Seven – Επτά – Sieben

7-years-of-blogging

Seven.

Επτά.

Sieben.

It is that time of the year again!

Seven years of blogging – sometimes often, sometimes not so often…

A few weeks ago, Doug Peterson wrote a post about Starting or Reflecting on a Blog – and I thought it was great to write on at least some of the points he mentions, and what I have learned in the process of these seven years. There is so uch more to learn – and share!

I will make that seven points – to keep to the theme of seven : )

  1. Have a plan when to write and what: I honestly admire bloggers like Doug and Aviva Dunsiger who write very often and on so many different topics. I still do not have a plan and just post when I think I have something to write about. Let’s see if that changes : )
  2. Make it social: I try to share my posts and other posts everywhere. Now that I am not on Facebook anymore, I use Twitter and LinkedIn.
  3. Content is king! I think so too. In the beginning, I would only share what I did in my classes. Then I started sharing more general or more specific topics. This year, I also tried something different, which I was a bit doubtful of at first – my blog became a bit political, as last month we had a referendum here in Zug on pay cuts for teachers, people with disabilities, people in the medical profession, the elderly and lots more. I thought it was very important to make my little mark as well – we won!
  4. Blogging is a huge learning platform. I cannot even begin to mention how many things I have learned from other people’s blogs, as well as from their comments on mine or other blogs. They have made me think, taught me things, they have inspired me!
  5. Disagreeing is not a bad thing. I remember the first time someone disagreed with what I had written. I was crestfallen. However, after some time I thought that I am not always right of course and the person was very polite in doing so, and above all…made me think! It all depends on how the person disagrees with an opinion. As long as it is civilised, it is a great exchange of opinions and learning opportunity.
  6. Sharing is super! I love sharing blog posts I have read or have taught me something. Think of how many people we can reach just by sharing! The community of learning keeps growing. Here I would like to share another great post on blogging, by Jennifer Aston, an educator in London, Ontario!
  7. Writing improves! I sometimes cringe when I read some of my first blog posts and have been tempted to correct / delete them, but I have decided to leave them there. We can only improve and learn, right?

Thank you all so much for being with me on this amazing journey, for sharing, for teaching me and helping me become a better educator!

blogging
(Image taken from askablogger.com)

 

 

Podcasts, Prince and UnPlugged – An Interview with James Taylor

I am delighted to present you with the first interview for 2016, with one of my favourite educators ever, James Taylor!

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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!)

When Education Comes From Enthusiasm – An Interview with Roseli Serra (@SerraRoseli)

Roseli Serra
Roseli Serra

I am absolutely delighted to have a new interview on my blog today – the first of the year, with a super enthusiastic, supportive and hard-working educator – and a very good friend: Roseli Serra!

Roseli and I connected three years ago, and I immediately was drawn to her enthusiasm about everything education. She is an educator, teacher trainer, materials developer, you name it – and blogs at Roseli Coffee Desk. Another love we share, that of good coffee. She is one of the people that you see on social media and your heart immediately fills up, as she always has something beautiful and positive to say!

I am very happy that this summer we will finally meet in person! Here’s Roseli in our interview.

And here is the book she mentions in the interview: Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, by Anne Wilson Schaef

What’s Your Story? Mona Arvinte Interacts from Iasi

Mona Arvinte and her little daughter
Mona Arvinte and her little daughter

Here is another story, number 55, all the way from Iasi, Romania and Mona Arvinte, an English language teacher who has written her beautiful story! Read on about how she found her way into teaching and interacting with other teachers. 

Thank you so much, Mona! Mulțumesc!

When I first saw Vicky’s post I wondered : “Do I have a story?”

Of course, we all have stories and we all like stories. Am I ready to share, to put it on paper? Hmm, that’s a totally different story. Let’s see.

My story is really simple.

I’ve been a teacher all my life. I’m not that old, though. 😀

So hard to look back. That’s a real challenge to me, I think.

