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 on 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 where 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 : )

Goal 4: Revisit an Idea #30GoalsEdu

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!

Every month on a Wednesday, we invite our students, but also all kids from outside the school are invited – and we hold an event under a specific topic: Transportation, Summer Day, Clifford the Big Red Dog, or what we had today – Animals with a Halloween Twist!

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!

Here is a short video of what we do:

Teaching English Affectively – An Interview with Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe

Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe

Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe

This new interview shows a lot of things to me and you will see them too: it is with Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe, with whom we have never met in person, but we have collaborated perfectly online! Juan created a video for our children at our school – we all adored it. The power of connecting on social media! I really appreciate Juan as an educator and human being, as he has so many ideas and is a great sharer.

Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe is a teacher and teacher trainer based in Canada, whose passion is the affective learning of English by young learners. He is interested in learning, sharing, and discussing how the integration of play, creativity, and student engagement promotes language learning. He founded together with his sister Sosô Uribe a language school for children, Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo, where children learn English affectively through play, projects, games, storytelling, and puppeteering.

 Juan has a Bachelors degree in Pedagogy from the Catholic University in São Paulo (PUC-SP) and he holds a Masters in Education in the area of Human Development and Applied Psychology from OISE at the University of Toronto. He writes a blog called Children Learning English Affectively and moderates a facebook page called Affective Language Learning.

A huge obrigada from me, Juan!

Vicky: Juan, first of all, I would like to thank you very much for accepting to give me this interview. I am so happy as this is one more collaboration between us – we had another last Christmas, with the video you made for our school and our kids loved!

Juan: Vicky, it’s my great pleasure to be here chatting to you and your readers. It’s very true that we have had a lot of learning, sharing, and fun in our exchanges. I have a cup of tea and my two dogs by my side now. Let’s chat!

Vicky: Fantastic! Tea is one of my favourite drinks. Let’s start with how you became an educator. How did the world of education attract you?

Juan: That’s a good question. I have had great teachers and have always enjoyed learning, especially languages. At first, teaching English was a fun way I found to pay for my travelling, doing something that I was good at. But what really made me stay in education was the possibility of being with children, seeing their development, creating a methodology, and running my own language school at the same time.

Vicky: You are an expert in teaching Young Learners. How did you become interested in this particular field?

Juan: I think that I was first involved in education when I was a child and I had the dream of having somebody come to my house and teach me English while I was playing with my playmobil. This fantasy stayed dormant until I was teaching at a language school and got invited to teach English through play to André, who was four years old at the time.  Some years later I was already only teaching young learners, which led me to quit my Engineering course and start Education at university.

I find it very fascinating to study and observe the social, emotional, and cognitive aspects involved in how children learn. I am particularly interested in how play, creativity, and respect boost both their self-esteem and language learning. I’m always learning and discovering new techniques and concepts that allow me to see their learning from a new perspective. I think it is beautiful to have been able to grow in the same field even after so many years.

Juan is a specialist in teaching Young Learners

Juan is a specialist in teaching Young Learners

Vicky: Speaking of play and creativity, you are doing absolutely amazing work with puppets, and especially one puppet, with which you also make amazing videos – can you tell us more about this special guy and the videos?

Juan: I have a chubby frog puppet called Buddy, who is a big friend. Buddy has been a companion in my classes and school events since 1994. More recently, we started travelling to interesting places and filming what we experienced as a way of showing the world to children. Buddy and I have shopped for clothes in Egypt, relaxed in parks in France, explored Macchu Picchu in Peru,  and eaten Sukiyaki in Japan.  I always also try to get him a traditional  outfit from the country we are visiting. I have made lots of friends because of Buddy. Last I have to thank my patient wife Ana Luiza for filming me and helping me edit the videos.

I like Buddy goes Ballooning!

Vicky: This is actually one of the first videos of you and Buddy that I watched! I love it. Apart from teaching and tarining and travelling the world with Buddy, you also own a language school in Brazil, Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo – can you tell us more about it? How it started and where it is today?

