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

Posts tagged ‘mental health’

Life after CELTA (CETA Symposium)

The Cambridge English Teaching Awards (CETA) Symposium is another event which I would never have been able to attend face-to-face because of the timing and the location, but now it’s online I can go – yay! It’s aimed at trainers of Cambridge certificates: CELTA, Delta, CELT-P, CELT-S and TKT, though a lot of the content is relevant for all teacher trainers.

I talked about Life after CELTA. This was the abstract:

Even a Pass A CELTA graduate ‘will benefit from further support in post’. What might this support look like? What are the main areas that CELTA graduates continue to need help with? What can trainers do during the CELTA course to lay the groundwork? I hope to answer all of these questions in this session.

Here are my slides:

Here’s the recording:

Key areas for new teachers

When I employ an early career teacher, I know we’ll probably need to work on five key areas:

  • Time management
  • Teacher confidence/presence
  • Community membership
  • Reflective practice
  • Effective modelling

These are areas which many new teachers struggle with and need particular support in. I’ll look at each area below, with ideas for how CELTA trainers can develop these skills as much as possible during the course. Many of these things are already incorporated in courses, but it’s worth being reminded of their importance, so apologies if I’m preaching to the converted!

ELT Playbook

For each area, I’ve suggested a task from an ELT Playbook which could be used with trainees or as a trainer. These are the current Smashwords discount codes, valid until 5th October 2020 [affiliate links]:

ELT Playbook 1 (for new teachers): TB33T

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher TrainingNH97T

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

You can find out more about both books, along with how to buy them, on the ELT Playbook website.

Time management

Materials preparation time: This is probably the biggest time sink for new teachers. This might be created a huge PowerPoint presentation, cutting up loads of bits of paper, or going down a rabbit hole to find the perfect image/video/text etc. I generally recommend that trainees do materials prep last, once they have a completed plan, with all of the documentation. I also try to show them how to teach lessons without PowerPoint, and challenge them to do at least one lesson like this during a course, especially if they’re a stronger trainee. Weaker trainees can aim for one or two activities per lesson without PowerPoint.

Simplify lessons: I recommend a maximum of one or two all-singing, all-dancing activities per 60 minutes. If trainees come to me with a plan with more than this, I’ll advise them to get rid of one or two, even if they can justify why it would be a great activity and incredibly useful for their students. Once I’ve told them this a few times, they start to listen!

Time-saving tips: Encourage screenshots/taking photos rather than retyping the whole exercise, even if it might look prettier! Show trainees hacks for the paper-based classroom, like putting a coloured dot on the back of each set of handouts.

Technology: Introduce multi-functional tools like Quizlet, which can also be used for printing flashcards in a face-to-face classroom. Show trainees how to find and copy existing sets, not start from scratch every time, and encourage them to save sets with the book name, edition, unit number and page number in the title so they’re easy for other teachers to find (like this). Create templates for documents on Word/PowerPoint which are reusable and easy to complete – show trainees/new teachers how to do this too if possible.

Exploiting activities: Emphasise as much as possible how to exploit single activities in multiple ways, rather than introducing new activities all the time. Demonstrate this during input sessions. You can also use One activity, multiple tasks from ELT Playbook 1 .

Teacher confidence/presence

Lesson planning: I strongly believe that trainers should intervene as soon as possible if planning documentation is not up-to-scratch and be explicit about what will help trainees in lessons. There’s normally somebody else in the TP group who’s understood how to write a useful lesson plan, so I normally ask their permission to share the plan with the person who’s struggling. This is better than a generic lesson plan as the trainee knows how the lesson went, and can see how having a solid plan helped the lesson to be more successful. As a trainer, we should also provide clear feedback on the plan, with one or two specific areas to focus on each TP to improve the plan, not the just the lessons. Generally, a strong plan = a successful lesson = teacher confidence. There’s plenty of time for teachers to move towards less detailed planning later, once they’ve got the basics under their belt.

Rehearsal opportunities: Encourage trainees/teachers to rehearse things they’re nervous about, preferably with their TP colleagues, but with you if nobody else is available. This is particularly true for complicated instructions – make sure the lesson isn’t the first time the trainee/teacher has ever tried to say those instructions out loud.

Lesson plan as film script: Emphasise the importance of trainees/teachers knowing exactly what they want from the students during the lesson. Imagine it’s a film script, where everyone needs to know where to stand, what to hold, what to do at each point in the lesson. This can help trainees to add more depth to their lessons, though sometimes it can go too far! If it does, remind them that improvisation is an important part of great film-making too – there needs to be space for the actors/students to breathe too; it can’t all be about the director/teacher. This can help them to understand the idea of handing over to the students more too.

Wait time: Give trainees/teachers tricks to increase the amount of time they wait after asking questions, for example counting ‘1000, 2000, 3000’ or putting a post-it on their computer saying ‘Wait!’ The pauses add natural breaks into the lesson, allow everyone to think a little, and can reduce anxiety. They also mean students are more likely to give answers of some kind, and maybe even successful ones 😉 All of this can increase teacher confidence, and help them feel more in control of the lesson with better teacher presence.

Provide necessary support: Don’t leave trainees/teachers to flounder or spend hours trying to figure things out themselves. This is particularly true of teaching grammar: show trainees/teachers how to do this the first time out. This will add to their toolbox, and give both teachers and students a better experience. A lot of our in-house training at IH Bydgoszcz connected to lessons is about supporting teachers to feel confident in grammar lessons. One useful tip is for teachers/trainees to do the exercises themselves as part of their lesson planning, and make sure they know WHY the answers are correct, not just what. Modelling this kind of scaffolding is useful for teachers to see how to help students too.

Self-talk: There’s a free bonus activity connected to ELT Playbook 1  looking at self-talk and teacher confidence. Download it here.

Community membership

Give guidance: Show trainees how to participate in communities within their course, for example by creating Whatsapp groups for everyone on the course, their TP group, and their 3 TP colleagues. Point out chances to use these communities e.g. it’s a good idea to discuss this part of the lesson…you could vent about this…

You are not alone: Remind them that there’s always somebody they can call on, both during and after the course. Emphasise how to work together during TP prep, and tell them never to spend more than 10 minutes trying to figure something out – after that they should ask for help. ‘The people around us’ in ELT Playbook 1  can help teachers/trainees to realise who can help them with what.

Wider communities: Show trainees communities they can join during or after their course e.g. the facebook CELTA or Teaching English British Council pages, #ELTchat on Twitter, or alumni communities for your organisation.

Reflective practice

Use metaphors: This can help with managing expectations and stress. My favourite metaphor for this is about learning to play the piano/tennis.

Exemplify reflection: As a trainer, be human! Own your mistakes and tell trainees how you have learnt/will learn from them. Show them that it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong. Also highlight areas you’re particularly proud of, especially if you were experimenting with something new. Be excited 🙂

Strength spotting: I learnt about this from Sarah Mercer, and there’s a specific task connected to it in ELT Playbook 1.  Encourage trainees/teachers to learn from the strengths of others. Really emphasise this by making TP peer feedback focussed on strengths as much as possible and then telling them how other trainees can do the same thing. In your spoken feedback, highlight one thing each trainee did that you want the others to do in future TPs.

Specific feedback: Give specific feedback, including comments were possible, not just generic comments. For example: ‘Good drilling’ becomes ‘You used a consistent model with a natural stress pattern.’ This shows trainees/teachers what behaviour to repeat, in the same way that our (normally much more specific!) negative feedback shows them what behaviour to avoid/modify in future. Model this, but also encourage trainees to avoid the word ‘good’ in their own feedback to each other. Thanks to Kate Protsenko for highlighting this to me, and inspiring the task ‘What is ‘good’?’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Training.

Effective model

Practise what you preach: Teachers should model effective language learning behaviour to their students, trainers should model effective teaching to their trainees. 😉 I think most of us do this already, but it’s still worth reflecting on what you do and don’t model to your trainees. Follow through on your advice in your own demo lessons and input sessions: vary activities, give concise instructions, don’t use too many ICQs, start/finish on time…sometimes easier said than done! The task ‘Practising what you preach’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Training could help with this.

Be human: Model compassion towards yourself, model taking care of yourself during courses, highlight when you need help or when you’ve found support somewhere (in a book, on a site, from another person). I’ve already mentioned owning your mistakes. Don’t try to be a computer, or to be perfect. We need to model this so that new teachers don’t feel that they need to be perfect either. Perfectionism is boring.

What’s not here?

The surface things:

  • TTT
  • ICQs
  • CCQs
  • pairwork
  • feedback techniques, etc.

These are generally considered to be the stuff of CELTA, but I think they’re less important than any of the five deeper areas above. Those deeper areas are universal: any teacher needs them, in any context, online or offline, wherever they are in the world. The surface things are all useful techniques to be aware of, but they’re context-dependent. A confident, reflective, practitioner who can learn from their community, manage their time well, and understand the power of modelling will learn how to do all of these bitty things sooner or later. Remove any of those five areas and the chances are much slimmer.

