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

INTRODUCTION

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:

stress_factors

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.

Algee_model

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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Artist in residence (Emma-Louise Pratt)

When I was invited to be the artist in residence at IATEFL in Brighton this year, I jumped at the chance. I had already been talking about artists’ residencies in learning and especially language learning contexts, and I was keen to develop my own practice and build on my knowledge from having coordinated artists in schools in New Zealand.

I had also been invited to participate in the Visual Arts Circle’s facilitation of the Global Issues SIG Pre-Conference Event. This was an opportunity to explore workshop as performance; an artwork in itself.

At the PCE, I used video and storytelling to lead delegates into a space where they were invited to express their own personal thoughts and stories visually on the theme of social justice. Over the four days of the main conference I made work that responded to the plenary speakers.

IATEFL Conference Day One

Showing images Emma painted in response to the day one plenary, including a large image of Spanish wetlands, and small pieces of paper around it with various phrases on them

Lourdes Ortega, a Professor in the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University, presented her ideas about the relationships of research and the classroom. How does a southern Spanish wetland ecosystem in spring relate to a presentation on research and the classroom? Listening to Lourdes, who originates from Spain, got me thinking about how the relationship between the classroom and research is like ecosystems within ecosystems. The classroom is one, education systems another, academic research another. Perhaps we could see it metaphorically as the wetland. The pond is teaming with life. There is the perspectives one gets from under the water, or if one is on the surface of the water looking in, or up, or from flying above it. Wetland dwellers never see all perspectives, just as teachers don’t always see their classroom within a wider context or how reseearch might interact with their teaching and with learning. Suspended between the water and air worlds on their lily pads, researchers aren’t participators in the everyday of the classroom ecosystem, or the education system it is part of. They are outside of it, which is a disadvantage. However research can present different perspectives otherwise unseen.

Showing a stork's nest with a faded figure underneath it standing on a lily pad Showing a red dragonfly in the foreground perched on rushes, and a small child standing on a lilypad in the background

Day Two

A large mostly grey image, with a blue sky, and various small signs. Underneath is a banner reading 'pay for your stuff'

ELT writer Dorothy Zemach gave us an entertaining break down of the publishing world of ELT and what it’s like to currently work in it. I had already decided the setting for the content of this presentation, having finally made it outside at about 7pm the evening before to get some fresh air and sit on the beach in the dying light of the day.

Emma's feet on Brighton's pebbly beach, with the sea in the background

Brighton beach was going to have to make an appearance. But as I listened and made notes, I was overwhelmed by the grey grubbiness of it all. The numbers game, the bottom lines and the need for everyone involved to have their financial needs met. As an educator and an artist, I felt very deeply for her plea to everyone to pay for the work of writers in our field. Paying well for good work ensures that the work continues to be good. However, that means someone down the line has to pay for it, and not everyone can.

Foreground: 'global material is cost effective', background: Brighton's burning pier Banners reading 'pay for excellence', 'inexperience is cheaper' Various signs, including 'global material', and a speech bubble reading 'Who cares?

Day Three

A woman on a black background. She is in various shades of blue and white, with the word 'ABERASH' across her chest

Brita Fernandez Schmidt is an advocate and promoter of women’s empowerment, women’s rights and equality. At the end of her presentation, I made my way out to the foyer of the Brighton Centre to catch delegates as they made their way in. I recorded short audios of their reactions to the speaker. Many were overwhelmed, motivated and inspired.

Later while making the work, I began talking to delegates who felt very differently about the presentation. They felt that it was emotionally manipulative and a call to action from a charity, and that the IATEFL conference wasn’t the place for that.  This image is a made-up woman. Pieced together, or slightly reconstructed. If you were at the plenary, you would have noticed a gesture the speaker used a lot – that of her hand to her chest. So, I put her hand there and the name of the girl who moved her to action.

Aberash close-up, plus hand gesture - hand on her chest

Slow Digestion

Emma's desk in the foreground with the Brighton beach painting in progress. Two figures talking to the right

My temporary art studio, with its work in progress provided chance for reflection. I only had one plenary to digest slowly for the day. Meanwhile, others dashed about in front of me, often asking me hurriedly if room 11 was anywhere near.  Conferences cause a sense of rush. We often need to “doggy bag” our thoughts and reactions, in order to sit down at the next meal. One workshop or presentation after another blurs into a degustation menu that is presented too fast, the plates taken away to suddenly.

A table covered with paints, paper, and other artist's equipment

I, on the other hand, had the space to slow it all down. People could, and did, come and pull up a chair and chat with me as I worked or wandered about the visual work I was creating and peer over my shoulder. I noticed during the GISIG pre-conference day that the room had fallen silent while people played with the dark ink and water on watercolour paper in the first playful stage of our workshop. I had expected chatter, but what I found was silence. A silent room. One delegate described it as if the act of watching the ink absorb in the paper made our bodies and minds slow down too. Perhaps we could consider more space for that in future conferences.

Bio

Emma Louise Pratt director ELTCampus

Emma L Pratt is a practising artist (www.emmapratt.com) with a degree in Fine Arts, a post-graduate in Museology. Her research interest is in the area of teaching artists and citizen artists, as well as the visual arts in learning. She is currently working on an Artists in Schools action research project developing visual work in a primary school and working on parallel workshops for learning and the visual arts.   She is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Frameworks Education Group that specialises in teacher development. She also is the developer of the 2016 ELTons nominated TEFL Preparation Course and Teaching English to Young Learners on ELTCampus, an online platform she also founded and developed.

