Wednesday Seminars

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

Lesson Plans, or Demotivating Teachers

This week I have been preparing a session for language school academic managers on Motivating Teachers. Interestingly, the discussion on Twitter could have had the opposite title: Demotivating Teachers (though written lesson planning), or something similar.

Why so? Let’s take a closer look.

@wanderingELT said on Twitter: ‘I wish I didn’t have to write a formal lesson plan for EVERY lesson I teach😩

My (almost) immediate response was ‘Hm… does anyone read them? What happens to the plans?

This teacher is apparently working at a private school, where no-one reads lesson plans on a regular basis, but teachers need to have them ‘in case of an inspection’ (so it is probably a chain of schools then, but I am not sure)

One suggestion from Twitter-verse came in complete agreement with how I felt about this: ‘If no-one’s reading them, have just one [lesson plan written] and use it should the inspector come?‘ What it shows (to me, at least, and sorry for stating the obvious) is that (a) it is a formal, or external reason that has nothing to do with teachers’ professional development and (b) the result might have no benefit for students at all. It is probably cultural, but once a law or rule does not make sense, we can create alternatives not even ‘breaking’ them formally. Is this actually passive-aggressive? Not sure about the terminology…

Another thought (again about the same school) sounded a little more positive: ‘We get feedback on one of them once every two weeks by DoS‘. Why a little? Because how many hours of writing falls into the actual teacher growth and learning from the feedback which the DoS will finally provide? Will the teacher have a chance to choose which group s/he wants the feedback on? Will the teacher be asked about this? Not to even mention the amount of work the DoS will have to be doing (how many lesson plans to comment on a regular basis, and what degree of quality does this work have?)

Another big question related to the above: what is the ultimate reason for asking to write written plans for all the lessons? Possibly, it is the hope that by having a written plan a teacher can be ‘officially’ prepared [well, unless it is the way we discussed above, when the writing is done because there will be someone checking the plan] Alternatively, it is an attempt to be accountable (to students, parents, funders, etc.). If so, perhaps other formats might be considered, for example, student surveys, regular tests, international exam results, etc.? Or maybe, it is a way to bring discipline to the teaching team (and always have a formal reason to have a ‘serious conversation’ of any sort?) [same argument as before: once it is a game to play, there are ways to avoid or ‘tweak’ the process]


Clearly, I am taking the teachers’ side in this post. I spent a lot of time in the classroom, and in the craziest years, had a load of 30-45 teaching hours per week (including private students outside school time). Could I imagine writing a formal detailed lesson plan for each and every lesson? Well, no. Did I prepare for the lessons and take notes? Yes.

Here, we come to a more constructive part of the discussion: is there a way to ensure that teachers are prepared, and that the prep time is used as wisely and efficiently as possible? Hopefully, we can. One example from my own experience as an academic leader: we had a school meeting where every teacher brought an example of their planning notes, and they shared the examples and talked about the process of writing. Wish I had taken pictures – you should have seen the variety of forms, formats, styles, handwriting, etc.! After that, we all agreed that each teacher had a manner and habits that were hard to ‘standardize’. The conclusion, and a mutual decision was to have a clear written lesson aim/objective for every lesson, and if a DoS (me) asks about it, it needs to be shown. If there is a developmental observation, happening several times a year, a more detailed plan is submitted. Sometimes those were very detailed, as the teachers chose which group, lesson, level, type of lesson they wanted me to see, and had questions, etc. However, if there was a complaint from students (or corporate customer), a written plan had to be written for the observed lesson. Sometimes, more than once.

Was this ideal? I don’t think so. It is one example of how a dialogue can be created. What else have you seen or tried at your workplace? What was a more successful idea?

Some Twitter examples:

  • Marc, aka @getgreatenglish, said that in theory teachers get paid for prep in UK [
] It’s 2 hours of planning and preparation [time] and marking for 30 hours, per week.
  • @Liam_ELT shared a piece of wisdom: make the lesson planning work for you, or you end up preparing twice…

A couple more [50 word] ideas on Lesson Planning with teachers at school and on a training course can be found in pink here. 

