Wednesday Seminars

Zhenya Polosatova's reflective lounge: learning, teaching, teacher training.

What’s in a Title?

Another summer is ending, and a new academic year is approaching. In Ukraine it starts on September 1 (state schools and universities) and between September 1 and 20 (private schools, language centers, etc.) In any case, it is the time of planning, setting goals, meeting (potential) students and getting ready for the academic year.

My own academic year begins with a goal: create and pilot a practical/experiential mini-course for academic managers helping teachers develop and grow. [Note: I am currently starting a new project which I am hoping to write more about in the near future]

A course for ‘academic managers’ is a working title for the course. If I start to think more about how I should call it, I see many choices, some of which are listed below

  1. Director of Studies
  2. ‘ADoS’ as ‘assistant Director of Studies’
  3. ‘ADoS’ as ‘acting’ Director of Studies’
  4. Director for Teacher Education
  5. Director for Teacher Education and Development
  6. Academic Manager
  7. Academic Leader
  8. Academic Coordinator
  9. Head of (Training) Department
  10. Head of (Academic) Department

Does a title matter?

Which one(s) do/would you prefer (if you are teacher and there is someone helping you develop)? Why?

Which one(s) do/would you prefer to be referred to (or to write in your CV/resume, etc.)? Why?

Is there a more ‘general’ term to refer to this position?

I personally worked as an ADoS (when my boss and I had different ideas about the letter ‘A’!), DoS and the Director for Teacher Education and Development. I slightly prefer the last one because it shows more detail about the job itself, at the same time it is a long one to remember (or to translate, for example)

What do you think?

[will finish this post now an continue my prep for the exciting academic year!]



Baltimore TESOL Convention: Highlights and Learning

I attended TESOL Convention in Baltimore, Maryland earlier this month. It was the very first TESOL Convention for me.

I have this blog where I write ELT-related (more or less) ideas and experiences. The logical conclusion would be to simply share the experience with my readers. Well, I realized that writing posts about an event I came back from is harder than I thought it would be: should I write about each session I attended? If I do decide to write about the sessions, should I do this for content, or for ideas and thoughts, or for both? How long would such a post be in that case? If I don’t write about the sessions only, what else can I write about? Would it be interesting to read?

I then decided that I will make a small series of short posts about the conference, and this one will be the first one, the Opening Post, so to say, brining more impressions and highlights than details into play.

Highlight #1: the Plenary session by Aziz Abu Sarah on Building Peace in a Divided World – a speech I would (and will!) definitely watch again. Not just professionally, but also personally. Because (to me) the talk was far beyond the scope of the Convention, or the ELT field. Simple words, clear metaphors, moving life stories. To me, this plenary was naturally and skillfully combining the Why, the What and the How of presenting and sharing the message.

If you have about 60-90 minutes of time to spend, I recommend listening to the plenary (60 for the plenary itself, and 90 including the welcome and introductions, etc.) At the moment all the four plenaries can be found here .

Highlight #2: People! Sounds obvious, but yes, meeting, talking to, greeting, finding (and hugging!) people was the best part of the Convention to me. The three and a half days in Baltimore allowed me to reconnect with colleagues I have worked with in various places around the world (Korea, Myanmar, Lebanon, USA), the people I had only worked with online (with some of them, for a long time!), the people I had been planning to work together but that has not happened (yet?). Of course, I also met several PLN-ers in person — for the first time. We have been reading each other’s blog with Dawn Wink

By the way, have you already read her warm post about the Convention: Language, Culture, Identity and Love

We have been Twitter friends with Autumn Westphal, Laura Soracco and Matthew Noble   – and now we know each other in person (for real!), and I even had a pleasure to attend their presentations!

Highlight #3: SIT Graduate Institute, or School for International Training, or simply SIT. It is the organization I have been working with (distantly, face-to-face, on pilot and established projects and courses, etc.) for the last ten years. My teaching and learning philosophy, the beliefs and practices I value and share (and develop) were shaped by the strong academic background of SIT. Attending the reception at the Top of the World’s Observation Level let me feel the connection and reminded how fortunate I am to belong to this educational community. (Attending several presentations by my SIT/World Learning colleagues made me want to write a separate post on the sessions’ formats and content!)