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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e-Valuating your own development (Oksana Hera and Rob Howard)

Oksana

Oksana Hera

Oksana attending the 50th Annual IATEFL Conference in Birmingham, UK, as a winner of the 2016 BESIG IATEFL 50th Anniversary Scholarship

Being a newly-qualified holder of an internationally recognized teaching qualification and an MA in Linguistics, during my first job interview with a school owner, I aspired to share my vision of teaching and have a profound professional discussion on the subject matter of teaching. However, they just put my CV aside and started dwelling on a plan of how teachers bring profit to the school. What I heard was that there was no point in making any investment in teacher training by that school because teachers could, and would, leave them. The idea that reverberated in my mind was that they should have been thinking: ‘What if teachers actually stay? It is our reputation at stake, isn’t it?’

They say you cannot step into the same river twice but what if you actually find yourself in an in-company or tertiary level context where, on the one hand, your professional development is solely your responsibility and, on the other hand, when you find a continuous professional development (CPD) event to attend, it turns out they will not let you go because there is nobody to substitute for you.

Therefore, if your direct manager or employer does not encourage you to grow and does not appreciate your wish to do so, for whatever reason, there is another powerful force that does – your learners.

It’s crucial to realise that in any given educational encounter, first and foremost, you are representing yourself as a professional.

Wherever you are in your teaching career and whatever your context is, consider following these suggestions.

  1. Clarify and set your own career and development goals and milestones. Claim responsibility for your own growth: it may feel scary and you may even feel disoriented at times, but it’s worth it.
  2. Communicate goals and aspirations clearly to your employer or the end user of your services. Without you telling them, you cannot expect anyone to imagine how that conference you attended in April will benefit them and their learning.
  3. Be proactive about finding CPD events that you want to be a part of, be they online or face-to-face.
  4. Learn from other spheres and adjacent fields to get a new perspective. For instance, getting to know how real estate agents or lawyers treat their clients might be helpful to accommodate your business learners’ needs.
  5. Share your experience of attending professional events with your learners: not only does it spread positive vibes and build rapport but this also motivates them to grow in their respective industry.

And most of all, talk to your colleagues about your ideas. When I shared my story with my colleague, Rob Howard, founder of EFLtalks – teachers teaching teachers, he came up with some brilliant tips of his own.

Rob

Rob Howard

Rob at the Annual IATEFL Conference in Glasgow, UK, 2017, the winner of IATEFL Business English SIG Facilitator Scholarship

It seems everyone is talking about CPD and teacher development but the number of teachers actually doing it these days has sharply declined. This is a very unfortunate state as a teacher who stops learning not only becomes stagnant, but over time forgets some of the best practices that they have acquired over the years. I started taking advantage of every learning opportunity early in my career and I haven’t slowed down since. Just the other day I was reminded of a technique that I used years ago but, out of habit, let slip from my repertoire. As Oksana mentioned, sharing the fact that you are continually attending conferences, webinars and reading, sets a great example that learning should never stop and also demonstrates your commitment to their learning. Personally, I wouldn’t go to a doctor that isn’t keeping up-to-date with their own continuing education and seeing what is new in medicine. Why would we expect the same from our students?

Years ago, while working for a US Binational Language Center, I was known for going to every publisher event, conference, association meeting and training that was available in my city. Other teachers would often criticize my quest for further development. They thought it to be a waste of time, money and energy. They were all surprised when I received one of five financial promotions out of 200 plus teachers based solely on my commitment towards self-improvement and sharing with other colleagues. The company took notice. My students took notice. I didn’t do it for the money, but it was sure nice to be recognized and complimented for my commitment.

Of course, I realize that CPD is time-consuming. This is the reason I started EFLtalks, where a collection of almost 200 education professionals offer up their ideas and techniques in just 10 minutes and share them for free with teachers all over the world. Seeing that we have reached over 500,000 teachers, those without the opportunity to attend training courses and even those who can, and knowing that many are still eager to learn more and dedicate time to their development, gives us new hope that there are still many who take their craft seriously.

Just today my student in Belarus, when I asked about his hobbies, responded “learning.” He said that after he had finished his PhD, he felt a hole in his life by not continuing to study like he did for school. I told him that he is inspiring. The student, whom I have needed to reschedule often due to my travel for conferences, answered quite simply, “I get inspiration from my teacher.”

Oksana and Rob at a laptop

Oksana and Rob, as part of BESIG Online Team, simulcasting sessions from the IATEFL BESIG 30th Annual Conference in cooperation with IATEFL RESIG, Malta, 2017. Photo credit Rudi Distl.

Bio

Rob Howard and Oksana Hera

Oksana and Rob attending the 1st IATEFL Poland Business English Event, Warsaw, May 2018

Oksana Hera is a freelance Business English Trainer in Lviv, Ukraine, and a Joint Coordinator of the IATEFL BESIG Online Team. Her interests include learners’ motivation and the effective use of technology in teaching English. She also blogs about films for English learners at Movies by Levels.

Rob Howard is an EFL Teacher, Neurolanguage Coach and teacher trainer as well as teaching Business English. He is Joint Coordinator for the IATEFL BESIG Online Team and Online and Video Coordinator for the Visual Arts Circle. He has authored and co-authored several books and is co-founder of the Independent Authors & Publishers Group. He is a speaker worldwide on Continuing Professional Development, Business Development and Image Presentation and the founder of EFLtalks, a finalist for the 2016 British Council ELTons Award for Innovation in Teacher Resources. His website is www.RobHoward.me. He lives in Poland.

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, and want to take advantage of all of the professional development opportunities IATEFL has to offer, why not join us?

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Q & A from Margit Szesztay’s webinar on Tapping into the creative potential of groups

On 2nd June 2018, Margit Szesztay presented the following IATEFL webinar:

Tapping into the creative potential of groups

In this webinar, Margit Szesztay will explain her fascination with the potential of groups, large and small, and her exploration into how to activate and draw on group creativity. This webinar will focus on a number of activities which build on curiosity and imagination and can encourage learners of English to engage in free-flowing, spontaneous interaction. It will also focus on the role of the teacher to help create the kind of classroom culture that can nurture such creative interaction among group members. Most of the activities are suitable for large classes in state education, as well as smaller groups in language schools.

