A few Reflections on Working with Traumatised Teachers

Christopher Graham

    In the ELT community, we’ve created a reasonably effective teacher training structure. The CELTA and Trinity certificates are good introductions and set people on the right track for their first years in the classroom, while the DELTA and Trinity Diploma develop this and provide the tools, techniques and confidence to move forwards. Those who, like me, partly or completely leave the classroom to become involved in teacher development, writing or consultancy gain another collection of skills sets. I used to think that after far too many years in ELT, there were not many challenges that I couldn’t somehow cope with. In my teacher development work, I’m used to people resisting: “I can’t have students working in groups; it’s too noisy; we can’t move the desks; I just need to teach them grammar; what about the exams?” I have answers to many of these concerns. My ideas don’t always work, but I hope I can help teachers think their way around the issues.
I was of course completely wrong in thinking that there were not many things I couldn’t cope with, and this came home to me with considerable force when I started working both in teachers’ home countries and elsewhere on projects with teachers from conflict and post-conflict zones, notably Iraq and Libya. I realise how totally unprepared I was to work with people who had experienced the most appalling traumas.
There are many anecdotes and stories that I could tell, but one that sticks in my mind was from a teacher from Anbar province in Iraq. He was clearly a very sensitive guy and came up to me in a coffee break with a copy of his coursebook. It was a standard western-style coursebook, I can’t remember which one it was. It doesn’t matter. He handed me the book and said, “Have a look at my coursebook”. I took it rather arrogantly, thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I know this book” and handed it back to him. I can see his face now, he looked back at me with strong eye contact, though his eyes were somehow dead, somewhere else, “No, really look at it, please”. I looked at it again and noticed how thin it was; something was missing. He took the book back and his eyes locked on mine again as he said, “We have ISIS – I have to tear out all the pages with colour photographs, we had to send all the female students home and all my female colleagues had to leave”. I didn’t know what to say, a visceral moment, a kick in the stomach. It was only a book, but … you’re teachers, you get it. He subsequently went on to tell me other things that had happened to his community that I won’t share in this forum. This incident and several others I’ve experienced recently have made me research and think about working with traumatised teachers.
So let’s think a little about some of the behaviours that I’ve witnessed.
1) A short attention span and a tendency to find it hard to concentrate.
2) A desire to focus on content in a very detailed manner. For example, to worry about where stress falls on a particular word and constantly refer back to the issue.
3) What is best described as a lack of respect towards colleagues.

This is particularly a challenge in train-the-trainer courses where feedback skills are discussed. It’s not uncommon to see one teacher totally demolish a lesson that they’ve just observed from one of their colleagues. In short, aggression. This may be amplified by the undertones of sectarianism that are common in conflict zones.
Time for some definitions, and there are lots of definitions of trauma. This one particularly caught my eye because, while it may not be completely scientific and the English is a little bit ‘off’, it seems to tell it like it is:
‘An overwhelming, life-threatening, terrible and frightening experience which is way out from any other “ordinary” human experience.’ (Source: Refugee Trauma Help).
There is a significant body of research on traumatized children and students, but very little on traumatised teachers so my first port of call was MIND (a UK mental health charity) and this is their definition of post traumatic stress disorder:
‘Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder which you may develop after being involved in, or witnessing, traumatic events. The condition was first recognised in war veterans and has been known by a variety of names, such as ‘shell shock’. But it’s not only diagnosed in soldiers – a wide range of traumatic experiences can cause PTSD.’
Interestingly, the list of PTSD symptoms that MIND list is very similar to my list of behaviours above, with the addition of susceptibility to physical symptoms such as stomach pains or dizziness. Something I’ve seen very often.
So what techniques or approaches can I, a simple teacher educator and not a psychiatrist or psychologist, do in these circumstances? One option, of course, is nothing – just try to carry on regardless – but that goes against the grain of my approach to my work, which I hope is at least a little bit empathetic.
My suggestions:
Don’t be judgemental – take a breath and move on, even if you are shocked or wrong-footed by what you see or hear;
Respect personal time and space. If people are late, drift off topic or seem to lack focus, adjust and adapt your approach;
Create empathy. I do this by discussing my late father’s stories about the Second World war. War happens to us all at some time;
Look out for clues that issues may be pending, such as changes in mood, changes in performance or timekeeping or changes in energy levels and concentration spans.
Sparse advice perhaps, but these are challenging issues.
I’ll finish with this quote from Talib Al Darraji, an English supervisor in Iraq:
“The ongoing stress and anxiety distracted an enormous number of teachers and made them unable to cope with their daily life as teachers in addition to the fact that some schools were turned into military barracks by armed groups or by terrorists.”

This article is dedicated to those colleagues who have been lost or have lost.

Christopher Graham is Director – Academic and Training at Garnet Publishing but wrote this in a personal capacity. He has many years of experience as a teacher educator, author and consultant and has a special interest in working with teachers in and from fragile environments such as Libya, Iraq and Algeria. 

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IATEFL and its environmental impact: how are we doing?

Jon Burton, IATEFL Chief Executive

   The impact that we make on the environment has become, rightly, an increasingly important topic of discussion for us all. Whilst we all clearly have a personal responsibility to make a difference in what some are calling this ‘climate emergency’, so do organisations. Here is IATEFL’s school report!

  Perhaps a good starting point when reviewing how IATEFL can have less of an impact on the environment is our own Head Office. From here we can move on to how we function as a year-round membership association of 4,000 members, and finally take a look at our big flagship event, the annual international conference. In doing this we can hopefully share ideas with other organisations in the same way that we ourselves should, and do, learn from others.

Head Office initiatives
  IATEFL has been addressing its environmental impact in a whole range of ways for many years. At Head Office this includes simple things such as using one communal printer/photocopier for the limited printing we do (rather than individual printers), and old computer equipment is donated to relevant charities. Recycling of paper, boxes, containers and food waste is also undertaken, with our shredded organisational paperwork ending up being used locally as beddings for animals. Our heating is set on timers to ensure it is not wasting energy overnight, at weekends, and in areas of the building and times of the year when heating is not required. Some of our staff members car share into work each day, and this follows through to our expenses policy for staff and volunteers which encourages the use of public transport whenever possible, rather than car usage, when travelling to IATEFL events and meetings. Week to week, and for our committee meetings held at Head Office, we use tea towels, Tupperware pots and plates, cups, glasses and cutlery to avoid disposable and throw-away alternatives. All of these small initiatives, we believe, add up to a larger combined impact.

Association-wide initiatives
   As an association we have significantly reduced the amount of paperwork, forms and letters we print and post to members, and have introduced digital versions of most of our publications for those who prefer that format. This also extends to the percentage of members who now join and renew online, without the need for the printing and sending of paper forms. The printing we still do is on forestry commission assured sustainable paper and using natural (as opposed to synthetic) inks.