Juan: Back in 1994, my sister Sosô and I started Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo with the dream of creating a language school in which children acquired English playing . We taught around 20 students in their own homes and we had over 300 books, puppets, and games in our bedrooms at our parents’ apartment. Almost 20 years later, we are now teaching around 250 students both in their homes and also in small groups at our lovely school, where we have seven beautiful classrooms.

I am proud to say that the students, parents, educators, coordinators, directors, and all the staff have been able to create together a truly remarkable school. I get very happy when I get e-mails from students, parents, and staff telling me how special it is or it was to be part of our school. This very same school, which one day was just a dream. Vicky, you probably know how much I miss it, as you also had a school in another country. I am very happy that you and Gina have founded The Loras Network in Zug!

Vicky: I truly understand how much you miss it, Juan! Thank you so much for your support and kind wishes! I also wish you the very best in everything you do. I hope to visit your school some day! Another thing you do is you also blog. I love the name: Children Learning English Affectively! Can you let us know what inspires you and what you write about?

Juan: I love writing and sharing about how young learners learn languages, as this focused practice allows me to relive, organize, and make sense of what I have experienced with them. All my posts have affect as the thread that links them, making an interesting patchwork on how play, creativity, and respect can boost language learning. I usually integrate theory and practice in my posts so that teachers can be aware of how and why learning happens. I particularly like to write about the small details that might not be noticed by many, but that when put together make a big difference. I also intend to stitch all the posts together as a book in the future.

Vicky: Wow! A book. That sounds so interesting, I am sure a lot of people look forward to it. Let’s move on to more things about you, for instance your new home. You live in Toronto. What do you like about living there? Are there any challenges?

Juan: I immigrated to Toronto in 2010 with my wife and a little dog. Even though we are in one of the most thriving cities in the world, I like that life here can be simple. We live one block from the beach and we take our dogs for a swim in the lake once a day. I also enjoy very much living the seasons, which is something I couldn’t truly experience in Brazil.

Immigrating to a country has brought us many challenges, which have also been fun because we are always learning. Even though we have been here for three years, we still do not know how many things are called and what we are supposed to do in some situations. Even hammering a nail was once a challenge here, as we had to find the stud behind the drywall. Professionally, my challenge has been finding opportunities to work exclusively with young learners, as I haven’t found language schools for children.

Vicky: There’s a good idea! I am happy you feel comfortable in Toronto,  my hometown. How did I meet you, from Brazil and now living in Toronto? You are very active on social media, and that is how we initially connected, in fact. How do you think it can help educators? What are the pros and cons you see for yourself?

Juan: Social Media certainly helps us to connect, share, think together, and collaborate with educators who share the same values. I find this digital communion to be simply beautiful as educators from all over the world empower each other through their listening, validation, and dialogue. I usually alternate periods of being active and non-active in social media. I feel that I get overwhelmed with so much information and I feel that many times trying to keep up with what is happening can be stressing. But then, after some time I miss all the buzz and I come back. I have had the chance of meeting, chatting, and learning with many great educators around the world. It’s also a real treat when we are able to meet each other personally!

Vicky: It sure is and I hope we meet in person soon! Would you like to close our interview with a piece of advice, or a wish to the educators reading your interview?

Juan: Sure!

Go after what you truly like. See the person inside your students. Be yourself. Reflect about your work. Share it with the world. Leave your mark! I would like to wish everybody a very rewarding journey!

Juan and Buddy with their little friends!

Juan and Buddy with their little friends!

Literature Strikes Back! – Guest Post by Dimitris Primalis and Chryssanthe Sotiriou #iatefl13

Dimitris Primalis

Dimitris Primalis

Dimitris has been teaching EFL for 20 years. His experience covers a wide range of groups including young learners, teenagers, adults, exam prep classes and Business English. He has also written 5 test booklets for Macmillan and is a freelance materials designer. He also served as TESOL Chair and very successfully ran this year’s TESOL Greece Convention.