Do you agree? Are these areas you work on? What would you do to support new teachers with these or other areas during an initial teacher training course?

Metaphors to help new teachers

As teachers, we care about our students. We want to do the best for them. This is important and admirable, but it can also create a lot of pressure, especially for new teachers.

GB v Turkey table tennis

When we first pick up a tennis racquet, we don’t expect to be able to win an Olympic medal.

When we first sit down at a piano and put our fingers to the keys, we don’t expect to be able to play Chopin.

But when we first walk into a classroom, we expect to be able to teach perfect lessons.

Just like playing a musical instrument or a sport, teaching is a skill which takes time to develop. Don’t expect to win a medal or play Chopin without practice, and don’t expect to teach perfect lessons.

Perfect lessons don’t exist. That’s why I still love this job – because there’s always something new to learn.

Three panel cartoon: the first shows a person surrounded by speech bubbles, all but one positive. 2. Person eating, all positive comments a little faded out, negative comment still clear. 3. Negative comment clear, all others almost completely faded out. Person in bed.

When our students make a mistake with their English, especially if they’re beginners, we don’t tell them they’re bad students and shouldn’t be in the classroom. We don’t point out all of the problems with their language. Instead we choose one or two areas and give them feedback to help them develop. We also praise their strengths and build their confidence in their abilities.

When we make a mistake as a teacher, especially a new teacher, we often tell ourselves that we’re bad teachers and have no place in the classroom. We dwell on the problems with our lessons. We beat ourselves up about what went wrong. We forget to notice the things that went well and what we’ve improved, which probably far outweigh any problems there were.

This is not fair to us or our students.

Bydgoszcz warehouses

Learning a language is like building a house. We need to lay the foundations and build it up brick by brick. If we build it too quickly or without having proper foundations, the house will fall down. And although we can build it alone, it’s much faster when we get help from other people who are supportive and can share their experience. 

Learning to teach is the same. Let yourself be a beginner. Notice your strengths and be proud of your progress. Notice where you need to put the next brick. Give yourself time to build the foundations, and ask for help whenever you need it.

Make the most of your old computer

ELTpics image by @mscro1

When you’re using the internet, if you’re trying to download a big file it slows everything down. If you have too many things open, it can crash. There isn’t enough bandwidth.

We all have a finite amount of attention, which I call mental bandwidth. When we’re teaching, we need to pay attention to a lot of things: what’s next in our plan, how to make the technology do what we want it to do, how to answer the question a student just asked us, the fact that we forgot to have a snack before the lesson and are starving…and how stressed and overwhelmed we’re feeling right now.

As we build up experience, some of these things become automatic. We know how to set up the next activity, we’re confident with the technology and have a back-up plan if it doesn’t work, we’ve heard that question five times before and don’t need to think about the answer, we remembered to have a snack…and we’re so much calmer and less stressed in general now. We no longer have to think about these things, releasing mental bandwidth for us to pay attention to other areas, and particularly to be fully present in the classroom and pay attention to the students. This doesn’t happen on day one. It takes time.

Clocks photo mosaic

Give yourself that time.

Embrace the learning.

Enjoy it.

Be kind to yourself.

Good luck.

(And if you need help, here’s a similar CELTA-specific post, here’s a guest post by a CELTA trainee who initially struggled with confidence on the course, here’s a list of useful links for CELTA, here’s a short presentation about building confidence as a teacher, and here’s a short task to help you think about what you say to yourself about your teaching.)

A blogpost of blogposts

I use Feedly as a blog reader to collate posts from the blogs I follow. I love the simplicity of the format, and being able to see at a glance what is waiting for me to read. I generally look at it for a few minutes each day, sharing posts that I think would be useful for others on social media and bookmarking them for future reference using Diigo.

Since I started reading posts on my phone this workflow has become a little more convoluted, and I often end up emailing myself things to bookmark for later as it’s not as convenient to bookmark from my phone. This post is a collection of many of those posts as I clear out my email folder, and could serve as a good starting point if you’re looking for blogs to follow. They show a cross-section of what I read, and demonstrate just how varied the ELT blogosphere is.

On a side note, if you’ve considering starting a blog but think ‘Nobody will care what I write’, remember that there’s room for all kinds of teachers and writers, and your voice is interesting too. You never know what will click for somebody else when they read what you write. The blog is also there as notes for yourself later – I’m often surprised when I come across posts from my archive!

Happy reading!

A robot lying on a lilo, with text below

Health and wellbeing

Lizzie Pinard summarised an IATEFL webinar on Mental health, resilience and COVID-19, adding her own experiences too. Lizzie also recommends Rachael Robert’s webinar on avoiding burnout for ELT professionals, and shares how she has been managing her workspace and mindset while working from home. I’ve been doing inbox zero for about two months now, as recommended by Rachael in a talk I went to in January, and it’s made me feel so much better!

If mental health is important to you (and it should be!) here’s my list of Useful links on Mental Health in ELT.

Activities for very young learners and young learners

Chris Roland’s ETprofessional article on Managing online fun is full of activities and classroom management tips for working with young learners online.

Anka Zapart talks about the benefits of online classes with very young learners, many of which are applicable to young learners too. She shares a useful site with online games with VYLs and YLs, and introduced me to colourful semantics as way of extending language production for children. She also has a very clear framework for choosing craft activities which would and wouldn’t work for a VYL/YL classroom, and this example of a very reusable caterpillar craft.

Pete Clements has a lesson plan for young learners (and older ones too!) which combines all kinds of different areas: environmental awareness, drawing, used to, modals of advice…all based on a single student-generated set of materials.

Activities for teens and adults

Making excuses is a game to practice making requests and making excuses, including both online and offline variations, from Mike Astbury’s incredibly practical blog.

Jade Blue talks about the benefits of drawing to learn language, including a range of simple activities that should help students to remember vocabulary and grammar structures, and process texts they read and listen to. She also shares ideas for exploiting authentic materials, both for intensive and extensive use.

Ken Wilson has started to post English language teaching songs he and colleagues wrote and recorded in the 70s and 80s. They still seem very relevant now and could still promote a lot of discussion. The first three are What would you do? (second conditional), It makes me mad (environmental problems) and Looking forward to the day (phrasal verbs / the environment).

Rachel Tsateri shares 10 simple and practical pronunciation activities (useful for listening too).

Leo Selivan has a lesson plan based on the Coldplay and Chainsmokers song Something just like this. David Petrie using sound effects as the basis for a review of narrative tenses.

Julie Moore has written ten posts with vocabulary activities based around coronavocab. The last one has examples of phrases which learners might need to describe how coronavirus has changed their lives.

James Taylor has a lesson plan about helping students to set useful goals for their language learning. If you’re interested in making and breaking habits, you might like James Egerton’s 11 lessons from The Power of Habit (not an activity, but relevant!)

Alex Case has hundreds of resources on his blog, for example these ones demonstrating small talk using specific language points.

Hana Ticha has an activity for promoting positive group dynamics called the one who.

Cristina Cabal has eight different activities based around the topic of travel.

Online teaching

Marc Jones suggests ideas for and asks for help with speaking assessments online when your students just won’t speak.

Matthew Noble is writing a teaching diary of his fully online blended Moodle/Zoom courses, with lots of interesting insights and learning shared. Here’s the post from week two (on building group dynamics) and week five (on making sure your computer will work properly and encouraging students to have good online etiquette).

Rachel Tsateri shows how to exploit Google Jamboard as an online whiteboard, including vocabulary revision, brainstorming, and sentence structure activities.

Naomi Epstein describes the journey she went on when trying to add glossaries to reading texts for her students, and the problems she encountered when she was on a computer but they were on a phone.

John Hughes shares three ways you can exploit Zoom’s recording feature in lessons.

Teacher training

Zhenya Polosatova has been sharing a series of trainer conversations. This interview with Rasha Halat was fascinating. I also liked this parachute metaphor from a conversation with Ron Bradley.

In my trainings I like to use the example of the students taking a class on how to fold a parachute that will be used the next day to jump out of an airplane. The students tell me “It was a wonderful class—the teacher explained and showed how to fold the chute step by step. Then the camera moves to the students and they are taking notes—very engaged in the lecture. They all pass the written test. The question is, will they now be able to successfully fold their parachutes in a way that they will have a successful jump? What would you suggest that the teacher did differently? I have always loved Michael Jerald’s (my SIT TESOL Cert trainer) question(s), “What did they learn and how do you know they learned it?” Now we are talking about skills, not knowledge—and effective communication is a skill. The parachute teacher had no way of knowing that they would be successful, even though they had aced the written test. So, whether or not face-to-face or by way of video, the nature of student engagement is the most important issue. It needs to be observed!

Zhenya also wrote about a reflective activity called Four suitcases, which could be particularly useful for anyone feeling down about the current state of the world and their place in it.

