Mike Griffin: Reflecting and Reviewing, But Not Ranting : ) (@michaelegriffin)

Mike Griffin (Photo by Mike Griffin)
Mike Griffin (Photo by Mike Griffin)

I am extremely happy to present you with an interview I have been thinking about for a very long time with one of the people I admire tremendously. Mike Griffin! I connected with Mike in December 2011 on Twitter initially – he stood out for being one of those educators who has great opinions and ideas on education. He also has an amazing sense of humour! I was so happy that he started his own blog, which contains super pieces of writing. Mike blogs at ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections. Heeeeere’s Mike!

Vicky: First of all, a huge thank you for accepting to do this interview – as you know, you are one of my favourite people on Twitter and Facebook, so this is a huge honour for me!

Mike:  The pleasure and honour is all mine! #Whoop! Thanks so much for having me. It has been such fun getting to know you on those channels.

Vicky: You teach in South Korea as a lot of us know, as you are one of the most well-known people in the PLN and offer lots to educators on a daily basis. However, can you tell us where and what kind of classes you have, for the people who meet you for the first time?

Mike: I live and work in Seoul. My “day job” is teaching in the graduate school of a university here. I guess it is easiest to say that I have two different jobs within that job. In the first, I teach Business English, Academic English, or Discussion-focused classes for grad students in the International Studies major. In the second I run weekly seminars in simultaneous interpretation for students doing an MA in interpretation and translation. Students come into class with a Korean speech that they read while others interpret simultaneously and I frantically listen to as many interpretations as I can. After that students give each other feedback on what they heard and then I do my best to answer questions and give feedback on what I heard. Everyone always wonders if my Korean ability is good enough for this. It’s not. I actually just listen to the English anyway.

Additionally, I have been (co-)teaching Curriculum Development on the New School MATESOL program for a few terms. I also work on a trainer/mentor training course for public school teachers.  I feel pretty busy after writing that.
As for being well-known, that is news to me!

Vicky: Well, it’s the truth! Was teaching your first choice as a profession?

Mike: Not really. Kind of. I am not sure. I actually entered university as an Education major but switched to History shortly thereafter. I thought I might like to be a history teacher for a while but then the allure of living in other cultures was too much.

Vicky: How did you get to Korea in the first place and what do you like the most about living there? Was there anything that surprised you in your first few months there?

Mike: I decided in my final term during my undergrad I wanted to teach and travel. Korea jumped out at me for a few reasons. It was far away and seemed different. At that time (12+ years ago now) not a lot of people knew about Korea, especially as compared to Japan. I was interested in going to a place that was not so widely known. I was also interested in how Korea was changing so rapidly and had undergone such dramatic changes in the past 50 years. I was lucky enough to get in contact online with a Canadian guy that was leaving his job and I appreciated how honest he was about the good and not-so-good things about the position.

The most surprising thing for me in my first few months in South Korea is the thing that still surprises me the most. Buildings go up so quickly! It is amazing. You might go somewhere you haven’t been in a month and see 3-4 new buildings. Even after all this time it still surprises me.

Vicky: You are a huge proponent of Reflective Practice in Teaching and one of the founders of the first RPSIG (Reflective Practice Special Interest Group) in the world, based in Korea. How did you enter this area of interest? How did you start the SIG?

Mike: Wow, great question. I was lucky enough to see and get connected a bit with Dr. Thomas Farrell at a special day-long workshop in 2008. Reflection was also a big part of my MATESOL at the New School as well as my training to be a World Learning/SIT Teacher Trainer. I saw a lot of benefits when I started trying to see my teaching as it was and started talking and writing about it. I guess reflection and reflective practice appealed to me before I even know what they were or what they were called.

Vicky: You present a lot at conferences throughout the year and do a lot of workshops for teachers. What do you enjoy the most about them?

Mike: I absolutely love the sound of my own voice. Wait, no, that is not the right answer. For the past few years I have been averaging about 1 presentation a month, which is something I am looking forward to cutting back on in 2013. I truly enjoy presenting and giving workshops, though. I find it is great learning opportunity for me to discover my hidden beliefs on certain areas as well as to explore thoughts and ideas that I was not so familiar with. The other thing I enjoy is helping teachers see how their experiences and thoughts matter and how they can make their own decisions about their classes.

Vicky: What would you advise teachers who are a bit reluctant to present?

