To all good things coming up #spreadthejoy

January 1st, 2017 – sounds nice!

People say that however the first day of the year finds you, that’s how the rest of the year will go. If I take this literally, I’ll be spending the whole of 2017 with a slight cold, surrounded by people I love and who love me back, over a table full of homemade foods and drinks and with a head bursting with ideas. If I’m more philosophical and take this in a less literal sense, still it’s the overwhelming feeling of love, homely warmth and curiosity that will dominate the year. I’m happy with either.

Many things happened in 2016 and I’m grateful for all of them, the good and the not-so-good. Nothing bad, really, except perhaps for a little sadness and disappointment in some people – but that’s common, we can’t keep everyone happy and certainly shouldn’t focus our energy on that, especially when it’s a lost case. Still, I’m grateful for that disappointment too – it’s remarkably liberating to know exactly where you stand and have no regrets, only great memories.

On with the good things!

2016 came to an end with the completion of small and bigger projects with my students – but more work and new sparkling ideas are to become a reality in the new year. More projects, more collaborations, more sharing; it’s what we’re here for!

The end of 2016 also saw the end to several of my courses, but instead of keeping the bittersweet feeling of that last lesson before December’s exams, I keep the joy of growing along those students over the years and the pride in their accomplishments. 2017 will find me sharing and exploring with different groups, more teens and young adults and much more within vocational and ESP contexts – I see this as a challenge to my creativity and hope for the best!

Apart from teaching, I’m also looking forward to as much learning as possible and there surely is a lot around to choose from (I think I’ll put together a list (!) of seminars, webinars and courses sometime soon).

Last, and certainly not least, travelling will also take up a great part of this new year – some for projects, some for conventions and some just because I love travelling! 

I won’t make any resolutions (because I usually break those, almost on principle 😊) but will express the hope that I’ll make it through seeing the good things, will have the patience to write about it all and will carry the feelings of this first day wherever 2017 finds me.

Special Together #KindnessHunt

Every school year begins with the same project for my younger learners: a lively language hunt, which is then held every two weeks around the area they live in, as learners form groups and head off to discoveries together.

It takes some time of course to organize, so I usually get in touch with local stores, schools and the -amazing- people who are to take part around August. During September, I put my creative shoes on and try to come up with different routes around the areas, various generic clues to be filled in accordingly when lessons start and progress and, by the end of the month, everything is ready for my little hunters.
It’s always a great opportunity for them to practise what we learn together, only outside our safe circle this time, and a wonderful way to involve their parents in the learning process.

Usually those language hunts stop somewhere before Christmas break and recommence in the new year; it has always seemed to me necessary to pause them during that time, thinking that students would have already been ‘overworked’ and tired.

Things evolved differently this year, however. My kids were thrilled with the hunts and even before November properly came, they were asking where they would be “hunting” for Christmas. I felt that, having already prepared in my head our seasonal project ideas, somehow we would have exhausted the theme, and wondered if we should do more; probably a combination of worry for the students and also myself (still feel I’ve been in need of a long, quiet break for some time now).
Then on one fine morning, I woke to a Facebook notification (to which I have not reacted yet, sustaining in my love-hate relationship with social media) that my dear friend Josette had added me to a group; do you know that moment, the very moment, when everything falls into place? When the puzzle forms into the whole picture – that moment.

The “People Being Nice” group set me off on a path of ideas and, eventually, I settled on organizing a Kindness Hunt for my young ones. In spite of my initial worries that it would not work for a million different reasons, particularly being organised on such short notice, this hunt was ready to welcome my enthusiastic, active learners this week, leading all the way to Christmas day.
In fact, everyone who usually gets involved was eager to participate and each invited more; colleagues, friends, family, the neighbours. Kindness to the power of n.

I’ve been following my young hunters around to be part of their sharing and receiving of kindness and will update this post later on with those magnificent gifts.

You can use or share the clues I prepared for this special hunt from here. They’re specific to the areas here in Athens of course, but feel free to adjust them or get inspiration to create your own.