Chryssanthe has obtained a BA in English Literature from the English Department of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and a postgraduate diploma with distinction  in Translation from the University of Mons-Hainaut in Belgium, being a scholar of the ‘Alexander Onassis’ Foundation.chryssanthe

They will also be presenting Literature strikes back! The return of a vanishing art or how to teach literature with technology at IATEFL Conference on Wednesday , 10th April at 15:05 (Hall 11b).

Thought that literature is dead with the advent of technology?  Shouldn’t books be permanently exhibited in history museums next to dinosaurs and other fossils? Can a computer whiz kid be persuaded to read a romantic novel written by Daphne du Maurier?

For those of us who thought that literature had been wiped out by the invasion of technology in our daily teaching, the answer is : literature is too hard to die!!!

Web 2.0 tools, YouTube clips and social media/collaborative platforms seem to have become powerful allies of books in teachers’ efforts to stimulate learners ‘  interest and initiate them in the magical world of words.

Brought up in a world that gadgets are deified, teenagers  only find it natural to spend more time tapping or clicking; browsing webpages rather than reading the masterpieces their parents and parents once loved. Is mere exposure to genres found on the internet enough to help our learners enrich their vocabulary and use proficiently a wide range of linguistic features that will need later on in their personal and professional life? Let’s compare a typical story on Facebook and one in a book. They may both narrate a similar story but they employ different means of illustrating the story line. The former may feature videos or photos, emoticons and chunks of language whereas the latter uses  a wide range of words to convey feelings, describe actions and background and convey messages. Students can benefit from both worlds provided that teachers adopt a clearly structured methodology. It is pedagogy that makes the difference and technology is its most powerful ally.

Apart from enriching lexis, literature can also serve as a stimulus for discussing ideas and morals while provoking heated debates on eternal dilemmas. Love, friendship, struggle for  wealth and power, leadership, corruption, ethics are only a few of the issues that  are raised through literary texts and our students cannot afford to miss them.

Literature empowers, enlightens and broadens horizons … it simply allows you to dream and use your critical thinking instead of reacting mechanically.

Thank you so much, Chryssanthe and Dimitris!

Interviews with Three New Bloggers for My Three Years of Blogging – Number One: Dinçer Demir

Dinçer Demir

Dinçer Demir in Bartın, his hometown

December 10th is my third blog birthday! I decided to pay a tribute to three new bloggers, to celebrate my three years of blogging! First of the three, Dinçer Demir – an educator from Turkey, that I was fortunate to meet in person last weekend at the YTU 1st ELT Conference.

Dinçer blogs at: http://www.dincerdemir.com/

Vicky: Dinçer, thanks so much for accepting to give me this interview for the celebration of three new bloggers and the third birthday of my blog!

Dinçer: You are welcome Vicky. Actually I want to thank you because it is an honor for me to have an interview on the special anniversary of your blog.

Vicky: It’s an honour to have you on the blog. Can you tell us a few things about yourself and your work?

Dinçer: I am a 27-year-old teacher, who has been teaching for more than 5 years. I am from Turkey and I live and work in İstanbul.  I am teaching English to both young learners and teenagers. In addition to these, I have had experiences of teaching English for communication to adult learners.

Vicky: How did you decide to pursue a career in education?

Dinçer: At the very early stages of my education career, I was not so sure if I wanted to be an educator. During university, I started to discover myself and my skills and I thought that this was my job. Today I see that I was right. I feel like I was born to be an educator, because I enjoy teaching, I like being part of a changing process, I like learning. So I can easily say that I don’t work, I do my hobby.

Vicky: That is great! You teach primary school children. What do you enjoy the most working with these ages?

Dinçer: In my opinion, teaching young learners is more difficult than teaching adults. What makes a teacher tired is classroom management and keeping students engaged.  However, my experience shows that young learners learn easier and faster. As a teacher, you can be more motivated with them when you get results quickly.

