I am delighted to present you with the first interview for 2016, with one of my favourite educators ever, James Taylor!
Today’s guest is an invaluable ELT colleague and friend: an English teacher, blogger, co-founder and former President of BELTA Belgium, TEFL Commute podcast co-producer, iTDi mentor, ELTChat moderator, conference and webinar speaker. He is very active on social media and we all learn such a great deal from him on a daily basis.
James joined me from Brasília, where he now lives.
Enjoy this amazing interview and listen to James talk about everything from ELT, life experiences and travelling around the world as a teacher, podcasts, books, music and more!
A huge thank you, James!
(And thank you, James for coming up with the brilliant post title!)
Here is Goal #1 for 2015 – support a movement. I am very fortunate to be part of several movements for educators – I learn so much from being part of them, interacting with the educators involved in them and I feel that they help me grow as an educator. Some movements I am a member of:
The International Teachers Development Institute (iTDi). The motto of iTDi is For teachers, by teachers and that is the core of it: it is a community owned and staffed by teachers. There is a blog which is regularly updated around a specific topic, there are online courses which can last up to four weeks and are superb learning experiences, and there is also a forum where teachers from all over the world can get answers to many subjects and can interact. I am very honoured and proud to be one of the materials writers and bloggers for iTDi! I have learned so many things and the topics that have come up have made me think about my own teaching.
BELTA Belgium. The Belgian English Language teachers Association is a three-year-old association which was co-founded by James Taylor, Mieke Kenis, Guido Van Landeghem and Ellen DePreter. It has already achieved so many things: there is an annual one-day event called BELTA Day, which attracts a great number of teachers not only from all over Belgium, but from all over the world! There is also a social event and train the teacher event, as well as Sunday webinars. There is also a blog and a Bulletin, of which I am the Editor! I am so happy to be part of this amazing new association for many reasons: the board members are all people I can call friends, we all share the same passion for education and it is great to see what new ideas constantly come up!
TeachingEnglish blog by the British Council. I am happy to be one of the bloggers on this site. Every month, Paul Braddock gives the team, comprised by teachers from all over the world, some great topics to blog about and the interaction is great! I have been away for a short while, but will be back blogging in June!
ELTChat. This is a superb resource – a weekly chat on Twitter, around a voted topic. This year, I am not able to take part in the live chat due to my heavy schedule, but every week after the chat, one of the educators who has taken part in it writes a summary. The summaries are so useful and I always get new ideas or tools to use.
Last but not least…The Loras Network. It is exactly what our name says: my sister Eugenia and I have created a language and teacher training school, which is not only made up of us – it is made up of a network of all the educators we interact with on social media, we collaborate online or in person, we learn with and from. We hold an annual event, The Loras Workshop, and do workshops and talks everywhere! It is our dream come true!
Almost five years ago, when I first started to join various social media, I did not even realise what I was doing, what was happening.
Now, I never look back on that decision! I have connected to so many amazing educators around the world, from whom I learn, with whom I collaborate and sometimes even become friends.
Today, was another one of those instances. Laila in Spain, watched my webinar for BELTA and wrote a beautiful, reflective post afterwards, which I share with you here. We are now connected on social media too – after having “cyber-bumped” into each other, as Laila put it very well!
A million thanks, Laila and I look forward to learning from you and with you!
And the last post in the PD in Focus series is here. All about blogging!
I started blogging almost four years ago, during a not very nice time in my life, which you can read here. I connected with Ken Wilson on Twitter (creating a Twitter account was something I was also wary of doing) and while we were exchanging emails about my situation, he motivated me to start a blog. I wasn’t particularly warm about the idea at first, not because I didn’t trust Ken, but I was thinking:
– Who is going to be interested in what I write?
– What if I write something silly?
– I don’t have a job, how can this help me feel better? (Unemployment really threw me down and my feeling of self-worth had never been so down before.)
So I started and I love it! I don’t always have the right answers – but I try to share as much as possible, good moments and bad, I try to intearct with others and I absolutely love the exachange of opinions. There is agreement, there is disagreement that makes you think, as long as it is constructive criticism. There are so many ideas you get from other educators and so much inspiration! Many are the times when I think what a great idea someone has had, how much I would like to apply someone’s ideas for the classroom and appaud them on that as well.
There are so many things that can be done through blogging:
– Writing and sharing. Something you think is a simple idea for you and you have been doing it for many years in the classroom, could be a revelation for someone else. Just go ahead and share! Your experiences, troubles, happy moments, lesson plans, anything you can express yourself through! There is a welcoming and supportive community of teachers out there waiting to read.
– Blog challenges. An educator invites others to contribute to a common theme – for instance, it can be about vocabulary teaching, or Business English, or teaching idea at all. Some call it a blog carnival, which sounds fun! I held one on my blog a couple of years ago, called What’s Your Story? and 27 educators shared their stories on it: some very personal moments, teaching experiences, anything that they wanted to share. And I really appreciated it. And a lot of people did and we saw ourselves in those stories, and we felt better. We are not alone! There are others out there who share the same experiences as we do.
