Interview with Timo Ilomäki

It is a great honour to have Timo Ilomaki on my blog. He is an educator and student counselor from Finland and Coordinator of Entrepreneurship and Social Media Network. He also writes a very interesting blog on the use of technology in education http://educationtechnology-theoryandpractice.blogspot.com/ Timo is very active on Twitter and is one of the people who started #finnedchat, a weekly discussion on Finnish education. He and his partner Aki Puustinen are doing amazing things for education, so stay tuned and follow them on Twitter and their blogs!

Kiitos, Timo!

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#MoreThan140 – Meet Sue Annan

Get to know more about Sue Annan, a fantastic teacher of English as a Foreign Language and teacher trainer, who lives on Jersey Island, an island between England and France. Sue talks about her work, social media and music…enjoy her interview!

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To receive updates about other “More than 140″ interviews, make sure you follow Matt Ray (@mrmatthewray) and Vicky Loras (@vickyloras), follow the hashtag #MoreThan140 and watch this blog.

My Contribution to Eva Büyüksimkeşyan’s Blog Carnival #24 – Warmers and Fillers

Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, English teacher and good friend!

I am delighted to be asked to take part in the 24th Blog Carnival on Warmers and Fillers for the first days back at school, hosted by Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, an English teacher based in Istanbul, and since last November, a dear friend! Eva teaches at Esayan High School and does a lot of great projects with her students. She also collaborates internationally with other teachers around the world. Eva writes the most amazing posts on her blog, A Journey in TEFL. Thanks so much for this opportunity, Eva!

I am very happy to teach English as a Foreign Language both to children and adults. I enjoy working with both age groups and in this post I will share my ideas, which I hope you will find useful and like! I try to come up with new activities every year, but these are our favourites and as an educator, I see that they help both children and adults make a great start to their lessons.

Young Learners:

  • As I like to incorporate culture in my classes and I am fortunate to have multicultural classes, I begin by asking them where they are from and if they can tell us a greeting in their language, sing a small song or tell us a small poem or rhyme. For the reason that on first days young learners can be very shy, I start by demonstrating the task myself! That can help the kids a lot and keep the activity going.
  • We make posters on A3 paper. They can write their name, if they are able to, and around it make little drawings of things they like, their families, their hobbies and so on. When they are finished, they can make a small presentation to the whole class so we can all get to know them!
  • My name is Vicky and I like basketball! We can all sit down in a circle and take turns, rolling a ball or giving each other a stuffed toy and introduce ourselves – our names and our favourite thing or activity. That way they can hear each other and learn names – perhaps even find out common things they like!

Adult Learners:

  • Incorporating culture again, I make a little introduction of myself (My name is Vicky Loras, I was born in Canada of Greek parents and I am an English teacher) – it welcomes them to the first lesson and they can feel more comfortable. They can even start asking me or even better each other questions. Plus, they like this small talk for the first lesson – we can start talking stock markets and hedge funds in the following lessons!
  • Then taking some questions from a book I absolutely adore, Cambridge Business English Activities, we start talking (culture is in here too and the questions can lead to some interesting and sometimes funny discussions!). This kind of discussion loosens them up in the first lesson, because they can be nervous as well and serves as a great introduction to fantastic lessons to follow. The questions are of the kind: If you were at a reception, would you take the last piece of cake? or Do you work on a problem by analysing it or using your instinct? or How would you react if a colleague got the job you wanted? and so on.
  • What I have noticed is that they love talking about their work and working environment, their position in the company and perhaps what they did before, so I just let them talk to us about it. If they are from the same company, they can fill in for each other when they remember something, so everyone gets a chance to talk – or if they have not see each other before, they can learn more about the people in their class.

I hope these tips have helped you. Stay tuned to Eva’s blog to read great ideas form other educators who are also taking part in the Blog Carnival. Thank you for reading!

The Key to Education by George Couros

Part of the Couros Family (from left to right): Alec, Mary, Mario and George
I am very happy that a great educator from Canada, George Couros, has written a beautiful post for my blog. George is a principal in a K-6 school in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada. Thank you so much, George!