If you would like to watch the recording and find out what the activities mentioned in bold are, you need to be a member of IATEFL (find out how to join). If you’re not a member, Margit has shared her responses to some of the questions asked during the webinar with us on the blog. Over to Margit…

Thanks to everyone who participated in the webinar. Here are my responses to the questions I didn’t have time to answer.

For which level are these activities suitable?

Some creative, open-ended activities require only a low level of English. Out of the ones I shared with you, there were several creative brainstorming tasks. For example, in the Picture Cover-Up activity, students guess what might be missing from the visual. They can also guess in their mother tongue – this is a good opportunity for the teacher to feed in some new language. Contributing to the Group Picnic doesn’t need a high level of language either – it’s a kind of creative pattern drill.

If groups compete, do you assess them in any way? 

In these group creativity activities students only compete against time. The whole group or the whole class is challenged to think, imagine, brainstorm, play together for a common goal. There are no winners or losers. What we do is to appreciate the richness of ideas, creative solutions that different groups come up with. For example, in the case of the Scene from a Film activity during the webinar you came up with very different film titles, and in a classroom students also come up with different titles – some funny, some evocative, some surprising.

Is it OK if a teacher asks some informal and personal questions before giving a task?  

There are no universal recipes or rules about what a teacher can or cannot do. I think the personal dimension is very important and asking some questions which show the students that you relate to them as individuals and care about their well-being, not just about their level of English, is a good way of building trust, interest and motivation.

Are there any specific strategies to make role play effective in a large classroom? 

Create a relaxed, playful learning environment. It can be helpful if you as a teacher move in and out of various roles, for example, by telling stories, jokes, acting out short situations with some of the students. Demonstrating the specific type of role play can be useful. For example, do a few rounds of Instant Role Play with some of the students, asking for volunteers. This shows them how the activity goes, and it also moves them into creativity mode. Then you can ask them to follow this up by playing the game in groups of 4-5. If you have large classes, it can save time to set up home groups that are fixed for a few weeks. Then you can just say: ‘Sit with your home group friends’, instead of having to set up groups. If some students are absent, you can just readjust the groups to make sure you have roughly equal numbers.

There may be many reasons for a student not wanting to join in. Of course it depends on the situation, but would you encourage them or let them be? 

As you say, it depends on the situation. Some shy students just need a gentle nudge. Others might find even a simple role play high risk, especially with the whole class watching. I usually don’t force anyone to perform in front of the whole class, but everyone needs to participate and contribute during pair work and group work. I find that the atmosphere makes a huge difference. If there is a fun, relaxed, non-judgemental atmosphere, ideas flow more easily and there is less performance anxiety.

In doing “Instant Role Play”, is there any criterion to choose the one who would respond to the triggers? Because some students would feel more stressed in that situation. Do we need to change role? 

Start by calling on students who like to be in the limelight. Once they get the idea, they can also do it with you being ‘in the hot seat’. You can give them some possible triggers e.g. ‘We hear you would like to be the school principal’. Or they can just improvise without triggers. In any case, you will know which students really don’t want to be called on as they will avoid eye-contact with you. Wait till they are ready.

Do these activities work better with a specific level or age of students? 

Well, I work in higher education and my students have a pretty high level of English. But I have now seen generations of teachers work successfully with these and similar activities in state schools in Hungary ranging from false beginners to advanced learners. I’ve also had positive feedback from teachers I’ve worked with in China, Turkey, Tunisia and a few other countries, so I don’t think they are culture-specific.

How do you ensure students do not start speaking in their own language? 

By building a positive, inclusive learning environment where every effort is appreciated, everyone is pushed to their limits (and beyond … because there are no limits really), and at the same time where it’s OK to make mistakes. Making English feel natural, making it the language of communication for the classroom community. Even if I succeed in all this, students will occasionally slip into their mother tongue and I think that’s OK.

Margit, where can we get an energy meter? 

The way a thermometer can measure body temperature, a G-energy meter can measure the amount of energy in the group at any given moment. … Well, such a gadget hasn’t been invented yet, but in actual fact  we have no need for it, either. If we give it attention, we can pick up on the constantly changing energy levels in the classroom.  In other words, as teachers we have an in-built energy meter.

In Freinet pedagogy, students create newspapers which they then also exchange with with students in other cities, countries. That is an interesting angle, isn’t it? 

Putting together a newspaper is an excellent example of a project that encourages groups to tap into their creative potentials and create a joint product. And then sharing this with students in a different part of the world makes it all the more meaningful – there is an audience for the joint product.

Do you have any link where we can find the collection of activities for developing creativity, Margit? 

Have a look at the last slide of the webinar. There are several publications and resources listed there. [IATEFL members can access the webinar recording through the members’ page. Find out how to join.]

Bio

Margit Szesztay

Margit Szesztay has been involved in teacher education for many years. Her special areas of interest include group facilitation, group creativity, global issues, social intelligence for teachers, and community building. She works at the Department of English Language Pedagogy at ELTE University in Budapest, Hungary. She is currently the President of IATEFL.

Thank you to Margit for agreeing to write for the IATEFL blog. 

If you’d like to write a blog post or present a webinar for us, please contact blog (at) iatefl (dot) org.

You can find out more about upcoming webinars on the IATEFL website. If you are an IATEFL member, you can access the recordings and slides from all of our webinars in the members’ area. If you’re not, you can join here.