Vicky: You are active both on Twitter and Facebook, connecting to many educators. How does this reflect in your work?

Presenting in İstanbul

Presenting in İstanbul

Dinçer:  You are right. I am an active social media user. At the beginning of my social media life, I used to use it just to socialize. However, I use these tools to learn and share, especially Twitter. Thanks to Twitter, I have broadened my vision, I have realized different points of views, I have seen many best practices.  To sum up, it has changed my way of teaching and learning.

Vicky: There are several educators who would like to connect with other educators, but are a bit wary of social media. What would you advise them?

Dinçer:  It is impossible not to grant them right.  But every field may be a bit risky if it is not used accordingly. I want to highlight that especially Twitter (not Facebook, because it may include much private content) is a great tool to refresh themselves and enter into a huge sharing world. Maybe they can be more careful about who they follow and who follows them and they had better not share private information about themselves.

Vicky: Can you share one of the best moments in your teaching so far?

Dinçer's students in the play, in the town of Şanlıurfa

Dinçer’s students in the play, in the town of Şanlıurfa

Dinçer:  There are lots of them, of course. It is hard to choose. If I have to choose one, I prefer a theatre event in Şanlıurfa (in the south east of Turkey). I was doing my military service in Şanlıurfa as a teacher. I was teaching 4th grade. The city is not one of the most developed cities of Turkey. But we, me and my students, managed to perform Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (in English) in spite of inadequate opportunities. Their effort was unforgettable for me.

Vicky: You are a new blogger with new and fresh ideas. What inspired you to enter the world of blogging?

Dinçer: My first serious attempt at e-learning was an online TESOL Certificate Course.  After I had completed the course, I liked e-learning. Afterwards, I have started to search about this and I have found lots of great inspiring blogs. So I have been a blog reader and follower for a long while. Finally I thought that I was ready to make a start on blogging and I did.

As long as you keep blogging, that means you keep learning. The idea of learning forever inspired me for this.

Vicky: Thank you so much for sharing your insights, Dinçer and I wish you all the best!

Dinçer: Happy for this, thanks a lot, dear Vicky.

Inspirational as a Principal, Educator, Parent – Interviewing Tony Sinanis (@Cantiague_Lead)

Tony Sinanis, Principal of Cantiague Elementary (Photo: by Tony Sinanis)

It is my absolute pleasure and honour to introduce you to Tony Sinanis, a great educator I have connected to recently on Twitter and admire for his passion and excellent work with his staff and students. Tony is Principal at Cantiague Elementary School, in Jericho, New York which has been nominated for a Blue Ribbon, about which he will be talking about in this interview. 

He blogs about his school experiences at:

http://leadingmotivatedlearners.blogspot.com/

Tony is married to Kelly – they are both first generation Americans of Greek origin and have a seven-year-old son, Paul.

If it is in the best interest of children, then it is the right thing to do!

Vicky: Tony, you have been in education for fifteen years. Can you give us some background as to how you chose to pursue a career in education?

Tony: Initially I went to college to become a pediatrician but after a few science courses I realized that it was not for me – dealing with sick kids seemed depressing to me so I switched majors and became a theater major (talk about switching gears). As a member of the theater program I had to complete a certain number of community service hours so I decided to do volunteer tutoring at the local elementary school in their after school program. Within a few weeks all I could focus on was these kids and the whole theater thing became unimportant. I looked forward to my tutoring sessions each week and making a difference in the lives of the children was so important to me. So after discussing it with my family and friends, I realized I could put this passion to good work by switching my major yet again and devoting myself to the field of education. My focus was Early Childhood and Elementary Education, where I was one of only a few men in the program.

Vicky: Very interesting! I did not know the turn your studies took. One thing is for sure: education is happy to have you! Moving on to you role, this is your fifth year being an administrator. What do you like the best about your work? 