Jim Fuller has recently completed the Cambridge Train the Trainer course. His weekly posts about the course were good reminders of what I did on my NILE MA Trainer Development course last summer, including this one on exploratory talk and observation and this one on course design and developing as a trainer.

You might also want to explore my Useful links for teacher training and consider purchasing ELT Playbook Teacher Training. 🙂

Materials writing

Pete Clements offers advice on finding work as a writer, including various smaller publishers you probably haven’t heard of.

Julie Moore talks about reviewing in ELT publishing, something which helped me get my foot in the door for occasional work with some of the big publishers.

Distractions can make the writing process much longer than it needs to be. Rachael Roberts offers tips on how to deal with them on the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MAWSIG) blog.

John Hughes has a comprehensive selection of tips on materials writing on his blog, for example this checklist for writing worksheets or these tips on writing scripts for audio recordings. Explore the blog for lots more.

Professional development

Chris R from What they don’t teach you on the CELTA suggests a range of techniques to help you teach more student-centred lessons. Stephen J has written an accessible beginner’s guide to task-based learning and describes one way he worked with learners to make the most of a coursebook he was using, rather than mechanically moving from one page to the next. Charlie E shares ideas for recording and recycling emergent language which pops up during a lesson, including an online variant.

In a guest post on the same blog, Kip Webster talks about the importance of explicitly teaching directness and indirectness, particularly for maintaining group dynamics, and taking advantage of ‘teachable moments’ during lessons. In another guest post, Miranda Crowhurst shares an excellent range of tips for using social media to advance your teaching career. (As you can see, it’s a blog well worth following!)

If you’re thinking about alternative approaches to lesson planning post-CELTA, Pete Clements talks about the steps he went through when moving towards materials-light teaching. This reflects my experience too.

Monika Bigaj-Kisala reviews Scott Thornbury’s Uncovering Grammar, which helped her to change her relationship with grammar in the classroom.

Pete Clements reflects on the differences between an MA, PGCEi or DipTESOL, all of which he’s done. He also hosted a guest post from Michael Walker on the benefits of student and teacher reflection journals, particularly how it worked as an avenue for him to get regular feedback from his students which influenced future lessons.

Russ Mayne shares 5 non-evidence-based teaching tips, all of which I agree with.

Helen Chapman answers the questions Should I teach in English in Morocco? in this very comprehensive post (not necessarily professional development, but doesn’t fit anywhere else!) You might also be interested in a similar but less comprehensive post I wrote about why Central Europe should be on your list of dream TEFL destinations.

Questioning our practice

Philip Kerr’s posts are always thought-provoking. Mindfulness for beginners questions the strength of research behind the attention mindfulness is now receiving in education.

Russ Mayne asks should we use translation software, especially questioning its role in EAP contexts, and how we might need to update our teaching and assessment criteria to assess the inevitable student use of this ever-improving tool. He also writes about retraction in ELT and shares examples of research which has been retracted. (This BBC Inside Science episode has an interview with Stuart Ritchie which I would also recommend.)

Classrooms and coronavirus

David Petrie talks about how he helped his exam students prepare for doing speaking exams in masks.

Alex Case shares ideas for coronavirus changes for EFL classes. While this might be tongue-in-cheek, I’m sure some of them aren’t that far from things we might be seeing in our classrooms/schools over the next couple of years!

You might also be interested in my post on social distancing in the ELT classroom.

What have you been reading recently? What currently active blogs have I missed here?

ExcitELT 2020

One of the positives of the situation in the last 3 months is the fact that many events are now held online and are therefore accessible to people from a wider range of locations. This was the case for the ExcitELT conference, held online on Sunday 14th of June 2020. I joined around 40-50 other teachers from all over the world to talk about overturning norms in ELT. As the conference was based in the Japan time zone it meant 7 a.m. start for me, but it was well worth getting up for!

The format of the conference is worth mentioning as I think this was one of its great strengths. Each one hour block was broken into three sections. First we had a short presentation from one or two people interested in that area. Then we went into break out rooms on Zoom in small groups of three to six people. We had access to a Google Doc containing questions to help us talk about the topic. We made notes in the document during or discussions and the final few minutes of the block involved a summary of interesting points which came up. This format works really well as it allowed us to dive into a topic in more depth and share our experiences of it. I feel like this led to a richer conference experience and I hope more conferences are run like this in the future.

(Note: you might also be interested in reading Zhenya Polosatova’s much more concise and pro-active reflections on the event!)

Overturning norms around teacher conformity – Anna Loseva

This was the first of two topics from the conference which I had never considered before. Anna invited us to think about which areas teaching involve conformity. Examples might be the feeling that we need to get particular qualifications to progress in the career, the pressure to conform to student expectations like playing lots of games, or perceived market pressures such as the perception that students only want teachers who grew up speaking English.

Anna started to think about teacher conformity when she was looking for a job in Vietnam. A lot of people advised her to get CELTA to make the job hunting process easier, including me. Anna decided that if she did this and got a job it would validate the system which says that CELTA is worth more than a teaching degree and the many years of experience which she already had, though she also acknowledged the usefulness and worth of a CELTA course. She managed to get jobs and has proved to herself and others that it is possible to work in a foreign country teaching English without getting a CELTA first. This prompted her to ask when conformity is and is not useful, which was the topic of our group discussions.

How can conformity be helpful?

  • It helps us to learn new things from people around us as we trying to fit in. This is especially true for new teachers fitting into the profession.
  • Our group discussed the need to know what the rules are or might be before you feel comfortable breaking them.
  • If we conform to a particular set of requirements, for example how a course works within a school, it can make it easier to support each other. We have a common point of reference for discussions and a kind of shared language.
  • Having restrictions can push our creativity.
  • It helps us to learn the culture of the system, for example how a local education system works.
  • It helps us to know when we have met expectations.
  • It allows us to set standards, and develop and evaluate ourselves and others against those standards.

How can conformity be detrimental?

  • It can lead to burnout, frustration and disappointment.
  • Students and teachers can end up losing motivation.
  • Students don’t necessarily know what is best for their education, so if we conform to their requests or expectations all the time it might be detrimental to their education.
  • When people conform without questioning it can lead to keeping guidelines which we no longer need.
  • The rules which we conform to might be outdated or inhibit creativity. They can limit autonomy and differentiation.
  • We might end up doing things which we do not understand the reason for or the point of.
  • Constructive disobedience can lead to progress and innovation. Making mistakes and trying something new are useful paths towards development.
  • We can forge our own path.

Thinking points

Anna left us with two questions to consider.

  • Do you see some of the accepted norms in our industry as questionable? Should they be questioned?
  • Is gaining approval important where are you? Is it a big part of ELT culture?

This session was a great way to start and really set the tone for the rest of the day.

Overturning norms related to teacher well-being – Tammy Gregersen

Tammy introduced us to the concept of positive psychology. She described the difference development based on strengths can make compared to development based on a concept of deficit and what’s missing. She introduced us to the work of Seligman, who says that if you use your ‘signature strengths’ you:

  • Have more ownership over development and feel more authentic
  • Have an intrinsic motivation to use your strengths
  • Have a more rapid learning curve
  • Feel invigoration, not exhaustion
  • Have a sense of inevitability with the feeling of ‘try and stop me’
  • Excited about displaying what you are good at
  • Feel creative and one stupid shoe projects revolving around your strengths
  • Engage in continuous learning
  • Own your strengths

(Apologies for any mistakes while paraphrasing – its from 2008 but I could find the original list!)

Tammy asked us to do a survey our strengths. We had to take the top five and find two of them which we had in common with another member of our group. We then had to consider two ways we could use our strengths in new or novel ways in the next 2 days.

Since I did the survey, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the top five things which came up from my list. I was very pleased with the points that it picked out because they are all things which I have consciously tried to develop in myself:

  1. Hope
  2. Curiosity
  3. Love of learning
  4. Gratitude
  5. Leadership

When discussing it with my friend later, we talked about how this type of survey could feel like an equivalent of a silly quiz in a magazine telling you what kind of person you are, but the fact that it keeps going round in my head means I think that this could be a very interesting avenue to explore. I’d be interested to know how similar or different the ranking of the 24 strengths on the list would look if I did the survey again in a few months or years. I also want to find out more about positive psychology and Seligman, starting with exploring his website Pursuit of Happiness in a lot more depth.

Overturning norms around ELT conferences – Shoko Kita, Tim Hampson, Peter Brereton

One of the reasons which I wanted to attend this conference was the fact that the ExcitELT team have been running interesting conference formats for the past few years. In this session they asked us to think about three main areas:

  • How to make conferences more diverse
  • How to narrow the gap between the presenter and the audience
  • How to make conference has more friendly and accessible, including more affordable

They started with this quote from Haruki Murakami:

'If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.'