Can you see the rainbow? From Top of the World Observation Level, Baltimore.

Can you see the rainbow? From Top of the World Observation Level, Baltimore.

Highlight #4: The theme of the Convention this year was ‘Beyond Borders’. The meeting for the first-time attendees on Tuesday, April 5th offered a simple task for us: say ‘welcome’ in your language. Yes, I had a chance to say ‘Ласкаво просимо’ (LaskAvo prOsymo) in Ukrainian. This simple idea of hearing the greeting in various languages made so much sense (for the theme of the convention, for the ELT world, for the world…)

[Note: Shaeley Santiago shared her own highlights of the Convention — similar number of points! 4 Words To Describe 4 Days At #TESOL16]

These were my big(ger?) highlights. I am also sharing a list of smaller Insights and A-ha!s, not categorized by the day and time but collected during the conference. Please bear with another list (and be prepared to read something obvious to yourself!)

A-ha!: Networking is a skill, and learning about it (some theory) might be helpful for events such as conferences. Non-ELT world articles can be very useful reading on the plane, e.g. Misconceptions about Networking on HBR by Herminia Ibarra

Reminder: small blank pieces of paper (A-6 size or so) on each chair before a presentation begins might engage the audience from the very beginning offering a simple practical task and a basis for a discussion (curiosity works!)

Confirmed belief: there is a little child [living] in every teacher. You have probably seen quite a few images like the one below from the Convention? Well, I was no exception🙂 [Reminder to self: visit their website and learn more about the game and app!] 

With the friendly monster by

With the friendly monster by

Some Thoughts and (Self) Promises

– feeling ready to bring our RP Reading Club back to life

– would like to go back to my #50wordsTT and start Spring Collection inspired by the conference

– excited to explore the theme of connecting ELT field with other, non-teaching, areas, and bring more life to the lessons and sessions in this way (which might actually start by reading the book I bought at the Expo and could probably turn into a blog post — see the part below!)

– would love to watch some IATEFL 2016 online sessions, while they are still available online

Posts inspired by the Conference I would like to write soon-ish:

  • the sessions I attended
  • the sessions I would have liked to attend
  • the metaphors I am taking from the convention
  • what I learned about presenting skills
  • what I would have liked to know about networking skills
  • what I learned from watching IATEFL 2016 online

My Big (logistics-related) Question during the conference: How do you (readers) decide which sessions to attend? How many presentations/sessions do you go to without a break?

  • by topic (Teacher Education, Reflective Practices, Professional Development, Teacher Training were my priorities this time)
  • by presenters/people I would like to listen to/talk to, etc.
  • by area — location (2-3 in the same location in order to get there on time)

And another one, related to the above: once a session was over, another choice I had to make was either to come and talk to the presenter(s), exchange cards and contact details, or… run to the next session (where ‘run’ was sometimes almost literally, as the center was huge and some rooms were further away to reach). What are some possible strategies to use? What are some other Time Management tips you are using?

The final line for this post comes from Seth Godin: being surrounded by people on the same journey as you causes you to level up‘. I think conferences do this for us teachers. I think I like them for this reason.

Thank you for reading!🙂


Difficult Conversations

I was also thinking to call this post ‘More on Soft Skills’, since I am returning to the topic I already wrote about here .

My current project motivates to me to reflect a lot. Traveling ‘down memory lane’ (sorry for the cliché!) I have been looking through my notes on various instances/aspects I was dealing with as the Director of Studies (DoS), in order to create a list of ‘cases’ to use for the project.

In the above mentioned post I was writing about the lack of soft/people skills, or the ‘How’ to deal with a variety of situations and people a new DoS would most likely face in the new role. I was also writing that such skills are not usually ‘taught’ explicitly (especially not as a part of TESOL/Applied Linguistics major, or intensive training courses as initial teaching qualification). Moreover, these skills are not even part of a course when you are becoming a trainer (that is a different topic to discuss though)

I find articles on Harvard Business Review blog very helpful for the ‘management’ side of our ELT world. Specifically, these two posts made me want to write this time:

When to Skip a Difficult Conversation with the eleven questions helping us decide when and how to approach the conversation, and what might be a reason to skip it completely. Quoting them below.

