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 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 (I’ve attended them all since 2014, but forgot to write about some of them!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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)
- Teacher clarification/confirmation requests
- Metalinguistic feedback
- Interactional recast
- 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?
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.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!