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Archive for the ‘Director of Studies’ Category

5 DOSsing years

Last Friday marked the end of my fifth year as the Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz. When I moved here I thought that I would be a bit bored with the job after 5 years and it would be time to move on. I’m very surprised and happy to say that that is not the case at all, and I’m not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. I’ve written this post to share some of the things I’ve learnt from five years as a Director of Studies and some of the highlights of the job for me.

The first photo of me in Bydgoszcz, August 2015

What I’ve learnt

Perspective is difficult to achieve, both for teachers and for you. Once you’ve got it, it’s both important to remember and hard to understand that others might not have it.

Time helps.

Patience helps, both with yourself and others.

Emotional reactions are a normal part of any job, but you need to learn when it’s OK to let them happen and when it’s better to wait.

You’ll deal with the same issues and hear the same complaints repeatedly, and it’s a lot less frustrating when you accept this.

The timetable is a monster.

The effort isn’t seen, the results are. Think about how they’ll be perceived.

There will always be accusations of favouritism, regardless of how much work you put into making things as fair as possible. 

Difficult decisions are still decisions that have to be made. Know that they’re the best decision you can make at that point in time and move on.

Communication is key.

Gratitude makes a huge difference to how everybody feels. Express it sincerely and often.

Managers need feedback just as much as teachers do, but it’s hard to create an environment where you get it. When you get negative feedback, don’t fight it or get defensive about it. Accept it and learn from it. Show gratitude for it. Model how you want your staff to respond to feedback.

Crisis points are where huge amounts of learning happens.

Sometimes your teaching gets neglected when there are so many other things to think about.

You have to take care of yourself and your physical and mental health.

You are not alone.

What I’ve loved

Watching teachers develop.

Seeing their confidence and skills improve week on week and year on year.

Seeing what they go on to do next, and how our school has help them to do that.

Watching senior staff develop.

Seeing how they grow into their roles.

Helping them develop their skills.

Watching myself develop, as a manager, trainer and person.

Learning how to be kind to myself and accept the decisions I’ve made, including when they go wrong.

Improving my communication skills.

Seeing our school grow and change.

Seeing students progress through the school, especially when I’ve made decisions about their progress in the past.

Working with fantastic colleagues who make going to school something I look forward to.

What I’m looking forward to

Trying new things out at our school.

Watching our students continue with their progress through the school.

Hearing about what our teachers do next, both inside and outside teaching.

Continuing to grow and learn, and help others do so.

Seeing what happens next.

A no-prep workshop*

*or at least, very very low prep!
Thursday night: nobody had suggested any queries or problems for our one-to-one troubleshooting session tomorrow. What should we do instead? There wasn’t really time for me to prep anything else, and Ididn’t know what to pick anyway. Cue a quick email:

Please think about 2 things you’re proud of in your lessons (group or 121), and 2 questions you most want answered. We’ll use that as the basis for the session tomorrow.

At the start of the 60-minute session I spread out a pile of A4 scrap paper on the floor. Everybody took a piece, folded it in half, and wrote two questions they had, one on each half. They put them on the floor for later.
They then took another piece, folded it again, and wrote the two things they were proud of. This took a lot longer, and I had to point out that ‘proud of’ doesn’t have to mean finished or perfect, just something you’ve worked at and know you’ve improved. We got there in the end! It reminded me of Sarah Mercer’s IATEFL plenary, when she told us to spot our strengths, the inspiration for the strength spotting task in the Teacher Health and Wellbeing section of ELT Playbook 1.
Everybody mingled, chatting to everybody else, holding up their strengths in front of them, including me. We talked about why we chose them, what we’d done to work on them, and asked each other questions. That took about 10-15 minutes.
I asked for a show of hands to see if any of the strengths matched any of the questions. Only 3 or 4 of the 20 teachers put their hands up, so I changed my mind about the next step.
Instead of pairing people off, I ended up putting them in groups of 4 or 5. They had about 15-20 minutes. This time they all read out their questions in their group, then chose which ones to discuss and offer answers to in a free discussion.
Meanwhile, I took photos of all of their questions and wrote them into a single list. It was an excellent indication of the range of concerns that our teachers have, from classroom management and better pacing to more effective listening lessons and challenging students more. This is a great starting point for deciding the topics of our upcoming workshops.
At the end I asked for another show of hands: who’s learnt something today that will help them with their teaching? Every hand went up.
The feedback was very positive. Teachers said they particularly enjoyed the small group work and the freestyle nature of the session. It worked well at this point in the year as everyone is settled and feels comfortable as a group. Definitely a format I’ll use again!

Not bad for one quick email 🙂

Stopped teaching? Don’t stop developing!

In April 2019, Rob Howard edited an edition of the free online teachers’ magazine Humanising Language Teaching. He pulled together various members of the Independent Authors and Publishers group to fill an edition of the magazine with articles from across the world of EFL, including teaching, materials writing, and teacher training.

It is a with great pleasure that I introduce this edition of HLT Magazine. As the organizer of the INDEPENDENT AUTHORS & PUBLISHERS, I have the honor of working with some of the biggest names in self-publishing and this like-minded group of individuals has come together for the third year to help spread the word and give new authors and publishers a voice in the everchanging arena of ELT books, training and “socialpreneurs” that will surely make up a big part of the future of ELT.

My own article, Stopped teaching? Don’t stop developing contained a selection of ideas for trainers, managers and materials writers to continue developing their craft. Here’s the opening paragraph:

There is a lot of information out there for teachers who want to continue to develop professionally, and there are a couple of other articles in this magazine about it too. However, there is nowhere near as much information about how to keep developing if you are still involved in language teaching but not in the classroom every day, for example working in academic management, training teachers, or writing materials. Although you can continue to use many of the methods recommended for teachers, such as writing a reflective journal, it can be difficult to know where to find specific resources relevant to these career paths. This article aims to remedy that.

You can see the full contents page here – there’s plenty of good stuff to read in there!

I’m in IA&P because of my books Richer Speaking and ELT Playbook 1/Teacher TrainingClick on the links to find out more and learn how to buy them. Right now, I’m also working with Freeed to find 30 people who will win copies of ELT Playbook 1. The competition closes on September 30th 2019.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

I’m not ready

I’ve just rediscovered a list a made when trying to decide if I should take my current job as Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz. I listed the pros and cons of taking the job.

For

  • Challenge
  • Next step
  • New skills
  • I have ideas for the school
  • Good team there, communicative
  • Lots of systems in place already
  • Supportive network in the area, including previous DoS [Tim]
  • Importance of quality at the school
  • No visa needed
  • Development opportunities

Against

  • Overwhelming
  • Do I have the right experience?
  • No senior teacher experience
  • Prep time (courses) [don’t remember what this meant, but I guess I felt I couldn’t prep my own lessons fast enough?]
  • Health/stress

The thought process

I spent two days shadowing the Tim when deciding whether I wanted to take the job, and the main thought I had was ‘there’s no way I’ll be able to do that’. Various different people had to talk me into doing the job, including the previous DoS (at least twice), the senior staff at the time and somebody who would go on to be my ADoS. Ultimately, my excitement at the quality of the school and the opportunities for me overrode my feelings that I wasn’t ready.

The result

I’ve now been here for three and a half years, and am planning to stay for at least a couple more. There’s no denying it was a steep learning curve, but the help and support I got from the team here, and still get from them, made it all possible. I still occasionally have moments when I think ‘I can’t believe I’m making these decisions that affect people’s lives’, but those are generally moments of wonder now, rather than moments of imposter syndrome, if that makes sense! There’s also the occasional ‘When did I get this grown up’ moment. 😉

Yes, it can be stressful at times, and yes, it’s probably triggered my health problems at times, but I have learnt so much, worked with so many fantastic people, and really feel like we’re just getting better and better as a school all the time (not to say it wasn’t already a great school before!)

If people are telling you you’re ready, you probably are. Don’t let your inner voice stop you!

Bydgoszcz - River Brda

A long week of DoSsing

The times

Monday: 1000-1900

Tuesday: 1000-2100

Wednesday: 1000-1700

Thursday: 1000-1845 at school, 1930-2200 at home

Friday: 1000-1930

The meetings

One hour senior teacher meeting

Thirty minute general meeting for all staff

Fifteen minutes getting feedback from the staff rep

Six one-hour collaborative planning meetings with teachers

The CPD

Those collaborative planning meetings ^

Three mentoring meetings totalling about an hour

One hour of action research group

One hour workshop, jointly run with the other three senior staff at our school (one of us each with a small group of teachers)

The reports

Seven hours of reading mid-year reports to check them against our standards

Two of talking to teachers about said reports and talking them through updates to be made

The recruitment

Two hours of updating my list of trainers to contact with job offers we have available to pass on to their trainees

Two hours of dealing with other recruitment-related things, like responding to applications and arranging interviews

The timetabling

Three hours of updating the timetable based on changes for the new year

Thirty minutes of updating the consultation timetable to reflect other timetable changes (possible slots for 25-minute tutorials for students who need them)

An hour of creating a time and room timetable for tutorials with adult groups

Half an hour of organising and confirming cover for teachers who were sick (generally outside the times listed above)

The student-related stuff

An hour and a half going to a company to placement test students, doing said tests and coming back

An hour in total of talking about struggling students and what we can do to help them

The other admin

An hour of completing and checking the overtime spreadsheet so we all get paid correctly

Three hours creating two tests for different groups, adapting them from materials supplied with the coursebooks so that they suit our students (mostly written during the collaborative planning meetings, as the teachers are pretty independent now) 🙂

Half an hour of clearing emails and replying to others (yep, I know I’m lucky!)