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Teaching listening at IATEFL 2018 (Svetlana Bogolepova)

A multitude of topics were discussed at the IATEFL 2018 conference. Teaching listening was one of them, the talks on which are going to be summarised in this post. I am extremely grateful to Cambridge Assessment English for giving me an opportunity to develop professionally and enrich both my classroom practice and research background through the scholarship I won from them.

Interestingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be a uniform understanding of how students master this skill. Christine Goh mentions the widespread language classroom practice of teaching listening in the way it is tested. She emphasis that bottom-up (based on sound / word / intonation recognition) and top-down (based on background knowledge) activities should be supplemented by metacognition tasks. It is metacognition, or reflection on your own thinking processes, which make the teaching of listening different from its assessment. Christine suggests a framework for listening comprehension development, the first step of which is schemata (background knowledge) activation, then comes actual listening, then the after-listening stage including monitoring and evaluating your own performance. Extensive listening supplements these out of the classroom.

John Field, however, says that in real-life situations we do not regularly activate schemata before listening (imagine doing research on a topic before listening to a radio programme). His research showed that even at B1 level students do not understand everything they hear. Thus, they have to be taught strategies to compensate for these gaps (along with listening sub-skills and practice for tests). These strategies include, for example, anchoring on key words and making guesses, working out meaning from context and anticipating what’s going to be said. He highlights that students’ problems will be context-specific, therefore, strategies we teach them will differ in each case. Though John Field states his approach is different from what Christine Goh suggests, I find common features in how they understand strategies: students need to reflect on their performance guided by the teacher to identify the obstacles to comprehension and find ways for repair.

What is particularly interesting for me is that John Field finds exam practice completely inauthentic, as in real life we seldom (if ever) have prompts or have to choose the appropriate answer when we listen. Authentic listening was also the focus of a talk given by Sheila Thorn. Sheila creates materials for different levels based exclusively on authentic audio extracts. Traditionally textbooks have graded texts based on certain text models which are miles away from real situations. She introduces the idea of grading tasks, not tests. In addition, she suggests we should do decoding in the classroom, e.g. through streamlining activities, in which students need to transcribe the most challenging extracts containing elision or assimilation. Further exploration may touch upon collocations, colloquialisms or accents. Sheila Thorn applies a similar approach when she designs listening assessment materials.

Robin Walker focussed his talk on independent listening, which is the opposite of interactive listening. An example of independent listening may be listening to a lecture or a presentation. Such features as limited prior knowledge or lack of clarification make it more challenging for learners. He singled out the skills and strategies students need to listen independently, for example, recognition of text structure or note-taking. The most interesting activities for me include “paused” note-taking (when students have a pause to take notes after listening to a short extract, but the length of this pause is gradually reduced) and listening with books closed (read the task → listen with your book closed → open your book and do the task).

All the talks described above gave the listeners both food for thought and practical instruments to use in the classroom. These tools help us actually teach listening differently from assessing it, gradually developing this skill and making it true-to-life.

Bio

Svetlana BogolepovaSvetlana Bogolepova is Associate Professor at the School of Foreign Languages at National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. She holds a Ph.D. in Philology and teaches Speech Practice, EAP and exam classes. EAP, assessment, and materials development lie within her interests. She was the winner of a Cambridge Assessment English scholarship for IATEFL Brighton 2018.

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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Like winning the lottery (Stephen Dodd)

I won the Teacher Development Scholarship Award which was a great surprise! I decided to apply for it as I had never been able to attend the main IATEFL conference but had had a taste of previous smaller conferences and really like the vibe around them. To win the scholarship for the whole week felt like I had won the lottery!

Tony Picot from Manchester Metropolitan University, with Stephen Dodd and his certificate

Tony Picot from Manchester Metropolitan University, with Stephen Dodd and his certificate

I was invited to the Pre-Conference Event on the Monday before the start of the main conference. I went to the Teacher Development (TDSIG) and Leadership and Management (LAMSIG) one and I really enjoyed how that was organised and run. What I really got out of the day was how teachers don’t necessarily realise how supported they are or can be. Being able to be a member of this group really motivated me to get more interested in how teachers can keep on improving throughout their careers, for example by joining one of the many SIG groups or by forming groups in the workplace to bring about change from within. Throughout the day we spoke about how managers need to give teachers both time and also the money to develop in their workplaces. It was great to delve into the details of how teachers can continue developing throughout their careers. Watch this space!

I think the conference helped me understand better what type of teacher I am and what I stand for. Specifically, it highlighted the ongoing debate about course book use and how we should re-address the use of them in class how we should readdress the use of them in class. This was the subject of a fantastic plenary by Dorothy Zemach. My own perspective is that we should not be using course books to the extent that we do as it stifles teacher development and hinders student progress. Ironic to think that something many people see as a good thing (the course book) could be something so detrimental to a student’s progress. No SLA [Second Language Acquisition] studies support the grammar syllabus that course books offer so why are we using them on such a wide scale?

The most moving part was meeting all the other scholarship winners as we were such a diverse group of people. The presentations were excellent but by far the best part of the entire week was the spontaneous meetings with other teachers and getting to chat to them and see what they do. I even met a lovely group of Welsh teachers who were at the conference to gain insights into how they can improve their teaching of Welsh to English speakers! Who’d have thought it?