A final thought: if we can’t change a situation, we might try and change our attitude to it. Or… change the situation (change the school, or teach freelance)?

Your thoughts?

Note: this post was not intended to be a summary of the Twitter conversation, so not all the ideas were quoted. If you are interested in the original conversation, follow me (@ZhenyaDnipro) and enjoy it!


Some background:

If I was asked to find a title, or a name, or specify a theme for the professional activities I am engaged in this year, it would be Connecting. Partially, the idea came from Aziz Abu Sarah’s plenary talk at TESOL Convention 2016. Partially, I was inspired by Parag Khanna’s TED Talk. As a global strategist and futurist, he shared the idea and term of  Connectography used now instead of geography and reflecting the global tendency to create shared communities and projects.

I am working on connecting ELT professionals and organizations here in Ukraine. Ok, this sounds too ambitious and unrealistic. Let me try again: I am trying to put in touch the professionals in our field who, for one reason or another, feel isolated at the moment and are searching for groups, networks and communities to belong to. The levels or ‘layers’ of connections I am (gradually) creating are the following:

teachers: freelancing or working for a specific company (for example, IT-company teachers)

directors of studies/academic managers of small language centers (not belonging to any chains of schools and not having a pool of colleagues for help and questions, when needed)

language school directors/owners (this is a tricky group, because they are often doing the job of an academic manager, and teach classes!)

teacher trainers: again, freelancing or working for a specific center

[Note 1: I hope to write about the development, or a failure of these ideas in this blog!]

[Note 2: I am not doing all this alone – instead, I am lucky to have found like-minded people to connect to/with! :-)]

Barge on Dnipro the river

In this post, I would like to share some ideas about the last group: teacher trainers. On the one hand, it is a category of independent people (both socially and financially) who might not seek any group to be a member of. There are teacher training associations internationally, for example, IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group, and membership there might be/feel enough. Maybe. On the other hand, there is little (or no?) trainer development once you get your training license. The biggest professional development discoveries often happen on a course we are working on, and sometimes these great learnings and highlights simply stay in our training journals, blogs (if they can make it this far), or conference presentations (the best scenario?).

In the light of the above, I have an idea for a Teacher Trainer Round Table session. It is a 60-90 minute session pencilled for early November in Kiev. The expected audience will be practicing teacher trainers working in Ukraine and internationally, newly licensed trainers and experienced teachers interested in or planning to become trainers.

The following is my brainstormed outline for the content of this session. At the end of it, I will share two questions to the readers, and will appreciate your honest feedback in the comments!

Teacher Trainer Round Table session

Dream: creating a training community in Ukraine

Session goal: ‘test waters’ and research the needs of trainers in my context


Why it might be great to create such a community:

  • Socialize and get to know colleagues (and potential project partners)
  • Explore/establish Professional Development opportunities for trainers/educators
  1. contextualize/adapt international ELT ideas to the culture in Ukraine
  2. adapt the approaches to various levels of language proficiency (especially state schools)
  3. exchange and accumulate training experiences
  4. help others become teacher trainers/supervisors/advisors/mentors at their workplaces
  5. further develop training, reflective and soft/people skills
  6. organize professional development events
  7. brainstorm possible projects in Ukraine (and abroad)
  8. …? your ideas?

What the community members could do:

  • reflect on their courses/experiences/participants in safe/friendly environment
  • develop skills to become trainers of trainers
  • share tips on becoming a freelance educational consultant
  • present on international conferences, [registering as a group might cut costs)
  • co-author courses
  • publish materials
  • promote learner-centered teaching culture
  • …? your ideas?

How this could be done (sample ways)

  • face-to-face meet ups
  • observing each other’s courses/sessions
  • co-presenting
  • online meetings: Skype, webinars, social media, etc.
  • (co-) blogging
  • …? your ideas?

My questions: Would you like to be a member of such a group? What questions would like to be answered before making the decision?

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 clichĂ©!) 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!🙂

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