The lessons

An hour and a half last-minute cover lesson (on Tuesday night)

An hour teaching Polish

Three hours teaching general English and English for work

Three hours of associated planning for said classes (mostly on Thursday night)

The breaks

Twenty to thirty minutes for lunch

Loo breaks 🙂

The rest of it

Catching up with teachers after their two-week winter break holiday, often during lunch

Dealing with all the little things I’ve forgotten about that popped up during the week

Hampton Court Palace clock (24 hours on one face)

The caveats

This is one example of what a long working week involves for me, but luckily I only have five or six of them spaced out across the year. They tend to occur when a whole load of deadlines coincide. In this case reports needed to be ready before parents’ meetings and tutorials, tutorial times needed to be ready, consultation slots are needed so we can offer them to students, and the timetable normally changes a lot at this point in the year. Inevitably, they’re also usually the first week after a holiday, even if I try and do a day or two during the holiday to mitigate the effects – we’ve just had a two-week Winter Break, and this was the first week back. I also know that other people have it worse (often teachers!) – 49 hours or so could be far more. I just wanted to show what a working week for a DoS in a medium-sized language school might look like.

In contrast, next week doesn’t have any deadlines (I don’t think!) and I already have my lessons planned as the students didn’t get through as much as I expected last week 🙂 Just the ever-present recruitment, so I’ll be doing an interview tomorrow (Sunday)…

And yes, I made sure to relax when I could – some cross stitch most mornings, a bath on Wednesday evening after physio (why I left so early!), and cinema trips on Monday and Friday evenings. I’m trying very hard to keep everything in balance, but sometimes this ^^^ happens 😉

IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference 2019

One of my two favourite conferences each year (along with IATEFL!) happened at Devonport House in Greenwich from 10th-12th January 2019. I was surprised to realise that this year’s AMT was my 6th – time flies! I’ve blogged about some of them: 2014, 2015, 2016. If you want to see photos from this year’s conference, take a look at the IH World page. You can also watch the video here:

I decided not to live tweet this time as we were given a beautiful notebook and my iPad is getting quite old and tired! Instead here’s a summary of the things from my notes which I think were most useful and/or thought-provoking.

In the classroom

Although the conference is aimed at teachers and trainers, there are always some sessions which are directly related to what happens in the classroom.

Engagement

Sarah Mercer spoke to us about the differences between motivation and engagement, and how to keep learners’ (and teachers’!) attention in a world full of distractions. She suggested looking at how video games do it, and taking some of those principles into our classrooms. We should make sure lessons are CLARA:

  • Challenging
  • Learner-centred
  • Active (what is the learner doing?)
  • Relevant/Valuable
  • Autonomy-rich

and that we incorporate GOSCH:

  • Goals (including interim goals)
  • Options
  • Surprise (through variety, promoting curiosity)
  • Challenge
  • Hooks (emotional, through storylines, and ensuring personal relevance)

Both of these acronyms incorporate the idea that in video games you can make the choices – you are the agent, not the audience – and there are easy wins at the start, with challenge building and immediate feedback throughout. Storylines in games create curiosity and there is a clear sense of progress.

I also agree with Sarah’s observation that teachers who’ve built good relationships with students have dramatically lower levels of discipline problems.

Sarah is continuing her research in the area of engagement, and I look forward to seeing more of her findings – there are certainly lots of ideas to explore here.

Assessment

Gordon Stobart has a UK state school background. He spoke to us about assessment for learning within the UK school system, and how it could be applied to language schools. A key ingredient is clear success criteria, answering the question:

What will it look like when I’ve done it?

If students don’t know that, it’s hard for them to even start working (definitely something I remember from Delta days!) Having clear success criteria means we can help students to work out which work best meets the criteria, give them guided practice to work towards achieving it, and give them clear feedback on how many of the criteria they have met and what to do to meet the others. These criteria can, of course, be negotiated with students – they don’t have to come from the teacher.

He mentioned Geoff Petty’s ideas of giving medals and missions which I like as a way of really boiling down feedback. To push higher level students, Gordon suggested missions like ‘What would you do if you only had half of this material?’ or ‘Argue the other side.’ The goal of all of this is self-regulating learners who can think for themselves.

In an aside, Gordon mentioned that he had one group who he used to jokingly start lessons with by saying ‘Previously in this course, we’ve looked at…’ in the style of a TV series. The learners said it really helped as they had often forgotten!

Autonomy

Katie Harris blogs about language learning at joy of languages. Her talk described what learning languages has taught her about teaching. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure about attending this, as I kind of felt like I’ve written about that a lot myself, but I’m glad I did. In the first half of her talk Katie covered what independent language learners like herself (and me!) do to learn, and in the second half she talked about a different way of approaching lessons that she has come up with as a result, which I definitely want to experiment with. Her suggestion is that for some or all of every class (depending on what else you have to do) you let students work on things which they are passionate about, for example TV programmes, books, or whatever else it might be. Here’s how a typical lesson might look:

  • Students share what they did and show each other the new words/grammar they found. Teacher circulates, answers questions and gives feedback.
  • Flexible productive tasks, such as mind maps, creative tasks (change the story, add a character etc), writing a diary entry from the perspective of a character, changing the language to a different register, I’m an expert on (for other learners to ask questions), etc.
  • Deal with emergent language.
  • Learner training.

The learner training is a key component, as you have to show students how to do things like access learner dictionaries and record new language. If you want to give them more structured homework, beyond just watching/reading more, you can give them questions like ‘Can you find examples of the structure XXX we studied last lesson?’ or ‘Can you find examples of new grammar which you think you’ve never seen before?’

The whole idea is that learners can follow what they are interested in, but that a qualified, professional teacher can help them get there faster than they would be able to alone. By doing this in a group with other people, they can share their interests and learn from each other.

Katie has done a webinar for Macmillan on the same topic if you want to see her talk about these ideas for yourself – I’d recommend it. I really want to experiment with this structure with one of my groups this year who I think would really benefit from it. I’ll speak to them about it in our next lesson, and will report back if I try it out!

Determination

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone talked about the importance of helping learners to understand the reality of learning a language, while noticing the small achievements along the way. Building determination will help them to stick at it. You can do this by:

  • setting smaller, interim goals (as Sarah Mercer mentioned above)
  • making changes in support explicit – learners don’t always notice when you reduce support, for example by them doing something alone which they needed your help with before
  • helping learners spot determination in other people
  • creating a Positivitree – Chloe’s school has one in every classroom where students can add any achievements they want to, no matter how small they may seem to other.

In the training room

Intervening

Amy Blanchard investigated the role of the trainer during teaching practice (TP) on CELTA courses. She advocated interrupting TPs early on in the course if it could be beneficial to trainees, as long as both TP students and trainees know what is happening. The areas she particularly focussed on are the ones where we often find ourselves asking questions like ‘Should I be doing this right now?’ Examples might be:

  • Positioning
  • Instructions
  • Speed of speech
  • Boardwork
  • Concept checking

The benefits are that these interventions are often far more memorable than delayed feedback, which is generally at least a couple of hours and sometimes a couple of days after the lesson (if there’s a weekend in between), that trainees get immediate answers to internal questions, that you are training not just testing, and that information is given at the point of need. Caveats are that trainee and student expectations must be very clear, it requires you to read the situation carefully (it’s not suitable for every trainee), you should only intervene in ‘little’ things not big things that could change the course of the whole lesson, and that support should be withdrawn as the course progresses, so you definitely shouldn’t be intervening in this way in the final TP, and preferably not the last few. It’s also important that all interventions are followed up on in feedback, with action points reflecting the pre-intervention situation, as trainees still need to prove that they can do these things effectively without trainer intervention. Amy got very positive feedback from trainees who she used this technique with, and even months after the course they remembered it in a positive way. This was an interesting idea, and one I’d like to explore with trainees and fellow trainers on the next course I do.

Integrating training

Chris Farrell‘s talk was fast and full on – so many ideas that I couldn’t possibly get them all down, and I will be coming back to them again and again. He was talking about the work they have done at Embassy schools to support bottom-up teacher development. Some of the areas he covered were:

  • making sure that teacher development is an ethos throughout the organisation, not a separate activity (these talks from IATEFL 2018 are related to the kind of culture change that may be required) and that everyone is clear about what this ethos means and how it is communicated
  • evaluating teacher development (see below)
  • using nudges to drive cultural change, and knowing when a nudge is not enough
  • mentoring, particularly for teachers when they join the organisation, and the training needed for mentors to be effective. Senior teachers should not be forgotten here! (Please ask Chris if you want to find out more)
  • lesson aims, success criteria and assessment: making sure we know what the teachers are teaching and they do too, and that they know how to measure whether a learner and/or a lesson has been successful or not, as well as making it as easy and convenient as possible to see the links between these things (an area that bears a LOT more exploration!)

If you don’t know what the students are supposed to be doing, how can you know what you should be doing as a teacher or an organisation?

  • reflective enquiry, with different levels depending on how serious teachers are – these vary from notes and peer observation up to full-blown action research projects, and include professional development groups

Chris also mentioned that students can self-assess their ability to use particular language using a three-point scale:

  • I know.
  • I can use.
  • I do use.

Simple, but effective!

I suspect this is the talk I will come back to most from the whole conference!

Evaluating training

Silvana Richardson talked about an idea so simple that it’s never even occurred to me before: the importance of evaluating the impact of the continuous professional development you offer, both on the teacher and on student learner. I’ve never even asked for trainees to complete a ‘happy sheet’ as Silvana called them – an immediate post-session evaluation. That’ll be changing!

She talked about five levels of evaluation based on Guskey (2000):

1. Participants' reactions, 2. Participants' learning, 3. Institution's capacity to support change, 4. Participants' use of the new knowledge, 5. Students' learning outcomes

She covered a huge range of data collection techniques. Here are just a few.

Level 1 tends to just reveal the entertainment value, but is the easiest one to collect data on, including through using ‘happy sheets’. One way to make it richer is to ask ‘How are you going to apply what you’ve learnt today?’ or ‘What are you going to do with what you’ve learnt today?’

Level 2 could be done through exit tickets for example:

  • What I didn’t know before this session.
  • What I might need support with.
  • How I feel I have progressed as a result of this session.

Level 3 needs to be done at the level of the organisation, and may require institutional change. Silvana gave the example of an altered mobile phone usage policy following a session on mobile learning when they realised that phones were banned in the classroom.

