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

Posts tagged ‘Director of Studies’

Reflections on leaving IH Bydgoszcz

For almost half of my professional life, I’ve been working as the Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz: six years here, out of a total of thirteen. To say it’s hard to leave is an understatement, but it’s time for the next person to take their turn, and for me to go on to new adventures.

Most of the teachers finished their contracts a couple of days ago, so now we just have the last few lessons to finish, and a few days to prepare for next year before our summer break. I’ll be back briefly in August and September for the last part of the handover, but my full-time management of a team of 20 teachers has come to an end.

TL;DR: the word cloud shows some of what my job has involved over the past few years, and just how much I’ve learnt 🙂

A list of all terms in the word cloud (repeated to show relative size):
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
creating~teams
management
teaching
training
workshops
meetings
Google~Drive
online~registers
continual~assessment
creating~tests
choosing~coursebooks
recruitment
interviewing
communication
IH~CAM
induction~week
timetabling
teaching~Polish
teaching~teens
teaching~young~learners
advising~students
dealing~with~complaints
dealing~with~mental~health~issues
organising~cover
problem~solving
Zoom
responding~to~COVID
teaching~online
classroom~dynamics
observations
drop~in~observations
video~observations
tracking~development
professional~development~interviews
choosing~groups
choosing~teachers
tracking~student~progress
contacting~students~and~parents
streamlining~processes
motivating~teachers
encouraging~teachers
training~senior~staff
supporting~staff
making~decisions
being~inspected
mentoring
managing~performance
dealing~with~difficult~people
letting~staff~go
tracking~overtime
managing~pay
updating~contracts
cooperating~with~other~schools
organising~social~events
sharing~what~we~do
Teacher~Training~Days
references
placement~testing
level~meetings
SEN
guiding~professional~development
offering~advice
calming~people~down
letting~people~cry
crying
responding~to~staff~feedback
answering~emails
speaking~to~publisher~reps
managing~resources
checking~reports
writing~reports
managing~my~time
scheduling~meetings
managing~remotely
attending~conferences
representing~the~school
bringing~back~ideas
creative~thinking
chatting
socialising
maintaining~a~positive~environment

Coming to Bydgoszcz

In January 2015, I was at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference, representing IH Sevastopol. A few days earlier, we’d decided that I wouldn’t be returning to the school full time as there weren’t enough students to justify it. I was a DoS without a school. Then I sat next to Tim, who changed my life in one sentence: “We’re looking for a new DoS next year.” A couple of weeks later I was in Bydgoszcz for a long weekend. I shadowed Tim for two days, during most of which I wondered how he managed to juggle so many things and thought I wouldn’t be able to do that. Thanks to his confidence in me, and that of Luke, Sam and Lisa, I was persuaded to take the position, and after that initial wobble I’ve never regretted it.

The Director

Grzegorz Chruszcz started IH Bydgoszcz in 1992, and the school wouldn’t be what it is without his vision. He cares so deeply about every aspect of the school: the teachers, the students, all of the other staff. He’s easily the best boss I’ve ever had, and I feel very grateful to count him as a friend too. He’s been by my side during all of the ups and downs of the past six years, professional and personal. Together we’ve celebrated successes, made difficult decisions, and striven to maintain the best quality school we can, while caring for all of the people involved. Grzegorz has been particularly amazing during the COVID pandemic, driving all over the city to drop off things we needed to keep on working from home, and bringing us Easter gifts along with the less exciting masks and disinfectant we needed to stay safe.

The senior teams

Luke and Sam were my first senior team. They had been working at the school for a few years before I came along, and gave me all the support I could have wished for to learn how the school worked and to settle in.

Helen, Rose, Sarah and Nick were my next team. They joined the school while I was here, and really helped me to grow and refine the systems that make the school run.

Emma and Ruth have been my senior team for the last two years. They have helped me to deal with so many challening situations during that time, including but not limited to the pandemic of the last 15 months.

I know that the school is in safe hands as Emma takes over as DoS next year, and Ruth stays on as ADoS. They’ll have the support of Connor and Ash, our two new senior teachers, staying at the school to take the next step in their careers.

The teachers

Whether they’ve stayed for one year or far longer, the teachers I’ve worked with over the past six years have been professional, caring, enthusiastic, and willing to learn. They’ve dealt with all kinds of different things being thrown at them, and provided the feedback and support we needed to keep on improving the school. Many of them I now count as friends, and I’ve really enjoyed continuing to see what they do after they leave the school.

Watching brand new, fresh-off-CELTA teachers come into the school, and turn into confident, competent, flourishing teachers over the course of their time at the school has been one of consistent privileges and pleasures of working at the school, and is one of the things I’ll miss the most.

The important people!

Mariola, Sandra, Marta, Monika: running the office of such a thriving school isn’t easy. Dealing with all of the admin of managing hundreds of students across four locations, contacting parents and students, running a Cambridge exam centre, and dealing with paperwork and the random questions of a team of twenty plus teachers, many of them foreigners, is really not easy, but the ladies in the office have always supported us and kept everything running smoothly.

Ania manages the accounts and accommodation for our teachers, and Marek manages the IT sides of things, both dealing with my random questions and last-minute requests admirably and with a smile on their faces.

Pan Wlodek, and the sadly missed Pan Piotr, the caretakers, greet students with a smile as they come into the building. Pan Piotr ran a mean barbecue for the end of year school social, and Pan Wlodek fixes everything which goes wrong in the school flats, apart from all of the things they do around the school. They may not speak much English, but they always find a way to communicate with the teachers, often prompting much hilarity 🙂

The school

We are lucky to have the whole school building to ourselves. Grzegorz has created a lovely environment for us to work in, with well-equipped staffrooms, and a wonderful office for me right next to them. The classrooms all have their own personalities, some including original features from the building like ceramic stoves, while others have balconies. There’s a garden area at the back, and a conference room and ‘club’ area for socials and other events. I’ve also had the chance to travel out to other schools in the area where we rent classrooms, and companies where we teach too.

The overall environment in the school is one of support. Questions fly around the staffroom, and there is always somebody to answer them. Feedback runs in every direction, including upwards, and we all improve as a result. As Emma put it so well, there is a lack of ego. I will miss being part of such a strong team at the school, year after year.

So what have I learnt?

So, so much!

