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!)

 

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Essentials for nomad teachers

“ΜΔταÎșÎżÎŒÎŻÎ¶Î”Îčς;”
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.