A little back & forth

How do you get back to blogging after (another) very long pause? You just do. You sit down and begin, and words flow and you know it was time. Both simple and tough.

It was a full year, 2018, in the oxymoron fashion I’ve grown used to, with numerous moments of sharing, presenting and collaborating, but also with multiples of quiet times in the company of books, notepads and pencils (and bouts of gaming, yes). Couldn’t ask for anything better, honestly. The core of everything was making, reflecting and then going back at everything with fierce determination. My very own challenging way of being.

So, what have we learned this past year, Chris?

We have resumed our love for people.
It surprises me sometimes how many people the quiet and shy me crosses paths with and how significant the slightest moment of something can become. Out of nowhere, literally. You see, it’s not the scheduled, but the unplanned, unpredictable get-togethers that give meaning: the group of parents that greet and join you at the local cafe, the socializing at conferences and seminars, the random stranger that handed me a flower on New Year’s Eve because I looked happy. I say “resumed” because it must be noted that for a substantial amount of time I pretty much hated everything and everyone – but that was just tiredness and a bit of loss of perspective on my part.
I’m back in my all-loving, all-caring state, thankfully.

We have shared and loved it.
Though I keep debating whether everything should be shared, most times this openness on a professional level gives more than you expect. I gave four presentations in 2018, and they have all given back so much more than I shared outwards. Same with our monthly #RP group here in Athens. There is something unique in opening that trail of thought and then just take in the reactions, contemplating how you can learn from all you hear. It has been a different, more flamboyant, form of sharing other than blogging, and it has been rewarding in ways I certainly did not expect.

We have practiced. In all sorts of ways.
I’m not sure how many people know I serve on the Board of Directors of TESOL Greece. Some come and greet me like a teacher they’ve heard of somewhere, somehow (the right approach, in my view) and some address me in a manner most uncomfortable for my introvert self: like someone. The truth is, we have been living through exceptional moments, what with all the preparations for TG’s 40th anniversary, and despite the massive amount of tasks we all have to see through, there is nothing more worth it. It is a one-of-a-kind feeling to be part of a distinguished group of educators and know that your slightest contribution makes a difference. We have a lot in store, and I hope we will pull through it all, but above all, I’m thankful for having the opportunity of learning and working in contexts still unmapped to me.

We have believed.
A big part of my year has been consumed by loss; not surprising, unfortunately, just cannot be classed as commonplace either. I have written it before, and I will put it down once again: loss is a reminder. And it is because I believe in the proper things coming that I urge forward. I believe and I’m glad I do.

I have been #blogreading and felt warm just reading everyone’s yearly thoughts. Keep sharing.

2018 Highlights in Pictures:


Getting our teeth in #EarsPeeledProject

Time for an inquisitive look upon my own doings; as the EarsPeeled Project has taken up half of the last year, here’s some reflection on its second part.

It took the core group about a month and a half to get their heads round to what we were doing. I’ll admit to enjoying this process immensely, in spite of my concerns that they got there far too quickly.
Having spent twenty days brainstorming, keeping notes and deciding upon who should do what, it was simply uplifting to experience languages being used in all sorts of ways; all our languages, that is. We’ve been an odd bunch.
Things to consider:
1.Context: this is still general English, though not approached commonly.
2.Backgrounds: we share the current place and language (in Athens, with its ups and downs, naturally), but the linguistic legacies we carry differ. The immigrant framework we work within calls for very specific planning and welcomes four native tongues, other than Greek and English.
3.Age & Emergent knowledge: all this happens in a group of teenage learners of 15-16 years, all assured they know everything.
3.No Coursebooks – our own experiences and where they take us, readers and authentic texts.
4.Skills develop anyway; whether they develop with good purpose is a different story. Our specific aim here is developing listening and speaking, yet how could we possibly isolate those? Isn’t language one thing?

While writing this, I kept thinking what the best way to portray our gatherings would be, and thought that only a weekly development of thought and practice could do so.
Here is a week working with the project group:

Monday through Wednesday:
Collaborating on our dedicated Google Classroom.
Week Theme: Daily Interactions
Weekly Tasks (designed by students):
Sub-group 1 (four students)

  • -Create dialogues for the following scenarios
    -Record yourself performing those scenarios (remember: S(ituation)T(one)P(urpose)

a)You wake up because your sister/brother has just slammed the door of your bedroom.
b)You’re sitting around the table for breakfast. You think the bread is not fresh.
c)You’re getting ready for school. You have forgotten to do an assignment for your History class.