The questions which we were given to consider are useful for anyone who wants to plan a different kind of conference I think. They were:

  • How can we address and balance all areas of diversity?
  • How do we reach a wider range of participants?
  • How do we follow up on new presenters?
  • What can we do differently to make parents more welcome and make sure we have an affordable family policy?
  • Can video or online sessions be used for people who are distant? How can video sessions be more interactive?
  • What are the time demands of social events organized alongside conferences? Does this affect who got to them?
  • How much time is optimal between sessions for discussion?
  • How can you overcome the problems of one-time workshops?

By organizing an online conference which included a lot of group discussions and responses to participants’ experiences, the ExcitELT team started to work towards answering some of the questions that they posed. I will be interested to see how new modes of training and conferences develop in the post-pandemic era.

Overturning norms around second language teacher education – Geoff Jordan

Geoff started his presentation by describing the current training norms in place for elt. He described the craft model of CELTA where you hone techniques to become a teacher and the applied science model of university degrees where you learn the theory and think about how to apply it to the classroom. Norms in in-service teacher education include observations, sponsored courses, seminars and conferences, and perhaps also visiting trainers.

Geoff says that these methods of training pay little attention to how people actually learn a second language and lead to inefficacious teaching as most teachers use a course book to implement a grammar-based synthetic syllabus.

He described a common norm now of training focusing on teacher cognitions, which requires teachers to understand and articulate their own beliefs, assumptions and knowledge (BAKs) about the subject matter and pedagogical practice. These BAKs explain the mismatch between what teaches are told and what they actually do, and between what teachers say they do and what they actually do.

Geoff would like us to change the norms of second language teacher education sorry that we concentrate on doing real, relevant things in the target language, not just talking about the target language. He would like our teacher education to support and sustain this model, recognizing that implicit learning is the default mechanism of second-language learning. Focusing on BAKs ignores the elephant in the room of the form of the syllabus and how it is delivered.

To make these changes Geoff wants us to push for reform of the CELTA, conferences, and in his words ‘globetrotting gurus’. He wants us to encourage locally organized second language teacher education, promoting teacher collaboration, local teacher organizations, and ensuring that local teachers can discuss local issues. Above all he says that the guiding principle of second language teacher education should be to promote efficacy.

Neoliberalism in ELT – Tim Hampson

Tim’s talk was a replacement for a presenter who couldn’t attend and I’m glad to have seen it because it was another idea which I had never considered before. Despite having listened to the BBC sociology podcast Thinking Allowed for many years I had never really understood the concept of neoliberalism, so I will start with one definition which Tim gave us which I think was very clear.

Neoliberalism believes that free markets and competition maximize human well-being.

Harvey (2005:21)

One of the key points of neoliberalism is the fact that it seems to be a pervasive ‘truth’. It’s difficult to imagine a world that is not neoliberal, and it just seems to be the way things are. Some of the ideas that this leads to can be questioned. For example there is an idea that when individuals make choices, the result of your choices is what you ‘deserve’, but my choices as a white British middle-class woman with a university education very different to those of poor black man in the deep south of America. Another idea is that competition drives progress, but we can ask what that competition is, what that progress is, and whether it is actually beneficial.

Linked to neoliberalism is the idea of cultural, linguistic, economic and social capital introduced by Pierre Bourdieu. For example by learning English you might gain linguistic capital which you can turn into economic capitals by getting a job, or social capital by using your accent to fit in or helping you to interact more smoothly which leads to social connections or a job. Examples of English being seen as cultural or linguistic capital include learning English to get into a university course as a basic requirement, even if the course doesn’t require you to use English. English is also used as part of a drive to internationalize universities. Some people have to get an English certificate to look good in the job even though they may never use English at work. There is also the thorny question of learners asking how they can sound more like a native speaker, as there is a perception that a native speaker accent could give you more capital. In a neoliberalist view of the world it might feel like everyone is trying to gain capital, as it is hard to see the world in a different way once you know about this theory. But are they really?

Tim pointed out that we might view learning English for social or linguistic Capital as being preferable to learning full economic capital, but often you have to be in a place of privilege to even have the choice of prioritizing social or cultural capital Iva linguistic capital. Learning a language to get a job is just as legitimate as learning it for social or cultural reasons.

In our discussions Tim asked us to consider what kinds of capital are present in ELT and how we think about them. As he said, this idea of capital is an interesting lens through which to consider our profession.

Overturning language ideology norms – Heath Rose

The final session of the day was led by Heath Rose, who writes a lot about global Englishes. He started by telling us about how we might teach English as an international language, based on proposals by Galloway and Rose (2015:203):

  1. Increase World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) exposure in the curriculum. This will reflect ‘the complex reality of how English is used worldwide’ (Saraceni, 2009).
  2. Emphasize respect for multilingualism.
  3. Raise awareness of global Englishes.
  4. Raise awareness of ELF strategies.
  5. Emphasize respect for diverse English-using cultures and communities.
  6. Change teacher hiring practices.

Heath suggested ideas such as using a listening journal to encourage students to listen to a wider range of English voices, or you think a presentation to ask them to research different types of English. He talked about getting students involved in discussions about Global Englishes, raising their awareness and helping them to consider the identities as multilingual language uses. Accommodation strategies which we could teach students include helping them to deal with speakers of greater or lower proficiency than themselves, dealing with speakers with different accents or cultural norms, and helping them to join different linguistic communities.

Some of the barriers we discussed were the lack of suitable materials, knowing how to assess language and the requirements of particular exams, teacher education and training, an attachment to ‘standard English’ by stakeholders such as parents, and teacher recruitment practices. In our group we focused a lot on the final points and on the fact that in some countries it is very difficult to challenge days due to circumstances beyond the school’s control, such as national visa policies. However we all agreed that it is very important to do what we can.

Overall thoughts

As I hope you can say from what was described here, this was a very different kind of conference and one which has given me a lot of food for thought. If you get the chance to attend, I would highly recommend it. Thank you to Shoko, Tim and Peter for organising it, and to all of the attendees who shared their ideas and experience.

IH AMT conference 2020

This year’s IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference happened in Greenwich from 9th-11th January 2020. As always, I enjoyed the conference and learnt a lot, which I’m looking forward to putting into practice as much as possible.

You can read about previous AMT conferences I’ve attended in 201420152016, 2019 (I’ve attended them all since 2014, but forgot to write about some of them!)

ih logo

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about at this year’s conference. (As always, any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own, not those of the speakers – please correct me if needed!)

Managing performance in ELT

Maureen McGarvey asked us to draw the organisational structure and consider the organisational culture of our schools. She emphasised that without knowing the structure and culture of our school and how teachers perceive them, we can’t effectively manage performance at our schools. We need to clearly articulate the culture of our school to teachers, as you bring the culture with you from previous places you’ve worked. This can be one source of frustration for managers, and may lead us to think staff are being pig-headed, when in fact they’re butting up against the culture of the school and their perceptions of it.

She surveyed staff about how they want to be managed, using 5 questions:

  • What do you expect/would you like your line manager to do for you in terms of support and development across the year?
  • How would you like your line manager to manage your performance across the year?
  • What systems does your LTO (language teaching organisation) have in place for managing performance, as far as you’re aware?
  • Do you think the systems you identified are adequate? Any amendments or changes you’d suggest?
  • How would you like your line manager to deal with performance issues should they arise?

This threw up lots of interesting responses, mostly connected to personal awareness. When we talk about change and CPD as managers, we tend to present it as data. But those who changes or development are being ‘done to’ perceive it through their anxieties and fears. We need to create personal connections with staff and follow up regularly, not just check in once or twice a year. The survey showed up various variants on the idea of “regular, brief, human conversations” and “personal, face-to-face” contact, including a key focus on positives. Performance management isn’t just about managing negative performance and dealing with problems, but also about helping good teachers get better.

IH update

Every year we hear about the exciting things happening across the network. This year I was particularly interested in new IH Online Teacher Training Courses, including a new series of modules for Academic Management. If you do 5 of them, you can get the IHWO Diploma in Academic Management.

Blocked by our expertise

Monica Green summarised a Harvard Business Review article called Don’t be blinded by your own expertise.

She reminded us that an interested beginner draws on every possible resource to learn, but that as we become experts in a particular area, we often stop doing this. We can also become poor listeners as we assume we already know things.

To stop being blinded by our expertise, we need to get a sense of wonder back into what we do: ‘I wonder how this works?’ We should also ask ‘What am I not asking you that I should?’ more often to keep in touch with those who are still beginners in our area, or who haven’t reached the same level of expertise that we have. This is just a taster: there are a lot more ideas in the HBR article, which I definitely recommend reading.

ELT footprint

Christopher Graham told us about the environmental impact of ELT, for example the number of students who study English in the UK every year and are therefore flying in and out of the country. Even EU-based students tend to fly, when they could potentially get the train.

He introduced us to the ELT footprint facebook group and website. There are lots of resources available to help you if you want to start reducing the environmental footprint of your school, or teach students about it. These include a charter for a greener school, advice on good practice for events and conferences and lesson plans you can use with students. They are always looking for people to share how they are greening ELT so do get in touch with them if they have ideas.