I think the biggest area I’ve developed in has been my ability to manage my emotions, especially during challenging situations. When I first came to the school, if somebody got angry, I would probably be likely to raise my voice back and argue at a similar level. I’ve learnt to stop myself from doing that, to stay calm, and to know when to walk away from a situation and come back later when we have both calmed down. I also used to get very emotional when we received staff feedback. I’ve worked with our staff reps over the last few years to move towards more balanced feedback, but have also learnt not to take things to heart so much. Many of the most useful changes I feel I’ve been able to implement have come as a direct result of the feedback staff have shared with us.

Those who’ve been with me at the school for a while know that I still cry, but it’s pretty much always happy tears now. One of my happiest memories was during the craziness that was the beginning of the COVID pandemic. We had decided to close the school for two days to give us all time to learn how to use Zoom. Watching the whole team rise to the challenge and support each other made me realise (yet again!) just how privileged I was to work at this school with this team of people, and I ended up crying while I watched them all working together.

My communication skills have developed hugely. I choose my words more carefully, and slow down and reflect on the potential effect of what I’m saying or writing much more than I did when I first became DoS. I’ve also improved my ability to share information effectively in meetings and emails, and to keep everyone who needs to know in the loop with information. We’ve strengthened systems to communicate with students and parents across the school, and to share relevant information about students within the school. Thanks to the hard work of the teachers and the office, I feel like as I leave we’re in the best position ever with regards to everybody knowing what they need to know about student progress, and about the needs of students in their groups.

Introducing Google Drive is probably the biggest change I’ve implemented over the past few years. We moved from paper to online registers in my second year. The registers have been refined since then to meet the needs of the teachers and the school, making it ever easier to complete admin requirements, track progress, and write reports…though I still have to remind myself to stay calm when asking teacher X or Y to complete their registers for the umpteenth time! We use Google Forms to collect information about various things across the school, and as a key step in teachers communicating information to parents and students – it’s something of a running joke that I create a form whenever I need to know something 😉 My ability to exploit the functions of Excel and Google Sheets has grown exponentially, and there are all kinds of functions and formulae that I can work with now, but had no idea even existed six years ago. We also use Sheets to track things like report writing and checking, information about struggling students, and who needs to create tests by when. We’ve also introduced online placement testing, thanks to the support of Barrie at IH Seville.

When I started at the school, there was already a very strong focus on professional development, particularly on supporting early career teachers. There are weekly workshops, collaborative planning meetings, regular developmental observations, and the chance for returning teachers to do the IH Certificate in teaching Young Learners and Teenagers (IHCYLT). To that mix, I’ve added mentoring and video observations (somewhat accidentally!) I’ve become much better at understanding how collaborative planning meetings can be organised to best scaffold teacher development. We now get regular feedback on the success of our workshops, though there’s still work to be done on evaluating the long-term effectiveness of our workshops. My workshops are tied much more strongly to what actually happens in the classroom, including time for teachers to consider how they can apply what they have learnt rather than just throwing information at them.

Interviewing potential new teachers was one of the biggest challenges for me when I first arrived. I didn’t really know what questions to ask or how to structure an interview. Thanks to other IH DoSes and Josh Round, we now have a much clearer process, including a pre-interview lesson plan task, and a consistent set of interview questions. As I became familiar with the kind of questions it was and wasn’t useful to ask, I also became more comfortable with personalising interviews to each applicants. All interviews are now conducted by two members of the senior team, which has removed some of the issues with recruitment we had earlier on in my tenure as there is always somebody else there to discuss things with.

I’ve learnt how to manage the puzzle that is the timetable, aiming to provide teachers with the most friendly timetable I can. This includes carefully considering the levels they teach, the double-ups they have, the one-to-ones they work with, the hours they work within a single day and across the week, and many other factors. I’ve become more efficient at this over the years, and I don’t think I’ve had any complaints for at least three years, so hopefully I’ve been doing something right!

I have tried to introduce more standardisation across the school, with clearer guidelines for teachers and senior staff about different processes they are involved in. For new processes, this has generally created two or three years of teething problems – you know that the process is working when people don’t remark on it any more! These have included standardising continual assessment and testing, how information is communicated outside and within the school, and how information is recorded. We also have a bank of ‘how to’ documents which any of us can refer to. This maintains institutional knowledge, meaning that it isn’t lost when staff leave the school. Hopefully it makes things easier for teachers working with new kinds of classes (for example, conversation classes or exam clubs) and senior staff joining the management team.

My time management has gone from strength to strength. I’ve always been pretty good at juggling things, but the challenges of managing a team like this have really pushed me. I’ve experimented with all kinds of different ways to track the tasks I need to complete and the meetings I need to have – it took about three years to settle on the system that works for me. My weekends have also become much more clearly delineated, and I’ve learnt to say no to things outside school at challenging periods of the year, choosing when is best for me to take on extra responsibilities – I’m looking forward to having more flexibility to choose how I manage my time as I move to freelancing!

The last thing I’d like to highlight is just how supportive the wider International House community is. IHWO have always been on hand to answer my questions, as have other DoSes who I’ve got to know from the online community and by attending the IH AMT conferences. Many of the changes I’ve made within the school have been inspired by what they’re doing, from big things mentioned above to much smaller things like Monica Green mentioning how important it is to say positive things to people too. I hope I already did that, but until I heard her say it, I wasn’t conscious of how often I did it. Since then, I’ve tried hard to keep my communication as balanced as possible, and encourage teachers to come to me with positive things too, not just when they have problems (I need balanced comments coming my way too!)

What’s next?

Having developed so much over the last few years, I’m really looking forward to passing that on to others as much as I can. Once the handover to Emma is complete, I’ll be fully freelance from October. I’m aiming to work on a combination of projects, including training for others and on my own courses (watch this space!), CELTA tutoring, materials writing, methodology writing, working on my own books, and consultancy work. I’m also planning to complete my NILE MA. If you’re interested in working with me, please contact me via Twitter @sandymillin or on my Work with me page.

Farewell IH Bydgoszcz! On to the next adventure…

Clearer communication (IH AMT 2021)

On 18th and 23rd January I presented my talk on communication tips at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers conference. Here is the blurb:

Communication is the keystone of management, with the quality of your communication making the difference between a team that resents every change you make and one that will follow where you lead. Clear, supportive communication is something I feel very passionate about, and have worked on a lot over the past few years. In this talk, I can offer various tried and tested tips to improve the effectiveness of online and offline communication with your team, hopefully leading to a more positive, supportive environment for all of you.

This was a variation of a presentation I originally did for ACEIA in October 2020. You can see the presentation written out in full in this post. You can watch the video from the IH AMT here (and links to other talks from the event in this blogpost):

Here are my slides from the IH Bielsko-Biała Teacher Training Day, where I also did a 30-minute version of the talk:

What tips do you have for communicating more clearly with students, teachers and trainees?