  1. Based on what I know about this person and our relationship, what can I realistically hope to achieve by having the conversation?
  2. What is my “secret agenda” or “hidden hope” for this conversation? (Long-term harmony? Revenge? That they will change?)
  3. What concrete examples do I have to share of how this issue has shown up?
  4. What’s my contribution to the situation?
  5. Do I tend to look for problems with this person or about this issue?
  6. Is it already starting to resolve itself?
  7. How long ago did it arise? Is it a repeat or recurring problem? Could it become one?
  8. How “material” is the issue to our relationship or to the job?
  9. How committed am I to being “right”?
  10. What reasonable, actionable solution can I offer?
  11. Is this the right person to talk to about this issue?

A Mental Trick to Help with Challenging Conversations, a quote from which is a good reminder about being aware of and communicating positive regard:

Only when you become mindful of your biases can you choose a more constructive path. Positive assumptions make you open to progress; negative assumptions mire you in the past.

Taken in Barcelona. Summer 2015.

Taken in Barcelona. Summer 2015.

Examples of difficult conversations (a mixture of a DoS and Trainer issues)

Observing and giving feedback to a more experienced colleague

Communicating with a course participant about being in danger of not receiving the training course certificate (the competencies not being met)

Talking to a parent who is not happy with the progress (often, with the grade) the child received at their state school

Talking to a student who feels she is not making enough progress (not meeting the learning goal)

Reminding a teacher to complete the additional paperwork the school is experimenting with

Talking to a course participant about their group work skills (several other participants mentioned that it is hard to work with him/her in group lesson planning)

Having a meeting with senior management on re-structuring the school departments in the new academic year (discussing the changes it brings to the teaching team)

Negotiating a salary raise

Talking to… (what can you add?)

The longer the list gets, the clearer I see that perhaps any type of conversation at a school/on a course might be seen as ‘difficult’ at some point (under certain circumstances, in a certain culture/context, etc.) I wonder if having those 11 questions in mind might help. I wonder if being aware of the soft skills might change the perception of a situation. I wonder what else can help.

Finally, would like to add a link to a post by the Secret DoS On Dealing with Difficult People .The quote I especially like says:

‘There are no difficult people, but there are ways of reacting to people that can cause you difficulties’.

I could also add that there are no difficult people — it is specific conversations that might be/feel this way. Fortunately, there are strategies to make them easier, smoother, more meaningful… Softer?

Thank you for reading!🙂

Deadlines on a Course

This post is about deadlines for written assignments on a course for teachers: are they necessary? Can they be flexible?


An intensive teacher training certificate course lasts about 4-6 weeks, has specific objectives, standards, requirements and competencies. Formally graded written assignment are (almost?) always a part of such courses. The nature and content of these written tasks, as well as their grading/assessment system and/or feedback provided by trainers may differ depending on a type of courses. What stays similar for course participants, in my experience, is the need to add or ‘squeeze’ some assignment writing time into the daily/weekly routine, already full of lesson planning, materials preparation, observations (in addition to taking care of the family and kids at home, for those participants who are taking the course in their own cities, etc.)


So… deadlines. I personally don’t like the word (especially its ‘dead’ part). A quick etymology check shows that historically and literally it described a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot. Well, yes, not a very positive one. In a the modern dictionary it simply means a date or time when something must be finished, or the last day, hour, or minute that something will be accepted.

The relationships in the triangle ‘trainer — participant — assignment’ might depend on the trainer style and habits, and perhaps on the beliefs about deadlines. Those beliefs might come from the culture (of a participant and trainer’s culture), institutional context, and many other factors. It might get even more interesting when the group is multi-cultural/multi-national!