My name is George and I am a principal. Just writing this statement is almost hilarious, and if you ever talked to any of my former principals, they would probably be pulling their hair out knowing at who is at the source of this statement. The funny thing is, what I thought was once a horrible job, I now know is one that is absolutely amazing. I know that I have the opportunity to not only influence children within my school, but I also have the opportunity to influence the people that have the greatest impact on the lives of these children; their teachers.

Teachers absolutely have the biggest impact on the lives of a child, whether it is positive or negative. A child will have the opportunity to either excel in life directly because of a teacher, but sometimes in spite of a teacher. My job is to ensure that I work with my staff to create an environment that does not become the latter.

A little about me, I am the baby in a family of 2 brothers and 1 sister who have very powerful and energetic personalities. When I share with people that I am the shy one in the family, I do not know if they are in shock or fear, as I must say I do have a very outgoing personality as well. My parents, both Greek immigrants, are the major influence that I am in the position I am in today. Looking at their impact, it is very different than a traditional route that many educators may have faced.

As children in Greece, education was something that was not out of necessity for my parents, but was a luxury that was afforded to only some families. My father was only able to attend grade 2 as a student since he had lived in a country that was torn by political ideologies and was embroiled in a civil war. My mother had far surpassed many women of her generation and actually was able to attend grade 6 before she was pulled out of school. Eventually, they both immigrated to Canada and met in the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where they married.

As I grew up and saw many of my Greek friends persuaded to continue the family business, the importance of education was continuously reinforced by my parents. They did not want us working long hours in a restaurant, and wanted to ensure that, although they loved their jobs, we would be in professions that would afford us a little more time to spend with family. Between my 3 siblings and myself, there are 9 degrees, 2 of which are masters degrees, and one a doctorate by my brother Alec. It was an expectation from our parents that we would all go to university, and they worked extremely hard to ensure that we all had that opportunity. My brother and I both work in the field of education and are extremely passionate about our jobs, and hope that we can inspire a spark in others as well.

What my parents do not realize though is that with all of our formal education, they taught my brother and I (along with my siblings outside the world of education) something that was much more beneficial to our profession than any book or Web 2.0 site. They taught us the importance of caring and respect. You see, my parents owned a restaurant in the small town we grew up in that was very popular. When I was younger, it was ALWAYS extremely busy and my parents never seemed to have a quiet moment to themselves. What I had always assumed when I was younger was that because of the quality of food that my parents had made, people continuously would return. As I grew older, I know that this was only part of it.

Looking back on how my parents treated every single person as if they were the most important person in the world, was something that I see was unique. My dad would often come out of the kitchen and talk to customers, sit with them, and learn so much about them. My mom, who was the hostess for my entire life, always had something wonderful to say about the people that came in, and I never forget how engaged she was in their stories that they would share about their families. What my parents had created was not only a successful restaurant, but an atmosphere where people felt warm and welcomed. They would continuously come back to visit my parents, not for the food, but because they felt they were a part of the Greek family. Although my mom and dad had worked many long hours, they always treated people with kindness, caring and respect. Eventually my parents sold the restaurant, and although all of the recipes and meals were the same, it quickly closed after they had left the business. This tells me it was more than the food that had lured people to sit in this little Greek restaurant in the middle of Humboldt, Saskatchewan.

As a principal now, what do I want to help to create? Do I want a literary factory where students can spew out amazing information, but have no heart or soul? Or do I want a school where people are valued and cared about? Not only students, but staff and parents as well. I know that when you came to see my parents at the restaurant, they didn’t just make you feel like you were the most important person in the world, but you WERE the most important person in their world. There was nothing forged or fake in their treatment of you, they just loved people and they cared about you. If I can help to build an environment where people are happy to see each other, and feel that no matter where they come from, then I will be successful. The funny thing is that my parents have come out to the school and cooked for my staff this year. They are two people that you are forced to hug as you feel that you have known them your whole lives and now you are in their home (no matter where the location is). They welcome you and love you no matter who you are, and how could you not love that back?