  Two current initiatives we are actively investigating are the use of potato starch or sugar cane based wrappers for the postage of membership publications rather than plastic wrap or bonded paper envelopes, and also the use of biodegradable membership cards for those members wishing to continue to receive one. Members not requiring a card will soon be able to opt out and have all their membership information sent only by email. Both of these alternative products are quite new and we are currently testing whether they provide a reliable alternative.

The annual international conference
   Clearly one of the biggest opportunities for us to make a positive impact, but also one of the most challenging, is the annual international conference. Organising an event over five days, with over 3,000 participants, and with a large exhibition and careers fair brings both opportunities and challenges when it comes to our environmental impact. For us, just looking for opportunities to make a difference as they present themselves doesn’t work; environmental impacts need to be an integral consideration throughout each stage of the planning process and in all our dealings with the venue, with suppliers, with exhibitors and of course with our delegates. Here are some of the most significant ways we have been making the conference more environmentally responsible:

  • Recycle bins for delegate badges and programmes, as well as around the venue for all other waste
  • The use of recycled cardboard signage for delegate information where appropriate / possible
  • Reusable cups for delegates, replacing the previous reusable bottles so that they can be used for both hot and cold drinks
  • Water stations at the venue for delegates to refill their own cup or container
  • IATEFL pens made from recycled cardboard
  • Delegate badges without needing clear plastic badge holders
  • The introduction of a shorter ‘App Supplement’ programme, using far less paper, for those who prefer one
  • A PDF version of the conference programme, and a conference app, for those who would rather not have a programme
  • A book swap for delegates
  • Encouraging speakers to share their handouts and PowerPoints online, rather than printing out lots of copies in order to give to delegates
  • Encouraging exhibitors to think and be more environmentally aware, and sharing our environmental objectives with them
  • Having an ‘Eco Sponsor’ to champion delegate engagement on how, they too, can make a difference
  • Delegate bags made of cloth, rather than plastic, which can then be folded up and reused as shopping bags
  • Delegates can print an attendance certificate whilst at the conference, rather than us printing one for each delegate or sending them out afterwards by post

Venues too are making significant changes to how they function in order to be more sustainable. For instance the Liverpool ACC, venue of the 2019 conference, has its own Environmental Task Force dedicated to minimising the venue’s effects on the environment. This includes having a ‘zero to landfill’ status, being partially powered by five wind turbines, about 40% of the water used to flush toilets being rainwater collected on the roof, and high efficiency and motion controlled lighting throughout the venue. These initiatives have enabled the venue to be awarded the ISO14000 international environmental standard in recognition of the sustainability of its events. The venue for next year’s conference, Manchester Central, has also been awarded this standard.Having said all this, there is clearly still an awful lot to do, and there are also some areas which are far more challenging to address. For example,

  • some members continue to prefer or require printed publications, conference programmes and membership cards;
  • the conference continues to be (and to work best as) a face-to-face event which delegates travel to (although we now also have an annual web conference each year too);
  • conference programmes and delegate bags continue to be expected and appreciated by many delegates, and delegate badges are required for the management of the conference. These also provide important opportunities for sponsorship and advertising, which helps pay for the conference and to subsidise the delegate fee;
  • whilst many committee meetings happen online, IATEFL still has a small number of its meetings face-to-face in order to allow greater personal collaboration between key volunteers, and provide important networking opportunities;
  • not everything can become virtual and digital as some members struggle to have a reliable and cost-effective connection to the internet and adequate IT equipment;
  • the provision of online resources and services has its own impact on the environment with the demands of computers and web servers in terms of their power requirements, the natural resources they require, and the heat they generate;
  • there are not currently always ‘eco-friendly’ alternatives to everything we use, and where there are these can sometimes be simply too expensive to be a viable alternative currently.

IATEFL’s trustees have recently made the decision to add an environmental strand to the association’s current strategy in recognition of its significance, and in order to encourage us to continue to investigate, reflect upon, and seek new ways we can reduce our impact on our planet. This ensures such considerations stay at the heart of everything IATEFL does. Along with this is the importance of us continuing to examine and learn from how others are addressing such issues, as well as sharing our own initiatives with others. Finally, as IATEFL is a membership association of English language teaching professionals, we should also encourage members to share how they too are making a difference inside and outside the classroom.

In concluding, our school report should probably say that we are working hard, progressing well, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Such improvement will require commitment and a need to work together.

If you can think of something else we might do, please email your idea to: [email protected] with a subject of ‘Green Idea’. Whilst we won’t be able to respond to each person individually, every suggestion will be recorded and carefully reviewed. Thanks for your help!

Jon Burton, IATEFL Chief Executive

I have been working for IATEFL as Chief Executive for nearly three years, before which I had been a teacher, teacher trainer, quality auditor, director of studies, language school principal and finally the principal of a state further education college. I’ve been lucky enough to have lived and worked in Spain, France and the UK, and to have visited many others on various projects.


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If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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Every student is different! Every day is different! That is what makes it fantastic…

Featured member interview with Emma Sarah Muse

Where do you currently work and what is your job role?
I currently work for Centro Servizi Interculturali, a private language school in Italy. I am a young, resourceful and energetic English teacher.

What specific area does your teaching focus on?
My teaching areas are Young Learners, Teens and Adults. I teach both General English and Business English, including in-company lessons and English Language Exams. Sometimes it can be in a public school with a class of 30, or groups of 5 or even an individual lesson. I meet new and interesting people every day. Every student is different. Every day is different. That is what makes it fantastic.

How long have you been working in English language teaching?
I have been working as an English teacher for nearly four years.

What challenges have you faced as a new teacher?
I have faced many challenges as a new teacher. I have had many challenges, such as engaging students in Speaking, helping students with ADHD and dyslexia, organizing the classroom, giving the students realistic materials to use outside the classroom and optimizing classroom time. Every so often, I stop and reflect about my teaching journey, I think about all the struggles and worries I have had and how I dealt with them thanks to all the support  I received.

How have you overcome these challenges?
The first thing I started to do was to search for help and support online. I started to watch webinars, read teaching magazines like Voices, look for books online, like ‘ELT Journal: Year of the young learner’, attend local conferences and training sessions, speak to experienced teachers, and take many teaching courses to be more prepared. I started looking for support from English language teaching professionals so I could really educate myself. I also wanted my students to leave my lessons feeling happy, interested and feeling as if they had accomplished something.

Have your expectations of being a teacher changed since becoming qualified and if so how?
My expectations have completely changed. I had never imagined it to feel so amazing. The satisfaction that you have in some way, big or small, helping students to achieve or overcome a problem is just awesome. The constant support, day after day, encouraging them to continue and to reach for that goal is fantastic. My students push me to develop my teaching methods. That is the feeling that makes me want to continue to grow as a teacher.

