Prompted by recent posts on Russian ELT-related social media by my colleagues Vera and Veronika, I want to, no, I need to give myself a gift of self-recognition and appreciation. A pat on the head, and at the same time a gentle nudge and a whisper of promise: Is there something more to these experiences?

I want to look back at my teaching career through the lens of initiatives I undertook in leadership, creative solutions, community building, and overall attempts to bring about change in practice. I want to lay it all out and see what’s on the table. I want to understand how (and if) each of these “projects” demonstrates my passion for change. I want to inspire myself to aspire for more.

Below are my experiments at making a difference, on a small scale, presented in a more or less chronological order.

🌟 In 2007, an undergrad in my final year, I worked full-time at a small private school as one of the two English teachers. My first ever passion project in education was shifting all classes from using old Soviet-style textbooks to the western type that we all know now. The shift involved pitching my idea of curriculum make-over to quite hostile school administration and very supportive parents.

🌟 A new teacher at the Physics faculty, I volunteered to create a website for the English department (note: ugly according to the standards of 2021, but in 2010 seemed alright); I initiated developing various materials for in-house use.

🌟 Within a year of working at a high school in Tokyo, I organized an English library: a couple of shelves, really, but the books moved from dusty boxes to where they belong. I was offered to design and teach an Extensive Reading program – but got a job at Rikkyo.

🌟 For about four years I curated the wonderful iTDi blog, planning monthly blog issues, reaching out to potential authors in and outside of iTDi community, helping to make it work. What a rewarding experience that I’ll never forget!

🌟 For 3 years at Rikkyo I organized and facilitated monthly meetings of a reflective practice teacher group. The sure highlight of my life in Japan!

🌟 As part of the Rikkyo professional development program, I ran a trial in-house peer mentoring program among teachers of our department. Nothing much came out of it for others, I think, but I learnt a lot (+ wrote a paper and gave a meaningful conference workshop).

🌟I was the co-organizer of the awesome ExcitELT Tokyo conference twice. ❤️ Big love, great memories.

🌟 In Vietnam, I start my second year as a coordinator of two subjects while also being a teacher. I create and grow my responsibilities under the conditions of relative freedom (curriculum design, teacher teams coordination, teacher training and support, observations).

I think I’ve done some good things, some meaningful things, I’ve tried.

I know I can do more.

Maybe in 2022?



The Unblocking

It’s quite ironic that this is the message WordPress is greeting me with after a year-long separation, considering the title of my upcoming post.

“Sometimes you focus too much on what is blocking you.”

BAM! I do, don’t I?

So what’s next? Realizing the immensity of this truth is helpful but doesn’t quite do the unblocking, I felt. Not feeding my energy to the thoughts that block me from taking action is a good first step, but I need a push, some hope and faith that I can manage whatever it is I set my mind to.

Then came a reflective practice meeting and in its customary manner pursued the unblocking! It is quite amazing how our online RP meetings keep giving me exactly what the moment is asking for, regardless of the announced topic of the month! It is the spirit, the space to bring up issues of concern. The people who listen. And while I have not ACTED yet, after this meeting I feel characteristically moved to taking that action with a better understanding and firmer faith. What is more, I am moved enough to dust off this blog and type some lines about it. Here’s what IT is.

Teams that could be.

The issue: Since I moved to Vietnam, I have focused my mind rather negatively on the lack of professional community, the comfort and support of which I had come to value as crucial for myself after 3 years of teaching in Rikkyo University and 4 years in Japan overall. I couldn’t find an ELT community to join, I didn’t have enough organizational skill to create my own RP group in Saigon, I didn’t have colleagues I could turn to in the way I was expecting. I moaned and mourned what I had lost.

Fast forward some months and I take on a role of being a coordinator for three loosely related subjects in my university – so exciting and promising! Could we, teachers of those subjects, become a team? Can we form a community? The dreamer in me starts building castles in the air, and when my first attempt to get all teachers together largely fails (only 3 teachers I already know very well come), oh do I feel but a little crushed inside. The promise vanishes into thin air and the excitement gives way to self-deprecating, blocking thoughts – that I can only succeed given the right circumstances. That I cannot, in fact, create those circumstances myself. With those thoughts, I approach my coordinator tasks, maybe for a while even giving up on the idea of bringing people together.

The RP meeting helpful realizations: This month’s online RP meeting was a discussion on what constitutes a team, how we “find” teams to work/reflect with, as well as a sharing of past successful and not so much experiences of getting people to work/reflect together. The people that attended that meeting are my RP community, my only community at the moment, too. They are also a community of LEADERS, and here is what I learnt from and with them:

  • Nurturing collaboration is a process that is based on trust, reciprocation, and a common purpose. It is a process and teams/communities can start small (or very small!) and be successful.
  • The culture of sharing and openness needs to be intentionally fostered. Initiating, sharing, opening the floor to discussions and the doors to observations should start with ME.
  • If you want to find a team, you may need to lead one. That resonated sharply! Leading involves commitment.
  • Shake off assumptions of what may or may not be. Other teachers may be not interested in forming a group, but they also might be looking for someone to find them. It’s a beautiful, reassuring thought.
  • Emails, at least “mailing list” types, may be a dead end in terms of initiating a connection. Human touch is still everything! (Not literally.)
  • I should not dismiss the relationships I have already successfully and organically built! Appreciate them. Analyse them (how did that happen??). Rely on them.
  • Finally, it was meaningful for me to look back at the time when RP Tokyo group started. The group that lasted 3 years, met nearly every month, gave rise to other RP groups (including the current online one I am part of), started from 3 colleagues agreeing to meet in a classroom and publicizing it on Facebook inviting others to join. Some meetings were big, some small, all purposeful and motivating. They seemed important at that time, to me to keep scheduling and planning for every month, for others to dedicate an evening of their busy workday to.


You can’t repeat the past, but you can choose to find blocks in it or inspiration.

Today, I was helped by my community to think of my issue through a different lens. I wish for everyone to have such people to turn to! And if you feel you don’t, join these smiling faces =)

Tagged , ,

Ahead of the curve

Last time I was in a class full of students was on January 15th of this year*. After 3 months of online teaching (and yes, I can and will call that teaching!), I will soon be back in school for my first mask-to-mask class. It feels quite surreal, to be honest.

In these three months I’ve gone from “this is impossible!” to “wow, we just had such a great class!” – and that is, a four-hour class focused on intensely gaining EAP vocabulary, grammar, and *mostly writing* skills. Or a group debate session for 33 students. Or 3 hours of group presentations. What at first glance at the syllabus sounded like torture or a nonsensical way to spend our time glued to screens, in the end turned out just fine, and better. In fact, so much better that I think I am going to miss my Zoom days.

Setting the dark circumstances that brought us to THIS aside, I was determined to take this experience for what it could become – an exceptional learning opportunity, for me and my students. A chance to master and excel at some skills that will be indespensable much sooner than we thought. Yes, we were unprepared, untrained, put in undesirable conditions, and importantly, we did not choose to study or teach online. While so much was out of control, there was a lot to take charge of. What we could do was to learn together, and learn we did.

Below are my notes on what I think I’ve learnt on the steep learning curve, through my own experience in my online class *attending zero webinars or taking zero courses on how to use web tools/turn my Zoom sessions into fireworks of best teaching practice – simply because I never had time for those.* (That, I’ve learnt as well, was not what would matter for me.)