– Pages. Blogs can become treasure troves of ideas and different kinds of posts: you can organise your blog into pages and have different topics there. Lesson plans, different areas of ESOL, photos, whatever you think expresses you.
– Reflection. A blog can be a journal. There are educators out there who blog every single day about their teaching, education in general or various educational issues that interest them. That doesn’t serve everyone, though. It can be once a week, once a month, or whenever you have inspiration – you will find your own pace: as long as you use it as a reflective tool, a journal that you can revisit and see what has changed, what has improved or not. It has helped me tremendously as an educator and I feel I am constantly changing and evolving. Still making mistakes but learning from them!
– Guest posts. You can invite other educators whose work you admire to write for you! The reflection coming from these posts are amazing. Plus, you get to network with these educators and exchange ideas. My first ever guest blogger was George Couros, all the way from Alberta, Canada.
It is a firm belief of mine that blogging is a great way for educators to develop professionally, as you can reflect and learn from your teaching – it is also good to write these thoughts down, as you can revisit them. Yesterday, I got to read an amazing post by Dean Shareski, who is an educator from Saskatchewan. (The post was actually tweeted by George – which led me to Dean’s article…the beauty of social media! A whole different post though.) He sums it all up perfectly in How to Make Better Teachers and is honestly one of the best posts I have come across on blogging and professional development. The post is from 2010 and as current as ever.
I truly thanks Ken for motivating me to start my own blog – it has helped me in so many ways! No matter if you are a new teacher or an experienced one, a blog is one of the best things you can do for your own learning.
On June 1st, the 1st BELTA Day took place. BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association, was formed in January 2013 by James Taylor, Mieke Kenis and Guido van Landeghem and since then many people have joined the board: Jurgen Basstanie, Ellen de Preter, Krishnan Coenen and myself as Editorial Officer of the blog. I was therefore honoured and moved to present at the 1st BELTA Day, which was an amazing experience. I saw fantastic sessions, learned a great deal and met amazing educators, from Belgium but also worldwide!
Thousands and thousands of educators around the world use Facebook to connect with others around the world. Some have two Facebook accounts – one for personal use and one for professional. Some can balance the two in one account.
To be honest, I had had a Twitter account for three years and flatly refused to open a Facebook account. It was not that I found anything intimidating about it – I just thought of it as just another distraction. Why open a Facebook account when I can already connect to educators via Twitter? [Now, this isn’t a comparison post between the two. One works for some, the other works for others, some educators (like myself now) use both in different ways.]
Until my Facebook mentor, James Taylor (as I like to call him!) explained it to me in detail – the advantages and disadvantages of it, the uses and so on. What did I find great about it in the end?
First of all, if it works for you (like it eventually did for me), it can be a super tool for professional development. It allows you to connect with educators all around the world – you can read their profiles, see who they are connected to and adjust your saftey settings, if you do not want just anyone friend you/ You can approve all the people though.
What I really like about Facebook is that it is very visual. You can see photos right away, add links and anything you like. It is very colourful and pleasant to read, most of the times.
There is no word or character limit (the character limit on Twitter can be a bit of an issue) – however, I find you can write as much as you like, but again, being laconic (as much as possible) can be an asset.
I absolutely love the fact that you can join groups related to topics that interest you. You can hold chats there, post relative links and photos, they can become great communities to share and learn!
Another thing I like are pages. I have pages related to my new business, where I can post information, new events and developments and the people who have ‘liked’ my page can always get updates. Similarly, I can get updates on the pages of others I have also ‘liked’.
There are surely so many other uses for Facebook for teachers and I am still learning – feel free to link any posts you have written or leave more ideas in the comments below.
Note (23.08.2015): As of two weeks ago, I no longer use Facebook – no issue with it, but I realised that with work and studies getting busier and busier, something needed to go. It is up to each educator, to choose which one(s) they will be using and for how long! It is enough even on one social medium, or five minutes on one selectively – we can always learn anywhere!
It was around four years ago when I first moved here to Switzerland and I was full of dreams for my new life. I had found a job before I came – or so I thought. The crisis arrived in Europe and then Swiss employers decided to stop employing people for a period of time. The school that had promised to take me on informed me they could not anymore. I was suddenly without a job.
One day, when I was feeling sorry for myself, I decided to Google ELT materials and look at things I like to feel better. Ken Wilson’s blog came up and I started to read it. I then got in touch with him and he told me not only to start my own blog, but to make a Twitter account to connect to more teachers. Up until then, I didn’t have any contact with technology apart from emailing and googling. Twitter?I thought.A social media platform where people share details of their lives…to connect with teachers? I did it, not without hesitation though. I wasn’t sure how it would help me – not at all doubting Ken, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have anything to say. I started connecting to other teachers and seeing what they posted: useful links, their blog posts and posts of others too, new tools in technology to use in class…I loved it so much! And I haven’t looked back ever since.
If you are an educator and are not on Twitter, I strongly suggest you do it. It will help you in more ways than can be mentioned. How to do it?