I chose to be a teacher for all the wrong reasons, I guess. I didn’t like kids, I had no patience whatsoever, didn’t like assigning or checking homework either.

That has changed over the years now. I’ve come to realize it’s best to interact, share and change ideas.

If you asked me what I’d be doing in 5 or 10 years’ time, I wouldn’t know. Probably the same but who knows? Life’s full of surprises.

I became a teacher about 13 years ago. Back then I did not even know I wanted to be a teacher. It’s not like I’ve been dreaming to be a teacher all my life. Let’s just say I had to, not that I wanted to.

I come from a small town and there were few opportunities for teaching English at that time. I remember quite well the look on the kids’ faces when the head teacher introduced me to the class. To say the least English was totally strange to them and so was the teacher.

So I entered the classroom. They did not pay any attention to me, nor to my words. That left me in a corner, not knowing what to do next. I began by telling them who I was. Well, I was so naïve to think they might actually look up to me for the simple fact I was a teacher. But no, that didn’t work.

I had to do something and quick, so I tried to improvise something. I remembered my first English lesson. I was about four or five. We were having so much fun, my English teacher at that time did her best to keep us motivated by involving each and every one of us in many engaging activities. I am positive I owe a lot to my first English teacher as to my teaching style. She was a fine lady.

Teaching is about sharing. I used to think teaching is just a job like any other job, you just go into the classroom, do your job, take your books and get back home. I was wrong, I guess.

Over the years I realized these kids have feelings, too. They aren’t like little robots that will do whatever you ask them to do just because you want them to.

No! They care, they have feelings and they also have their own stories that they like sharing, too.

As to my professional development, I’ve started to attend training courses and webinars that you can easily find online. That’s a whole new world to me. I didn’t think that would have been possible in the past. Or at least that hadn’t come in use to me not until last year. And I’m very happy about it as I get to learn a lot. As a teacher you never stop learning. It’s a long journey.

I am currently teaching 5th to 8th graders. It’s not that easy, not all are good students but it’s something that I love doing. Teaching is an excellent job, very rewarding. It helps you stay young at heart. Not to mention holidays! 😉 Just kidding.

Plans for the future? Well, I kind of like to live in the present.

Start blogging? Have my own website page? Become an online teacher? All these trends are very appealing to me. I like trying new things all the time.

Definitely yes, if the time is right!

So this is it. My life, my story!

No time to think it through, I just do what I think it’s best for me and my students.

Time to turn the page to a new chapter, hopefully!

 

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.

Interviewing Dimitris Tzouris – A Google Hangout

Dimitris Tzouris
Dimitris Tzouris

It has been quite a while I have wanted to interview Dimitris Tzouris, a great educator in Thessaloniki, Greece. Dimitris does great things with technology in education. We initially connected on Twitter five years ago and then on other social media. Last March we finally met in person. And today, our first interview!

Here is our interview on a Google Hangout we did – and many thanks to you, Dimitris, for the interview, for everything you teach us every day, for being a great example of a learner (and for helping me with the Google Hangout!).

 

BE DARING!! – Vicky Loras’ advice on CPD

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!

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Today, right at the equator of my webinar watching marathon challenge, I cyber-bummped into Vicky Loras’ webinar about Professional Development on the Sundays with BELTA archive and I couldn’t help write about it and share my excitement 🙂

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This photo of my lovely Moma, staring eagerly at the open sea, mirrors how I have often felt about my teaching career so far: 

I’m stuck here and there’s so much more out there. 

 “I’VE LEARNT MORE OFF TWITTER THAN IN MY 4 YEARS AT UNIVERSITY” – Vicky Loras

This didn’t come as a surprise to me at all. That’s why I am writing this post, to share all I have been up to in the last 4 months ever since I decided to BE DARING 🙂

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Just like her, I threw myself in and the rewards have kept coming since then. 

