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!
Fabiana is a wonderful educator based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I connected with her on social media in 2013 and am so happy to see all the great things she does, which she speaks about in this interview. She blogs at http://all4efl.blogspot.com.ar/
Vicky: Fabiana, I first connected to you online a few months ago on Facebook, and have been following you and your lovely class ever since!
Fabiana: Yes, you’re right, Vicky! I feel honored you have been following me!
Vicky:The honour is all mine, Fabiana! I learn so much from you. My first question is, how did you become an educator?
Fabiana: Well, when I was in High School I wanted to be a History teacher and a lawyer. Later, I realized I had to study something connected with the foreign language I was studying so, I thought of the possibility of becoming an EFL teacher.
Vicky: Wow, a lawyer – me too! Thankfully, for the world of ELT, you became a teacher : ) Can you tell us a few things about your students? What ages they are, what sort of projects you engage in with them?
Fabiana: I have always taught teenagers. I used to teach children and adults too, but my schedule is tight for I am a full-time mom. Right now, I am only teaching 13-14 and 17-18. Projects? Well, I had done crazy, but creative things in the past, that is to say late 80s when I started teaching, such as make my students read and record a whole play called “Murder At Walton, Hall” on video (VHS) where they performed like real actors and actresses! They had to study the script, adapt it or abridge it and simply… act! It certainly was a lot of fun for them, for the class and very rewarding and satisfying for all of us! Those that would not want to make a video, they made a picture story book with real photographs: they would dress up, take pictures and publish the “book” with narration and dialogs as in comic magazines. Some other projects were a little more complex and tough:my advanced students made documentary videos on the life of relevant people in the world: Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa or Ghandi. They studied the biographies by heart, sat in front of a camera and started talking.
Nowadays, everything is more digital: with my advanced Senior group I started commenting the news by reading Twitter, BBC World, CNN, NY Times, The Salisbury Post, Charlotte Observer and Buenos Aires Herald. There is something I truly value and it is the student’s self motivation and I try to promote and never let it die. The students you see in the photo below, traveled to Washington, DC and New York to attend the Global Young Leaders’ Youth Conference. They interacted with youngsters from all around the Globe and when they came back home they shared their amazing experiences with all of us. One afternoon, one of the boys got a voice message from a friend from Saudi Arabia telling all his international friends about the conflict in Syria. It was wonderful to listen to the girl and after that, discuss the topic all together.
Last year, we worked on two projects: Alcohol Awareness-Underage Drinking and Cyberbullying-Bullying-Digital Citizenship which was a real success, as my students participated actively in video, audio and images: in class and at home. A lot of reflection and comments in a foreign language was not an easy task, but they were fantastic.
My pre-Intermediate group participated in a project called “We Are On The Air”, which is an idea of a fabulous, Facebook friend and colleague an EFL teacher from Greece called Theodora Papapanagiotou. The students made videos about the area where they live and what they do. The idea is to show a bit of our city, Buenos Aires as well as some others around the world which she will include in her lecture at TESOL Greece this current year.
I believe English Language Learners need to speak the language at all times that is why I devote some part of my class to talk about updated news, like reading the newspaper in English, commenting on anything they read which they find interesting and doing vocabulary research. Last year, I also started a sort of flipping class using Edmodo, where I post varied types of tasks for them to do at home to be commented in class: Monday Morning News Update was We usually talk about the news the first minutes of the class: I feel my students need to be exposed to real content and have as much speaking practice as possible. Reading and listening make you a better writer and speaker.
It is some extra work for me and for the students, but in the long run we both benefit from it, especially THEM who are the ones that matter.
Vicky: I absolutely love what you are doing and have done with the kids, fabiana – it is all about discussing values and life as well, not only teaching the language and you do that very well. You also use culture a lot in your classes. Can you tell us how you do that?
Fabiana: Buenos Aires is a melting pot, so maybe because of that, I have always been multicultural, and have never feared to learn from some other cultures. I taught in the United States for six years as an international and cultural exchange teacher so I would say, that was the key point in my career as a teacher. It opened my mind more than it had been before, and made me see things from different points of view. I interacted with people from all the continents and cultures which certainly gave me a lot of experience. I participated in fairs where we showed typical objects, traditions, music, videos, pictures, magazines from Argentina. We even took virtual trips to my country Since I came back to Argentina, I have worked at the same small private school, Colegio Canadá or Canada School, where its owners and administrators have always had a plan in mind: to be part of international projects: sports tours and exchange trips to English speaking countries, teach English as a foreign language intensively, make students sit for International Examinations, sing the Canadian Anthem or become acquainted with the History and Geography of English Speaking Countries. We do a lot of cross-cultural activities, I mean, if the Social Studies teacher is teaching The Tudors, we read about them in English, make posters to decorate the classroom, crossword puzzles, trivia and other activities online.