To close for now, I want to immensely thank each and every wonderful person who helped make this possible and real:

-My kids and their families for their persistence, enthusiasm and love.

-The awesome fellow educators in the local schools – Marianna, Nikoletta, Evi, Antonis, Stavros, Sofia, Liana and Agapi you all make this world a great place to be in!

-The happy kiosk owners and their families, Michalis, Joanna and Giorgos.

-Emilia, Stathis, Giorgos, Anthi and Marina, the effortlessly smiling bank clerks.

-Our superb local café owners and staff, Foteini, Litsa, Andrianna, Sofoklis, Rallou, Jenny, Katia, Michalis and Giannis.

-Amalia, Kostas, Giorgos, Sevasti, Maria, Anna and Nikos, the persistently cheerful store owners.

-The tireless train station security guards, Kostas and Vasilis and their families.

-Father Ioannis of our local church and his family.

-Every random passerby who got caught up in our hunt and helped spread the kindness!

-Josette, for unwittingly igniting this and for being who she is.

I couldn’t help it here but think of Jan Morris’s answer during an interview I watched recently (and I’m almost sure I remember it correctly):
“What is your secret to a long, happy life?”
“Kindness. Be kind.”

Happy holidays and keep spreading the good out there!

 

To great beginnings…#littlereflections

I can’t think of a better way to start the school year other than diving into the learning zone; and not just any learning zone, but the one where you’re surrounded and nudged forward by excellent colleagues. There were so many moments to keep from the Start-of-the-Year event in September that I’d need post after post to cover them – so, instead, a little info and reflection coming below; just to send those vibes out to the world.

 

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Anna Petala took us inside a story – a truly wonderful way of presenting grammar, while making it relevant and engaging for young learners. Kings, queens and royal pets, swords and tiaras, all binding together and leading to solid learning. The crafting part was also a personal highlight; making our own reminders 😉
(Find more information on their website Europoint and on their Facebook page here.)

 

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Gwyn Owen then unfolded the magic of emerging language, something I love exploring and try my best to make good use of in my classes too. There is so much passion, creativity and potential in each of our students, and as Gwyn made obvious through his captivating presentation, it doesn’t take much to move what happens ‘on the side’ right to the center of our learning environment. Effort, yes; altering teaching perceptions, yes; And all worth it.

 

And then it was time for me to game the whole thing a little more…
There’s something truly unique in sharing with fellow educators, especially when the idea shared doesn’t follow the mainstream patterns but introduces an alternative.
I felt somewhat apprehensive at first; game-based learning might be gaining more and more ground globally, yet it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and certainly raises numerous concerns – when you haven’t tried it  🙂
Some points I’ll be further reflecting on in follow-up posts:

  • It’s always best to keep the talking to the minimum and maximize the doing.  – Verified (again).
  • Show the results. It’s all about the learners and they are the ones with things to say. – Still stand by this.
  • Feedback form. Hmmm. Given that an overall feedback form is distributed, a specific one per workshop might be too much. – Choosing not to hand out my workshop feedback form felt strange. Should I have stayed on principle and given it?
    (You can have a look at my presentation on Slideshare)

A big thank you to the TESOL Greece Board and family, my fellow presenters and everyone who joined us for that lovely learning Sunday at Ionios School!
(and special thanks to our dear Matina Katseli for her lovely photos!)

 

Essentials for nomad teachers

“Μετακομίζεις;”
There’s some Greek for “Are you moving house?”. And that’s the comment I received once from a friend, when I joined her for a rare, middle-of-the-day coffee. I remember looking puzzled, at her first and then at myself; and I found myself carrying a handbag on each shoulder, a smaller one hanging in the front and the laptop on my back. Judging by her wide-open eyes, my face must have looked equally burdened.

Almost all the turning points in my life have suddenly clicked in my head because of someone’s comment. I’ve said it before and still swear by it, thought bouncing is the best thing ever. It’s slightly worrying that it didn’t occur to me I might have been burdening both my body and my mind, but the truth is I very often forget to check if I’m ok. Thankfully, the energies of this universe usually send a reminder.