Clearer communication (IH Bielsko-Biała TTD)

On 28th November 2020 I had the honour of being the opening plenary speaker for the IH Bielsko-Biała Teacher Training Day. The theme of the day was ‘From the Heart’, with speakers discussing topics they’re passionate about. For me, that’s the importance of clear communication.

This was a variation of a presentation I did last month for ACEIA. You can see the presentation written out in full in this post.

Here’s the video, including a link to the playlist for the rest of the day:

Here are my slides from Bielsko-Biała:

What tips do you have for communicating more clearly with students, teachers and trainees?

Clearer communication (ACEIA 1st virtual conference)

On Saturday 17th October I presented as part of the Asociación de Centros de Enseñanza de Idiomas de Andalucía (ACEIA) 1st virtual conference. It was a new management talk:

Communication is the keystone of management, with the quality of your communication making the difference between a team that resents every change you make and one that will follow where you lead. While I can’t promise to resolve all your communication problems, I can offer various tried and tested tips to improve the effectiveness of online and offline communication with your team, hopefully leading to a more positive, supportive environment for all of you.

This is a topic I feel very strongly about, as my experiences of bad and good managers have largely centred around the quality of their communication. In my own management experience I’ve noticed that as my ability to communicate successfully and clearly has improved, I’ve gained confidence and I feel like the people I manage trust me more. They are also very open to giving me feedback on my management in general and my communication specifically. The tips in my talk are primarily aimed at managers, but many of them would be useful for teachers and general communication in life too.

These were my slides:

Listen

Before you do any broadcasting, it’s important to listen.

Don’t interrupt. I have a tendency to finish other people’s sentences or assume I know what’s coming next and start replying. A colleague once told me this was stopping him from speaking to me properly – he suggested I use my finger to stop myself from being able to speak! This really works: when I shouldn’t interrupt, I adopt a thinking pose with my index finger on my lips and it makes it much harder to start speaking.

Pay full attention. Stop what you’re doing and really listen. Make eye contact. Listen with your brain as well as your ears – don’t just spend the time working out what you’re going to say next or how you’re going to solve the problem.

What are they not saying? Notice body language and patterns of communication (or lack of communication) which may indicate hidden messages. Perhaps the person you’re speaking to is very stressed about something but doesn’t know how to communicate this. Perhaps they’re feeling overwhelmed in general. Perhaps they really don’t like communicating with you and are avoiding it (not necessarily because they don’t like you – perhaps they don’t know how to speak to somebody they perceive as an authority, or perhaps they don’t want to interrupt you because they think you’re busy, or perhaps they don’t feel like they trust you enough to talk to you yet.) There’s a lot of ‘perhaps’ there, because we never really know, but be open to hidden messages, not just the ones which are explicitly stated.

General tips

Consider your medium carefully. What is the best way to communicate your message? Options might include:

  • Face-to-face conversation
  • Online conversation e.g. via Zoom
  • Phone call
  • WhatsApp call
  • SMS
  • WhatsApp message
  • WhatsApp voice recording
  • Facebook messenger
  • Email
  • Meeting with a group of people/all of the staff
  • (Regarding students) Speaking to/Phoning/Emailing parents

We have so many options for communication now. The method we use says something about how formal or serious particular communication is, whether a written record is required (either to track information or simply so information is easy to refer back to), how much (perceived or real) time we have available, and how we might want our interlocutor(s) to respond.

Be clear about what information doesn’t exist. If you don’t have information yet, make sure the other person knows this. Otherwise, they may assume you’re keeping it from them for some reason. For example, if you know that a one-to-one student is in a teacher’s timetable, but said student hasn’t confirmed the start date of the lessons yet, tell the teacher that you don’t know the start date.

Be realistic about when communication will happen. Following on from the previous point, ensure that people know when they are likely to get any missing information and what factors will affect this. For example, when will the school contact the student to confirm the start date? Knowing when you will get information can reduce anxiety, and mean you can more easily postpone worrying about something until later.

Remind people to help you with communication. As managers, we’re normally spinning a lot of plates, and inevitably we’ll lose some of them. Get your staff on board to help you. Ask them to prod you if you don’t reply within 3 working days for example, and be clear about what is their responsibility to follow up on and what is yours.

Be open about mistakes in communication. Apologise when needed. We’re humans. We make mistakes. This is just as true in our communication as it is in any other area. Sometimes the things we do or say (or don’t do or say!) can be stressful for somebody else, or make their jobs harder. If you realise that your actions have made this happen, apologise for it. This is far more likely to build relationships of trust than brushing such mistakes under the carpet or pretending they didn’t happen.

Timing

Consider the timing of your communication carefully. What messages are you sending out about…

  • response times?
  • working hours?
  • availability?

By instantly replying to every message you receive, you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and probably interrupting your life outside work. You are also implicitly indicating that you expect instant responses from the people you work with, and are therefore adding unnecessary stress to them.

By replying to messages at unusual times, such as very early in the morning or late at night, you’re also implying that your employees should do this too.

By being available all the time, you’re losing the chance to have a life outside work, or at least drastically reducing that chance.

To help yourself to communicate more healthily, set working hours and consider what notifications you have, and pass this information on to your team. For example, our senior team have clear working hours which all the teachers know, WhatsApp notifications, but no email notifications. We have told teachers that we will respond to phone calls or WhatsApp messages as soon as possible within working hours (or I’ll respond to early morning phone calls too to arrange cover for sickness), but emails will be responded to when we get to them.

You can also make use of the scheduling function which most email providers have to ensure that your messages are sent at reasonable working hours or at the point of need, rather than when you wrote them at 6am, or 5 days before a teacher needs to see it.

GMail schedule send function

Meetings

Is it really an email? We’ve all sat in a completely pointless meeting which should have been an email. Only have meetings for things which require some form of discussion or Q&A.

What is the meeting for? Who is it (really) for? Know why you are requiring people to be in the same place at the same time. Make sure it’s not just for you, but that they are benefitting from the meeting too. Our school meetings happen every Friday for 30 minutes. They have two purposes. The first is to pass on information which is important for that point in the year and to ensure teachers know how to fulfil their responsibilities concerning things like writing reports or marking written work. The second is a social reason: it’s the only time in the week when we are a single school and a single team, all in the same place. This is why it was so important for us to continue these weekly meetings when we were all working from home too, to reduce the sense of isolation.

