Trainer Conversation with Andriy Ruzhynskiy

This is post is the first one in Trainer Conversation series (find more details about this idea in the Introduction).

Background: Andriy and I first met in 2000. I was a full-time college student and a part-time teacher at International House (IH) Language School in Dnipro, Ukraine, and Andriy was working for IH Kharkiv. Since then, we were connected a number of times and in different capacities: through workshops and conferences, school visits, lesson planning discussions, other professional development events. Later in 2007 Andriy was my coach for the final stage in becoming a licensed SIT TESOL Certificate Course teacher trainer. Since then, both being traveling trainers, we occasionally ‘bump’ into each other at courses and conferences (in Ukraine or abroad). As you may guess, we keep talking about teaching, learning, training, trainer coaching, and living of course. What you read here is a glimpse into some of our conversations over the past weeks. The post has my questions (Zh) and Andriy’s answers (A).

in Daegu, South Korea

 

at IH Kharkiv, Ukraine (2007), with our SIT TESOL Cert group

Zh: You have been a teacher of Russian and English as foreign languages for a long time, and if I remember correctly, you have been teaching with International House Kharkiv in Ukraine since…

A: I started teaching in 1984, and I joined IH Kharkiv in 1995.

Zh: A long time! Now, I have never actually asked you about this: when and where was your very first course for teachers?

A: It was in Yasi, Romania in 2002. The course was co-validated (SIT TESOL Certificate and CELTA).

That was a fantastic project supported by Soros foundation. There were 2 groups of trainees from a lot of countries, but mainly former Yugoslavia, the Baltic countries, Moldova, and Ukraine. There was also a great bunch of trainers: 3 main trainers and 3 trainers in training (including me). I was lucky to be trained by Wagner Veillard, Monica Chin and Jamie Scanlon. Unbelievable professionals! I must say, I have always been lucky with great teachers.

Zh: I am completely with you on this: to me, our SIT Training Community is the most amazing group of trainers in the world. I am obviously biased, but I am happy to acknowledge this. [Note: please meet more SIT TESOL Certificate Course trainers here]

What about some stats to share? Between 2002 and now, how many courses for teachers (approximately, of course) have you run? By ‘courses’ I mean 2- to 4-week intensive training sessions, with groups of 6-20 participants.

A: I was preparing for our chat and counted the courses. There are… about 90 all in all.

Zh: Wow! Impressive! And your bio blurb below says you have taught teachers in 15 countries. With that experience under your belt, what can you call your three most important teaching beliefs?

A: If I need to select my top-three, I would name the following: focus on your students/learners, focus on their learning (not my teaching) and manage your expectations.

Zh: What are your three most important (core) training beliefs? By ‘core’ I mean something you believe or practice no matter what kind of course you are working on. It’s always interesting to me which values are constant, which of them stay the same from course to course, from country to country.

A: In fact, they are the same as my teaching beliefs! What training course I am teaching (SIT Cert Course, CELTA, or IHC) does not matter. The beliefs are the same.

  • Focus on your learners and their learning: in this case, course participants, teachers-to-be, and their learning during the course
  • Manage your expectations. This applies to teachers who come to the course having a very different starting point: some have taught in public schools and have certain habits and preferences, some are only starting out and lack confidence; some teachers are planning to move countries, and some come to earn the certificate as a proof that they are excellent teachers. Also, as trainers, we need to help the participants manage the expectations they have from the course, and help them meet the criteria of the course. This ‘expectation managing’ is a mutual process on the course.
  • (may be the part of the previous point) If we believe that there are no perfect lessons, or perfect teachers, we need to make it clear to the participants that the purpose of them joining the course is not about becoming an excellent teacher. It is about becoming a reflective, thinking teacher. Well, sooner or later, they will hopefully become excellent teachers, but setting this aim for the end of the course is hardly realistic.

at ILTC, Chisinau, Moldova

Zh: Actually, I remember you saying this to our group of participants in my first SIT TESOL Certificate course in Ukraine. A tiny voice in me was saying ‘there are no perfect trainers either…’ Does it also imply that there are no perfect participants/trainees on the course?

A: If my former trainees are reading this interview now, they will certainly remember my favorite phrase ‘there is nothing perfect in this world; only this word is perfect’ Of course! There are no perfect trainers; there are no perfect teachers; there are no perfect students. Enjoying the improvement is the key. Whenever I finish a course, I always feel that I have gained some experience, and I will certainly run the next course in a bit different way.

I would also add another belief: being honest with people. Sometimes it hurts to hear the truth about one’s lesson, but on the other hand, why are people taking these courses? To hear flattering lies? I am not sure about that at all.

Zh: This honesty, or integrity is a very important part of training for me. Not ‘sugar coating’ and hiding the truth, and at the same not hurting the teachers’ feelings and helping them improve. Sometimes I have a feeling this skill needs ‘recharging’, especially if I am not on a course. By the way, how do you keep your training skills up between the courses? Do you take part in online discussions with other trainers, attend/present at conferences? Do anything else?

A: Yes, lots of Facebook groups with/for ELT students, teachers, teacher trainers, etc. These groups help not only keep in touch with likeminded people, but also to share a lot of professional information. At least 90% of my readings now have been recommended by somebody in a Facebook group.

Presenting at conferences? Yes, I do it sometimes, but I am not a very big fan of that. Don’t ask me why 😊It is probably because of the big number of people in the audience. I need to see the eyes of the listeners, but it is not always possible 😊

Zh: I am with you on that. Besides, I often have a feeling that people at many events prefer to ‘just listen to the talk’ and not interact, and those types of sessions are not my favorite… What else helps you develop as a trainer?

A: As you know, I run various courses, and this helps me broaden the view of what teacher training and teaching is. Also, as a traveling trainer, I feel training courses in different places is the main source of professional development. Nearly every course is run with a new co-trainer, and this professional exchange of ideas and styles is fantastic.

Zh: You have recently started a Facebook Group for teachers. How do you see its role for the ELT Community?