6 years vs 4 months 

Although I have been…

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Really Value Your Network

Doug Peterson is one of the reasons I am delighted to have joined social media and will never look back – I learn from amazing educators like him, and I am grateful for the motivation I get from him. Thank you so much, Doug!

doug --- off the record

I’ve never met Vicky Loras but she has opened up so many doors for me.

I think I probably got started with social networking like most people  I was curious about Twitter or Facebook and started an account.  Then, I read a post “Top 10 People to Follow on Twitter” or the like.  You end up following the “A” Crowd which turns out to be a cadre of people flogging books or their next presentation and not much else.  I liken it to an elevator that doesn’t go to the top floor.  It wasn’t satisfying so I turned to the person next to me, found out his name and followed him.  It was more satisfying and from there, it just kept snowballing.

So often, I read people bragging that “I gots a PLN” and it’s always interesting to ask just what that means.  “You know, I talk to people on…

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Love for Learning in a Library – An Interview with Efi Tzouri and Maria Vrachliotou

Maria Vrachliotou
Maria Vrachliotou

Maria Vrachliotou and Efi Tzouri are two amazing ladies, who work at the Library of Serres, in Northern Greece! They captured my heart and many other educators’ on social media and around the world, and have captured children’s and parents’ hearts with all their outstanding work. 

Efi Tzouri
Efi Tzouri

When I first saw the things that they do at the the Library of Serres in photos on Facebook, I felt so inspired and every time I am so excited to see the activities they do with the children!

Congratulations to you both, Efi and Maria!

Vicky: Efi and Maria, thank you so much for this interview on my blog. We have never met in person, however, there is a possibility we will meet up soon!

Efi: Thank you very much for the invitation. It is an honor!

Maria: Thank you for inviting us to your “digital world”.

Vicky: My pleasure! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – I love to see how they got involved in education. How did it come about for you?

Efi: I used to work at summer camps for children after having graduated from school. There I realised, first of all, that working with children is more than exciting, and second and more important that sharing your knowledge is like opening a door to a world of imagination. I decided to study English literature because I would be given the chance to open this door.

Maria: It came naturally and with no planning at all. After the renovation of our children’s library, by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation through “Future Library”, I wanted to commit myself to something creative, so I preferred to work with children. All our library activities have educative and creative characteristics and promote reading, knowledge and fantasy!

Vicky: Both stories sound so interesting! You are both involved in an amazing programme for kids, which takes place in the Public Library of Serres, in the north of Greece. How did this start and can you share some snapshots of what you do?

Efi: I became involved as a volunteer in the first summer campaing which took place at Central Public library of Serres under the support of “Future Library” . I participated in various activities and projects which, as Maria mentions, promote creativity, cooperation and above all imagination. I feel really lucky that I met Maria who supported me, trusted me and believed in me.

Maria: Since 2011, our library is a member of Future Library, a network supported by Stavros Niarchos Foundation. FL’s main role is to promote creativity and innovation in all public and municipal libraries of the country. Consider Future Library as a great project consisted of partial subprojects, such as: renovation of library spaces (children’s libraries, medialabs), educative seminars for librarians, summer reading campaigns, just to name some. The programme for kids you refer to is the summer reading campaign that every summer takes place in our library and is devoted to those children and youngsters who stay in the city during vacations. All activities aim to promote creativity, love for books, knowledge and of course, FUN! My main role in all this is to manage the whole campaign, from finding the volunteers, to creating the program and promoting this initiative wider to the public. I also supervise the summer campaign at 11 libraries in north Greece and Thrace, helping them with problem solving and promotion tactics.

The children in action
The children in action

Vicky: What other plans are there for the future at the library?

Efi: We live in an era that people cannot make plans for tomorrow. My personal “plan” is to continue dreaming about a world in which children will be happy and will have free and entire access to knowledge. I will keep doing my best in making kids’ faces smile. The most important thing in order to make plans for the future is to cooperate with people who have the same dream;to make a better world.

Maria: No plans for the future. I only wish that we will keep on providing services of high quality to all and we will adapt to the changes and the needs of our users.