*** My personal, subjective, earned through eye-strain and body aches, key take-aways after the 3 months of online teaching, in no particular order ***

  • Take it easy! Relax and lower expectations – of yourself, of the students, of lesson outcomes.
  • Make everything clear. And by that I mean, as clear as you possibly can, crystal clear. Instructions on the slides, in the chat box, confirmed with students. Model as possible. And after all that be ready to patiently help someone whose connection was breaking and who couldn’t hear you well =)
  • Talk to them. Spare some time in the beginning/end of class to talk to students individually. Comment on their clothes choice of the day, virtual background, their learning room/space (in case of many of my students – bed), lunch and snack details, sounds you all hear when they turn on the mic. Be nice about it (obviously).
  • Ask about their conditions for studying: Is there anyone else in the room? Is it their own room or a common space like living room? Is it noisy or quiet enough? Is connection usually strong or unstable? The more information I have about their learning environment, the less likely I am to make assumptions when something goes “wrong.” Oh, and it might be a good time to reconsider your beliefs of what “wrong” is.
  • Vary activity types! I had to teach 3 and 4 hour classes, and ensuring that students spend that time (a) focused and (b) productively was not always easy. Much like in the real classroom, varying the pace and modes of interaction was key.
  • Organize some parts of your course to be completed asyncronously, as possible – it was not quite my situation, but given an opportunity, I would. For some activities, it did not make much sense to be in the Zoom room together at that particular moment.
  • Don’t be afraid! It is possible to do a lot online, even if it feels awkward or scary at first. Being flexible seems to be the key, and it is a really good chance to reflect what truly matters in an activity/assignment/course. Shed the insignificant layers, keep the core. Work with it.
  • Open up various ways for students to participate in class, to be visible, and to show their work to you and others: type in the chat box, talk and nominate a classmate to be the next to talk, explore all variations of breakout rooms (especially great for big classes!), Google forms, Google docs, what have you. Have them WORK and produce something in class, and share.
  • Give instant feedback! I absolutely loved this aspect of teaching online. As my students work individually/in pairs/groups, I can open their files and give my comments immediately, type them and help in the moment.
  • Ask students for feedback on your class/activity/course. That’s not ground-breaking, but I feel it is essential to hear our students now and know how they are experiencing our lessons.
  • Be patient! Be very patient. Breathe in, Anna, and don’t assume that silence lingering in the air after your question means anything at all. Move on and reflect on it later. =)
  • Open up space for questions. I learnt that too late, but I’m keeping it in mind for all of my future classes. Students might feel it impolite to interrupt you in an online session when something is unclear, and then there are gaps that might be hard to fill. I found it extremely helpful to share an empty document with the students at the beginning of the lesson encouraging them to type any questions that arise throughout the session, to be addressed at the end. The document did not remain empty for long!
  • Stay after class for 10 minutes, if you can. Some of the learners will feel more at ease to talk to you, ask a question, or confirm a task in that way.
  • Take a break during class!!! Things I did as students disappeared in their breakout rooms: turn off my camera, do squats and other quick exercise, walk around the room and stretch, make tea, eat some fruit. That said, it was essential to keep wearing wireless earphones at all times to hear if any of the students had been kicked out of our meeting and had to be invited back into their rooms (this happened SO many times).
  • One of the top 3 most significant learnings surfaced early and painfully: Time will slip through your fingers, so adjust the plan accordingly. It is plain impossible to complete everything  you usually do in a face-to-face class within the same amount of time online as there are too many unknowns. A student’s house has power outage. Another student’s Zoom suddenly doesn’t let her join the breakout room. Some other student is in class but doesn’t appear on the list of participants so can’t be invited to the breakout room. Typing in the chat is taking waaaay longer than you’d imagine it could. Students cannot access the documents on their computers. Students’ microphones worked yesterday but don’t work today and it’s their turn to give a presentation. And now another pair of students pushed “Ask for help” button in their breakout room and need you there… you get the idea. Breathe – and deal with the issues as they arise, patiently, watching the time you’ve scheduled for this task go by.
  • Train your students! It’s all new, for all of us. Develop your online class routines and give them time to understand how things work, what materials will be accessed and which pages need to be opened during class.
  • Some might disagree with this view, but for me it is fundamental to be honest with the students. Yes, I have only limited experience doing this but I am trying to make it work. Yes, it is taking time to load that audio – please be patient with me. Yes, it is really hard for me to teach a class when most of you don’t turn your camera on. Yes, I have that big pimple on my cheek today and it shows big on your screens and we are all staring at it. I am just as self-concious as you are about having my face on everyone’s screens… until I accept it, and we accept each other’s imperfect home backgrounds, morning hairstyles, cute noisy little brothers, and frowning grandmothers walking behind you preparing lunch. I will not create a “fake classroom” for you or pretend that online runs the same way as offline.
  • Another one in that top 3 most significant learnings: Keep it simple! Who cares if you don’t use fancy mindmapping tools or play Kahoot games. That said, stay true to yourself =)
  • Finally, recognize what the classroom is really all about for you. For me, it is about the people in it. Thus, my priority in the 3 months of Zoom meetings was to try and replicate the human element of the face-to-face lesson. I might have been successful less than 50% of the time, but I know I tried to find ways for us to reach out to each other, while keeping our distance.


Just for fun, here’s a list of things I never did in the 3 months of teaching Academic English to my university students (context is the king, I am aware!):

  • never used a poll function in Zoom
  • never asked students to use reactions button in Zoom
  • never used Zoom whiteboard (or any other whiteboard)
  • never used anything other than Zoom, Google Drive, YouTube, and Padlet during or for class


*UPD: Last time I was in a class full of students was, in fact, yesterday – afternoon of May 4th. I will confess to taking a nap of exhaustion after I hit the couch coming back home… But that – “coming back home” to the energy of the real class – is a whole another blog post…

Do you think you might just miss teaching online when it’s all over?… I know I will. Let’s talk about it some day, too.


Thank you for reading, as ever.

Questions we ask ourselves

Xin chào!

In the seven months I’ve been living and teaching in Vietnam, I’ve accumulated questions that seem to me tough to address. Coming from the professional stability that Japan offered into the abyss of the mysterious unknown that Vietnam was (even after months of research) took a toll on how I view my professional self and what that self can and cannot do.

After a few months of hard work and little sleep came a few weeks of well-deserved rest. And that’s when I think I regained my senses; I could see now that I needed my community – and that I now had the time AND mind space for the conversation.

My online RP community felt to be the right place to share my questions. So, in a session a couple of Sundays ago the three of us who could make it to that meeting took turns to talk about the questions that are important for us at this point in time. We didn’t seek to get the answers right then – and that’s important to note. The online room that we shared was to be a safe space to voice concerns and confusions, to talk it out: Where did the questions come from? Why is it those particular things that matter to us? Are there any common threads?… And as always, there were.