What professional development have you got coming up?
I currently have my TEYL & TEFL qualification and other certificates for different courses, but I would like to continue to push myself further. I would like to aim for higher qualifications in the future.

Why did you decide to join IATEFL?
I decided to become an IATEFL member because I was a new teacher and I needed support, understanding lesson planning, creating realistic and engaging active learning. All these things I have learnt with experience and support from IATEFL.

How has IATEFL help shape your career?
IATEFL has given me support in many different ways, from the community of professional ELT teachers and the materials. Confidence is also another important aspect. Now I can manage anything. As a new teacher, I would definitely recommend the webinars, the magazines and the books, as they are all extremely resourceful for any new teacher.

What does being an IATEFL member mean to you?
Being an IATEFL member, I have found a professional family. It means going back to previous webinars or rereading an article that you think may be useful in class. It means feeling relieved that there are other teachers with the same challenges as you. It means asking for help and receiving the best support. It means a great deal to me as I am still learning; knowing there are other new teachers like me with the same support system is fantastic. I am very grateful.

What would be your top three tips for a teacher starting their career?
My first tip would be to join IATEFL; it is a community of ELT teachers all over the world. Being a new teacher can be overwhelming, but with the right support group it is a lot easier.
Second, I would say to be interested. Keep yourself informed, attend local conferences and training sessions, be hungry for information and keep pushing yourself.
My last tip would be to keep calm. You are going to make mistakes, it will be hard but you are going to learn and, in the end, you will be an amazing teacher. It just takes a little bit of time, support and knowledge.

What are your future career goals and how do you think IATEFL can help in achieving this?
My future career goal in the future would be to open my very own English Language School. I am extremely grateful for all the support, advice, and kindness. Thanks to IATEFL, it is possible. Obviously, I am still a new teacher, I am still learning and I will continue to push myself and absorb all the knowledge and information I can to ensure that I am prepared.

Emma Sarah Muse has been teaching since 2016 in a private language school in Italy. She teaches in primary and secondary public schools. She has experience in TEYL. She also teaches Speaking Preparation Courses for students at a local secondary school. For the past 2 years, she has been teaching Business English in companies. She has also started to experience Teacher Training. In her free time, she continues her professional development.

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If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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IATEFL Associates’ Day 2019: A True Example of Synergy

             Every year teacher associations from around the world get together to share experiences, discuss common interests and challenges, and collectively plan different initiatives to take back home and implement considering our varied contexts, as it is an established tradition at the annual IATEFL Conference. In this brief entry, I share my reflections as a FAAPI representative (Argentina) who participated in the IATEFL Associates’ Day in stunning Liverpool.
After a warm and inspiring welcome by IATEFL President Dr Harry Kuchah Kuchah, who particularly welcomed representatives from Cameroon, Ivory Coast and China, we all worked in groups to share experiences and projects around five topics: (1) how to attract new members, (2) sustaining membership numbers, (3) inter-institutional relations, (4) budget management, and (5) how to carry out actions which are inherent to the associations’ missions.

As a FAAPI representative, I worked with colleagues from China, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Ivory Coast.
As we worked in groups, I could sense a healthy and empowering sense of collegiality and grassroots forward-thinking. It was refreshing and enlightening to hear stories from so many different contexts and realities and yet make connections and find common threads and ways in which joint projects could be set up. The group work activity was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the value, benefits, and challenges of voluntary work for the common good and for the strengthening of the learning professional communities we help create. It was a moment of reflection on the need to incorporate new members and let other colleagues take on more leading roles.
The meeting included associates’ presentations through which we learnt about other teacher associations’ undertakings, plans, and policies. As I was sitting there listening to my colleagues talk about their associations so passionately, I thought about this meeting as a powerhouse.

The Associate’s Day housed so much energy, so many stories, and such enriching voices that I could not avoid thinking about how collaboration can lead to synergy, which in turn, can be translated into sustainable actions for knowledge democracy and flow across associations.

Darío Luis Banegas
[email protected]

Darío Luis Banegas is a teacher educator and curriculum developer with the Ministerio de Educación del Chubut (Argentina), an associate fellow with the University of Warwick, and an active member of FAAPI and APIZALS in Argentina. He is also co-editor of the ELT Research newsletter published by the IATEFL Research SIG.

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If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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IATEFL 2019 :New Horizons & New Perspectives

Andreza Lago

  After nine years since my last IATEFL conference in Harrogate, I was glad to see that many changes have happened in the Conference. New SIGS have been set up, new scholarships have been offered and even online streaming sessions for the ones who could not attend the Conference have been made available.
This year was even more special to me as I was the LT123 Brazil State Sector scholarship winner and was able to give a presentation about my teaching practice in rural areas in the Amazon and share a little bit of what it is like to teach English to minorities.
To me,my presentation was the main area of focus at the conference just because it is a great accomplishment in a teacher’s professional life as I had the opportunity to listen and talk to other teachers from around the globe.Being able to share experiences and learn from successful stories are the greatest souvenirs teachers can take home and pass on to their teaching communities of practice.
As to the presentations in general, I can say that a lot has been said about diversity and inclusion, teacher empowerment and the importance of soft skills. Below are some highlights about the topics:

Teacher Empowerment
Since the very first plenary with Paula Rebolledo, we had the opportunity to see what teacher empowerment really is and that we, teachers, are the real ELT experts because we are the ones who struggle daily to teach our classes, to help students with learning problems, to conduct teacher research – although what we do may not be considered to be research by some experts – etc.
Paula also mentions, according to her research, that teachers’ empowerment is most circumscribed to their classrooms. But it should not be like that because empowerment encompasses many other aspects and it should not only involve the classrooms. Teacher empowerment should start with democratic decision-making about what to teach and how to do it. As a consequence, taking the risks of making those democratic decisions. Fighting for better working conditions and joining a Union or even creating one are other ways of empowerment. Last but not least, finding alternatives for teacher development such as engaging in teacher research is a way to allow teachers to look at their own way of teaching, to understand it and theorize about it as well as to inform the field about what goes on in real classrooms.

Diversity and Inclusion
Another topic that was highly mentioned was diversity and inclusion. Not only about learners with special needs but also gender and sexuality identities, seniors and other minority groups.
I can also say that I somehow touched the subject during my talk when I mentioned the indigenous groups I teach and the approach I use in the classroom.
Katherine Bilborough in the closing plenary mentioned that learners in general, but children in special, should be able to see themselves and the way their families are formed in the coursebooks. She emphasized that a lot more has to be done and that it has to be done quickly.
Another informative plenary speech about inclusive education was made by John Gray who mentioned that although teachers have an important role in LGBT inclusion in the classroom, in most countries according to UNESCO they lack adequate training and resources to help them understand and address sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and more specifically homophobic and transphobic violence. He also pointed out that a curriculum that allows proliferation of identification and LGBT representation is necessary.
As a way to address the issue, John suggests three inclusive education approaches that can be used by the teachers to raise awareness about LGBT erasure in the classroom; they are the counseling approach (focus on equality discourse and positive LGBT representation) controversies approach (discrimination against LGBT people aiming at developing awareness of rights and social justice), and discourse inquiry approach (engage with discourses of heteronormativity – framing questions and problem posing on every day heteronormativity).