Vicky: I absolutely agree and hope for the very best. I am sure this kids will continue to ejoy learning and coming to the library! Going on to another subject now, there is a lot of discussion about whether libraries are becoming obsolete, what with the emergence of electronic books and such. As you both work in a library, can you give us your insights? Where does the future of libraries lie?

Efi: Technology is constantly being updated in order to serve the needs of young people who keep up with the latest mobile applications and digital tools and love to be informed, to chat, to make friends through social networks. In a Facebook generation ebooks definitely make the process of education more attractive. Libraries should and must follow this whole new perspective of receiving knowledge and updating their services in order to attract more young readers.

Maria: Ebooks represent and amazing educative tool in the hands of librarians. They can “talk”, excite the senses, use multimedia applications and be easily accessible. They shouldn’t be considered as a threat, but as a means to promote reading and support traditional books, that due to their material lack some of the above characteristics. Ebooks should be embraced and not rejected. After all, they are a part of the future. They still are books…Imagine a future world where ebooks were the norm and suddenly, printed books appear as a way of alternative reading. I am almost sure that the reaction of readers would have been the same: negativity, suspicion and rejection. The duty of librarians is to help readers to become accustomed to new “technological expressions”.

The Public Library of Serres, Northern Greece
The Public Library of Serres, Northern Greece

Vicky: You share and interact a lot on social media. Do you think social media help educators and the field of education in general, and if yes, how?

Maria: I see social media as a way of communicating easily and instantly with people around the country and the world. In the library we use them mostly as a promotional tool of our work and activities, but also as an informative tool on books, reading and library news. For educative matters I think that Efi could share her experience with us.

Efi: Digital and literacy tools created a totally new perspective on how education is delivered to learners. On line courses and conferences give a great chance to access knowledge. On line communities have been created in order to share, collaborate, exchange ideas and help educators discover their skills, improve their work. I have the feeling that nowadays educators should feel more optimistic, creative and strong than ever because their passion to share their knowledge and their efforts to pass it to learners can be supported, enhanced and evolve by the use of such a powerful tool that is called social media.

Vicky: What is one of your dreams for the library of Serres in the next few years?

Efi: One of my dreams is to continue giving children the chance to smile and making them feel happy. Despite the fact that the current situation is not at all positive, I will keep on working with love and patience, as Maria says. Staying together, helping each other, collaborating, creating and innovating make us think positive about the future.Things will change to better ones  in the end.

Maria: The last years my main concern is for my library to find resources that will give its staff the needed space to provide better services for all and to follow the technological advances. I fear about the future of libraries in Greece, but I will keep on dreaming and hoping as I know that the personnel of the libraries work everyday with love, patience and many times, with personal sacrifices, in order to keep a high level in services, especially now that everything undergoes a serious crisis.

Vicky: I hope everything goes very well for education in general, and for your wonderful library! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Maria and Efi – see you soon!

Efi: Thank you so much dear Vicky! It was a great pleasure!!

Maria: It was nice to “digitally” talk to you. Hope to see you soon in person. Thank you!!!

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A Journey in Education – An Interview with Annie Tsai

Annie Tsai
Annie Tsai

About a year ago, I connected online with a very talented young lady – a teacher in Taiwan who is well-known on social media for her sharing and passion for education. May I present: Annie Tsai!

Annie Tsai had worked for a few radio stations as a copywriter but later on changed her career as an EFL teacher. After being in the same position for 9 years at a public elementary school, she decided to make a change again and she’s currently a 3rd grade homeroom teacher. She’s based in Taiwan but always on the track of going somewhere overseas. Other than being involved in local teacher’s training program, she’s also passionate in backpacking and trying her best to bring the world to her class. She has won a scholarship from Cambridge Global Teacher’s Essay Competition and she was also the winner of 2011 Everybody Up Global Sing-along Competition sponsored by Oxford University Press.