Before formal education can occur, there has to be a trust that the individual is cared for and appreciated. Building that relationship is the key to the success of all that take part in schools, and I did not learn that from a professor in a classroom in an education class, but from my mom and dad a long time prior. If I could help create the same magically caring environment in my school that my parents did in their little restaurant, I will have been a great success.

Vicky’s Note: Shortly after, George started his own blog called The Principal of Change, where he still writes great posts on education.

I Don’t Want To Say It, Sir!

My story comes from about twenty-two years ago…

I was about eight when my family decided to move to Greece from Canada. I remember not taking it very well, but there was nothing I could do about it. When I first saw the school I was going to attend, I saw this old, gray, stone-built construction. “This is your new school!” my mom said enthusiastically. I thought it was an old church the way it looked.

So school started and apart from the occasional teasing I got from classmates about my broken Greek accent (which has been rectified now, even though some friends of mine say that there still are English sounds in my Greek!), I liked school. I remember having a wonderful teacher, a very open-minded gentleman who taught us not only to the subjects but also values which would accompany us later as well.

When there were national days, our school (and all Greek schools) organized celebrations during which students recited poems, performed skits which were about the respective historical event that had happened on that day in the past and some teachers made long-winded speeches about how the Greeks had resisted any invaders and come out unscathed through the centuries. So, the 25th of March which is a national day in Greece arrived. Our class was to stage a performance of the women of the period who had helped that day. My teacher thought it would be a good idea for me to have the starring role in the play, as he thought it would also give me confidence in my spoken Greek.

The Entrance to The University of Istanbul

So the teacher gave us our scripts. Reading through it the first time at home, I found something very disturbing. I did not tell my parents but decided to directly tell the teacher. There was a line in my script which I thought (and was really) quite offensive to Turkish people (and in a children’s play!). I remember it to this day and it is not worth remembering, or mentioning, for that matter.

The first rehearsal came. When I had to deliver the horrible line, I got a lump in my throat and stopped. My teacher thought I had forgotten what I wanted to say and whispered it out. I still did not say it. The teacher, a very kind and caring gentleman as I said earlier, took me aside and thought I had a case of stage-fright. “Don’t worry”, he said. “You are doing very well and your Greek has improved a lot!” The moment of truth had arrived. “Well sir…” I said a bit hesitantly. “It is about that line.” “What line?” he said. “The one that says something bad about the Turks”, I answered and I remember how frightened I was that he would scold me or even throw me out of the play; I was quite proud to be the star, I must admit and was happy about the confidence he had in me to perform in front of other people in Greek! In addition to that, I felt terrible about delivering such a line. “Well”, he said, “don’t worry. It is an expression they used to use back then and we all know you do not mean it. Let’s try it again tomorrow.”

I went home crying after that (scaring the daylights out of my mom who thought who knows what happened at school). After my parents coaxed me into telling them what had happened, I finally told them: “I don’t want to go back to that school again.” They were still asking me why, because I was not telling them. Finally I blurted out: “Because they are making fun of the Turks at that school!” (It took them a lot of persuasion to get me to go back the next day, telling me not to worry and always to remember that everyone is equal no matter where they are from.) Next day: rehearsal number two. The time of the dreaded line arrives again and this time I break into tears in front of everyone and I remember raising my hand and saying: “I don’t want to say it!” (This time certain that my teacher would be furious with me and tell me to leave the school play. But I was determined not to let this pass – a tough little eight-year-old!). My (very patient and kind) teacher took me aside again and told me he would leave out that line altogether and I would just say the rest. My first little victory against negative comments against other countries!

Thankfully incidents like this have disappeared from schools today. Or so I hope.

Ataküle Tower in Ankara (Taken from flickr.com)

I see this now in my teaching. No child is too young to grasp notions like this. Kids understand and they know what is fair and unfair. For this reason, to all teachers, please do not hesitate talking to children about issues of multiculturalism and racism and diversity and so on. Please do not think that they might not understand. Their minds are fresh to accept new ideas and to understand that people are different and it is okay to be different. They will both accept other people and will feel more comfortable about who they are at the same time. The classroom is a place where this can be implemented but first of all children’s primary education must be based on these humanitarian notions. It is the best kind of education they can get.

