Tag Archives: professional development

Perspectives on developing a ‘learning organisation’ approach to PD – Part 1

This is the first in a short series of blog posts inspired by Adrian Underhill’s workshop on Developing a ‘learning organisation’ approach to PD, which he delivered at various locations in Australia recently. To find out more about Adrian Underhill, read his recent interview in the English Australia Journal.

AparnaAbout the author:

Aparna Jacob is a first-time Director of Studies at an LTO in Sydney. She is passionate about professional development for teachers and is keen on developing a learning culture at her organisation. She holds an IDLTM amongst other industry-related qualifications.


 

At his workshop on Developing a Learning Organisation approach to PD, Adrian Underhill highlighted a few key ideas that set me thinking about impediments to systems thinking and sharing learning that most Language Teaching Organisations (LTO) would face. Below, I examine some of the ideas from the session in the context of the LTO I work for and look at a few possible solutions.

There is no ‘arrival at quality’. It is not a rest state that you gain and retain.

Quality is an ongoing and permanent journey, driven by the constant inquiring activity of the organisation.

Like most small-medium private ELICOS providers, our LTO operates largely as an “organic organisation” (Robbins, 2011, p.451) characterised by a centralised head, the CEO, from whom all budgetary decisions flow. Vertically, there are few management tiers and departmental structures are uniformly flat with wide spans of control. Typical of an organic organisation, everybody is expected to contribute to all operational aspects and overall there is a low level of formalisation and structures, procedures and practices are flexible. Yet, within this system, largely due to what Charles Handy refers to as the dominant “person culture” (in White, Hockley, Van der Horst Jansen, & Laughner, 2008, p.36), initiative and quick decision making are the norm and any change is quick to be implemented. Profit, rather than a unifying mission and vision, is the driving imperative on which most decisions are based. Daily fire-fighting takes precedence over “systems thinking”. The LTO’s lean processes do not prioritise intangibles such as reflection, learning and investing in individuals. In such an environment, the term “quality” remains a catch phrase, an ever-elusive and mysterious state that we are constantly striving to arrive at.

How can a team of committed managers with individual IQs above 120 . . . have a collective IQ of 63?

 Peter Senge

The Academic and Marketing/Sales departments are often the two main departments at most LTOs. Conflicting priorities often mean they are at loggerheads over every issue from student recruitment, attendance monitoring to agent involvement. In the absence of a clear goal, not only do departments find it difficult to work together but it’s also not unusual for team members to compete against their teammates, focusing only on individual KPIs rather than the common goal of the team.

Such an environment serves as a hothouse for Handy’s “Person Culture” typical of small organisations. Charismatic individuals, keenly focused on self-development thrive and become indispensible to the organisation. This in turn can also breed an unhealthy “Power Culture” where the person who has the CEO’s ear has authority and can establish their own direct line of communication irrespective of hierarchy. Learning, in such an individualistic environment is not shared to benefit the team or the organisation as a whole. Such an environment instead encourages “knowledge hoarding” where knowledge is gained and not shared so that one’s own agenda and status can be furthered rather than add to the learning of the organisation. Individual learning can be wasted unless harnessed at organisational level.

 

Systems Thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole.

Systems Thinking begins when we see the world through the eyes of another . . . and realise that our own perspective is just a point of view.

A systemic view of your school sees how everything is interconnected, healthily or unhealthily.

The various departments in the LTO are largely autonomous and solely responsible for their functions. For instance, marketing functions are only carried out by the marketing team and teachers are divorced from these activities completely.

This also means there is no real need to interact with the other departments thus resulting in departmental and knowledge silos and thereby the isolation of each department. The traditional dichotomy between the English teachers and Marketing Officers is evident at our LTO and the physical location of the two departments within the building contributes to this lack of interaction. The marketing department is located in the reception area so that the students have easy access to their Marketing Officers. Though teachers walk past the reception on their way to class, there is practically no interaction between the two departments.

This lack of interaction or awareness of one another’s roles results in further disconnection between the two teams and even a lack of tolerance. Teachers often view trial students or agent visits to their classroom and an intrusion and interruption. Without an understanding of the various courses, teaching methodologies or classroom management techniques used in the classroom, marketing officers are unable to promote the schools products, services or teachers adequately. This then results in the marketing team focusing on superficial aspects of ELICOS products like “native teachers only” or “guaranteed IELTS results” without fully comprehending the complexity of the learning products. Teachers, on the other hand, lack the time or training to understand the cultural background of the students in their class and may choose to view them purely as learners rather than as fee paying customers.

Human capital is not just having smart people . . . It is having smart people who are connected up . . .

Recent changes at the LTO have necessitated a few frank discussions between the two departments particularly with regard to communication and identifying causes of miscommunication. Pressure from above to meet common targets has also had a unifying effect and this has forced the two teams to cooperate, understand one another’s viewpoints, compromise and arrive at solutions together. Progress is evident when meetings are solution-oriented rather than a discussion of hurdles in the way.

Involving teachers and marketers to collaborate on meaningful projects like looking at the nationality mix in a classroom and making decisions on student recruitment, or allowing marketers to sit in on classes to gain a deeper understanding of products they sell, can provide opportunities to recognise the contribution of the other team and bridge departmental silo-isation. A discussion at the Underhill workshop has also resulted in the idea of Marketing Officers sitting in on classes with a few key observation areas in mind and use their understanding from these observations to better promote the courses. A meet-and-greet for marketers and teachers will also be held in the following months where teachers will develop a better understanding of the cultural background, learning styles and expectations of certain student groups.

