I decided to take up his blog challenge – here it is!
When we had our school in Greece, we had 11 classrooms – not to blow our own horn, but in each classroom the teachers had all the equipment they needed. The school also had a computer lab and a room with an interactive whiteboard. Therefore, the equipment could be moved easily if needed, or the teachers and their students could easily be moved to the room they wanted to use, easily. We did this out of respect to our teachers and students, to make everyone feel comfortable and content to teach and learn.
When I moved here in Switzerland, I started teaching at various places until I could get enough work – in schools, companies, banks – you name it. Some places, had the works as far as equipment was concerned, some were okay in some I had to teach in my coat and gloves (yes, you read correctly). Thankfully, only a couple of places match the last description.
An example of an excellent teaching environment is the public college I started teaching at here last year, the Kaufmännisches Bildungszentrum Zug – the admin people, secretaries and teachers are amazing to work with and the classrooms…wow, the classrooms!
- Whiteboards (three or four of them that you can shift on the walls)
- Poster paper (huge rolls of them!)
….wait till you hear this…
- 3D projectors!!! I LOVE THEM!
A great place to teach – a place that respects its educators and students. Shouldn’t all schools be like this? Some aren’t, understandably due to their restricted budgets, some because the people who own them do not care.
Let’s hope we see lots of great working environments in this blog challenge set by Tyson!
It is my absolute pleasure and honour to introduce you to Tony Sinanis, a great educator I have connected to recently on Twitter and admire for his passion and excellent work with his staff and students. Tony is Principal at Cantiague Elementary School, in Jericho, New York which has been nominated for a Blue Ribbon, about which he will be talking about in this interview.
He blogs about his school experiences at:
Tony is married to Kelly – they are both first generation Americans of Greek origin and have a seven-year-old son, Paul.
- I asked Tony about his favourite book on education. The book that Tony finds inspirational is What Great Principals Do Differently by Todd Whitaker .
- Here are some videos that inspire him:
- The motto that inspires Tony:
If it is in the best interest of children, then it is the right thing to do!
Vicky: Tony, you have been in education for fifteen years. Can you give us some background as to how you chose to pursue a career in education?
Tony: Initially I went to college to become a pediatrician but after a few science courses I realized that it was not for me – dealing with sick kids seemed depressing to me so I switched majors and became a theater major (talk about switching gears). As a member of the theater program I had to complete a certain number of community service hours so I decided to do volunteer tutoring at the local elementary school in their after school program. Within a few weeks all I could focus on was these kids and the whole theater thing became unimportant. I looked forward to my tutoring sessions each week and making a difference in the lives of the children was so important to me. So after discussing it with my family and friends, I realized I could put this passion to good work by switching my major yet again and devoting myself to the field of education. My focus was Early Childhood and Elementary Education, where I was one of only a few men in the program.
Vicky: Very interesting! I did not know the turn your studies took. One thing is for sure: education is happy to have you! Moving on to you role, this is your fifth year being an administrator. What do you like the best about your work?
Tony: The highlight of my work as an administrator are my many opportunities to interact with my kids, staff and the community at large. I often say that I am not the best administrator because I am not always timely with “administrative” tasks but I am 1000% devoted to the instructional end of my work because if we can implement the best and most current instructional approaches in our school than we are doing what is best for kids and that is my main goal each and every day. Additionally, I think the social/emotional well being of our kids and staff are of the highest priority – if people feel good about themselves and feel supported they can accomplish ANYTHING! So my goal is to serve and support the Cantiague Elementary School community.
Vicky: Each job comes with its own challenges. What are the challenges for a school administrator?
Tony: Yes, there are many challenges I face as a school administrator. There are budget issues, federal and state mandates and standardized testing requirements just to name a few. With that being said, I think my greatest challenge is time… finding the time to accomplish everything I want to accomplish for our kids, staff and school in general. There are so many things I want to do.. and so many things I need to do that finding the time to get through it all is such a challenge! And then consider my family and the doctoral program I recently began, I might have to find a way to invent the 48-hour day!