A: Originally, this was not my idea. One of my course graduates Vladyslav Kamynin took initiative and wanted to keep learning collaboratively. He invited me for a coffee after the course ended, and we brainstormed the ways to keep in touch for further professional development. So, I suggested starting a group on Facebook. That was how IH Kharkiv 2019 ELT Reflective Group was born. It is a closed group where I added only former trainees and course co-trainers, and the group has been quite active so far.

Zh: I am very happy to be a member of this group: lots of practical classroom tips are shared there. The conversation before my presentation called ‘I don’t like games in class’ was very helpful, by the way. Now, I never asked you: why is there ‘Kharkiv’ in the name of the group? I first thought it is going to be similar to the Reflective Practice Group we have in Dnipro.

A: True, there are professionals from many parts of the world in the group, and it ended up being 100% online (different time zones, etc.) Since my ‘home base’ is in Kharkiv, and the IH school I am working for is in this city, it is natural to have it in the name.

Zh: As someone who has always loved Kharkiv, I agree! 🙂 Can we keep talking about other work you have been doing. Do you work with teachers online, too?

A: Yes, for several years at IH CAM Course (Certificate in Advanced Methodology), and I am a local tutor for Cambridge DELTA. This is a tutor who is taking care only of the lesson observations, not a full DELTA course. By the way, did you know I took IH COLT (IH Certificate in Online Tutoring)?

Zh: Did you? Me too (in 2006, I think). A great course!

A: Yes, it is! So the courses I facilitate are international, with teachers from all over the world. Besides, I am the IHWO Russian Language Coordinator. This is an absolutely different angle. Teachers of so-called Modern Languages have a lot of needs different from the English teachers’ needs, and my job is to help them.

[Note: A ‘modern language’ is any human language that is currently in use. At IHWO, ‘modern languages’ are non-English languages taught by IH schools worldwide]

Zh: That means there is a lot to manage. You told me you are also teaching teenage classes remotely, via Zoom/Skype, etc. Do you notice any similarities between teaching (a language) and training teachers in the online/distant format? Can these skills ‘overlap’?

A: These are two very different types of learning: asynchronous (discussion managing and assignment responding) and synchronous (live) modes, and they are not the same. Teachers are motivated adults, and my online students now are teenagers. Live classes in the real time require a whole different skill set. By the way, I can say we need to manage our expectations about: students and their perspective, about the tools we have (or don’t!), and the skills and training (we have or have not had). I see COVID-19 and lockdown/quarantine teaching as a ‘force majeure’ situation.

Zh: I share the importance of remembering the student perspective. They have not chosen this type of learning, by the way, unlike the teachers in the courses you mentioned. Hope we will manage to live through these times and be able to learn and reflect from this experience.

Back to teacher training: what do you think the post-pandemic future may/will hold for teacher education?

A: I think there will be a new format/mode in education, and possibly more than one. Many scenarios are possible. On the one hand, we may be all tired of staying in front of our screens for a long time. Even some teenage students said they won’t even touch their computers after this lockdown ends! On the other hand, if we think about working with new teachers, there are many aspects of learning that are the same in both modes (online and face-to-face), for example, managing classroom interactions, learning about student needs, teaching language skills, clarifying new language items, assessing student progress, etc.

At the same time, managing a class of students online is different since we don’t have the physical space. To me, the most challenging part is monitoring student work: you can join the breakout room [e.g. in Zoom], but you can only see what is happening in the room, with those 2-4-6 students, and not have the whole class picture. In the actual classroom even when you approach one specific pair of students, you still notice what is happening in the background, with the others.

at ILTC, Chisinau, Moldova

Zh: Yes, it is like that trick of looking at one small group of learners, especially teenagers, but listening to the other. To me, it is hard to compete/compare with the dynamic and energy of the shared classroom experience in one location.

Let’s go down the memory lane a little more. In the courses we have worked together, I remember you as a very positive, upbeat, energetic colleague, super efficient with daily tasks and routines and keeping great balance between course work and life (something you often reminded about was smiling genuinely, and moving myself out of the ‘default’ mode, for example). What are some tips and tricks you could share with new teacher trainers, or someone considering to become a teacher trainer in the future?

A: For running intensive courses, I’d share these tips:

  • Learn how to cope with stress
  • Create and maintain team spirit with your co-trainers (the people you run the course with are more than a team, they are family!)
  • Manage your expectations: try to notice the participants’ effort of learning, do not seek for the immediate ‘perfect performance’.

Zh: I can’t but notice that the very first point is about coping with stress. From my experience of working together in an intensive 4-week course, I remember you saying that ‘there is no such word as ‘tired’ in my vocabulary’, and our group of participants found it very helpful and motivating. What else helps you (and the teachers you work with?) cope with the stresses of a 4-week course?

A: I walk a lot. In any new place/city/country the first place I find on the map is a walking route to the training center. And the second one is a park (the park may be #1 actually!). The other thing is treating people with kindness and managing expectations.

in Vancouver, Canada

Zh: I love the way we keep coming back to the idea of managing your expectations. Can you say a little more about that in the context of working with teachers?

A: Over the years of training experience I got to be much softer, less strict even, especially in the way I offer post-teaching feedback to the participants on the course. Why? Possibly, because I can see them as unique beings, not a ‘copy’ of a perfect teacher. I think about their development and growth, and focus more on helping them to find or discover their own teaching philosophy.

Zh: Sounds beautiful! To me, this refers to our mission of ELT trainers/educator: helping people to love the teaching job, appreciate the never-ending learning in it, become learners themselves.

A: or… make a decision and leave. I think it is an equally important role we play in helping people realize that the profession, or life-style of a teacher is not something they had imagined or been looking for. So it is great if people spend only one month of their lives and a certain amount of money to realize that they must not be teachers. This is much better than suffering for the rest of one’s life doing the things that they do not like.