In the few seconds it took to reply with a No!, a laugh and a “let’s have that coffee” to the question above, my brain nearly exploded with further questions.
Do I look horribly tired?
Why am I carrying all these?
Do I need them?
Where am I going to put them now?
Does she think I’m crazy?
Did I make the right choice in working on my own?
But we were having coffee, and all I really wanted was to sit back and enjoy.

Later that day, I made it home and put all those handbags in line in front of me. Right, what’s in here? Unsurprisingly, a whole bunch of unnecessary, but self-reassuring, stuff; from books and printed materials to all stationary known to man. I counted twenty pencils and fifteen erasers in there, and it hit me, very acutely, that I was somehow trying to compensate for not being a school. As if that’s what mattered in the lesson, having enough pencils and erasers or countless sheets – in case of extreme-writing, perhaps? Or as if you need a specifically set amount of books, notepads and walls to actually learn.
So I started removing, while asking myself, what is it you want to do? Teach and learn. Good. Let’s make this work, Miss Nomad.
I can’t put to words how liberating this process was.
When it was all done, I was basically left with two pencils, a green pen, an eraser, a notepad, my GoogleDrive and myself.

Admittedly, ourselves is the most important part of our kit. I sometimes miss my days in schools, where there was my own cupboard with all my things in one place, yet, thinking about it, what I miss is that superficial feeling of security, not the stuff or the cupboards. These days, lessons find me everywhere, in living-rooms and kitchens, in offices, in parks, online more and more altogether and in a few school premises. Is that the definition of the nomad teacher? Maybe it is. All I know is that it works for me. The lessons where you mainly bring yourself in and work with what you have in front of you. That’s what makes me happy and that’s what I try and do.

So yes, I need those two-three little things, and, stationary and tech aside, this “self” needs a couple of more things while on the move – we all do. I need a book to read in transit, a wallet and headphones. And a make-up/first-aid kit (that’s the girly side, I tend to have those even if I never use them). Other than that, though, I make more effort on keeping the self in a good place; it doesn’t always work, but at least there is effort on my part (she says to herself), and it includes:

-starting the day with Greek coffee and a smile, no matter what
-choosing shoes for the day

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-writing what comes out of my head
-keeping ears, eyes and soul open
-Did I just make a list? I think I did 🙂 –

We all have different ways to keep us forward. What’s yours? (yes, an open invitation to everyone to share)

 

TeacherHub discussions #FreelancerDiary

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Third year in freelance teaching…it’s a little overwhelming, I guess, but on the whole the rewards have been multiple and coming from unexpected turns of time –  which means I’ve found myself experiencing good, only taking a lot of time to realize it. Yes, everything remains uncertain, after all I live in a country where we all float in doubt and it’s only a weird, idealistic persistence that keeps me here still, along with some family obligations.

Those words there on the left seemed quite appropriate in my case, I did make that decision a few years back. Given that nothing was as it should be, it felt the time was right to do what I wanted and see where it led me. And it led to more openness, exploration and a reaffirmation of my main approach to learning and teaching: community. There are things we can achieve on our own, because we wish to pursue them, because we love them, because they mean something to us – but finding another, or many others, who share that love and meaning is an incomparable feeling. Since my first days in education – those non-official, teenage takes on teaching – the world around made all the difference and showed the way to how things would develop, even if I wasn’t experienced enough to see it back then. With great big gaps in community presence through the years, as alone time equally means a lot personally, I’ve come to realize that in our connection with others there are simply choices we make and their consequences. Extending this thought on what we commonly refer to as a PLN, it seems that we sometimes count numbers instead of quality moments – we’ve all probably done that at some point; we chose to do so. Yet, community stands as we do. We might not match with everyone but there is always something we can learn and something we can share.

And though this post might so far seem too general or irrelevant, it actually came to be because of a recent discussion with a younger colleague, a passionate educator I used to teach about seven years ago, who came to my learning hub with enthusiasm but also complaints.