Level 4 requires time to elapse: you can’t measure impact on practice instantly, and you may need to do it at several time intervals, though sometimes we forget! Silvana’s suggestion for this was learning walks, adapted from a system used in state schools. At Bell, they choose one area to focus on (student tutorials in the example Silvana gave), do some CPD based on that area, then drop in to lots of lessons to see how that CPD is being put into action. With the student tutorials, every teacher audio recorded tutorials with student permission, chose one to focus on, completed a feedback form they’d created as a team in a CPD session, had an ‘observer’ listen to the same recording and add comments, then all of the written feedback was anonymised and compiled into a single report. The organisation (it was done across multiple schools) learnt about what was and wasn’t working from their CPD sessions, and uncovered examples of best practice that had previously gone under the radar.

Level 5 is the hardest to assess, as so many factors could contribute to students’ learning outcomes. You can look at assessment scores, retention, changes in study habits, etc, or interview students, parents, teachers or managers to see this. However, it can be hard to assess cause and effect.

Evaluating your CPD programme in a range of different ways covering as many of these levels as possible is the only real way to ensure that it’s actually doing what you want it to do.

In the manager’s office

Curiosity

Monica Green encouraged us to nurture curiosity in ourselves as managers and in our teachers, inspired by this fascinating article from the Harvard Business Review. I really like this quote she finished on:

Albert Einstein on a bike: 'I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."

Developing everybody

Olga Connolly reminded us of the importance of making sure that senior staff get professional development relevant to their role, not just teachers. For new senior staff at BKC IH Moscow, they have a shadowing programme and five training sessions based on core responsibilities like observations and how to give training sessions. For more experienced senior staff, they meet regularly to have discussions based around a table, the headings of which are:

  • skill/are to develop
  • why is it important
  • how (action points)
  • support needed
  • feedback collection
  • time frame

Senior staff complete what they can by themselves, then Olga helps them with the parts they can’t complete, and works out with them what support and guidance she/the school needs to give them. Examples of areas to work on which her senior staff have looked at include:

  • setting priorities to give more focussed feedback
  • improving body language in promotional videos made by the school
  • improving computer skills to be able to watch webinars
  • noticing strengths and weaknesses when observing lessons in languages you don’t speak
  • increasing the number and variety of warmers in teacher training courses.

This system came about because previously Olga noticed that there was no clear system, no goal and no focus for the development of her senior staff. That’s definitely something I’ve been guilty of, both in my own development and that of the senior team I work with – we’ve just kind of muddled along, though some things have become a bit more systematic as I have built up my own experience. Clearer goals would definitely be useful, though for myself endless curiosity (see above) tends to deal with a lot of things!

Change

Ania Kolbuszewska talked to us about why change does and doesn’t work. The know-feel-do model was new to me:

  • What is the one thing you want me to know?
  • Why do you want me to do this?
  • How do you want me to act as a result?

I like how this boils down change communication to the absolute essentials. She also reminded us that communication is NOT the message sent, but the message received, and that perceptions are an image or idea based on insufficient information – the more information we give to people about a change, the fuller their picture will be. This can help to reduce the amount of fear associated with changes, including fear of:

  • loss of money
  • loss of social or network traditions
  • loss of power
  • loss of control
  • loss of status
  • loss of jobs
  • not having the competences to unlearn old habits or learn new things
  • (not) being involved in the change.

My favourite quote from her talk was by C.S. Lewis:

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for a bird to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

By the way, if you’re interested in change management, I’d highly recommend reading Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson [Amazon affiliate link]. I read it when I was in my teens, and it’s always shaped how I think about change and how to respond to it. It’ll take you all of about an hour to read and will give you a whole new vocabulary 🙂

Evaluation

Giovanni Licata and Lucie Cotterill reminded us that when evaluating courses, we shouldn’t rely on immediate post-course evaluation by students, as this often focuses on the entertainment/ performance value of the course, but try to investigate the longer-term effects on learning. We should also move away from star ratings – as they said, some of the ‘best’ restaurants in the world, and McDonalds, have very similar star ratings, and yet they’re doing very different things! One model you could use is KISS:

  • Keep (what are you doing to keep doing?)
  • Improve (what do you need to improve?)
  • Start (what are you going to start doing?)
  • Stop (what are you going to stop doing?)

In general

Communicating more effectively

Loraine Kennedy did a three-hour workshop entitled ‘The Craft of Conversations’ to kick the conference off. Among other things, she talked about developing emotional intelligence, coaching v. mentoring, and giving and receiving feedback, both positive and negative.

Here are five questions she asked us at one point which you might like to answer:

  • Why is emotional intelligence important in dealing with difficult people and situations?
  • Think about someone you think has high emotional intelligence. Why do you think this is?
  • “Know thyself.” Why is this important before judging others?
  • What can you do deepen you own self awareness?
  • What can you and your team at work do together to increase emotional intelligence?

She reminded us of our own role in any communication:

Your behaviour will influence the way the situation develops.

If you have a problem, you are both part of the problem and part of the solution.

The latter can be particularly hard to remember!

1. Description (what happened?), 2. Feelings (What were you thinking and feeling?), 3. Evaluation (What was good and bad about the experience?), 4. Analysis (What sense can you make of the situation?), 5. Conclusion (What else could you have done?), 6. Action plan (If it arose again, what would you do?)

Shared by http://www.researchgate.net under a CC 4.0 license

We practised using the Gibbs reflective cycle (shown above), as well as focusing on listening and asking questions, and not giving advice. I found this process particularly useful, as it made me realise that an unsuccessful and very negative interaction I had in my first year as a DoS probably came about because I was making statements and telling the teacher about a problem situation, rather than asking questions and helping them to describe the situation themselves.

At every AMT conference, there’s at least one idea which I’ve been struggling with in my own head for a while, and then somebody gives you the answer. In this case, it was Loraine’s guidelines for a complaint conversation:

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Get as much information as possible, including more feedback from the complainant. Write a list of relevant questions.
  2. Explain the reason for the meeting, e.g. student feedback.
  3. Meet in the right place, and make it as comfortable as possible. Do not rush the meeting.
  4. State your position ‘on side with the teacher’, and remind them about confidentiality (yours and theirs). Remind them of the need to agree a way forward together.
  5. Ask the teacher to talk about the class and the students. Any issues?
  6. Outline the feedback received.
  7. Invite comment and discussion. Expect anger, embarrassment, denial.
  8. Listen and use exploratory questions.
  9. Support the teacher. Empathise.
  10. Reaffirm that a way forward needs to be found. Stay focused on this.
  11. It is better if the teacher finds the way forward, but be prepared to offer suggestions. (‘Way forward’ suggests that it is negotiable, it may have various steps, and the person the complaint is about is involved in working it out. ‘Solution’ suggests that there is one answer, and you may go into the conversation thinking that you know what it is.)
  12. Agree on action, and a time to follow-up.

The most important thing to remember is that a complaint must always be responded to, including if the response is that you do not believe that the complaint requires anything to be changed. Loraine also reminded us that if we have more teacher to student feedback, we may avoid complaints in the first place! If you want Loraine to help you out with management training, coaching, and teacher development, you can find out more information on her consultancy work on her website.

In a related talk, Lisa Phillips also talked about the importance of emotional and social intelligence, and making sure we:

  • Pay attention
  • Anticipate situations (both positive and negative)
  • Explain, don’t blame
  • Accept criticism
  • Remember about how contagious emotions are
  • Are human!

Questions I want to keep asking myself

What does success look like in this situation? How will I know when I’ve achieved it? How will my learners/teachers know when they’ve achieved it?

Are we doing enough teacher-student feedback? Are we doing it in the right way?

How can we promote curiosity, not just in learners, but in teachers, trainers and managers too?

How much am I taking what I know about what works as a language learner into the classroom? Do I really give them what I know works for me and a lot of other people?

How can we make our mentoring scheme as effective as possible?

What questions am I asking? Am I asking enough of them or jumping in with advice instead? Are they clear enough?

Am I really listening?

What am I doing to make sure I reduce how much of the problem I am in any given situation?

How can we evaluate what we’re doing more effectively?

Setting up video observations

Over the last 18 months, we have accidentally made video observations a ‘thing’ at our school. There was no grand plan – it just kind of happened, and I’m very glad it did!

As far as I remember, it started with the senior staff recording some of their lessons and making them available to the teachers to watch in a video bank on the school server. If we think particular teachers need help with something specific, we might recommend they watch a specific video or clip.

Then we had some teachers in satellite schools who needed to be observed, but we were not able to send an observer out for the 45 minutes they needed. Video was logistically much easier to set up, and had the added bonus that the teacher could see themselves too. Some teachers have also chosen to record themselves to look for specific things in their lessons, without having it formally observed.

Another technique is when a senior teacher and an inexperienced teacher would film themselves teaching the same lesson plan (we plan collaboratively) with their respective groups, then watch both videos and compare how the lesson plan manifested itself with two different groups. This is particularly useful for demonstrating differences in pace and in running feedback.

The final way in which we use videos is to back up in-person observations, with the observer recording clips of the lesson to show the teacher during feedback.

Logistics

Although it is now possible to easily record lessons on a smartphone, most of the teachers use my Canon IXUS camera and GorillaPod tripod.

Blue Canon IXUS camera

Mine looks a bit more beaten up than this one!

Gorillapod tripod

It’s magic! You can attach it to all kinds of things 🙂

They can set it up anywhere in the room and it will record non-stop for 60 minutes (if I’ve remembered to charge the battery and empty the memory card!) I then put the video into their individual space on the server for them to watch when they are ready.

If it’s for a more formal observation, we do it in two different ways. Sometimes the observer watches the video first, then does the post-observation feedback in the same way as they would for a standard observation, but showing any relevant clips from the observation. Alternatively, the observer and teacher watch it together at the same time, having already decided what they’re looking for. They pause and discuss the video at relevant points, and decide together what the action points are coming out of the observation, and what positive things were spotted.

Permissions

On joining the school, all students sign a list of terms and conditions. One of the items is that they are happy to be filmed or audio recorded. Teachers also sign permission slips in our induction week professional development sessions. Videos are for internal use only, and they are entirely within the control of the teacher. It is up to the teacher who sees them and whether they choose to put it into the school video bank for other teachers to see.