Zh: Very true too! Thank you for the conversation at the times when we don’t know where our next face-to-face course is going to take place. Enjoy the online classes and being in your home city for now!

at Larina Language Academy, Kharkiv, Ukraine https://larina.academy/ru/coursesforteachers

Andriy Ruzhynskiy

  • MA High Honours, Phylology, Karazin National University, Kharkiv, Ukraine
  • PhD in Teaching, Pushkin Institute, Moscow, Russia
  • CELTA, CAM, IHCTL, SIT TESOL Certificate Teacher Trainer

I am a Senior Teacher and Teacher Trainer at International House Language Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine. I have been teaching English and Russian to students from all over the world since 1984. My teacher training career started in 2002, when I became an SIT TESOL trainer, and then in 2007 I got licensed to run CELTA and IHCTL courses as well. I am also a CAM course Tutor with IHWO, and a Local DELTA Tutor for IH London.

I have run numerous teacher training courses in about 15 countries, from Canada to New Zealand. I am convinced that this is real blessing to have this job as it gives me fantastic chances to meet super professional people all over the world. I regularly take part in conferences and workshops on teaching techniques and approaches in my country and internationally. Besides, I am a singer at a Ukrainian folk group ‘Muravskyi Shliakh’.

 

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Trainer Conversations: Introduction

I like to think that COVID-19 brought physical distancing to our world, but did not take our (ELT) social connectedness away. In the past weeks of lockdown I have been in touch with fellow teacher trainers/educators in different parts of the world. As you can imagine, these people are normally very busy running intensive courses for teachers, presenting at conferences, observing lessons, etc. The non-traveling months of spring (and summer?) 2020 ‘edited’ our plans, and one side effect of these changes was the time to talk and reflect about our beliefs and practices.

Having had some conversations with colleagues, I had an idea for a series of posts with a working title ‘Trainer Conversations‘. These conversations excite me, I feel I am learning from them, and perhaps it would be interesting for someone new in the training/education management role, or for someone who misses a chance to chat with other trainers.

The main motivator to actually get me started with these posts was/is the postponed course for teacher trainers in Ukraine. You can read more about the course here and here. The course was created in partnership with World Learning SIT (School for International Training) Graduate Institute and supported by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. The course was supposed to be my ‘central’ professional development project for 2019/20 school year, and I enjoyed preparing it with my colleague and fellow trainer Liliia Kurushyna. We worked hard for the project: prepared an outline, advertised the course, responded to candidates (115 applications for the 24 places), carried out rigorous selection process in collaboration with 2 more fellow trainers based abroad, had a group of 24 teachers who started preparing for the summer meeting, started planning our course session in detail having the audience needs in mind. Then on 12 March 2020 pandemic was declared, and… you know the story. The good news is that the course was not cancelled: it will now happen in the summer of 2021.

Photo by NastyaSensei on Pexels.com

I see these coming ‘Trainer Conversations’ as a chance to keep myself in ‘trainer mindset’ by speaking/being in touch with the cool people working with ELT teachers.

At first, I imagined these conversations as very structured interviews, with questions asked and answered. Then, when I started these chats, I realized I can’t bring a neat framework to all of them, as each trainer I talk with is very unique. Two posts are currently in the making, and they are already very different. 

I keep reaching out to fellow trainers who have a bit of time on their hands and a desire to talk about teacher training. [Note to readers: if you know someone you’d like to read about, please get in touch]

I start with the questions that I am (selfishly!) very interested about:

  • Why do you like teaching?
  • What are your (2-3) most important teaching beliefs? What shaped them?
  • How did you become a trainer?
  • What are your (2-3) most important (core) training beliefs? What shaped them?
  • What kind of courses or sessions for teachers do you usually run?
  • How do you keep your training skills up between the courses?
  • How do you manage the stress(es) of managing an intensive course? What helps you stay sane?
  • What question(s) about teacher training have you always wanted to ask other colleagues?
  • What questions about teaching or training have you always wanted to be asked about?

[Note to readers: if you have specific questions to teacher trainers, add them in the comments]

I really like thinking about these ideas, and as I said, really enjoy talking to my colleagues. I don’t know how long these series would be, and how regularly I will be able to post them, but I hope it will be an interesting experience. I might also write my answers to those questions, as one of the colleagues suggested.

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned!

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4 Suitcases: Reflective Activity

If you know me personally or have been following this blog, you may know that I…

  1. love traveling
  2. love Reflective Practice activities
  3. love ‘transferrable’ activities that can be used in a language lesson, in a training session, with our Reflective Practice group, etc.
  4. love metaphors
  5. love reading about and learning from non-ELT sources and authors

Now, imagine that all the points ‘clicked’ today when I came across this activity description. I was so excited that I immediately tried the idea out myself, and decided to sketch this post asking the author’s permission to translate it to English.

Note: If you speak/read Russian, here is the link to the original post by Lena Rezanova, the career strategist, on her Facebook Page. (and if you don’t speak Russian, you will enjoy the image there!) I highly recommend her book (website), especially if you have been thinking about career change or (re-)direction.

Can’t travel now, but who said I can’t take a picture of my travel bags 🙂

 

So… take a blank piece of paper, fold it twice to have 4 squares to look at. If you/your students can draw, you may prefer to sketch 4 actual suitcases/bags/backpacks. Now, follow the directions and list the ideas in each suitcase, one by one.

The sea is storming, and you know that all your professional ‘stuff’ is in these four Suitcases

Suitcase 1: Everything related to your current job: knowing the specifics of this position, being able to work with certain tools, being aware of the company policy (and politics), knowing the specific products and processes.

Suitcase 2: Your ‘field skills’, or your industry as a whole. For myself, I was thinking of ‘ELT’ in general. It can also be finance, IT, logistics, etc.

Suitcase 3: Your universal, or transferrable skills (aka soft skills): negotiation skills, project management, people management, writing and presenting skills, coaching, product launching, strategizing, etc. Among mine I found curriculum and course design, event co-organizing, pilot projects ‘from scratch’, and many more.

Suitcase 4: Your unique approach to problem-solving, personal communication style, your way to generate ideas and find solutions, your professional image, charisma, everything that can’t be copied or replaced. Add your contacts (social capital), networking lists, and reputation.