  • Sub-group 2 (four students)

-Listen to the recordings. Note down your answers on the folowing:
Where are the speakers?
What is the problem?
-What would you do in each of these situations? Leave a comment on the thread.
How would you react to those issues? Prepare and record your responses, then share them in the comment section.

Thursday and Friday (still collaborating online, only through both the Classroom and our whatsup chat)

-Group 1: collect responses and propose which recordings & follow-up questions should be added to the project portfolio.

-Group 2: give feedback on Group 1 proposals & share your arguments and suggestions.

Saturday – meeting face2face

-Perform scenarios, including suggestions/modifications by both groups

-Play recordings & compare with live performance

-Reflect collectivelly:

Differences/similarities between recorded and on-the-spot presentation of scenarios

Observation notes: 1) is what you heard understandable? 2) did you spot any problems, and which? 3)Ways to improve?

So, a typical week with the group really held plenty of wonder. I was quite happy to sit in the back and observe those goings-on, and actually found myself wondering when my input would be necessary. In such a week, I was probably just the motivator – yes, keep at this, yes, compare dictionaries too, yes, it’s fine to get emotional, all of this.

To me, being able to blend in the background but also hold the rule still feels remarkable. Especially because no rules have been pre-set, because I’m in the observer and contributor shoes – not the I-know-and-you-don’t ones.

It has been impressive, to say the least, to observe teens translaguaging their way to English – holding onto that in-between part of making sense among the group but then aknowledging and striving to make the effort commonly understood and acceptable.

This process repeated, with many different scenarios, all through the month that followed. We eventually reached a point where some form of more formal assessment needed to come in – the group needed to know if their work and choices were effective. And though my own input on that front was requested and provided through the rubrics I always prepare, it didn’t feel enough.

The truth is I usually panic when this feeling of inadequacy rushes in. Trusting your gut just isn’t enough. I’ve reached a point, however, where this is a forseeable feeling and I remember that somewhere inside me, there are mechanisms to transform it, shape it, make it work for the best. So my #teacherhub rushed in there too. I asked my RP group for help, forgetting I shouldn’t be apologetic about it. And it was a great reminder of why my practice used to make me feel insufficient in the past.

In practical terms, the project group prepared an audio performance – “blind theatre” might be an appropriate title for it – to showcase those three months of learning to their immediate environment: parents,friends and the local community. I suppose it was the ultimate challenge, at that stage, for them to know that among the audience there were six people – six teachers – who were silently assessing them; somewhat like the reviewer assessing the chéf in that optimistically freshly-opened restaurant in town.

There is more. Much more. Which means more blog posts coming. Thank you for reading, for showing patience and for unwittingly being part of this 😊

The bravery of seeded apples

So we’re sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, silent but determined. It’s a Sunday and we’ve got a crate of pomegranates to sort through; he has that faint smile, like he knows something he won’t share just yet.

“You always do them in fives. Hold it steadily and trace a line around the top, where you’ll be carving. There’s no need to rush”.
I immediately take six in front of me and begin. Tracing seems easy, I finish all six in less than a minute. Carving…now, this might as well be a full-time job. The skin is too hard, it just won’t give way to the knife. I change positions: tilt the knife slightly to the left, then to the right; maybe vertically? No. I move to the other chair, straighten my legs; then I sit up straight. Still nowhere near the desired result. Over on his side, five pomegranates stand carved and ready and he is still smiling.  I sit back down and as I take a breath, strictly-coursebook-day images begin to spring up: Maria is struggling with her sentence. how many pens do you have got? – do how many pens have got you? – how many pens do have got you?, and she flutters about in her seat and looks at the page in despair while everyone around her has moved on to the next sentence. Let’s make this a group activity – let’s work on something relevant – let’s play with those words. Yes, much better. A good argument to how your brain just downloads information in moments of need. In Maria’s case, group work made all the difference; here, however, it’s only me.