Results

Video observations are a shortcut in a lot of ways. They enable teachers to see and hear:

  • the reactions of students to what they are doing, including who is not paying attention (and why?)
  • their activity set-up and how effective it is
  • how well students work with each other
  • pacing
  • which activities do and don’t work with a particular group
  • how other teachers do things, particularly managing young learner and teen groups (it’s not always possible for us to organise peer observations)
  • and much, much more.

Overall, video observations have enabled us to provide richer professional development to our teachers, enabling them to see into a variety of classrooms, including their own. If you haven’t tried it with your own teaching yet, I would highly recommend it. If you want to introduce it at your school, start with your own teaching – if you lead by example, it’s easier for other teachers to want to join in as it can feel less threatening. Good luck!

Learner-centred observations of teachers (Guest Post)

Christian Tiplady asked me if he could share his ideas for shifting the focus of official observations with the readers of this blog. I think you’ll agree that they are minor tweaks that could make a big difference.

Why do we focus on the behaviour of teachers during ‘official’ classroom observations? Is there an alternative way that is more in line with current thinking on learner-centred approaches?

So many institutions, including ones where I have worked, still cling to the idea that teachers need to be evaluated for quality assurance and that the best way to do this is with a formal observation, often compartmentalised and homogenised, taking the form of an hour-long observation by a senior member of staff. The observer uses a standardised feedback form with variables by which the teacher’s lesson is graded, and then leads feedback analysing what went well or badly. Oftentimes this observation takes place only infrequently, perhaps once a year, and there is often no follow-up to assess observation outcomes.

This style of evaluative observation is not only outdated but also ill-conceived. It assumes that the activity of ‘teaching’ can be rated, and that this can be done with the kind of standardised grading to which we have grown accustomed. In order to have much value at all any assessment of teaching needs to be thought through carefully. It needs to be done over a longer period with more frequent observations to avoid a ‘snapshot’ view and therefore the danger of misguided evaluation. Feedback needs to be cyclical and iterative in nature and co-constructed with the teacher as part of a reflective process to ensure that the teacher is on board with continuing development.

But there is a much more important point to be made here, which is that to focus on what the teacher is or isn’t doing in a classroom (and to rate that) is surely at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous if this is without explicit reference to the world of the learner. My contention is that we still do this way out of pure habit, and that at least in part, this undoubtedly comes from vestiges of ingrained beliefs that still linger, even if as teachers we know these things to be untrue.

Firstly, the status quo derives from the mistaken belief that teaching equals learning. However in reality we know that the teaching is only part of the equation and that learners will learn in their own way and at their own rate. As Freeman reminds us “teachers are influential in classroom learning but that does not mean they cause it to happen.” (Freeman, 2006; 254). Indeed we can teach what we might consider to be the best lesson, only to note that in terms of the learning it did not have the impact that was desired. Or conversely we can teach a lesson which at first sight did not go to plan or very ‘well’ in practice, but where there was nonetheless significant learning.

Secondly it comes from the implicit assumption that teaching behaviours can be classified and evaluated and that ‘more’ or ‘less’ of that thing is better. For example, typically ‘student talking time’ is inevitably valued within today’s language teaching, where a premium is placed on communication, and ‘teacher talking time’ should be reduced at all costs. In reality, purposeful teacher talk can be very useful as part of the learning process and in some lessons it may be vital.

Another example is the use of the English in the classroom versus the use of the student’s L1. The former has conventionally been highly valued (probably to encourage an element of immersion), whilst the latter i.e. the use of L1, has been relegated to the fringes with infrequent activities such as ‘translate these sentences into your own language’ given for homework, but with little real acknowledgement that use of L1 in the learning process can be extremely useful.

Although such thinking has increasingly been challenged over recent years, it still tends to be pervasive in the realm of teacher observations. We continue to focus on what the teacher should and should not do in the classroom (theories on this will likely come and go), and judge things by our own semi-conscious ideas of what is right and wrong. More importantly, by taking our eyes off the ball, we often miss the real action i.e. we neglect the impact (or lack of it) of the lesson on the learner. A typical example might be the types of praise given for a communicative speaking activity, which a teacher organised well and the learners dutifully performed with high levels of talking time, but which had little intrinsic value in terms of developing the learners or engaging them in meaningful expression.

By focusing on the behaviours of teachers in the classroom, we are also reinforcing a model that is teacher-centred and are thus potentially affecting teachers’ beliefs and behaviour. If we (learners, teachers, teacher trainers, managers etc.) desire lessons to be learner-centred then surely we need to promote that in everything we do, including the observations of teachers. Evidently, the main thing that is useful to focus on is learning and the learning process for the learner. In short, we need to rethink our observations of teachers to refocus on how teachers may best facilitate this learning.

So how do we do this? Assuming we still have to follow an institutionalised system of official observations, (which I still think can be reclaimed for the good), these can be redesigned with an onus on the learners with surprisingly minor structural adjustments, but with a fairly radical shift in our philosophy.

First of all, the usual observation template can be changed to make all criteria more learner-centred. Criteria such as ‘relevant learner outcomes established in conjunction with the learners’ and ‘lesson managed in a way that promoted achievement of lesson outcomes’ can be included to promote learner-centredness. The emphasis of wording is all-important; thus a criterion such as ‘use of English in the classroom’ can be amended to ‘English/L1 used appropriately for learner needs’ and ‘teacher talking time’ can be amended to ‘learner talking time suitable for learner needs’. These changes may seem somewhat pedantic, but in my experience such small adjustments can promote a major shift in the thinking of both the observer and the observed teacher alike. For instance, the phrasing of the latter criterion on learner talking time intrinsically leads both parties to ask themselves questions such as: ‘What was witnessed in terms of learner talking time?’ ‘Was the learner talking time appropriate in amount, form and quality at various stages of the lesson, as well as overall in the lesson? If not, why not?’ ‘Did the amount, form and quality of learner talking time mean the aims of the lesson were achieved for the learner? If not, why not?Clearly this change of emphasis might necessitate some ongoing training for both teachers and observers of lessons, but is nonetheless quite possible.

Secondly, the observer needs to truly focus on the learner – on their reactions, behaviour and likely learning – during the observed lesson. Often the observer sits at the back of the classroom to watch the teacher but cannot see the students’ faces or reactions. What the teacher does in terms of facilitation is important, but how the learner responds and whether they demonstrate that they are learning is of ultimate importance. Therefore the observer should try to ‘climb into the learners’ skin’ and see it from their perspective. The simplest act of the observer positioning their chair to the side of the classroom, to see the learners’ faces, how they react, and what they are doing, can make a huge difference to the observer’s understanding of the effects of the lesson on the learners and their learning.

Thirdly, the information gathered by the observer should ideally be backed up with further evidence to reduce subjectivity, preferably in the form of a video recording. Silvana Richardson (2014) has done some interesting work in this area, which she calls ‘evidence-based observation’. Software is also available which allows the observer to annotate the recorded video with questions and comments for the teacher, thereby facilitating a feedback process focusing on the learner, though it’s not always particularly easy to access.

Finally, however much the observer and the observed teacher try to adopt the mindset of the learner, and back it up with evidence, they can never claim to know the thoughts of the learner. The learners’ voice therefore needs to be included within observation feedback for any lesson or series of lessons. Thus the observation process should seek to include feedback from the learners, for example, their assessment of how engaging the lesson has been and how successful they think the lesson has been in terms of their learning. This can be factored into evaluative feedback as long as the process is handled sensitively.

Any additional comments learners have on the lesson(s) are also vitally important to inform the feedback process and can change the evaluation of a lesson significantly if they happen to disagree with what the observer and/or the teacher believe. When experimenting with this approach, I observed a lesson where I thought the learner might have been overloaded with the amount of topics that she was asked to speak about. However, in her feedback the learner maintained that that the amount of topics was at about the optimum level for her. This first-hand vantage point significantly changed my perception of the lesson.

In most institutions, how often does the observer of a lesson really solicit the opinions of the learners as part of the observation process? I would suggest very seldom. By contrast, including the learners’ voice in the observation feedback implicitly encourages the teacher to engage with learner feedback in the same way. Reframing the observation in terms of the learners not only allows a more relevant learner-centred perspective but also models good practice for the teacher as part of wider classroom culture.

Can this focus on the learner be equally beneficial as a basis for peer observations? Absolutely, yes! In fact gathering information on the learners provides an excellent focus and helps to avoid any evaluative critique of teaching, which many teachers may have come to habitually expect as the ‘default model’. So whilst evaluative observations look set to stay, let’s at least focus on what matters, namely the learners.

References

Freeman, D. Teaching and Learning in Gieve S. and Miller, I. (2006) ‘The Age of Reformin Understanding the Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Pelgrave-Macmillan.

Richardson, S. (2014). Evidence-based observation – tips and tools. British Council webinar: http://britishcouncil.adobeconnect.com/p8slnclkd8e/

About the author

Christian Tiplady

Christian Tiplady
BSc (Hons), Trinity Cert. TESOL, PGDip TESOL, MA TESOL

Christian is a freelance teacher trainer based in the UK. He has worked in both EFL and Modern Foreign Languages (MFLs) sectors for over 25 years, teaching, teacher training and managing in private language schools, NGOs and government organisations. Most recently he served as Pedagogy Manager at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office organising CPD for tutors who teach MFLs to diplomatic staff. He has set up TrinityTESOL and Cambridge CELTA courses and is currently a CELTA tutor and assessor. He specialises in the creation of CPD programmes, developmental observations and feedback. Christian currently produces the teachers’ podcast Developod for the IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG).

Contact Christian at: christian.tiplady@outlook.com

Working with new teachers (three things for IH)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IATEFL 2018: Management, teacher training and development

I started off the IATEFL Brighton 2018 conference at the joint Pre-Conference Event (PCE) run by the Leadership and Management (LAMSIG) and Teacher Development (TDSIG) Special Interest Groups. I have already summarized what I learnt that day, but have included more detailed information from the sessions here, interspersed with ideas from the main conference, hence the combination of topics in the title of this post. This is by far the longest of my IATEFL posts this year, but I couldn’t work out how to separate the streams, so apologies in advance. I hope it’s worth it! 🙂

The #LAMTDSIG PCE was the first time I heard what became one of this year’s conference buzzwords for me: culture. Many speakers mentioned the importance of creating and maintaining a culture of CPD (continuous professional development) within their school.