Below I’d like to share my questions with a line or two of explanations here and there, followed by questions posed by my reflective friends. Questions to selves. Questions to the universe. 🙂

A’s questions *to self*

  1. What strengths did I exhibit in 2019 that I can carry with me into this year? What can I build on those strengths? I never really asked myself questions that are formulated like that, and somehow this year it appears pertinent to do so. My current experience working in Vietnam is dramatically different from my last job in Tokyo, especially in the aspects of PD and community, the two spheres so important to my professional well-being (or so I imagine). I don’t yet know how I can “apply” myself here in that regard and whether what I was nurturing as strengths has a way to manifest here in this environment.
  2. What are commitments that I need to reconsider and let go of? Which commitments should I keep and/or revive?  
  3. What are my sources of inspiration? Inspiration for teaching classes, inspiration for keeping up the professional energy levels, inspiration for staying motivated? What did they (the sources) use to be – and what can they be now that so many things in my environment have changed? 
  4. How do I give back to the community? What IS my community? Back in Japan, I seemed to always be involved in projects: the mentoring project at my workplace, monthly RP Tokyo meetings, organizing excitELT conference, presenting at conferences… I knew I was part of something big and I could do something to contribute to it. Yes, I could also feel I was doing something important, and that was reassuring and provided meaning.
  5. What is the role of community for inspiration for me?  
  6. What’s the value and impact of my teaching, the time I spend teaching?
  7. How does my work contribute to the big causes?
  8. How do teachers (myself included) conform in our “industry”? This question goes way back to the summer of 2019 when I was actively looking for a job in Vietnam and got a fair amount of “consider doing CELTA” kind of advice. It was interesting to see how prevalent this opinion is, and how the abbreviation used on a CV is seen by some as the panacea. (I am wary of typing this as I imagine it could be an unpopular opinion, as well as admittedly not an eloquently expressed one. For a reason.)
  9. ELT as a business – is that right? Why does it make me cringe more often than not? What can fix me?
  10. What is it exactly that many EFL teachers (in my feed) are selling online as “teacherpreneurs” now, more and more? Services? Experience? Knowledge? Education? Does it matter?
  11. Corporate social responsibility in our field: What is being done? What is being done in my workplace? 
  12. And finally… Am I doing anything I believe is important and meaningful?
L’s questions

  1. Is visibility really important? What is visibility for teachers? Do we want to be visible because we are told so or is it our inner desire / need?
  2. Online teaching is the future, but what about those who don’t want to change a real classroom to a virtual one?
  3. Staff retention: what makes teachers change their jobs more often than in the past?
E’s questions

  1. It is ok to move away from teaching when one has been doing it for over a decade?
  2. What should teachers look at when they are considering how much they should charge their students? 
  3. What do we value in our teaching that we can put a price on?
  4. What should a teacher’s attitude be toward people who are not teachers (business owners, edtech developers etc) shaping the education landscape with their ideas and values? What if we don’t agree with what they are proposing?
  5. Should education resources be free for students? And if they are, how do teachers reconcile that with the fact that they need money to survive?
  6. How far can one collaborate with others whose values don’t align very well with yours? Is there a different way of looking at this concept of ‘aligning one’s values’?
  7. What is the bell curve and why do we need to adhere to it in education and assessments?

As we thoughtfully went through our questions, trying to make sense of them as we spoke, it seemed to me that this process was more valuable than someone all-knowing handing us down the answers. At that moment, it was enough.


If you ask yourself some of the same questions, or some very different questions, let me know. If you think you have comments – or the answers! – to our questions, let us know.


Thank you for reading, as ever.

UPD: That particular meeting seems to have been of a special reflective quality not only for me, but also for E. Read her post here!

Say no more, my way is the silent way, or the most effective way to blog again


Good morning everyone!

Today I have no voice


Quiet class – for me

But not for you =)


If you have any tips for me how to return my voice – please share



Is it ok if I wear a mask?

YOU can talk, though!

Make sure you’re sitting next to a partner to talk to

Because you will have to discuss

Thank you


Please ask google


What do you say instead?

  • To my knowledge
  • Based on what I know
  • In my opinion
  • From my perspective/point of view
  • Personally (speaking), …


Thank you! Yes, I think it can be motivating! I recommend everyone to watch =) You can learn something, and you can do that for reference – and you can recommend some strategies for your friends!


Can you read my lips?


AND your own ideas, your voice is important and should be heard!


These are correct ideas, so you can see that the differences are actualy not too many



Is……………..????????????? What do you think?

Sorry I cannot tell you because I have no voice 😆


What does it mean?


Of course, you will have intro/body/conclusion


You may not always need refutation etc

It depends on your topic

AND – importantly – on your approach to it!!

BECAUSE YOU CHOOSE what to write and how to write it


Is it easier, you think, or harder?


The difficulty may lie in the fact that you have to analyse whatever the problem is yourself

Without the offered structure of “argument-counter argument-refutation”

It doesn’t mean that that structure is NOT useful – or shouldn’t be used!!!

You can still write in that way

But it’s up to you


I hope that academic essay will help you show your creativity


Analytical skills

And logic


For example? What is impersonal language?


You have to find more general ways to express ideas

When would be exceptions? For the tense

Yes and when you talk about examples – whatever happened in the past, obviously


Specialized vocab means vocab/terms related to YOUR topic (Marketing, E-commerce, etc)



If you’re using some very specific terms, you may need to define and explain them


Also, after you’ve written/drafted the essay itself, you already know FOR SURE what the essay is about!

You can change your mind or ideas as you go



Check grammar & spelling carefully

Outline each paragraph?

Use the academic vocab list

BUT please be careful: Should you use words that you don’t understand completely?

When you want to find a more academic-looking synonym, choose the most familiar one! Never choose the longest one, or the most fancy-looking, or most pretentious

Because most likely it is really difficult to use and requires a very specific context


DON’TS? Avoid doing what?

Don’t go off topic

Don’t spend too long writing each paragraoh

Don’t plagiarise! —> paraphrase


Which one do you choose for your own essay writing process?


PLease remember that your essay should be interesting not only to read but also for you to write! It’s a journey for both the reader and the writer

So choose a good individual topic =)


You will work with this sample essay

In pairs

In 3-4 parts

Every  time I’ll give you a task


PART 1 – ONLY WORK WITH INTRODUCTION – so find it first =)

7 mins

How many paragraphs does the intro consist of?

Does it give the outline of the essay?

Is it very specific – or not very?

But not tooo detailed


  • Do the paragraphs follow persuasive-analytical format (argument-counterargument-refutation)?
  • Yes – like I was saying, the structure is flexible and depends on WHAT you want to be saying
  • Does each paragraph express ONLY 1 idea at a time? – YES – VERY IMPORTANT POINT! New point – new paragraph
  • Count how many linking devices the author is using
  • AND FIND A PROBLEM with one of them

    Can you name the linking devices that are used?

    Does the author use them too much or sparingly?

    What’s the problem with HOWEVER? How many times it is used —->  6-7 times!!!

    That’s WAY TOO MUCH

    Please pay attention to how you use linking devices!!!

    Don’t overuse!


    THank you

    FInally… Can you hear the author’s voice throughout this essay?

    WHat score can you give to this author for this essay (out of 10)?


    I don’t think this amount of references is necessarily TOO much, it’s ok


    I hope your essays are more interesting! I want to see/read more critical thinking and processing of your topics


    You can use this as a model – or not

    Also, make sure to check how the references are cited using APA format here – not Harvard which you used before


    OK thank you

    We’ll start the next session at 10 sharp

    With group E pres rehearsal


    Please get ready with your outlines

    INDIVIDUAL essay outlines

     NOW please sit in your groups


    On top of the page write your essay title


    When you exchange, you exchange (1) essay outline (2) this worksheet to write comments and Qs on


    We have 10 more minutes for this, and you can choose what to do:

    • Keep working with this outline
    •  Exchange again with another member from YOUR group
    • exchange with a member from ANOTHER group

    Please finish and get your outline back with comments (hopefully)

    Are you done?


    Please take a photo of that slide as it is connected to your HW



    THANK you for your patience with my problem today! I appreciate it +)

    That should be enough =)


    Do you understand what the paragraph homework is about?…


    Wow what was that?

    Do you understand what the many words and bits and pieces above are about?…

    My laryngitis, the curse of many teachers, I’m sure, and one thing that’s been haunting me quite mercilessly in the past 2 years…

    After a tough night, I woke up realizing I had no voice to speak of… with… I did, HOWEVER, had 6 hours of teaching Academic English ahead of me. A long day with your vocal chords intact, let alone in my situation…

    And then I stopped panicking inside (which was how and why I’d spent the sleepless night) and made a choice to just go through the day, with a thought in mind that it’s not the problem that is the problem necessarily, but my reaction to the problem.