Listening skills and initial teacher training

Emma Gowing talked about how we can refocus the training of how to teach listening to make sure new teachers are really teaching listening, not just testing it. She suggested the following ideas:

  • Help teachers to write aims that focus on developing rather than practising listening skills.
  • Highlight that comprehension tasks are a diagnostic rather than a teaching tool, to help teachers find out what learners are having trouble with.
  • Avoid right/wrong answers in listening activities. Instead use activities that promote the negotiation of meaning.
  • Get trainee teachers to take notes to identify difficulties.
  • Show how to use the audioscript to isolate difficulties and identify whether the issue was meaning or hearing related (i.e. do they know the meaning of the word(s) but couldn’t identify it in the listening?)
  • Include a ‘listen again’ stage focussed on difficult parts, helping students to recognise why the listening was hard for them.
  • When teaching staging, reduce the importance of preparation stages (lead in/gist) in favour of more in-depth detailed/post-listening activities.
  • Use authentic materials, grading the task not the text, wherever possible.

She has summarised her ideas for teachers in this article for the IH Journal.

Fun at work

Lucie Cotterill’s talk was called The Fun Factor – Let’s Play Leadership. She shared ideas that they’ve used at IH Reggio Calabria to get more fun into the school, and shared the research behind why it’s important to have fun at work. It makes us more productive, improves mental wellbeing, and increases staff satisfaction.

My favourite idea was a Christmas gift they gave their staff. They created a Google form for all staff (including admin staff). Respondents had to share the first positive adjective they thought of for each staff member. One adjective was selected and sewn onto a pencil case with the teacher’s name. All of the other adjectives were put on a piece of paper inside the pencil case. Now the teachers have a reminder of how much they are valued by their colleagues, and they can see it all the time.

Better self evaluation

Manana Khvichia described how they’ve reorganised their CELTA to improve self evaluation and help their trainees to quickly become reflective practitioners. Their CELTA now only has one input session a day and much longer feedback sessions. Self evaluation forms are created personally for each teacher, with the trainer writing a series of questions during the observation. Trainees write their own thoughts first, then look at the trainer’s questions and respond to them. They can do this because they’ve seen models of the trainer’s self-evaluation after the demo lesson on the first day, analysed this together, and had a full session on how to reflect. Feedback sessions often turn into mini inputs based on what the trainees need at that point in the course.

This was the most thought-provoking session of the conference for me, and I’ve asked Manana to write about it for this blog, so watch this space!

What I’ve learnt about teaching training this year

My talk, which is the already a post on this blog.

Drop-in observations

Diana England described what they’ve done at IH Torres Vedras to make drop-in observations more effective for their teachers. She says that having regular drop-in observations makes them a positive thing, not just something that happens when there’s a problem. It also shows students that multiple people are involved in their progress, not just their teacher.

During induction week, the teachers discuss terminology related to drop-ins, and decide on their own definitions, for example of ‘rapport’, ‘classroom management’, etc. They complete a questionnaire to show their beliefs related to these areas. The drop-in observer completes the same questionnaire, with a space at the bottom for extra comments. Post-observation feedback involves comparing the responses to both versions of the questionnaire.

The questionnaire is made up of factual statements, such as ‘I can spot early finishers and ensure they are purposefully engaged’ or ‘I know and use all my students’ names’, with the responses ‘Definitely’, ‘Most of the time’, ‘Some of the time’, ‘Not enough’, ‘I need more guidance with this’. This system has evolved over time, so that now the teachers create their own questionnaires, rather than using one developed by the school.

This is definitely something I’d like to experiment with at our school.

Improving the agency and confidence of novice teachers

Marie Willoughby talked about a workshop she ran to help novice teachers adapt coursebooks to make them more engaging. It was much more teacher-centred than her workshops used to be. She designed it this way to help teachers build their confidence and realise that they are able to solve problems and ask for help, rather than relying on their own knowledge and worrying when they don’t know something. This topic was selected following interviews with the teachers, as they said they often used coursebooks to help them plan but didn’t know how to make them engaging for students.

The workshop looked like this:

  • Brainstorm ‘What is engagement and why is it important?’
  • Examine Jason Anderson’s CAP(E) paradigm, as this is how coursebooks generally work.
  • Discuss what engagement looks like at each stage of a CAP(E) lesson and how you can evaluate this.
  • Teachers created a list of questions based on their own experience up to this point to help them consider engagement at each stage of the lesson. The questions showed up their current needs, and formed the basis of group discussions.
  • Session homework was to take a piece of material, choose two parts and evaluate whether they’re engaging, change if needed, then evaluate it afterwards. Afterwards they had to tell a colleague: I did this, it worked. OR I did this, it didn’t.

Marie said that she felt like she hadn’t taught them anything in the session, but that afterwards she got great feedback. It helped the teachers realise that they had the right to change things, and didn’t have to just use them as they were.

She contrasted classic training with agency-driven training. In class training, the outcome is pre-determined by the trainer/tasks, there is a focus on best practice, elicitation and leading questions, and a power differential in dialogue. In agency-driven training, the outcome emerges during and beyond the session, there are no right answers (open-ended tasks), a collaborative effort to explore choices and evaluate (not talking about procedures), and equality in dialogue.

By making this shift, Marie says that she has realised the power of training lies in the process, not the product, of training sessions. Returning back to Monica’s idea of being blinded by our expertise, we need to question our training routines: when are we empowering when helping and when not? Do we praise confidence, collaboration, evaluation and leave it there? Without having to give trainees the answer or find the next step: sometimes we shut down options when we help, instead of letting teachers find answers themselves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t help trainees, but rather that we should reflect on the help we give.

Sound bites

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone told us why it’s important for us to work with different accents in the classroom. She talked about how cultural knowledge includes knowing about stereotypical accents and phrases. For example, in the UK we have stereotypical images of what a policeman, farmer, Asian corner shop owner, etc sound like. We know that in real life people don’t always sound like this, but there are a lot of reference points, for example in comedy, which rely on us being aware of these stereotypes.

We should work with a range of accents to help students gain familiarity with different models of speech. The hint that an accent might be present can impede understanding, even if the person speaking if completely clear – we put up mental blocks.

Some resources Chloe recommends are:

Young learner safety

Edward Evans described what they’ve done at IH BKC Moscow to put a policy in place to ensure teachers know what to do to keep young learners safe in the school, and so that the school knows what to do if there is a concern about the safety of young learners.

He reminded us of the importance of considering safety before anything bad happens, rather than only as a reaction. This is especially important in some countries where you might have issues when working with child safety: a lack of good state school policies, an aversion to procedures, training is unavailable, or where child abuse is not a ‘hot topic’. ‘Common sense’ is not a good yardstick for behaviour, as it means different things to different people. Schools need to have clear policies in place.

At Edward’s school, they drew on UK state school procedure to put policy documents in place. These are accompanied by a clear system of which offences lead to a warning, and which lead to instant dismissal. They have reporting procedures in place, along with procedures for how to handle any reports which come in. This is detailed in a two-page document which teachers need to sign when they start working at the school, and every year thereafter to remind them of the policies.

Q & A session

Along with Ian Raby, Giovanni Licata and Jenny Holden, I was part of a panel taking questions from the floor related to various aspects of training and management. I really enjoyed this, but you’d have to ask other people what we said because I (obviously!) wasn’t tweeting what happened 🙂

EdTech

Lindsay Clandfield gave an updated version of his IATEFL 2019 plenary about mythology, methodology and the language of education technology. You can watch the 2019 version of it here, which I’d recommend if you have any interest in how we talk about edtech.

He recommended the hackeducation blog, which looks fascinating.

Coaching and observations

Jonathan Ingham asked whether an incremental coaching model can improve teaching. He works at a college where he observes English teachers, but also teachers of many other subjects, like brickwork, carpentry, and media make-up.

Jonny’s school was inspired by UK state schools who have implemented this model, summarised in this blog post. Rather than 2-3 observations per year, each with a range of action points to work on, teachers are observed every one or two weeks with only a single action point to work on. Feedback is brief and on the same day where possible, with opportunities during the feedback session to practise the changes that the observer suggests. As it is much more focussed, Jonny says that teachers have responded really well: it feels less intrusive, and changes to teaching have been really noticeable. This is something I’d like to try out at our school next year.

Jonny’s slides are available on his blog.

Visual literacy

Kieran Donaghy showed us various frameworks we can use to help students develop their visual literacy. Viewing is becoming the ‘fifth skill’ and has been added to curricula in Canada, Australia and Singapore as viewing and images have taken over from reading and the written word as the principal way we communicate.

He suggested the following resources:

  • Into Film’s 3 C’s (colour, camera, character) and 3 S’s (story, setting, sound) as a way of approaching videos – the link contains lots of examples of how to use them, and questions you can ask
  • The Center for Media Literacy’s educator resources, particularly 5 key questions and 5 core concepts
  • Visual Thinking Routines such as ‘see-think-wonder’ (I’ve used this routine a lot with my teens and they really like it)
  • Ben Goldstein on visual literacy in ELT

He also reminded us that we need to use these methods repeatedly with students – it takes 10-12 times before students can use them independently.