How can we create a culture of CPD?

The first was Liam Tyrrell, who reminded us that the shared ideas, values and direction that make up the culture of a workplace or team are important. They are what lead to success. Organisational culture is the number one predictor of development outcomes and improved classroom effectiveness, according to Matthew A. Kraft in his 2014 paper with John Papay entitled ‘Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development?

Liam detailed four questions he asked when aiming to change the culture at his school:

  • What does it look like when the culture is changed?
    If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you know the steps you need to take to get there? What is the pathway for teachers and the organisation? Small success will carry your organisation.
  • Who are the silent majority?
    Run down the list of names of people in your staffroom. The ones you come to last, or not at all (!) are the ones you probably need to shine a spotlight on. Find out about their successes and encourage them to share them. By amplifying them, other teachers can learn from them too. (Liam credits this idea to @nikkitau from TESOL France last year.)
  • What options can you give to people?
    The trick is not to have everyone doing the same thing (one size fits all), but to have everyone do SOMETHING!
  • How can you get recruitment right?
    Make sure people you recruit know what kind of culture they’re coming into, and that they’re comfortable with that. A team is a delicate balance, and every person entering or leaving it can change the balance, and with it, the culture. Is it better to recruit NQTs who see what you do as norm? Or experienced teachers who can mentor and drive change? Who will be able to create and sustain change?

(Side note: Clare Magee (see below) mentioned that during their recruitment process, they include a description of key challenges in the job, to ensure teachers know what they might be faced with. She also said that whenever possible, they try to recruit two people at the same time so that they’re going through the processes of joining the school together, and can empathise with each other.)

Finally, Liam emphasised that change takes time, and that half of the stuff you try is probably going to fail. This echoes one of my favourite ever things I’ve heard at an IATEFL conference: you have to kiss a few frogs to find the one that’s for you.

 

I am lucky that I inherited a healthy culture of CPD at the school I currently work for, and ‘all’ I have to do as Director of Studies is maintain and develop it, but if you don’t already have that a CPD culture at your school, Liam’s questions and the ideas below could help you to move towards one.

 

As part of the main conference, Oliver Beaumont and Duncan Jameson also described how to create a culture of CPD, using the metaphor of a garden. You have to create the right conditions if you want things to grow there. They centred it around three key words:

  • Engage: if teachers aren’t engaged, they won’t be interested. Show them how CPD can help them, and how it fits in with the school’s vision. Creating the right environment also helps, for example a classroom with posters from previous CPD sessions. Carve out time where CPD is a priority: if you value it, teachers will too.
  • Energise: give autonomy and ownership, and encourage collaboration.
  • Empower: ensure there is meaningful action to follow the session, so they can put what they have learnt into action immediately. If you include feedback and coaching in the sessions, a lot more of what they have learnt will stick.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

Creating a welcoming culture

Patrick Huang described a transgender candidate’s experience of a CELTA course, with important points for the inclusion of all candidates who might be part of potentially vulnerable populations, and regarding culture changes which may need to take place to allow this. He noticed that there might be something different with this particular candidate due to the combination of a typically male first name and female second name – the example he gave was ‘Robin Jane’. Because of this, he asked the candidate to speak to him about their experience and to share what could have improved it. The main things Patrick learned were:

Safety should be key. Candidates should not be forced to disclose whether they are transgender/non-binary. For example, on the entry form, have an option for ‘Other’ in gender, not just male/female. Forcing candidates to select from a closed list of options could also have legal applications on a form if they have to sign something saying they did not knowingly give false information.

A pre-course meeting could include the question ‘Anything else you would like to tell me about yourself?’ rather than anything more direct, like ‘I notice that you…’ Again, this means candidates are not forced to disclose if they are not comfortable doing so.

Toilet facilities should be available for everyone. Consider converting an existing bathroom by changing the signing, for example to ‘Toilets for everyone’.

Pronouns should be used as indicated by the candidate. (If this is something you’d like to find out more about, I would highly recommend the BBC Word of Mouth episode ‘Language and gender identity’.)

For relationships and safety, consider introducing a code of conduct. Discuss these things with staff and candidates, preferably before you have transgender students on your course, so that they are aware of how they can help candidates feel safe. Make sure that this policy is adapted to the needs of individual candidates. There should be buy-in from the community, with the option to opt out if they really can’t cope with the situation.

Teacher-centred CPD

Another buzzword I noticed was bottom-up, with many of the speakers I saw talking about the need to move away from CPD which is imposed on teachers by management from above, and instead to create the structures for teachers to be able to work more independently on areas which they want to prioritise. As a couple of people said, ‘one size fits all’ fits noone.

As part of the #LAMTDSIG PCE, Clare Magee and Fiona Wiebusch from Australia talked about a very successful initiative which some of their teachers started, without prompting from management. They set up a Google Plus space to share 2-minute videos of ideas which make their jobs faster, better, or easier. Other people can comment on the videos too, and it often starts face-to-face discussions too. If teachers still have access after they leave the school, I think this could serve as a kind of institutional memory, and an alumni-type space, which they could still participate in if they choose too. This is probably my favourite idea from the whole conference. Once it was started, the institution ran some CPD sessions on how to create videos and how to interact politely on the platform, both in response to teacher requests.

Other ideas that Fiona and Clare described were:

  • #pdfest, one-day events organised by teachers for teachers to share their practice
  • #meetelt, Pecha Kucha events in pubs
  • #auselt, a Twitter hashtag for discussions (similar to #eltchat)
  • Pineapple charts to organise peer observation
  • A regular newsletter emailed to teachers across their organisations’ various sites
  • The Raise Your Voice choir

They suggested that it might be time to move away from the concept of change, and towards that of evolution and revolution. Hamel and Zanini (2014) say anyone can initiate change, recruit confederates, get involved and launch experiments. It’s not the leader’s job to do the process, but to build the platform. Fiona and Clare also said that in order to get all of these things working, managers should:

Give teachers time and money, and get out of the way!

 

I agree with this sentiment up to a point, but I believe that quite a lot of new teachers probably need a base level of knowledge about the teaching profession and about CPD opportunities before they can organise and run this kind of thing themselves. Most of the teachers at our school are in their first or second year of teaching. I have tried to provide the second-years with more space to direct their own development, but it has been challenging to work out and provide the amount of support that they really need to do this. It’s all well and good saying that they can develop however they want to, but if they aren’t aware of the possibilities and opportunities, it can become very directionless. This is where I think they next idea might help.

 

Josh Round and Andy Gaskins talked about Personalised Development Groups (PDGs), an idea Josh introduced in his school 3 years ago, and in Andy’s a year ago, and which has now gone through several successful cycles. Research which backs up their approach includes the Sutton Trust 2014 report on what makes great teaching. That and other reports show that effective CPD leads to great teaching, so it’s important to get the programme you offer right.

Teachers chose a first-choice or second-choice pathway, which enables them to be put into groups of 6-8 people. These pathways enable classroom-based, collaborative professional development, based on the choices of the participants, rather than the more top-down programmes traditionally offered by schools. They were based on areas that teachers had requested, or where they often needed more support. The school wanted a balance between structure and support, and autonomy.

Of course, PDGs aren’t perfect! Initially, they underestimated how long it might take teachers to come up with research questions, so they started to suggest examples within each pathway. It took time to put the scheme into place: change always takes time to be effective. There can also be problems with some members of groups not fully contributing, absence or sickness, and lack of structure – these are all problems I’ve found with a similar scheme I’ve tried to set up at my school.

Josh and Andy encourage teachers to be transparent with their students about what they’re doing – students seem to really engage with the teachers’ research. At the end of the cycle, there are feedback presentations which have become inspirational to other teachers at the school.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

 

At the #LAMTDSIG event, Ed Russell described using the idea of PDGs at his school, once he’d got over the idea that he needed to ‘do some managing’, a feeling I’ve had occasionally too! As part of this, he created a new screensaver for staffroom computers to remind teachers about the stages of the PDGs. Generally, Ed wanted to make what happened in the classroom as visible as possible so that his teachers could share their practice and learn as much as possible from each other. He said it has led to greater discussion in the staffroom, and more of a feeling of cooperation between teachers. I was pleased that he mentioned using my post of ideas for alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar as inspiration – always good to know! Ed’s school also used ‘cooperative development’, with one teacher talking for 15 minutes while another actively listened to them, then switching roles. Another change they made was in their use of language, talking about ‘my puzzle’ rather than ‘my problem’. Ed has shared some of the resources he uses on Google Drive.

The language of CPD

Ania Kolbuszewska extended the idea of the importance of language, a particular problem in her large school in Switzerland, a country where people are only prepared to take a risk if they are 100% sure of the outcome! She described her attempts to be more aware of the intercultural aspects of her job, something she had never been trained in. As she said, there is a lot of intercultural training available for students and businesspeople, but nothing specifically for managers in language schools, where we are very often working with people from other cultures who may have different expectations to our own.

In Ania’s experience, her teachers generally felt that institutions benefit from professional development, but teachers don’t really, especially if they’re not being paid for it. For some Swiss people, the status of teachers is like that of actors working as waiters until something better comes along. For others, CPD is a checklist for managers, and not something personal.

Cultural diversity in her school provides an additional problem: not everyone in her team speaks English and not everyone speaks German. She described the problems created by the fact that the term ‘CPD’ in English doesn’t have a direct equivalent in German or French, the two other languages she works with. The translations do not cover the same range of concepts, and are much more connected to training than development. Sending out emails in three languages meant that teachers who spoke more than one might compare the different versions and read into them meanings which weren’t intended. Ania therefore decided to use ‘CPD’ across all languages at the school, as well as replacing ‘workshops’ with ‘labs’, a more universal term which encompasses the idea of experimentation, not just learning. She also renamed all of the types of observation she wanted to use to make them as widely and easily understood as a possible.

The language you teach dictates the way that you teach it.

By making sure that the key terms being used were clearly defined and understood in the same way across the organisation, it has started to contribute to culture change. While Ania acknowledges that this process is top-down, she emphasises that this is to minimise problems with understanding the key concepts, in order to create the conditions for more bottom-up development further down the line.