Tony: The highlight of my work as an administrator are my many opportunities to interact with my kids, staff and the community at large. I often say that I am not the best administrator because I am not always timely with “administrative” tasks but I am 1000% devoted to the instructional end of my work because if we can implement the best and most current instructional approaches in our school than we are doing what is best for kids and that is my main goal each and every day. Additionally, I think the social/emotional well being of our kids and staff are of the highest priority – if people feel good about themselves and feel supported they can accomplish ANYTHING! So my goal is to serve and support the Cantiague Elementary School community.

Vicky: Each job comes with its own challenges. What are the challenges for a school administrator?

Tony: Yes, there are many challenges I face as a school administrator. There are budget issues, federal and state mandates and standardized testing requirements just to name a few. With that being said, I think my greatest challenge is time… finding the time to accomplish everything I want to accomplish for our kids, staff and school in general. There are so many things I want to do.. and so many things I need to do that finding the time to get through it all is such a challenge! And then consider my family and the doctoral program I recently began, I might have to find a way to invent the 48-hour day!  :)

Vicky: I would love for that type of day to be invented as well! I am sure educators who are also parents need a lot of time to balance family and schedule. You are a dad to Paul who is seven – how does being a parent tie in with being an educator?

Tony: I can honestly say that being Paul’s dad has redefined me as an educator. My son is my heart and soul outside of my body – everything I do in life is for and about him. So, when I see my students in school, I know that someone at home feels just as strongly about them as I do about Paul and that is so important to remember as an educator. Every decision I make is one that I consider as the building administrator but also as a dad. The bottom line is this… if it is not good enough for Paul, then it is not good enough for our kids at Cantiague. I want Cantiague to be the most amazing elementary school in the world because that is what I want for my own son! Layer on top of that the fact that my son has various medical issues and requires additional support in school and I am extremely sensitive to the needs of our special education students. I strive to make sure that every child in our school has whatever they need to provide them with a level playing field because I know that has made a difference for my son. 

Vicky: Your school has received a great honour, Tony – it has been nominated for a Blue Ribbon. Can you tell us more about that? 

Tony: Our Blue Ribbon nomination is such an exciting opportunity! The state of New York nominated 19 schools to the United States Department of Education for the national Blue Ribbon award. The nomination is based on the fact that our school has performed extremely well on standardized assessments over the last few years. Although I don’t put much stock in these test scores, I know that our kids do well because our teachers are amazing – their instructional approaches and techniques go far beyond preparing our kids for a test and the results support this idea! In regards to the Blue Ribbon, we find out in the next month or so if we won it, which would be so exciting because the entire community – staff, kids and parents – were apart of the application process we completed after being nominated. 

Vicky: You told me during a short discussion that your school has integrated the Bucket Filler philosophy – I would love to know more about that and I am sure our readers would too.

Tony: The Bucket Filling philosophy we have adopted at Cantiague is anchored in the text Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carole McCloud. The idea behind the whole philosophy of Bucket Filling is that people carry around imaginary buckets with them all day, every day. And when we are good to other people not only do we fill their buckets but we fill our own, which feels great. On the other hand, when we are not nice to others, we are being bucket dippers because we are taking out of someone else’s bucket, which is not nice! Our Bucket Filling philosophy is rooted in the idea of the Big Five… we must always remember to Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Safe, Be Positive and Be Kind because if we follow the Big Five, we ensure that we are filling our own buckets and those of the people around us. Each week at Cantiague we celebrate Bucket Fillers of the Week who are nominated by teachers or other kids – and Bucket Fillers of the Week are kids who do something that fills the bucket of another person. I can honestly say that the Bucket Filling philosophy has changed our way of life at Cantiague. Bullying issues have decreased, incidents of harassment are down and our kids are using a common language, which is very child-friendly, about what it means to be a positive and successful kid in our school. I highly recommend reading this book and thinking about the importance of adopting this way of life at any school! 

Vicky: I love the idea and the values that it creates for children! I believe it is a great idea for other administartors to incorporate in their school culture. Moving on to your newer colleagues, what would you advise an administrator starting now?