Emergent language

Danny Norrington-Davies described research he did with Nick Andon into how experienced teachers work with emergent language in the classroom.

They found 10 types of teacher intervention in the lessons they transcribed.

  • Explicit reformulation (live or delayed)
  • Recast
  • Teacher clarification/confirmation requests
  • Metalinguistic feedback
  • Elicitations
  • Extensions
  • Interactional recast
  • Recalls
  • Sharing
  • Learner initiated

The definitions of these are available on a handout on Danny’s website.

He also shared work from Richard Chinn into how we can help teachers learn to work with emergent language more quickly. Working with emergent language is a skilled practice, so how can we help teachers arrive at this more quickly?

Burnout

Rachael Roberts finished off the conference by help us to recognise the warning signs of burnout. She gave us the following tips to help our teachers:

  • Cut down on paperwork. Is this actually helpful/useful? For example, do the agenda at the start of meetings to keep focus. Examine marking policies and whether students benefit from them.
  • Help your staff keep boundaries. Don’t expect teachers to reply outside school hours. Expect them to take real breaks. Be clear about your own boundaries as a manager. Only check emails when you know you can actually respond to them – otherwise you’re raising your stress hormones for no good reason!
  • Examine unconscious beliefs you hold about teaching. For example: ‘A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.’ Is sacrifice really the model we want to hold about teaching?
  • Learn to say no to people and projects, and allow our teachers to say no. This includes to things that might be enjoyable, not just things that are difficult!
  • Notice your feelings and attitudes towards situations. If you have a choice, choose to be positive.
  • Where possible, empower teachers to make decisions for themselves.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions about why people might be being difficult. Avoid a culture of perfectionism, and show your own vulnerability.
  • Explain the rationale behind what you are doing. Involve and consult staff when making decisions. Be patient with their responses/reactions.

I would highly recommend reading her Life Resourceful blog and joining her facebook group which is a very active community designed to help teachers maintain their mental health.

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I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!

The costs of ongoing health problems

A few weeks ago, a friend who was staying with me saw me after I’d come back from the pharmacy with a stock of tablets for my colitis. I pulled around 15 boxes and packets out of my bag, and she asked me how much I’d spent on them. Looking at the receipt, I realised that Polish pharmacies helpfully tell me not just how much I spent, but the full price of the tablets. For 75 Polish zloty, I got around 1200 PLN worth of medicine – full price would be about 1/2 of a first year teacher’s monthly salary at our school.The year after I was diagnosed with the colitis, I made the mistake of working out how much money I’d spent on my health that year, and realised it was upwards of £1000. Is it any wonder I don’t have any long-term savings?! Right now, I’m on steroids for a recent flare-up, but I shouldn’t really be – I’ve had too many courses in too short a time, but being away this summer means I can’t start the alternative treatment yet. That alternative is a one-year course of medicine that would cost around $5400 in total if I had to pay for it in full (at least, that’s the figure I found) and there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to take it, or that it’ll work. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a country with a good national health service which subsidises my medicine, and to be able to afford all of these drugs. I’ll be on them for life, unless somebody magically comes up with a cure for ulcerative colitis at some point.

I’ve also written previously about the problems I have with my leg following an accident in 2006. Since September last year, I’ve been seeing a private physio pretty much every week. Over the course of a year, that works out at around a full month’s salary for me. Again, I’m lucky to be able to factor in a cost like that into my life. It’s a cost that won’t be going away any time soon, but slowly, very slowly, I’m seeing the benefits.

A third long-term health problem I have is connected to my sinuses. For as long as I can remember I’ve had problems breathing through my nose, especially the right side. I’ve been variously diagnosed with cough asthma and nasal sinusitis, had tablets, nasal sprays, inhalers…I’ve lost track! And all of them cost me at least a little money. Now that I’m more settled in Poland, I’ve been following up on this over the last academic year, and have now had allergy tests (dust, grass and wheat – nothing that would explain it), an X-ray, a CAT scan, and an endoscopy. The upshot is that one of my sinuses on the left is very small, and the right is overworked and inflamed (I think!). I can have a simple operation called ‘FESS’ which should hopefully sort it out. That’ll have to be completely private though. As the doctor said: ‘If anyone asked if you’re sick, I’d say no. But it’s clearly causing you discomfort and we can try to treat it.’ So that’s 6000PLN (around £1200) I need to save to get that sorted…theoretically. Maybe this problem will go away one day.

It’s not just the money though. None of these low-level health problems stop me from being able to get on with my life, but they do eat into my time. Here are some examples:

  • 30-45 minutes every morning doing physio for my leg and hand (too much computer use!), plus 2 hours every Wednesday when I’m in Bydgoszcz to get to and from the physio and have my appointment
  • Working out food so that I can eat 6 times a day – thankfully not as carefully as when I was on my strictest diet, but it still takes time and mental effort, especially if I want to not be lazy and just buy stuff, but actually eat some form of balanced diet.
  • An average of one visit to a medical professional every couple of weeks, dealing with one or another of these problems (not counting physio). That’s up to an hour for the visit plus the waiting, plus an hour or so to get there and back.
  • Time to get to the pharmacy, pick up the tablets, and (often!) go back a second time when they haven’t got what I need in stock. That’s a good 30 minutes per trip, sometimes more if there’s a queue.
  • Planning time to organise said visits to the doctors/pharmacy and/or to work out what I’m supposed to do next in my quest to improve my health at least a bit. Thankfully I have some amazing colleagues and friends who help me out with those bits.
  • I don’t know how much time each day being frustrated because I can’t breathe properly…

So I reckon that comes to about 12-15 hours a week on average, or at least one day a week! That’s 52 days in a year, or about 1.5 months, give or take.

Mostly I don’t think about all of this too much, because if I obsessed about it, it’d just be depressing. But sometimes it does get me down, especially when I’m already tired, or ill, or stressed, or all three. It’s not the end of the world at all though: I’m organised, I have coping strategies, and I’ve learnt more and more about what I need to do to keep going. They are all a normal part of my life. I distract myself by filling my time with other things. And I focus on the positives as much as possible: these are all investments of my money and time, fending off to some extent what could be much worse if I didn’t make these investments. At least I can afford the money and the time to deal with these problems, and live in a place where it is possible, and have the good fortune that these are low-level health problems. Those things aren’t true for so many people.

If you have your health, enjoy it to the full. Appreciate it. You may not realise just how free you really are until it starts failing you.

Further reading

Kirsty D Major’s fabulous post, ‘I’m tired – the disability reality that people don’t talk about‘ prompted me to finally write this today, a few weeks after the initial conversation with my friend. There are whole paragraphs in there I wish I’d written, but she did it first and better. Here’s one:

On some days, all this extra work builds up. If I’m tired anyway – because life happened that way, it can make me feel exhausted. Most of the time I just take it in my stride, but each of these things saps a little bit of energy, and when you add them all together, it accumulates.

I don’t want to whine about it. I don’t want others to feel sorry for me. I don’t necessarily need people to come up with solutions because chances are I already have one.

And another:

It doesn’t last long. A good night’s sleep, a good distraction – and the next day I’m ready to face the world again with new energy. But on a particularly tough day a couple of weeks ago, I did ask the question as to why we never talk about this.

‘Why do we never talk about this?’ is the reason I keep sharing things like this post on my blog. So many of us think that what’s happening to us is our problem, but if we hear other people’s stories, it starts to normalise experiences, and people can talk about them more freely if they want to.

Please read the whole post, and others on her blog. Kirsty has done more than any other person I know to show me the everyday realities and normalities of being blind. She has shown me what is and isn’t possible for her, and made me try to make sure that my blog is as accessible as I can make it, to try and remove those little stumbling blocks where I can. One example is providing text alternatives for non-text content (those alt-text things in images). I don’t always manage it, but I try!

Another person who has written about the problems with her vision is Joanna Malefaki. I’ve learnt a lot from her about colour blindness, how it affects her life, and what other people can do to help. Her recent post on achromatopsia was particularly important.

Three teaspoons lying side by side, each with a raspberry hat, a face painted on, and a little silver bow

Finally, for those of you who have never heard of spoons and how they relate to energy, please read this article by Christine Miserandino. I’m lucky to have a lot of spoons, but sometimes they start to disappear faster than they might for other people.

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?

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Miscellaneous

This post is for the talks I attended at IATEFL Glasgow 2017 which don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories I’ve chosen this year.

Connecting minds: language learner and teacher psychologies (Sarah Mercer)

Sarah’s plenary discussed the importance of ‘psychologically wise’ teachers, who both understand the psychology of their students, and look after their own mental health. You can watch the whole plenary yourself, or read my summary below.

There’s also an interview with Sarah recorded after her plenary.