Another change in their organisation is to have cross-language teams. Previously there were separate heads of French, German and English, but now teams are mixed. Echoing what Liam Tyrrell said (see above), these changes are a slow process, but they are gradually moving towards the CPD culture her school wants to have.

Action research

The cooperative development at Ed Russell’s school mirrors the first talk I went to in the main conference, which looked at how to help teachers come up with appropriate questions for their own action research. Paula Rebolledo and Richard Smith demonstrated a dialogue approach with a mentor to help teacher researchers come up with specific questions. When you’re listening to the potential researcher, you can guide them towards questions by noticing when they say ‘I think…’, ‘I guess…’, ‘I assume…’ For example, if they say ‘I think they enjoy it.’ ask questions like ‘What evidence do you have of that?’ If they have none, that could be one of their questions. It’s important that the listener doesn’t come up with answers, but pushes towards questions.

Potential researchers who don’t have a dialogue partner could use question frames like these:

When checking if the questions researchers come up with are suitable, you can use the slightly rephrased version of SMART:

  • Study-oriented (oriented towards the study of the situation rather than action on it)
  • Measurable
  • Accurate
  • Realistic
  • Topic-focused

If action research is something you’d like to explore further, there is a free publication written by Paula and Richard available on the British Council website: A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research. It includes everything (as far as I know!) that was covered in the talk, along with a lot more. You might also be interested in ELT Research in Action, a free ebook edited by Jessica Mackay, Marilisa Birello and Daniel Xerri, published by IATEFL in April 2018.

Supporting new teachers

A cooperative practice of a different kind is mentoring, which Alistair Roy covered in his presentation. After 12 roles in 12 years at private language schools, Alistair has had one mentor. He’s had 26 ‘mentees’, including 7 at one time (as he said, how can you mentor people properly like that?!) When asked whether they’d ever had a mentor, I think less than a quarter of the 100+ people in the room put their hand up to say yes, not including me.

When Alistair asked colleagues for help with how to mentor, he was just given checklists, so he started to talk to teachers about what they want from mentoring. He pointed out the amount of questions that we have on the first day of a new job, and how this is multiplied on your first ever day as a teacher, when you’re on your own in the classroom for the first time. He described the story of one new teacher who was given a checklist of things they should know soon after joining the school, and returned it with more than half of the items marked ‘I don’t know’, even though he knew they’d been given that information. This is something I’ve also wondered about in our intensive induction week model (anyone got any other ideas?!)

The whole situation was very different in his first year as a teacher at a UK state school, where he was given a mentor and an effective and useful process:

Alastair found that a lot of teachers seemed to want mentors in a similar position to them, rather than people with a lot more experience. They wanted people who could empathise with them and remember what it was like to be in their position. Josh Round also mentioned something similar at his school, where they have a buddy system for new teachers, with each being assigned a buddy who has been at the school for a little longer than them.

After 5 years, 91% of teachers who have a good mentor stay in the profession. Only 71% without a mentor do. (Institute for Educational Science) So what can managers do to support mentors? Invest money and time, support mentor and mentee, and understand what it’s like to be in their positions.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

CPD for teacher trainers

Of course, it’s not just teachers who need to develop their practice: trainers do too. This was another theme that I noticed: the desire for more systematic training for trainers.

 

Teti Dragas talked about interviews she had done with teacher trainers to find out their stories, covering how they got into training in the first place and how they have subsequently developed. Her main findings were that trainers developed through building up experience, reflecting on critical incidents, working with and talking to colleagues, and attending events like IATEFL. There was little, if any, formal training for them. Another key way that trainers improved was by listening to their trainees, especially when there was resistance to their ideas. This prompted them to think about why that resistance existed, and how to counter it. Mentoring new trainers also helped. What are important qualities of trainers according to Teti’s interviewees? Knowledge, experience, empathy, reflection and open-mindedness. You also need to give trainees time to change their practice. We also need to keep up-to-date with changes in our field, so that we can give trainees the best possible information during their courses.

If you’d like to contribute to Teti’s research, here are her questions.

 

Jo Gakonga’s presentation was based around the idea that trainers need feedback on their feedback, but that most of us never get it. To get around this, we can audio record ourselves, transcribe a minute or two of the feedback, and reflect on what we hear ourselves say and do. The presentation is available as a mini-course on her ELT Training website, and it’s something you can use for professional development within your organisations. We used the course during Jo’s talk, and I would definitely recommend it. I’m hoping to record myself giving feedback at some point before the end of this school year, having just missed our final round of observations. Jo also mentioned the article ‘RP or ‘RIP’: A critical perspective on reflective practice’, written by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh, which I plan to read at some point.

Trinity and Cambridge

Finally, here are two representatives of the main pre-service training certificates for the private language school market.

 

Ben Beaumont’s talk about the effect of washback on teacher training doesn’t really lend itself to being summarised in a paragraph. However, he did share these Trinity materials designed to help teachers improve their assessment literacy. Each video comes with a worksheet, so they could be used as part of a wider professional development programme.

 

Clare Harrison described extensive research Cambridge has done to find out what changes people want to see in the CELTA course, and what changes have already happened. You can watch the full talk here.

They noticed that the percentage of L1 and L2 speakers of English taking the course is now roughly 50/50, compared to 75/25 in 2005. There are also more and more teachers with experience taking this course, which was designed for pre-service teachers. The ICELT, which was designed for experienced teachers, has a much lower take-up. The young learner extension course and CELTYL both had such low take-up that they have ceased to exist, but there is a huge demand for YL to be added to the course, as well as other types of teaching such as 121 or ESP. As Clare said, these are probably beyond the boundaries of a course designed to last for only four weeks and to train inexperienced people to teach adults, but CELTA seems to dominate the market so much that other courses can’t get a foot in the door. Other requests were connected to the syllabus, such as having a greater focus on digital, but as Clare pointed out, this is entirely dependent on the centre, and she reminded trainers to go back to the criteria regularly to check that their course is fulfilling the needs of trainees. Fiona Price has screenshots of some of the changes in criteria on her blog. There are changes in how CELTA is being delivered too: quite a few courses now embed CELTA in an undergraduate or postgraduate programme, for example. After the talk, Clare asked people for any other ideas they may have. Audience members suggested ideas like a post-CELTA module that could provide an extra qualification (Jason Anderson said this), or post-CELTA or –Delta mentors, perhaps with the option of uploading videos of your lessons to be commented on. There was also the suggestion of recertification requirements. I feel like my ELT Playbook series could address some of these needs, so please do take a look at it if you’re interested!

Find out more

Katherine Martinkevich has short summaries of quite a few of these sessions, plus a few others which I didn’t attend. Gerhard Erasmus summarised the #LAMTDSIG day for the TDSIG blog.

If you’re interested in Teacher Development, you might want to investigate some of the other things TDSIG does. They have an e-bulletin (members only), a podcast and run facebook Live sessions, all of which you can find information about on their website. For managers, you can find out more about the Leadership and Management SIG here. If you’d like to join IATEFL, find out how here.

And if you made it all the way through the nearly 4000 words of this post, well done! 🙂

On choosing coursebooks (badly)

In the last couple of weeks I’ve written a couple of posts about coursebooks, the first describing my requests for publishers and writers to take into account, and the second a list of questions for anybody who feels like reviewing the coursebooks they’re using so we can all make a more informed choice. I’ve also seen a few other posts that respond to our build on the points in my requests post, like this one by Julie Moore, and this one by Mura Nava. I also received a blogpost length response from Nick to those same requests. This post is partially in response to Nick’s one, and partially getting something off my chest and seeking help.

(By the way, I’d also recommend reading Nick’s post called ‘Challenging the coursebook – challenge accepted‘ and hope he’ll write part 2 at some point) 🙂

Before I continue, please remember that everything I write on this blog and in this post is not designed to reflect on my school, but only to describe my experience, one which I am pretty sure is not unique, at least in the world of private language schools.

As in my requests post, I do not intend to name specific coursebooks as I don’t believe that will help. I am sure that some of the books I am talking about work brilliantly for other teachers in other contexts, and without providing a fully contextualised review, I don’t wish to provide negative publicity for them.

A corridor between two long bookshelves filled with coursebooks

Image taken by @michaelegriffin, from ELTpics under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence

I am currently working as a Director of Studies at a private language school, and as such one of my responsibilities is to have the final say in the selection of coursebooks for our school. I inherited a system of levels with books attached to them, about half of which have stayed the same since I started three years ago, with the occasional change of edition as particular books stop being sold in Poland.

Selecting adult books hasn’t really been a problem for me: the majority of my teaching experience is with adults, I have used a very wide range of coursebooks designed for adults, and I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. I also strongly believe that there are a lot of very good quality adult coursebooks out there, many of which already meet half or more of the requests on my previous list. This means I have a wide range of books to choose from. Adult students who are studying with us are unlikely to be studying elsewhere at the same time, so I have free reign, and can choose whatever I think might be best.

I haven’t needed to choose books for our young learners (aged 7-10) because the series we use is very well thought out, and has a kind of timeless quality that doesn’t really date. The only time we need to change it is when a new edition comes out and the old one is no longer available for our students. Again, students at this age are unlikely to be studying elsewhere, so I don’t need to worry that they will have seen the book elsewhere. The one exception to this was the highest level, which seemed to throw all the challenging grammar normally found in two levels at the students: fine for a strong class, but very challenging for a weak class. When one teacher used it in my second year, we had to adapt it quite a lot and remove at least two of the grammar points. We’ve now chosen a different book to replace it, but haven’t had a group to try it out with yet, so I can’t judge that decision yet.