Learning becomes not just something that staff do for themselves or for the benefit of the clients . . . but something that everyone does for the flourishing of the system itself.

A small LTO like mine is keenly focused on short term goals and immediate gains rather than developing a sustainable long term approach that involves investing in their human capital. Knee-jerk reactions and seeking quick-fix solutions to problems is the norm and this often results in unforseen long-term costs being incurred by the company. Responding to daily crises takes precedence over Systems Thinking habits like reflecting on our actions and consequences, examining our mental models more deeply, and seeing how our structure affects our behaviour patterns. Such reflection is essential to all LTOs as it will reveal the learning opportunities that lie just below the surface of everything we already do and transform the organisation into a learning “hot-house”.

The first step towards this is harnessing in-house expertise and sharing this knowledge that has already been developed using the time and resources of the company. There are no “universal” solutions to “local” situations. Therefore we need to be guided by knowledge and experience from the people in the local situations . . .

We need to develop local knowledge that follows the contours of the setting and circumstances we are in.

Honest inter-departmental conversations about working towards our shared goal, once identified, are an excellent starting point. Clarity of where we want to be means we can recruit the right people who can join us on the journey and help us get there. Any failures encountered on the way would only be opportunities for further joint learning. This way the entire school and its activities transform into an adventure park for everyone’s learning.


 

References and further reading

NB: You can see the slides from see Adrian Underhill’s presentation by clicking here

Pickering, G. 1999. “The learning organisation: an idea whose time has come? ELT Management Number 27. Available from: http://lamsig.iatefl.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2-Pickering-The-Learning-Organisation-2.pdf

Robbins, S.P. 2011. Organizational Behaviour. 6th ed. Pearson Australia.

White, R., Hockley, A., Van der Horst Jansen, J., & Laughner, M. 2008. From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organizations. Cambridge University Press.

 

This post by @aparnajacob

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the individuals, and not those of #AusELT in general or of English Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#AusELT chat summary: Conference Swapshop (9/10/14)

October’s Twitter chat got off to a bit of a shaky start as several people (who shall remain nameless) managed to forget that the clocks had gone back in Sydney . . . Anyway, sausages were burnt, direct messages were flying, but disaster was averted and we ended up with a small but productive discussion of everyone’s conference experiences. There was a particular focus on the recent English Australia (#EAConf14) and ACTA (#ACTA2014) conferences (click to see details and programs), but also – inevitably – some reflections of the nature and future of teaching conferences in general. The chat was moderated by Lesley Cioccarelli (@cioccas) – surely one of the most highly experienced conference goers & presenters in our community – and turned up MANY useful links and directions to pursue. You can read the full transcript here but this post aims to capture the most useful areas in more coherent form, with links, for your delight and delectation. So – enjoy!

There were three main areas that seemed to come up again and again:

  • Learning technologies
  • Pronunciation
  • Connecting teachers

And of course, there were also some other stand-out sessions that chatters had seen or participated in. So let’s take a look at these first.

Learning technologies

Learning technologies lecturer, author and go-to guy, Mark Pegrum (@OzMark17), recently wrote a blog post about the tech-related sessions he saw and participated in (as a plenary speaker and panellist) at the 2014 English Australia Conference 2014. It’s a detailed and thought-provoking overview, and his perspective is particularly interesting as he looks at the different layers at work, from practical sessions for the individual teacher, to observing how teachers are engaging in and using technology themselves, to how the drive for technology is having an impact at a global level. As he says at the end of his blog post:

Of course, not every presentation was about technology, but technology has become an increasingly present theme, mixed in – as it should be – with broader pedagogical, cultural and sociopolitical themes.

Mark’s plenary was entitled Walking and talking around the world: A snapshot of international mobile English learning, and you can see his conference slides here. Also look out for an interview with Mark in the April 2015 issue of the English Australia Journal.

Paul Forster (@forstersensei)’s #EAConf14 session on Engaging digital language learners had ‘rave reviews’ according to various sources, among them Nicki Blake (@Penultimate_K) who found it: “User-friendly and hands-on. Easy for those getting started in edtech to understand.” When @forstersensei was asked why he thought it had been so popular and he simply said: “I think there is still a lot of interest in technology and teachers are looking for ideas and training.” You can see the companion website Paul made here – if you couldn’t see his session yourself, this extremely clear, practical website will allow you to benefit just the same.

Michael Griffiths (@trylingual) is another #AusELT stalwart who presented on tech, this time on his research regarding Online PD: Current attitudes and behaviours of ELICOS teachers. Unfortunately he had to miss this chat, but his session was live-tweeted and there were definitely some interesting findings – not to mention some very nice feedback on #AusELT’s usefulness as a professional community of practice. You can see Michael’s presentation slides here.

Another #AusELTer, Lindsay Rattray (@ClassWired), also spoke at #EAConf14, along with colleagues Lachlan McKinnon, & Thom Roker on the topic of Digital literacies for teachers and students: A toolbox of practical ideas (click their names to see their pecha kucha slides).

Pronunciation

At #ACTA14, Arizio Sweeting (@ariziosweeting) addressed The paradoxical predicament of pronunciation: What is being done about it? and Shem MacDonald spoke on Exploring EAL pronunciation through who we are, and what we say. @cioccas was able to attend these, and spoke very highly of them: “standing room only at the 2 I want to . . . I’m guessing it shows teachers want more on how to teach pron.”

As further evidence of teachers’ increasing interest in pron, Lesley highlighted the popularity of the AALL Pron symposiums in Canberra (the next one will be on Friday 5th Dec 2014 – see details here) and mentioned that at the the pre-conference workshops at the 2013 ACTA Conference had been exclusively dedicated to pronunciation.