For the sake of ease (and against my innate aversion towards list-y things), here’s roughly what she brought to us:

  1. “I keep hearing and seeing the same things going around. Nothing new, nothing original. The same activity, just shown in a different way. And how can I choose between the common and the not-really-new-but-almost?”
  2. “It seems that other teachers are against me, even hate me, for whatever reason. Every time I try to discuss a practice, an idea, or something I’d like to do, most [of other teachers] either say ‘oh, we’ve done that’ or ‘it’ll never work’ and then I see them using my idea with their classes.”
  3. “There are personal comments too. I mean, I found out that another teacher spoke badly about me to our DoS and some of the parents, one of the parents told me. How do you deal with that?”
  4. “What can I do when I’ve seen there might be some learning disability in a student, but my DoS says to not mention anything because it will upset the parents?”

Oh my. I really have no idea how a trainer would approach these; I’m only a sharer, simply another teacher there to listen and perhaps give a little bit of thought and insight. Still, I’ve been through all this before and, in a way, it was refreshing to revisit those scenarios – well, facts.
Keeping the group sentiment aside (a group of seven language teachers in their mid-twenties who immediately protested against all the above-mentioned points), it felt like certain things needed to be clarified first.

Originality.
How many things can we truly call “original” these days? It seems to me that it’s the approach, not the activity, which holds the essence of innovation. We are not necessarily doing new things, yet we have the chance of doing them our way, and our way can certainly be original. Getting to that point, however, might take a second or a lifetime.

The “bad mouth-ers”
From the moment you put an idea out there – whether in person, online, on the phone, or whatever other means of sharing there is – it’s up for the taking. And it should be. Exactly because originality isn’t a given anymore, your take on something might be helpful to someone at the far ends of this world. Yes, you could monetize on it. If that’s your goal, don’t share it freely. If you don’t want others claiming it for their own, don’t share it freely. It’s up to you.
When it comes to personal comments, a huge debate lurks in the background. Being me – i.e. someone who believes in asking, doing and having hands-on experience – a) don’t believe everything you hear and b) don’t dismiss someone without a discussion on the matter at hand. Nobody needs a drama and we all have better things to do, yet if something is bothering us, it should be addressed.

“Director’s cut”
From the first moment A. started sharing, my thoughts were “there’s clearly no support there’. That DoS has failed in keeping the team going. Unfortunate, but common. Especially when talking about franchise schools – and A. works for one of the most well-known ones here in Athens – where what matters is keeping the royalties and name going, rather than making learning happen. Two points to make, out of personal experience:
When the DoS doesn’t hold one-one teacher sessions regarding feedback and conduct, there’s a problem.
When the DoS tells you to be quiet about anything concerning your learners, there’s a problem.
And that problem isn’t yours, the teacher’s, but it is you who has to deal with it and make it either stop or find your way out of there.

Again, that’s just my take on things. It’s what I shared in our little TeachersHub, and which was received with a slight surprise as I’m rarely openly assertive. That meeting has a few follow-ups to go through before it’s considered covered and closed.

I’d love further ideas, as always, and if you’d like, TeachersHub is open to all -just let me know if you’d like to come join us!

And just to loop it round my – vague, admittedly  – theme, this freelancer doesn’t have all the answers, she only has a thing or two to say about getting yourself out in the teaching world; we need effective training, clear objectives and steel-like patience to pull this through. But together, we’ll make it happen.

Game it!

I might be away on project work, but great things are in store and just wanted to share the excitement 🙂

So here’s a little preview…until the end of September when I’ll be meeting & sharing with excellent educators at the TESOL Greece Start-of-the-Year event!

