Author Archives: annloseva

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

REFERENCES

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…

quote

 

Thank you for reading.

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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.

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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.

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  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.

Thoughts from and on Vietnam

Hello and welcome back to my blog, where I welcome you and myself as well. This has been the longest stretch of non-writing in the 7-year-old history of my blog, and for the first time I am not feeling bad about it. There were things to do and worry about, there were people to talk to about teaching in the actual offline world, there were friendships to be nourished. At 32, I now allow myself to take it easy(ish) and practice focusing on what’s right in front of me and what’s most important. This paragraph could run for many more lines, but nobody really cares about non-writing, so I’ll get to the writing then.

With similar experiences of creative blocks silence in the past, I’ve learnt that the easiest blog post to write upon return is a random listicle of loosely connected thoughts, ideas, facts, news, impressions. So here goes…

 

***** What’s on my mind on August 21st, 2018, in Nha Trang, Vietnam *****

(1) Vietnam is a beautiful country and I have pictures to prove it.

(2) The Vietnamese people I’ve met who speak English make next to none grammar mistakes. Teachers, students, nuns (more on the nuns below). Vietnamese learners I’ve got to know appreciate feedback – in fact, directly ask for it! And they seem to be really willing to work hard on their English. They want to be your Facebook friend – and your friend. They are easy-going, friendly, nice, and very open.

(3) For slightly over a month I’ve been involved in something special, something different, something that’s giving me back all my energy to think of teaching creatively, with a purpose, with enthusiasm, with emotional rewards … teaching the way I’d sort of got out of touch with. I was invited to be a teacher of English (with a focus on developing speaking and listening skills) in a Facebook group to over 1300 practising Vietnamese Buddhists, both laymen and monks/nuns living in temples and pagodas. It’s a closed Facebook community and the safest, kindest online learning environment I’ve ever encountered. It is TRULY full of gratitide, love, and respect (well I feel that way). I am not a Buddhist but I am a teacher, and I wonder if such ELT strand as EBP (English for Buddhist Purposes) already exists – or if I’m the pioneer 🙂 Anyway, doing this has been bringing me TRUE joy in the teacher fulfillment sense (as well as many online blessings and general good vibes and thoughts). It has also made me go outside my comfort zone and create… a YouTube channel for the learners to have easy access to the videos and tasks. I have not yet learnt to make the videos look “cool” and properly “vloggy,” but I have learnt to edit automatically created transcripts. Baby steps. A crucially important aspect of this non-job has been getting to know SO MANY friendly, interested, dedicated to learning people of all ages!!! In my 12 days of vacation in Vietnam I have received many invitations to meet – and in fact, met one of the students (a nun) from this Buddhist learning community. I feel Vietnam has its arms ready for a big embrace for me (I am naive and impressionable!). By the sheer length of this point in my listicle you might figure out how excited I get talking about this… Will there be other blog reports about it? We don’t know (but likely)). This teaching makes me happy. Moving on to next point.

(4) I helped to organize excitELT conference in Tokyo in May. I loved all about it and felt especially good about two good deeds: we collected a box of used and new graded readers and sent them to a high school in a small provincial town in Vietnam (a country where for many teachers getting graded readers to use in class with their students is utterly impossible – so isn’t it but just a little bit unfair to go and tell them how amazing extensive reading with those readers is or can be?… just thinking outloud..); at excitELT this year we also offered mentoring to presenters who felt like they wanted help with their presentation prep (it was a great experience for me and I think I’d like to do more of it! That is, help.).

(5) I feel like a list of 5 items would be good, but what’s my number 5?… Oh yes, I’m looking into finding a job in Vietnam and moving there here. If you want to hire me or know someone who might be interested in hiring me, or just know someone or something – do leave a comment. =) Thank you kindly!

IMG_7586

Thank you for reading.