Do you need to say it all? At some points in a meeting, you may not need to read all of the information. Let people process information for themselves if it’ll be faster. For example, in our (deliberately fuzzy) agenda below you can see bullet points at the top. There are two sections: Please can you… for things they don’t need to hear me say, and Reminders for things like dates for their diary which I’ve already spoken about before. There is also colour coding, as suggested by our teachers at the end of last year. Orange indicates I’m telling you for the second time, red would be for the third time. [The document is titled ‘agenda’, but also acts as minutes – it’s edited during the meeting, printed out and put on the wall, and also available on Google Drive for teachers to refer back to as needed.]

Break up the info dump. As you can see, we share a lot of information during our meetings. They normally take the full 30 minutes allocated to them, sometimes a little longer. It’s impossible for somebody to focus on one person talking for all of that time and actually process the information. At one or two points in the meeting I normally have some kind of discussion, for example ‘What do you need to remember to do from the meeting so far?’ or ‘Have you picked up anything while teaching on Zoom this week which would be useful for everyone else?’ This gives me a little break, changes the pace, and allows teachers to process the information a little. It also creates a couple of extra beginnings and endings during the meeting, meaning information is a tiny bit more likely to be retained and acted on.

Are the next steps clear? At the end of the meeting, make sure everybody knows what they’re expected to do next and what the deadlines are.

Include positives/thank you. In a general meeting, include positive things too. I found that I used to feel like I just spent 30 minutes every week telling the staff off or nagging them. I still do sometimes, but ending on a positive note has reduced that feeling.

Emails

Clear subject line. Make your subject line as clear as possible to avoid guessing games and make it easier to find emails again later. If it’s new topic, start a new thread with a new subject line. Be selective about your use of the word ‘urgent’ in subject lines.

One big email? Lots of little emails? If you have lots of information to convey to the same people in a single day, it’s better to send out a single longer email than lots of short emails. This is less overwhelming in inboxes and easier to refer back to.

Signpost big emails. Use headings and highlight key points to help readers navigate the block of text. Put new topics into new paragraphs, and use bullet points to break down topics as needed.

Make it easy to use your emails. Don’t expect recipients to read between the lines. Be explicit about what kind of reply is needed and when. Include links to anything external so the recipient doesn’t have to hunt for them.

It may seem like it will take longer to write emails like this, but it will probably save you time in the long run as you’ll have to do less chasing, and won’t need to resolve issues like people filling in the wrong document because you didn’t include the link to the right one.

Here are two examples of emails I’ve sent recently:

Documents to check + creating Zoom IDs

Morning all,

Here are all of the documents you need to check your timetable against:

– Room timetable
– Level meeting timetable
– Cover timetable
– Register links (these will appear in your Google Docs later in the day – please don’t ask for them – I’ll put up a note on the door when they’re ready)

Your register links document takes you to various general links for teachers, including the Zoom IDs list. Please create meetings for all of your Zoom classes on Friday 18th. Make sure they recur until 30th June 2021 so you never have to change them through the year. Add the ID and password to the Zoom ID document so it’s available for cover and if the office need to tell a student.

When you have added all Zoom IDs to the list and checked all of your documents, reply to this email. Say ‘Fine’ if it’s all complete. List any problems if not – be as clear as possible. Please do not send the email separately – I want to keep it all in one thread so I can keep track of who’s replied.

In this email you can see:

  • a clear subject line;
  • clear instructions on how to complete the task;
  • information about how exactly they should reply and what information I need;
  • why I’m asking them to do things in this way.

Welcome to the 2020-2021 academic year (please reply by Monday 7th Sept 18:00)

[This email image is deliberately blurred.]

In this email you can see:

  • a clear subject line, including exactly when I need a reply by;
  • headings;
  • topics highlighted in blue;
  • all documents needed are attached;
  • all links to be followed are included in the email.

Keeping track

We’re managing a lot of communication, and potentially there are a lot of versions of documents flying around.

Date any documents you send out, rather than having the same file name or calling them 1, 2, 3, etc. Reverse order sorts them nicely: 2020.10.17. I normally keep all previous versions in a folder called ‘Archive’ and only the active version in the top folder to help me navigate. Here’s an example from the presentations on my personal computer:

Note any deadlines you set for replies in your diary or calendar. Follow up only with those who didn’t meet deadline, rather than sending out a blanket email to everyone. Don’t start following up until the deadline arrives – otherwise you are creating extra implicit deadlines, and causing yourself and your colleagues unnecessary extra stress.

Giving feedback

This can be one of the most challenging parts of our jobs, whether as teachers, managers or trainers, and can often be the cause of a lot of stress.

Use a feedback model (this one is from Manager Tools). This structure can help you to keep feedback neutral and ensure that the person on the receiving end is receptive to it (whether positive or negative). There are four steps:

  • Ask Can I give you some feedback?
  • Describe the behaviour: When you…
  • Describe the impact: …it makes me feel / …students find it difficult to… / …students are really engaged.
  • Discuss next steps: Keep it up! / What can you do about this? How can I help you?

It’s important to get the person you’re speaking to to say what the next steps are themselves, and preferably the ideas will come from them. They’re much more likely to act on the feedback if they say it rather than if you say it.

Focus on behaviour and actions, not personality. This keeps things more neutral and means feedback feels more constructive and less like a personal attack. It takes practice! If you’re not sure if your feedback does this successfully, run it by somebody else you trust and ask for help with rephrasing it as needed before you give it to the person concerned.

What expectations are teachers holding themselves / you holding teachers to? Teachers can often be their own worse critics, and beginner teachers in particular may not allow themselves to be beginners. Ensure that any expectations are realistic for the level of experience of the teacher, and that they know what you expect of them is fair.

Boost confidence and spot strengths too. Aim to give at least as much positive, confidence-boosting feedback as you do feedback on areas to improve.

Compassionate communication

Ask, don’t assume. Ask questions, rather than thinking you know why something happened or what somebody is feeling or experiencing at a given point.

Be patient and supportive. Aim for communication which helps rather than hinders or stresses out your colleagues. Keep this in the back of your mind, and don’t let your own stress or frustration at the fact this is the 18th time you’ve asked come through (easier said than done, but vital to remember!)

Provide training on your bug bears. To reduce your own stress levels, teach people how to do things which frustrate you when they do it ‘wrong’. For me this is the use of ‘Reply all’ rather than ‘Reply’ to group emails – you can also avoid this by BCCing all of the receiving emails, because then people can only reply to the sender rather than everyone!

