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)

 

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Add some humor #30GoalsEDU

Little things. Of all the posts I have written for the 30Goals Challenge, this one will probably take up the most space.  Because, you see, happiness very often comes in small and unexpected fragments that build up to something greater. In the several different learning environments we step into each day, we are given the chance to draw happiness closer. It isn’t always easy, we might have to trick it into approaching us. I like, however, to think that there are little bits of joy everywhere and all we really have to do is help them come forward.

Laughter is the language of the soul

Younger learners are a tough crowd and that’s because they’re open and honest; unhindered by the do’s and dont’s which regulate our adult lives. Their happiness though, once achieved, cannot hide and is contagious beyond measure. I don’t get the chance to work much with young learners these days, but there have been so many memorable moments of laughter that I still carry with me (and hope they carry them too).

Whether it was a finger puppet appearing, determined to put a smile on everyone’s face, or the practice of adjectives and adverbs through a game, or even ‘being mum/dad’ for a day to share our understanding and feelings for our parents (an activity I love because it equally engages learners and their families). Or just being happy and sharing it.

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Step into the teen world and be prepared: laughing comes with rules, which are broken more often than not (but not by you), since teenagers have a unique kind of reasoning, a worldview of their own, a dogma cut in the shape of them. Time for me to admit teens are my favourite age group to work with, I guess.

The first time I walked into a class of teenagers, I felt very much a teenager myself still. Just because you feel like a teen though doesn’t mean you are. You cannot fake adolescence. At the moment of despair, of awkward and troubled sideways looks , humor is a powerful weapon and my best advice would be to immediately stop taking yourself too seriously; actually, do that anyway.

From starting a lesson with ”If you want to catch a squirrel just climb a tree and act like a nut” written on the board (I also printed that one and others on shirts actually, since tutoring led me to board-less environments), to giving assignments in emoticon & sticker language or by using Blabberize and other similar tools, to individual and group readings of ”The Dork Diaries” and ‘The Diary of a Wimpy Kid’‘, to acting out their favourite sitcom, to being determined to finish that level in the game despite the roars of laughter at your screaming when zombies appear from every corner of the screen. You are not supposed to be a clown, nor a comedian. But you should be open to fun the way they see it, it’s your best and most affordable chance in professional (and personal) development.

 

And what about adult learners? A whole different zone, where you are perceived as somewhat an equal, with similar routines, troubles and aspirations. Most of my adult students have described our lessons as some kind of therapy, a break in their usual days, and very often we spend some of our time together to discuss whatever has come up. It certainly helps them and I find it an excellent way to improve speaking skills. Little jokes and puns always find their way in and I was surprised once to hear one student say that ‘‘those funny lines every now and then make me feel like when I get an endorsement on LinkedIn; they don’t mean a lot but they make me feel better”. It is the laughter. Short or extended. We feel better when we laugh and we bond much more easily.

In an effort to keep that good feeling going, how about introducing a laughing competition at the start or the end of the lesson? Hard, but possible and only takes one to start it; then it spreads. Some random acts of fun also help. Inspired once last year by an overjoyed woman singing to herself on a bus, I walked into a class humming the tune of SpongeBob, only to be almost immediately joined by six professionals. You can’t plan these moments.

Above all, I find that using comedy clips in our teaching is truly powerful. Not only as an extension to our lesson, but as a lesson itself. From a single clip to full comedy shows, there is so much authentic material we can use to engage adult learners, to provoke thought, to encourage language to emerge. At the beginning of the year, I used a recent stand-up show in English with a class, put together by a Greek comedian living in the UK. What they related to was not the fact that she was Greek, but that she was honest. We reviewed, discussed, wrote about it. We discovered that our perception of language and lessons is not all that different from others and that there is really one culture of people in spite of stereotypes trying to prove otherwise. Later that month we arranged to visit Gazi Comedy Club to watch Katerina Vrana perform her stand-up. What I didn’t tell them, was that this time it would be in Greek. Can you guess the results of our comparative study afterwards?

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I know (and people I’m close to know as well) that I’m held together mostly by serious bones and a couple of unnecessarily cynical ones; there are a couple of funny/silly ones though somewhere in that me-structure and those seem to be right at the foundations.

Send Parents a Positive Message #30GoalsEDU

Who is it really that we teach? Sometimes it feels that it isn’t our students at all; we learn – or relearn, or unlearn – far more because of them, much more than we give to them.
If it were up to me, I’d start by teaching grandparents, then parents and leave youth for last. It doesn’t work that way though. Yet, we have to recognize that there is learning happening in our students’ environment as a whole, extreme learning.When our focus is on teaching someone a language, it seems we often take it as simply another task. We plan and organize our syllabus, we set timetables and announce our modus operandi to the parents. We might be assertive enough to escape without alterations, or too compliant and result in having nightmares about how this lesson will turn out. Or we could be somewhere in the middle and able to be both assertive and flexible.
Let’s shift focus. How about using language teaching to cultivate a culture of learning? No matter how demanding such a shift may sound, it provides us with something powerful: wholesome learners. And wholesome learners never stand alone. Apart from us as teachers, they have everyone else to learn from and teach to. Parents come first on this list. Parents are their, and our, constant.