Come again, I might write more soon. 😉

 

 

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Guest teaching, everyone learning (in Hue, Vietnam)

My first trip with Teachers Helping Teachers SIG to Vietnam is over now. It was a whirlwind – and a blur. There is a lot and too much to reflect on as a result, there are projects to work on, decisions to make, new friends to keep in touch with, professional and life goals to set and work towards. You’d never think so much can happen to a person in a week’s time! But this is all material for some other posts that I will or will not write here. This one, however, is about a class I taught as part of our program and that many of YOU, readers, Twitter and Facebook friends, made possible. Here’s how it happened.

***** Planning *****

As I mentioned earlier, the program involves some of us, volunteers with the THT SIG, guest teaching a class in the university where the seminars for teachers are later held (Hue University of Foreign Languages which has apparently been the partner and platform provider for the seminars for about 12 years). Anyway, I had never before been faced with a task to teach a class of students in a country I hadn’t even been to before and frankly, know very little about in terms of education or English education. So the first thing I did was write an email to my partner teacher.. and ask a million questions. I thought I could come across as a little over-anxious, but I needed to know certain things before thinking of a lesson plan. Things I needed to know were the following:  What time exactly does the lesson start and finish? Is there any break between two periods? Who are the students? What is their major? What is their level of English? How many students can we expect in the classroom? The class is scheduled to be a listening class – does that mean that same group of students has a variety of classes throughout the week that focus on different skills? Should our lesson be a listening lesson as planned – or any other focus is possible? Would you like to team teach or would you prefer me to teach the whole time? What do you think will be best for students? Is it necessary to use the topic shown in the syllabus, including the textbook and materials that you and students have – or are you allowed to diverge from the syllabus in this guest teaching class? If it’s necessary to follow the syllabus, could you please fill me in on the important details (textbook pages, what students will have done by then, etc). And if you are allowed to have some freedom in our guest teaching time, would you have any preferences as for the topic? 

Luckily, the teacher, Ms. Phuong aka Kathy was very positive in her response and seemed happy to communicate on these and other points I had for her later. She gave very useful feedback to my lesson idea, too!

And my idea was to have students explain things related to what they know best – their culture. Using Twitter and Facebook, I asked a simple “What would you like to know about Vietnamese culture?” – and got a list of 15 or so questions. Thank you! 🙂 Again, I so easily got the proof of how social media (AND personal) connections can empower our teaching, something I’d almost forgot about teaching in my current job.

Fast forward to March 21st. I’m in the classrom and students slowly trickle in – and I know we won’t be starting on time (which is fine! I remember how to be flexible.) I was feeling nervous, but then I saw maybe students were kind of uneasy, too, and that’s only natural. We chatted about it a little, we smiled. I tried to use the marker on the whiteboard and it didn’t work. Ms. Phuong took a marker out of her own bag and gave it to me. Somehow, I wasn’t even surprised that would be the case – both in Russia and in Japan I carry my own markers to the classroom.

Anyway, back to class. In the first 45-minute period we did an activity where students speculated about what my life as a Russian living and teaching English in Japan might be, on certain topics that I gave them, such as my house, my daily routine, my free time, etc (I modified one of the activities from Culture in Our Classrooms book).  Time-related and other reasons prevented us from working on ALL of the questions you asked in the second period, I hope you understand. I had to make a choice and picked, together with Ms. Phuong, ten questions that would be most suitable for the level of the students and their ability. I dictated the questions, then students had to choose at least 3 questions that were interesting for them to respond to and work on those individually. I was surprised and happy to find that most students answered almost all of the questions! After talking about their answers in pairs, they were to put their name and a smiley face on their paper IF they agreed to let me use their ideas for this blog post. 🙂 Now, this is what it’s all about. Here’s what you wanted to know about the Vietnamese culture – and we bring it to you.

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1. How often and what do college students drink in Vietnam?

College students often drink milk tea and beer when they hang out with their friends.

College students in VN hardly drink alcohol like beer but they drink milk tea and canned drink like Coke. We sometimes drink beer on special occasions like birthday or reunion party.

They often drink milk tea and coffee 5 times a week.