Sarah started off by telling us that psychology is not just motivation, cognition, or the abstracted, internal mind. It’s about emotion. We can have the best resources and technology in the world, but they can’t replace humans. She showed us a video of Mr. White, a teacher in the States who has created a personalised handshake with each one of his students. I really like this quote from him:

I feel like every student needs a little bit of joy in their lives. Every student.

Psychology is about the heart and soul of teaching, and psychologically wise teachers can make a huge difference to the lives of their learners. They develop positive relationships, focus on positivity and growth, and nurture their own professional well-being. Hattie’s (2009) meta-analysis lists teacher-student relationships in position 11 of 138 of importance of factors affecting learning. Rita Heyworth points out in her TED talk that kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. Language teaching is inherently social, and requires collaboration, communication, and socio-cultural competence. Psychology is a key part of what we do, but we rarely focus on it explicitly in training or our own practice.

Sarah Mercer and Christina Gkonou published a 2017 British Council Research Paper entitled Understanding emotional and social intelligence among English language teachers. I haven’t read it yet, but will, having had it recommended by the people I was sitting with during the plenary. Another book that was recommended was Better Conversations [affiliate link] by Jim Knight.

Covey (2004) talks about the emotional bank account. Positive actions in a relationship are like deposits and negative ones are withdrawals. How can you make deposits in your emotional bank account?

  1. Work on mutual trust and respect.
  2. Be empathetic.
  3. Be responsive to learner individuality (names, micro conversations). Communication is key.

Remember that learners are much more worried about speaking in front of their peers than the teacher. Do they know the names of everyone else in the group? Proactive discipline: if you build good relationships with students, you need less reactive discipline. You don’t earn trust just by being a teacher, you need to deserve it.

Sarah also talked about Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindset theory. Research shows that you can shift your mindset, but it requires training and support. This connects back to James Egerton’s talk at the Torun Teacher Training Day last month. You may not ever be perfect at something, but everyone can improve on where they are now if they have time, motivation and opportunities.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford

Mindsets are domain-specific: you might have a fixed mindset about speaking or pronunciation, but a growth one about your ability to write in a foreign language.  Lots of teacher trainees believe that they can develop their methodological knowledge, but not their interpersonal skills (Mercer’s study, my experience too!). Neuroplasticity supports the idea of a growth mindset. As teachers, we have to own up to mistakes, and show our own growth mindset. We should also think whether we talk about language learning as an ability or talent (fixed mindset), or as a process (growth mindset). Make sure you praise the process and effort, and give *informative* positive praise that is deserved, not empty words. The mindset alone is not enough though. We need to develop learning strategies and support our students.

If we build on weaknesses only, we become average. If we build on strengths too, we become A+ – From Average to A+ [affiliate link] by Alex Linley (2008)

It’s important to recognise our strengths, both as learners and teachers. How often have you ever sat back and really reflected on what you’re good at? Sarah asked us to share two or three things we’re good at as teachers with our neighbours. We need to consider building positive emotions in the classroom explicitly. Positive emotions help us to learn more!

Most importantly, we need to look after our own mental well-being.

You can't pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.

Our psychology as teachers is mirrored in our students through mirror neurons – if we’re happy, they’re more likely to be happy too. Holmes and Rogers, 2012 talk about the burnout cascade and the virtuous cycle of psychology and motivation – it can be a vicious or a virtuous circle, depending on where you start. This MUST start from us: we must start creating the positivity in our classroom. Happy people have more energy, better motivation, are more creative, are more productive, and are healthier. The very first thing a teacher should do in the classroom is smile.

When we talk about CPD it’s important not to add too many ‘shoulds’ – a lot of frameworks don’t include wellbeing, meaning teachers may not end up prioritising it. I’ve been trying to drastically reduce the amount of times I use the word ‘should’ – every time I do, I ask myself ‘Who said?’ It’s taken off a lot of the pressure I’ve previously felt. In her 1990 book Stress Management for Teachers, Sandra Mills breaks down health into physical condition (rest, diet, exercise), mental condition and emotional condition.

Self-compassion means knowing when enough is enough, when perfectionism isn’t appropriate, when to use positive self-talk. Don’t overstretch yourselves, learn to say no and set boundaries to protect yourself as a teacher. Professional well-being is not an indulgence, it’s a necessity. As Sarah said:

Pyschology matters. Relationships matter. Positivity matters. YOU matter!

Blog posts following Sarah’s plenary:

Aligning parents’ and caregivers’ objectives with young learner programs (Shay Coyne)

Shay noticed that she was only doing needs analysis for adult groups, not for young learners. She made a Survey Monkey questionnaire in Spanish to send to caregivers. They wanted a communicative focus, moving from receptive listening towards speaking, a broadening of their future prospects, more study than fun (see below for activities for each of these three areas), and they wanted English only. Shay challenges the last point, as most of the world is now bilingual, and we should bring the students’ two languages together. Students have opportunities for huge amounts of contact with English outside the classroom. By accepting the students’ own language, we’re modelling tolerance and diversity and establishing a collaborative, equal relationship between the mother tongue and English.

Caregivers want to be involved. They may have had bad experiences of language learning themselves before. Caregivers form a key part of the child’s life, so we need to keep them involved: parents as partners. Home and school are not two separate bubbles for children, they’re all one big learning experience: it helps you to be more collaborative between home and school.  They give a different perspective to tests and assessments, and can, for example, explain why a child has suddenly started to behave badly. This kind of partnership also improves social skills and behaviour of the child, as it provides a model for how to collaborate. Finally, it leads to better education outcomes. The child becomes more well-rounded and can navigate a multilingual, multicultural environment more easily. On another note, if caregivers are involved, children’s test scores will improve too.

Parents can be involved through governance (like textbook selection), meetings, volunteering for activities in the classroom. Caregivers can be invited for open days. We can train parents and caregivers to be able to form realistic goals, and retrain misconceptions like English only. Teachers should be trained with strategies for how to deal with caregivers, such as how to positively deliver messages, and how to deal with any potential conflict. Communication should also be two-way, both to and from the school. We should make sure that there is variation in how you interact with caregivers, and give them the option to decide how they want to be contacted.

To develop communication skills, why not try an English/Australian/Scottish corner in your classroom, use role plays for developing empathy, and discuss learning to bridge the gap between home and school.

To help students broaden their future prospects, work on projects, try out ‘genius hour‘ so children can do whatever they want for that hour (practises research and time management), work on videos (through e.g. Skype which they may have to use for job interviews in the future), try out My Language Passport from p98 of Teaching Children How to Learn [affiliate link] to acknowledge different languages.

To work on language, use songs, choose topics of interest, choose practical tasks that encourage experimentation with language and try Knowing your class p71 of Teaching Children How to Learn [affiliate link] so you can learn more about your students to make things more relevant to them.

Shay would like us all to foster caregiver involvement in education. Maybe we could create a framework for involving them. There is a potential negative reaction initially, but research shows that it’s worth it and quality improves because caregivers are involved.

Shay recommended the following books for further research [all affiliate links]:

  1. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide by Jean Brewster, Gail Ellis, and Denis Girard
  2. Teaching Children How to Learn by Gail Ellis and Nayr Ibrahim
  3. How Children Learn by Linda Pound
  4. Teaching Young Learners English by Joan Kang Shin and JoAnn (Jodi) Crandall
  5. Introducing English as an Additional Language to Young Children by Kay Crosse

She has also written a related article for the IH Journal about bringing parental objectives into YL lessons.

Teaching grammar for all the right reasons (Danny Norrington-Davies)

We try to contain the language with rules but the language keeps running away. – Andrea Bossato

Danny encourages his students to explore reasons for grammatical/linguistic choices, not rules, moving from examples to reasons. Why start with reasons, not rules?

  • Language existed before rules!
  • We can explore how meaning is created.
  • Students can make genuine discoveries about language by thinking about reasons.
  • We can see how different forms interact and we don’t just need examples that fit the rules.
  • We can explore similarities not exceptions, and give learners some ownership of the language.
  • We can use this approach to exploit any text or any communicative task, and avoid ‘sometimes’ rules. Pedagogic rules are often qualified with words like ‘usually’, and we write them as if they’re true, but they’re not.
  • We can avoid artificial simplification and rules that are not true.
  • Students can put reasons into their own words, rather than being given rules that aren’t always true.
  • Although it’s hard for students to create rules, it’s worth it, as they start to understand why language is really used, not just learn rules by rote (he got this as feedback from one of his students).

There’s nothing wrong with language; the problem lies with the rules we’ve created as shortcuts. Diane Larsen-Freeman emphasises that reasons underline rules.

Research shows that a lot of early learning is lexical, not grammatical, which is why it works well for functional language. He’s also used this approach successfully with modals. The lowest level he’s used it with himself is pre-intermediate, though he’s also seen it being used with elementary.

For example, to focus on relative clauses, give students a text with them and rewritten without them. Ask them to compare the two and say why the writer used them in the original text. Maybe to get students to actually use relative clauses, we should just keep making them notice them instead of doing exercises – Danny has found this has really helped his students.