@ariziosweeting was particularly interested in this changing attitude to pronunciation amongst language teachers: “Aus is making good steps to promote it [pron] more . . . my forthcoming article on SpeakOut calls it the Sleeping Beauty to acknowledge the perceived change.” Arizio will be at the Dec 2014 AALL Pron symposium along with fellow #AusELTer and pron researcher Mike Burri (@michaelburri). Keynote speakers will be Graeme Couper and Michael Carey. As it happens, Arizio also has a popular blog on pron (Pron Central) and he will also be co-running an EVO session with Piers Messum and Rosalyn Young on Teaching pronunciation differently in early 2015.

Connecting teachers

@cioccas and @andrea_rivett presented a workshop together on PLNs at #ACTA2014 – as they met on Twitter this is surely a testament in itself to the power of the online PLN! By all accounts their session was very popular, so well attended that chairs had to be brought in from other rooms. Feedback was also very positive, with @cioccas noting that some participants “even said they finally ‘got Twitter’”

@sophiakhan4 asked “What did the audience respond to most?” and @cioccas said: “Probably our passion! And the tweeting with Post-it notes on the wall ☺ ”. This pen-and-paper version of Twitter was a great idea and can also be used as an excellent classroom activity!

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Thanks also to Lesley and Andrea also for spreading the word on #AusELT ☺

Other stand-out sessions

  • BzfzMqRCUAAWsmMNicki Blake (@Penultimate_K) took part in the GrEAt Debate at #EAConf14 along with Adrian Underhill and Chris Evason, opposing Pamela Humphreys, Mauricio Pucci and Phiona Stanley. Nicki described it as “a tongue-in-cheek look at the proposition that ‘quality is better than quantity’ . . . it was like your classic debate mixed up with some good old-fashioned lampooning.” When asked, “How do you prepare for that?”, she said: “‘You trawl the opposition’s websites looking for ‘dirt’ ;)”
  • Speaking of Phiona Stanley, @cioccas strongly recommended her session on Native speakers, intelligibility, and culture crossing: How native English speakers learn language grading on Cambridge CELTA at ACTA2014. Phiona also presented at #EAConf14 on Beyond ‘food and festivals’: How to teach critical interculturality in language teaching, which was also the keynote at the UECA PDfest 2014 in Sydney, so several chatters had seen it and all agreed it was excellent. Phiona also had a very interesting article in a recent issue of the English Australia Journal on Lessons from China: Understanding what Chinese students want.
  • Adrian Underhill’s pre-/post-conf English Australia workshops on Developing a ‘learning organisation’ approach to PD also had a big impact on many attendees – so much so that we will be dedicating a few blog posts to it in the coming weeks. In the meantime you can check out his slides here.

In the latter half of the chat, we got into some more general ponderings on the state of conferences today and what we might be looking for in the future. Below you’ll find some of the issues we touched on and what was said.

Research or practical ‘take aways’?

@forstersensei said: “For me #EAConf14 was lacking that practical focus that teachers want. Research is great, but teachers (in particular) want something to ‘take away’”. @Penultimate_K agreed: “There has to be some “take home” value – that’s why your companion wix was so much appreciated” @cioccas agreed: “Same for #ACTA2014. Need a balance. CAMTesol is the best I’ve been to in that regard, but CLESOL too” (in fact several chaters seconded CLESOL as a conference that strikes a good balance between professional, academic and other strands). Chatters generally agreed that balance was the key – we need both research-based and practical sessions, but may conferences seem to weigh overly heavily on the academic side.

@sophiakhan4 thought this was interesting and suggested it may even be “an effect of reaching a ‘conf presenter’ level – forgetting about the nitty gritty.” She also asked if the seeming lack of practical sessions for teachers might be because “some confs are beyond the reach of ‘ordinary’ teachers? . . . so in that case doesn’t it make sense that the content caters to [those that attend]?”

@Penultimate_K thought this might be true, adding “ordinary teachers aren’t likely to be delegates – mostly management and researchers . . . Melb/Vic teachers [were attending #EAConf14] on group tix but mostly management/sales from interstate.” However, this surprised @cioccas, who said there were “lots of ordinary teachers at ACTA, ands most wanted more practical sessions”

Many chatters mentioned UECA PDFest and similar “teacher-centred” events as being important in bridging this gap.

Why are Aus/NZ confereces so expensive?

One of the key reasons “ordinary” teachers may not be attending conferences is because they can’t afford to go, as suggested by several chatters. @forstersensei commented on “the increasing cost” of attending conferences and @sophiakhan pointed out that IATEFL for instance is much more realistic financially. @cioccas had actually done the research: “I did a survey of the costs for ELT confs and EA & ACTA topped the list.”

@Penultimate_K added that therefore “if a company is going to budget for a conference, they are more likely to send s/one senior” @sophiakhan4: “Right. But they could send a HEAP of teachers to PDFest for the same $. Worth thinking about.”

@sophiakhan4 also suggested that “some of the $ of Oz confs is due to shipping in big name speakers – a needless expense?” @cioccas thought that “maybe just one big name would suffice each year” and chatters agreed, but both @sophiakhan4 and @ariziosweeting were in favour of seeing more “grassroots” presenters.

Are organisers/attendees making good use of social media yet? 

