Introducing Inclusive Practices in Education: A Letter to Colleagues

Introducing Inclusive Practices in Education: A Letter to Colleagues

Angelos Bollas

Angelos Bollas (Greece) gives us advice on teaching about inclusion, equality and diversity


It appears to me that the number of colleagues who are interested in adopting inclusive practices is on the rise. I observe several webinars, conference talks and workshops, as well as informal discussions on social media being dedicated to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Even though this is a great development, it is vital that colleagues be cautious when it comes to receiving advice about such sensitive matters. Indeed, most language teachers around the world are not trained in psychology, sociology, and other sciences relevant to EDI. As such, it becomes easy to follow advice that appears to be sound without critically examining its validity. This letter aims to help colleagues develop their criticality with regards to EDI-related materials, practices, and sources.

Dear colleagues,

Although colleagues in Academia have long been interested in exploring the issue of inclusion and inclusive practices with attention to gender and sexuality in education, and in English Language Teaching (ELT) in particular, the issue has only recently received wide attention among ELT professionals. It was only a few years ago that the first relevant talk (concurrent event) at IATEFL took place and, since then, we have observed a plethora of conference presentations, publications for teachers and learners, webinars, and other modes of information/knowledge sharing addressing this topic.

Even though one should not but welcome such developments in our field, it is important to take them with a pinch of salt, as we ought to do with anything that ascends overnight from being a so-called taboo topic to becoming a trend. This short blog post addresses those teachers who are genuinely interested in being inclusive and providing their learners with lessons that allow them to be seen, recognised, and celebrated for being who they are. Its aim is not to put them off from learning more about inclusive practices; quite the contrary, it aims to encourage credible, ongoing, and multidisciplinary education on the subject.

What is ‘credible’ education?

What is being challenged through these few words in this post is the concept of ‘credible’ education. Arguing that credible education is solely university-produced knowledge would make this author (or any other one for that matter) nothing but an elitist who is ignorant of the fact that the working conditions of English language teachers around the world do not allow them to access well-guarded scholarship from journal articles and academic publications. At the same time, it would be ignorant to claim that only those working in academia are capable of producing work that is worthy of attention and consideration.

So, the question should not be so much about what makes the cut to being considered ‘credible’; rather, the question should be what it is that we, practicing teachers, should be on the look-out for when consulting advice with regards to inclusive practices. Below, there is a brief list of what one should be wary of:

Sources that focus too much on the author’s personal experiences.

Although it can be extremely insightful to hear or read about someone’s own experiences with (a lack of) inclusive practices as learner and/or teacher, it is not fruitful to assume that one person’s experience is generalisable and/or that it provides enough evidence to base any teaching or materials design decision on.

Sources that are not based in any form of research.

As discussed earlier, accessing journal articles or academic publications can be very expensive, especially for English language teachers. However, it is not uncommon for professional publications to be based on secondary research, that is, research conducted by others. Such publications can be a very valuable tool for us because they are not based on one person’s beliefs or thoughts. Rather, they are based on research and evidence, which, in turn, allows us to reflect on the applicability of a certain task, idea, or approach to our own learning and teaching context.

Sources that provide you with ready-made lessons (and no framework to help you design your own sources).

Even though ready-made lessons are very useful, especially for busy classroom practitioners, there is a danger that colleagues might end up giving the odd token lesson every now and then. Indeed, while every attempt to address inclusion, or lack of, is a significant one, it should be noted that token lessons can potentially contribute to the stigmatisation of certain identities. It is necessary to adopt a more holistic approach which extends beyond the single odd lesson. As such, it is important that we consult sources that encourage us to develop such an approach and apply it to all materials, the ones we design but also the ones that are publicly available.

Perhaps, at the heart of this post is an attempt to encourage colleagues to engage with the issue of inclusion and inclusive practices in a meaningful manner, to congratulate those who are already involved in this complicated but important mission, and to promote research and evidence-informed approaches.