I left the conference reenergised and with many thoughtful insights into the possibilities of PBL (Project-Based Learning). I saw Vicky Saumell’s excellent presentation on her step-by-step guide to introducing PBL and how it was met with approval from the students and their parents and teachers. My own experience of PBL has been a revelation. In PBL, students have to pose a question, then discuss how they are going to find the/an answer to it. One such PBL project was carried out recently in my school where the students asked ‘Why are there so many homeless people in Liverpool?’ The next step is to test and/or revise their own investigations, before applying the new information to solve a real-world problem. So in this case, it involved creating questions to ask the general public’s opinion on the homeless, as well as that of the city council and of the people who are homeless themselves. This generated a lot of language from the students and many possibilities to give language input as and when required. Once they had the answers to their questions, students had to think about how to present the information clearly and concisely as well as trying to come up with some real ways to tackle homelessness. Given such freedom the students learnt a lot more than just language. Sessions on PBL at the conference and the disapproval of course books in general which I noticed highlights how we can initiate change for the better, but we need to start somewhere.

Overall, I feel that bubbling away under the surface teachers are starting to question some of the ways they teach. The conference also helped me see that we are really part of a family of teachers with a common aim and despite our different contexts we are all passionate about our jobs. Do apply for a scholarship as you will have an unforgettable experience!

Bio

Steve Dodd

Stephen Dodd is a teacher of some twenty-five years’ experience. He is currently director of English in Liverpool, a private school specialising in Project Based Learning (PBL).

He completed his Trinity Cert TESOL and went on to gain a distinction in The Licentiate Diploma in TESOL. Stephen has a keen passion for educational technology and so studied for the online ICT Cert in Teaching English with Technology (The Consultants-E) in 2011 and has started an MA in Education Technology at Manchester University.

He is also a teacher trainer and has considerable experience in designing bespoke teacher training courses for more experienced teachers. He has presented at various conferences and has a special interest in language learning and technology and Task-Based Learning.

Currently, he is working on an idea for an online platform for newly-qualified teachers who need support and guidance related to correct classroom practices.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Stephen’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

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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My Brighton experience – reflections on a scholarship (Julia Alivertis)

What encouraged me to attend the IATEFL Conference this year was a combination of things: last years’ experience in Glasgow, an idea for a joint presentation that became a labour of love, dedication to our profession and the instinct for seeking continuous professional development. What literally brought me to it was the Macmillan scholarship for first-time IATEFL presenters, which I won. It came as an unexpected gift in a lot more ways than the generous financial aspect. I felt lucky and deeply honoured to have been chosen among a large group of candidates, but I couldn’t have expected all the help and support I got from the IATEFL Scholarship committee and the Macmillan crew. Not only did they make sure that I would not encounter any problems during my preparation for the Conference, but they did their best to make the Brighton IATEFL Conference a valuable personal experience, taking good care of me and giving me a lot more attention than I could have hoped for.

The idea to send a proposal was born when my co-presenters and I started a discussion on how interesting and fruitful it might be to combine learning technologies with a plan to build empathy in the ELT classroom, to re-examine how we can teach our students to care for each other in a rather impersonal, data-driven world and, finally, to share it with colleagues from different contexts and see if it would also appeal to and work for them. In our view, empathy can prove a useful tool when efficiently activated and developed as a fifth skill, through cognitive and metacognitive processes.

It seemed that the IATEFL Conference would be the ideal opportunity to do this, as it is attended by colleagues from all over the world, teachers trying their best to teach English in situations very different from our own. Moreover, we hoped that the Learning Technologies and Global Issues Special Interest Groups would provide us with more insight into developing the concept of ‘Techno-Ethics’, a set of principles that we want to share with and instil in our students. With these in mind, a workshop titled ‘Do Androids dream of electric sheep? – Digital Empathy in ELT’ was created by three friends, Vicky Chionopoulou, Eftychis Kantarakis and myself, all members of TESOL Greece and sharing the same values and educational philosophy. I believe it was the excitement of the venture and the faith in its possibilities for classroom use within the ELT community that actually gave me the strength to apply for the scholarship, though at that moment it seemed like a very long shot.

During the presentation, with the help of our audience, we tried out a lot of e-learning activities in an attempt to redefine the ‘e’ to mean emotion, empathy and ethics. One example was ‘Empathy Bingo’, a fun activity that helped our audience recognize empathy demonstrated through short dialogues. Instead of the winning numbers of the classic Bingo game, the audience was trying to predict the order of a number of responses that could be mistaken for empathy and identify them for what they truly are. An electronic handout, which was given as an expansion of our activities, can be accessed here:

Empathy bingo QR code

Empathy Bingo winners

Empathy Bingo winners

The feedback we got after the presentation was more than encouraging and we all seemed to agree that by explicitly teaching students to be more conscious of other people’s feelings, we can create a more accepting and respectful school community. We hope that in the long run ‘digital empathy’ will inspire students to stand up for something, not just stand by, and communicate more effectively by embracing differences, building relationships, gaining a global perspective.

The presenters during an activity

The presenters during an activity

The conference was huge, but somehow managed to remain intimate and friendly as we kept bumping into people we know from other events and through networking. It engaged our cognition and emotion through a wide variety of topics, while the exhibition captured all our senses with the vivid colours of the stands, the abundance of materials, the buzz of the people, the pop-up events, the scent of coffee…but what was really great about the conference was meeting, spending time with and learning from other colleagues. I attended a lot of interesting sessions, some by famous speakers, and others by less well-known promising young teachers, or passionate experienced practitioners. They all gave me food for thought and a broader perspective to reflect on.

One of the highlights for me was Brita Fernandez Schmidt’s plenary during which she introduced Women for Women International, providing insight into how education plays a key role in making Global Goals, as agreed by the UN in 2015, a reality. In total accordance with our workshop, she linked the ELT world represented by the IATEFL conference with the real world, reminding us all that, besides teachers, we are global citizens and our classrooms are communities that can take action to make the real world a better place.

Attending the IATEFL Conference as a scholarship winner has offered me a lot more than ‘means, motive and opportunity’ to experience a major ELT Event. The main thing I have taken home with me is hope for the future of ELT and its role as an agent of change for the better. Meeting so many dedicated teachers of all ages was empowering. My presentation, focusing on the need to develop Empathy in the ELT classroom and the digital world our learners interact with, was a small contribution to the broad range of sessions dealing with World Issues and Learning Technologies. Next stop: Liverpool!