@Penultimate_K noted that at #EAConf14 social media was used “but mostly in the marketing stream not in the teaching stream”. @sophiakhan4 who had been following on Twitter said it was “a dramatic improvement from 2012! But tweeters were generally (not always) the usual suspects.” At #ACTA2014 @cioccas observed that “organisers used it for announcements but most people didn’t notice ☹ ”

@Penultimate_K commented that “use of ‪#socmed‬‬ channels to provide parallel info streams would go a long way to increase access” although @cioccas wondered “if Australian ELTs are up there with the ‪#socmed‬‬ yet though?” and @sophiakhan thought that that “tipping point” hadn’t arrived yet.

@Penultimate_K acknowledged this: “still being told to turn off mobiles & given hard stares when live-tweeting . . . Waiting for Aus conferences to embrace casting/video, extensive hashtag use, etc . . . conferences need to acknowledge that social sharing is a thing now. Not just acknowledge but cater for . . . “ @sophiakhan4 agreed, predicting that “ it will all be taken for granted 10 years on”, but also suggesting that right NOW, “if only 1-10% of the audience ALSO appreciates [social sharing] – [efforts to promote it] will fall fairly flat.”

@Penultimate_K agreed, and suggested that perhaps a social media approach “may be better for events like pD fests/UECA” because “people more likely to share practical ideas over ‪#SOCMED‬‬ than theory.” @sophiakhan4 wasn’t convinced of this, arguing that whether a session was practical or theory-based, “maybe both are too hard to get into a twitter soundbite” @Penultimate_K countered this by suggesting that ideas “could be shared in PLNs using other channels” to which @sophiakhan4 said “Yes but who writes a blog post? Who takes their own time to write a Facebook post about a PD session? Few people.” @Penultimate_K said “Few, yes. But we are here, sharing away. Now need modern-minded conf organisers to tap into this.”

Are conferences a dying paradigm?

Let’s give @cioccas the last word: “I hope not. I love the dynamics, the informal networking, serendipitous discoveries.”

This post by @sophiakhan4

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the individuals, and not those of #AusELT in general or of English Australia.

5 Things to Remember when……..Covering a Class at the Last Minute

If you missed last month’s post, the first in this series, you can read our reflection on 5 things to remember when listening to your colleagues complain right here. This month, we turn to that dreaded moment….the one that happens to the all of us:
It’s 8:55, you’re nervously watching the clock thinking I’m almost there….five more minutes and my morning will be free (and I can finally get around to culling all those friends of mine on Facebook)….and in walks your DOS, silently, slinking in the morning shadows cast by shelves and shelves of dusty copies of Practical English Usage. She clears her throat and nervously taps you on the shoulder, your index finger quivering with excitement over the left mouse button as you feel time ticking down with a certain sense of cruel, twisted fate….happy Monday!!!

1) Stop, don’t retaliate and listen!

Cover happens to everyone – we’ve all had to do it, or better yet, drop someone in it at some point as a result of a bad oyster, broken leg, bike accident or torn skirt.  There is certainly something to be said for the reciprocal, karmic nature of the way teachers handle their contractual obligations in relation to covering classes….and if nothing else, we really need to remember that one day it will be you calling in sick and in need of help.
Talking about cover to some friends the other day, we noted that the stress teachers typically feel in response to the proverbial tap on the shoulder and nervous smile from the DOS is inversely proportional to the amount of time remaining before you need to walk into the classroom; When you’re asked to cover with two weeks’ notice most teachers barely notice, but when that tap on the shoulder comes at five minutes to the hour, there are some of us who need to change their socks, others of us who manage to fit a surprising number of cigarettes into the morning, and others of us whose profane vocabulary comes into its own.
That being said, we also feel that once the clock ticks past the hour, the students are settled, and pleasantries have been exchanged, things becomes eerily familiar (unless of course you happen to be covering for a teacher who did all the cutting a prep for you….and then you realise that they’ve cut up the materials for the wrong class……….which has NEVER happened to us or anyone we know…..ever….).
So, when the tap comes, and it will come at some point, is there really any purpose in complaining, doing your best Napoleon Dynamite impression or burning your way through a pack of cigarettes?  Stop, don’t retaliate, and get the basic information you need: When is the class? What room is it in? Which book are they using? Is there a plan or any notes? Do you have time for a quick visit to the loo? (Hey, there are some luxuries even the most pressed teachers need….) Is there someone around who can help you for five minutes to quickly do some printing and cutting up or bring it to you in ten minutes? Are your shoes done up, your pants on the right way and this morning’s spinach omelet safely removed from between your teeth?
Remember, even if there is a serial offender in your office, be frustrated with them – don’t take it out on the messenger, or the students.  A smile goes a long, long way.

2) Taking opportunities to develop – earning your stripes

There is a a lot to be said for aiming to be the most professional teacher you can be – especially in an industry that isn’t necessarily internationally associated with fiercely competitive entry requirements and performance review standards.  The TEFL world grew largely from the spread of John Haycraft’s CELTA-style short courses which championed the reality of teachers learning and developing practical skills in front of students, and figuring out what seems right, intuitively, in from moment to moment, and from class to class.
There is arguably no better way than to get back to this fundamental alignment of variables (I mean, really, have you ever been as nervous, or felt under as much pressure in front of a class as on your first observed lesson on your pre-service course?) than being put in front of a class at the last minute, and seeing what happens.
In fact many would argue that this is teaching in its purest form – when you have no security blanket of a lesson plan, there is no choice but to listen to your students and respond to them – and some of our best lessons and most insightful moments have come from those moments when we felt under the most pressure.
So, business needs aside, we would argue that the issue of cover, and its associated stresses are not only important and something everyone needs to share, but an essential part of continuing professional development.  Teaching, as an art form, is centred around the notion of teachers thinking on their feet and responding, from moment to moment in the classroom.  Our industry was founded on this belief, and what better way to earn your stripes than by spending more time on the front line, at the chalkface, in the spotlight…hmm, out of metaphors…

3) What really matters?