“Did I show you how to carve?” No. I assumed I could do it. “Did you ask me how?” No. I assumed I could do it! It’s expected of me (and is welcome) to seek assistance, but that doesn’t sit well with me at all – not until I’ve tried my hand at something myself. I feel slightly annoyed too, probably because it’s him telling me to ask for help. Could it be an authority issue? More importantly, is that how Giannis and Mike felt everytime I reminded them of my presence and my offer to assist? Possibly. I’m trying to think when and how we reached the point of good communication between us, but all I see is their frustrated faces.

“You’re too focused on the task. But what we’re doing here is simple: hold, trace, carve, scoop out. You just need to remember two things”.

What two things? What things? – I’m thinking but not asking out loud, as my first pomegranate sits in my hand and I’m ready to scoop out the seeds. They’re called arils, I inform him, and in some places this fruit is called a “seeded apple”. Do we have any other words for it in Greek? The spoon stumbles on some black, shrivelled seeds and I feel a sting in my heart. What happened here? And look, there’s a whole cluster of them – yet the fruit has grown around it, all red and plump. Life miniature in a pomegranate; isn’t that true about everything, really? No matter how many difficult moments come, we seem to manage to grow around them.

I know one word only. They must have had a reason to come up with more. Don’t worry about the rotten ones, it happens. Take them out”.

I place that dark cluster carefully on a napkin. Even though it happens to find some rotten ones, it seems unfair to just throw them away. In a rushed attempt to hide how profoundly this little chunk of dead arils has affected me, I explain the origin of the word pomegranate to him; but all this Latin and French and fancy descriptions don’t fool him – he’s still smiling. He might be right, maybe I focus too much and sometimes on the wrong aspect of something – no, not wrong, the less important one. Don’t miss the woods for the trees, shouts professor Katsivanou in my head, standing in front of that huge, scribbled blackboard. She was right too.

We’re nearly done, aren’t we? Two or three more and I can go back to finish that crossword. Popular French comedian and actor, first name Louis – who is that? I’m missing that one”.

De Funés; I remind him of the self-important conductor Stanislas, sneaking around in the kitchen with a lit candle, and he nearly bursts laughing. Somewhere in another pocket of my mind, Mike and Giannis are crying with laughter, while we are watching Peter Kay’s stand-up performance. That was the moment; a good laugh together. Not long after that, they both told me they are glad to know I’m there – they would always try on their own, but knowing someone would jump in if necessary. 

Now there are heaps of seeds and about forty hollowed pomegranates on the table; in keeping with our family Christmas tradition, the first will turn into liquors and jams, the latter into alternative gift wraps. But that’s for another Sunday. 

“What two things should I remember, dad?”

“Be brave but ask for help when you need it. But you remember them anyway, don’t you?”

Looking at that smaller heap of black seeds next to me, I suppose yes, I do. And I know that nothing compares to father-daughter moments.

on ends.

Normally I would begin with something along the lines of “it’s this time of year again” or “another school year came to a close”. But not this time.

This time things are different; deeper, more emotional and, in certain odd ways, more uplifting. The background seems familiar: a number of students trusted to you just about a lifetime ago, an approaching results announcement, a circle that has become so tight, so focused and so loved that it seems impossible to consider daily workings without it. The foreground though, oh the foreground…full of smiles and pats on the back and happy words of upcoming departure to new, undiscovered universes.

Don’t get me wrong. No one could feel more fulfiled, more elevated than me at this moment. We have achieved what we set out for. We have achieved the set goal and many more that came along the way – the ones we couldn’t plan, but embraced when they emerged. But.

But over the past months I went back to feeling weird – feeling caught in some sort of a standstill; caught in a web if you like, an odd tangled fusion of the things that were and the things that could be. I’ve done many different things during this period. I’ve undergone training and trained groups myself. I’m half way through an MA. I’ve studied. I’ve presented my projects in four languages (and French was a freakshow – must remember not to do that again). I’ve written (in Greek, so the depth was remarkable but frankly, who cares). I’ve become an editor. I’ve translated. I’ve travelled. I’ve taught. All in all, I have been out there and I have been quiet.

Freelancers ought to be quiet about certain things, I was told. I still wonder what those ‘things’ are. I’m a quiet person, not a quiet freelancer. In those freelancer shoes my voice sounds certain, deep and reassuring. It surprises me, even. Perhaps it’s an automated reaction, or an unconscious action. In any case, it has worked so far. The freelancer shoes still suit me (If I remember I have them on, that is).

