we start to notice the language which appears around our target items. You can also think about exactly why words are more or less frequent, particularly if we think something appears more/less frequently than it actually does. He recommended three sites to help us identify frequency:

  • Phrases in English – a concordance search showing frequency per million of the search item at the top of the page;
  • Red Words Game on the Macmillan Dictionary site – a game to identify frequency based on the Macmillan star system, used throughout their dictionary;
  • Compleat Lexical Tutor frequency trainer – another game to identify frequency, this time based on where it appears in a list from most to least frequent (e.g. top 2000, 3000-5000 etc).

He offered some ideas for activities you can use in the classroom to take advantage of the lexis in a text or to encourage SS to notice the networks around words:

  • Challenge students to remember the co-text around words you’ve recently taught, e.g. “____ ______ advantage ____ _____ lexis ____ ____ text”
  • Take key words or phrases out of a text, and use this as a prompt for SS to remember the whole text. SS could also select the lexis to do this themselves.
  • Create questions using the new vocabulary, e.g. How do you know when someone is angry? Why else might you feel exhausted? These questions can also be used as revision in the next lesson.
  • Create a gapfill, where the gaps are not the TL (target language), but other frequent words in its network, e.g. You must be really pleased you ______ your driving test. They have to process the meaning of the TL correctly to know what to write in the gap.

One way to create our own lexical sets, rather than relying on lists in coursebooks, is to create our own text, then consider how the language could be edited. Andrew gave the example of a story which starts “I was robbed on holiday.” This generates a completely different, and probably far more practical and useful, set of lexis than just teaching ‘crime’ vocabulary would.

Andrew and Hugh have recently launched lexicallab, where you can find out more about their ideas and their work.

[Those two sessions should probably be a post in themselves!]

Beverly Whittall and Jenny Bartlett – DoS Survival Skills: Reflective Practice in Management

This was my final talk of the conference, and was a good place to end as it led into my post-conference reflection, of which this post is just a small part.

Beverly and Jenny recommended factoring in time to reflect on our management practices and on particular incidents in our working week, in the same way that we would encourage teachers to reflect on their teaching. One of my favourite questions from the session was:

Is this a 10-minute problem?

If we’re busy, rushing to class or trying to get things done, and a teacher comes to us with a problem that’s going to take more than 10 minutes, we can’t listen to them properly. We need to schedule a proper time to listen, and choose the correct place – in the corridor on the way to class might not be appropriate! This shows that we respect our teachers, and want to listen to them properly. By reflecting on and trying to improve our listening skills, we can act as role models, and perhaps show our teachers how to listen more effectively to their students.

We also need to notice good things that are happening in the school, and encourage teachers to share them, rather than only focussing on problem areas.

Their most important tip, though, was that we should take time for ourselves, and make sure we relax. Here’s a poster of 50 ways to take a break which I really like:

50 ways to take a break poster

On that note, I’ll finish this post, and I’m looking forward to next year already!

(P. S. This was my second DoS conference – you can also read about my first DoS conference.)

My first DoS conference

Every January International House organises a conference for Directors of Studies (DoS) from across the IH network. I’d heard about it, followed the tweet stream and watched videos from previous conferences, but this year, I finally got the chance to go, and it was worth the wait!

The conference took place from 9th-11th January 2014 at Devonport House, Greenwich, London, a beautiful venue right next to Greenwich Park. It was a flying visit to London, so the only photo I managed to take in the area was of the ship in a bottle outside, so you’ll have to take my word about the location.

Ship in a bottle - Greenwich ParkThe conference was kicked off by Lucy Horsefield and Monica Green talking about how to show students their progress. There was a lot of discussion of different ideas from DoSes around the world. One area I’d like to think more about is how to help general English students to see their progress, as I often feel we neglect them somewhat in favour of young learners and business students, where we have to be accountable to the people paying for the course, or exam students who are working towards a clearly defined goal. What do you do at your schools for these students?

Chris Ozog did a session about ‘Teacher Development and the DoS’ which I talked about for the IH World YouTube channel. (Sorry for mispronouncing your surname Chris!)