There are two types of teachers – those who fill in their registers, and those who don’t.  If you’re lucky enough to cover a teacher from the first of these two groups, well done.  If not, and frustrating as it may seem in the moment, you will probably gain significant perspective on life’s important things as a direct result of covering a teacher from the second of these two groups.
At the end of the day, your shoulder-tapping DOS simply needs a teacher in front of the class – that is the ultimate reason they have asked you to help out.  If there is no plan, and no reference to the last page they’ve covered, and you’ve still got 250 friends to cull from your list of Facebook friends…..chin up.  Given the other benefits, most of which will have a direct positive result on your professional development (and not necessarily on your sweat glands) life at this very moment could certainly be a lot worse.
So what really matters? Only that you remember to stay positive, keep a smile (even it it’s a slight grimace) on your face, and a professional attitude the moment you step into the classroom.

4) Contingency plans

Not wanting to sound like your mother-cum-CELTA trainer-cum-director (and what a complicated relationship that would be…) teachers really need to be ready.  We know everyone always says you need to have something ready for fast finishers, and we all pretend that we do, but having a reserve of flexible, portable, instant lessons really can make the difference between a one-cheeky-cigarette-kinda-day, and a 2-pairs-of-undies-kinda-day.
We’d like to share some of our all-time greatest last minute lessons, for your reading (and teaching) pleasure (can you spot the odd one out?). Keep in mind, these are not necessarily our lessons, but lessons we know work most of the time, with most ages, levels and abilities.  Credit for these ideas and references are listed below.
a) Guess what’s inside my head
If you’ve never done this with a class, you’ve never lived.
Teacher: Can you guess what I’m thinking of?
Students: Is it a carrot?
Teacher: No! Guess again!
Students: Is it a chameleon?
Teacher: No! Guess again!
Students: Is it the eternal struggle of ethnic minorities in former British colonies who have since gained independence from the oppression of White colonial expansion?
Teacher: Very close, keep guessing!
Thanks to Claire Steele for this one!
b) Dialogue Building
A very flexible lesson, with minimal preparation needed that features loads of repetition, writing practice and a role play.  We got this one from Scott Thornbury’s article on OneStopEnglish here.
c) Sentence Relays

Just when you thought running dictations couldn’t get any better…..Students line up in groups facing the board.  The teacher reads a sentence clearly twice for students to memorise. When you say GO! students race to the board to write the sentence, one word per student at a time, in a relay.  If you have 4 or 5 sentences ready to go, the students then write down all of the sentences they remember at the end of the activity.  This can then lead into question writing and speaking, a jazz chant, or if you’re feeling up for it, a cheeky game of guess what’s inside my head!

d) Dictaphone Stories

If there was one thing we learned from our DELTA, it was how to use a dictaphone in class.  And we mean, really use a dictaphone.  This lesson is actually adapted from Teaching Unplugged (Thornbury & Meddings), but you can find a short description here (Disclaimer: this is a link to James’ blog).  It is a speaking/listening and materials-light lesson that will challenge even the most annoying of students.

5) Enjoy the limelight

Collectively, we flog the catch phrase student-centred learning to death.  Should there be a time and a place for teacher-centred teaching?  Is it ok to be the centre of attention, add a sprinkling of funny remarks, those old favourite jokes (the ones that every class loves, even if you’ve been telling them for 20 years) and a little anecdote here and there?
Yes, of course it is, despite what your conscience might tell you.  There is a voice inside the heads of many teachers (not ours! not anymore!) that questions any move to take the spotlight, and any conscious decision to “play up a bit” in class.  Is it a CELTA remnant? No TTT! TTT is bad! Teachers talking in class ROB STUDENTS OF THEIR BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS! Pish. While we use this phrase very cautiously, what we are really talking about is the immeasurable notion of teacher-student rapport.  This is arguably one of the strongest factors to influence student motivation, which in turn is the single biggest challenge to overcome for any teacher or student. So have a chat, tell a story, make them laugh, get them onside.
Students typically enjoy the novelty of a new face, a new voice, a new rhythm in class and this deserves to be indulged.  In reality, the students might appreciate their cover teacher all the more, simply from the novelty of having a change.  So, while that dreaded tap on the shoulder at 8:55 on Monday morning might fill you with a sense of endless and unrequited social media errands, you may very well be delighted and surprised to find yourself in the spotlight of an interested, curious and interactive group of students – and this really is what most of us live for.

* By James Pengelley and Jane Pyper (Hong Kong), purveyors of Australian wit and bathers tans.

The views expressed in this post are our own and not those of #AusELT as a whole, or of English Australia

5 Things to Remember when…….Listening to colleagues complaining in the office

This is the first in a new series of monthly posts called 5 things to remember when…..  The inspiration for these has come from our experiences working in a number of different schools:  Large schools, busy schools, schools with many off-site centres, awkward split shifts and unconventional weekend patterns, disorganised schools full of the familiar faces of less experienced and more experienced colleagues we recognised but never knew the names of.  With such a range of places to work, staff rooms to work in and colleagues to work with – we realise that delivering INSETTs and meeting the full range of needs of all the teachers in your context is an insurmountable task.  Indeed, there are some things that are important – dare we say essential – to the health of the workings and mechanics of a staff room, yet may not receive the explicit attention of a full training session.  And so, it is in this vein that we embark on our monthly escapade to look at a number of areas oft neglected, forgotten, resented and possibly taken for granted.  This month, we look at 5 things to remember when listening to your colleagues complaining in the office (insert brass regalia here).