    So I put on my mask 😷 and decided firmly to not even attempt talking today.

    It’s almost midnight and I still haven’t said a word 🙂

    It was, in fact, quite interesting – and liberating – to go through my classes in that silent way. I had the slides prepared – and it was a good test for their effectiveness.

    I created a document (the contents of which you obviously read above) – and simply talked to my students through it, when I absolutely had to, that is. Sometimes I’d use gestures, other times I’d highlight certain parts on my slides and prompt their responses… I even managed to give personal feedback on a group presentation – talking to the students via my notes.

    I didn’t feel much of a difference at all and it was, in fact, quite a good way to gauge student participation and engagement in the lesson. My students were great – kind, co-operative, stayed on task, and interacted with me at all times. I also learnt that I typed 899 words in 3 hours… so laryngitis could be one *extreme* way to reduce your teacher talking time, if you ever have a problem with it 🙂

    I do hope I’ll feel better soon – and tell my students I do very much appreciate their attitude, support, and Vietnamese traditional herbal tea recommendations (drinking now!)… 🙂

    Thank you for reading, as ever!


    Final reflections on self-initiated teacher support project: what worked and what didn’t, teachers’ perceptions, my conclusions (3/3)

    Below is the final part of my long and likely not super exciting article based on the project I carried out with and for my colleagues in 2018. My idea was that teachers don’t need to rely so much on external sources (read: managers, invited guests, conferences, etc.) for their professional development, or passively receive it “delivered” to them in a top-down way. Teachers can and should OWN it, and it’s better done TOGETHER, hence the word support you’d see throughout the text.

    In the academic year 2018 I offered my colleagues to take part in (1) creating a mentoring system to support our professional needs; (2) online professional discussions in a Google+ community; (3) face-to-face group discussions on the topics of our choice.

    In this post (1/3) you can read about why I undertook this project in the first place, as well as some theoretical reasoning for it.

    In this post (2/3) I guide you through the actual project as it happened, from the start till the end, and describe how the activities were organized and set up.

    Finally, in the part that follows I look at my colleagues’ feedback and attempt to draw a conclusion, which (as such small-scale projects go) is nothing that couldn’t have been anticipated.

    ***** REFLECTION ***** 

    From the onset of the project in May 2018, I kept a journal where I noted ideas and my shifting objectives, planned sessions to hold, and reflected on the sessions that were held. In hindsight, the journaling experience benefitted the project in more than one way. Not only could I connect the dots and see the logic of proceeding in a certain way, but I also had access to my changing thinking process and the chance to see how my reflection-on-action at every single stage impacted further decision-making and allowed the project to remain flexible. Additionally, at the end of the academic year I created a comprehensive survey for my colleagues to complete. The survey questions aimed to gather the instructors’ opinions on the effectiveness of the three activities that they had been invited to join on a voluntary basis throughout the year, as well as to collect their general perceptions on the value of self-initiated teacher development and support formats in EDC context and beyond. It was both my personal journal and the results of the survey that informed this reflection and project analysis in general.

    The critical learning that took place during the implementation of the project happened because of, or rather thanks to, getting stuck and disoriented in it by the end of the Spring semester while piecing together the effects and results of the mentoring undertaking. Halfway through the term, I already felt slightly discouraged to continue with the project the way I had envisioned it, as it was not truly living up to expectations. Finding help and emotional support in the conversations I held about the project with a manager and a few colleagues, I realized where the feeling of disappointment from irregular participation and only a faint interest expressed by a big percentage of instructors came from. The most troubling aspect of the mentoring was the following dilemma I faced: Am I doing this for others, or am I doing this to satisfy my own needs to be useful? As Clutterbuck (2005) pointed out, “the more the relationship is driven by the mentor’s need to feel useful, the easier it is to overshadow the mentee’s need to achieve independence” (p. 5). This resonated with me in the way that my own need to feel useful and ‘do good’ blurred my understanding of what the real value and goal of mentoring was supposed to be, i.e. coming from the needs of the mentees.

    Once I resolved the dilemma in my mind and felt comfortable with a facilitative role – creating opportunities for teachers to interact with mentoring in the ways that would suit them, no commitment, no strings attached to the project itself – it fell back into place and I could see anew what the support project could truly become. Now I accepted that the online document that we were compiling altogether, a database of the instructors willing to position themselves as prospective mentors or mentees, is a valuable resource on its own, and whether to use it or not, whether to reach out for help or not, is ultimately the choice of each individual teacher. The importance of the voluntary, informal nature of mentoring has been noted multiple times during the project by the teachers, and this idea has also been proven true by research. According to Maggioli (2017), “the mentoring relationship is best established through a common agreement between colleagues to work together. Research has shown that forced mentoring relationships do not actually work.”

    Later on, the survey results showed that among the reasons for inactive participation in the project was the lack of time, other obligations and commitments, or even a negative experience with mentoring in the past. One instructor shared that mentoring meetings they had taken part in on other occasions had sometimes turned into venting or complaining sessions and the negativity of it left a lasting impression. Such feedback made me even more convinced that in order to implement an efficacious mentoring program, it is important to make sure both mentors and mentees are well-prepared, while mentors are trained and made aware of the competences needed for developing a mutually beneficial relationship. There was also positive commentary about the project, and even instructors who did not actively participate in it shared that having such initiatives was a strength of the department. In fact, 60 percent of the respondents said that informal mentoring might be beneficial for EDC teachers, and 33 percent believed that formally assigning mentors from a pool of volunteers would also be potentially useful. The online Google+ community seemed to be least interesting to the teachers and was thus the least successful part of the projects. While the invitations and multiple reminders to join the conversations in the community were emailed to all of the instructors, only 7 out of over 40 teachers in the program became members (including myself); just a few of those seven were actively engaged in discussions, both by leaving comments and posting new questions. Some of the survey respondents confessed to a lack of experience using this particular social networking platform, a lack of time, a lack of interest (or trust) in online communities, as well as a general preference for face-to-face communication for work-related matters, especially if colleagues share the same building and it is easy to contact each other.

    After reading the survey comments, it came as a shock that 65% of the respondents answered that such an online community was possibly useful for EDC instructors. In hindsight, I recognize that one of the important missing stages of introducing this format of support system on my part was the lack of official orientation. It might have helped in attracting members and activity to the community to hold an additional face-to-face session that clearly explained the purpose and potential benefits, as well as to provide the necessary technical support in setting it up on computers and smartphones for ease of use. Participation in a social network requires time, energy, and engagement that only occurs when there is an expectation of return in terms of direct or indirect benefits (Kelly & Antonio, 2016) – so pointing out those benefits and discussing previous experiences with online teacher development communities might have changed the way the instructors reacted to this initiative.

    The most effective in terms of the teachers’ engagement and positive feedback were clearly the four discussion group meetings held in the Fall semester. The sessions following the first one had relatively big audiences (12, 9, and 7 instructors respectively) and there was good willingness to discuss and share ideas in each one. As was described in the previous section of this paper, the topics and questions that were generated by the three instructors presented more than enough discussion material for the three sessions that followed.

    The survey results showed that an overwhelming majority of 93% of respondents believed that such discussion meetings were valuable, and here are some of their stated reasons:

    • It was interesting to talk about questions that normally don’t get brought up in our everyday EDC teaching.

    • It was good to step out and think about things differently.

    • It was helpful to hear what other teachers are concerned about, it made me feel like there are others like me.

    • It was interesting to see how different people react to the same issues and what they think of them.

    • It was good to hear thoughts on what is good or could be improved in EDC. Knowing that many instructors share these thoughts and talking about it helped me deal with some of my job related stress.