Vicky: I would love for that type of day to be invented as well! I am sure educators who are also parents need a lot of time to balance family and schedule. You are a dad to Paul who is seven – how does being a parent tie in with being an educator?
Tony: I can honestly say that being Paul’s dad has redefined me as an educator. My son is my heart and soul outside of my body – everything I do in life is for and about him. So, when I see my students in school, I know that someone at home feels just as strongly about them as I do about Paul and that is so important to remember as an educator. Every decision I make is one that I consider as the building administrator but also as a dad. The bottom line is this… if it is not good enough for Paul, then it is not good enough for our kids at Cantiague. I want Cantiague to be the most amazing elementary school in the world because that is what I want for my own son! Layer on top of that the fact that my son has various medical issues and requires additional support in school and I am extremely sensitive to the needs of our special education students. I strive to make sure that every child in our school has whatever they need to provide them with a level playing field because I know that has made a difference for my son.
Vicky: Your school has received a great honour, Tony – it has been nominated for a Blue Ribbon. Can you tell us more about that?
Tony: Our Blue Ribbon nomination is such an exciting opportunity! The state of New York nominated 19 schools to the United States Department of Education for the national Blue Ribbon award. The nomination is based on the fact that our school has performed extremely well on standardized assessments over the last few years. Although I don’t put much stock in these test scores, I know that our kids do well because our teachers are amazing – their instructional approaches and techniques go far beyond preparing our kids for a test and the results support this idea! In regards to the Blue Ribbon, we find out in the next month or so if we won it, which would be so exciting because the entire community – staff, kids and parents – were apart of the application process we completed after being nominated.
Vicky: You told me during a short discussion that your school has integrated the Bucket Filler philosophy – I would love to know more about that and I am sure our readers would too.
Tony: The Bucket Filling philosophy we have adopted at Cantiague is anchored in the text Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carole McCloud. The idea behind the whole philosophy of Bucket Filling is that people carry around imaginary buckets with them all day, every day. And when we are good to other people not only do we fill their buckets but we fill our own, which feels great. On the other hand, when we are not nice to others, we are being bucket dippers because we are taking out of someone else’s bucket, which is not nice! Our Bucket Filling philosophy is rooted in the idea of the Big Five… we must always remember to Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Safe, Be Positive and Be Kind because if we follow the Big Five, we ensure that we are filling our own buckets and those of the people around us. Each week at Cantiague we celebrate Bucket Fillers of the Week who are nominated by teachers or other kids – and Bucket Fillers of the Week are kids who do something that fills the bucket of another person. I can honestly say that the Bucket Filling philosophy has changed our way of life at Cantiague. Bullying issues have decreased, incidents of harassment are down and our kids are using a common language, which is very child-friendly, about what it means to be a positive and successful kid in our school. I highly recommend reading this book and thinking about the importance of adopting this way of life at any school!
Vicky: I love the idea and the values that it creates for children! I believe it is a great idea for other administartors to incorporate in their school culture. Moving on to your newer colleagues, what would you advise an administrator starting now?
Tony: For any educator considering entering the world of administration at this point, they need to be in this for the kids. Being an administrator is not about being the boss or a figure head. It is about advocating for the needs of the entire community – kids, staff and the community at large. You need to understand that you are there to serve others and be their voice when needs are not being met. You have to be passionate about learning and teaching – a building administrator must be the lead learner of a school – not just a paper pusher. We have to model and espouse what we expect from those around us.
Vicky: You have a very busy, but pleasant and creative day. What does your day look like when you are not busy in school?
Tony: I am usually in the building by 7am each day where I spend about an hour checking email, checking out what’s going on in the Twitterverse, assigning subs and chatting with staff who are in early. By 8am I am connecting with the Main Office staff to review what needs to get done that day. Then at 8:15 our kids arrive and the day just moves in fast forward from there. I try and spend the morning in the classrooms and then I am in the lunchroom on most days and outside at recess playing games with my kids as much as possible. Spending time out of my office is always my goal during the school day. After recess I usually have some minor issues to address and then before I know it, it is almost 2pm and we begin getting ready for the dismissal process. After all our kids are safely on their buses, at about 3pm, I spend some time checking phone messages and getting back to parents. I also usually meet with teachers and staff after school because that is when it is quiet. Then after everyone is gone, at about 4:30pm, I go into my office and get all my administrative stuff done – emails, memos, etc. I usually leave school around 6pm on any given night.