Soft Skills
In the pre-conference day, I participated in the Business English and Teacher Educational and Training SIGs event and the topics were all related to Soft Skills.
As we all know, the demand for skills has changed over the years. Nowadays, we do not teach only grammar and vocabulary to our learners. The need to prepare them for the workplace and for life has emerged and dealing with soft skills, 21 century skills, also known as life skills has been made essential.
The soft skills that should be integrated in our classroom and that were mentioned in the PCE sessions were creative and critical thinking, learning to learn, communication, collaboration and social responsibilities. Those are the skills that will be needed to help learners to communicate better and to be prepared for the different future careers.

After all, being able to participate in such important event and be part of IATEFL is a great opportunity for teachers to engage in teacher development, to get to know different teaching contexts and get inspired by learning with peers from all over the world.

Andreza Lago (Pic © Syke A K )

Andreza Lago, This year’s LT123 Brazil State Sector Scholarship winner ,holds an MA in TEFL. She is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. She has been in ELT for over 20 years. She is the author of “Tasks that work” and “Jogos Divertidos para a sua aula de inglês Vol 1 and Vol 2.

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If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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Group Cohesiveness and Engagement in Mobile Learning Environments

Raquel Ribeiro dos Santos

                    A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a system for delivering learning materials to students via the web or apps. My main focus here includes student collaboration and communication by using their mobile phones. VLEs can support students’ learning during lessons and outside the classroom.

The vast majority of our students currently are from the Generation C. Words that define this generation are:
Computer > Cell
Connected > Communicating > Collaboration
Culture > Challenge > Customizing > Coolness factor
Creating > Content
Gen C is a term to describe people who care deeply about creation, curation, connection and community.

The VLE apps can provide them with the opportunity of being themselves within an education context.

Why should teachers consider using the apps Edmodo and Google Classroom with students.?
Both apps, Edmodo and Google Classroom have similar principles that enable group work:
Sharing posts, commenting threads, replying, attaching media, scheduling activities, notification to the group members, profile photo customization , teacher control over all students’ actions by direct notification, full integration with Google Drive and the possibility of editing or erasing content.

Individual characteristics
Edmodo has the ‘like’ feature and allows students to send the direct messages to the teacher only.
Google Classroom brings more customization possibilities of themes and a unique time-saving feature called ‘reuse post’ where teacher can very easily track a past message or assignment and tailor that to be used with other groups.
The first thing to do to get started is to create a group in either app and share the class code with the group so the students can join in.

  • During my classes I share the following content and activities with my students:
  • Guidance for discussion
  • Sites for research
  • We first research and talk about the findings in small groups and then I encourage students to share key points and new words they have learned in the comments of the message (very useful warm up and a good way to keep late comers of absentees in the loop of what is happening)
  • Digital material such as PDFs or Photos (Group A, Group B prompts) I have totally gone green because I simply don’t print handouts anymore
  • Students can share their collaboration to class (e.g.: film posters for conversation) instead of teacher preparing time-consuming slides all the time
  • Board game for conversation
  • Infographics

I encourage the steady use of VLE, what I mean is that it must be made on a regular basis so that the students trust it and understand this is part of their course.
I teach my groups twice a week and that’s how often I post.
I also see a possibility to engage with students beyond the classroom themes, when there’s a pressing matter or to share some motivation or interesting piece of news so that they get informed about current affairs in English

Advantages that generate engagement

I have noticed that absentees (for whatever reason) understand they can follow and take part of the classes even when far away.
This approach enables teacher along with students to co-create an accurate register that can greatly help the group catch up and revise for tests. Also, students feel proud of their registered contribution.They can see the evolution of what they have learnt throughout the course, and this perception leads to a perceived sense of progress
As a teacher, this helps me keep track of each group in a very practical way, using different devices, especially via mobile phone.
I no longer carry students’ papers around, as they hand over their writing tasks using the app.
VLEs have enabled me to improve my organization as a teacher and therefore maximize the productivity of my working time.
I am closer to my students even when it’s not a class day (if I want to) and using a VLE preserves my personal data such as phone number and e-mail and it’s a professional but friendly environment.
The videos and infographics used in my talks can be accessed here by typing the code
goo.gl/xUqDDj in your browser.

[email protected]

Thinkwithgoogle _ Meet Generation C: The YouTube generation

Raquel Ribeiro 

 is passionate about the potential technology has to enhance the learning and to promote inclusion of blind and visually impaired students. She’s an EFL teacher and e-learning contributor at Cultura Inglesa Sao Paulo, Brazil.She’s a Google Innovator, EdTech blogger and lecturer and the current Manager of social media,IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG.

Follow her work at the Instagram account

Contribute to the blog

If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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Creating an effective worksheet: the 2 golden rules of reflection

Adam John Simpson

There are so many things to consider when making our own materials for our classes. The physical appearance of our material is important, as are our instructions. What’s more, we should also think about the importance of context, as well as incorporating learner training into our worksheets. Nevertheless, when I reflect on the success of any materials I make, I can often boil down the process of making a great worksheet to the following two-stage reflection process. Using these guiding questions, I believe you will be able to create a worksheet that does more than simply fill time in class or merely consolidate whatever language point you’ve covered.

1. Start with a clearly stated objective and sticking to it

Ask yourself the question; ‘Do you know what the purpose of your material is?’ If you can accurately and concisely describe the objective that you would like your worksheet to help learners accomplish, you’ve already won half of the battle. This is your logical end point, so knowing this will help your material reach that goal.

For instance, you may want to create a reading worksheet that will help your learners to do one or more of the following:

  • Employ various strategies to establish background knowledge
  • Distinguish between fact and opinion
  • Employ strategies to deal with unfamiliar key vocabulary
  • Voice an opinion orally or in written form about a text

Having one or more valid objectives in mind will immediately enable you to focus on how each task on your worksheet is helping to achieve this end goal.

When you’ve made your material, reflect on the finished product by asking this question: ‘does this help learners meet the objective?’ If any task isn’t doing this, consider replacing it or removing it altogether. Remember: reflection is key! A good final step is to physically include the objective on your worksheet, making it clear enough for the learner to be able to understand the purpose of the tasks they’ll complete.

2. Go through the process of learning yourself

One of the best things you can do to reflect on whether or not the material is actually teaching the learner anything is to go through the experience for yourself. Once you’ve planned out your worksheet, or have it ready in draft form, work through it stage by stage and actively explain to yourself what you are being required to do.  