In VN, they often drink milk tea, coffee, fruit drink, cane juice with friends after school, in free time or on weekend.

Quite often. Especially among young college students and young people who are so corrupted (playboys/girls). They drink on most occasions, like random parties, birthday parties, relative parties, etc.

Coconut, sugarcane juice…

Students in Vietnam often drink some fruit water, milk tea, coffee, etc…

Vietnamese college students often drink beer, local beer, and some kind of soft drink.

Twice a month, beer or sweet canner.

Sometimes, when we meet highschool classmates or have some parties. We usually drink beer. Some girls drink coke or something not alcohol.

College students often drink milk tea and smoothies. They drink when they go out with friends or sometimes order from home.

They often drink milk tea, soft drinks, beer.

2. How do Vietnamese people celebrate Lunar New Year?

Vietnamese people celebrate Lunar New Year by cooking “Chung” cake, decorating their houses by blossom trees, and giving lucky money.

VNese people shop for new things for celebrating in their house, buy new clothes to prepare for Lunar New Year called “Tet.” During Tet they visit each other and hang out with their friends or relatives.

Vietnamese people usually cook delicious kinds of food and put them on altar for commemorating ancestors. In addition, they decorate their house and go shopping before Tet. On the first day of the year, they often visit their relatives and children receive lucky money from adults.

The Vietnamese often decorate and clean their houses in Lunar New Year. They decorate their house with lamps, flowers, papers, etc. They also paint again the walls in their house. They prepare a lot of materials to make “banh chung, banh tet,” such as pork, banana leaf, green bean. Members of the family come back and celebrate Lunar New Year together.

The Vietnamese often offer the five-fruits tray that symbolizes the good luck to expect good things in life. It is considered the tradition of Vietnamese culture. Besides, they often buy some flowers, apricot blossom, kumquat tree, etc…

Vietnamese people try to be tactful and careful when they celebrate Lunar New Year.

We clean the house before the new year. Three first days of the year we visit relatives, children receive lucky money, they go to pagoda for wishes.

Before Lunar New Year, everybody in family stay together to cook rice cake and vegetable pickles. The older give the children lucky money.

3. What do Vietnamese students like to do with their families and friends? Is it true that Vietnamese students care more about their families (than friends)?

Yes, it’s true that Vietnamese people care more about their family. Students like to hang out, travel with their friends, and stay at home and cook with their families.

VNese people like travelling with their family and spend their free time after school wth their friends. It’s true that we care more about our family. Family is always the most important and priority.

That’s true. In their thinking, family is all.

They want to go out, travel with their own families. Especially when there are family reunions, they gather family members and have parties to celebrate. It’s also true that most of the young VNese people care about their families, especially after marriage, young people now have their own family to care about, but they still help and send money to their elderly parents.

Vietnamese students like to have meals or travel with family and like to go shopping or watching movies with friends. It’s true that VN people care more about family. They spend more time with family and share happiness and sadness together.

With family, I like all members sit together chatting after meal. With friends,  I like walking and eating out in a place for students. It’s true that we care about family, because often the majority of the Vietnamese live three generations together and people care for each other, especially the elderly.

I don’t know about other students but I like to have a meal with my family, I want to be with them as much as possible. I have been far from them for 6 years. And I want to travel with my friends, we will have a great time together.

4. What countries are attractive for travelling and for studying abroad?

Vietnamese students really want to travel to Australia, Korea, Finland and America.

For the VNese, Thailand or some Asian countries are the most frequent places for travelling. For studying, they choose America, Singapore, Australia or Canada mostly.

Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, becacuse they have delicious street foods and nice view places.

I think Australia, Canada, America… Because their education system is very developed and modern. There are many famous and beautiful places… There are a lot of lecturers who are so friendly, helpful, well-educated… We can exchange culture and languages with other students because they are from many countries in the world.

I think China is attractive because I also learn Chinese language.

The most attractive country for travelling and study abroad is America.

England, USA, Singapore, Japan.