Best Regards,


Networked Mentors

angelos_profileby Angelos Bollas

I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately. I wasn’t sure how to choose who has been a good mentor for me and who hasn’t. The truth is that I am very lucky to have met and worked with great teachers, trainers, tutors, and professors. I have been taught by truly inspiring teachers who are dedicated and passionate about their subjects. I have been trained by skillful and talented trainers who inspired me to want to become one. I have also been guided and supported by college and university professors whose presence in my life has shaped the way I work and function professionally. So, naming one of all these people would certainly not be right.

It was then that I thought that I should write about my students. At the end of the day, it is for them that we do all the things that we do in our teaching, isn’t it? Of course, choosing one or two out of so many would be tough, but I am sure we all have those few students that have made a difference in our professional lives; not because of being exceptionally smart or showing excellent language skills, but rather by inspiring us to become better day after day. Then, again, such a person would not qualify as a mentor per se, so I couldn’t write about them.

Finally, I sat down and thought of a turning point in my career, a point when something changed as a result of my coming into contact with other people in this profession. This ‘something’ was more than just becoming better in what I was doing; it had to do with the way I felt about my job. It was really a point in time when I started thinking beyond the walls of my classroom, when I felt part of a wider community of English language teachers. And then it was obvious to me: I couldn’t write about anyone other than the wonderful people I connected with when I first went online and joined #ELTchat.

I still remember that day very vividly. I was doing my CELTA with CELT Athens at that time. One Wednesday Marisa Constantinides (@Marisa_C) talked to me about Twitter and #ELTchat. At first, I couldn’t understand much. Imagine that I was in the middle of completing my CELTA course so my head was full of new information anyway. Yet, Marisa was very enthusiastic about Twitter, telling us things like “Twitter is the hub of education, get out there, connect with other like-minded people.” So, I went home, created a Twitter account, and joined #ELTchat.

For those of you that do not know, #ELTchat is a hashtagged discussion on Twitter. ELT professionals from all over the world log into their Twitter accounts every Wednesday at 7 pm (UK time) and chat on a topic of their choice. It is fast and vibrant, and it offers its participants practical community-built knowledge. It is also more than just that. It is a caring community of colleagues. During my first attempt, not only was I amazed by the chat itself, but also by the people who participated in it and by their support. I remember chatting with teachers from many different countries (e.g. Japan, USA, Saudi Arabia), with trainers whose work and blogs were (and still are) much acclaimed, as well as other well-known figures of ELT. In addition to following the chat-related tweets, I started following all of the chat participants; some of them followed me back and we started exchanging ideas, tips, experiences and more on a daily basis.

These and many other people of the chat community have been more than a reference point for me; they have been the driving force that makes me want to do more. It is not only about being better, but more about doing more, trying things out, sharing your experience, helping novice teachers who need support, etc. Isn’t that what mentors should do anyway? That’s what I think at least. We are doing a job that does not offer much in terms of tangible benefits; it has, however, much to offer when it comes to getting the best out of one’s self and that’s exactly what #ELTchat people have done for me.
I am writing this in the hopes of helping another teacher feel as I feel. Before joining the chat, I was a local English language teacher whose only point of reference in this profession had been my own self and a couple of colleagues. However, from the day I joined Twitter, I started feeling as if I am part of a bigger team. My professional world has expanded and so many talented people have become part of it. In fact, a very active and important part of it. For all this time, I have been lucky to enjoy their company, their help, their experience, their ideas, their reflections, their support, and so many more things that I couldn’t possibly list in a single post. Most importantly, their presence is what makes me want to become better every single day. It is to them that I dedicate this post and it is to them that I owe my most sincere gratitude.

Feeding Lessons with Students’ Feedback

By Angelos Bollas

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In the teaching days prior to receiving professional training, not only did I not ask my students for their feedback in regards to my teaching but also did not even think that it could make my lessons better in any way. Thinking back, I can also confess that this did not happen consciously. In other words, I was not uninterested in what they had to say about our lessons; I just didn’t know any better. I am sure there are many teachers out there who are so overwhelmed by the things they have to do in a lesson that they ‘forget’ to ask whether the learners actually learn, enjoy, or want something different from the lesson and/or the teacher.

In this post, I would like to share my experience of making students’ reflection an integral part of the lessons I taught last year at a pre-sessional course offered by a UK institution of higher education to international students who applied for Masters or Doctorate studies. The course, lasting 10 weeks over the summer, focused on the development and honing of students’ academic skills so that they would be able to cope with the demands of their postgraduate course after completing it.