As you proceed, write down what it is you are expected to do at each stage, what prior knowledge is necessary to complete each task and how one activity leads on to one another. Describe how and why each aspect is important to the overall explanation of the language point.

For example, when preparing a worksheet on the present perfect tense, you may find yourself asking questions such as these:

  • Do I need to have prior knowledge of the third form of the verb (eaten, gone, etc.) to do this?
  • Am I focusing on the form or a specific function of the verb tense here?
  • Do my learners have equivalents to ‘for’ and ‘since’ in their mother tongue?

It’s surprising how often we can make too many assumptions about prior knowledge, or make huge leaps between individual tasks in terms of cognitive demand. Again, reflection is key!

Remember: your aim is to produce a sequence of questions and experiences that will aid learners to incrementally approach the main objective using the same chain of reasoning that you went through when designing the material. Such issues can easily be avoided if you work through your material and question the learning processes of your worksheet.

Summing up

Creating your own worksheets can be hard work, yet also very rewarding both for you and your learners. While there are many issues to consider if you want to end up with truly high quality teaching materials, following this two-point plan of reflection will see you right in most situations.

Adam John Simpson

Adam has been living and teaching in Turkey for more than fifteen years, all of that time spent in the tertiary education sector in universities in Istanbul. His interests include descriptive curriculum planning, developing flexibility in lesson design and the considered integration of technology in the language classroom. He is currently a member of the TDSIG committee. 

[email protected]

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Q&A on David Heathfield’s Webinar on Storytelling

Prepared by Mojca Belak
(Chair,Membership & Marketing Committee)

On 1 December 2018 David Heathfield presented a webinar on storytelling entitled “Bringing the world’s winter folk tales alive in your students’ imagination.”

In it David demonstrated how oral storytelling can bring students’ imaginations alive and get them deeply engaged in language learning. The session provided classroom content suggestions in active prediction, extensive person to person listening, physical and spoken drama activities, creative response and student retelling.

The recording is available to IATEFL members in the webinar section of the site. If you would like to watch the recording, you need to be a member of IATEFL (find out how to join).

Here are David’s answers to those questions that he didn’t manage to address during his webinar.

Q1.How can we involve large numbers of students in stories?

A1. The activities I demonstrated here work well in classes of all sizes. As long as students are physically close enough to the storytelling teacher to see her eyes and hear her voice, storytelling activities work well in large classes. I often do storytelling with 200 learners. If you are doing physical drama activities like the ones I demonstrated, it is important to be able to manage them all doing the activities at the same time. 35 students may be the maximum ideal number. You need to make enough space for students to perform in pairs.

Q2. Can you write the titles of the stories, please?

A2. The Winter Tales I told are:

The Snow Girl (Russia)

Aldar Kose tricks the Bai (Kazakhstan)

The Christmas Cherries (Britain)

I also mentioned:

The Fox and the Bear (Norway)

How the Bear lost its Tail (Japan)

The Three Golden Hairs (Romania)

The Winter Spirit and his Visitor (Native American)

The Mitten (Ukraine)

The Twelve Snow and Frost Children (Maori New Zealand)

Other Winter Tales I enjoy telling are:
The Twelve Months (Slovakia and more countries)

Mother Holle (Germany)

Zlateh the Goat (Yiddish/Poland)

Q3. How can I get the opportunity to share stories from Ghana?

A3. I love tales from Ghana. So many wonderful stories about Anansi come from Ashanti tradition and Anansi stories are now popular in the UK and more countries around the world. It’s so important to keep these oral stories alive by sharing them. Please do send me a recording of you or your students or someone you know telling me a favourite Ghanaian folk tale. You can also send a story to IATEFL Voices magazine and explain how you share the story in your teaching.

Q4. Folkstories always have a plot development. Do you do analysis of the plot development in class (setting, characters, climax, denouement, etc.) or do you simply invite students to appreciate the story (listening mode)? How can we teach storytelling within critical pedagogy approaches (multiliteracies, etc.)?

A4. Thank you for your questions. I tend to focus on storytelling skills, drama, creative response and exploring personal meanings in my General English and Academic English classes. Plot analysis is a fascinating area of study and I would certainly love to do this with students if I was teaching a literature module. The same goes for critical pedagogies. I think you begin to answer your own question in your useful comment from the General Chat.

Q5.Are your students second language learners, or are they enjoying your teaching in their L1?

A5. My students are learning English as a foreign language. The young woman you saw responding to The Snow Girl is doing an elementary course. Storytelling is effective across all levels. With Beginner students you can tell a simple story in their mother tongue using plenty of physical mime and gestures first and then tell it a second time in the target language using the same mime and gestures. It’s a wonderful way for them to be exposed to the target language and get a feel for the rhythms and cadences right from the start. Also I recommend mixed language storytelling with Beginners –see https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/story-telling-language-teachers-oldest-technique#mixed

Q6.How does a teacher develop her story telling skills?

A6. By doing storytelling regularly and noticing what works for you and for your students. My teacher resource book Storytelling With Our Students is designed precisely for this purpose. You can find out about the book and see the page featuring Aldar Kose tricks the Bai here  https://www.deltapublishing.co.uk/titles/methodology/storytelling-with-our-students

There are links to pieces I have written on the Publication page of my website

I also recommend books and articles written by Andrew Wright and Mario Rinvolucri. You can probably find other storytellers near where you live, get together and share your skills and experiences.

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If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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Feedback on the IATEFL 2018 Conference in Brighton, U.K.

2018 was IATEFL’s biggest annual conference so far, with 3079 attendees from 96 different countries.

92% of delegates reported the conference as being Good or Very Good overall, and a massive 92% said they would attend a future conference.

The feedback we receive from delegates is vitally important to the shaping of future conferences and helps us to ensure that we are meeting member needs, so a big ‘Thank-you’ to all who took the time to complete and return the survey – 38% on this occasion, the biggest return so far.

I would like to take this opportunity to elaborate on some key issues and share some of the ways in which IATEFL is responding to the feedback received from our members.

Venue/Session times:

The sheer size of the Conference continues to be popular – there is something for everyone, including those working in the field but not directly involved in teaching and training. The length of 30 min sessions has been criticised by some and the Conference Committee has looked into lengthening them, but a large number of sessions would be lost if this were to be changed. Although the quality of some of the sessions is an issue for some, the Conference remains an important platform for both early-career education professionals as well as more experienced presenters. This remains one of IATEFL’s main focuses – to provide the opportunity to take part in the conference – on all levels, for as many as possible.

This also impacts on the choice of venues available.