5. Do Vietnamese students make up English-sounding nicknames for classroom use and for daily life?

Not very many Vietnamese students create their own English-sounding nicknames in class or daily life.

We rarely create English-sounding nicknames. We usually make nicknames by animals’ names or someone’s specific character.

Yes, they do. There are some reasons why students want to give their friends or themselves a nickname. Some people think it’s cool to have a foreign nickname or it simply sounds funny compared to what VNese think about names and such. For example, people call me “Tomorrow” because my last name is “Mai” and it means “the next day” or “tomorrow” in VNese.

VN students don’t create English-sounding nicknames for English class but for daily life most students use the nickname that their family usually call them.

I have a nickname for my English class but I don’t use it for daily life. I think everyone is the same with me.

6. Which is more cool, Japan or Korea?

Korea is cooler!

Korea is more cool for Vietnamese students. They love K-pop.

I think it depends on what culture and language people are interested in. Like, part of the young people love Japanese culture, anime culture, J-pop, etc… They will choose Japan. And the opposite part for Korea if they like Korean fashion and K-pop.

I think Korea Japan is more cooler than Japan Korea.

I think Korea.

Korea 🙂

I think Japan.

7. What are key necessary ingredients for a Vietnamese meal?

The necessary ingredient for a Vietnamese meal is sauce, for example fish sauce, soy sauce.

The important ingredient is fish sauce.

I think this is fish sauce. Because my mom says that most of the dishes taste best with fish sauce.

Fish, rice, and pho.

Rice. Of course.

Rice, vegetables.

8. In Vietnam, what is a polite way to greet someone?

The polite way to greet someone is to shake hands.

Say “Hi” and wave hand.

The polite way is shaking hand and hugging each other.

You wave one of the hands and say “Chao,” “Xin chao,” or “Hey”… Something like that, at the same time.

Shake hands and say hello, or wave hello, call name…

Greeting and a friendly smile 🙂

Say “Hello” and make friends with somebody and smile at someone.

Look at her eyes and smile.

Say “xin chao”

9. What clothing is appropriate in Vietnam?

Vietnamese people can wear any clothes, but not to show a lot of cleavage.

Jeans and shirts or T-shirt, shorts are acceptable.

To the oriental thoughts: men can wear any clothes they want but women should wear full-covered clothing or people will consider you are a naughty or a play girl. But in modern days people are more open-minded and wear Western-style clothing more.

Ao dai, T-shirt and trousers, dress…

Ao dai is the clothing suitable in Vietnam.

Skirt or jeans or T-shirt.

You can wear everything you want but not too short or small.

Jeans, skirt, shorts.

10. Do Vietnamese people travel around Vietnam? What are some popular destinations?

Yes, they travel around Vietnam. The popular places are Hue, Da Nang, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Sapa.

We do travel around VN. Some famous destinations are: Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, etc.

Some people do, some don’t. If they have good financial condition, they will. But still, some people just want to work more and more, and save money for the living purpose, not to enjoy life…

Sapa, Hoi An old town, Nha Trang beach…

Yes, they do. Here are several destinations in Vietnam: Hoi An ancient city, Hue city, Phong Nha-ke Bang cave.

VN people travel around VN very much. There are many beautiful caves in VN that attract tourists to go there.

Vietnamese people travel around Vietnam. The places where Vietnamese always travel are Da Lat, Da Nang, and Son Doong (Quang Binh, DMZ).

Da Lat is the most interesting place for travelling because it has many beautiful views, fresh air and flowers.

Yes, I do. Some popular places are Thien Mu, Dai Noi, Nguyen Dinh Chieu street and so on…

I think that is Danang and Hoi An. There are a mix of modern and traditional. I have never been there.

