Observe and Be Observed – PD in Focus 4

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

What comes to your mind when you hear the word observation? Does it make you nervous, think really carefully about your lesson plan, or even worse, think this might be the end of your teaching career? We have all thought those thoughts and even experienced teachers say it makes them feel nervous. I used to get very stressed over them, but after starting to think of them as a constructive experience that can benefit both sides, the observer and the observed, it has become much better.

It can also be your choice.

If you want to be observed and my advice is to do it with your own initiative from time to time, choose a colleague that you can trust. Trust as in someone who can be honest with you and sit with you afterwards to go into what went well and what didn’t. When I do this, it is great because I can see where I need to work on and what I can keep doing well. Additionally, the person observing can get ideas for their own lessons, or see something you do and adopt it. For instance, a colleague of mine who came into a class to observe me said that he liked the constant feedback I give my students during the lesson. He found it helpful for the students because at that moment they were motivated and if they made a mistake they said for example, Ah ok, if I want to say that…I have to use that tense then?

If you are going to be observed but cannot choose the person who will be the observer, then keep seeing it as a constructive experience. The person who is there (your Director of Studies, someone from the Ministry of Education) might come up with negative comments, which can be hard for the person observed to get over. If you feel that the negative feedback is something you could really fix in your teaching, then use it to your own and your students’ benefit. If the feedback is negative because the person is a negative personality as well (and it happens quite often), then see it as a learning experience again – things that you will never do when you observe someone!

That last point is also one to keep in mind – ask your colleagues whether you can observe them. It is something I enjoy doing as I can see different teaching styles and get ideas for my own teaching. I love the feedback sessions afterwards too.

Observations need not be stressful or make educators feel bad about their teaching. We are all in this together and why not help each other? It can have great results both for us and for our students as well.

Note: Remember to ask your school for permission to observe or get someone to observe you, as in many schools unfortunately it is not practised. The same goes if you choose to go into another school, even if you know the teacher already – speak to the principal or Director of Studies before you go in and explain your plans.

Observation should be a  learning experience, either way – a bridge between observer and observed.

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Discussion Groups and Feedback Sessions – PD in Focus 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Zug to Belgium – A BELTA Webinar

BELTA Belgium
BELTA Belgium

Today was the day of the first webinar for BELTA Belgium, a great new association for English teachers in Belgium and everywhere, in fact! BELTA was founded by James Taylor, Mieke Kenis, Ellen de Preter, Guido van Landeghem and Jurgen Basstanie. You can read more about the foundation of BELTA and also watch the launch event here.

I was asked to do the first webinar for BELTA, which I accepted with great joy and honour. The topic was Professional Development for Now and the Future: A Guide to 2013 and you can watch the slideshow below:

I have also created a PDF file with the most useful links.

BELTA Presentation – Useful Notes

Here is the link with the recording of the webinar, which will also be published on the BELTA blog, Facebook and Twitter.

A huge thank you to BELTA and everyone who was there (including my parents!), in the Adobe Connect room and to my sister, Eugenia, who was there in the same room as I was, cheering us all on (and also helped me find a title to this blog post)!

A screen capture of the webinar (Photo by Roseli Serra)
A screen capture of the webinar (Photo by Roseli Serra)

Now, Where Are Your Manners? – Inspired by @chiasuan and @brad5patterson

Chia Suan Chong (photo by Chia)

Last Sunday a great number of us were very happy to watch a great webinar on a topic which at least, I had never seen or heard presented before. Chia Suan Chong was the educator behind this great presentation, organised by the BESIG team. Visit Chia’s blog, where she writes about many interesting topics and also has great interviews!

Chia is a teacher trainer at International House London and also writes a blog.

Brad Patterson has also written a great post as a follow-up to Chia’s webinar, rich in etymology – What does it mean to be polite?

Here are my thoughts:

Before I moved to the German-speaking part of Switzerland, I had absolutely no knowledge of the German language, apart from Danke and Guten Morgen! Then I started listening to people everywhere: on the buses and trains, in restaurants, anywhere I could listen to the language. In the beginning, my understanding was so minimal, I felt like I was constantly running into a wall. As time went by, I started understanding more and more and even noticing features of the language I had never noticed before. (For those who might not know, there are two types of German spoken in Switzerland – High German or Hochdeutsch, or the German people speak in Germany and Swiss German or Schwiizer Tüütsch, which apart from pronunciation and accent includes completely different words in many cases. For instance, the word for bicycle is Fahrrad in High German, whereas Swiss German has borrowed the French word Velo.)

"Come, come" said the friendly driver and I was wondering about "please" and "thank you"... (Image taken from http://www.zvb.ch)

What impressed me the most when I heard people speaking – mainly in High German, was the use of the imperative, most of the times without moderators like please or if you could… as we have in English and I must say it was a bit strange at first for me. I particularly noticed it when a bus stopped once and getting on it, I dropped my wallet in the street and all its contents spilled onto the street. The bus driver stayed there patiently, doors open and passengers waiting, also patiently, and when I said (in English, I admit!) “That’s ok, I’ll take the next one”, the driver made a welcoming gesture, smiled and said “Komm, komm”.

I then thought, “Come, come?”…..Come?!? Where’s please? or, That’s ok, come, I will wait for you? After that instant, I noticed it many times and I asked my Swiss friend about it. She told me that it can be polite, depending on how you say it of course, the tone of your voice and the gestures you perhaps use, or the word bitte (please) used at the end. At a resaturant, they use the laconic albeit polite Zahlen, bitte (to pay, please word-for-word) when they want to pay the bill. Still polite, without the Excuse me, could you please bring the bill? socially acceptable and politely conditioned sentence in English. The beauty of each language!

I should mention that I encourage my learners (most of them are adults this year) to use words like please or transform the imperative into questions (Could you please…?) or indirect questions (I was wondering if you could….). They usually smile when I remind them and they humorously say, “You English speakers use too many words!” I tell them: “It’s great that in German people use fewer words and are more direct, they save time and get to the point right away!” It is amazing to see what works in each language and is equally acceptable.

Thank you so much for a great webinar and all the food for thought, Chia and Brad for a super post!