Mike after a workshop (Photo by Mike Griffin)
Mike after a workshop (Photo by Mike Griffin)

Mike: Just start by starting. Don’t worry about being perfect or blowing people’s minds. Audiences are generally very supportive (especially if you come off as a fellow explorer and not an expert telling people what they *should be doing). I think it can be pretty nerve-wracking at first but it gets easier. My other advice would be that you don’t need to start out with big huge presentations but can start with smaller sessions for your colleagues or friends or something along those lines. I’d also advise being patient and not taking it personally if and when rejections come.

Vicky: Let’s move on to your blog, which is one of my absolute favourites. If I have to choose the top 5, yours is definitely among them. How did you start it and what inspires you to write?

Mike: Thanks so much! It is always great to get positive feedback but even better to get positive feedback from someone that you respect (and someone that has an excellent blog themself!).

I love blogging. I can’t believe it took me so long to get into it. I did dabble with student blogs and blogs that I ran for students back in the olde days of 2007 but I never thought about having my own blog. The constant nagging encouragement of my dear friend Josette LeBlanc (@josetteLB) who has an amazing blog over at tokenteach (http://tokenteach.wordpress.com/)  was the main push for me to blog. I joined Twitter in 2011 just after the KOTESOL International Conference after Chuck Sandy encouraged the audience in his fantastic presentation to do so. From there after engaging with the community having a blog seemed like a natural next step. I think Twitter is fantastic but the tyranny of 140 characters can be a bit strong at times so it is nice to have a space to share some thoughts.

As for my inspiration to blog, there are a few ideas and rants that I just needed to get out of my system and blogging has been great for that. I have noticed how the simple fact of just having a blog changes my thought process. For example, something interesting or strange might occur in class but now that I have a blog I sometimes think about these events under the lens of “How would I write about this in the blog?” and I think it tends to give me more/different insights than I would have otherwise. I guess I didn’t really answer your question about what inspires me to write but it is partially things I need to get off my chest, lessons I have learned that I want to share, questions I am working through, funny (in my opinion at least) stories I want to share, or other people’s ideas I want to share.

Vicky: You are very active on social media and share a great deal with educators all around the world. Can you give us some insight into how you use each medium and what you see as a benefit? Which downsides are there?

Mike: “Very active on social” media is a very nice way to put it. Haha. I am on the computer a lot for work and Facebook and Twitter are enticing breaks. I mostly use Twitter for professional things (though I am not afraid to be silly and whimsical) and Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family and sharing random thoughts and links. In the past 6-10 months I have been adding more and more Twitter friends on Facebook and it has been interesting. I suppose “worlds colliding” could be a potential downside but I have been lucky enough (as far as I know) to not experience negative impact from merging my professional and personal digital selves. I think there are always risks inherent in any sort of communication but I have been very pleased with my social “networking for professional development experiment.” I guess I mostly share links and try to connect with people. I have been thrilled to discover amazing people who work in similar as well as drastically different contexts in Korea and around the world. Pooling knowledge and ideas with educators around the world has been an inspiring experience.

Vicky: Before our interview, I asked you which your favourite ELT book is and yours is Understanding Teaching Through Learning. Can you give us some details about it – why would you recommend it? By the way, I have already ordered it and thank you for that!

Mike: That is great news! That book was a great intro for me about many things related to teacher training and reflection. It is also a great source of ideas and material for running workshops. I think the authors did a great job of taking complicated ideas and making them accessible and engaging. Something I especially love about that book is how it offers something for teacher across all experience levels.

Mike's reading recommendation (image taken from http://www.amazon.com)
Mike’s reading recommendation (image taken from http://www.amazon.com)

Vicky: Now let’s move on to Mike outside teaching. What do you enjoy doing when you have a spare moment?

Mike: I don’t have as many spare moments as I would like but traveling and reading are at the top of my list. Combining the two and reading on a beach in a new country is blissful for me.

Aside from my big interest in ELT am also interested in sports, movies, comedy, business, politics, and suddenly social networking.

Vicky: I asked you about your favourite movie before I interviewed you and it is The Big Lebowski – to be honest, I have never seen it, even though I have heard about it before. I had homework to do and learn more about it! Please tell us more about it and why you like it.

Mike:  You have to see it! It’s hilarious. It is also one of those movies that gets better the more you see it. I don’t just recommend watching it once, I recommend watching it at least 5 times. Then things will make a bit more sense. I found it extremely witty and funny and I was especially impressed with the dialogue. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. I imagine when you (finally) see it you might recognize some of the lines because people have been saying them around you for years.