Bio

Julia Alivertis

Julia has been a teacher of English for more than 25 years and a part-time trainer for state school teachers, as well as a volunteer teacher for underprivileged students. A firm believer in life-long learning and CPD, Julia is currently pursuing an M.A. in TESOL focusing on Intercultural Issues in ELT and is an active member of TESOL Greece. She has co-organized the three TG International events in Preveza, Greece, where she lives, and has taken part in many international ELT conferences as a speaker.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Julia’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

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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What does IATEFL really stand for? (Anastasia Khodakova)

Part 1: The road to the conference

I’ve had a passion for English since I saw my first word of it – surprisingly enough, it was ‘pillow’ on the poster of some children’s magazine. I swallowed every English book I came across during the pre-Internet ’90s. Luckily, I had the best English teacher imaginable who tried to satisfy my hunger for learning languages despite the lack of modern textbooks and language practice. I entered the department of my dream – the foreign languages department in Tula, Russia – and dived into ‘the brave new world’ of the English language and culture. But I didn’t plan to become a teacher – journalism was my second passion.

In 2004 I won a scholarship to study journalism in the USA, at Eastern Michigan University. The year passed quickly and I flew home to get my degree in Education and then realized that my real passion is teaching.

My teaching career brought me to the USA a few times, all over the European continent – from Spain to Poland – and all over Russia – from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. I coordinated two national EFL volunteer projects about fostering tolerance and cultural awareness through English classes. I presented and shared my experience at various conferences, seminars and training sessions in many parts of Russia. Thanks to the IATEFL scholarship, I was able to share the results of this extensive work at IATEFL Brighton 2018.

Anastasia in Brighton

Part 2: Pre-conference event “Global Issues Special Interest Group”

I have participated in many conferences other than IATEFL, including TESOL in the USA but I’d never even considered pre-conference events (PCE). This time thanks to the GI SIG scholarship I attended GI SIG PCE and found it very worthwhile.

First of all, you have intensive sessions on the topic of your interest, which makes the learning focused and builds on the techniques you learn or ideas you develop. Second, it gives you a chance to interact with like-minded professionals for a more extensive period and network more as you are with the same people for the whole day. Third, you’re able to gear up before the main conference starts as if you were driving at a special track before attempting to turn onto the main highway.

What sessions did I find especially useful? Nearly all of them! Exploiting visuals or google arts or films to teach global issues is something that anyone can take and use in their classroom. One of my favourites was Margarita Kosior’s idea about using the short film “The Conditioned” (2014) to teach tolerance towards homeless people.

Part 3: The IATEFL 2018 conference

To predict the future you have to create it.

For the whole week I indulged in the linguistic paradise which is called IATEFL. And I actually mean it. The IATEFL experience is special. It is when you wake up at dawn and rush to the How to’s in the morning to listen to the gurus. It is when you are moved to tears and stand up to applaud at the plenary like in the theatre, because a plenary is not just a talk, it is a professional performance intertwined with linguistic intricacies  and teaching wisdom.

Brita Fernandez Schmidt delivering her plenary

Brita Fernandez Schmidt delivering her plenary

It is when you jump like a chimpanzee at the workshop trying out energizers or draw past perfect continuous (who would have thought it is even possible!) or write English sentences with Cuisenaire rods or line up at one stall after an inspiring session on teaching teenagers to buy the author’s book.

Using Cuisenaire rods to make sentences

It is when you discuss learning objectives with famous authors having a glass of wine in the evening or share your stories with other teachers in the hall during the break.

Anastasia with Shay Coyne

Anastasia with Shay Coyne

It is when you realise that English teachers are superheroes without capes because they shape minds, work to collaborate, to personalize, to localize and globalize at the same time. They work for peace and understanding. They work for reducing prejudice and empowering their students.

Teachers as superheroes

This is what IATEFL really is:

I – Interactive

A – Active

T – Tremendous

E – Empowering

F – Flourishing

L – Learning experiences

And yes, it is also when you have to buy an extra suitcase and repack a couple of times at the airport because you couldn’t resist the temptation to buy some extra books or games.

Bio

Anastasia Khodakova

Anastasia Khodakova, PhD, is an associate professor in Tula State Lev Tolstoy Pedagogical University (Russia) and the head of the language center Hi Time. She initiated and coordinated local and national EFL projects on creating tolerance-related materials in 2011-2015.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Anastasia’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

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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Hooked on IATEFL (Belén Albarracín)

Belen Albarracin

Juggling motherhood and professional career: why IATEFL means so much to me

It’s funny the way things turn out. If you had asked me a year ago where I was going to be in April this year, the image that would have come to my mind was something close to this: a Sarasvati-like goddess juggling family, professional career and friends.

But the truth is I don’t get to be that Goddess with perfect balance. And I don’t have that peaceful face all the time. Far from it. One of the things I have learnt through experience, a.k.a. aging, and motherhood is that you have to use time wisely. Winning the ELC Brighton – Robert O’Neill Scholarship is in fact a combination of those two factors plus a passion for teaching using tech.

When the head at my school, Pat Sala, sent an email and challenged all teachers to apply for the IATEFL scholarships I felt it as a dare. “Have you got what it takes?” Those were the words she used. I’m always up for a good challenge. I told myself I had to go back to that email and read it in detail. I didn’t even open the link because I thought I would have time later.

So life went by and two days before the deadline I went back to the email and opened the link. My eyes opened wide and there I told myself in a sort of epiphany: “I should have read this a long time before now!” But the challenge was burning inside and I felt I had something to share.