Dealing with whingers (from Creative Commons)

Dealing with whingers (from Creative Commons)

1) Stop and take two deep breaths

(Especially if they are complaining about having to go to an INSETT, which you just spent hours putting together.)

In our experience, there are 3 types of people in most offices: those who love a whinge, those who love to stick it to the whingers and those who quite simply can’t be bothered with whingers.  Regardless of where you may fall on the spectrum (we personally have a foot in each camp, depending on day/time/blood sugar level/proximity of 20 screaming children), everyone is entitled to raise their concerns, should they have any, at work.

It’s important to remember that offices are in fact professional communal spaces and there is (or at least there should be) an unwritten rule about behaving in that space in a way that minimally impacts upon others (you wouldn’t walk into somebody else’s living room, take off your dirty socks and fart loudly, would you……or, would you….?).

It’s also worth keeping in mind that in many cases, office complainers merely want to be understood (and are possibly just in need of a big warm, purely professional, hug).  There is nothing more irritating than someone chirping up from across the room, in response to a publicly voiced complaint, in a way that aggravates and feeds the complainer and gives them even more reason to spend their precious work time spinning their wheels about (insert THAT book’s name here) Pre-Intermediate.  Being reactive is one of the least helpful things you can do in conflict situations, so hold off on offering your two cents worth.  Not every argument is worth getting involved in and above all…….remember….the walls have ears (insert cheesy Kung Fu movie zoom-in with added creepy music and evil, long-bearded man chuckle here).

2) Keep some perspective.

Sometimes (often…usually…delete as appropriate depending on your current context) complaints are genuine, and there’s something quite annoying going on at work. Let’s think of a purely hypothetical example, say, gosh, you find yourself teaching a class in the DOS’s office, as the school’s opened more classes than has classrooms and the students are balancing photocopies of a book on their laps as the books haven’t been delivered because the previous books haven’t been paid for and the distributors are withholding new stock. You are concerned about the level of professionalism at play. Purely hypothetical, of course, as no school would really let this happen, right? Riiiiiight. (tumbleweed)

Genuine concerns deserve to be voiced, as long as they are done so with the intention of precipitating change/improvement in some way.  And the hypothetical teacher in the above hypothetical situation certainly got their hypothetical whinge on. But when you’ve got through that sort of debacle, hearing the uproar from across the room that printer number 12 is out of order, and the inevitable question asked, “How can we be expected to maintain professional standards in this office without access to resources?!” (even though the massive and amazing printers 13-16 are in fact still working just fine!!) – just hang on to your sense of perspective – even if the complainer has lost theirs. Tell yourself quietly that one day this teacher will move on to a school with one mouse-powered photocopier squirreled away under the back stairs which breaks down every other day and is shared by sixty teachers. Console yourself that one day said whinger will understand how good they had it.

3) Don’t be dismissive….at first.

Along with being reactive, being publicly dismissive is antagonistic and not really constructive. Ultimately, we’re all entitled to our grievances – some of us find more appropriate ways  to air those grievances than others.

Sometimes I wonder if TEFL staff room design principles 101 ought to be a compulsory unit for anyone taking postgraduate management qualifications – a course which ought to be assessed by a candidates ability to recognise and complete appropriate staffroom conflict resolution lexis:

“That’s really……”   (interesting…..not trivial)

“What do you….” (mean by that….not think you’re achieving by involving the entire office floor in your disgruntled attitude towards the ambient temperature of the water cooler?)

“I’m really….” (sorry to hear you feel like this….not looking forward to the moment the lift doors close to take me home, thereby muffling the sound of your piercing voice and placing 3 levels of industrially reinforced concrete between you and I)

All said phrases ought to be drilled at induction, and permanently on display on the central staff noticeboard.  Remember that inviting the person to explain a little more about what they mean and why they are disgruntled may:

1) Give them the perception that you’re even the slightest bit sympathetic

2) Avoid direct confrontation

3) Bring the conversation that little bit closer to the point at which it is actually appropriate to say “I really need to get on with my work now, and by the sounds of it, so do you”.  And as always, beware the serial whinger….sometimes it IS actually ok to slap someone in the face with a wet fish.

4) Whose job is it, anyway?

Wouldn’t it be nice, if every time you had a question or issue, there was someone whose job it was to deal with and resolve that specific problem? Chances are it’s highly likely that someone in the building will be able to help.  Be it a senior teacher, manager, technician, cleaner or resident expert – perhaps the simplest solution to helping your colleague in need is to point them in the right direction?

If there were a motto we’d like to see printed on the footer of every TEFL certificate ever issues, it would be…..”Be an enabler”.  Help when and where you can (unless your colleague is complaining for the sake of complaining….in which case be a wet-fish-slapper.  Or unless they are complaining about you not having done something which actually is your job…in which case do your job.)

One of the more common complaints we have come across is the situation where teachers take issue with terms of employment that are actually clearly stated in contracts and job descriptions (and yes, we are totally guilty of this ourselves – 6am starts and late night weekend finishes….sound familiar to anyone?).  It is important to make a distinction between complaints that can be solved (i.e. when a person is asking for help) and when complaint cannot be solved (i.e. when someone is complaining for the sake of complaining, even though there may be a very clear and reasonable solution).  While one of these scenarios deserves attention, smiles and a friendly follow-up, the other one deserves – now we won’t say this is the most professional thing to do, but your discretion may indicate that the situation warrants it – a smile, patronising look of concern and a poignant rendition on the world’s smallest violin.