Yes, they do. They often travel in the summer or spring. Some popular places are Da Lat, Da Nang, Sapa…

***** Final thoughts and comments *****

I would very much like to thank this group of students, who didn’t know what kind of class they were walking into on March 21st, but were all so engaged and responsive and active. I had been nervous imagining what it was going to be like, teaching a class of students I don’t know (and who don’t know me!), in a country I’d never been to before. In the end, it was so much fun – and I hope the information they shared can be useful for anyone who wants to know more about Vietnam. Ms. Phuong, Doan Van Vu, Pham Thi Thuy Linh, Nhat Minh, Lien Thi, Thanh Nhat, Thuy Dung, Hoang Anh Mai Thi, Tien, Linh Thy, Nguyen Phuong Thanh, Vo Thi Van Tham, Hong Diem, Minh Trang, Phuong, Nhu Quynh… Thank you so much – and I’m sorry if I made any mistakes in spelling out your names!!..I did my best 🙂 And I truly hope I’ll see you again.

 

 

P.S. Random notes:

  • their handwriting is a beautiful cursive!! Very impressive penmanship.
  • after class a few girls came up to me and wanted to become Facebook friends. Each of them later sent me a private greeting and thank-you message! I was touched and again impressed by their social media manners 😉
  • it was already in Vietnam that I learnt that every word in Vietnamese is one syllable (right?…). So they spell their country as Viet Nam. Hence the abbreviations you might have noticed in their writing – VN and VNese people.
  • maybe I remember how to plan a class that is not a discussion class that follows a similar structure each time. Maybe I remember how to be a little creative and flexible in-action. I was relieved to feel how I felt teaching what I myself chose to, and being comfortable and confident doing so. I think maybe I’ll be OK in my next job.  🙂

 

Thank you for reading, as ever. I hope this post can be useful in some ways, to some.

 

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Serendipity (#ELTmentor story by Chris Mares)

In my previous blog post I wrote about my keen interest in understanding mentoring relationships and the way they work for teachers. Chris Mares (whom you might remember from another guest post here on this space and whom I since then have been lucky to meet) quickly responded to my call for #ELTmentor stories, and now I’m excited to share it. One mentor story from a man who I’m certain has been a mentor to many.

 

SERENDIPITY

by Chris Mares

They say everything happens for a reason. It does. But not always for the reason you think.

“I think you’d like him,” Bob, my friend, said, finishing his story.

“And he wants to teach English in Guatemala? Send him to me.”

Which was how it began. And now, weeks later, I’m standing at the white board during English through Film, looking at Mikal with the, “OK, hit play,” look.

“I’m giving them time to finish writing down those phrases,” Mikal said, not rushing, sensitive to the pace of the class, rather than caught up in the excitement of it, as I was.

I smile. Shake my head. Who’s mentoring who, I wonder? Twenty-two meets fifty-nine.

“What?”  Mikal says.

“You,” I say, thinking, you are something else, Mikal.

His story comes out in fits and starts. He hasn’t seen his dad for years. Or his mom. He was a military kid. Always on the move. Rootless.

“But he’s so grounded. So comfortable in his own skin,” I say to Bob. Mikal lives in Bob’s house because Bob is a writer and writers bring interesting people in their lives.

“He picks up languages so fast,” I say, “in break I hear him speaking Thai, and Turkish, Portuguese, and Spanish. What an ear.”

“Have you heard him sing?”  Bob asks.

A week later Mikal and I were playing guitar together. I sang JJ Cale’s Magnolia and Mikal played lead. Smooth, understated, and right on the money.

“That was sweet,” Mikal said.

He was in a different league. Then he played Norwegian Wood with a dreamy elegance that made me tingle.

The day I had to take my truck to the dealer to have the brake cables replaced, I had Mikal teach my classes. I had full confidence in him.

I have seen him with all sorts of people and he is always who he is. A listener. He gives and he gets. He embraces life. Plays the sitar and shamisen, the banjo and the ukulele.  And he’s only twenty-two.

“Mikal,” I said, “come and do the TESOL Certificate Program during Spring Break. You don’t have to pay.”

Mikal’s face lit up. He was so grateful. So touched.

But not as grateful as I was. He will make the program special. For all of us.

Ostensibly I am his mentor. In some ways I am but I have learned so much from him.

And so, in all humility and wonder, I thank you, Mikal.