Teen books, however, are an entirely different question. They are the bane of my life. I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent thinking about them, but I do know it is FAR TOO MANY. Here’s why…

In my first year at the school, we were using a series that was already 5 years old, and is now 7 years old, for four of the seven teen levels we have for 11-15 year olds. That means that somebody who became a teenager when the series came out would now be in their early 20s. As we all know, teen culture moves incredibly fast, and while there is no way that coursebooks and publishers could possibly keep up with those changes, I did feel it was time for something more modern. The series worked quite well in terms of language input, and in fact has now become the benchmark by which we judge other books we are considering. However, I don’t really remember my 13-15 year old students ever being engaged by the reading or listening texts, or the writing tasks, or possibly the speaking tasks, regardless of what I did to set them up. Of course, that may well be my fault, not the book’s, but you’d think that at least one or two things would grab them. It could also be my faulty memory, or the fact that in a group of teens nobody wants to be different by showing interest in something the others don’t seem interested in. Many possible reasons, but I don’t think an out-of-date book helped.

To help me choose a replacement, I asked around for recommendations of good series both on social media and when meeting colleagues. The most oft-repeated recommendation was used in a lot of local schools, so I couldn’t choose it. Another one wasn’t available in Poland if I remember rightly. We got sample copies of as many books as possible, and I also spent a long time at publishers’ stands at the various conferences I went to that year, asking about every book that seem relevant. With the help of my senior team, we tried to draw up a checklist of features we were looking for. I know that such lists appear in methodology books sometimes, but they all seem very general, and we wanted something that worked in our context. Here are a few of our requirements:

  • Available in Poland.
  • Age appropriate for 11-15 year olds (many are 9-12ish or 13-16ish – it’s hard to cover the full range)
  • Attractive to look at, so students actually want to open it.
  • Covering a similar range of language to the series we had previously used.
  • Providing a logical progression through the book and through the series.
  • Clear grammar explanations.
  • Including freer practice activities for new grammar (something we often had to add to the previous series).
  • With an interesting range of topics.
  • Lots of opportunities for speaking.
  • A workbook that supplements the student’s book.
  • Has a teacher’s book with extra activities if possible.

There were more, but I’m at home in the evening right now and I can’t remember them off the top of my head! By this stage, we had a very short list of books – definitely two, maybe even three. We showed them to students in class, and to teachers who’d have to work with them, and got feedback. None were particularly any better than any of the others. Quite late in the game we found out about another series, and didn’t manage to get as much feedback on that one. However, it was by the same publisher as the series we used to use, and seemed to cover most of the same ground. The video content seemed particularly interesting and engaging, and was something quite different to any of the others books. In the end, we went with that series.

So in my second year, we had a new series of books covering the same four levels, 3-6. We also had a new book from a different series covering level 2. That one worked pretty well, but about 15 lessons into the year, it was apparent that although the topics in the main series were engaging, the videos worked really well with most groups, and the language covered similar ground to the old series, it just wasn’t doing what it need to do, and was in fact going to cause us more problems than it solved.

One issue was that the lowest book, the one we were using for level 3, was actually easier than the level 2 book (from a different series) at times, and there didn’t seem to be a real level 3 book in their series: I’d made the mistake of looking at the CEFR level on the back and the language covered and thinking it was OK, without doing an in-depth analysis of it and comparing the two books carefully enough. Another was that the reading and listening texts were in general far too easy for our students, and didn’t seem to challenge them at all, while the videos were much harder. Vocabulary sets were almost completely without challenge, with students only really not knowing one or two items in any given list. These are all things we could work around, but they meant a lot of extra work for our senior staff in particular, supporting brand new teachers with adapting the book for their students to maintain the quality lessons we pride ourselves on. Another, much larger, problem was that while the books covered the same grammar points as the previous series, they actually stopped at unit 8, where the old series had had 12 units in each book, meaning a lot of key language was missing if you looked at the equivalent adult levels. This was particularly important for any of our students who might be old to change to adult groups in the following year and resulted in us having to rewrite the syllabus for the rest of the year for four levels, supplementing the book with a lot of other materials to make sure everything was covered that we needed to include. Again, this was a considerable amount of work, multiplied by four to cover all of the levels.

All of these things meant we couldn’t use this series again this year, so we went back to the drawing board, with a much longer list of criteria this time round. Some of the things we added were:

  • Long enough for a 124-hour course.
  • Doesn’t require too much supplementing.
  • Covers all of the ‘main’ grammar points at the equivalent adult level, so if students are moving into adult classes they haven’t missed anything major.
  • Challenging reading and listening texts.

Learning from our experience in the previous year, we checked the grammar points much more carefully. We also tried to be more systematic in getting feedback from students on the books, and had teachers do trial lessons with some of the books we were considering. However, as it was quite late in the year, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to do this: we were starting to wind up lessons with end-of-year revision, tests, etc. The list of books was also pretty similar to the one we’d ended up with at the end of my first year.

Part one of the resulting decision was to use more of the level 2 series for levels 3 and 4 – we’d originally decided against these as they actually felt like level 3.5 and 4.5 to us. At this point in the year, we’re now finding that is true: the harder language points are coming in, and some students are really struggling with them. Apart from that, a lack of ready-made extension activities, and a rather pointless teacher’s book (basically a glorified answer key), the series generally seems to be working quite well and we will probably continue with it next year, trying to re-pace the year to leave more time for the more challenging language in the second half of the books. Unfortunately, I can’t remember how consistent I was with checking which books were used in local secondary schools, and have discovered that a few of our students use the same book (or, worse, the book they used last year!) at school, so will have to check that again with the rep to see whether this is feasible. If too many of our students use it, we’ll have to choose something else, regardless of how good it is.

Decision part two was to use a new series for levels 5, 6 and 7. Level 7 had previously used an adult book which required a fair amount of adaptation, but was the only thing we could really find for their level, so the chance to use a teen book seemed too good to miss. The series was only published three years ago, and I am very sad to say it’s probably one of the frustrating coursebooks I’ve ever had. I’m lucky that I don’t have to teach from it, but I have had to provide a lot of support in planning from it, and listen to all of my poor staff who have had the misfortune of using it. Needless to say, we will not be using this series next year. It was the source of at least three of the requests on my list, including the first two regarding out-of-context items and exam tasks. And who’s to blame for this book selection? Ultimately, me. I am the most qualified and most experienced person on our team, and even though we looked at the books together, the final decision was mine. We chose it because the levels seemed to match up to our requirements, it covered the range of grammar points we required, the topics were interesting and varied, it was professionally presented with interesting images and engaging video content, and I am sure there were other reasons too. Listening lessons are particularly frustrating, as they are often ‘exam-style’ tasks containing 8 short extracts, only one or two of which may be related to the topic of the unit, making it very difficult to raise students’ interest in them. I somehow managed to completely miss that every last skills activity was an ‘exam task’, and the ones I did notice seemed at first glance to match up to Cambridge Main Suite exams, though it has subsequently turned out that they are in fact task types from a wide range of different exams, none of which are explicitly stated. Vocabulary pages are overwhelming for students, consisting as they do of three controlled practice exercises, each with 6-10 items and no other help beyond the questions in the exercise itself. If you’re really lucky one or two of the items may have appeared earlier in the unit or elsewhere on the page, but this is rare. Vocabulary is completely test-focussed, with no explicit input or freer practice activities. Most importantly, the amount of work it takes to put together a single lesson from it, particular anything that concerns teaching language, is completely unjustifiable in our very busy school for our busy, mostly newly-qualified teachers, and the senior team who support them. To top it all, a few students have told us they’re using the book at school, which I someone didn’t find out from the rep (more than likely, that’s my fault as I probably didn’t ask).

So now we’re starting to make decisions about the books for my fourth year, and I’m hoping these are books which stick so I don’t have to revisit this in another year (pretty please!) Here are some of the criteria I’ll be adding to the ever-growing list:

  • Presents and practises grammar and vocabulary items in a clear context.
  • Provides repeated opportunities to activate the grammar or a limited set of vocabulary items.
  • Contains skills activities which are not purely exam-focussed, and which it is possible to engage students in.
  • Is possible to consistently plan a 90-minute lesson from in less than 90 minutes, without requiring entire new sets of materials to be made.
  • Is not used in local secondary schools.

For those who’ve been wondering, I have repeatedly considered ditching coursebooks entirely, but that would create even more work, copyright concerns, and many other issues that I really do not have the time to deal with. It’s not going to happen any time soon, so instead we’re starting the selection process much earlier this year, and we’re going to be teaching multiple lessons from any book we consider. I’ll be checking with all of the reps for a full list of books used in local schools. We’ll go over all of the points in the checklist above with a fine-tooth comb. I know we won’t find anything that’s perfect, because nothing is, but if we can find something at least half-way decent, that doesn’t make me want to tear my hair out every time I look at it or hear its name, then I will be satisfied.

All recommendations and advice will be most gratefully accepted. Thank you for your patience!

Teaching the same thing all over again (paragraph blogging)

This week I’ve taught six 90-minute classes at a company, working through needs analysis and getting examples of speaking and writing as we are working with them for the first time. I had the same plan for all six lessons, covering every level from elementary to advanced, but it panned out completely differently in each group. The general structure was:

  • Students write questions for me and their teacher (who was observing and data collecting), then ask them.
  • Annotate a copy of the contents page of the book they’ve been using for lessons before we started teaching them, to show which things they’ve done, what they’d like to do, and what they’d prefer to avoid.
  • Individually, divide up 40 points between the speaking, listening, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation to show their course priorities (an idea I adapted from Teaching English One-to-One [affiliate link] by Priscilla Osborne and now use all the time!). Write this on the back of the contents page.
  • Write a paragraph about their job, roles and responsibilities, when/if/how they use English at work, their hobbies, and anything else they choose, also on the back of the contents.
  • Extend the paragraph by finishing various sentence starters from a choice of 10, such as:
    • I prefer English lessons which…
    • I am confident/not confident about ____ in English because…
    • I generally have good/bad memories of learning English/Russian/German/… at school because…
    • A good English teacher…

Pretty straightforward, right? None of the lessons are encapsulated in that plan though! At various points this week, I (sometimes with my colleagues) have done error correction based on questions, looked at the grammar of questions in general, created indirect questions, discussed at length good places to visit in London, talked about the etymology of Wolverhampton and Chichester, discussed learning strategies and how to make English a habit, shared websites that can be used in addition to doing homework, explained various Polish/English differences, discovered all seven students in a single class prefer dogs to cats, encouraged (elementary) students to speak up so that I can give them feedback and then praised them a lot for speaking pretty much only English for 90 minutes, and probably many more things that I’ve forgotten. It’s a reminder, if one was needed, to teach the students, not the plan 🙂

Lady Wulfruna statue

Lady Wulfruna, the source of the name of Wolverhampton – Image by David Stowell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A day in the life of a Director of Studies (paragraph blogging)

Matthew Noble has just started doing some paragraph blogging for March, with super short updates on what he’s thinking about. I’ll try and join in as many times as I can in March. I’ve been meaning to write something about my job for ages…

When I got to school at 10 I had a couple of brief chats with teachers, and had a bit of food while switching the computer on. I am currently teaching the beginners’ Polish classes for our teachers (more on that at a later date), so I finished my prep for the lesson, then quickly cleared my emails in the 10 minutes before class. We were working on basic foods, based around pizza menus, and I did my first bit of grammar teaching, introducing genders and the endings for one case.