Be on the receiving end of your own communication. Copy yourself into your group emails using your personal address, so you realise just how many emails you’re sending out. Record a meeting and sit through the whole thing without fast-forwarding it. You’ll soon send fewer emails and run shorter meetings!

Be a learning communicator

Reflect on particularly successful / unsuccessful communication. Why did that observation feedback run so smoothly? Why did that interview feel horrible throughout?

Seek out feedback. Ask for feedback on your communication. This includes when communication went wrong – wait until the emotion has gone out of the situation, then ask for advice on how you could have made the situation run more smoothly. If your staff trust you, they’ll be very willing to give you this feedback.

Choose an area to focus on. For me, this is currently all of the points in ‘listen’ at the start of this post!

Be kind to yourself 🙂 Your communication won’t always be perfect, but don’t dwell on it when things don’t work out. Model learning from problems and mistakes, seeking feedback, and moving forward rather than dwelling on the past.

What tips would you add to improve communication as a teacher, manager or trainer? Have you had any experiences of particularly good or bad communication which have helped you to become a better communicator?

Choose-your-own workshop – noticing progress

The idea

Sometimes a chat over dinner can be a wonderful catalyst. A couple of weeks after IATEFL 2019 I went for dinner with a colleague. We discussed all kinds of things, and one of the things that came out of the discussion was a plan for a different kind of workshop, one where the teachers chose the topic. 

This plan was inspired by sessions I attended during IATEFL, and my reading for the NILE MA trainer development module. It’s a general format which could be applied to any workshop. Each section should last about 15 minutes.

  • What you (want to) know: In groups, teachers brainstorm what they know about the topic and write the questions they have about it. You can do a quick survey of how confident the teachers feel about the topic. You can prepare prompts to help the teachers direct their thinking if you want to.
  • Investigation: Teachers find out more about the topic using whatever resources they choose from whatever you have available. If you don’t have much, you could use my diigo links as a starting point. This step could take longer if you want it too. Emphasise that there won’t be time to look at every resource – they should pick and choose one or two things to read/watch/listen to.
  • Sharing: Back in their original groups, teachers share what they’ve learnt. They add to the brainstorms, discuss whether their questions were answered, and think about what other questions they might have.
  • Forward planning: Teachers decide how they can apply what they’ve learnt in the session to their own teaching. 
  • (Brief) Feedback: Get feedback from teachers on how the session went and how confident they feel about the topic now.

Noticing progress

On discussion with the teachers, we chose the topic of noticing progress for this experimental workshop. These are the slides I used:

The letters on the slides (A-E) refer to the five areas on slide 2 to help teachers choose which resources to investigate during step 2 of the session.

Teacher feedback on the workshop

These comments are shared with permission.

Positives:

(my reflection) Preparation before the session meant that I was free to monitor, answer questions and feed in extra information during the workshop.

I enjoyed this session and being able to share ideas with others and find out what they learnt as it gives me ideas which I didn’t think of. Charting ideas on paper as a team works well and is encouraging and confidence boosting. I would like to do another session like this.

I like that I can go back to the powerpoint afterwards and check out what my group members have told me about. It’s nice to have a lot of options (choice). I would like to do workshops in this style again.

Good balance of self research and group feedback. Self-driven= more natural and less ‘forced’.

Can go at our own pace and do what interests us.

I really liked how personalised it was and practical. I think this type of session helps people know what’s out there. I’d definitely do this again – thank you very much!

I liked the freedom to look at what I wanted and it was nice being in groups with people who were interested in different things. Can we do something like this again please?

Time to research independently. It was good to have a range of media (video, reading etc) for different preferences.

Own pace and autonomous.

Autonomy, could learn what I wanted, not dictated to. Discussion at end was good in groups.

Good staging, reading time, multiple sources and discussions.

I liked how there was more time for personal reading (being an introvert).

Time to digest before talking. Could explore what interests me/will be useful for my students. More like this please.

I liked the staging and found it very logical and useful. I think I would’ve liked more time alone to read/watch/get the input but appreciated that this was quiet and independent this week. I would like to do workshops in this style again.

Could focus on an area I was interested in.

Freedom to research what you’re interested in and what you need. Good stages to gain information from others and share ideas/knowledge. An interesting workshop – would be great to do again!

I enjoyed having quiet time to read and learn about things. I also liked not having things thrown at me. Timing was adequate. We should now go and explore on our own. I think more time would have resulted in us just sticking to one particular topic, instead we want to look at as many different things as possible. Please let’s do this again!

Generally like the format.

Areas to improve:

(my reflection) The session worked really well, but the slides took a long time to compile. If I ran it again, I’d include a lot fewer resources to choose from, not least because it would take less time to put together! On the other hand, this workshop can be reused again in the future as is with no preparation at all.

People need to be able to speak/discuss what they want to e.g. one classroom is for silent investigation and another classroom is for teachers to discuss with each others. [Note: during the investigation stage I asked teachers not to discuss anything as some teachers present struggle to concentrate when reading with noise in the background. I told them they’d be able to discuss everything later.]

The titles and summaries on each slide could have been clearer e.g. a summary such as ‘This page has lots of ideas for…’

Hard to find a specific direction.

Timing was OK, although not really enough time to explore properly/in enough detail.

I think the initial brainstorm could be a bit shorter.

There were too many options (things to look at/explore) – not enough time for detail.

Would be good to have a follow-up session of what we’ve tried and how it went. Have several rooms with ‘noise levels’ so those that want to discuss and research at the same time can – more sharing will happen if we can talk.

Very broad – a lot of information to sift through.

Put the stages of the workshop on the board too please.

Would be good to have a bit more time in the research stage.

Maybe too many points to discuss? 3 might work better than 5. 

As you can see, the workshop went down well, but as always, there’s room for improvement 🙂 

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.

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

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 😉

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!

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!

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 🙂

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…

On leadership and teamwork

Zhenya has just posted her answers to the 11 questions challenge (Thanks! See mine here and here) and posed some of her own, including three which I’d like to respond to here.

Have you ever tried to lead a team of people? If yes, what are your impressions and learning? If no, would you like to (one day)?

I’ve now been working as a Director of Studies for two years in two very different schools. The first was small, with only a handful of part-time teachers and one other full-time teacher (the school Director) besides me. Most of the time I was teaching full-time as well as being the DoS. The second has about 20 teachers, including me, and I only teach for a couple of hours a week. I work in close collaboration with two ADoSes and the school Director.