I had had this idea of “Technology in Service” in mind for several months by then, and I thought that if I sat down and shaped it with solid content, it definitely had some potential. Besides, I love considering new ways of integrating technology in the classroom setting. There’s so much to be done in this field. I think it’s more about connecting with others and making the world smaller, it’s about bonding in meaningful ways, creating significant experiences for students and empowering them, and shifting the leading role to them. It’s also about teaching and sharing values. The scholarship required the presentation of an action plan to benefit my community with reference to the involvement of technology. I felt “Technology in Service” and the ELC Brighton – Robert O’Neill Scholarship were a match made in heaven. They just clicked. I told myself “It’s now or never!”

So I used all my energies and focused deeply for the next 2 hours. My two kids, Nacho and Santi, were running wild around me while I was typing passionately. I re-read the bullet points trying to make sure I covered every single aspect required. I made sure the action plan conveyed was clear and to the point. And then I pressed enter. That was it. I took that long deep breath one usually takes before clicking something important. I told my husband when he came home that I had applied for a scholarship and my question was suspended in the air “Can you imagine if I won that scholarship? Can you just imagine that?”

This scholarship means so much to me on so many levels. It’s a professional opportunity that will enhance my career prospects. It represents a validation of my beliefs as a teacher in the field of technology and its use. As a first timer, I´m eager to know the latest trends as regards ICT and network with teachers who have the same passion and drive. I want to get to know the IATEFL community and ideas. I have no doubts I will use my time wisely.

Hooked on IATEFL: nobody warns you about this

Belen Albarracin with the IATEFL 2018 map

The IATEFL conference has left in me a deeply nostalgic effect that is difficult to rub off. Even now, weeks after the conference, where is one going to get such academic adrenaline and such a global degree of exposure about worldwide trends in education? The diversity that permeates this conference is unique and as a first timer, I guess it is quite a cliché by now to call the whole event a mind-blowing experience.

In my personal experience, I really found what I was looking for. I had the fantastic opportunity of attending the Pre-Conference Event on Learning Technologies. With Sarah Rogerson opening the event with an introduction to VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) and their use in education, I immediately realised that was where I was supposed to be. It’s a challenge to integrate this technology in education in Argentina in a meaningful way, not just for the sake of having a fun experience with no real pedagogical benefit. Sarah also shared the research her team carries out at Cambridge English Language Assessment and the use of immersive 360º interactive videos to, for example, order food at a restaurant. Paul Driver’s presentation was incredibly enlightening as regards the use of VR in teacher training, both to monitor remotely or to reflect on performance. Teachers are given the chance to develop reflective skills and re-watch their groups of students or themselves. The agency to re-explore the classroom using this technology is a real breakthrough in education. As regards content, Paul’s design of an interactive crime scene for students to solve a murder mystery was next level. It really inspires you to create your own material. Thomas Strasser’s presentation gave full meaning to integration of tech by being very critical about its use. His motto “Don’t believe the hype!” plus the pencil metaphor were challenging as to where we stand regarding technology and its use.

Belen with Thomas Strasser

Belen with Thomas Strasser

Last but not least, Nick Robinson gave a very interesting talk about future trends in education. In a nutshell, he stated that whatever a teacher does that is repetitive can be automated, and thus it is likely to be replaced. This leads us to evaluate our own performance: what activities are we doing that can be replaced by software? A characteristic that is not replaceable in teachers is that of being creative, having a creative and adaptive mindset.

Belen with Nick Robinson

Belen with Nick Robinson

Thinking about my own project, “Technology in Service”, it basically consists of connecting schools in Argentina and empowering students through peer teaching with minimal teacher supervision. Remote teaching will allow students to connect with both public and private schools with different social realities in my country. The British Council Signature Event at the main IATEFL conference, “Remote Teaching – Bridging the Gap”, was really inspiring and aligned with my project. I had the opportunity of sharing my idea for “Technology in Service” with Graham Stanley, the Country Director of the British Council and Plan Ceibal. He found it very interesting and traded cards to keep in touch about who to contact to carry the project through. That is probably the best place to start to pave the way for “Technology in Service” to become a reality.

My next step in the short run is to define the web conferencing software my school can use to create custom learning experiences and engage students through interactivity and collaboration. Secondly, I need to contact schools that are willing to participate in this project. Simultaneously, the idea is to train a group of students in the upper forms in the use of remote teaching tech and how to go about a 30-minute lesson. For this project, students will be engaged in volunteer work. We are going to focus on how to share projects we  have worked on and to design and adapt a specific lesson for students in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th forms from other schools. We could start with one pilot lesson per month and then increase its regularity as more lessons are designed and more students recruited. I believe that in Montessori’s words, the greatest sign of success for the Project “Technology in Service” will be when I get to say: “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” 

I had a fantastic experience in Brighton. The truth is that one is left wanting more. A week is not enough. Weeks after the conference, you find yourself going over your notes and photos, and checking out links, emails, blogs and websites, to keep that feeling going. You keep in touch with those professionals who were also scholarship winners, with whom you bonded instantly during the Scholarship Gathering and shared an unforgettable night because chemistry was in the air. They are the same professionals with whom you spent the rest of the conference week meeting up, hanging out, describing and sharing the reality in your countries as regards education and who understand this feeling. You even have a WhatsApp group that reminds you every now and then how cool the whole experience was and keeps you on your toes about proposal deadlines and current events.

Where are you from? Where did you start your journey?

IATEFL sets the bar high in professional training and you end up with the feeling you don’t want to miss out from now on. So it’s no surprise that by the end of this reflection, I will find myself checking out flights from Buenos Aires to Heathrow in 2019 to make sure I’m there in Liverpool too.