It was their cultural and educational background that made me realize in the beginning of the course that there was a real need for me to see whether my teaching had any effect. By that time, I had experience teaching students from all over Europe and North America but I had never taught students from China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Thanks to my previous training, I was aware of the relevant literature that described learners’ academic strengths and weaknesses (in relation to learning English, that is) and I did consult different sources, but I was still not sure that this would be enough. So, the first thing that I introduced was an online learning diary.

 Online Learning Diary

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I set up a wiki space using PBworks (click here for more information) and had the students create their own private pages. Every Friday they were asked to provide short answers for the following questions:

  • Overall, have you enjoyed this week’s classes? Why? Why not?
  • Were there any activities/tasks that you enjoyed a lot? Why did you like them?
  • Were there any activities/tasks that you did not enjoy at all? How could they be different?
  • If you could change three things about our lessons, which ones would they be and how would you change them to make them better?

 I really enjoyed reading the students’ responses not only because I could make adjustments to the following week’s planning but also because they were unconsciously practicing their writing skills. However, given the pace of the course, after the first couple of weeks students started seeing this as an extra assignment for which they had no time and, since it was not part of their formal assessment, they were not very keen on completing it. Once I realized that this didn’t work anymore, I thought of using questionnaires at the end of each teaching day; this way, students would not have to do anything other than tick the boxes.


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The questionnaires were very simple in design. Most questions asked the students to choose a yes/no answer and were all followed by a short-answer question. A sample question would look like this:

Did you enjoy today’s class?        

Yes      No   (circle the one that applies)

 Why? (answer in a short sentence) _____________________________________________________________

Indeed, students were happier completing such a questionnaire each day rather than having to log into our wiki space, find their page, think of all the tasks/activities we had done each week, and start typing paragraph-long answers. When it comes to the quality of the feedback I received, though, it was significantly lower than the one I received through the online learning diary. Not surprisingly, after 6 hours of lessons, students wanted to complete the questionnaire as soon as possible so that they could leave the lecture hall and go home. It was also a less environmentally friendly solution, so I had to think of something else.

In trying to find a more effective way of collecting feedback, I remembered what I usually say to teachers when they ask me about best tech tools: use the one your learners are most familiar with. The majority of my students were using WeChat, a free messaging app similar to WhatsApp, so I put it to use for getting their feedback.

WeChat for feedback

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We set up a class group on WeChat and students were asked to add a short comment after the end of each session (not after the end of each teaching day). This time, there were no pre-assigned questions or any guidelines and the responses I received were similar to these:

“Very difficult text”

“Difficult words”

“Nice game”

“Let’s do this again”

“Can we not read another text about engineering?”

“I like doing exercises in groups”    

The most interesting thing about this method of collecting feedback was that I was receiving it after the end of each session, which meant that I could make on the spot changes for the remaining sessions of the day.

In my opinion, all three ways of collecting feedback are very helpful; one needs to find the right one for their own teaching/learning context. For my context, the one that worked the best was using WeChat. It allowed my students to use a platform they were familiar with and were already using anyway, which meant that they did not ‘forget’ to send their feedback. Due to the limited length of their comments, it did not look like extra homework for them and allowed them to be concise.
There are certainly other means for gathering feedback that have not been mentioned in my post, such as Google Forms, Tutorials, and many others. It would be really useful for me and all readers of this blog if you added your thoughts and/or preferred methods for collecting feedback from your students in the comments area below!


What Is Your Colleague Type?

angelos_profileBy Angelos Bollas

Many things have been said about the importance of understanding our learners and how this can positively affect our teaching. What about understanding our colleagues? Will knowing our colleagues’ type – or our own type for that matter -affect our job?  Having spent 9 years in various hallways, staff-rooms, FB groups, and Twitter discussions, I have come across some broad categories of coworkers, all of whom had and still have something to teach me. So, here is my list:

Newbie Type A: 

This type of teacher currently has no experience and no training. The boss hired them because they will not claim a high (well, as high as a teacher can claim) hourly rate. They spend much time in the staff-room and they do everything they can to get on well with their coworkers.  They often develop a special relationship with Helper Types (see: Helper Types).