Danny has recently published a book along the same lines: From Rules to Reasons [affiliate link]

Tweets from other sessions

Lindsay Clandfield and Jill Hadfield talked about activities you could use to promote interaction between participants on online courses. They were promoting a new book they’ve written called Interaction Online [affiliate link]. You can watch a recording of the full talk.

Lorraine Kennedy presented about the effectiveness of feedback. The session was recorded.

A useful poster:

Useful links on Mental Health in ELT

[March 2020: Phil Longwell has compiled a list of links to help you with mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak. Lizzie Pinard summarised an IATEFL webinar about Mental health, resilience and COVID-19.]

Panic attacks can affect anyone. After my interview for the CELTA course which I was trained on, probably the easiest interview of my life, I was walking to my friend’s house thinking it over. As I walked I started to hyperventilate, and I thought I might be having an asthma attack. I couldn’t understand what was happening because although I have asthma, it causes coughing fits, not ‘normal’ asthma attacks. When I got to her house, I couldn’t really talk, and I couldn’t calm down. I started to get pins and needles in my fingers and toes, gradually moving up my limbs. She phoned 999 because neither of us knew what was going on. When the paramedic came, he gave me oxygen and explained what was happening. It took at least 15 minutes for me to start breathing normally again and for the pins and needles to go away. I suspect the thought that triggered the attack was probably me worrying that they wouldn’t accept me onto the course, though I already knew they had: it was my final year of university and my entire plan after my degree was based around getting a CELTA and becoming an ELT teacher. It has only happened to me once so far. I had the first steps towards another one when I was ill at New Year a few weeks ago, but thankfully my amazing best friend was looking after me, and falling sleep due to exhaustion meant I didn’t go all the way into the pit this time.

It's time to talk

Apparently, 2nd February is Time to Talk Day 2017, a UK event “to get the nation talking about mental health and keep the conversation going round the clock”. For a combination of reasons, mental health is an area I have become more and more aware of over the past couple of years, and I’ve been thinking of putting together a list of connected resources for a while. This seems like the perfect opportunity.

Two years ago, Laura Patsko described the conversation starters which she was given for Time to Talk Day 2015, something which you could use yourself or with students.

Phil Longwell made me aware of this year’s Time to Talk Day through his very open interview with teachersasworkers.org about how mental health has affected his life and career.

My panic attacks they come from the tiniest smallest thoughts—and if you don’t know anything about panic attacks you tend to think that panic attacks are something huge—that they are huge, really life-threatening situations but for me they can be the smallest things. It starts from a tiny thought—and that thought can be a trigger which sets you off. Then you’re into a cycle. A panic cycle, they call it.

In May 2020, he recorded an interview for the TDSIG Developod podcast talking about mental health in general and within ELT.

The UK’s NHS website has a page explaining the symptoms of a panic attack, with a video showing how to tackle the vicious circle that starts it, and a link to tips for coping with a panic attack if you’re having one now.

Rebecca Cope has also had problems at work caused by anxiety attacks, and has written about them very movingly. If this happens to you (and I sincerely hope it doesn’t), you are not alone. Please please please do not be afraid to talk about it. There is nothing wrong with you. If you talk about it, then we can all help the stigma to go away and we can all try to move towards supporting each other and being there when things happen. By the way, as well as being a great writer, Rebecca is a talented artist, as can be seen here:

Four panels by Rebecca Cope: 1. A girl I once knew who always felt blue told me once with head bowed she was trapped by a cloud. 2. She said

Elly Setterfield talks about her self-confidence issues and offers advice on what to do when you can’t stop criticising yourself, in which we learn about the inner critic, and how to respond to it constructively. She has also created an A-Z of self-care for teachers. Marie Delaney has a shorter post in a similar vein about how to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your students. Jade Blue describes how to deal with imposter syndrome when teaching advanced grammar. Teresa Bestwick describes how even as a successful and long-standing conference presenter, she still feels the effects of the imposter phenomenon before she presents.

Lizzie Pinard talks about her first steps with mindfulness and the benefits she has felt from it.

Accepting that thinking (and overthinking!) is what the mind does, and not getting frustrated about it, is key. Instead, it’s a case of gently and repeatedly bringing the mind back to the present moment. And from there, you can identify which of the thoughts, if any, are useful to listen to and pursue, rather than just being stuck amidst a load of endless mind babble.

She has also summarised a webinar by Emma Reynolds called ‘Mind full or Mindful?’ which was part of the 2019 Macmillan World Teachers Day Conference.

Here’s a post from WeAreTeachers asking the question Should teachers take mental health days? including advice on what to do with one of those days when you decide that they are necessary for you.

Not specifically ELT, but the ‘Behave‘ episode of the language podcast The Allusionist is about how to defuse the power of words going round in your head. James Egerton has a post about ways to help students diffuse exam anxiety, which I think could be useful at other times too. Liam Day tells you how to beat depression and anxiety in the classroom. Ricardo Barros describes his experiences with depression and how he sought help to get through them. Kip Webster talks about wobbles he had related to teaching and what he learnt from them. Anna Loseva reports on a session she attended about Frustration Regulation which was run by Sam Morris, including ideas like a frustration journal. If you want to explore a metaphor which could help, try four suitcases on Zhenya Polosatova’s blog.

For those on the outside looking in, first, consider how lucky you are that you don’t have first-hand experience of this. Then read about how to support a friend who is struggling with their mental health.

A management perspective comes from The Secret DoS in You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps, which includes some key advice at the end of the post, and the important line:

Let’s be clear…mental health issues are simply health issues.

Emma Johnston talks about what a mental-health friendly language school could and should look like.

One of the things Phil mentioned in his post was the extra pressure that those of us living and working abroad add to our lives by choosing to move away from home, often into places where we don’t speak the language or understand the culture. Here’s an 8-minute talk on helping teachers settle in, which I did at the IH DoS conference a couple of years ago based on my own experiences of arriving in many a new place. It was designed for managers/employers and not directly related to mental health, but it might give you ideas of what to ask for/about on arrival, especially if anxiety is a problem for you. Working with difficult colleagues can also be problematic, so here are some tips from Chris Wilson to help you.

Another area that can cause a lot of problems is work-life balance, which I have a lot of bookmarks related to. They include tips for getting a better balance yourself, information about the importance of planning breaks into your day and examples of what other people have done. This is one of my favourite reminders of what you can do to help yourself take a break:

50 ways to take a break

Sarah Mercer did an excellent plenary talk at IATEFL 2017 about psychologically wise teachers. The third section includes tips on how to look after yourself. OUP have a webinar called ‘Destress your classroom: stress management and wellbeing for teachers and students‘. Claire Hart writes about taking control of your workload instead of letting it control you, particularly for freelancers, but also for others too.

Burnout is also an issue which can affect people in many professions, particularly the so-called ‘caring professions’. Clare Maas has quotes from various teachers on avoiding burnout, and a list of tips and suggestions, of which I think the final paragraph is particularly useful. Roseli Serra describes her experience and those of teachers she has interviewed, then offers advice on how to reduce the likelihood of burnout happening to you. Andrea Camara also has advice about how to reduce the stressors in your life that may lead to burnout. Rachael Roberts describes the ‘four burners’ theory and explains how this can help you to understand how to avoid burnout. Lizzie Pinard responds to a webinar by Rachael on avoiding burnout for ELT professionals and talks about her own coping mechanisms for working from home. Christina Jones describes some of the research into teacher burnout and how a technique from positive psychology called PERMA could help you outChris Mares, Theodora Papapanagiotou and a teacher with ADHD also contributed articles to the iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) issue on Mental Health at the same time. Marc Jones is blogging about his ADHD and how it affects his life and his job as an English teacher. Other people who have talked about their experiences of mental health issues as English language teachers include Lizzie Pinard, and the podcasters at TEFLology. Lizzie has also summarised a workshop she attended on promoting positive mental health, particularly for LGBT+ people, but with tips that everyone should find useful.

If you’d like to discuss mental health with your students, AllAtC has a B2+ level lesson plan based around mental health and employment. The Mental Health Friendly Initiative has run competitions for mental health lesson plans, though I’m not sure if they’re available to download. They have various resources for promoting social inclusion on their blog (thanks for recommending it Phil).

Phil Longwell used his IATEFL 2018 talk to describe the findings of research he has done over the past year about the mental health of English language teachers. You can read about his findings here. The recording is here:

He also did a 10-minute interview for the IATEFL YouTube channel:

The 8th March 2018 Twitter #ELTchat was about Teachers’ well-being and mental health, including stories, possible causes for poor mental health, and how things are slowly starting to change.

Although epilepsy doesn’t quite fall into the same category as the other mental health issues discussed above, I feel it’s also important to share Kate Cory-Wright’s story of Coping with Epilepsy in the World of Education, and this post seems like the best place to do it.

If you know of any other useful links or if any of these don’t work for you, please let me know so that I can update the post. Together we are all stronger.

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