And serendipity.

 

In addition, Chris kindly agreed to answer some of my more specific questions about what the experience of mentoring entails. 

What do you do as a mentor?

I simply do what I do. I believe in the apprentice model. Follow me. Watch me. Eventually I will give you something to do. And then something more. Until you’re doing it.

What do you talk about together?

We talk about Bob, music, love, friendship, students, beauty, food, travel, language, shared experiences.

How often?

We see each other every day. If Mikal wasn’t living with Bob I’d install him in my basement.

Why is Mikal such a good fit?

We click. He gets me. He knows I live on the edge. That I’m marginal. That I don’t care what people think of me. That I’m smart. That I’m funny. That he doesn’t have to tell me what key he’s playing in because I will find it. That I care about the truth. That I’m an iconoclast.

Having said that, a good mentor can tailor themselves to anyone.

In Mikal’s case, tailoring is not required.

 

*****

Thank you, Chris, for sharing what seems to be a very personal account of a very special mentoring relationship. I’m going to guess not so many young teachers can boast such a story (well, I know I wouldn’t have been able to…). While I tried to picture myself in your shoes and understandably soon failed, I think  I have some learnings to take away from your story:

  1. To be a mentor one should not only love what the mentoring is about, but also love people. Be humane, a person of big enough heart to care.
  2. Maybe mentoring relationships can develop organically from the seeds of understanding each other and being “on the same wavelength”. Maybe. And then, is the other way around also possible?…
  3. I want to believe that a good mentor can tailor themselves to anyone, but I can’t just yet persuade myself to believe in the “anyone” part.
  4. And finally and related to the above, I wonder if my perception of a mentor as a person who you have a deep connection with is true and not limiting. Limiting me to seek to learn how an honest, beneficial mentor-mentee relationship could be grown and nourished from a different place. I want to understand if idealizing mentoring is an attitude that helps or hinders (or neither).
  5. I want to read more stories. Different stories. Like this one from Matthew Noble (thank you!) and this one from long ago by Michael Griffin.

 

As usual, thanks for reading.

 

 

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#ELTmentor stories (yours!)

Do you have any?

 

There are words that are BIG. Whatever it is that inflates them (read: social media buzz) doesn’t often help in figuring out the true meanings. In fact, the hype seems to distract from the real depth and lessen the importance. It is a little confusing, especially if the word lures and the concept is enticing, in the way my imagination defines it.

This word I’m talking about now is mentoring.

I’ve recently taken a keen interest in the idea and planned a couple of opportunities for myself to experience mentoring. An interesting flash of a thought at the back of my mind: three years ago I would get all excited and jump into it without a second thought, without preparation. Learn by doing. Learn from the experiences themselves and mistakes that inevitably come with. I chuckled thinking of the way my methods changed. I pace myself now. If I get to do it, I thought, I want to do it “right”.

Now here’s the thing… what is “right”?

Maybe to start with, it’d be useful to define a mentor, and I want to define not from a dictionary but from my heart. For me, a mentor is a person who supports, listens, helps to reflect, inspires, challenges you, ideally shares beliefs. Gently, in a non-intrusive kind of way, offers a vision that makes sense for you. They are people you respect and feel comfortable talking to about what bothers you, honestly and not necessarily openly seeking guidance or advice (though you know they have what you need). I haven’t had a mentor assigned to me by a program or through an institution, yet it’d be a lie to say I haven’t had mentors. There are a few people I consider to be my mentors but, frankly speaking, I don’t recall ever saying it to them… So maybe they don’t know. I can’t say we ever went through a process of mentoring that started and ended. So probably my view is distorted, over-romanticised, idealized. Can I trust it? Am I crazy (and arrogant!) to think I could be a mentor to anyone, given my own definition?

What am I saying?… I feel lost. Because I want and feel the need to support and listen and help to reflect, I want to have more clarity on what mentoring is or can be. On what a mentor is and what the relationship involves. On how it starts and if it ever finishes. On how it’s organized. On what happens if two people just don’t click. And I think stories that I’m sure other people have might be just what I need to get that clarity.