Tony: For any educator considering entering the world of administration at this point, they need to be in this for the kids. Being an administrator is not about being the boss or a figure head. It is about advocating for the needs of the entire community – kids, staff and the community at large. You need to understand that you are there to serve others and be their voice when needs are not being met. You have to be passionate about learning and teaching – a building administrator must be the lead learner of a school – not just a paper pusher. We have to model and espouse what we expect from those around us. 

Vicky: You have a very busy, but pleasant and creative day. What does your day look like when you are not busy in school?

Tony: I am usually in the building by 7am each day where I spend about an hour checking email, checking out what’s going on in the Twitterverse, assigning subs and chatting with staff who are in early. By 8am I am connecting with the Main Office staff to review what needs to get done that day. Then at 8:15 our kids arrive and the day just moves in fast forward from there. I try and spend the morning in the classrooms and then I am in the lunchroom on most days and outside at recess playing games with my kids as much as possible. Spending time out of my office is always my goal during the school day. After recess I usually have some minor issues to address and then before I know it, it is almost 2pm and we begin getting ready for the dismissal process. After all our kids are safely on their buses, at about 3pm, I spend some time checking phone messages and getting back to parents. I also usually meet with teachers and staff after school because that is when it is quiet. Then after everyone is gone, at about 4:30pm, I go into my office and get all my administrative stuff done – emails, memos, etc. I usually leave school around 6pm on any given night.

This was such an interesting interview! It gave us a great insight into you as a personality and an educator. Tony, thank you so much for this interview! I hope to meet you in person some day.

 

Our Poster Post with Maggie!

During the holidays, I spend a lot of time with my sister and her two children, Maggie (seven years old) and Nicholas (three).

Maggie's vegetable poster

Maggie and I love doing activities together: writing, sticking, cutting, creating…so one day, during our Christmas holidays, we were talking about healthy eating and we decided to put our learning into pictures, make our learning visible – so we made posters, one with vegetables and one with fruit! Just using simple things, old newspapers and magazines from where we could cut out pictures, scissors and big pieces if cardboard for the background – we had so much fun learning and creating. Maggie was so excited about it!

Maggie's Poster with Fruit

We looked through magazines and newspapers to find pictures, cut them out and paste them onto coloured paper. Maggie also wrote the names of the fruit and vegetables, learning some that she had not heard of, like starfruit which we also saw at the supermarket a few days later.

We also had two great people cheering us on throughout the way: Mieke Kenis from Belgium and Ann Loseva from Moscow to whom we tweeted pictures of our posters! Ann made beautiful posters with her two sweet nieces, Olya and Polina!

The poster with animals we started after fruit and vegetables - Maggie wants to be a vet when she grows up!

Interviewing Icha Sarwono (@yitzha_sarwono), Indonesia

Icha, whose aza-aza mantra gives us all motivation! (photo by Icha Sarwono)

It is with great pleasure and honour that I feature a wonderful educator on my blog, Icha Sarwono who is based in Indonesia. Icha teaches at a Kindergarten and Preschool and is active on social media. She is also an iTDi Associate and has a blog. Here is Icha!

1. Icha, how did you become an educator?

I suppose it’s in my blood as I come from family who works either in education or a health institution. I don’t think I know any other thing to do, as even my first part-time job during my junior high was tutoring my classmates in English. Then during my college year up till now I coach the school’s drumband (that is kind of a teaching activity too right?) . I suppose I became a teacher because I remember how my teachers used to have an impact on me, personally and of course educationally. So, though teaching has never been on my list of goals growing up, I chose this line of work because I want to influence and help people in a little way.

2. What would you like to have known back then, that you know now? What would you advise Icha the beginning teacher?

Well I would love to have known that teaching doesn’t always equal educating. I used to think that it was easy easy to transfer knowledge but it hasn’t always been the case as I found out. The first thing you need to do is to inspire them, so they will be excited in learning themselves. I would advise the young 24-year-old Icha (that’s the age I started teaching full-time) to take it easy, don’t get frustrated when the class doesn’t go as you plan, because the unexpected is much more fun for it opens up a new adventure! Oh, and remember that you cannot judge a student simply by his grades, because as Einstein said:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

3. You teach at Kidea Daycare. What are the things one needs to keep in mind when teaching little ones? What are the pros and what are the challenges of teaching such young ages?