It is a tradition to celebrate Canada Day all around the school, this past year my students made posters, flags and sang the Anthem on video. Later, I decided to publish everything on a Padlet wall: http://padlet.com/wall/qlsb3wfv9t
Vicky: You engage a lot in social media. How did you become involved in them, and how do you think they help educators?
Fabiana: Honestly, I was really reluctant to expose myself online. About two years ago one of my best friends and colleagues and my friends in the USA convinced me to open an account on Facebook for me to be connected with other educators and keep in touch with them, respectively. Then, I became a sort of addict, browsed every education group and started to relate with the greatest teachers, educators, teacher trainers, and authors around the world. I began to build my PLN which has grown quite a lot and helped me to be a real connected teacher. Some time later, I even opened an account on Twitter. Sometimes I stay up really late as there is too much information to absorb in a such a short day of only twenty four hours!. Besides, being online gave me the opportunity to work hard on my CPD because I began to study a Specialization on ICT and Education and attend many free webinars provided by the British Council, Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan, WizIQ, American TESOL, EVO Sessions, BESIG, IATEFL and some others such as the amazing Tics en El Aula. I even presented at two International Conferences: The Reform Symposium and at the Global Education Conference. It is a wonderful way to blend being a passionate mother and teacher!
Vicky: You are so active and amazing how you combine everything! You also blog. Can you let us know what inspires you and what you write about?
Fabiana: Well, I started blogging a little because in all my twenty something years of teaching experience, I have never documented anything I did! Nobody told me…!
Last year, Shelly Sanchez Terrell invited me to join the 30 Goals Challenge Group on Facebook, and that was when I sort of pushed myself to write about my life as an educator. I know I am not perfect at what I do, but I try! I still have a long way to go, but still very happy I have already achieved some goals in my career. It takes time to think clearly what to write and how to write it: I am not a good writer, I´m just spontaneous and informal. Anyway, all I express is from the heart.
Vicky: How would you like to close our interview?
Fabiana: I am extremely thankful and proud to connect with you and learn from and with you. As I said before, I still have to polish some aspects of my English, my teaching and blogging among other things because English is not my first language, but I am really willing to learn and progress on a daily basis and I would like to inspire colleagues and students to feel the way I feel as a lifetime learner.
Vicky: Fabiana, this has been such a great interview!!! Thank you and the kids ever so much for sharing and letting us into your classroom!
This tenth goal has been suggested by an educator I admire tremendously for her work, her inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm in everything she does, be it teaching, blogging, or going to the gym – Theodora Papapanagiotou!
This goal has been on my mind for quite some time.
I love books so much, that every time I go into a bookstore, I struggle not to buy yet another – I have around five hundred in my small apartment. There is always a book in my bag, so I can read if I am commuting to a class by train or bus, or travelling in general, or out for coffee, I always have one on hand to read. I do not like all books (for instance crime novels or science fiction are not my cup of tea), but my favourite kinds are those that have to do with my work, any book by Orhan Pamuk or Amos Oz (my top two favourite writers), books about people and feelings and places.
A book that has left an indelible mark on me and is about teaching is Teach With Your Heart by Erin Gruwell, a teacher in inner city America, who was assigned a group of low-performing kids. She and the kids worked so hard together that a lot of them graduated from college and went on to excel professionally and get away from drugs, gangs and prostitution. Erin encouraged them to write their stories in a journal – they both learned to write, as some of them had trouble with writing per se, but it also served as a catharsis for most of them – a catharsis from their problems at home, or illegal activities they were involved in.
She is an amazing educator, as in her interviews she is still very humble and always speaks about her students with such love and about teaching with great passion. Her story even became a motion picture and she has written books about her experiences with her kids. Erin even worked three jobs at the same time at the beginning, in order to give them bags full of books at the end of the school year, because her headteacher told her the books the school had would be a waste on the specific kids. Erin believed in them though and still does. Her work is remarkable.
She even managed to bring Miep Gies (the lady that helped Anne Frank and her family hide away in the Secret Annex) to the school – the kids listened to her speak and interviewed her – what a life-changing moment for them! Erin also brought her students into contact with Zlata Filipović, a Bosnian girl who wrote Zlata’s Diary, a memoir of the siege of Sarajevo and the horrors of the war she lived through.
