2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Observe and Be Observed – PD in Focus 4

(Image taken from www.storyline-scotland.com)
(Image taken from http://www.storyline-scotland.com)

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.

Mentoring – PD in Focus 3

(Image taken from www.juangreatleap.com)
(Image taken from http://www.juangreatleap.com)

In Greek mythology, Mentor (Greek: Μέντωρ, Méntōr; gen.: Μέντορος)[1] was the son of Alcimus or Anchialus or Heracles and Asopis. In his old age Mentor was a friend of Odysseus who placed Mentor and Odysseus’ foster-brother Eumaeus in charge of his son Telemachus, and of Odysseus’ palace, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War (Retrieved from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentor).

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!

After their lessons, have feedback sessions with them, for you both to reflect on – set up discussion groups and/or feedback sessions, as I described in my previous post, PD in Focus 2.

Discussion Groups and Feedback Sessions – PD in Focus 2

You can have meetings over coffee (photo by Chiew Pang, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/)
You can have meetings over coffee (photo by
Chiew Pang, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/)

Teaching can be a lonely profession. You teach, come back home, mark, prepare – but you need and would like to get together with colleagues or teacher friends to reflect with. What do you do? A good idea is to set up a discussion group. Get colleagues from work or friends of yours who are teachers and set up a group. I even do this with only one friend of mine.  Of course, a larger group might be better, as you hear and share more opinions and experiences.

Get together with other teachers from work or friends. Find people you enjoy communicating with and encourage others to join you as well. Choose an environment that inspires you – the home of a colleague, a quaint and quiet cafe, an especially designated room in a library (we have one like that here at the library, where you don’t even have to whisper!).

Choose a topic. It can be a common topic, or each one of you can have a different one to talk about – a class that you are having issues with, a colleague that has dried up and needs more ideas, new lesson plans you have used and would like to share. A topic I recently discussed with a wonderful friend who is also a great educator was culture in the classroom – how we can encourage students to respect each others’ culture and create an environment that celebrates diversity (as we were both having some issues with instances of racist remarks in our classes).

Discuss and find ways to implement what you have learned. Give suggestions to each other on how you plan to apply everything you have taken in the sessions – and come back again another day to reflect on how it went. It feels much better to do things when you know you have company – it is interesting to see how different approaches work.

Take notes / Make a newsletter! I know this needs time, but it is always useful to take notes in these sessions, which everyone can keep and revisit. It can even be in the form of a newsletter! You can make free newsletters you can send as regularly as you like to the whole group at http://tinyletter.com/, for an easy, colourful format or interactive ones at http://www.smilebox.com/newsletter-designs.html

Do you get together with other educators in discussion groups? If you have any different ideas or experiences, share them here with us.