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As every year, especially since freelancing and tutoring became my norm, my students’ parents reserve a very special place. There are the ones who for years have trusted me with their children, no questions asked. The ones who might ask a thing or two, but never interfere. And also the parents who are full of questions and demands, but who still put all their faith in me. I am truly grateful to know all of them.

Showing gratitude to parents is one thing. It’s something I do each day, not because I have to, but because I do, because it comes naturally. What really matters though is that this expression of gratitude is mutual.
I consider the need for teacher-parent meetings obvious. Not only in the class their children will be spending hours in, or in the room of the house reserved for lessons. Quality time happens elsewhere too, same as with learning. It takes shape both online and offline. What they need to know about the lessons, I send online. If they’re uncomfortable with that, I help them to be comfortable. We move forward together.
What they need to know about me, I share in person. Particularly when it comes to tutoring, whether face-to-face or online,  I try and bring all parents together for a coffee somewhere out. Exchanging views with other parents and me simultaneously builds up to the comprehension of what I do and why. Our relationship is not so much one of friendship, but one of mutual understanding.

Image Credits: pixgood.com

Image Credits: pixgood.com

It’s true that with some I’m almost a family member, mostly the ones that I have taught for a long time and through generations – starting with the parent-to-be, then the spouse, then the children. Or the other way around. In all cases, though, the warmth of gratitude just emanates from everything; the coffee prepared and waiting for me, the invitation to their table before an early or late lesson, the phone calls because they saw something that reminded them of me. Exactly what I do myself.
Above all, it’s the involvement in what we do during our learning. There has never been a student project without the family helping out. Never an assignment without parents being the first to see the result, before me even. And there has never been a moment when the parents aren’t informed of what we do and where it leads.
Not so long ago, while tutoring at a student’s house, I happened to pick up a piece of paper off the floor. It didn’t say much, just some notes and chores for the day; but giving it back to its owner unleashed an unexpected, but much needed, river-flow of thoughts. Sometimes we have to work more with the parents, so we can better understand their children. I’m grateful for that unexpected moment too, because it showed me how to overcome their child’s learning challenges.

It’s not about pursuing a relationship with the parents. If it is to happen, it will, regardless of how fatalistic almost this sounds. Being honest in all you do is really the key. Keep parents informed, from day one. Show them what you do, bring them in the learning world. Allow them their opinion, only be prepared to prove them wrong, if need be.
And thank them, every time. They have trusted you with their future. Do that on the spot, or through a text, through social media even. With my tutoring classes, I usually create ‘thank you’ boards – actual and virtual – and we always leave a note for mum and dad too. It’s part of our routine and it brings us all together.

Learn Outside the Classroom #30GoalsEDU

For a change, let’s talk of something that we have done, not something that we plan to do 🙂

This is us:

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I have talked and blogged about our learning adventures together several times. Nick has been the student every teacher needs to have in their class and life. The student who from day one had made clear that ‘books don’t work’, that ‘school is classmates and not teachers’ and that ‘if it isn’t fun, I’m not doing it’. The ultimate challenge learner. Naturally, we took learning outside, to the place where everything happens at once and you can only cope if you’re up for it. The place where books are digital, compact and highly visual, where writing starts from single words and hashtags, where language comes forward because we need it to do so. For Nick, photography is his love and dancing is his breath, so that was what we worked on.

Our first step was to become tourists in our Athens (something I regularly do during my staycations, but this was the first time in student company). We role-played; we hopped on and off buses, we chatted with everyone, we explored what we knew and what we could discover. Each step was a photo, and each photo became a story. Language practice; effortlessly, because we needed to communicate our knowledge and feelings.

Dance came next. What does that have to do with language learning? How can it help you prepare for an exam? According to Nick, if you enjoy it, it will work. And judging by the experience and results, I have to agree. From dancing at home, then in the street, to a dance school and music videos, our learning took shape from within. I’m not much of a dancer, but Nick’s enthusiasm got me moving. His Tumblr posts are a must to many, including myself. He touches you because he loves what he does.

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Only two days ago we got his results; a High Pass on his C2 Certificate. An achievement owed to him doing what he wanted to do, have fun. We haven’t danced to celebrate it yet, but we will 🙂 And make sure someone can capture the moment!