I had an excellent induction, but have also learnt an incredible amount on the job, not least in the last two weeks. It has not just taught me about what it takes to manage a language school, but also about working with a team of diverse personalities, and about my own personality. It has shown me how I and my team respond to a crisis (or five!), how everybody’s personalities and characters can complement each other to complete a team and also how sometimes there are things I just don’t or can’t notice which I need other people to be willing to share with me.

It’s not an easy job, but it’s not impossible either, and the challenges it throws at me keep me interested and invigorated, if a little tired at times 😉

When do you think someone is ready to be a leader of a team?

Not long after becoming a full-time DoS, I wrote some advice for people considering moving into management. It includes a series of questions you can use to help you decide whether you are ready to be a manager.

For me, it’s important for a leader to have experience of being part of a team or environment similar to the one they are managing in. That way they are much more likely to be able to empathise with their team. If they are ready to learn what it takes to be an effective leader, then they are probably ready to become a leader. If they think they know it all already, then I would probably steer clear!

What’s your best tip on working with people?

Communicate.

And remember that part of communicating is listening.

Listening attentively

Without good channels of communication, it’s impossible to work effectively with people. There will always be rumours, backbiting and negative comments if people don’t understand what is going on and why.

You also need to be willing to listen when members of your team have something they want to tell you, whether it’s positive or negative (and let’s face it, it’s usually negative). Don’t get defensive or be accusatory – let them talk, and find out what they need from you. Sometimes it’s just to let off steam. Sometimes they don’t know what they need, and you need to help them work towards finding out.

Another part of communication is about being open to the world around you. By learning more, you will be able to connect more easily and effectively with more people, which will hopefully benefit both you and them. By being open, team members are also more likely to be willing to share those things with you which you can’t see, as I mentioned above.

How would you answer Zhenya’s questions?

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

Taking back time: How to do everything you want to (IATEFL Birmingham 2016)

Title slide

At the IATEFL Birmingham 2016 conference my presentation was designed to answer a question I’m asked all the time:

How do you find the time to do everything you do?

At the risk of bragging, here are some of the reasons why I’m asked that question. I’m:

Richer Speaking cover

You’ll probably notice that some things aren’t on that list. I don’t have a partner or a family, which obviously frees up a lot of time for other things. I often joke that the reason I can manage to do so many things is that I have no life, but that’s not strictly true. While a lot of my life does revolve around this career which I love, I also recognise the importance of a work-life balance and endeavour to maintain this. I’ve therefore adopted many strategies to organise my time, which I shared in my presentation at IATEFL. Here is a recording of it which was made by Hanna Zieba for me (thanks Hanna!):

This handout summarises all of the strategies and you can download it via Slideshare.

Alternatively, read on for a fuller account of the strategies and why I use them.

Time turner from Harry Potter

The device in the picture is a Time Turner, used by Hermione Grainger in the Harry Potter films to give herself five extra hours a day. It may feel like we need something similar!

Pictures of wall planner, weekly planner and diaries

Tip number one: Outsource your memory. What I mean by this is that you should write down everything you need to remember as soon as possible. I do this in a variety of places. At work we have an annual year-to-view wall planner with post-it notes which can be moved around if things change. Just before the school year starts we copy over the main events from the previous year. It’s on the wall in my office for teachers to see at any time. Also at work I have a weekly planner, which I will describe in more detail later.

The most organised I have ever been at home was last year. I was given two diaries for Christmas, and decided to use one as a normal dates/appointments diary, for example with flight times, and the other as a to-do list diary. Whenever I thought of something I needed to do I would put it in my diary on or just before the appropriate date, meaning I could then forget about things until I needed to do them. I used to use scraps of paper and discovered this system was much more efficient, so much so that I bought a to-do list diary for work too!

Photo of weekly planner

Tip number two: Refresh every week. I have a weekly planner at work which I write out every Friday before I leave, or on a Monday as soon as I get in. I find it much more motivating than having a single ever-expanding list.

Another benefit is that you can see the shape of your whole week in one place at a glance. If you use a diary or annual planner too, don’t forget to copy things over each week, as well as transferring anything you didn’t finish the previous week. If you copy something more than three times, you either need to stop procrastinating and prioritise it, or drop it from your list because it’s probably not that important. If you drop it, you could put it in your diary for a quieter period of the year, if that’s ever likely to happen for you!

I have just finished this notebook and now have an A4 sheet I print off which already has recurring events and tasks typed onto it.

Weekly planner showing gaps, plus a quote from a teacher using the weekly system: "It's proven invaluable in helping me organise my hours a bit more effectively, and reduces the stress of 'I have so much to do!'"

Tip number three: Leave Gaps. If you have any kind of daily to-do list, whether it be in a weekly planner like the one above or a diary, make sure you leave gaps to add extra things as they come up. They always will.

Another tip is to use small boxes on your planner as it is then harder to overfill them. It helps you to be more realistic about what you can achieve in a given time. I divide my planner into morning and afternoon, highlighting appointments and classes in blue, and highlighting anything which needs to be done urgently in yellow. This makes it faster for me to see when I’m available when people ask “Can you…?”

It took me a while to work out what I can realistically achieve in a morning or afternoon. This has improved with practice, but I still get it very wrong sometimes!

One of the teachers at IH Bydgoszcz started to use this system a few weeks ago and said:

It’s proven invaluable in helping me organise my hours a bit more effectively, and reduces the stress of ‘I have too much to do!’

Despite us both being quite techy people, we prefer to do all of this the old-fashioned way. There’s nothing quite like crossing things off a big piece of paper!

Achievements - showing a weekly planner at the end of a week, and notes made on my calendar

Tip number four: Notice your Achievements. By noticing what you’ve achieved each week, you will hopefully feel less like you’re drowning under the weight of things you ‘need’ to do. I always take a second to admire my weekly planner at the end of the week, and to notice how little needs to be transferred to next week’s plan, even though I know that in seven days my ‘new’ one will look pretty similar!

At home, I make a note of what I’ve done each day on my calendar. I hate seeing crosses on there, and since the beginning of February I’ve put a tick if I’ve managed to do everything – more on exactly what those things are later. I’ve noticed that I’ve completed all six things I want to do much more often since using ticks. This makes me feel a real sense of achievement. 🙂

Two large tasks you might want to break down: observing 19 teachers are your school and marking 30 300-word essays

Tip number five: Not a huge thing. If a task is huge, you’re much more likely to find reasons to procrastinate and avoid starting it. By breaking them down, you can work out how to fit it into your busy timetable, and you will probably find it more manageable. Here are examples of two huge tasks with possible ways that they could be broken down or the workload could be spread. Consider delegating if you’re a manager, but make sure you don’t overload your staff too much. By breaking large tasks into smaller chunks, it’s also easier to find ways to fit them into the gaps mentioned before.