Example from my own experience: there was a deadline to complete a written reflective paper by Monday. Participant 1 submits his completed work by the time the course day begins in the morning. Participant 2 asks if it would be okay to bring his paper after lunch (needed more time to edit the work, etc.) Trainer (me) says ‘OK’. Participant 1 overhears the conversation and does not approve this permission. He explains that he had spent the entire Sunday evening working on his paper. Had he known that there would be some time at lunch, it would have changed his plans and went out, etc. My learning (perhaps obvious for many readers) was to specify the exact time for submitting assignments, e.g. Monday 8.30 a.m. (which I have been doing since the incident above happened)

Solutions and Thoughts

Another solution, which I have not tried yet myself, would be to set ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ deadlines for submitting papers. The idea comes from an article by John Warner When Students Won’t Do the Reading I recently read. As the title suggests, the main focus of the article was about motivating/focusing students to develop in-depth reading skills, and ways to do so in a university setting with a number of deadlines to meet. I loved the idea about ‘treating’ deadlines differently, and started thinking how it might be applied to a TT course.

‘Each week I have a combination of work with “hard” deadlines, “firm” deadlines, “floating” deadlines, and “non-deadlines.’

hard deadlines = those we can’t change, e.g. written lesson plan forms for Practice Teaching slots need to be submitted before the lesson so that the comments and feedback could be made based on the lesson planning process ‘in the real time’

firm deadlines = important for a certain reason, e.g. Extended/in-depth reflective papers on the lessons taught, etc.

floating deadlines = flexible, e.g. weekly reading/watching log for portfolio (Portfolio itself has a hard deadline towards the end of the course)

I am a little less sure about ‘non-deadline’ tasks on a course. A quote from the author:

Example of non-deadlined work: primarily my long-term writing projects that are neither promised to, nor explicitly requested by anyone: short stories, a novel, a book that draws on the material in this column, a couple of other things.

Related Thoughts

  1. from my own experience of being a student on CourseEra online courses, having a soft due date in addition to hard deadlines made it look friendly and feel comfortable. These are things I value as a learner, and they are being transferred into my training role.
  2. if deadlines are built into a course for a certain reason, this reason needs to be explicit for the course participants (otherwise, it may look as a mere formality, or ‘paperwork’ which teachers have in their schools)
  3. in order to explain the reason clearly to the participants, the trainer needs to genuinely believe that the assignment has to take place in this part of the course/week, etc. If there are doubts about this, then maybe the deadline is not ‘hard’?
  4. if the reasons are clear and the decision is made, it needs to be ‘presented’ to the participants (the ‘calendar’ in the image below is one way to do it, which I tried on one of the recent courses)
Hand-made calendar to show what needs to get done, and when.

Hand-made calendar to show what needs to get done, and when.

Based on my experience, the ‘presenting’ stage for this calendar works well at the end of week 2, or at the beginning of week 3: participants already got in the routine of preparing and teaching their lessons, getting on with the peers, and start to pay more attention to the course assignments. Please note that the ‘calendar’ was created in addition to the folder with all the formal documentation about the course and its requirements, etc. My personal experience shows that the ‘folder’ information often ‘sits there’ unnoticed as a lot is going on and the time on an intensive course flies (even faster than usual!)


Negotiating Deadlines

On a 4-6 week course I have delivered, there are usually possible flexible ways to ‘shift’ deadlines (e.g. Friday before the weekend, or Monday after the weekend). It is often a trainer who creates the final schedule and therefore, the decisions might differ, depending on a group/culture, etc. Sometimes participants asks to have more written work for the weekend (they have more time to focus and reflect, etc.). Sometimes, the opposite is true: family and household chores ‘wait’ the participants during the weekdays so there would be no way to do the writing on the course days off. [Note: if there is a mix of contexts in one group on a course there is a different level of negotiation/explanation/compromise that needs to happen, and my favorite argument would be that ‘everyone wants a certificate at the end of this course, so the requirements need to be met’, or something similar]

This brings me to another question: is there a motivation to complete the course, to receive the certificate, to become a better teacher? Do the participants see the value of the assignments the course asks them to do? From my experience, the priorities can be shifted as a course progress: teachers see the rationale behind the tasks and assignments, and they make sure there is time in their daily (well, often, night-y) routines to get things done. It is another huge question though, perhaps for another post.

What deadlines do you set to the course participants on an intensive course? What is your attitude to meeting deadlines if you are a learner/student? Does it become different if you are setting them for others? In what way?

Thank you for reading🙂

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