Vicky: Nerdy question coming up: have you ever taught with it?

Mike: That is a really #TESOLgeek –y question! It is also a great idea because I have never used it in class. Some of the dialogues would be great. I am imaging it now. I think you might be a bit out of your element if I start telling you what scenes would be good so I will wait for you to get back to me.

Vicky: Mike, a huge thank you for this interview, for your insight and your time. I really hope to meet you face to face soon!

Mike: Thank YOU. Thank you for having me. Thank you for all the support. Thanks for all the laughs and smiles. Thank you for all the sharing and community building that you do. And thank you for being you. Rock on!

(I am very much looking forward to meeting you face to face. I am willing to go on record that all the cake you can eat will be my treat!)

Vicky’s Notes: I would like to thank Mike very much for helping me find a title for his blog – wordplay on his blog title! And thank you – I never say no to cake!

Taking Up @AnneHendler’s Blog Challenge – My Laughing Diary

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A couple of days ago I read a post which had a great impact on me: The Best Medicine by Anne Hendler, an educator I have recently connected to on Twitter and whom I enjoy following very much! Anne teaches in South Korea and writes a great blog, where she shares her teaching and life experiences, as an expat teacher (which I completely empathize with, being an expat in Switzerland myself!). Anne asks, what makes us laugh?

As everyone, sometimes I get stressed about my teaching, or everyday things in general. A couple os years ago I went through a very stressful period – it is incredible how your mind starts looking for all the pleasant things out there to overcome the stress and despair you can feel. There are a lot of things that make me happy and laugh:

My family: Skyping with my dad, mom and sister can make my day in no time. It can even take two minutes talking to them and I just feel that lift instantly!

My niece and nephew, my sister’s children who also live in Switzerland. They do and say a lot of funny stuff, but lately they have taken to singing I Like To Move It from the children’s animated movie Madagascar. They march around the living room and jump around – I can’t describe how it makes me feel!

Being on Twitter: learning, reading and very often, laughing with some funny links or messages I am sent! I feel great when learning, or reading about something I find difficult and is solved in no time.

My students: regardless of their age, they always say or do something funny and we all have a lot of laughs – it creates a great atmosphere and our lessons just take off : )

Writing: either on my blog or good old-fashioned paper notebooks, there is something about writing that just drains away all the stress or negativity I may feel.

Books and bookshops: my second home! I love being there. Either going through my books at home, or at a bookstore, a huge smile appears on my face.

What makes you laugh? What helps you overcome difficult moments?

Thanks Anne for a great blog challenge!

A Super Year!

I hope this has been a great year for all of you!

2011 has been for the main part a great year for me – I would like to say thank you to all of you for making it so special! I have felt so inspired this year, be it from working with great people and students, participating in conferences, online chats on Twitter (such as ELTChat and finnedchat) with amazing educators from around the world from whom I have learnt and who have challenged my thinking, interviewing some and being interviewed as well, meeting some for the first time and seeing old friends, writing blog posts, taking part in fantastic projects like the iTDi project!

May 2012 be great as well, full of health and happiness for all of us. 

I wish everybody Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! All the best!

Happy 2nd Birthday, Dear Blog!

Happy Birthday dear blog...with chocolate cake, my favourite! (Image taken from lavenderbakery.wordpress.com)

Two years ago, on the 10th of December – after having started to read Ken Wilson‘s blog and then more and more blogs, I decided to start my own.

In the beginning, I thought – who is going to read it? What if they think what I write is silly? I started with my first piece and it all kind of flowed from there – it progressed and I started thinking about some topics, which developed into blog posts. Reading the old ones again, some I like and some I do not like at all! I believe writing my blog has improved my writing skills, my thinking process (because in the past it was completely stream of consciousness – not that now my thinking is boxed, but I organise it much better and it is not all over the place).

I have been very fortunate to have had great readers and comments – each and every one of them has made me think. And I thank all of the fantastic people who have commented for that.

I have also had amazing guest bloggers honour me with their posts – another big thank you to them!

This year I started my first blog challenge, What’s Your Story? which started on October 9th and is still running, thanks to all the people who are writing for it and reading it!

This year I started presenting again and published my talks on the blog – and I am really enjoying giving talks as an experience.

This year finds my blog nominated in two categories in the Edublog Awards – a big THANK YOU to everyone who put me there. I really appreciate it and it has boosted my motivation to keep writing even more.

So…HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ALL OF US! The blog, me, you, everyone! A million thanks!