 

So, do you have any #ELTmentor stories? Successful or not so much, stories where you were the mentor or the mentee, for a specific period of time, project or otherwise. I hope you can share some of your stories with me – and anyone else who is interested – in the comments to this post, in the comments on Facebook, or on your own blog.

Thank you for those and for reading, as ever.

 

 

 

 

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Chris Ozog on the ELF issue (guest post)

February is not only my birthday month, Valentine’s Day month, and the coldest, most miserable month to experience living in a tiny old apartment in Tokyo. This February also happened to be the ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) month. Along with other teachers from all over the world I’m taking the ELF-Aware Classroom course with Katy Simpson on iTDi and I’m trying to get my head around on how we can raise our own and students’ awareness of the issue and learn what teachers can do to incorporate more ELF activities smoothly.

And now, February will also be the month when Chris Ozog writes a guest post on ELF for this space! I think I first met Chris during ExcitELT in Tokyo last summer, though I’d known him from the ELT internet spaces before. I was paired up with Chris in a session, and by the end of that session I was of this opinion: I wish Chris were my teacher trainer. He’s so sharp and chill and thoughtful. Over to Chris, then. 

 

Chris Ożóg Photo 2016Chris a teacher, teacher trainer and writer, originally from Scotland but now based in Japan. He’s been involved in English Language Teaching for long enough now to have white hairs appearing, usually working for International House, and is the current editor of the IH Journal. His work has taken all over the globe, from Costa Rica through Dubai to the Czech Republic, amongst other places, and he’s very much enjoyed almost every minute of it. He also tutors on online courses, writes occasionally, and keeps the world’s least updated ELT blog. You might occasionally see him presenting at a conference or giving the odd webinar, but you’re much more likely to find him in a café reading literature, history or psychology books. At present, his work involves mainly Delta and CELTA courses, which he enjoys for the chance to work with so many teachers and aspiring teachers from such diverse backgrounds.

(Anna: If you want to know more about Chris’ ELT journey, read  from the man himself here. An additional benefit of doing so is, if many of us click the link, his blog will stop being one of the least updated ELT blogs and we ourselves will have done a good thing).

*****

Accents, ELF, and Teacher Training

A teacher’s pronunciation is important. We can probably all agree on that. What we might not agree on, however, is why: why does a teacher’s pronunciation matter?

There are two general answers to this question:

  1. A teacher needs to be a model for their students
  2. A teacher needs to be able to identify pronunciation issues in learners’ speaking

So, what does that mean, in reality, for teachers’ own pronunciation?

A recent survey in Tokyo found that most respondents:

…believed teachers’ pronunciation should not have traces of a Japanese accent, and that teachers should instead acquire native-speaker accents…[i]

It seems so simple then: teachers should sound like native speakers – problem solved. But regardless of where you stand on the emotive issue of native speaker deference, this ‘solution’ is not as simple as it seems.

Digging Deeper

Let’s return to that quotation above. Unpacking it a little, the teachers in the survey seem to be suggesting that:

  • Japanese English accents are inferior/incorrect
  • Native speaker accents are superior/correct

This might seem straightforward enough: native speakers’ pronunciation is better and so, one assumes, easier to understand; Japanese-inflected pronunciation, on the other hand, is deficient and therefore more difficult to understand. The simplicity is attractive. But it’s also false.

Consider the following interaction:

Japanese person: Hi. Whe-a izu the banku?

English person: i tzeaze yif ye teika rai tovah de road

Believe it or not, that English person is speaking a form of ‘native speaker’ English. Try sounding it out syllable for syllable to see. Then put it all together and say it quickly. Is the native speaker’s pronunciation really clearer?

What Does This Mean?