I am important too: flamenco dancer images and '50 ways to take a break' poster

Tip number six: I am important too. Don’t forget to take time for yourself. If you can choose your working hours, aim to keep them as regular as possible (for me it’s 09:30 to about 18:30) and make sure that there are times when you are not available, with your phone switched off if possible. For example, Thursday evenings are my flamenco classes, so I try to avoid scheduling things for that time and staff know that. Make these times sacred so you have time to recharge your batteries.

I have a programme called TimeOut (Mac – I don’t know the Windows equivalent) to remind me to take little breaks to stand up and stretch from the computer. I try to go outside as much as possible, for example, by taking my laptop outside if I really need to complete a project and it’s warm enough, walking to work and paying conscious attention to the parks and people I see. Having the ’50 ways to take a break’ poster on my desktop helps me to think of different things to do, or I can just do a bit of housework, like the washing up. I can also work towards the personal goals I have each day, as described below.

I also try to factor in time for spending time with family and friends, having times in my diary with nothing specific scheduled so I can do what I feel like that day (though these are rare!) and having a holiday to look forward to whenever I can.

Pictures representing the six personal goals I have

Tip number seven: Start small. Don’t try and add every new habit you want to do at the same time, especially in your personal life. Add one new thing, make it a habit, then add the next thing if you can manage it. Too many things at once will probably overwhelm you, and you’ll end up not doing anything.

I started by using a pedometer to aim for 10,000 steps a day because I realised I wasn’t doing enough exercise – at one point during Delta I was doing as little as 1,500 steps a day. When this worked, I realised I was more likely to do my physio exercises if I wrote it down every day. When I was frustrated with my language learning, I started to add Russian practice, and saw a massive increase in my progress. I follow a lot of blogs and started to feel overwhelmed by the amount of blogposts in my reader, so I broke it down and aimed to read three to five posts each day. Now I rarely feel overwhelmed, and blitz it whenever I can. Despite being an ELTpics curator, I wasn’t uploading many ELTpics, so I added that. The final thing I put on there was cross stitch when I had projects to complete. Uploading just one ELTpic or doing just one strand a day of cross stitch is enough to get me my tick, and more is a bonus. I’d really like to learn to play the recorder that’s been sitting on my shelf for about two years now, but I think that’s one habit too many so I haven’t added that. I’m aiming for a sense of achievement, not depression!

A frog kneeling down and holding a bunch of flowers

Tip number eight: Experiment. These are my techniques, but they might not work for you. Keep trying different things until you find something which does. As Nick Tims said at the IATEFL MaWSIG pre-conference event last year, you may have to kiss a few frogs. These techniques have taken me at least five years of development. I started with scraps of paper with to-do lists on them, and these tips are the evolution of that.

ORGANISE stands for Outsource your memory, Refresh every week, Gaps, Achievements, Not a big thing, I am important too, Start small, Experiment

In summary, if you ORGANISE your time using some or all of the eight techniques listed above, you will hopefully be much less likely to need a time turner! I hope you find these techniques useful, and if you have any others, why not share them in the comments below?

Finally, thank you to LAM SIG (Leadership and Management Special Interest Group), who chose to feature my presentation as part of their day.

Sandy doing her time management presentation

Photo by Monika Izbaner/Hanna Zieba

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: The ones I missed

For various reasons, not least the sheer size of the conference, there were various talks I missed during IATEFL. Thanks to the power of the internet, I’ve managed to catch up with some of them through tweets, videos and/or blogposts. Here’s a selection of them:

The ear of the beholder: helping learners understand different accents – Laura Patsko

Laura’s talk was on at the same time as mine so I wasn’t able to watch it. I know it started with her ‘having a cold’ to demonstrate how we can make meaning evefn when the sounds we hear don’t correspond with our expectations, and I’m intrigued to hear more about her suggestions. She’s shared her presentation, and hopefully there will be a video of at least some of it soon!

Here’s one of her tweets from another point in the conference:

Fostering autonomy: harnassing the outside world from within the classroom – Lizzie Pinard

Lizzie‘s talk was also in the same slot as mine and Laura’s – so many possible times and they put us all on in the same one! Lizzie has written a lot about autonomy on her blog, and demonstrated it with her own Italian learning. The aspect of learner training is key when trying to encourage autonomy, and is one I’m sure Lizzie’s presentation would have helped me with. Thankfully, she’s blogged about it as has Olga Sergeeva, but it’s not quite the same as hearing it first-hand. I’m hoping the gods of IATEFL shine on all three of us next year and put us on at separate times!

Where are the women in ELT? – Russell Mayne and Nicola Prentis

As with last year, the talk which Russ was involved in is one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. Nicola and Russ picked a subject which is another very important discussion point, after Russ tackled the myths of EFL in 2014. [Original text (see comments for why I’ve kept this) As with last year, Russ’s talk is the one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. He has a way of picking subjects which are very good discussion points, and this year he was ably assisted by Nicola Prentis.] Their talk immediately followed my own and was in a tiny room, so I knew it was wishful thinking to believe I might get in, but I tried anyway. A whole group of us were waiting outside, disappointed. Last year Russ’s talk was officially recorded (content is currently being updated on the IATEFL 2014 site), and Russ and Nicola have recorded their own version this year – thank you! This area is one of particular interest to me, being a woman and in ELT as I am. 🙂 Through the Fair List, I’d become aware of the fact that plenary speakers at conferences are often men speaking to a room full of women, which seems odd. As I understand it, Russ and Nicola were questioning the fact that men feature dispropotionately at the ‘top’ of the ELT profession, despite it being a female-dominated one in general.

They did an interview about it which you can watch as a taster:

Here are two of the blog posts which were triggered by their talk, both of which have fascinating discussions in the comments which are well worth reading:

  • He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy! Steve Brown highlights the amount of time that the ‘big’ names highlighted in Russ and Nicola’s talk have been at the top (something which they mentioned in their interview too)
  • P is for Power: Scott Thornbury questions the balance of power in the ELT profession, not just in terms of gender, but also covering native/non-native speakers and the socio-economic circumstances that teaching takes place in.

Russ and Nicola have also set up their own website to examine gender equality in ELT, with a lot more information about their research. At other points in the conference there were tweets about increasing the number of non-native speakers visible at conferences and in the global community.