Give Yourself (and each other) a Pep Talk #30GoalsEDU

I have taken the liberty of adding three words to this goal for several reasons, mainly the following:
1. Negative feelings can storm within us, sometimes for a reason and other times without one.
2. I’ve always felt that negativity should find its way out from us, to be put in words, on paper, on screens, be released into the wild cyclones of our lives.
3. A single word can give life to your inner self pursuits, make them real; and remold your perspective.
4. It’s unique to be able to fight negativity all by yourself.

We are social creatures. No breakthrough or revelation there. Our presence, however, very often plays a part that we are either unaware of or not prepared to embrace. Our words play the same part, since they are born to us; even the clichés, as it is us who choose to use them. As teachers, we are often overwhelmed by responsibility, towards our students, towards education, towards ourselves. And I have caught myself time and again drawing strength from the learners trusted in my hands. I have often found the way to see forests instead of single trees (talk about clichés!) because of honest eyes and smiles. I don’t pursue it, but I flourish in its light. Can we make negativity go away? WE can. It’s plural, you see, it cannot go wrong. Giving yourself a pep talk every day works, it’s true. A little note that reminds you of what is still good around you, of what you know you are good at. Imagine, though, for a moment getting little notes that remind you of what still has worth wherever you are, which part of you makes others tilt their head and smile as they picture you.

Start by making sure you see what means the world to you each day. My pep set of memories, reminders and presents:

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There are so many more ways to have this happen to us and involve others. I go with projects and creative explorations. In the offline, non-tech world, creating a board for class notes is easy and makes a huge difference in building relations among our students and ourselves.

Get some cork sheets, small envelopes and index cards (or some cutouts from used paper, any small white surface works here). Ask students to help you create this ‘feel good’ board. Pin the envelopes on the cork, you can personalize them by getting students to write their classmates’ names (which works as a getting to know each other activity too), or leave them blank as I normally do. It could be a personal good word or a universal one, you choose. Tell students they can add a small note in any empty envelope each day to make one of their classmates or their teacher feel happier, empowered and put a smile on their face.
Set this board somewhere so it is visible from any part of your class. Make it part of your and their daily routine. And experience bonds forming and language emerging. It looks like this:

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We have evolved into digital creatures too 🙂 Technology makes our lives faster and spectacular. Whether it is because you and students prefer web tools as a means of expression or perhaps you teach online, make technology work for you.
Create a padlet for students to share their daily or weekly good thoughts.
Ask them to Storybird the week and share with each other and you what they enjoyed.
Set up a social page so they can add the good thoughts they wish to share. A private Facebook or Google +  group works brilliantly.

There is significant learning taking place within all these activities. Not just language learning, but the learning that happens in small, big and bigger clusters of students and teachers. The one that teaches, or reminds, us of why social intelligence is not separate but intertwined with our knowledge.

#30GoalsEDU Conference – Connect & move ahead!

When I first got the invitation from Shelly Terrell to give a keynote at the conference, I debated. Do I have something to say really? Is there time? It didn’t take long to answer those questions, it was a yes all the way. And I knew that it had to be students’ work that I should share.

What the 30 Goals Challenge for Educators has done for me is hard to put in words. It isn’t only the challenges we take – which I love for the ground for mistakes they give me. Not only the opportunity to learn at each step. It is the culture of connectivity that means the most; so many amazing presentations, such great ideas and advice to take in and follow. All from friends around the globe.

Just as a very small sample, here’s some of my favorites:

 

People that I have come to love for who they are and what they offer education were present at the conference, either behind the scenes or at the front. I can’t thank them enough for sharing with us all!

Visit the #30GoalsEDU Conference page to get an idea of what happens when you bring educators together. You won’t regret it, I promise.

Here’s a link to my own presentation on the final day:

To close the briefest, probably, post on this blog, it’s time to immensely thank Shelly Terrell for all she has done and keeps doing and also thank everyone who made this happen by being there with us.

Here’s the padlet to share our reflections 😉

Achievement? Well, yes.

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#30GoalsEDU – Be someone’s champion

A goal that I’m so happy to have seen and taken time to work my way through…

Anastasia and I met online a bit less that a year ago, through the iTDi MOOC on WiZIQ last August, and ever since there have been so many wonderful connecting moments, chats, collaboration, exchange of ideas and practices.

I don’t know where to begin, honestly…an amazing colleague, an inspiring and resourceful educator, the mum to an angel – who just happens to destroy headphones!- someone I admire immensely for her patience and persistence to do her best, and so much more, in a state school (and big thanks to her school principal for equal persistence and understanding) .

Our work is so different in context but so similar in the roots of it all. She lives and works in Amaliada and blogs here  about all the great things she does for and with her students.

Enough from me.

Here are her insights, her vision, relate and feel inspired! It’s what true champions are made of.

AnastasiaPistopoulou