The example might be rather crude, but it makes the point. Being a native speaker does not necessarily guarantee your listener will understand you. In fact, being an unaware native speaker might be exactly why your listener does not understand you! What matters instead, for native and non-native speakers alike, is being intelligible, i.e. speaking clearly so your listener can understand you. But this brings its own complications. Who are the listeners? Which sounds are most likely to be clear? To begin to answer these questions requires an understanding of the way English is most commonly used around the world, as a Lingua Franca – a common language between people who do not share the same first language.

Let’s pause a moment, though, and go back to the Tokyo survey. Who were the respondents? Who held the implicit view that native speaker pronunciation was clearer? The answer: 100 Junior High School teachers. In other words, teachers themselves! So, why is it that the Junior High School teachers in Tokyo believe that native speaker accents are more relevant to their context? Especially when we consider the importance of being clear and English as a Lingua Franca?

Sadly, the research in question does not probe this view further, so we have no insight from the teachers themselves. However, from my own experience in teacher training, I would suggest that these kinds of misconceptions are so firmly entrenched that they filter down to learners in the form of (un)conscious attitude and classroom practice. When those learners then become the next generation of English teachers, so the cycle continues: the received wisdom is passed on. The problem with received wisdom though, is, while it is often gratefully received, it is rarely questioned. So where to start asking questions?

Accents and Teacher Training

Use yourself or a recording as an example

  1. Tell the teachers a short anecdote (or play one).
  2. Ask them to note down anything they notice about your accent.
  3. Groups discuss the accentual features they notice.
  4. Whole class discussion about which features were noticeable and why, whether any caused communication problems, etc.

(for a more detailed version of this activity, see here)

Read a text aloud (in a multi-lingual group)

  1. Choose a short text of about 50 words and prepare a task sheet for teachers.
  2. In groups, teachers read the text and the others note down which words they pronounce differently in the group.
  3. Whole class discussion about which features were noticeable and why.
  4. Highlight any potential problems in intelligibility and discuss issues connected to ELF.

Give an article about ELF

  1. Find an introductory article to ELF, e.g. this one, and prepare some questions, such as about which accent is desirable, is L2 accent ok, etc.
  2. Pre-reading, have groups discuss the questions.
  3. Give the teachers time to read the article and answer questions based on the article.
  4. Groups discuss the questions and then open this up to full class.
  5. Robustly defend an ELF perspective in the discussions and challenge teachers to find objections (the aim here is for teachers to develop their ideas, so still be nice!)

 What’s the Point?

Pronunciation matters. The more issues surrounding pronunciation are explored, the more acceptance there will be of different accents. The more the goal of a native speaker pronunciation is challenged, the more confident those Japanese Junior High teachers can become. The more a trainee teacher knows about their own pronunciation, the more confident they can be in their own intelligibility. And the more a teacher knows about ELF, the more they can help their learners communicate successfully without trying to force them to speak a certain way.

 

[i] Yoko Uchida and Junko Sugimoto: Towards the implementation of ELF-oriented pronunciation teaching in Japan. Retrieved from: https://elfpron.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/elf10-uchida-sugimoto/

*****

I want to thank Chris for this post and yes, I want to robustly defend an ELF perspective in discussions with other teachers… and with students, too. There’s a controversial story on my mind that I want to blog about some day but I’ll hold it off for now, but I’ll just say this: 

In the past couple of months, I’ve been lucky to have opportunities to travel around Southeast Asia. Every interaction I’ve had in English – with people in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia – is an example of an ELF interaction. By paying closer attention now to those interactions and analysing them (sometimes even too much!), I’m learning so much. It’s often hard for me to understand  English in SE Asia, and I think nowadays I’m keeping a more open mind to the challenges than I did before. And I keep thinking that as a teacher I want my students to have an open mind, too.

There are some more thought-provoking posts on the ELF issue here:

Michael Griffin makes a point that acknowledging  ELF and viewing your teaching through this perspective doesn’t have to mean any dramatic change to our lessons.

Katherine Bilsborough adds an ELT author’s, materials writer’s perspective to the issue.

Katy Simpson recorded short video interviews with many teachers, whose first language is or is not English, in which she explored their attitudes on different aspects of ELF. 

 

 

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