Photo by Emiliano Arano on Pexels.com

The good news is that you risk to lose only one suitcase in the storm we are in, and that is the first one. Only one out of the four. The other three will be with you no matter what happens. These suitcases are waterproof, fireproof, damage-proof (you name it!).

The most important note: you are not inside of any of these suitcases. You are You. When the storm calms down, you will bring your suitcases wherever you choose.

(Possible) ELT Application:

It can be used by ourselves (ELT teachers and trainers) for ourselves to review the current situation and contracts/projects in the rapidly changing reality.

It can be an activity done with language students, especially adults (e.g. as homework, or in an online setting setting a timer for the ideas in each suitcase. They can do on a piece of paper and share snapshots in the chat box, if they are not too personal. I thought about sharing mine in this post but the first suitcase contains specific details and company names, etc., so I did not. Hope you enjoyed my actual suitcases instead 🙂

It can be a Reflective Practice Group activity where post-drawing discussion may take place in pairs or small groups of teachers, and (possible) alternatives can be added, especially to suitcases 2-4, depending how well the participants know each other.

What are your thoughts and reflections about this activity? 

P.S. But where, after all, would be the poetry of the sea were there no wild waves? – Joshua Slocum

Another boat

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In the Boat

‘Boat Afloat!’ was a sub-theme of our Teacher Sharing Day about a year ago. Like (possibly) anyone who used to work with small kids, I love elements of arts and crafts in my lessons and sessions. On that day, all the conference attendees made their own paper boat to symbolize that we ourselves are the source of our own power and inspiration. Some pictures that captured that moment can be found in this post.

One year later, and we are on a global quarantine. All in the same boat (it may at times feel like it is made of paper…) No, this is not a post about teaching online, creating (a)synchronous courses for learners and even parents, sharing a list of new online applications or endless opportunities for reflection and professional development the ‘stay at home time’ is offering. 

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

 

One metaphor I recently encountered has been on my mind for a couple of days now: when we are in the boat, we can’t choose the way the sea ‘behaves’. The sea around us can be stormy or steel, calm or furious, ______ or ______ (please think of more adjectives for me!). While we can’t control the sea or choose the weather around, we can be in control of what’s inside the boat.

We can keep it clean and tidy. We can choose how we respond to the storm, adjust to the wind. We can choose the destination (or course correct, if needed) and route. 

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

To me, like many my colleagues around the world, the ‘boat’ now is the home place and the remote/distant/online teaching. An asynchronous course for teachers is about to start, and I am reflecting on how I can communicate with the participants in the coming weeks, adding more compassion, empathy, and warmth into my writing. I want my boat to be a ‘Kindness Boat’, contributing to shortening the social distance through the virtual interactions and written assignments. 

Yes, some snow here!

 

How do you make your teaching/training/coaching/blogging kinder these days? How do you practice kindness to yourself and with those around you?

Stay healthy, and may our boats be afloat!

Update on 13 April: Seth Godin wrote a wonderful post yesterday called You’re Surrounded, and the boat metaphor was used at the end of it. Linking to remind myself later. Hope you enjoy it. 

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A Shift in Perspective

I am writing my first post in 2020. The last entry I wrote here at the end of December was about being focused, and coincidentally after that I stopped writing and… focused on the work I had. Between that post and now I facilitated one 8-week online course, one intensive 4-week training for teachers and new trainers, and attended a professional development summit. These involved some flying, climate and time zone adjustment, cultural sensitivity and awareness, and lots and lots of interaction with amazing people. Each of them deserve a separate blog post of course!

Luckily (for me) I managed to get back home just in time before whole countries started to close down for the COVID quarantine. Today is the first day when schools are closed in Ukraine, and the coming 3 weeks would most likely bring more (un)predictable event and meeting cancelations.

Not surprisingly, many colleagues around me seem (to want/plan/hope) to go completely online. To stay updated, I signed up for the Future Learn Course ‘Teaching English Online’, and keep reading articles (thanks to Shaun Wilden) and exploring remote teaching resources kindly shared by Daniel Stanford, Director of Faculty Development and Technology Innovation in DePaul University’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

At the same time this post is not about new ideas and techniques in distant learning and teaching. Something that has been on my mind lately is the sense of ‘control’ we seem to want to have, a sense of ‘certainty’ that appears to be so fragile and can disappear in an instant. I wonder if our attempt to make actions in the situations like this is about ‘feeling in control’ (rather than ‘having’ the control itself)? For example, starting an online conversation with students or colleagues as a way to be proactive (and ‘in control’)? Deciding to learn something new about using Zoom for large classes of learners as an active step to ‘keep my Professional Development under control’? Or… to calm down?

Or maybe it is so very human to try and ‘work with’ the situation or circumstances that are too large to be changed? To make some meaning out of the experience, to learn from it, and make the most out of it, personally and professionally? (bringing me back to the Experiential Learning Cycle I love using so much)

I notice now how helpful writing these lines feels: less stress, more constructive thinking, more idea brewing. It could also be (to me) a sign to shift perspective, the time to actually  focus more on the longer-term goals, rather than short (but very interesting and exciting!) projects I often find myself involved in. I am making a list of very new ideas to start working on. Maybe, some will become posts here.

One teacher I remember from my college years used to remind us about the importance of going ‘above the situation’ and ‘seeing a bigger picture’. I think these times may turn out to be perfect for this reflective shift to me.

I hope my pictures of the Kuwait Towers helped me convey the idea I was trying to share. If they did not, then I hope to have been able to make you smile while reading the post. (And I am very happy if I did!)

What are you thinking about these days? What has the (quieter classroom) time motivated you to do or try? 

Thank you for reading, and stay warm and healthy!

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Blog Birthday: 6!