Brighton as a destination scored high amongst all the delegates. However, the overwhelming response to the venue was one of disappointment, with a high percentage of respondents reacting negatively to having two different venues. The main issues were as follows:

  • Two sites: Travelling between the two venues was problematic and the time taken affected delegate’s choices of which sessions to attend
  • Wi-Fi: The limited Wi-Fi availability in the Hilton hotel was problematic for many; for accessing social media, using the conference app and generally being able to be ‘connected’
  • The temperature inside the Hilton hotel
  • Health & safety concerns: The Hilton hotel was described as ‘MC Escher’s drawings come to life’ with ‘Gormenghast stairs’. The refurbishment taking place at the time of the Conference was unacceptable, unknown to IATEFL, and has been taken up with the venue directly.

There are, no doubt, lessons to be learned. However, there are few venues in the UK able to provide both the space and facilities that the IATEFL Conference now requires, hence the ‘venue circuit’ with which many are so familiar. With so many international delegates, location and price is also important – one of the main reasons that London remains out of our reach. BUT, new conference venues and facilities continue to be developed across the UK and we are already exploring a number of options which we hope will lead to being able to offer new venues and experiences in the future.

Plenary Sessions:

These were very well attended, although venue-related problems contributed to a less-than-perfect experience for some so we have tried to ensure we will not face similar issues in Liverpool. There are many comments responding positively to having speakers from outside the field of ELT and many look forward to listening to a poet on the final day. However, it is a fact that the last day of the Conference has seen a trend of falling numbers over the last few years. In an attempt to change this, the Conference Committee has taken an innovative approach to restructuring the final day with a theme – the future of ELT. As a longer term plan the idea is to establish the final day as a focus for looking at new ideas, edtech offerings, and identifying future pathways and challenges for our profession, hopefully leaving delegates to return home inspired and excited. To get the ball rolling for Liverpool 2019 there will be a strong future-facing slant to many of the presentations on Day 4, as well as a panel-style final plenary. The speakers we have lined up for this are all innovators in their field, but there will also be a heavy focus on hearing delegates’ thoughts, ideas and questions, which we aim to collect throughout the 4 days of the conference as well as interactively during the plenary.

Sponsors and exhibition:

On the whole, delegates are very appreciative of the support, both financial and otherwise, given to the IATEFL Conference by sponsors and exhibitors alike. Two common themes which did emerge from the feedback were a desire for more teaching materials available for delegates as well as environmental concerns about printed materials handed out by Exhibitors.

Such concerns were passed on to exhibitors as part of the feedback opportunity we have with them each September. This has proven a great step forward in collaboration and joined up thinking.

Jobs Fair:

The Jobs Fair was poorly attended last year, with the following issues being cited:

  • A limited range of jobs available in terms of geographical location
  • A limited range of job types available – most jobs were for recently qualified teachers, with little appealing to those looking for more senior positions or people wanting to explore new areas.

As a result of this, 2019 will see a revamped programme and the launch the Careers Fair, which will occupy a slightly larger and more prominent space within the Exhibition. The ‘How To…’ sessions that address career development issues have been moved to this space from their previous early-morning slot, and will run throughout the Conference during lunchtime and breaks, which we hope will make them more accessible.

There will be a more varied range of job opportunities available and a new ‘Careers Advice’ initiative – The CV clinic was one of the aspects of last year’s Jobs Fair which was well-received and so this will continue to be made available.


International Languages Fair (ILF)

Many comments were received regarding the ILF and its similarity to Poster Presentations. We have addressed this and there will be a different format to last year’s ILF that we hope will make the concept clearer to presenters and provide a better experience for attendees.

How To…’ Sessions

Although these remain popular, there were a number of comments relating to the timing of the sessions – such an early start makes for a very long day. We have addressed this by moving some of the sessions to the Careers Fair, which we hope will enable a greater number of people to attend more of the sessions.

Environment/Green issues:

This remains a huge concern amongst delegates and the Conference Committee alike. There was some criticism of the lack of re-usable cups available in Brighton, amongst other issues such as the pre-dominance of single-use plastic in catering outlets, and this is something we are working closely with the team at the venue in Liverpool, the ACC, about. Their environmental policies are excellent – right down to the re-use of carpet in the exhibition area. More information about this is available on the Conference website at https://conference.iatefl.org/green.

Registration queues:

These continue to be challenging, just because of the sheer number of people involved. We work hard every year to try and improve the process, and this year made improvements to our systems for badging and certification. For Liverpool we are streamlining the registration of groups of delegates which can cause a backlog for others. One of the key things which helps with registration is if delegates have their registration confirmation at hand, and turn up as early as possible to avoid the last minute rush!

The issues addressed here are by no means exhaustive, but are some of the key issues for many of our delegates. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, comments, or indeed ideas for future improvement.

Sarah Mount, Conference Committee, IATEFL

Nov 2018

[email protected]

IATEFL’s Conference Committee is made up of representatives from Head Office and elected volunteers. They are responsible for the planning and implementation of the IATEFL International Conference each year.


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O&A on Phil Longwell’s Webinar on Mental Health in ELT


On 7th July 2018 Phil Longwell presented the following IATEFL webinar:

Workshop title: Mental Health Awareness for Employers within ELT

Participants looked at the following questions in this workshop:

  • Is it ever right to disclose a diagnosed mental health condition up front in an interview or having been hired for a job in language teaching?
  • What kinds of factors are a cause of stress for language teachers?
  • How confident do you feel at recognising symptoms of poor mental health in those teachers?
  • How can a manager support a language teacher without specific training?
  • In what ways can an institution support the mental health and wellbeing of its employees?

Phil drew on his personal experience, mental health training that he has undergone via the charity, Mind, and a recent large-scale piece of research that he carried out.  He asked for participants to contribute to the discussion during the workshop.

The recording is available to IATEFL members in the webinar section of the site. If you would like to watch the recording, you need to be a member of IATEFL (find out how to join), but even if you’re not a member, you can read Phil’s answers to all of the questions and comments from those who attended the webinar.

This was Phil’s first IATEFL webinar, following a presentation he gave at the annual conference in Brighton on 10 April.  He had previously given a webinar on this topic for International House as part of their wellbeing series. In the same month, he gave a training workshop to Directors of Studies and Assistant Directors of Studies at a monthly meeting of LONDOSA. Some of the material used in that workshop was used again in his IATEFL webinar, mostly the focus on specific diagnosed mental health conditions.

Lizzie Pinard attended the webinar and has written her own personal reflection on it.

Here are the questions and Phil’s answers that came out of this:

Q1. How did you find the courage and the space for vulnerability to transform your own pain into a positive message for others?

A1. As I answered at the end of the webinar, I felt that this topic is close to my heart. I felt that I had something to contribute about an under discussed topic.  I began with my TaWSIG interview for Time to Talk Day in February 2017. I wanted to explicitly tackle Mental Health issues rather than being simply about wellbeing, although the two are inextricably linked. In terms of transforming my own pain, I have no hang ups any more about disclosure, but realise this is not easy for many. I find it cathartic to talk about this and feel that I have inspired others to open up.