    In an attempt to interpret such enthusiasm for teacher-led discussions, I included the following question in the survey: Are you satisfied with the amount and quality of professional discussions that you have in this job (in FDs, in team rooms, and beyond)? While many of the respondents mentioned how useful and helpful official FDs are, especially in the first year of employment, and emphasized the value of more casual team room conversations with their peers, there were some comments that, to me at least, explained the need for self-initiated discussions as were provided by the project (shared verbatim):

    • The official professional development and training sessions are great, but limited because they pertain to our work, which is limited too. The self-initiated discussion groups are very valuable because we can usually be more ‘meta’ about our work and step back from actual teaching or classroom-related training and development session and think more holistically about our experiences.

    • I would also appreciate support and FDs related to teaching in general (i.e. growing as a teacher). Many of the FDs are focused on how to be a better “EDC teacher”. Although this has many benefits, I also feel that I’ve lost confidence in teaching other skill areas because I haven’t had enough time or opportunities to discuss teaching these skills.

    From both the teachers’ honest comments and my own personal experience planning, facilitating, and reflecting on the discussion group meetings, I found the practical evidence of the true value of teacher support groups. Farrell (2018) mentions such advantages of teacher development groups as establishing supportive relationships for its members, creating non- threatening environment conducive for learning and supportive feedback, and offering an opportunity for language teachers to help other teachers face and overcome dilemmas related to their practice – all of these seem to me to be of utmost importance and, in fact, fundamental to a positive, healthy working environment, where teachers feel professionally fulfilled.

    Finally, when answering the more general question of which kind of support is desirable in a workplace, the vast majority of respondents gave their votes to receiving practical assistance, advice and guidance, and interestingly, noted the importance of emotional support as well, something I personally value a lot in a workplace and what I think loops back to the benefits of collaborative learning. Among the particular forms of teacher support that are seen as preferable by the EDC teachers, small and big group team room conversations were the top choice, followed by the self-initiated discussion group meetings on the topics of interest, a format that was brought to the instructors’ attention by this project. It was pointed out that there should be more teacher-led discussion groups and that more professional development that is not focused entirely on EDC is valuable.


    In this exploratory, year-long project I attempted to introduce a variety of self-directed teacher support systems in addition to the already established institutional PD framework in order to explore the importance and effects of bottom-up teacher development. While the teaching context described in the paper is undoubtedly quite a specific one that offers a plethora of PD activities for its teachers to engage in, it still seems reasonable to draw generic conclusions that educators working in other contexts could take into consideration as well. With however mixed results and successes, the experiment shown in this article served one of its bigger purposes of illustrating the importance of teacher control over their own professional learning. There are many ways in which teachers can take ownership of their own professional development and collaborating with their peers appears to have a positive influence. Most importantly, a deep understanding of the context and its teachers’ needs is crucial in order to plan and offer a variety of activities that would be on demand and would appeal to the needs and interests of many. Even when it might seem that sometimes colleagues are uninterested in or indifferent to professional development activities, by choosing from a range of options they might find their ways to reignite the passion for what makes teaching exciting to them in the first place. That said, having a say in what they choose to do for their own development is a central element of a successful PD story.


    1. Clutterbuck, D. (2005). Establishing and Maintaining Mentoring Relationships: An Overview of Mentor and Mentee Competences. SA Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 3, No. 3, 2-9.
    2. Farrell, Thomas S. C. (2016). TESOL, a Profession that Eats Its Young! The Importance of Reflective Practice in Language Teacher Education. Iranian Journal of Language Teaching Research, Vol. 4, No. 3, 97-107.
    3. Farrell, Thomas S. C. (2018) Reflective language teaching: Practical applications for TESOL teachers, Second Edition. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
    4. Fideler, E. F. & Haselkorn, D. (1999). Learning the ropes: Urban teacher induction programs and practices in the United States. Belmont, MA: Recruiting New Teachers, Inc.
    5. Kahn, R. L. & Antonucci, T. C. (1980). Convoys over the life course: Attachment, roles, and social support. Life-span development and behavior.
    6. Kelly, N. & Antonio, A. (2016). Teacher Peer Support in Social Network Sites. Teaching and Teacher Education, 56, 138-149.
    7. Diaz Maggioli, G. (2017). Empowering Teachers through Continuous Professional Development: Frameworks, Practices and Promises. In Pattison, T. (Ed.). IATEFL 2017: Glasgow Conference Selections, 3—30. Canterbury, UK: International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL).
    8. Odell, S. J. & Ferraro, D. P. (1992). Teacher Mentoring and Teacher Retention. Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 43, No. 3, 200-204.
    9. Richards, Jack C. & Farrell, Thomas S. C. (2005). Professional development for language teachers: Strategies for teacher learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
    10. Vaux, A. & Harrison, D. (1985). Support Network Characteristics Associated with Support Satisfaction and Perceived Support. American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 3, 245 – 268.
    11. Weiss, E. M. (1999). Perceived Workplace Conditions and First-year Teachers’ Morale, Career Choice Commitment, and Planned Retention: A Secondary Analysis. Teaching and Teacher Education, Vol. 15, 861-879.


    I’m glad if you made it all the way here.

    Admittedly, the three recent posts that make up the whole of my article are not an easy read in the way that they are different from the way I’d usually write on this blog… But then again, it’s an article I wrote for a publication. I had to use more words and longer sentences than was necessary, I had to spell out the obvious, and I had to choose my words to sound as neutral and down-to-business as possible. I dislike writing this way, but I hope I did my best to be honest and remain true to myself. What made writing this article more manageable for me was the fact that I was genuinely invested in this project the whole time. It is this project that made me realize just what it is I want to be more focused on in the future…



    Thank you for reading.

    Self-initiated Teacher Support: Owning Your Professional Development. Mentoring, Google+, discussion groups. (2/3)

    Below is part two, Discussion, of my article on self-directed teacher support systems. You can read part one, Introduction, in this post here.

    ***** DISCUSSION *****

    At the beginning of the academic year 2018-19, I chose mentoring to be the sole focus of my professional development project and exploratory research. The idea came from my own increased interest in offering support to other teachers, learning more about mentoring, and in general “giving” as opposed to “taking” in my profession. I had planned for the project to revolve around establishing and sustaining mentoring relationships among instructors within EDC. I was interested in offering support to other teachers’ professional needs myself and was also keen to promote the development of such relationships by teachers amongst themselves, on a voluntary basis, guided and inspired by the idea that “relationships are a major source of learning” (Clutterbuck, 2005, p. 2).

    After reading professional literature on the use and potential of mentoring in both English language teaching and other fields, I came up with the structure of the project to be followed in the Spring semester. This included facilitating monthly meetings, each focusing on certain aspects related to developing possible mentoring relationships among EDC instructors, and creating a shared online document as a database of potential mentors and mentees within the program. I had planned to re-assess the value of the project and the level of interest of participants towards the end of the term in order to make changes for the Fall semester.

    The first meeting aimed to gauge the participants’ initial interest in the topic of mentoring. Sixteen teachers attended the session, and in small groups they shared their previous experience of being in a mentoring relationship, either in the role of the mentee or a mentor. The questions guiding their discussions included specific organizational aspects of those relationships, the goal statement, communication patterns, and so on. Also the participants were asked to give their assessment to the benefits, successes, and any problems that arose in the process. Finally, all instructors worked together to map out the characteristic qualities of both mentors and mentees, based on their own experiences and the stories they heard, as well as the features of the mentoring relationship itself. Mentors were described using the words “insight, guidance, comfort, nurturing, willingness, character, inspiring confidence, encouraging reflection, willing to share and listen,” while mentees were identified as “eager to improve and listen, in need of something, desiring support, being less experienced in a specific context, feeling insecure.” An interesting point that came to my attention before the meeting during the planning process and that was brought about by some of the teachers in the session, regarded the potentially uncomfortable terminology of defining two members of the relationship as “mentor” (seen as superior) and “mentee” (seen as a novice). This distinction coming from the words themselves could create a power imbalance that some might feel uneasy about. Peer mentoring, vis-à-vis a “buddy system,” sounded less threatening and discouraging.