Walk before you run: reading strategies for Arabic learners – Emina Tuzovic

I saw Emina speaking about helping Arabic students with spelling at IATEFL last year, and she subsequently very kindly wrote a guest post summarising her talk for this blog. I’m hoping to encourage her to do the same again this year, as her ideas are very practical and deal with areas which there isn’t much coverage of in the literature I’ve read.

People, pronunciation and play – Luke Meddings

Luke shared a couple of his ideas in an interview:

I really like Luke’s focus on playing with language, which is something I’ve become more and more interested in.

Olga Sergeeva went to Luke’s talk and wrote a summary of the whole thing, although she admitted it was difficult because they were laughing too much!

Tools, tips and tasks for developing materials writing skills – John Hughes

John has shared his slides, which gives me a taster of the tips he has for developing these skills. I think the most important idea is to ‘develop a materials radar’, which echoes what Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones talked about in their presentation on using images at the MAWSIG PCE.

Technology

Mike Harrison talked about using Vine to make short videos, and Shaun Wilden and Nikki Fortova looked at apps on the iPad to do the same.
Here’s an idea from Nicky Hockley to use a mobile phone to practise past continuous:

If you’re considering whether to use technology in your class or not, this handout could be useful:

Random tweets

These are things which I retweeted because they made me think. I’m sharing them here to make sure I don’t forget those thoughts and to see what you think. They’re loosely grouped into topics where possible.

Student abilities
Memory and engagement

These link back to Joy Egbert’s plenary.

Materials design and the importance of editors

An opportunity for anyone wanting to get into materials design?

This looks amazing!

…and on Twitter!

And if you decide to self-publish:

Research

Patsy’s accompanying blogpost is available on the OUP blog.

Empowering teachers

Yes, yes, yes to all of these!

Training and professional development
Management

(Hoping the rate of sickness at IH Bydgoszcz doesn’t go up when I take over as DoS!) 😉

About language
Pronunciation
Dyslexia
Miscellaneous

Other people’s blogging

Lots of people were blogging throughout the conference. You can find a full list of all of the IATEFL Manchester registered bloggers on the ManchesterOnline site.

IATEFL Manchester Online 2015 registered blogger

As always, Lizzie Pinard was very prolific, and has helpfully indexed all of her posts. Apart from the plenaries, I only went to one of the same talks, so there’s a lot to catch up on! Olya Sergeeva also has an index of the posts she wrote about the sessions she went to, including some which I’ve linked to above. Tyson Seburn wrote about his bite-sized takeaways from the conference. Jen McDonald summarised the talks she saw in short paragraphs. The British Council had a number of roving reporters at the conference, one of whom was David Dodgson.

IATEFL online

Apart from the many sources I’ve mentioned above, there is, of course, the wonderful resources that is IATEFL online, full of interviews and recorded sessions, at least some of which I hope to find the time to watch at some point in the future. Are there any you would particularly recommend?

Two books about professional development

When I was at IATEFL I decided to use some of my birthday money to buy a couple of books in the sales on the final day. Because of my current role as a CELTA tutor and my move into management as a Director of Studies, I’ve been thinking a lot about professional development recently. I thought it would be a good investment to read some of the literature about it and get a few more ideas about how to help the teachers I work with to continue their development. Here are brief reviews of the two books I bought. Clicking on their titles will take you to Amazon, and I’ll get a few pennies if you decide to buy them via these links.

The Developing Teacher – Duncan Foord

The Developing Teacher cover

Books in the Delta Teacher Development Series (DTDS) are always easy to read and full of great ideas, and this one was no exception. I saw Duncan speak at IATEFL 2012 and as well as being a good communicator, I got the impression he must be a very good person to work for because he seemed to really care about the people he managed. That care comes across in this book.

Each DTDS book is divided into:

  • Section A: a look at the current theory underlying the area being discussed;
  • Section B: practical ideas to try out;
  • Section C: further areas to explore.

In this case, section B was further divided into five areas of investigation or ‘circles’, moving out from the teacher and gradually involving more and more participants:

  • You
  • You and your students
  • You and your colleagues
  • You and your school
  • You and your profession

(I don’t have my copy in front of me, so I hope I’ve remembered those correctly!) Each circle starts with a checklist of possible tasks, where the reader is encouraged to identify what they have already done and what they would like to try. This is then followed by a variety of different activities, broken down into the aim, the reason for doing them, and the steps needed to achieve them.

Section C focused on longer term projects, such as how to set up action research. The projects could draw on some of the activities from section B, or be completely independent of them.

Overall, I felt the book would be particularly good for less experienced teachers or for those looking for inspiration to put together a professional development programme, and less so for more experienced teachers. Through the schools I’d worked at and the online development I’ve done, I’d tried most of the ideas already. There are still some I’d like to experiment with, though I can’t recall any specific ones now a few days after I finished it. It will be a useful book to refer back to when I want to try something a bit more unusual for my development.

Professional Development for Language Teachers: Strategies for Teacher Learning – Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell

Professional development for language teachers cover

This is the first book I’ve read from the Cambridge Language Education series, which Jack C. Richards is also the series editor for. It was easier to read than I expected – even though this has been the case with most of the methodology books I’ve read, I’m still pleasantly surprised when they are written in such an accessible way.

It is divided into 12 chapters (again, no copy here so do correct me if I’m wrong!), plus a brief introduction explaining how to use the book. Each chapter focuses on one particular approach to professional development, including:

  • Observations
  • Teacher journals
  • Critical incidents
  • Case studies
  • Action research

In each case, a definition is given and the benefits and potential drawbacks of engaging in this kind of development are examined. This is followed by a step-by-step guide to how to approach it. Throughout every chapter there are vignettes to show real-world examples of how they were used by teachers around the world.

I had only heard about the concept of peer coaching from Ela Wassell in the last year, but this book had a different definition of it, seeming to express it as something closer to a form of delegation of training. Critical incidents was a term I’d heard, but didn’t really understand before reading this, and case studies were completely new to me. The information about action research and teacher journals complements Foord’s book, and taking the two together would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to try either of these for their development.

One frustrating thing for me was the lack of a contents page or index, so you have to flick through the book if you want to find a particular section again. The depth of the book was useful to me as an experienced teacher, as was the way that the chapters and ideas fed into each other. For example, critical incidents were suggested as possible fuel for a teacher journal. However, I feel this depth and difficulty of navigation might be off-putting to newer teachers, and they may feel overwhelmed. For them, the suggestions in the book may need to be mediated or introduced chapter by chapter rather than being read in one go as I did.

Having said that, it has given me a lot of ideas for possible professional development sessions over the next couple of years – I just hope I can remember some of them!

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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