Q2. What conclusions do you draw to the first question? Or your own personal take?

A2.  Although I would love the situation to change so that we could get to the point of potential employees being able to disclose a mental health condition up front or in an interview, I think at the moment this is unrealistic.  An ELT employer is still more likely to choose a candidate without a disclosed condition over one that hasn’t. At the moment, both sides would have reservations and there are so many different teaching contexts and cultures. I sympathise with employers who want reliable teachers, but quite often a condition does not prevent a teacher from doing their job.

In my own experience, I have done both.  I have held information back when I did not think it was worth mentioning – but I regretted that I didn’t say something as I could have been supported more.  Also, I have disclosed it up front and it helped the line manager be aware. It didn’t mean that support was given, but I felt better about the full disclosure.

Ultimately, I think it is a judgement call that the employee needs to make once they have been hired.

Q3. If many teachers are casuals, which is the case in Australia and many other countries, and there are no support services through HR, what are managers supposed to do? I can get some info as a manager, and I do have a Mental Health Aid Certificate and registration for 3 years, but I do not feel confident to use my modest knowledge. What would you recommend?

A3. You’re right that many teachers are casual, where it might be difficult to get to know them. Australia was mentioned by respondent no.290 in my survey, firstly on the question about causes of stress: “Job insecurity (in Australia), marking load, failing students, lack of recognition or reward, taking on problems that students disclose’.  Secondly, in the question about what employers can do: “Changing the nature of the industry in Australia, by providing more contract(s) and less casual work.”

Job insecurity seems high in Australia. Temporary contracts in ELT rarely come with protection or employee rights. This can benefit the employee, but often the symptoms of poor mental health will go undetected and teachers will be unsupported.  I’m interested that despite having a certificate and registration you do not feel confident. You do not have to be an expert. I don’t think it is realistic to have a fully-trained person in every organisation. If you can create a working atmosphere where these casual teachers can approach you with problems then it would be a start.  Being able to listen to employees non-judgementally is important, as the answers often lie within the employee not a line manager. The fear of reprisals often prevents disclosure, which can make things worse. So reassuring the employee that they are not about to lose their job or be put on leave can help.

Q4. Please give more information about OCD

OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I was going to show a video about this during the webinar, but decided against it for reasons of time.  The video was made by OCD Action and I would recommend their website https://www.ocdaction.org.uk/ for finding out more information.

Q5. What’s the best strategy to take on bullying?

A5. Because I don’t have any specific experience of bullying I have let Kieran O’Discoll answer this question. He took part in my research and has written an extensive blog post on this, too.

“Dear Phil, Many thanks for your message. I hope you are keeping well. You are often in my thoughts and I salute your work in raising awareness of the stress teachers face, both from supervisors/colleagues and indeed from students themselves. My strategy when I faced severe bullying in my last school was to always stay strong in front of the aggressor. Though it deeply upset me, and he knew that, I always strove to defend myself staunchly to him, to defend the quality of my teaching, to point out the unfairness of his attacks. As you know, I eventually snapped, he fired me, after which I wrote my testimony on the ELT Advocacy blog. I also emailed him this article and sent him several other emails over the succeeding months to let him know that my article had garnered much support, but he didn’t ever respond. I considered taking an unfair dismissals case against him and let him know this also by email, again eliciting no response. If I had been in a bigger school such as my present college, with a HR department, I imagine I could have sought more in-house support but this bully was the owner of the school. I’ve been largely happy in my current third-level college teaching EAP. However, recently, I’ve unfortunately come under severe stress once again through some extremely difficult students – laziness and hostility towards their having to do EAP makes classes a huge uphill struggle, and it’s funny you should message me this week as I’ve been having huge stress and had been thinking of you and your work even this evening on my way home. One student who had been repeatedly leaving class very early had kept assuring me she had the school office’s consent, but when I eventually queried this with the office after becoming suspicious (she had submitted a plagiarized essay), I discovered she’d been deceiving me. However, she then confronted me aggressively and denied ever telling me she had the office consent – she told my employers she had thought I was personally allowing her to leave early, and she thus got me into trouble after I had accepted her lies in good faith. Her attendance determines her visa. So she jeopardized my future at this college, and asked to leave my class, though I’m just as glad she has left. But students can be really nasty towards the best and fairest of teachers, I’ve come to realise. Though I have some nice students, I find you always have to be so careful and watch your back with them. As for the lazy students, my Director of Studies has no interest, the ethos at this school is that nobody cares, it seems. This DOS has also been quite dismissive of me regarding the above student who hung me out to dry regarding her attendance deception. I don’t know what my future is though I’ve always given this school, as every other school, my level best, Phil. At least in this school there is HR and I’m in a union. But I put so much work and enthusiasm into my teaching, that it’s hugely upsetting and unpleasant when students show such bad behaviour, laziness, deception, hostility and academic dishonesty. I abhor dishonesty. One of my former colleagues is encouraging me to get out of teaching but I really need the income. Anyway, that’s my story, Phil. I wish you continued happiness and success and do keep me updated on your blog posts, please. I’d love to stay in touch and hope to meet you at some point. Many thanks. Kieran.”

For more about Kieran’s story see this post.

Q6. All you have mentioned is fine, but how to continuously support teachers and help them avoid stress, burnout etc

If you are a line manager or a person who is responsible for their employees’ wellbeing then supporting teachers is paramount.  Quite often the person responsible for a teachers’ workload is not always the best person to help. But if you are in position where you can, then look out for the signs of mental distress.  Although I covered some diagnosed conditions in the webinar, there are plenty of undiagnosed and common symptoms, some of which get hidden by the employee. Employers in ELT have a duty to make sure teachers are respected, looked after and given time off.  Stress is normal and part of teaching. The pressures of the job can bring anxiety, but employees often have outside anxieties which affect their work. Creating an environment where teachers can raise concern without fear of reprisals is important. Obviously different contexts require different responses.  Burnout often comes from dedicated teachers, being overworked, tending to be perfectionists or those who worry obsessively about getting things right. A good employer will recognise the human part of ‘human resources’. There are lots of good posts out there about ‘burnout’ – one that I recommend is Roseli Serra’s: http://itdi.pro/blog/2017/10/13/burnout-in-elt/ in which she describes getting over the burnout syndrome.

Incidentally, the slide below on ‘stress’ is the one that failed to open correctly during the webinar:


Q7. What is grounding technique?

A7. Grounding technique is a method of dealing with a ‘panic attack’. Panic attacks can cause feelings of disorientation, so it can be helpful to ground yourself. Your mind may be telling you to flee, but try to stay where you are and bring yourself into the present moment. The technique requires the person to not only have their feet on the ground but to feel them touching it, holding onto something such as a steering wheel. Connecting to something solid and being aware of this can help focus the mind and return the sufferer to normal.  Mindfulness practice can help, too.