My blog is turning 6 years old this month. It was my 6th Twitter-versary yesterday, and I got a reminder from Twitter with a suggestion to celebrate the occasion with a tweet. Which I did 🙂

I created the blog in October 2013, but then it took me about 2 months to actually hit the ‘publish’ button for the first time. I started writing in December 2013 with a ‘self-challenge’ to post every day for a month. I think I managed to post only 16 days in a row (at least this is what the Archive section on the main page shows)

6 down

How come I had this much energy and time for writing in December that year? It is not like that every year of my life. This time though, I would like to pause and feel the reflective mood of this month, and take a chance to think back to the year and see what was important, what was achieved and what was not. [Note to self: this might be a whole new post in the near future]

This blog was initially designed for sharing some of my ‘archived’ ideas from the teaching times, and had imagined it would be mostly ‘ELT’ conversations about good/best teaching practices. Somehow, the blog turned into a reflective narration (or lounge, really) for various ideas and projects I was/have been taking part in, my ‘preparation lab’ or a place to have a quick ‘trainer chat’. This blog turned into a space where I am comfortable to invite my colleagues and friends, and to even co-write some of the posts together, or interview them about the ideas they are passionate about. At some point, my fellow Ukrainian ELT-ers started reading this blog, and this motivates me even more.

Now, 150 posts later, I would like to keep writing. I dream to bring more like-minded ELT-ers here in the coming year. I hope to share how my (creative) learning about teaching and training continues. I am sure I will have questions to ask you!

What would you like to see (more of) on this blog? Is there a topic or a question we could write about together? A conversation we started offline or on Twitter (or at a conference?) that could turn into something bigger? Let me know please!

Finally, I want to thank you all for helping me stay connected with the international ELT world through this small sharing lounge, for the chance to throw in my thoughts and questions, challenges and tangles, solutions and options, listicles and paragraphs out. I really value the readers’ caring eyes to stop by, think together, and possibly respond. 

Till new posts!

What’s the future holding?

Image credit: pixabay.com/users/InspiredImages

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Your Feedback Method Does Not Work!

My colleague (fellow trainer and former participant on a short trainer skills course), came up for a quick hallway conversation at a conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. She said she had been thinking of me lately, and then made a comment which became a title of this post. By ‘your way’ (of giving feedback) my colleague meant my gentle and respectful way of talking to teachers. I was very curious! Having very little time for a more in-depth conversation, I asked just one question: ‘Did the teacher you were trying to give feedback to want any feedback? Did s/he ask for it?‘ As you may guess, the answer was ‘no‘.

I am hoping to catch up with my friend and to hear the full story (with our busy schedules and travels, it seems hard!) Meanwhile, I started thinking what IS ‘my feedback style’? Being polite and respectful in the way I talk to a teacher is a part of it (and very important part!) but what else makes it ‘my way’?

I then recalled a ‘feedback conversation’ with my friend and colleagues Ron Bradley** (who is also a fellow trainer and trainer of trainers, and a reader and commenter on this blog). Ron commented on my Trainer Integrity post and recalled ‘The Green Zone Gift Box’ activity he did on a course for teachers and trainers. 

Reminded by that hallway conversation I thought to share our chats with Ron about this feedback attitude, beliefs and metaphors. Hope you enjoy reading it!

** you can find more information about Ron at the end of the post**

************************************

Zhenya: So Ron, could you tell me more about this activity?

Ron: ‘The Green Zone Gift Box’ was a session I came up with for a group of participants/trainers in Turkey. The ‘green zone’, or ‘communal zone’, refers to a puzzle activity used to build team cohesiveness. It was created and delivered in response to one participant (and the group leader) from the Ministry of Education. [By virtue of his position, he thought he carried authority and gave feedback as such]. In the green zone,  jig-saw puzzle pieces are shared without regard to the person or ego. Once an idea is given up/shared/placed in the metaphorical green box, it no longer has one’s authorship, or ego attached.

One example of such puzzle activity from Business Balls free materials collection can be found here.

Zhenya: How does it work in relation to feedback on someone’s lesson?

Ron: When a piece of feedback is placed (metaphorically) into the Green Zone Gift Box and when retrieved by the receiver, the ideas, suggestions, criticisms have no ownership and can be regarded or rejected without the reference to the giver and therefore potential bad feels and possible rejection.

Zhenya: What you said reminded me of one feedback metaphor ‘Candy on the Table’ (I wrote a post about it a long time ago). If we imagine that the green space is the ‘table’, the picture may have to change this way.

Ron: Yes, exactly: once the feedback piece is given up in the Green Zone Gift Box, there is no ownership of the idea[s]…not until they are picked up by the receiver of the gift. The shared ideas or feedback are read in private, so to speak, with no response or reaction given to the giver (after all, the giver is unknown). It is the receiver’s choice as to what to do with the ideas or feedback—accept and act upon, or reject.

Zhenya: Makes sense to me! What if, for example, there is a question or clarification needed? Can there be a dialogue?

Ron: If some clarification is needed, the receiver may seek it from the giver and/or do further research until the receiver feels comfortable and confident. The Green Zone Gift Box can be metaphorical or actually implemented.

The Green Box Theory of Feedback. Developed by Ron Bradley, Global TEFL

Zhenya: Ron, thank you for this conversation and idea sharing. I love the feedback discussion questions on the slide.

************************************

Now, back to the title of the post: I really don’t believe there could be ‘the’ feedback method or style, always working, with anyone we are talking to. There is no ‘right’ method, I think. To me, putting a candy on the table and letting the teacher decide whether or not s/he wants to eat it is crucial. By doing so, I am aware I can hear ‘No thanks!’ in reply.

Questions to Readers:

What do you think about the Green Zone Gift Box and Candy on the Table? What other feedback metaphors do you use?

Thank you for reading!

**A more formal introduction: Ron Bradley is a senior teacher trainer and trainer of trainers with World Learning SIT Graduate Institute, and he is a very experienced and well travelled ELT-er (a trainer, trainer of trainers, educational consultant, online course facilitator, U.S. State Department English Language Specialist) I had a chance to co-train with Ron on several courses in South Korea, and we have been in touch for years sharing training and teaching ideas and insights.**

In Daejeon, South Korea, many years ago 🙂

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Trainer Conversations: Your Own Session

If you read my blog from time to time you may know about our EduHub Teacher Sharing Day initiative in Dnipro, Ukraine, I have co-organized three times so far. Following this link, you will learn more about our ELT Pecha Kucha Hour, with more links to the earlier posts.