This was such an interesting interview! It gave us a great insight into you as a personality and an educator. Tony, thank you so much for this interview! I hope to meet you in person some day.
During the holidays, I spend a lot of time with my sister and her two children, Maggie (seven years old) and Nicholas (three).
Maggie and I love doing activities together: writing, sticking, cutting, creating…so one day, during our Christmas holidays, we were talking about healthy eating and we decided to put our learning into pictures, make our learning visible – so we made posters, one with vegetables and one with fruit! Just using simple things, old newspapers and magazines from where we could cut out pictures, scissors and big pieces if cardboard for the background – we had so much fun learning and creating. Maggie was so excited about it!
We looked through magazines and newspapers to find pictures, cut them out and paste them onto coloured paper. Maggie also wrote the names of the fruit and vegetables, learning some that she had not heard of, like starfruit which we also saw at the supermarket a few days later.
We also had two great people cheering us on throughout the way: Mieke Kenis from Belgium and Ann Loseva from Moscow to whom we tweeted pictures of our posters! Ann made beautiful posters with her two sweet nieces, Olya and Polina!
As I have mentioned before, this year I teach mainly adults in a number of contexts: some work in banks or various companies (software, packaging). Very often they have meetings to attend, where they are asked by their colleagues and managers to help resolve problems or conflicts. And they have to do it…in English!
What I do with them (not something ground-breaking, a very simple idea) is that I try to think of potential problems they may have at work, such as:
1. What do you do if a colleague of yours is constantly late?
2. What happens if your boss asks you to work with your team at the weekend to finish off a project (and you are not that keen on working weekends)?
3. You have been working for months on installing a new computer programme for the company / bank and they call you from the US in the middle of the night, asking you to resolve it then and there!
And other issues like that. Of course, because I am learning their line of work from them (there are so many terms especially in IT and as I have recently learned, in packaging too!) I ask my students what kind of problem they would expect to face at some point. I make a list of all these and prepare role-plays and use them with them (some can be used with many groups!).
This idea is also in the amazing book Five-Minute Business English Activities by Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton, under the title of Crisis! – the idea is to present the students with a crisis they need to solve.
Most of the times I come into the room, putting on a dramatic face in order to set the crisis atmosphere and announce: People, we have a problem. I was fired! or Our new system is down! or something like that. It is unbelievable how they play into the drama and participate! Depending on the culture you are teaching in though, care must be taken not to scare the students or create unnecessary panic. For example in some cultural contexts I cannot imagine the teacher going into the classroom dramatically yelling that there is a crisis. It would make the students uncomfortable.
This activity has helped my students a lot, as they are pulled into it by the nature of it. They do not even realise when they start speaking and we get lots out of it. Sometimes we get lots of laughs too!
For the last – well, almost two years now, since September 15 2010, #ELTchat has kept us on our toes and forged hundreds of professional and personal relationships amongst its followers who turn up on Twitter every Wednesday to talk about topics they have suggested and voted on – a community of peers which was created by a small group of colleagues – which grew and grew some more and became something that counts as an important part of our continuous professional development.
Like many great ideas, it didn’t hit just one person but several.
And that is how #ELTchat was created.
The website to keep up the communication of its members, a base and repository of our ideas was one of the first things we all thought of creating – the wiki came later.
Andy Chaplin was keen to join the moderation team and help with podcasts and technical stuff; he was quick to buy eltchat.com and announced the good news to us after the fact.
A few months later, right after TESOL France 2011, he suddenly disappeared – some say for reasons of health.
We never found out for sure.
We never received a single word of response to our emails.
eltchat.com was and still is registered in his name.
And yesterday we lost it.