Note: When I wrote this post, I was not out to criticise the specific system, as I think that unfortunately in many educational systems in the world notions like these are perpetuated. It is just an example of such notions. My teacher demonstrated that he chose not to do so. We can all do the same and show our students the beauty of being different – the beauty of all cultures.

Dealing with Challenges in Another Culture

 

A great view of Zurich

 

When working or traveling abroad, we should take into consideration that every country has its own cultural elements, differences and diversity. We should stand from an objective view to look at all these newly found things and get rid of any ethnocentric behavior we may have, that our country is superior to others that are not similar to ours. Every country has its own beauty, which is reflected through its culture and mentality.

Of course, we may all have our challenging moments when abroad. For instance, three years ago when I was traveling to Canada, I had to get off on an in-between stop in Frankfurt. As I do not speak any German, except for very basic words, I said Good morning in German to the airport official and then I switched to English, in order to ask for the restrooms. As soon as he heard me speak English, he made a sweeping movement with his hand as to brush me away and sent me to somebody else, speaking to me abruptly in German at the same time. I felt very frustrated at the moment and rather upset. Just then I remembered what my Greek-German aunt had told me: that a lot of German people refuse to speak in another language apart from their own. (Well, the specific official could have been a little more polite – but that was a matter of personality and not a generalization about all German people!) Even though I felt rather perplexed and uncomfortable at the time of the incident, later on contemplating on it I thought that Germans feel very proud of their culture, which is a positive thing. However, it would be good on everybody’s behalf, regardless of where they are, to be a bit more flexible with people who have no knowledge of their language.

To tell the truth, I mostly felt disappointed with myself for not having learned some more useful phrases beforehand which might have been of some assistance to me then and shown respect to the people of the country I was in. This is something I did before visiting a German-speaking part of Switzerland (specifically Zürich) for the first time and the locals appreciated it deeply. Now that I live in Switzerland, I am trying to learn German (and Swiss German as well!). I consider it as a sign of respect to the people who have welcomed me and additionally it helps give me an understanding of the people and the culture.

In fact, this would be a good preparation in order for someone to adjust more easily in a new country when going there to work and live. Considering learning the language of the country you are about to spend a period of time in is a great decision which also shows your respect to the people and their culture. The people will appreciate it very much as well. Another good step would be to learn about the cuisine of the country and what alternatives one can eat daily, in case the food is too spicy or too heavy in contrast with one’s own cuisine. Reading up on the history of the country we are about to visit is great in order to understand the people’s origins and mentality, as well as communicating with people who have lived there or visited the specific country to share experiences.

Concerning our own origin and our countries, it is great to know the history of our country, speak the language properly and know about the culture. All this is good, as long as we do not become ethnocentric. It is negative towards other people and their cultures to think that our own countries are superior to others, for the reason that first of all, there is no such thing as the best country in the world and the richest culture. Each country is uniquely beautiful, with its language and culture. People with ethnocentric behaviors have difficulty relating to other cultures, as they are so negative towards learning about them. In addition, people with an ethnocentric behavior create negative impressions to others and the country they come from as well. It is good to know who we are and where we come from, but when we come into contact with other cultures it is nice to have an open mind and tolerance to diversity.

The Day Martin Luther King Came To Our Classroom

Classroom decoration and documentation of students’ work on the school walls was of great importance at the Loras English Academy (the school I owned for ten years with my two sisters in Ioannina, Greece, before I moved to Switzerland). We firmly believe that students can learn from anything, be it a poster on the wall, a song they might listen to or a postcard with a place around the world which can invoke a very productive discussion in English. In fact, we are of the opinion that students can learn more that way than being in the strict confines of a textbook (thank you Scott Thornbury!).