    When describing mentoring as a relationship, Clutterbuck (2005) details five main phases that characterize it: rapport building, direction setting, progress making, winding down, and moving on to professional friendship. For me as a facilitator of the meetings, which as I was hoping might cultivate some supportive relationships between the colleagues, it seemed important to allot some time to rapport building. My colleagues agreed that even though teachers in our program spend a lot of time together in the team rooms, faculty development sessions, and even spend some time socializing with one another after working hours, there is still a lot we do not know about our respective professional backgrounds. In order for the mentor-mentee combination to work and progress, it is essential to share the appropriate balance of similarity and dissimilarity, which is manifested as an experience gap that provides opportunities for learning (Clutterbuck, 2005). It was with the purpose to identify those experiences and match them with the gaps that the second meeting was planned.

    In the second meeting, teachers noted down and then shared with each other the complete stories of their professional journeys, including education, qualifications, jobs, major professional interests and achievements. As a result of this session, we collaboratively decided to create a digital resource that would contain information from and about teachers of the program who would be potentially interested in becoming either a mentor or a mentee. A shared Google document, accessible only to the EDC instructors and managers and called “EDC Support Network,” is open to edits and at the moment of writing this article comprises information about nine instructors, detailing their professional backgrounds and interests. Most importantly, in the document the teachers identified their strengths (i.e. areas they can help with and offer support for others) and their needs (i.e. areas they feel the need to receive support in from others). Specific examples mentioned were assistance with improving writing skills for papers and research projects, preparing conference presentations, guidance on carrying distance MA programs, e-learning and technology in the classroom support, EDC lesson support for less experienced instructors, as well as broader aspects that cover life of a teacher in Japan in general, such as strategies for learning Japanese, possible career paths for long-term expats in Japan, connecting to professional organizations, etc.

    The third and fourth meetings, held later in the term, were poorly attended in comparison with the first two (four and three people, respectively), and it seemed to me that the interest of instructors in finding use in the project had waned. That somewhat affected the plans for the meetings. I had prepared to discuss the practicalities of organizing the relationships, such as deciding together when, where, and how to communicate, the importance of setting the purpose of the relationship and goals to be achieved, in order to give potential collaborations a head start. Instead of this practical approach, participants and I discussed possible ways to move on with the project with a more hands-off engagement on my part, improving the online document structure and presentation, providing more freedom for the instructors to follow up on the mentoring chances on their own.

    In the final, fourth meeting, some skills and competences of an effective mentor were brought in to be discussed and reflected upon by those of the instructors who might be interested in learning more about becoming such a mentor. Self-awareness and behavioural awareness, a high level of emotional intelligence, the ability to pose the right questions and to listen rather than talk were mentioned among the skills and competences that might require specific training and practice over time. This meeting concluded the semester-long project and an email was sent out to all instructors, with a reminder that the Support Network document exists online (last updated on October 16th, 2018), it is open for adding information at any time, and it can be used by instructors to find support on various professional matters from colleagues within the EDC program. Upon reflection, I realized that the project needed a major shift of focus. It was clear to me that mentoring, organized informally in the way that was suggested and driven exclusively with the energy of those few instructors who expressed desire to be mentors, did not necessarily offer an alternative format of self-directed PD to all of the teachers, a format that would be attractive and suitable for their varying personalities and needs. A decision was made to broaden the scale of the project towards a bigger view of what might constitute self-initiated teacher support in EDC, taking into account the already existing complex system of faculty development sessions and professional development projects mandatory for all instructors.

    Given the need to make some adjustments, what used to be the “mentoring project” expanded into a larger umbrella of the “teacher support project.” The project was planned to include two more forms of teacher development to be tested out in the Fall term, namely an online community, open to all instructors to join and create discussion threads on the topics of their interest or concern; and offline discussion group meetings. The major goal that concerned me now became to investigate which of the three distinct teacher-led support activities would be seen as more valuable and desirable as an additional form of professional development in our quite specific teaching context.

    The online community called “EDC Teacher Support Community” was set up using the Google+ Communities feature in October 2018. The access to the posts is only available by invitation and was created on Google+ platform because all of the instructors already have a Google account provided by the university, which means that there is no need to reach to an external network and go through the process of setting up a new account. The purpose of this online community was to provide an extra space for EDC instructors to talk about teaching outside of the workplace and to support each other. Moreover, the online, asynchronous communication aspect could potentially lead to increased participation levels, especially if it could appeal to those teachers busy with assignments during their working hours and/or technologically-savvy colleagues.

    A few emails were sent throughout the Fall term informing the teachers of this space being open for communication and sharing, explaining how to access the community, and encouraging to take part and initiate their own discussions on the themes related to teaching. Some of the discussion threads existing in the Google+ community included posts on such themes as challenges and successes in and outside the classroom, sharing useful links with resources for online PD courses, and exploring teacher identity reflecting on the questions, “Why did you become a teacher? How does it feel being an EDC teacher?” At the time of writing this article, the Google+ community consists of seven members, less than half of them having been active with posts and engaging in comments with others at the time of the project (October – December 2018).

    Finally, one other form of teacher-initiated PD activity offered was discussion group meetings, held monthly for about an hour during working hours. In professional literature, such a form of teacher development is well researched and described under the terms of teacher development groups or teacher support groups (Farrell, 2018; Richards & Farrell, 2005) as a common, valuable type of collaborative reflective practice. Richards & Farrell (2005) mention a number of benefits to be obtained through participating in a teacher support group, such as greater awareness, increased motivation, effective teaching, benefits to students, empowerment, and facilitating teacher initiatives. Most importantly, since teacher support groups are created and managed by teachers, they provide an invaluable opportunity for educators to truly own their professional development: “Teacher development groups facilitate dialogue, sharing and collaboration, and the exchange of resources, information, and expertise” (Farrell, 2018, p. 154). With this in mind, it seemed plausible that such a format might look attractive to a wide range of instructors who could see a chance to engage with their professional learning more directly.

    The aim of the first discussion group meeting was to brainstorm the aspects of teaching that would later become the basis for future discussions, a needs analysis of sorts. The participants (of which there were only three, including myself), made notes and then shared the answers to the following questions:

    1. What do we talk about in the faculty development sessions?

    2. What do we talk about with colleagues outside of FDs?

    3. What do you feel we do NOT talk about with one another in EDC?

    4. What would you like to talk about in these discussion group meetings?

    As a result of this activity and a fruitful discussion that followed it, over 20 specific themes and questions emerged that the group members felt keen on exploring with other instructors in self-facilitated discussions. The topics ranged from ones specific to our context (i.e. sharing experiences writing class comments for students, the lifestyle impact of this job, and sustaining teacher motivation in the context of a strongly unified curriculum) to farther-reaching issues of teacher identity, the life cycle of a teacher, technology in education, ELT theories and research ideas, and the long-term effects of teaching a limited set of skills. An email detailing all of the brainstormed questions and issues was sent out to all teachers of the program, and this same list of topics served as a springboard for three more discussion group meetings till the end of the school year.

    This next section of the paper will focus on both my own personal reflections on the results of the project activities and the results of an extensive survey carried out among instructors at the end of the academic year. This survey sought to canvass opinions about each format of teacher support activities in particular, as well as the general view of teacher support types and formats in a workplace.