Vicky: Annie, I am so happy you have accepted to be interviewed on my blog. We have never met in person, however, from our connection on social media I have seen all the great things you do in your teaching and that is a huge reason why I wanted you to share everything with us!

Annie:  Thank you! I have enjoyed seeing your side of the world via FB. I think this is one of the best parts of being connected via social media. A group of people, albeit never met in real life, share the same passion and profession, which is the living proof of why learning a foreign language makes us a better person in so many levels. We learn to share and communicate and our perspectives can be so much more versatile in this way. It helps to have a clear mind, especially for educators joggling between teaching and management.

Vicky: How true! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – because it is so interesting to see their journeys entering education. How did you decide to join this field?

Annie: I had worked as a copywriter/planner at a couple of radio stations before changing lanes. In my last year at the media industry, I did some serious thinking of my future if I should continue to stay on the same path. That was the same year when the Taiwanese government decided to start the English education from elementary level. With my mom’s strong suggestion, I took the entrance exam they held and passed with flying colours. Thinking back now, it is a life-changing opportunity I hadn’t expected, considering my childhood memory with school wasn’t that rosy and shining. I have to admit that becoming a teacher is the most rewarding and best decision I’ve ever made in my life. It makes me learn more about my strength and weakness. It is the kind of profession that makes you examine your personality and rationale in fairly frequent bases. As a person who had spent the better half of her career life in the media industry, I think it is fair to say that I’ve seen the scenery from both sides. Teaching is a highly self-motivated trade and it is more than often being misunderstood or underestimated by the public. Teaching, however, also brings undescribed joy of reward for numerous people. The longer I stayed in this profession, the more I realized that teachers can play far more important roles in the mini-society they walk in every day. Changes that last for a lifetime may start from a classroom.

Vicky: Wow! What an interesting journey. And in your teaching career so far, you teach Young Learners. What do you enjoy the most about these ages, and what are the challenges?

Annie:  Ah, the possibilities there can be and the generosity they can offer is the most important present and privilege a teacher may receive! I love helping these little people to learn the world as I know and knowing that the world is so big that every one of us might see only a fraction of it. The only way to learn the world is to see it in your own eyes. Thus it is a joyful achievement if you get the key to communicate with people from other parts of the world.  Often times my young learners surprise me in cute yet awkward moments. Here’s an example, being neighbored with an Air Force base means we all get used to the helicopter noise. At the beginning of this semester, several days after we covered the word helicopter, my children shout the word a few times during the class whenever they heard the whirling noise. Now of course I was a bit annoyed with the interruptions, but at the same time, it was such a memorable moment to see how they were so proud of themselves and they’ve made such a positive and strong connection with the foreign language.

Annie's kids involved in projects
Annie’s kids involved in projects

The challenges are always there but they can be presents as well. Since Taiwan is an EFL country, it is almost impossible to have sufficient and positive English exposure once pupils leave English class. And the education policy in regards of foreign language often fails to meet the needs of real teaching scenes. During my prior 9-year stint as an EFL subject teacher, I see my students twice every week, with only a 40-minute block in each session. Without effective and extensive schemes to help these young children to review the content, the language material can hardly sank in their brains. To make things harder to manage, classes always come in diverse abilities and I usually have around 300 students to teach annually.

The English teaching industry has always been an issue in the spotlight in Taiwan.  It is true that most people found it difficult to master the language to the level of real communication. It is also true that most people still see English as a subject to learn rather than a tool to master. Thus it is common for people to simply give up and steer away from anything related to English once the pressure of tests and exams are out of the picture. So my hope in switching from an EFL subject teacher to a homeroom teacher is to expend the horizon of teaching a foreign language. I believe that by planting the seeds in the earlier stage can motivates them to make an effort of keeping the language. Eventually it may trigger their minds in exploring the world years later.

Finally, I’d like to share that the difficult teaching context may be inspirational sometimes.  You wouldn’t try so hard to adjust and adapt if all things are good. That’s also one of the things I love about teaching. It is a comparatively secured profession in making renovations.