The latest event was in November 2019, with a theme ‘ELT Approaches and Formats

One of our speakers was Valentina Popova**, my friend and colleague based in Kyiv. During the event, and afterwards via e-mail we spoke about possible ways to start small workshops for her colleagues, as it is the first time she is planning to offer her own project as a ‘trainer-preneur’. This post will share our conversation about the event details in the form of questions and answers. You are more than welcome to join our chat!

** Please scroll to the end of the post to learn more about Valentina.

Her session title was ‘CLIL: from Enigma to Routine‘, and the description said the following:

‘Have you always been captivated by the idea of bringing some effective modern techniques into your classroom? You can easily do it implementing the CLIL method. Attend the session if you want to know what it is, how it works, and why it is considered to be efficient. In the session we are also going to talk about planning a CLIL lesson, and try planning it for your students.’

Questions and answers about organizing a workshop for teachers:

1) How do I advertise it? Just post on my Facebook profile as a status update? 

I think starting from Facebook is a good step, although, I would think of a person (at least one) who would be potentially interested to come. You will know there is one person, so if no-one else shows up, it will be a professional conversation.

I would also contact people on social media directly and ask about the topic, the day, the time, etc. In a way, start a conversation about it, get them curious, and also ask to spread the word. I know it sounds like investing time, but if you are planning long-term, should be a good investment. Later, people will advertise it by sharing happy posts and pictures, etc. Just my thoughts.

2) Is 3 weeks in advance enough?

For a start, I think it is. Later, in the month [we talked about December], everyone will focus on gifts and holidays.

3) What minimum number of People would you consider?

To me personally, four participants is a good starting number. The more the better, but  three people is a hard number for me (the same is true for the lessons with students) Again, it is a very personal opinion. I am a big believer of ‘starting small’ and then growing, rather than the other way around 🙂

4) And of course the burning question is the price)) I don’t want to make it expensive but like I mentioned before, who doesn’t pay, that doesn’t care)

Yes, there is a belief about being free meaning not being good quality. Interesting that our Reflective Practice Group in Dnipro seems to be an exception (our 4th season started this September) Now, I am not a marketing person to calculate the price, but I’d think of a comfortable sum for an hour of work (for the delivery of the session) and add some more for the marketing/prep effort. And/or compare with what the others charge in Kyiv. I think all cities in Ukraine are very different in terms of tuition fee, and income/wages, etc. 

Questions to readers:

  1. How would you answer to the questions above, taking your context into account?
  2. If you were starting out a teacher training project for teachers in your area, what else would you want to ask, or keep in mind?

Thank you for reading!

 

Valentina is a holder of CELTA and IHCYLT certificates and has been teaching English for 18 years. She is currently teaching English, Maths, Science, Geography, History and Reasoning to primary-school children at a British school called Oxford Prime Academy in Kyiv, Ukraine, and implements CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) method every day. Valentina’s entire work rests on the following premise: only if students (regardless of age) enjoy the process of learning, the outcomes can be successful.

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A Class Journal

In my recent post ‘A Different Look at Writing’ I told you about a conference session I had been preparing for. This time I am sharing one idea from that session which I am referring to as ‘A class journal’.

I have wanted to try out this idea for years, but did not have a chance (or the courage?) to do so. In Ukraine the idea of keeping a journal is not very popular (if I may generalize so), and not many friends I know keep one. (Well, at least one friend keeps hers, and she even wrote a guest post about it!)

When I was a participant on a training course for teachers we had to keep daily journal and our tutor would read it (daily!) and leave responses to each of us. Sometimes, they were as long as one full page! Having become a trainer myself I am still amazed how organized she was to keep this writing routine through the whole 4 weeks!

The ‘Class Journal’ idea was something I heard from a fellow trainer during of our numerous ‘coffee chats’. She told me about a notebook she started for a new course, which was kept in the classroom and course participants would come and write in it when they felt they needed to share something. People could start their own page or respond to someone else’s entry. I really, really liked the idea of it, but have never done on an actual course being afraid to add one more written assignment to the already long ‘to-do’ list our participants have.

Finally, I decided to give it a try in a different format, and came up with an idea for this element of a session about writing. I thought that sharing it with colleagues at a conference may be a safer idea than trying it out on a course. So….

… the idea of the journal is to offer a notebook with page starters (topics, prompts, questions, quotes, pictures, etc.) for teachers to pass around the room and respond in writing on a page of their choice, or randomly. These were the instructions shared on the first page:

  1. Open the journal on any page.
  2. Read the title/the task
  3. Respond (by writing as much or as little as you feel like)
  4. Close the journal and pass it to someone else

Since I have tried this in a session for a couple of times now, I added a couple of ‘what if’ questions.

WHAT IF…

  • someone else has already written there?
  • (a) respond to the title/the task (b) respond to the writer
  • … I have no idea what to write?
  • Turn the page over and try again
  • … I don’t want to write on this page?
  • If you have looked at three pages and did not feel like writing, just pass the journal to someone else

Some Topics from the actual journal

 

Some thoughts on reflection

I have a friend and a colleague here in Lviv who usually listens to my ideas with full attention and then asks good critical questions helping me think about the idea in-depth. When I told her about the journal, this is what Natalia (her name is) asked me (and what I replied)

Natalia: What exactly could be the purpose (the point) of bringing this kind of task to students?

Zhenya: I mainly see the purpose/aim in helping students develop fluency in their writing, the ability to think of the ideas (not the language, or before the language) and then respond. I deeply believe in the idea that you can’t edit a blank page.

Natalia: So what would you do if the writing is not accurate and it stays in the journal?