Flicking through yet another catalog with school stuff and anything you can imagine (posters with educational messages, banners, pictures and so on), only one thing caught my eye. I thought this item would be the most important thing I could ever hang in my classroom. It was a poster of Martin Luther King and one of his most influential sayings: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I had always been a great admirer of Dr. King’s work for the protection of human rights, and more specifically the rights of black people in America. I had been prompted to read more thoroughly about the whole issue after probably the most interesting university lecture I had ever attended in my four years in university (the course was called Introduction to American History and my professor was Mr. Joseph Gratale, one of the most enthusiastic, knowledgeable and objective educators whom I remember to this day.)

I just ordered that one item that day, which proved to be the greatest lesson for my students – and for myself. Someone told me that day not to purchase the specific poster. “It is too politically charged – a classroom is definitely not the place to hang such a poster.” Good thing I did not take her word for it. I went ahead and when the poster arrived in the post, I was glad I had done it. Now I was waiting for the students’ reactions.

“Who’s that, Miss Vicky?” was the most common question. Younger and older students were looking thoughtfully at it at times and I always think that if the children do not know something, it is up to us to inform them (this is after a comment I heard from a teacher of the type “Oh dear, these kids do not know anything these days. Come on, who does not know Martin Luther King?”). Children as young as eight years old could understand what Dr. King was fighting for and they were all overwhelmed that people actually suffered from racism as recently as the 1960s.

So I decided to grasp the opportunity and make the most of it. I printed out Dr. King’s speech (for those of you who have not read it yet, it is a speech that even to this day, no matter how many times I read it or hear it, still gives me the same goosebumps. Linguistically, it is one of the richest texts I have read in terms of vocabulary, opposites, parallels which all combine together to send out the same powerful message). I bought the CD with the whole speech on it so we could listen to it and not just read the speech. I believe that when teaching a song or a poem, or a speech in this case, it is much more helpful to listen to a recording of it as well, if there is one,  for the reason that it becomes livelier and the most important points are illustrated in a unique way.

The lessons we had from then on were absolutely fantastic. We got to see the history behind the speech (all in English and I was teaching Greek students!), the opposite opinion (that of Malcolm X, so that the students would have a view of both sides), the lexical items, we saw it in terms of literature, everything! However, the most important lesson I received first of all, was how many things kids can understand once you explain to them. The most important lesson for the students was being introduced to diversity and how toxic racism can be for society and that even today it unfortunately finds its way to seep into our lives.

That is when I made another decision: to take it to another level with the students. Discrimination (as we all know) is not just about skin color. It can be against people who have different religions and beliefs, against people’s sexual orientation, even against people who suffer from mental or physical disease. Of course, the audience now would be the oldest students, because these topics are difficult for younger students to grasp. So one day I brought in a scene from the movie starring Tom Hanks called Philadelphia, which is both about the rights of a homosexual man who is suffering from AIDS. I was foolish enough not to ask the students’ permission to record the discussions we had, as you would have the read the transcripts of the most insightful and wonderful discussions from young people.

Unfortunately, in Greek schools students do not have the opportunity to come into contact with humanitarian values. The system is such that it dryly directs students into getting into university and missing out on more important things, like the ones I mentioned above. I am almost quite certain that this happens in other countries. Therefore, in our school, we made every attempt to expose students to values such as respect towards everyone, no matter how hard it was and no matter how we were pressed by curriculum and parents to lead kids to exams and getting language certificates in order to gain more formal qualifications for their future professional life. We tried and we still do try to do our best as racism and toxicity as such finds its way through every aspect of human life. Fortunately, I know many other educators who do a wonderful job either with their students or writing articles in this field.

Our work as educators is so important and can be so influential. It should not only lay in the confines of imparting knowledge or leading students to exams. First of all, educators have to model acceptance to people regardless of color, religion, belief, sexuality. There will always be those who resort to offensive remarks or actions against people, but I am optimistic that there are more people out there who are receptive to diversity.

Vicky’s Note: Unfortunately, racism even pervades ELT. There are textbooks and materials and even ELT educators that stereotype and lash out against anything “different” from what they think the norm. To these people especially I have to say that opinions like this are not welcome in education.