Other speakers from the first day included Peter Medgyes on native and non-native speaker teachers, Nick Kiley entertaining us with anecdotes and lessons about management from his experience of being managed, and the team from ELT Teacher2Writer introducing their training courses and their database of teachers interested in doing writing work, which I’ve now signed up for.

Jane Harding da Rosa finished off the day with a great talk on fostering learner autonomy. I particularly liked her emphasis on demonstrating the tasks you want students to do in their own time by dedicating class time to them. We can’t expect students to take responsibility for their own learning if they don’t know how to do it. She also drew a couple of neurons and showed how everything a student does in English strengthens the connection between them, by drawing a line, then another on top, then another on top, until there was a very thick line linking the two. Simple, but very effective (and better when you see it than when you read about it!) – definitely one I’ll be using with my classes.

Day two was reserved for guest speakers. Hugh Dellar told us twenty things he’d learnt in twenty years of teaching, which was very entertaining, and fed nicely into Andrew Walkley’s session of later in the day. This was the one which I think I took the most away from. Andrew discussed  language-focussed teacher development, and how we should emphasise language awareness more in our teacher training. He showed us examples of language awareness tasks like ranking words in order of their frequency, and writing example sentences with language we might teach. The latter was particularly interesting; for example, ‘beard’ is much more likely to be used in a sentence like ‘Have you seen that guy with the beard?’ than ‘He has a beard’, and yet we’re much more likely to teach the second sentence. Andrew pointed out that when we think quickly we tend to come up with the easiest possible example (‘He has a beard’) because it’s easily accessible. If we focus on language and examples during our planning, we’re more likely to give students chunks and sentences which they will actually need and encounter. He advocated a change in emphasis in both teacher training and school culture in general, from activities and grammar towards language. One point which particularly resonated with me was that in (preparation for) observations we tend to focus on procedure rather than the language which we expect students might produce, or which we could introduce to them. This related back to Hugh’s recent blog posts about exploiting lexical self-study material (part one, two, three). It is important to remind ourselves that ultimately we are language teachers, and language should be at the heart of what we do, something which we often forget in our quest to find the ‘best’ activities or adopt the ‘most suitable’ methodology. They have inspired me to try and find out more about the lexical approach, and to try and incorporate more language awareness into our fledgling teacher training at IH Sevastopol.

Patsy M. Lightbown, Maureen McGarvey and Fiona Dunlop also gave sessions on day two. I realised I really need to read ‘How Languages are Learned’ (no idea how I got through Delta without it!)

The IH World Quiz Night finished off the second day, and was a great example of how a conference social event should be run (thanks Shaun, Nick and Mike!). I was on a team with representatives from IH Bristol, IH Manchester, IH Newcastle, IH Brno, and IH World, and I really enjoyed it, even though we didn’t win.

On day three, Robin Walker gave us a three-hour workshop on priorities and practice for teaching pronunciation, the slides for which are available on his blog. It was an interesting comparison of the differing pronunciation requirements for students who are going to be speaking mostly to natives, and mostly to non-natives. It also links nicely to the ideas of English as a Lingua Franca and the ELFpron blog of Katy Davies and Laura Patsko, who was sitting next to me during the workshop.

The final afternoon of the conference was ‘speed dating’, a very entertaining, highly-paced event, full of great ideas. It involved about 22 presenters, divided into three sessions of 7-8 presenters each, giving 10-minute presentations five or six times over the course of an hour. My presentation, about online professional development, is available on my blog. Here is the video I recorded to introduce it (YouTube could have chosen a better still for it!):

The whole conference was a very enjoyable experience, but as always with conferences, the best thing about it was being able to connect with passionate teachers from around the world, like Chris Ozog, Kylie Malinowska and Laura Patsko in the photo below.

Sandy, Chris, Kylie and LauraRoll on 2015!

 

A brief introduction to online professional development (IH DoS conference 2014)

I’ve just returned from my first International House Director of Studies conference, which I will hopefully write about later this week.

I did a ten-minute session as part of a ‘speed-dating’ format, where I presented the same idea five or six times – I lost count! Here are my slides, along with the associated links, with a commentary aimed at Directors of Studies, but which will hopefully be useful to anyone who reads it.