Pizza po polsku - a screenshot from our Quizlet set

Straight from that into the senior meeting, interrupted briefly by a placement test for a new 121 student. The senior meeting is an hour every week for the ADoS (Assistant DoS) and senior teachers to work on any issues we have and make future plans too. Lunch, then 15 minutes or so of printing the observation timetable I put together yesterday, along with the forms for senior staff to fill in, making packs and handing them out. Then 15 minutes to find speaking activities for tomorrow’s workshop on setting up speaking activities, and a rushed 9 minutes (!) to speak to another new 121 before I had to leave. Pre-observation meeting in the car, and teaching chat, then two observations in a satellite school, followed by feedback on one of them for the teacher who has a gap between his lessons. Bus back to Bydgoszcz, when I happened to bump into one of our teachers travelling back from another satellite school, so we chatted about how she’s doing, music, and learning languages. Got home at 8. Not really a typical day due to the travelling, but then, I’m not entirely sure what a typical day is, apart from packed!

 

Working with new teachers: first steps (IH Journal)

Issues 43 of the IH Journal was published yesterday, with lots of great things for you to read:

IH Journal issue 43 contents

It features the first article in a new series which I’m writing, all about working with new teachers. You can read the journal online, and my article is here. If working with new teachers is something you’re interested in, or if you’re a new teacher yourself, watch out for an exciting announcement coming soon on my blog 🙂

The scaffolding continuum

I was giving feedback on an observation today when an idea occurred to me. When we plan a series of activities, particularly for low-level learners, it can be difficult to work out how much support they need at each stage. Thinking of the support we offer (scaffolding) as a kind of continuum might help.

Here’s a basic version:

The scaffolding continuum - left has teacher managing the full activity and providing lots of support, right has students doing everything completely independently

The activity I was watching which inspired the idea was asking a group of nine 8- and 9-year-old beginners to perform a comic book story they’d just read in their course book. The story had about 10 lines of dialogue and was about a postman delivering letters to two children and being scared by the neighbour’s dog. This was lesson 14 or 15 for the students, so quite early in their learning. This is what happened in the lesson:

  1. Students were given roles.
  2. They were put into groups to practise for a couple of minutes.
  3. They were asked to perform in front of the group, but struggled with pronunciation and knowing who should speak next. Other students weren’t really listening.
  4. They were given new roles in their small groups and practised again.
  5. They performed in front of the class with similar problems.

Here’s how I might use the continuum to think about planning the sequence differently:

Scaffolding continuum - with numbers 1-7 running left to right

  1. Teacher reads the whole story aloud with students repeating each line after the teacher.
  2. Students are grouped by role, but stay in whole-class mode. Teacher reads the whole story aloud with each group repeating their lines after the teacher. Do this two or three times if necessary, drilling any problem words and focussing on intonation and stress patterns as needed.
  3. Students break into groups with each role represented. They practise the dialogue while reading from their books. The teacher monitors and helps when needed.
  4. Students put their books away and continue to practise in their small groups. Give them a time limit to keep the pace up.
  5. Ask students to choose two things to change in their version, for example the name of one of the characters or the adjective used to describe the dog.
  6. Give them time to practise with their changes.
  7. Students perform in front of the class, with the other students noticing the changes.

Hopefully that should give the students the support they need to be able to act out the story confidently, by gradually removing teacher support until they’re perform their own version of what they’d read.

P.S. I made the continuum by changing PowerPoint slides to ‘banner’ using page setup, something I discovered you could do yesterday (thanks Milada!)

Staying healthy

I’ve written at length (when don’t I?!) about the fact that I have ulcerative colitis, and how it affects my life.

Having a stress-induced illness means that it’s particularly important that I find ways to manage how stressed I feel to avoid a flare-up of my colitis. September and the beginning of October are by far the busiest times of our school year, and can be very stressful for me at times. For the last two years, I was quite bad for most of this six-week period. Since Christmas last year, I’ve been on immuno-suppresants, which have stopped me from having any flare-ups (yay!) and seem to be keeping me mostly healthy right now (double yay!) I can still feel some of the symptoms though, and I need to look after myself to avoid the other pitfalls of a weak immune system, like catching every cold that passes through the school (!)

Here are some of the things I’ve been trying to do:

  • Making sure I stick to my morning routine as much as possible, doing physio exercises and spending 20 minutes or so doing cross stitch, both relaxing activities in and of themselves. I listen to podcasts at the same time to give me something to think about other than work.
  • Keeping active by aiming for 10,000 steps a day, which equates to about 100 minutes of exercise a day. When you’re sitting a desk doing timetables and setting up electronic registers all day, that’s not always easy!
  • Eating healthy food. I bought a slow cooker a couple of weeks ago, which has helped me to cook in bulk and not have to worry about exactly when the food will be ready. So far I’ve made soup and lasagne, and am happy to get any other suggestions (though I can’t eat anything spicy because of the colitis, so no curries!)

Soup in my new slow cooker

It might not look very appealing, but it tasted delicious!

  • Switching off the computer and blue screens by 9:30, before going to bed at 11pm. Having always been lucky to sleep fairly well, I didn’t think this would make much difference, but I feel much more refreshed by my sleep if I haven’t been using screens late at night.
  • Noticing when I’m stressed, particularly if I’m moving faster than I need to be, taking a deep breath, and consciously slowing down. For example, I realised I was rushing when I was washing my hands this afternoon because my brain was very active and I felt like I needed to get things done. I realised that taking an extra 30 seconds would calm me down a bit and make my work more effective in the end.
  • Blogging 🙂

I’m also really looking forward to my first flamenco class of this year – our lessons restart tomorrow night.

What do you do to stay healthy and to de-stress?

What are you thinking about?

When I was a full-time teacher, my thoughts went something like this:

  • Why do I have to get up this early?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • I hope my students are enjoying their lessons.
  • I really hope I’m actually teaching them something!
  • Hmm…that didn’t really work.
  • Oh my god, how could that lesson possibly have gone that badly?
  • This blogging malarkey is fun. I’m learning so much from everyone.
  • I don’t want this year to end because I’ll really miss my students.
  • …and so on.

Now, I’m a Director of Studies, CELTA trainer and materials writer, and my thoughts have (mostly!) moved on.

  • Why can’t I get back to sleep?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • Where am I going to find the last teacher I need?
  • What teacher development should we offer this year? Is it giving everyone what they need?
  • Will this timetable ever be finished?
  • How can we make sure everyone feels comfortable at school?
  • That was really snappy/short/sharp/angry – apologise now and don’t let it get worse.
  • I wish I had more time in the classroom and to work on my own teaching.
  • I wish I had more time.
  • I really want to work on that CELTA course, but the dates don’t fit.
  • Where will my next CELTA course be? When will I know?
  • How can I encourage people to buy my book?

Richer Speaking cover

  • I’m really excited about this project – I can’t wait to be able to share it!
  • Don’t forget to put in your IATEFL proposal.
  • I need to make sure I still find time to get thoughts out of my head onto my blog.
  • I have too many ideas for my blog and not enough time!
  • Switch your computer off at 9:30. You know you’ll sleep better if you do.
  • Stop it. Look after yourself.
  • …and so on.

What are you thinking?

A timetable metaphor

Last week I started trying to put together the timetable for the new school year. This is the third time I’ve done the timetable for my school, not counting changes that happen through the year. I’ve worked out a few systems for myself now, and as I’ve got to know teachers, students (especially 121s) and what does and doesn’t work, things have got a bit easier, but it’s still an all-consuming task. I have no idea how those who do timetables at schools with continuous enrolment manage it!

What my head feels like right now! (Image from Pixabay)

It’s like you’re trying to do a jigsaw, with people adding random extra pieces all the time, and occasionally taking them away.

There is a deadline, but you know that the picture will still have to change for at least a couple of weeks after the deadline has passed – it’s never truly finished.

The end result has to be a picture that is as pleasing as possible to various different groups of people: students, staff (approximately a third of whom you’ve only had a couple of hours of conversation with during interviews and have never met in person), admin staff, businesses etc. You’ve never seen this picture and have no idea what it’s supposed to look like.

Said people are also looking over your shoulder, offering advice, asking questions, and sometimes telling you that the picture just doesn’t look right that way or that they’re not happy with that particular part of the image.

You go home, sleep on it (or not, as the case may be!), and occasionally wake up in the middle of the night thinking ‘Duh! How could I possibly have forgotten that?’ or ‘Oh yeah – that would be a much better picture.’

You’ve been on the other side of the process as a teacher, and you have a pretty good idea of what is manageable in terms of a timetable. You try as hard as you can to make things as easy as possible for your teachers, a lot of whom have never taught before, while at the same time matching up students and groups to those who you believe will be most likely to teach them successfully. You also try to balance timetables, so that they seem ‘fair’ when the inevitable comparing begins. You also know it could be a lot worse for them.

Three or four weeks later, after many hours of work and countless to-ing and fro-ing, you hand out the timetables to everyone. And then the complaints roll in.

But at the same time, there is a sense of satisfaction. This giant, ever-changing logic puzzle has coalesced into something that looks like it just might work. Now you just have to wait and see…

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. Try these if you don’t have any in-house recordings.

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

Free for(u)m: a very open structure, based on discussion: I’m…, ask me about…, tell me about…, as suggested by Marc Jones

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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