– Join the weekly miracle of a chat called ELTChat. It is a weekly double chat which started in September 2010, when a group of educators began to use Twitter to discuss various topics related to ELT. It is one of the greatest tools for professional development. Every Wednesday at 12pm and 21.00pm, ELT teachers from everywhere in the world join in on Twitter to discuss topics that have been voted for.
– Here is a video made by a super educator in Australia, Selena Woodward, called Getting Started with Twitter – For Educators. Many thanks to Tina Photakis, another super teacher in Australia, who posted it on Twitter and to Selena for creating it!
We are all there to help you out! Make an account and join literally thousands of educators out there.
I would never have met all these lovely people mentioned and many more, if it weren’t for Twitter.
Another very important aspect of professional development is reading and writing for educational journals and magazines. Almost every teaching association in various countries around the world has one, be it a paper journal or online or even an online newsletter, which is shorter. Some associations offer the journals included in the membership fee, which can be very helpful – however there are also magazines that do not belong to associations but are related to language teaching, like Modern English Teacher and English Teaching Professional, to name a couple.
Why is it so important to read them? Well first of all, to learn from them. So many colleagues share loads of teaching ideas in their articles, which we can adopt and adapt in our own classes. They can keep you feeling inspired and motivated for the next class!
It can also make us think critically, because we cannot possibly agree with everything written. We can choose what fits our classes and our methodology and use it accordingly.
Some articles focus on research or other theoretical issues and can help teachers enrich their knowledge, or even help them with their studies, as many educators continue their studies.
Share your ideas with other educators! Write for journals and magazines – it helps you to also practise your writing skills. A lot of educators reading your articles might then contact you to give you feedback on your writing, for instance how much it helped them, or any kind of feedback, which is also welcome. Then you can see what you can continue writing about, what you can improve and so on. Just try doing it!
What comes to your mind when you hear the word observation? Does it make you nervous, think really carefully about your lesson plan, or even worse, think this might be the end of your teaching career? We have all thought those thoughts and even experienced teachers say it makes them feel nervous. I used to get very stressed over them, but after starting to think of them as a constructive experience that can benefit both sides, the observer and the observed, it has become much better.
It can also be your choice.
If you want to be observed and my advice is to do it with your own initiative from time to time, choose a colleague that you can trust. Trust as in someone who can be honest with you and sit with you afterwards to go into what went well and what didn’t. When I do this, it is great because I can see where I need to work on and what I can keep doing well. Additionally, the person observing can get ideas for their own lessons, or see something you do and adopt it. For instance, a colleague of mine who came into a class to observe me said that he liked the constant feedback I give my students during the lesson. He found it helpful for the students because at that moment they were motivated and if they made a mistake they said for example, Ah ok, if I want to say that…I have to use that tense then?
If you are going to be observed but cannot choose the person who will be the observer, then keep seeing it as a constructive experience. The person who is there (your Director of Studies, someone from the Ministry of Education) might come up with negative comments, which can be hard for the person observed to get over. If you feel that the negative feedback is something you could really fix in your teaching, then use it to your own and your students’ benefit. If the feedback is negative because the person is a negative personality as well (and it happens quite often), then see it as a learning experience again – things that you will never do when you observe someone!
That last point is also one to keep in mind – ask your colleagues whether you can observe them. It is something I enjoy doing as I can see different teaching styles and get ideas for my own teaching. I love the feedback sessions afterwards too.
Observations need not be stressful or make educators feel bad about their teaching. We are all in this together and why not help each other? It can have great results both for us and for our students as well.
Note: Remember to ask your school for permission to observe or get someone to observe you, as in many schools unfortunately it is not practised. The same goes if you choose to go into another school, even if you know the teacher already – speak to the principal or Director of Studies before you go in and explain your plans.
Observation should be a learning experience, either way – a bridge between observer and observed.
The role of mentors is so important, regardless of the profession one is in. Especially for us educators, having a mentor and mentoring other teachers can evolve into an amazing and creative relationship.
It is as simple as talking to someone about their worries, concerns, interests and guiding them into new paths. New kinds of teaching, new studies even. Be open and help out someone who needs it!
● A new colleague: All of us remember how we felt when we first started teaching. We either felt scared of trying anything new out, or nervous before we started teaching a new level or student or class. Letting them know what you would do in those cases can feel reassuring, Perhaps they feel disappointed after a bad teaching moment – you can help them reflect on it and move on. With someone there to guide them, things are easier and can be solved.
● A colleague with a problem. Again, as with new teachers a colleague might come up to you with a problem they have. A mentoring moment! Help them first of all understand that whatever it is, it has a solution. That if they have done something that didn’t work, it is not the end of the world (a lot of us tend to be self-flagellating) – they can reflect on it, see what they can do the next time it happens and not dwell on it too much. It can drain them of any motivation they have – this is another good aspect of having a mentor: getting all the motivation you need.
● A fellow educator in need of new ideas. Either new or experienced, all of us have been in need of new ideas. We feel at some point that we have completely dried up and cannot come up with anything new. That is another form of mentoring! We can help that colleague get out of that predicament. Some new ideas and guidance and they’re good to go!