TESOL France 30th Colloquium – Day Two (#TESOLFr)

And after the excitement of Day One…Day Two came along for all of us to learn, connect and have fun!

Mike Harrison

I started my day with Mike Harrison’s super session Before Words: Ideas for Using Images and Sound in the Classroom. It was the first time I had attended Mike’s session and I loved it! I got so many ideas about what you can do with pictures and sound effects in class. We even did a visual poem. I teamed up with Deniz Atesok, a great educator from Turkey in the activities that Mike showed us and we came up with some great ideas! I will definitely be using his ideas with my students – and I will definitely be attending more of his sessions in the future. You can find a plethora of ideas on his great blog! A big thank you to Mike!

Anna Musielak

Right after Mike – the drama specialist and enthusiastic presenter (and very good friend – I am so happy to know her!) Anna Musielak! Ania’s presentation was called Break the Ice with Drama. I had seen Ania last year as well and I could not wait to attend her session this year either!

Ania presented so many ideas, you definitely have to catch her at a conference – her enthusiasm is amazing and so are her ideas, which work with all ages. We took part in many activities and could see in practice how great these ideas are. I loved how Ania’s ideas made everyone so enthusiastic, lots of people volunteered to take part in the activities. Lots and lots of ideas. Ania is also star guest blogger on many blogs, including mine. Her posts are definitely worth reading! Thanks so much, Ania!

Cecilia Lemos

After our lunch break, it was time to see Cecilia Lemos in action in her session, Ideas for Improving Studentsʼ Writing Skills: My Experience. Ceci gave us amazing ideas of how to integrate writing actively in our classes – a skill that has been often disliked by students for the reason that (we have all heard it and Ceci pointed it out as well) they have nothing to write. She introduced us to some nice tips for writing, such as motivating the students into writing the essay paragraph by paragraph wothout even realising it, and then putting them all together to make their very own writing piece – and prove to themselves that they can write! I also like how Ceci told us how she motivates her kids to read – they all read the same book, which she has chosen carefully to be apporopriate for all tastes and for both genders. She has also done a webinar on the same topic which you can see, along with other super posts, on her blog.

Luke Meddings

Right after, it was time for the one and only Luke Meddings and his plenary Dogme and the City.

I really liked how Luke paralleled language learning and teaching and exploring the city of Paris. It was a really great pleasure to listen to Luke and talk to him afterwards – we also enjoyed his Greta Garbo impersonation!

Thanks for a great plenary, Luke! Truly enlightening and I look forward to attending more talks from Luke in the future.

 

Marisa Constantinidis

Then it was time for Marisa Constantinidis – her session was The Reading Challenge: Motivation & creativity in reading lessons. Lots of educators heistate to use reading texts in their classes because they think the students may get bored. Marisa showed us so many ways to utilise texts in class successfuly, and get lots of things from them! She weaved reading texts into so many activities and extended them to speaking as well. I loved Marisa’s ways of motivating students to read – it counts to a great extent on how teachers present a reading text for the students to approach it! A great presentation form a wonderful person and educator! Read Marisa’s excellent blog  for more great ideas – I am giving a link to her very imimportant challenge for people with disabilities, which she pointed out in Paris as well and I believe is a very important issue for all educators to keep in mind.

Ceri Jones

Right after Marisa, the last session of the day I attended was Ceri Jones’s, You’ve Got Mail. She gave us very interesting ideas on how to use e-mail in class, as a means of communication with our students (letting them know what has happened in case of absence, for instance, but also as an exchange of language between the teacher and students). Ceri and her students did an excellent job in extending their linguistic abiltites and improving significantly in writing – something I found very interesting, as I communicate a lot with my students via e-mail, almost on a daily basis. I am definitely taking a lot of ideas from Ceri’s session! Read her super blog Close Up – great work there!

Then we had the Open Mic Night, which was a huge success and so much fun! Lots of singing, juggling, poetry reading – you name it : )

My First Post

etp_article   This link will lead you to my first publication, which was in the magazine English Teaching Professional, Issue 50, in 2007 . In this article you can read about what I think is a very important issue in the classroom, that of multiculturalism and diversity. Since this is my first posting, I must refer to the person who helped me get the idea for this first one: Ken Wilson (teacher trainer, ELT author, sketch- and songwriter and many many more), who has talked about the issue of culture and teaching in general, as well as travelling on his own fantastic blog (http://kenwilsonelt.wordpress.com). Thank you Ken!