Possible effect on others: They offer a great chance for other staff members to refresh their skills and revisit important issues of language learning and teaching. Usually, Newbie Type A teachers ask to observe lessons and are open to a wide range of suggestions. Having a Newbie Type A in the school provides opportunities for more experienced teachers to mentor and develop their teacher training skills.

Newbie Type B:

This type of teacher has just completed a teacher training course. Bless them. They are usually in a state of shock and view all classrooms as a whirlwind of chaos. They are trying to put into practice everything they have learnt in training. At the same time, though, they sometimes have a hard time asking for help as they have been trained and feel that there should be an answer somewhere and given enough effort, they will be able to find it.

Possible effect on others: usually, Newbie Type B teachers do not interact a lot with other teachers. In addition, a few Newbie Types B’s believe that the training course they went through, for whatever reason, is superior to other trainings. this special sub-type of Newbie Type B teachers might end up spending their time exclusively with Post-Newbie Type B Types. In general, when asked for help, Newbie Type B’s can often blossom, happy to share the information and ideas that they have worked so hard to learn.

Newbie Type C:

Very similar to Newbie Type Bs… and yet something is also very different. During their training course, they were taught (or somehow leaned) that sharing means caring; that real learning requires more than one person to be involved to happen.

Possible effect on others: extremely pleasant type to work with, sociable, caring, interested in their job, sharing good and bad experiences. Even more experienced teachers learn a lot from colleagues of this type, especially when it comes to using new tools or techniques. Bless them!

Experienced Type A, The Mentor

Experienced teachers who continuously share their experience and knowledge with anyone belong to this category. They are usually well networked and connected to a wide PLN (Professional Learning Network). They often jump at the chance to present at any local and/or global conference.

Possible effect on others: They are a pleasure to work with. Novice teachers use them as a point of reference. Experienced teachers rely on them for in-depth discussions, chances to reflect on their own teaching, and even the occasional simple teaching tip or trick. And senior staff members or DOSs appreciate them because as long as ‘The Mentor’ is around, there is one less colleague to worry about.

Experienced Type B, The Anti-Mentor:

Not completely the opposite of ‘The Mentor’.  The Experienced Type B teacher is skilful and knowledgeable. Unfortunately, they are also extremely unapproachable. Typically, these colleagues started teaching as a means of earning a living until they could find a real job; yet, because of their natural skill set and abilities, they succeeded at teaching up until the point where it became their career, without ever realising that it was, in fact, a career. Anti-Mentors don’t share their experience because they do not realise that there is anything to share; they do not realise that teaching is a difficult profession and that they have valuable insights which could help make it less difficult for the people they work with.

Possible effect on others: This type does not often cause problems for others. They check in right on time, do their lessons, and go back home. However, occasionally an Anti-Mentor might feel some loss over having missed out on what they believe to have been their ‘real career’. This can occasionally lead to withdraw and a lack of desire to actively participate in trainings.

Experienced Type C, The Helper:

This is perhaps the rarest type of colleague, and has not been photographed in the wild since 1997 in a small school in Barcelona. The Helper shares many characteristics with Experienced Type A Teachers. The main difference, though, is that The Helper is always around (although rarely photographed). They work 12 hours per day – although the word work in this context means staying in the staff-room in a semi-on-duty mode, perpetually willing to cover for absent colleagues or do extra lessons and/or tutorials.

Possible effects on others: Other than spoiling the people lucky enough to work with them – who doesn’t want a colleague like this – they also spoil our bosses, too. It can get to the point where some school owners begin to ‘demand’ that all teachers have this always-on attitude.

The above list is not conclusive and, while a list of ‘types’, it is not written with the intent of promoting categorisation. Instead, I hope that it can help us take a moment think about or coworkers. They, like us, are teachers. They are not just the people with whom we share our staff-rooms, but the people with whom we share similar passions, questions, and insecurities. And I also hope that as we think about our coworkers, we can also begin to think about ourselves. Do we make the lives of our colleagues better or worse?

Feel free to share your own experiences with your colleagues, or even better, ask them to describe you as a colleague and think of what you can do to become a better colleague, person, and, ultimately, teacher.