On August 8 the domain expired and we have no way of taking over unless it goes up for sale again; it was very sad that Andy Chaplin did not find it appropriate to renew.
The news is really upsetting.
The work we have put in on this website cannot be told in a few simple words – but it has been a labour of love and we have got so much out of it that we have never regretted one single moment
We are pretty upset at the behaviour of this individual – disappointment is one big understatement.
But we trust that our community of #ELTchatters, our PLN for short, will again gather round the new domain which we have purchased – eltchat.org
It will take us a few days to put the website back on its feet.
And all will be as it was before – all the posts in place all your thoughts and comments, all the polls and great summaries which got us on the shortlist of the ELTon Awards nominations.
We will be back with a vengeance.
We are not just a website – we did not get on the ELTon awards shortlist as just another website!!!
We are a great community of teachers and we have a Plan B!
See you all in September!!!
Marisa Constantinides – Shaun Wilden
P.S. We would greatly appreciate it if any of you belonging to this great community of teachers, teacher educators, bloggers, #ELTchat followers, reposted this on your blog.
If you decide to do this, please add your name to the post under ours.
1. Icha, how did you become an educator?
I suppose it’s in my blood as I come from family who works either in education or a health institution. I don’t think I know any other thing to do, as even my first part-time job during my junior high was tutoring my classmates in English. Then during my college year up till now I coach the school’s drumband (that is kind of a teaching activity too right?) . I suppose I became a teacher because I remember how my teachers used to have an impact on me, personally and of course educationally. So, though teaching has never been on my list of goals growing up, I chose this line of work because I want to influence and help people in a little way.
2. What would you like to have known back then, that you know now? What would you advise Icha the beginning teacher?
Well I would love to have known that teaching doesn’t always equal educating. I used to think that it was easy easy to transfer knowledge but it hasn’t always been the case as I found out. The first thing you need to do is to inspire them, so they will be excited in learning themselves. I would advise the young 24-year-old Icha (that’s the age I started teaching full-time) to take it easy, don’t get frustrated when the class doesn’t go as you plan, because the unexpected is much more fun for it opens up a new adventure! Oh, and remember that you cannot judge a student simply by his grades, because as Einstein said:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
3. You teach at Kidea Daycare. What are the things one needs to keep in mind when teaching little ones? What are the pros and what are the challenges of teaching such young ages?
Actually it’s Kidea Preschool and Kindergarten and I am now teaching K2 class, a bunch of 5-year-old students . I think what we should have in mind when teaching young learners is that you cannot force them in accepting all you have to give at a certain time. They need time to bloom. We should know also that it is better for the kids if they can experience themselves rather than asking them to visualize. I mean, I know people say that kids are full of great imagination, but if we don’t lead them then how would we know we have pressed the right button? I believe in concrete to abstract concept in Montessori teaching because once my kids have got the concrete concept, it is easy for them to grasp the next lesson for they have it imprinted on their mind. The thing I love most about young learners is that they have always been enthusiastic in knowing new things, they cannot wait to be able to master something. The problems are a lot too, but mostly come from the outside, like from the parents. The biggest thing for me would be parents who are questioning our approach and skeptical about it, because I believe in teaching young learners, we need trust from them as we must have their support and sometimes it is not an easy case. I am very lucky that the parents of my class now back me and it has made it easier to give my all for their children.
4. What is the ELT scene like in Indonesia?
I must say I don’t know much as I haven’t been in touch with TEFLIN (the ELT organization I belong to) for quite sometimes as I am now teaching kindergarten rather than English. But I would say that it is still kind of divided in groups for we haven’t got a strong foundation. It is merely a political thing as each year there has always been some sort of new change in the school curriculum that can lead up to changes in English lesson too. Teachers here are trying hard to cope with the latest in ELT world, and I think we’re doing pretty well though we have lots to conquer still.
5. When you are not teaching, what do you do in your free time?
Oh, I love reading! And watching TV channels like NatGeo or NatGeo adventure , Animal planet and the Food channel. I love cooking, I cook a lot for my class and involve them in my cooking activity. I also love playing around with my 4 (soon to be more) cats!