    Reading this again now, I chuckled at the use of Google+ (RIP).


    Thank you for reading, and I hope you come back for Part 3 of this, the Reflection.

    Tagged , , , ,

    Self-initiated Teacher Support: Owning Your Professional Development (1/3)

    It’s been 10 days since I left Japan. I said my goodbyes and lived through that pain, yet there is still a lot to reflect on and share here, things more practical and ELT-related.

    I’ll start by blogging the article I wrote in February this year, that is based on the project carried out in my workplace throughout academic year 2018. I have shared two of my articles on this blog before (article on my experience with dialogic journalling and this one about articulating beliefs after just a semester in the job), each time with some changes and cuts. This time I’ll probably go for a rather unedited version the way it got published in the internal EDC journal (also accessible here). The project I’m describing  in this paper was my “passion project” I put a lot of heart, thought, time, and reflection into. I’ll reflect on it more at the end of the blog post sharing series, but I’m definitely more than happy to talk about anything I wrote in the comments to each part. That is, if there’s anything that interests you here at all.

    With this, here goes Part 1 of 3.

    ***** INTRODUCTION *****

    As Farrell famously pointed out in his article, TESOL is a profession that eats its young (Farrell, 2016). Indeed, research in the field of English language teaching shows that beginning teachers often leave the profession in their first three years of teaching, often due to a lack of appropriate support (Fideler & Haselkorn, 1999; Odell & Ferraro, 1992). Positive and supportive workplace conditions lead to higher morale, stronger commitment to teaching, and intentions to remain in the profession (Weiss, 1999). However, it is not only teachers beginning their careers that need a supportive working environment. In fact, we might look at any EFL teacher’s career as a career of a novice teacher: a new job inevitably poses new challenges, a new context forces instructors to experiment with and master new methods and techniques, a new classroom presents students who are different in every way from those we have taught before. Given the oftentimes precarious nature of this profession, “the support that teachers receive from their fellow professionals is known to be a significant contributor to job satisfaction, professional development and teacher retention” (Kelly & Antonio, 2016, p. 138).

    It is not a coincidence that the words “support” and “professional development” can often be seen used next to each other when talking about teaching in particular. In his study of teachers’ perceptions on the effectiveness of continuous professional development (CPD) models, Maggioli (2017) asked the survey respondents how they envisioned their CPD. Overwhelmingly, they requested that it be part of their job and that they would have access to ongoing support systems. Moreover, one of the conditions of truly effective professional development that Maggioli’s research found to be necessary is for it to be organized by teachers in a bottom-up fashion in the community that they teach in. “If teachers come together on their own initiative in order to reflect on their work, they can complement individual members’ strengths, and compensate for each members’ limitations, all for the common good of the group and the institutions in which they work” (Farrell, 2018, p. 154). While support and encouragement from administrators play a significant role especially during the first stages of a new employment, only teachers can help each other understand what really takes place in their classrooms and what their professional learning needs are based on that. Through opportunities to engage in self-directed learning, they can assume responsibility for setting their own goals for self-development and in this way take ownership of it. Professional development of teachers does not have to, and in fact should not, rely entirely on the programs run by employers and institutions.

    Additionally, although much teacher development can occur through a teacher’s own personal initiative, collaboration with others both enhances individual learning and serves the collective goals of an institution (Richards & Farrell, 2005). Cooperation becomes a value that can guide the process of teacher development and emphasize the idea that teaching does not have to be a job done in isolation from your peers, within the walls and constraints of your own classroom. Communicating and sharing with other teachers can drive the actual teaching process, bring about creativity, and even reduce work-related stress.

    That said, successful collaborative learning cannot be taken for granted and must be carefully planned and monitored (Richards and Farrell, 2005). The premise of this article and the project carried out with the English Discussion Class (EDC) instructors of Rikkyo University is to suggest ways for teachers to take on a more proactive approach towards satisfying their own professional needs, engage in their own self-development, and support others in doing so. It is important to understand that the EDC context is unique in the way professional development is organized and offered to the teachers. The EDC has a comprehensive, well-structured professional development program and training specifically in the first year of employment that continues further on into the following four years. This professional development (PD) program consists of numerous faculty development sessions (FDs) on topics related to the curriculum, observations held with both program managers and fellow teachers, opportunities to do research on areas related to teaching English discussion, amongst others.

    After finishing my second year as an EDC instructor, I had enough experience with and knowledge of the PD program to see and appreciate its undeniable benefits. I also realized the (for the most part) top-down nature of this support: in the majority of cases, what my colleagues and I would work on in our PD projects or discuss in the FD sessions, was decided by the program. Also, while program managers unfailingly provide practical assistance to all of the instructors on a daily basis and colleagues are open to communicate with each other about work- related issues in their team rooms, it seemed to me that there was a space for establishing our own self-initiated support systems: teacher development and support that would be organized, planned, and activated for EDC teachers, by EDC teachers.

    In order to take on this not inconsiderable task, it felt necessary to better understand the fundamental notion of “support,” a key concept underlying this study that is manifested through cooperative learning. Having the support of others within their profession is known to be critical for a teacher’s development (Kelly & Antonio, 2016), so it is essential to make sense of what characterizes the very term of “support.” In the research on humanity disciplines, social support is often seen as a meta-construct involving several components, including support network resources, supportive interactions, and perceptions/beliefs that one is supported (Vaux & Harrison, 1985). Based on the definition that teacher social support in particular is summarized as interpersonal relations with elements of affect, aid, and affirmation (Kahn & Antonucci, 1980), types of social support can be distinguished as:

    1. Emotional support in the form of esteem, affect, trust, concern, and listening;

    2. Appraisal support in the form of affirmation, feedback, and social comparison;

    3. Informational support in the form of advice, suggestion, directives, and information;

    4. Instrumental support in the form of aid in kind, money, labour, and time. (Kelly & Antonio, p. 139)

    Social support in the workplace ideally happens in all four types through various forms; some of those forms might be offered as institutionally coordinated and formally organized professional development activities, such as in the case with the PD program in EDC.

    In the next section of this paper, I will detail the procedures and rationale for choosing to plan and facilitate three teacher development activities, in which my colleagues would have a chance to take charge of their own professional learning and grow with each other’s help. All three separate projects relied on the spirit of collaboration and were looking to inspire a sense of “togetherness,” because through group activities each individual teacher can feel to some extent empowered (Richards & Farrell, 2005). The exploratory nature of this project was manifested in the modified research questions that had to be restated half-way through. Initially, I set about to experiment with mentoring as a way to provide mutual teacher support. Mentoring, when organized informally, facilitated and sustained cooperatively by the instructors themselves, could prove a valuable support system to rely on for both new and experienced teachers in EDC. However, as the project unfolded and I reflected on its impact on the instructors and my perceived view of its effects of support, I came to a decision to explore other formats of PD activities. By the end of this project, my research questions evolved and were, in their final form, shaped to look as follows:

    1. How effective are the self-initiated teacher support activities that were offered in terms of procedures?

    2. How effective are the self-initiated teacher support activities that were offered in terms of results?

    3. What are the EDC instructors’ perceptions of the self-directed teacher development and support systems?

    ***** End of Part 1 *****


    Thank you for reading, as ever.

    Come back for Part 2 soon, in which I actually describe what activities we were doing.

    Frustration regulation: notes on Sam Morris’ session.

    Leaving Japan means leaving an amazing ELT zone. I’m in awe of how much teachers here invest themselves and their time into their professional development, into professional development of others through volunteering with JALT and elsewhere. I will always be grateful for the connections and learning opportunities that Japanese ELT community provided me with!….