Vicky: That’s a beautiful statement you just made. And thank you for sharing your experiences with your young learners, and giving us some insight into the EFL context in Taiwan as well! So interesting.

Would you ever consider teaching adults? Have you ever done it?

Annie: Oops, sorry, I have very limited experiences in teaching adults.

Vicky: That’s fine! Let’s move on to something different now. You share and interact a lot on social media, and that is how we actually got to know each other. Do you think social media help educators, and if yes, how?

Annie:  I found social media very helpful in regards to connecting and sharing. It’s also a great platform for information and subjective perspectives.  It is especially beneficial for EFL teachers as they often play the role as the ambassadors of each respective culture. Such characteristic broaden the room for thinking and the definition of better practice of teaching. Even in a country as petite as Taiwan, the resources and intel from different corners of the island can be quite diverse. I’ve learned so much information from my peer via FB and it works like therapy groups sometimes! Social networking helps closing the gap between teachers and at the same time it weaves in new threads of thinking to the existing concept.

Annie's kids planning to send materials to Aphro's kids!
Annie’s kids planning to send materials to Aphro’s kids!

To make things more exciting, platforms like Twitter, FB and Pinterest, involves teachers in different time zones and together we get to converse in the comfort of our own sofa. Additionally, professional and independent EFL FB pages such as iTDi also bring in the self-helped professional development courses that I can easily enrolled and learn in my own pace. The interactions performed in these virtual spaces, are more often than not effective and to the point. Perspectives and knowledge are no longer limited in geography. That’s the most fascinating part of all these virtual networking, just like the way I’m doing an interview with you now!

Vicky: Isn’t it great? I am thrilled about this! And in addition, you are part of a fantastic international programme – your kids are pen pals with another class in Greece, that of Aphrodite Giouris, who is in Larissa. How did this project start? What do you do?

Annie:  I came across Aphro via Facebook; I think we have mutual friends and after several chats back and forth, we decided to partner our classes and do a series of exchanges. For my students, Greece is just as ‘familiar’ and ‘exotic’ as those Greek gods and goddess they read in the books. The project enables my children to apply the language with a purpose. They no longer see Greece just another far-away country on the map. It has become very real and intriguing to understand that there are kids thousands of miles away learning the same language just like us.  Aphro and I also tried our best to match our kids from both sides and make sure each of them eventually receive something specifically for him or her. The experiences are phenomena as most of them have never received any hand-written letter before, let along anything from a foreign country!

I have personally learned and enjoy the process all the way as this project gives me a hands-on opportunity to design an integrated course just right for my class. It’s a great practice to test a teachers’ understanding of teaching material and how to best perform them in the making of the project.

Vicky: I look forward to seeing more and how it evolves! It truly caught my interest since day one and think it is a great opportunity for the kids to broaden their knowledge, both in culture and the language. Now to the future: what is one of your dreams about your teaching in the next few years?

Annie: As a rookie homeroom teacher, it means that I’ll have to be more familiar with other main subjects such as Mandarin and math. I’d like to take advantage of my new teaching context to build a more integrated curriculum. With more time and fewer pupils, I’m thinking about more shared reading experiences and eventually have at least a class drama annually. I’m also hoping for opportunities such as international competitions/networks to bring my children to the wider communities of the world.

As a senior EFL teacher, I’m hoping to organize or being involved in professional development for teachers. I’ve had a few experiences and hoping to continue the P1060572journey of sharing. I’m also looking forward to opportunities to brush up my language proficiency and hoping to be able to participate in International EFL conferences. Guess my wish list for Santa is a bit too long ; ) Still, being a teacher gives you the means to make your dream come true.

Vicky: It’s been such a pleasure hearing about everything you do! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Annie – I hope we meet in person some day!

Annie: As a passionate backpacker, I might actually hop on a plane and fly to the picturesque Switzerland some day!  Thank you so much for the heartwarming invitation. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Vicky: I will be so happy to show you around! Happy Holidays and all the best to you too : )