IATEFL Liverpool 2019

Bio

Belen trying out a VR headset

Belén Albarracín is a teacher and sworn translator. At present, she teaches the subject Global Perspectives at Bayard School in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She won the Robert O’Neill scholarship for the Project “Technology in Service”. She’s into integrating technology at primary and secondary level.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Belén’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

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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F-L-I-P your low-tech classroom (Saima Abedi)

Working as an ESL and EFL teacher for last 15 years, I am determined to contribute to educational reform. To learn more and more, develop ELT material, train teachers, carry out action research and participate in conferences nationally and internationally are some of the goals of life that I am presently immersed in.

A new beginning at IATEFL, Brighton Centre

A new beginning at IATEFL, Brighton Centre

The 52nd International IATEFL Conference was my first IATEFL adventure and it stretched for five fun-filled, fertile days. Being the winner of the Macmillan Education Scholarship and a presenter plus participant, I enthusiastically seized the plethora of opportunities to achieve, excel, get inspired and be acknowledged at the event. Not only that, I revisited my learning; reflected on teaching practices; expanded my network; gained international recognition; went sight-seeing and made some life-long global friends.

2 Enjoying the networking opportunity with ELT from various regions

Enjoying the networking opportunity with ELT from various regions

This journey started when I presented at the NELTA (Nepal English Language Teacher Association) conference back in 2016, where I expanded my network and added a few Nepalese teachers to my contacts, who nursed the idea of applying for IATEFL. The scholarship forms are comprehensive; there is step-by-step guidance to help you fill them in.You may apply for as many scholarships as you want to. All you have to do is to focus on your strengths, and be enthusiastic about mentioning your achievements and count on your luck (Yes, it does work sometimes!). Once you win the scholarship, your job is all done (believe me) because the IATEFL team and your sponsors (like mine when I won the Macmillan Education Scholarship) are right there to constantly assist you. Before even reaching the venue, I was fortunate enough to be prepared for my presentation on ‘Flipped Learning for Low Tech Classes’, as it was reviewed, re-reviewed and even rehearsed. Therefore, I received an amazingly incredible audience response.

With the Macmillan Team

With the Macmillan Team

The flipped classroom model actually revolutionized my teaching-learning process as it inverted my teaching procedures by shifting the instructions from a group to an individual learning space. In other words, I introduce materials and tasks to students outside the classroom and the learning process has become dynamic and interactive, enhancing a wide range of skills. When we think about the flipped classroom, the first idea that enters our mind is the use of technology. The most popular online tools to flip classes are:

  • websites, such as online exercises/quizzes
  • recorded lectures
  • supplementary videos, either instructional or content (TES Teach, TED Talk, You Tube)
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
  • podcasts
  • e-books
  • blogs
  • simulation games
  • teaching channels
  • and the list goes on…

However, from a global perspective, one of the notable hurdles for learners and educators like me is teaching in classes with limited or no access to technology. To be precise, public schools and low-income households in developing countries struggle to bridge the digital divide. So how can you flip low-tech classes?

Firstly, I employed four basic principles for inverting low-tech classes, starting with the four letters of F-L-I-P. Here ‘F’ is for ‘Flexibility’ of the given material, as it should cater for different learning preferences that ensure setting of students’ own learning pace and time. For instance, use of text or reference books, customized hand-outs (like Mind Maps / Story Maps), magazines, newspaper articles or reports, comics, television programmes (drama, cooking shows or documentaries), pictures, charts, maps, posters, interviews, songs and surveys. Students are provided with a couple of options to select the mode of acquisition according to their own preferences, at the most convenient place or time. Equipped with the required information, they apply the concepts in the class and receive teachers’ prompt and constructive feedback.

Presenting at IATEFL Conference

Saima presenting at the IATEFL Conference

The second principle ‘L’ emphasises ‘Learner-Centered’ classes in which the role of students is active and the teachers’ job is as a facilitator. Being inquisitive, students bring along queries or problems to be solved in the class. It is possible that some students might come to the class unprepared (in the beginning it does happen; remember everyone isn’t the same!!!) and they would look for ‘just-in-need teaching’. If the mode of interaction in the class is pair or group work, such issues are automatically resolved. For example, I have so many students who love to teach others. Based on research, the average retention rate of new information is 75% for practice by doing (National Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine), and is increased to 90% by teaching others. This means that diligent pupils will get an edge here.

The next principle, starting with ‘I’, focuses on ‘Interactive Content’: incorporate motivation by providing a real purpose, a meaningful task for exploration of the given content. This enables learners to build up curiosity and connections with their prior knowledge.

Lastly, ‘P’ is for ‘Practice by Doing’, as the class time will be utilised in applying and checking the concepts for deeper understanding and greater retention. Some of the engaging activities that I use for my low-tech classes are theme-based board games, debates, puppetry, discussions, field trips, creating PowerPoint presentations, digital storytelling, use of smart phones for making short videos, podcasting using Audacity and rap songs using the Smule AutoRap app. I found these teaching tools great for ensuring active learning in a flipped learning scenario. Trust me: these strategies can be easily adapted and implemented in any EFL and ESL class.

To access or download my full presentation you can click on the following link:

Don’t wait…. Just apply for this enriching and life-changing experience.

Bio

Receiving paticipation and presentation certificate

Receiving participation and presentation certificate

Saima Abedi, currently working as an EFL and ESL teacher, is a seasoned educator with 15 years’ teaching experience. She has a professional degree in education, as well as multiple Masters, postgraduate certification in Critical Thinking from Oregon University and the ICELT from Cambridge University (via SPELT). Determined to revolutionise the education system, she has been designing ELT content and conducting workshops nationally and internationally for a few years. She has received numerous awards and scholarships for being an innovative and enthusiastic teacher.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Saima’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

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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