    Well not to get too sad about leaving all this behind, I’ll get to the point. The last event I attended was the workshops on teacher identity and emotions, courtesy of TD SIG and Rikkyo. Both of these topics are right up my alley, and below are some notes, thoughts, and highlights from the session on frustration regulation by Sam Morris of Kanda university (he’s pretty great!:)). I’ll keep them here, for me and Matthew Noble, at the very least.


    1. Emotions are socially constructed, as well as brought out from within. In practice (and this example was really a revelation to me or can potentially become one), that means that my emotional reaction to certain events and behaviours I experience in Japan is different from what I would feel in a somewhat similar situation in Russia, or Vietnam, or Thailand. Emotion is context-dependent as well, so that speaks a lot about my roller-coaster year at Clark school in my first year in Tokyo and largely uneventful (in that sense) past couple of years teaching the course in a unified curriculum. Any two classrooms I’d take to compare from those two contexts in the same country would have the common denominator – me – responding very differently. Let’s just say it is much easier to remain calm when you’re teaching the same lesson for the 7th time and some students are not “getting it.” You become a “wiser man” pretty  soon and learn to put certain things and acts into perspective, thus gaining higher levels of composure. I thought this point was a very good one and something I definitely want to keep in mind when I move to my next country.
    2. Control is a salient factor in the rise of frustration. I see that very clearly from my definition of frustration itself. Yes it’s hard to define and explain emotions in words, but I thought for me frustration is strongly related to the feeling of helplessness. Indeed, on a deeper level, the fact that I feel helpless in a situation means that I suddenly feel out of control, thrown off my already shaky teacher balance.
    3. Students know it, they feel when their teacher (YOU) is burnt out and cannot support them. THIS. Insert “colleagues” or “family” or “friends” instead of “students” in that sentence – and there’s the truth. Repeated, regular unresolved frustration may lead to anxiety, which if unattended to, again, may lead to burn-out. Frustration is stress. It may seem like a tiny piece of a puzzle and it’s easy enough to pinpoint bigger reasons (such as workload), but emotions are undoubtedly at the heart of it.
    4. Sam walked us through emotion regulation framework (adapted from Gross) and it was fascinating (though not surprising) to see the overlap with the Buddhist, mindful ways to work with arising emotions (I’m thinking Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing in particular – and I will address these in my future posts for sure). In Gross’ framework, the rise of emotion in us can be broken down into 4 stages, and the important – and good! – news is that we can try and develop strategies to deal with this emotion on each of the stages, or some of them. I think the stages (Situation, Attention, Appraisal, and Response) are crucial to identify and be aware of, so that when you feel something that is seemingly caused by a student’s inexplicable/disrespectful/uncontrollable behaviour, you know what is going on, and you know to pause and work with it. You may change the situation that is causing the “problem”; you may redirect your attention elsewhere; you may look at the situation from that student’s perspective and gain an insight of why this is possibly happening the way it is; you may be in control even through acknowledging that things are *oftentimes* beyond your control. I personally want to keep in mind that empathizing is a powerful way of reducing stress that is inevitably coming from frustration. We are often wrapped up in ourselves, our perceptions, and our goals in class, so much that we feel we are the very important center of the “conflict.” No doubt that being more understanding in the moment is as tough a task as can be. Hopefully, it is a skill and an attitude that can become easier with practice. And if you are thinking what I’m thinking, you’re thinking small changes. Small changes, big results, universally applicable! **bows to the one and only John Fanselow**
    5. I loved Sam’s idea about emotion exploration through journaling (of course I did). An important point he made – and one I completely concur with – is that journaling needs to be structured. In Sam’s particular case, his “Frustration Journaling” revolved around the questions based on that framework of Gross’. Each emotional stage corresponded to some questions to guide the writing of an entry: Are there any changes I can make to avoid this situation from happening? Are there any ways I can modify the situation? If I ignore the situation, will it go away? Are there going to be any negative consequences of ignoring this problem? Can I think about this issue in a different way? Is there something going on outside of the classroom that might be affecting this issue? If this happens again and I feel frustrated, what can I do to minimize the effects? I think his questions are a good baseline for creating your own and taking the effort to examine our emotions and reactions that follow on a deeper and more productive level. Moments of experiencing a strong emotion in class, be it frustration or other, are possible critical incidents, events that may linger in your memory for a long time, events to look at at a reflective practice group meeting …;)
    6. Finally, I was so happy to hear Sam mention the importance of mentoring systems at a workplace! The topic has been one of my personal key interests for about a year, and though I can’t say I’m anywhere near understanding how to organize a mentoring system that works, the point I absolutely agree with is as follows: not only novice teachers need mentors. Far from that. (I will soon share with you the article I wrote about the project I carried out last year, and there will be more on that…)


    And thus abruptly ends this post of notes, thoughts, and highlights.

    Thank you for reading, as ever.



    What’s happening, where I’m at now, March 2019

    Today it struck me out of the blue that I used to have a relationship with writing. I loved it, I obsessed with it, I detested the struggles of the process, I spent hours and hours at night figuring out what I really think. In fact, I was sure writing is my calling (I’m serious) and that some day I’ll be a Writer. Whatever that means in the world of ELT, which is the world I’m in deep I guess – and I like it here.

    So anyway, today I remembered about “my calling” and not in a way that made me feel sorry for myself, or worse blaming myself for not publishing a single paragraph on this blog for 6 months. No, that was a different way, a more reassuring way, self-loving, encouraging, and practical. Someone in this tiny shoebox of an apartment in central Tokyo whispered to my ear, “just write where you’re at now, be honest, that will suffice.” So I heard that kind someone (that was, of course, some nice side of me), and here I am, writing.

    ***** What’s happening? *****

    On April 4th, after exactly 4 years in Japan, I’m leaving. It’s a choice I’m very confident about, and one I am making at the exact right time, I believe. I came, I saw, I understood (or tried to). I worked hard, I learnt, again and over again, how to teach, I found ways in which I want to develop. I made friends and built relationships that I hope will last a lifetime. I travelled, so now I know there’s so much more to see and to live, so many teachers to work alongside, that I can’t possibly forgive myself if I stay HERE any longer.

    Besides, the beaches, the sandals, the dresses. These are all calling me, too! 🙂

    And now to the tough parts that came along with my decision and have been the cause of many sleepless nights, heartaches and headaches in the past months.

    I quit and so I won’t have a job till I find one… that could be till July or August, that could very well be longer. Since 19, I haven’t had a 6-month stretch of time when I’d be absolutely jobless, not teaching in any form or shape of it. So I guess that’s a first. And the anxiety that’s creeping in, the uncertainty, the possible doubts about my professional skills or rather lack and loss of such, all of those I foresee as my nasty companions in the months ahead. I do have plans, projects, and ideas how to keep busy and in touch with my profession (in addition to actually looking for that job), but those will probably not be classes, with students in them… That’s my worry.

    And that’s my story, or a glimpse of it anyway. At the moment I’m keeping busy packing, organizing, recycling, sending boxes, calculating expenses, meeting friends, walking the streets of Tokyo, eating all the raw fish I can. I am also sleeping in – because I can’t fall asleep when those dreadful evenings come and all my fears turn up the sound in my head. I am binge-watching everything and anything almost regardless of the theme or interest – because I get so overwhelmed looking at the to-do lists and it’s my comfortable escape. Every day I feel I should have done more, but I never do. Every day my will power loses a tiny bit more of its “power” – and leaves me a little less content with myself, disliking me a little more. And it’s just been two weeks. What will I be by May?…

    I am writing this on my phone and it feels good, if not quite a release yet. Today, I might even pat myself on the head.

    I’ve written.

    Thanks for being here, as ever, my faithful readers, if there are any of you left.