11 things 2016 (Blog Challenge)

It’s been a long time since my last tag in this challenge, but hey, love it! Thank you Joanna Malefaki and Maria Theologidou for this new round in sharing 11 random things 🙂

I’ve decided not to come up with 11 new questions or tag anyone; instead, I’ll invite anyone who wishes to join to share 11 things that make them happy every day 🙂

Even though it took some time to actually sit and do this (life has a unique way of getting in between the things you want and the things you have to do), here goes:

Joanna’s questions:

1. How do you spend your free time?

Isn’t free time a weird concept? I guess the short or long walks around the city, the quiet Sundays with a book, blog reading and coffee and the impromptu meetings with dear friends in all the chaos are my favourite ways of spending time not dedicated to the have to’s.

2. What’s your favourite song?

Impossible to answer this! Every song carries a moment, a feeling, a thought and a truth 🙂
Three songs always make it to the playlist and my mind, each for a different reason:
“Handbags and Gladrags” – Stereophonics
“Some lessons” – by Melody Gardot
“Get behind the mule” – by Hope Waits

3. What’s your favourite food?

I’m very much a pasta girl – in any shape, form or flavour.

4. My guilty pleasure is…….. (fill in the sentence).

…persistently sitting quietly looking at the ceiling when I have a zillion things to do.

5. Share a picture. What is of (inspired by Clare)?

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My first step in the sea this year – nothing like being in the salt and air 🙂

6. If you could go anywhere in the world to teach, where would you go and why?

That would be wherever I could share and learn, so I suppose anywhere would do. Can’t say I have a favourite place in mind.

7. What’s your top tip for new teachers?

Learn to listen, to feel, to trust and work on your abilities and keep moving forward.

8. What’s your top tip for teachers who feel burnt out?

Take a step back and stand still. Breathe. Think where you want to be. Make this sequence a habit.

9. If I wasn’t an English teacher , I would be a/ an…….

I just don’t know. We all are many different things apart from teachers, but what has always defined me has been the potential of sharing. From the various faces of an educator, I’d choose the crafty, maker one and always explore this aspect, further and further.

10. What’s the funniest thing that has happened during a lesson?

Slipping while walking around. I don’t know who to blame, the cleaner or my own imbalance – still, it’s by far the funniest random thing!

11. Describe a typical work day.

Waking at 6:45 or so and enjoying my double Greek coffee, my crossword and the silence. Writing in my journal for some (highly debatable, depending on the day) time . Cooking, housework and dealing with home needs for the day. Spend an hour exploring news around the world, gathering ideas and preparing internally for the day’s lessons. Teaching and learning from 10:00 until 22:00, with intervals of connecting with friends. Some more journaling, and lots, lots of quiet until the next day.

Maria’s questions:

  1. What would make you happiest on a busy work day?
    A good laugh, just because.
  2. What is your dream holiday destination?
    Um…the world? Yes, a round trip 🙂
  3. What advice would you give to your 50-year old self?
    Don’t stop being and doing, keep learning.
  4. Which part of the day do you like most?
    Dawn, the beginning of everything.
  5. What’s your most/least favorite type of music?
    That’s quite hard to answer – there are different kinds that perfectly accompany different moments. I’ll have to admit though that I rarely like pop or those pointlessly loud, making your ears bleed, types.
  6. Which is one mistake you’ve never learnt from and continue making?
    Assuming – I’ve always thought that assumption kills thinking, but still make assumptions that blow right back in my face. One day, one day I’ll stop!
  7.  If you could turn back time, which era would you like to live in and why?
    Should I choose one only? Truth is, I’d like to spend time in each, from prehistoric up to now, to witness and be part of evolution in everything.
  8.  What’s your favorite super hero and why?
    Donna Troy, primarily because she kept going, returning and then going again and also for her acute healing power – totally relate to her, or perhaps I sort of see myself similar to that.
  9. If you could be an animal, which animal would you be and why?
    A cat, no doubt about it! I might be a cat already, just lacking tail and whiskers…Why? Well, why not?
  10. I’m proud that I’ve …………… (complete the sentence)
    …always found the way forward so far, in spite of whatever bad life has thrown at my head and because of what life has delivered to my soul.
  11.  What is one thing you always put off doing?
    Ironing! Does anyone do that happily, I wonder…