It is a book truly worth reading, and not for educators only. It is for anyone who loves kids and believes in their potentials. Because they all can do great things!
As an educator and as many also uphold, learning is key to our careers and development in the field. I have been learning various things during my teaching career so far: new skills, tools to use, methods and so on, but until I moved to Switzerland four years ago, I had never tried to learn another language. I never had to, because English and Greek was enough for me before. This was a completely wrong perception I had, as learning languages are not only about the place you live, or just asking for something in another language. I have come to understand it is much more than that.
When I first came here, I started learning German but then I had to stop, with the excuse (it was true back then) that I was getting more and more work and I had no time. Then, Zug is a very international city, so even when I start to speak German with people, they immediately pick up on my English accent and most of them immediately switch to English. Even when I insist they switch back to German, they keep speaking in English – that is how polite they are!
Last year, in the college that I teach twice a week, we had to attend two obligatory courses on pedagogy and methodology…in German. The night before the first course I hardly slept. Why am I doing this? I thought. I will never manage to do it. I will disappoint my director (special thanks to Philipp Hediger, who has believed in me and supported me since day one – we are very lucky to have him, as he has supported our professional development to a great extent) and myself. I can’t speak or write in German and never will.
I did attend both courses, and I should say, that neither was a walk in the park – we had homework, which my classmates could do in half an hour – I needed seven or eight hours for the same amount. The course lasted eight hours each time, the other was for three hours at a time – for me, it was not only learning about methodology and pedagogy, I was literally being immersed into the language. I learned a great deal in those three months! I could not believe it. I pressured myself, pushed myself to the limits, had great classmates who would explain to me (in German) when I didn’t understand something and great teachers (another huge thank you to Max Woodtli, my instructor).
This year I have decided, along with my sister, to start proper German lessons. Even though we speak quite well now and understand more than we think sometimes, we have started everything from the beginning and we are immensely enjoying it! Our teacher is supporting us every step of the way and is so passionate, we truly expect every lesson to come and learn from her. I have decided to step out of my comfort zone in English and tackle German. And you know what? I am also going to restart my Turkish lessons! I feel like my eyes are open and I can see my new home in a different light – I can talk to people, I can write and I can pick up German books in the bookstore and read! Above all, I feel that I can understand my students – how they feel, how they approach learning languages, the challenges they face in English and how they can overcome them.
I have mentioned in previous posts that my sister Eugenia and I have made our dream come true and opened a brand new school in Switzerland, The Loras Network! It is like a continuation of The Loras Academy that we had in Greece, but apart from language lessons, we have added even more children’s events and teacher training. Especially with the children’s events that we used to do in Greece as well, this is something that we really enjoy doing and this is the idea we are revisiting for this fourth goal in the 30 Goals Series!
During these events, we do educational games with the kids on worksheets, like mazes, wordeasearches related to the topic, puzzles, we play games on the theme, match words to pictures, read books…and language relevant to the topic (and not only) is produced! Even when they are doing crafts, or colouring, they are still producing language – and they are learning the language of following instructions: we will cut this with our scissors, stick it on the paper…and the kids enjoy themselves and learn at the same time!
I was talking about this with Shelly Terrell the other day – and we both agreed that we have special songs for ever kind of moment in our lives…but I will try to keep it short here!
One of the songs that amazed me when I first heard it! I thought, they know me, they know my life – Paradise by Coldplay:
This one by the Stereophonics reminds me that there is always tomorrow to do new things and dream about, never despair or give up – and find my way home.
I get excited very easily, be it about a new idea, project, even the mention of simple things like cake! And because I use Wooohooo! or Whoop whoop! a lot, I think this one is appropriate – it also uplifts my spirits when I need it:
The last one is a bit nostalgic and a bit funny too, come to think of it. In those old times when not every home had a VCR, my dad used to rent us one (the machine) every Christmas and two videotapes: one was always Annie (we loved it and have seen it numerous times!), the other one my dad would choose (so happy he didn’t go into gender stereotyping with us 🙂 ). Once it was Superman, once it was Rocky ; ) This movie and theme song reminds me of when we would watch this movie – dad would always point out: “Look, he keeps on trying no matter what. He is a fighter and so are my girls!” It gives me a lot of motivation and strength when I need it – what a memory can do, right? I loved how he wouldn’t stop running in this movie scene!
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.