Zhenya: I don’t think it is a big crime to edit the written entry (in a different color, by the same student). Also, color post-its can be used for drafting an entry and then re-writing the new piece on the actual page. In a way, this gives a reason for draft 2, which in my experience, students are not always happy to work on in a lesson.

Natalia: What if a student does not want to write in it? What if the whole group refuses to do it?

Zhenya: In fact, if the whole group refuses to write in a journal, it is easiest answer: stop bringing it to class! Sometimes, it may take time, as with any new(-ish) idea from us teachers. I am not saying that this is the best idea ever!

Natalia: How would you introduce the idea to your students?

Zhenya: Hm, this is a good question. I guess with students we could do it in a scaffolded way, with a specific page as an example, having peer responses and discussions at the end of it. Then, the idea of having writing prompts can be shared, and a class journal can be one way of developing the skill of (fluent) writing. I wonder if students could contribute to the topics/page headings, and thus feel more engaged with the jornal from the very start?

Natalia: I know students who hate hand-writing, and this journal will force them to do it. What can be done in this case?

Zhenya: I like this question! I think the journal does not need to be in the actual paper notebook and could easily be on a shared Google Document or in Drop Box folder, for example, or in a Facebook Group, etc. I think the format can be chosen by the students and with the students, depending on their comfort level with sharing what they write. Paper notebook offers a ‘safe’ classroom experience (a learning zone) whereas sharing what they write on social media is closer to the ‘performing zone’ (see Eduardo Briceño’s TED Talk for more on these zones)

What do you think about this idea? Would you like to try it out in the classroom with students (or a training room with teachers?) Have you tried something similar?

Thank you for reading!

 

Extra Links

 

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A Different Look at Writing

I have been preparing for a conference presentation which I called ‘A different Look at Writing’. 

The session description says: Do you like writing? Do your students like writing? We will experience several writing activities and discuss how to get excited about the writing process. We will see if we can teach writing in a different way, and how this skill can be used in other aspects of teachers’ lives.

First, let me share a couple of assumptions I am making about the attitude to writing (or its image) teachers may hold. [Note: I have talked to my colleagues in Ukraine about this, and I have run this session at our EduHub event in Dnipro earlier this year, so they seem to be true at least for my colleagues here]

Assumptions

  1. Teachers like speaking more than writing (in L1, in L2)
  2. Teachers don’t (often/always) write much in their everyday life outside teaching.
  3. Teachers (may) project their attitude to writing to students
  4. Writing is harder than (the least comfortable among) the other language skills (both for teachers and students), and both in L1 and L2. 
  5. Students (may) need the skill of writing in English to reach the life goals they are setting

The session idea: if you [the teacher] write (in English) in the real life outside teaching (for business, for pleasure, etc.) you (may) see this skill/process differently in the classroom, and this may change your attitude to teaching writing, choosing methods and activities, etc.

Now, the last sentence of the description suggests that there are different ways in which the skill of writing can be used in our lives, and I decided to make a list of how it helps me personally. So yes…

writing plays an important part in my life

  • as a professional development tool (well, you are reading this post on my blog…)
  • as an ‘idea catcher’ (I always have a note book with me when I travel, and when there is not paper around you can see me texting notes on my phone)
  • as a ‘creative warmer’ for a new project (with a timer on, I like to brainstorm possible options or alternatives for tasks, and having 3-5 of them is often enough to start working out the details)
  • problem-solving tool (can be also seen as a decision-making tool) for weighing pros and cons of something, or analyzing options and alternatives, or offering them to my project partner, etc. 
  • reflective practice tool (almost the same as professional development but in this can more systematic/structured
  • ‘calming down’ tool or a kind of meditation (for example, the Morning Pages idea from Julia Cameron, which I have never managed to work on systematically or at length) 
  • thinking tool (the difference between this one and all the mentioned above is that the ideas come from the process of writing, and my mind gets clear, and new connections are visible, and… lots of other magic things may occur)
  • planning, or capturing tool: as David Allen puts it, ‘your mind is for generating ideas but not for holding them’
  • something that brings me to the state of flow

What about you? What is your relationship with writing? What role does writing play in your (ELT) life? In what way your writing experience outside the classroom impact the way(s) you are teaching this skill? 

Thank you for reading!

P.S. this post is about an activity I used in that session (A Class Journal)

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TT: Training and Trainer

Earlier this month I wrote a post about a project for experienced teachers of English in Ukraine we won a grant for.

One of the reasons for writing it was my preparation for a presentation in Kyiv informing the audience about this opportunity. The session was called ‘Teacher Training Essentials 2020’ and the abstract said the following:

The title describes the name of a program and the year of its launch. In Ukraine people sometimes refer to themselves as ‘teacher trainers’ after delivering a workshop for colleagues, or speaking at a conference. ‘Training’ sounds like something ‘higher’ (and better?) than teaching. My session will be a conversation starter, and an invitation to look deeper into the meaning of helping teachers grow as opposed to ‘training’ them.

As a part of my preparation for the session I asked my fellow trainers and PLN-ers (blog readers and Twitter followers) to complete two sentences sharing their beliefs about teacher training:

As promised, I am sharing the results. I am full of gratitude to everyone who found the time to respond!

Teacher Training is __________.

  • a continuous and collaborative process, for the trainer themselves, as well as teachers
  • effective if teacher trainers engage their trainees in critical reflection on theory and practice, and thus encourage them to constantly challenge received opinion and orthodox ELT practices
  • based on the teachers’ experiences
  • going to teach you a list of things you’ll have to actually teach yourself in your own classroom.
  • about raising awareness and becoming better at what you chose to be your profession
  • an opportunity to share my teaching experience, brush up on my knowledge and get a lot of new knowledge and experience at the same time
  • helping teachers help their learners learn better
  • the founding ground for anybody willing to work in the educational field as well as the bottomless platform for continuous growth.

Zhenya’s brainstormed list (many things are similar!)