6. What are your plans for your career in the future?
Simply being a better teacher. As I was introduced to Montessori teaching 2 years ago, I’d love to learn more about it, if possible attend a class on it. I would also love to engage in more discussion like #ELTChat or #ASIAElt to improve myself and my teaching. Hopefully I can contribute more to the education in Indonesia.
Icha, thank you so much! ELT and education are very lucky to have you.
I read a really great blog post today that made me think once again about the potentials kids have and how we should encourage them to externalise them and applaud them when they do. George Couros, a great educator from Canada (and my very first guest blogger!) wrote In Spite of Schools – definitely worth reading.
As educators, apart from the actual teaching we are there for our students, to show them what they can do and highlight their abilities. Sometimes, educators tend to tell their students what the can’t do, where they are not so strong and focus mainly on the problems they may face in their learning. I think it is equally, if not more, important, to show them what they are great in and how they can become even greater! When they can do something, they gain confidence and build on their abilities even further.
An example that comes to my mind is a student of mine in Greece who wrote poetry – her poetry was beautiful and at the same time she practised her English, as she was learning it as a foreign language! She was developing two talents at the same time, her writing and her language skills. We recognised it early on and she developed it a lot on her own – her autonomy as a learner simply grew from there, as she could find where and how she could learn.
Chuck Sandy and Vladimira Michalkova, two amazing educators and the co-founder and associate of iTDi respectively, have developed the idea of Surpr@ise, through which you find a student or teacher who is doing a great job and surprise them with praise! Watch Chuck describing it in this YouTube Video:
You can also see Chuck and Vladka’s Surpr@ise presentation for the Virtual Round Table.
Here are the slides and some explanatory notes:
Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English
My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English teacher, born in Toronto, Canada but of Greek descent. I have been living in Switzerland for two years and I absolutely love my work and life here.
What I like the most about my teaching here is that I have a lot of business people that I teach, be it in banks, companies, and so on. I find it very interesting to learn new terms and things about the business world – you see, I learn alongside them as well.
The idea I will present to you today was not planned in a lesson; it was a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment, sure-let’s-use-this-and-see-what-happens decision.
I was reading the newspaper one day two years ago and saw the lines it was going to be a staycation. That last word totally hit me. I thought, great and I immediately looked it up to see if it was a recent addition to the dictionaries. It was, indeed, and I specifically found it on the online Macmillan Dictionary under the category buzzwords. I immediately thought of telling the bankers I teach the next morning. I still teach them and they love learning new things! So, I presented the word to them and they were absolutely thrilled! The discussion that ensued and the language that was produced were phenomenal. They were talking about vacations and staycations - amazingly low TTT (teacher talking time), with me just popping in occasionally to make corrections or contribute. Anything else I had planned for the rest of the lesson was not used, but it was one of the best lessons ever. …AND THEN….
“Can I bring you one of these every week?” I said. They loved the idea!
But, I did change a few things:
● I did not present the word in a here-you-are-this-is-the-word way, like I did the first time. What I did the second time and all the times after that was this (and I would like to try a few with you):
- daycation (simple): give me another word for holiday – lasting one day
- Googleheimer’s (complex) : Think of the most popular search engine. Do you know of an illness where people have trouble remembering? Have you ever thought of Googling something and until you have reached the search box on the Google homepage you have forgotten what it was? What is the name of this new illness of the 21st century?
- threequel (advanced) Do you like movies like the Matrix? First, they learn the word sequel - so what is the third one called, film number three?
What I do with these words is at the end of each month, I add them to a simple Word document – at the end of the month, they get the updated list with the definitions in English. I am thinking of having them contribute the definitions at the end of each month!
Some educators ask me (and they are right in a way), what do they need these words for? We don’t even know them and we are their teachers! How do they help our students?
Conclusions:- I don’t know some of them either. As a vocabulary fan I love learning new words!