Q8. Because of my current mental state I am fired at my school. When I go for a job interview I mainly struggle if I should talk about it or not. Can you give me some guidelines? What should I tell them, and what is not necessary for them to know? I’ve got borderline depression and have been quite suicidal last year. Should I tell them everything or can I just talk about my depression only?

A8. This is a little bit difficult to answer because I don’t know about your individual context.  Clearly your condition has had an impact on your employment and now you are wondering how much to tell a potential future employer.  In an ideal world, you would be able to disclose your condition up front or following a successful interview, but I realise that this is not always the best approach if you are working in a cultural situation that may still see depression as some kind of disabling issue which will impact on your ability to do your job.  That last sentence is written with the employers’ perception in mind – i.e. they might perceive that you will not able to do your job effectively enough or that you may have time off work etc. My guidelines would be to ‘test the water’ and find out from ‘human resources’ (personnel) – if they have such a thing – what could be expected if you disclose your condition and/or previous experience.  Remember that plenty of language teachers are able to do their job perfectly good enough, despite having symptoms of one condition or another. I have had many months of inactivity and no earnings due to depression in the past. After a while, I was able to return to work, first by volunteering, to regain confidence, and then by taking on a part-time position where I did not feel pressure to perform. Good luck!

Q9. What are some words the employer can say to comfort their employee?

A9. In the webinar I showed the ALGEE model.  The first step looks at worst-case scenarios. What you say to an employee once symptoms have been noticed or a problem has been raised will depend on the situation and the specific issues that the person is going through.  It might be temporary, such as a panic attack, or a more long-lasting anxiety. An employer’s or line manager’s role is to listen non-judgementally and reflect on what the person is saying, not to bring too much of your own opinions into the conversation.

You do not need to be medically trained to be able to give reassurance. Just recognise that something is happening and that the ‘threat’ that the employee is perceiving will pass and that there is a way forward.  Reassurance about work or workload will be contextual. The last two are recommended because the majority of line managers are not trained to deal with this.


Q10. It’s not common to have students (specially children) with some mental illness in the classroom, but I’m thinking in some scenarios like the Panic Attack in the middle of a presentation of a students. Can we apply this guidelines effectively in the classroom?

A10. If it’s you, then walk away.  If you are able to, explain to the students that you need to speak to someone.  If you are unable to continue teaching ask for someone – a senior teacher or line manager – to cover your class. Let me them know when you feel better and panic has subsided that you can still teach, but if there are causes which you can identify try to talk about them, if possible. If a student has one, then I would not force them to continue with their presentation but allow them to ‘calm’ themselves down, with your help if this is possible. The main thing is to regain control of your breathing and deal with the physical symptoms first, before trying to talk about it.  Students do experience some symptoms of some mental health conditions, most usually anxiety – over giving presentations – because of ‘performance’ aspect or tests. This has been documented by those involved in testing, although I do not have a reference to hand.

Q11. How can we face unrealistic expectations from top officials? It is most time becomes so stressful..

A11.Unrealistic expectations is one of the biggest causes of poor teacher wellbeing. It can lead to burnout.  I mostly think of the expectation by ‘officials’ (employers) of student progression in a relatively short space of time.  If possible, express your concerns to management. However, if every teacher is in the same situation, then managing stress is important, as a constant feeling of falling short of these expectations will impact on your own wellbeing, if you are a conscientious employee.  Sharing stories and swapping notes with your teaching peers could help.

Q12. Shouldn’t all teachers have clear health insurance coverage wherever they teach, both for physical and mental problems? Teachers at commercial private schools have to demand that perhaps. What do you think? A teachers union is also an option for this.

A12. Speaking as someone from the UK, which has a National Health Service, I know that I am personally covered. It could be argued that mental health provision, support and funding does not have parity yet with physical health. It is an ongoing battle in the U.K. And I have been part of campaigns in this respect. When abroad there are plenty of countries where travel and health insurance are recommended. It is wise, but not compulsory in many situations. A teaching union is good and I think ELT Ireland are a great example of an advocacy organisation that protects teachers.

Q13. Do you know where we could access specific training on this topic, that employers might recognise and give us, for example, the role of being the designated person for staff members to talk to?

A13. It’s expensive. Mental Health First Aid England courses, in particular, cost a lot to do, even if the training you get would be second-to-none. I was advised not to call my webinar ‘Mental Health Training for Employers’ in case attendees thought that one hour and a certificate would make them suitably trained. Hence my truncated disclaimer at the beginning of it. I do think that having a designated person for staff members is a good. Some institutions are excellent. Just today I came across the University of Sheffield’s website in this respect. It champions and supports an open culture around this topic in the workplace. Having a designated or trained person in the workplace was one the main recommendations for employers that came out of my survey last year.

Q14. I used to teach in a country where there is political unrest, which affected all those who chose to stay in the country. In ELT contexts there, the teachers, students, administration and all were affected psychologically by what was going on. In this case, how can the mental health of teachers be taken care of?

A14. That question is very difficult to answer because so much depends on the situation, the country and what kind of unrest.  I was teaching in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) when a lot of teachers were flown over from Libya because of unrest there. The ‘Arab Spring’ was taking hold. The thought that Riyadh was a more hospitable place than Tripoli struck me as very strange.  But the British Council were flying staff out for their safety. In situations when there is political change, guidance needs to come from the employer and national embassies, as this goes beyond the psychology of staff.

Q15. I am not sure if it is safe for the teacher and students to have teachers with some of the problems you mentioned to be in the classroom. Is it? The Classroom can be a rather stressful place that may trigger further problems.

A15. This is something I personally think about a lot and requires a good answer. Yes, the classroom can trigger problems – it is a stressful occupation for many.  Certain working conditions and coping with cultural expectations can add to the pressures. But most teachers are conscientious about what they do, most care and take things personally when things go wrong.  I think it is important to point out that teachers with diagnosed and undiagnosed conditions can do a perfectly good job. The risk of suggesting that the classroom is not a ‘safe’ place to be is that you continue to maintain the stigma associated with mental health.  Obviously, if the teacher is either a danger to themselves, staff or the students then this should be taken seriously. That is why a greater understanding of conditions is required, as well as someone trained or a designated person who deals with this, not just a line manager.

Q16. Stamp on the spot?

A16. It is one of the suggested ways of distracting yourself and dealing with the physical symptoms of a panic attack.  Take care of the physical side first, before trying to talk about what is happening or what just happened.

Q17. What’s the title of the book – that was visible in the background during the webinar?

A17. The two books I showed were ‘Language Teacher Psychology’ – edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas and Sarah Mercer and (2) A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental – an A-Z: From Anxiety to Zero F**ks Given’ by Natasha Devon. In the past I’ve referred to Chris Eyre’s ‘The Elephant in the Staffroom’, too, and I recommend the work of Matt Haig, too, amongst others.

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