Shelly Terrell

Shelly Terrell

This is Shelly Terrell, one of the most prolific sharers of content online. Her blog is Teacher Reboot Camp, where she has a lot of information about using technology in class, along with other areas of teaching, as well as the 30 Goals Challenge. She also does webinars every Friday for the American TESOL institute. I chose this picture to start my presentation because it sums up why I love online CPD – great people, a caring community, and lots of ideas.

Twitter

This is where my online professional development started. I like Twitter because it’s completely open – you can follow anyone, anyone can follow you. Although I use it less now than I used to, I still look at it briefly every day, and use it a lot during conferences.

A tweet is 140 characters, the same length as a text message. Here’s an example:

Tweet

‘@’ introduces someone’s Twitter name (or ‘handle’). When it is blue, you can click on it and choose to follow that person or organisation, so that you can read what they are writing about. In this example @KatySDavies and @BCseminars are clickable.

‘#’ introduces a topic on Twitter (or ‘hashtag’). You can click on it to read everything people are saying about that topic. This example includes the hashtag #eltchat, which is one of the most popular hashtags for the English teaching community.

ELTchat tweet stream

ELTchat summaries index word cloud

Every Wednesday, at 12pm and 9pm UK time a one-hour conversation takes place using the #eltchat hashtag. The topic for each chat is announced beforehand, and anyone can join in simply by including the hashtag in their tweets. At the end of the chat, one participant summarises the conversation and turns it into a blogpost. The blogposts are collected in the #eltchat summaries index, one of the most useful resources on the web. #eltchat started in October 2010, and previous chats have covered an incredibly wide range of topics. Some chats that might be particularly relevant for Directors of Studies include:

For a more in-depth introduction to using Twitter, take a look at my beginner’s guide.

Facebook

There are a lot of pages on facebook which are aimed at English teachers. Some are location-specific (e.g. Czech Republic, Turkey), some are by authors (e.g. Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley) and others are by publishers (e.g. Richmond ELT).

As far as I’m concerned, the most useful page is Teaching English – British Council, which has nearly 1.5 million likes as I write this. Ann Foreman, who runs it, posts a whole range of links, starts discussions, and shares ideas. It’s a thriving community.

Teaching English British Council

For many teachers, facebook is probably the easiest way of accessing online professional development, as if you already use facebook, it’s a simple matter of clicking ‘like’ on a couple of pages.

Blogs

Since I started blogging about three years ago, I have changed dramatically as a teacher. While a lot of this is due to the fact I started using social media professionally at the same time and have now done my Delta, blogging has made me more reflective, and forced me to up my game in terms of the materials I produce, knowing they will be used by other people.

There are a huge range of English teaching blogs out there. You can find some of the ones I follow in my blogroll on the right of this page. I also have a Blog Starter List – if you think you should be on there, let me know!

Feedly blogs

To keep track of the blogs I follow I use a ‘reader’ called Feedly. It’s available online and as a free app. There are many readers out there, and this is just one example. You put the addresses of the blogs you follow into the reader, and it then becomes a one-stop shop, by automatically including all new posts from those blogs, meaning you don’t get a full email inbox, and you don’t have to remember to look at each blog individually on the off-chance there’s a new post. The image above shows you my list of posts to be read at the moment.

Two blogs which are particularly good for Directors of Studies are Be The DOS by Josh Round at St. George International, and The Secret DOS, which is incredibly funny, particularly his post about timetabling.

Webinars

A webinar is an online seminar, normally videoed, which you watch from the comfort of your own home. A lot of organisations provide webinars, including OUP, Cambridge, Macmillan, Pearson and British Council. My favourite ones so far were the 10-minute webinars at the International House 60th anniversary online conference. Click on the picture below to see them all.

IH TOC 60 webinars

 

There are now webinars on an incredibly wide range of different topics, so if you have one or two teachers who need input on a particularly topic, but not enough to warrant a full CPD session, you could refer them to a webinar, which you can then discuss with them afterwards. If you want to find a webinar on a particular topic, use the #eltchat hashtag on Twitter or one of the facebook pages mentioned above to ask people to point you in the right direction.

Questions

The most important thing about social media is how supportive the ELT community is. If you have any questions about anything mentioned in this post, please don’t hesitate to ask. Good luck!

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