  • responsibility
  • leading, serving and helping
  • having a helper/mentor you wanted to have
  • an exciting job
  • hard work and fun
  • a number of skills
  • further development as a teacher
  • facilitating discussions
  • an occupation/profession in ELT

Teacher Trainer is not (necessarily) _______.

  • someone who has completed a program that is accredited specifically for this purpose
  • a native speaker or someone with a PhD, but should be someone with plenty of practical teaching experience
  • someone who *just* gives workshops at conferences
  • someone who can give you the answers, but they will help you figure out what questions to ask and where to look for your individual solutions
  • a guru who tells you how to teach in your classroom but rather raises the right questions.
  • a person who knows everything and wants to TEACH how to teach, but a kind of an open-minded facilitator for other teachers who shares knowledge and experience, inspires and shows a way to self-development)))
  • the one who knows all the answers. For me it’s always important to notice what a teacher does that I’d never think of, but it works well for the learner(s)
  • a person who is aware of all the world information regarding their field, neither do they have to be knowledgeable about global issues
  • ignorant of world changes and is NOT dogmatic, with their ideas set in stone

Zhenya’s brainstormed list:

  • a guru
  • an expert
  • a constant presenter/speaker
  • above the teachers, not a teacher’s boss
  • a step in the career ladder

Thoughts: my good friend and fellow trainer messaged and asked if I wanted to ask what people thought teacher training is/is not about, and/or teacher trainer is/is not about. I wonder if doing it in the reverse order now would be helpful? For example, to me, being a teacher trainer is about being in the state of ‘becoming’, having ‘beginner’s mind’ (shoshin), or an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. No matter how experienced I am, or how many training courses are run, this ‘zero attitude‘ helps.

So… what about the beliefs shared above:

  • Are some of them the same or close to your mind/heart? Please comment/respond.
  • Are some of them different/opposite? Please comment/respond.

Thank you for reading!

P.S. If you are a teacher of English from Ukraine, you may want to apply for our Trainer Training Program yourself, or pass the information to someone thinking to become a trainer or an academic leader in ELT in the near future.

This page will have more information. Soon.

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News: Teacher Training Essentials

Earlier this summer my colleague and fellow trainer with World Learning/SIT trainer Liliia and myself applied for a grant and guess what… we won! In the coming academic year (2019/20) we will be managing the program and running the course for teacher trainers in Ukraine together. The title is Teacher Training Essentials 2020. Some more information on this page

As you can see, we are at a very initial stage of preparation for the program  (don’t even have a separate site or page for it yet!). I just wanted to share the piece of news with you, and to say that some posts in the coming school year will be about teacher training and trainer training. Hope it is fine with you. 

I will be giving a short talk about the program at a Teacher Training Day in Kyiv next week. If you happen to have extra 3 minutes on your hands, could you please help me prepare for the talk by completing these sentences in the comments: 

  1. Teacher Training is __________.
  2. Teacher Trainer is NOT (necessarily) __________.
  3. (optional) Ask a question about the program based on its description. We are thinking to offer it as a handout/follow up after my talk. 

I am still figuring out the format of the talk and ‘playing’ with ways to engage the audience. Advice and ideas appreciated! 

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned!

Update on 25 November: here is our Teacher Training Space site with more information about the program, and if you scroll to the very end, you will see the Application Form. Looking forward to reading yours till 25 December 2019!

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Anonymous Notes as Feedback

I got this e-mail from a colleague earlier this year (sharing below with slight edits):

I am writing to ask for your help with my upcoming little research I plan to carry out with teachers in my area. More specifically, after two years of supervising and providing in-service opportunities I am eager to find out the impact of all that I did so far on their teaching performance.

Do you have any suggestions on how such feedback can be collected? Have you ever faced the situation in which you tried to evaluate the impact or effectiveness of your training on teachers’ performance?

Some initial thoughts in reply:

  • creating a culture of offering honest feedback is important (especially when you will be seeing the same people again, and in the culture where relationships are important)
  • teaching how to structure feedback (using the ELC, for example, insisting on ‘description first’ rule, no matter who the feedback is for (students, parents, peers, trainers, etc.)
  • creating a habit to offer/ask for feedback (every session, every week, etc.)
  • ‘owning’ one’s feedback, being ready to sign one’s name (and feeling secure to do so, confident that a listener can open up)
  • culture and habit of acting on feedback (so that teachers saw the effect of what they said)
  • (which often comes to changing one’s own attitude to receiving feedback, being ready to accept it)
  • ultimately, feedback is about mutual trust between you and teachers (so the task for a trainer is to model that for teachers, and potentially, their students)

How it is sometimes done on the training courses I facilitate

Categories are provided on some color cards, and participants write on each of them. They work individually.

  • everyone has a chance to write and ‘be heard’ by the trainers (more chance to learn about the individual ideas)
  • teachers who prefer to mention their name can do so (trainers can offer a follow-up in person)

Same (or different) categories are listed, and participants write on an A-4 poster in pairs (OR a larger poster in a group). Teachers may discuss and agree on the ideas to share.

  • everyone has a chance to discuss the ideas
  • the ‘most important points’ get to paper (more chance to learn about the group ideas/tendencies)

Exit tickets is something teachers do in their lessons, and we trainers can of course borrow this practice. A simple idea: before leaving the room, a form is filled in, but the format can vary) In the image below is a new idea I got from my colleague in Ukraine but have not yet tried in my training:

Online surveys, for example

  • Padlet: very visual immediately, names mentioned
  • Google Form: easy to analyze, e-mail addresses mentioned
  • MonkeySurvey: can be kept anonymous, but the number of questions in the free version is limited

Extra reading

More links, and discussion in the comments (with even more links!)

A couple of non-ELT sources I love: this post from Forbes, and Thanks for the Feedback (a book by HBR authors). 

A hobby of mine is collecting various feedback forms that are not related to ELT world: for example, at a cafe or a restaurant, airlines, travel agencies, banks, etc. 

What are some ideas for collecting feedback from your lessons, training sessions or conference presentations that you have tried and found successful/efficient? Or… vice versa? 

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