5) Stand up, when the time is right

Ultimately, there are things that are worth fighting for, comments that ought to be publicly challenged and contributions that deserve further explanation.

“God, I LOVE The Silent Way”……(please….tell me more…)

“I simply don’t have time to correct the mistakes I find in shared documents and materials”……(but somehow you manage to find the time to soap box about it!)

“We’re planning to change the terms of our contracts to allow administration the flexibility to pay teachers up to 3 weeks’ late”…..(rather than……….?)

The truth is that we are, by and large, all guilty of falling into the trap of simply feeling like a bit of a whinge – and given the fact that the TEFL industry generally doesn’t pay enough for its employees to necessarily feel like going the extra mile is really worth their time or effort, it’s hardly surprising. On an individual level, however, we can each make a small difference to the way we listen, show compassion towards each other, and above all, exercise the judicial implementation of wet fish.  Collectively, and cumulatively, small changes make a big difference.

* By James Pengelley and Jane Pyper (Hong Kong), purveyors of Australian wit and bathers tans.

The views expressed in this post are our own and not those of #AusELT as a whole, or of English Australia

“Professional development – that’s what I want!” – #AusELT chat summary, 3rd July 2014

What do we want imageWhat a lively chat about professional development! @cioccas posted some questions for us to think about before the chat and then structured the chat around these. This was a great idea because we could formulate some answers before the chat and this made it easier to post (copy and paste our pre-written ideas) and took the stress off us to constantly type (well, at least that’s what I did!) The questions and issues we discussed are below, and the main comments are summarised.

 

What do teachers want and expect from PD?

@andrea_rivett posted: “It should be relevant, interesting and get me to think about my own practice.” @Penultimate_K commented that newer teachers wanted direction and skills development and more experienced teachers wanted refinement and innovation. @KateRoss0901 reminded us that some teachers wanted traditional forms of PD such as post-graduate study, seminars and workshops. @sujava and @sophiakhan4 wondered whether all teachers wanted PD. @sujava mentioned that any PD should include a takeaway for use in the classroom as teachers are time poor.

What is PD?

@Penultimate_K reminded us that self-directed PD is often forgotten as a form of informal PD. @KateRoss0901 made the insightful comment that we encourage our students to be self-directed learners but don’t seem to follow this approach in our own PD. @andrea_rivett raised the question of a definition of PD. Is it formal, informal, online, F2F, written, spoken, individual, collaborative, paid, unpaid, teacher-directed, institution-directed? Does it result in a certificate / assessment / observation / some form of classroom practice? Is it private reflection? Who defines it and how do we motivate teachers to participate in it?

@cioccas said that teachers should choose what PD they wanted and that it should be differentiated. @sophiakhan4 recommended we all read Karen Benson and Phil Chappell’s contribution on PD in the English Australia Journal as it deals with a program for differentiated PD.

Expectations around PD

@sujava said that some teachers felt pressed for time and felt that PD was an imposition. @MeredithMacaul1 reminded us of teacher workload as obstacles to attending PD. @cherrymp asked if these things were excuses. @sujava mentioned that some people want to teach / do their job and then go home and @SophiaKhan4 asked if we had unrealistic expectations of teachers. Are people in other professions required / expected to do PD?

A few people mentioned that PD should be provided as part of the job and @aparnajacob said that people expected to be paid as part of PD. Personally, I would expect mandated PD to be paid but anything I was interested in I could pursue myself. It’s always worth putting in a proposal to management to have PD subsidized (e.g. travel and accommodation expenses). Online PD would save costs here but @cioccas has observed that online PD is not always accepted by managers.

What do managers want and expect from teacher PD?

@andrea_rivett said PD was everyone’s responsibility but teachers and managers could suggest, deliver and organise it. @michaelgriffin asked how we can encourage and support teachers to manage their own PD, seek opportunities for PD on their own and become independent learners. This is a question those in management and teacher development constantly grapple with.

 A PD budget

The conversation turned to how to allocate a PD budget. Some recommendations included:

  • any budget for group and individual PD should be aligned to organizational goals
  • teachers who were sponsored by their organisation to attend an event could come back to their campus / college and share what they learned
  • learning institutions could take turns in hosting PD to keep costs down
  • teachers can share delivery (reduced prep time) so a guest speaker is not needed (and therefore no payment required)
  • teachers can put in proposals for external PD conferences and if accepted their college could pay for them to go
  • get staff to deliver PD, everyone votes and the best presenter gets a PD allowance (to attend a conference etc.) with the aim always being to bring back and share the ‘learning’

 Sharing PD opportunities

The conversation then turned to how to share PD opportunities / advertise PD. Some ideas were:

  • Bulletin board, newsletter, group / email list
  • Scoop.It (online magazine), English Australia newsletter

@cioccas asked how information about PD opportunities was disseminated to teachers who weren’t connected and @KateRoss0901 commented that this could be approached from various angles (formal, informal, electronic, spoken, written), which would catch a wider audience. She also commented that employees had a responsibility to develop themselves.

Who participates in PD? Why / why not?

@hairychef asked the pertinent question: “Has the issue of low engagement in highly qualified staffrooms been addressed?” @sujava mentioned PLNs: Facebook, Pearltrees and Twitter and showing people how to sign up. @cioccas mentioned that she has seen little take up of this from teachers even after several attempts.

This prompted the question from @cioccas: “How to encourage and support teachers to manage their own PD, seek opportunities for PD on their own and become independent learners?” @cioccas suggested a series of teacher-led PD sessions, which are starting to take off where she works. @sophiakhan4 mentioned the benefit of having models to inspire and show others what is achievable. She met her models through social media. A few people commented that managers should model best practice.