What doesn’t suit me is this end. The idea of an end. I have been a language teacher for eighteen years and this summer feels like a tangible end. My ducklings have grown and flown, what am I doing? New flocks arrive but I’m tired and demanding of new terms. Everyone seems to bow to them but I’m sceptical, I’m selective. I have stopped adding and started removing.

And I have this niggling thought that maybe, just maybe, it’s time I reconsidered my position again. Out of all this rummage of tasks, the one I most feel at home with is teaching – where have I left teaching? Where have I left this incredibly active collaboration and research?

Even though it all seems uncertain, there is a whole month ahead for considerations. I’ve already half-planned some sort of a gap year. I’m already running about places and I won’t stop until I’m certain of what will take me forward. In the gut-feeling sense, I mean. It’s coming.

How does the line go?… anything that comes before a “but” is most likely irrelevant and quite pointless…
 Was it Stanford? Maybe. Whoever said it anyway, I couldn’t agree more.

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)?


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…


#TogetherWorks – Presenting at Greek TESOLs 2016

It is remarkable how many connecting points you can discover when talking to a fellow educator, most of them underlying, present at all times, surfacing gradually as you share your joy or worry over a cup of coffee.
Theodora Papapanagiotou and I first connected online three years ago and all through this time of sharing between us, both on a personal and a professional level, we always talked about presenting together. We felt we needed to share the love we both had for our learners and our profession and the commonality in our approach to teaching and learning. After several missed opportunities, for many different reasons (especially last summer on my part), the time finally came to put this together and invite our colleagues to discuss alternative and creative ways in exam preparation at the two TESOL Conventions in Greece.


The certificate-hunting culture still holds strong in our country, resulting in ever younger learners being pressured into taking exams, inevitably being forced to memorize vocabulary out of context and drilled into grammar rules completely unconnected to their function. We are still sacrificing fluency and meaningfulness at the altar of certification, of proven “knowledge”, and not only in foreign language learning. In full honesty, I don’t want my learners’ first question to be “what percentage should I get correct to pass the exam”. Unfortunately, it is the first question I hear from most of them. It is a challenge to try and shift their focus to their abilities and needs, to how learning a language can help them progress further in anything they attempt and to that any certificate is a positive result of their personal efforts, not the end goal.

Making the exam preparation process meaningful for them is not difficult really; as with all courses, we start with the learners and build on what they have, what they want and what they hope to achieve. We can do this through projects, through adding creative tasks to the material we are using, through exploring different approaches and giving our learners the space to find their voice. We can get a learning community going, blend our lessons and use appropriate technology effectively and encourage self- and peer- assessment to keep learners motivated.
Moving away from traditional quantitative into qualitative assessment, by building personal and class portfolios, gives both our learners and us a clear view of what we have achieved and what we still need to work on.

We will both be sharing more in future posts and articles. For now, a big thank you to everyone who joined us in our talks in Athens and Thessaloniki, for their input and feedback!

You can view the slides of our presentation here

Links and webtools presented during our talk here

#TesolConventions 2016 in perfect Greek style

In the build up to this year’s Conventions, the inevitable worry that there won’t be time for everything I’d want to be part of or to catch up with all the people I’d promised to see just set a little cloud over the third week of March. And, as every time, all it took to cast the cloud away was the very moment of stepping in front of the registration desk – already seeing familiar smiles, acknowledging arms waving, being seconds away from warm hugs.

This is a post full of the hope I felt, first during TESOL Greece in Athens and a week later at the TESOL MacedoniaThrace in Thessaloniki; it has been so uplifting to witness the creative hard work of so many colleagues in my country and to be inspired by the insightful input of great educators from all over the world.

I couldn’t possibly deliver every single inspiring and learning moment, this was more of a “you had to be there” situation, but I think I can pass on the vibe.

TESOL Greece Highlights – more on their YouTube Channel here

TESOL MacedoniaThrace Northern Greece Highlights – more on their Blog here

A big thank you to both TESOL Boards for all they offered us yet again and I have to say: excellent to see many of us from Athens heading north and I definitely like what’s happening in Greece.