Actually it’s Kidea Preschool and Kindergarten and I am now teaching K2 class, a bunch of 5-year-old students :) . I think what we should have in mind when teaching young learners is that you cannot force them in accepting all you have to give at a certain time. They need time to bloom. We should know also that it is better for the kids if they can experience themselves rather than asking them to visualize. I mean, I know people say that kids are full of great imagination, but if we don’t lead them then how would we know we have pressed the right button? I believe in concrete to abstract concept in Montessori teaching because once my kids have got the concrete concept, it is easy for them to grasp the next lesson for they have it imprinted on their mind. The thing I love most about young learners is that they have always been enthusiastic in knowing new things, they cannot wait to be able to master something. The problems are a lot too, but mostly come from the outside, like from the parents. The biggest thing for me would be parents who are questioning our approach and skeptical about it, because I believe in teaching young learners, we need trust from them as we must have their support and sometimes it is not an easy case. I am very lucky that the parents of my class now back me and it has made it easier to give my all for their children.

4. What is the ELT scene like in Indonesia?

I must say I don’t know much as I haven’t been in touch with TEFLIN (the ELT organization I belong to) for quite sometimes as I am now teaching kindergarten rather than English. But I would say that it is still kind of divided in groups for we haven’t got a strong foundation. It is merely a political thing as each year there has always been some sort of new change in the school curriculum that can lead up to changes in English lesson too. Teachers here are trying hard to cope with the latest in ELT world, and I think we’re doing pretty well though we have lots to conquer still.

5. When you are not teaching, what do you do in your free time?

Oh, I love reading! And watching TV channels like NatGeo or NatGeo adventure , Animal planet and the Food channel. I love cooking, I cook a lot for my class and involve them in my cooking activity. I also love playing around with my 4 (soon to be more) cats!

6. What are your plans for your career in the future?

Simply being a better teacher. As I was introduced to Montessori teaching 2 years ago, I’d love to learn more about it, if possible attend a class on it. I would also love to engage in more discussion like #ELTChat or #ASIAElt to improve myself and my teaching. Hopefully I can contribute more to the education in Indonesia.

Icha, thank you so much! ELT and education are very lucky to have you.

Number Four – Reveal Their Strengths – The #30Goals Challenge

I read a really great blog post today that made me think once again about the potentials kids have and how we should encourage them to externalise them and applaud them when they do. George Couros, a great educator from Canada (and my very first guest blogger!) wrote In Spite of Schools – definitely worth reading.

This post pointed me to Shelly Terrell‘s 30 Goals Challenge for 2012 and specifically to Goal Number Four.

As educators, apart from the actual teaching we are there for our students, to show them what they can do and highlight their abilities. Sometimes, educators tend to tell their students what the can’t do, where they are not so strong and focus mainly on the problems they may face in their learning. I think it is equally, if not more, important, to show them what they are great in and how they can become even greater! When they can do something, they gain confidence and build on their abilities even further.

An example that comes to my mind is a student of mine in Greece who wrote poetry – her poetry was beautiful and at the same time she practised her English, as she was learning it as a foreign language! She was developing two talents at the same time, her writing and her language skills. We recognised it early on and she developed it a lot on her own – her autonomy as a learner simply grew from there, as she could find where and how she could learn.

Chuck Sandy and Vladimira Michalkova, two amazing educators and the co-founder and associate of iTDi respectively, have developed the idea of Surpr@ise, through which you find a student or teacher who is doing a great job and surprise them with praise! Watch Chuck describing it in this YouTube Video:

You can also see Chuck and Vladka’s Surpr@ise presentation for the Virtual Round Table.