NB: If interested, you can

What is the role of teachers in their own PD?

 Some suggestions included:

  • to think about what they are interested in vs what they “need” to improve in
  • to run a PD session each – nothing too fancy (30 mins)
  • to do PD in pairs
  • to have active roles in Professional Organisations

Explore here for more ideas on:

What is the role of managers in teacher PD?

 Some suggestions included that managers should:

  • give PD presenting opportunities and responsibilities to teachers
  • have active roles in Professional Organisations
  • model good learning and development (mentoring)
  • use / allocate mentors to promote enthusiasm and commitment

Engagement and feeling valued

The conversation turned to teachers not feeling engaged because they didn’t feel valued and two points were raised. Firstly, do teachers not feel valued because of low self-esteem? Secondly, is the issue here industry baseline standards? Should entry to TEFL be like entry to medicine with the same standards? Would this make teachers more engaged in PD? @hairychef suggested ongoing demand-high teacher training. @KateRoss0901 mentioned that teachers may feel that remuneration didn’t warrant further investment in their careers. @cherrymp suggested we keep working on it that change will come.

On that hopeful note the chat was wrapped up at 9.30pm and we were all left with ideas for moving forward with PD in our centres. I suggest we try some of these ideas and report back from time to time on the AusELT Facebook page.

This post by @sujava

 

Professional Development – that’s what I want!

The next #AusELT Twitter chat will take place on Thurs 3rd July at 8.30pm Sydney time (click here to see the time where you are). #AusELT stalwart Lesley Cioccarelli has kindly volunteered to manage and moderate this one, on a topic which is close to her heart: professional development. In this pre-chat post she shares some questions and resources to get you in the mood 🙂 

What do we want image It seems that everyone wants more Professional Development (PD), teachers and managers alike. But do we want the same things, and do we want them in the same timeframes, formats, etc.?

These are some of the questions we could discuss in the chat:

  • What do teachers want and expect from PD?
  • What do managers want and expect from teacher PD?
  • What is the role of teachers in their own PD?
  • What is the role of managers in teacher PD?
  • What do each of these groups think the role of the other is?
  • What happens when these are NOT compatible?

We are all trying to teach, encourage and nurture independent learning skills in our students. So how well are the teachers doing in their own independent learning? In a conversation with a highly respected teacher educator recently, where I was lamenting the reluctance of some teachers to seek their own learning opportunities, even when they were offered to them on a plate, she commented:

I think some people only think PD is relevant if it directly answers a current and immediate problem for them. They do not see it as an opportunity to broaden horizons, or think differently or even just connect with others. What can you do?”

So what can we do? My next question:

  • How do we (as managers or teaching colleagues) encourage and support teachers to manage their own PD, to seek opportunities for PD on their own, to become independent learners?

I would love to discuss how we can encourage teachers to share, reflect on, and discuss their learning, both in their workplace and beyond, but I think that might be a topic of another discussion.  🙂

I realise that discussing this on #AusELT is a bit like preaching to the converted, but I think that through sharing experiences and ideas on these issues and more, we can maybe brainstorm some solutions for the benefit of us all.

Some resources to think about

These are mostly related to the role of the manager (or principal) and all come from school sectors, but I think there are ideas we can borrow.

    • Pedigo, M. (2004). Differentiating Professional Development: The Principal’s Role. Melbourne, Hawker Brownlow Education. I love this little book! It has many practical ideas in the ‘Action Steps’ boxes in each section. It’s quite cheap, but unfortunately is not available as a download that I can find. You can view sample pages on the publishers website. There’s also a review here.
    •  Johnson, J. (2011). Differentiating Learning for Teachers. Connected Principals (blog). Extract: “After attending Lyn’s session (*), I started to wonder: Why have they become complacent? Why are they not continuing their own professional learning? Have we given teachers an environment in which they have had an opportunity to continue to grow as professionals? Have we given them the autonomy to expand their knowledge/skills and take risk in the classroom?
    • *Hilt, L. (2011). Differentiated Learning: It’s Not Just for Students! Reform Symposium RSCON3 2011. (Recording). This is the session referred to above. In her session, Lyn talks about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and experiential learning for teachers. Also checkout her slides and list of resources referenced in the talk here.
    • Hunzicker, J. (2010). Characteristics of effective professional development: A checklist. Extract: “Effective professional development engages teachers in learning opportunities that are supportive, job-embedded, instructionally-focused, collaborative, and ongoing.” NB: The checklist on page 13, customised to your environment, might be useful for both managers and teachers alike.
    •  Jayaram, K., Moffit, A. & Scott, D. (2012). Breaking the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers. McKinsey on Society (blog). More focused on the manager (or school/college) providing the PD for teacher, but has some useful ideas.

Hope to ‘see’ you next week for the chat – looking forward to sharing ideas with you then!

This post by Lesley Cioccarelli (@cioccas)

#AusELT chat summary: Management issues, with Andy Hockley (5 June, 2014)

© Aparna Jacob

© Aparna Jacob

Our one-hour chat on ‘management issues’ was certainly fast and furious. Many interesting issues were touched on, some that we surely need to come back to in more detail another time! Aparna Jacob has done a wonderful job with the summary on Storify – click here to see what we talked about, and feel free to keep the conversation going by commenting below or on the #AusELT Facebook page. Many thanks to Aparna and to everyone who attended the chat. And special thanks, of course, to Andy Hockley as our expert moderator.

PS: If you’d like to know more about Andy, check out his blog, From Teacher to Manager, or follow him on Twitter.

This post by @sophiakhan4