- I don’t care if they don’t remember them afterwards (the interesting thing is that they remember a lot of them)
- It is what happens as they are trying to FIND the word of the week:
1. They learn words like sequel to a movie
2. and AFTER they have found it! The language production that goes on is unbelievable! I truly wish I could show you what is happening in our classes. They go on for ten minutes, half an hour, the whole lesson!
I help them with their vocabulary (I write a lot on the board) and their accuracy in grammar.
I am not here to tell you that I am a great teacher. I am here to tell you what my students, your students, OUR students can do with a simple thing! Just one or two words!
What we do with the Word of the Week:
- Conversation: most of my Business English students have lessons to enhance their speaking skills, so this helps them a lot – that is what they want and they find it interesting, so they start talking without even thinking twice
- They can write a short paragraph or story in pairs or small groups, using say 5 words of the week – you cannot imagine what they come up with!
- They actually FIND some of them in everyday life. A student of mine, from the group of bankers I mentioned at the beginning, called Werner, went to London on holiday and when he came back, he told me: “You won’t believe it! I was in London and I saw the word netiquette in a newspaper headline. I could explain it to my friends!” I see them everywhere as well. Lately, I have seen the word slacktivist numerous times, in newspapers, on TV, everywhere.
- They go back to their offices after their lessons and tell their colleagues who are not in our classes about the new words they learn.
They NEED to move with the times. Languages are living organisms, they breathe, they grow, they branch out. It is humanly impossible for them to remember all of those words/expressions, but even if they get 10 in the end, it is success. It also helps them decipher other words they find in the future. I have noticed that they do this now with many words. They are more independent now in deciphering the meaning of a word.
The point is that one single word can spark such a big conversation, can unlock the students and their potentials – they just start talking, and the language we get out of it is unbelievable!
This is our absolute favourite.
• Another activity we do is called difficult situations or Crisis! I have taken the idea form Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton’s book Five-Minute Business English Activities. I present them with potential problems in their work and have them discuss a course of action in twos or threes – when they have it ready and planned, then they discuss the way they would solve the problem and come up with potential solutions. Through this activity they learn how to use language to negotiate (as they might not always agree on a common course of action) and use expressions like I think, I believe that the best course of action would be… and of course practice their Conditionals (I have a great love for Conditionals and try to get them in there any way I can!) – If we did this, this would happen….If we had done this, this would not have happened… The only thing we should be cautious with in this activity is not to touch any sensitive issues that might stress them, or any topics we know they might have a problem with. It can be for instance something like this: informing my IT students that the new system they installed is having a few problems, so they have been told by their line manager that they have to work over the weekend to fix it and what they would do in this case. Sometimes I go out of the room and pretend to be a partner or colleague of theirs who comes into the room and shouts Crisis! This and this happened. So it kind of prepares the atmosphere and the ground, let´s say, for this activity. It also depends on the culture of the students. Perhaps their culture is not so expressive so actually coming into a classroom shouting Crisis! is not the best idea.
• If you have Business English students who make presentations, then you might find it useful for them to give you an actual presentation as part of the lesson. It can be something they have done for their work (but there you have to vouch for confidentiality – some teachers even sign an agreement of confidentiality that no information will leave the room) or a presentation on anything. Some of my bankers use vaious ideas to present – a few of them presented their countries, along with Powerpoint slides, or bike races – it can be even something as simple as that and the language you get out of it is absolutely amazing. What I do there is I sit with the rest of the students while one of them is presenting and keep notes, of great things they have said or of mistakes they have made. I then present the mistakes altogether if I know they will feel uncomfortable. It all depends on the learners.
• I also practice telephone conversations with them – but because our classroom does not connect via intercom with another, what we do is we turn our chairs and backs to one another and pretend we are phoning each other – turning our backs, so that the other person cannot see facial expressions and so cannot anticipate what the call is about.
There are literally hundreds of ideas to use when teaching Business English and I have shared only but a few – enjoy your lessons!
And those of us who were first-time speakers for BESIG were up for an award – I got third place! I was so happy to be presented the award by one of my favourite linguists, Professor David Crystal. Many thanks to Mike Hogan for the photos!