Notes From A Distant ELT Outpost

Chuck Sandy
Chuck Sandy
By Chuck Sandy

Living as I do in a quiet corner of central Japan where not much happens, I might be the last person you’d expect to see commenting on recent trends in ELT. Then add to this the very fact that it’s been a good while now since I’ve been a classroom teacher and it’s almost like I should disqualify myself from this task.  Still I do keep a social media lookout for news from the English language teaching world and further fuel my addiction to this news with daily readings from the many English Language Teaching (and education) blogs that I follow and stumble upon. It’s from this distant vantage point that I offer up the following notes and observations.

  1. It’s been a year in which ELT teacher equity has been brought to the forefront thanks to the IATEFL 2016 plenary by Silvana Richardson, the ongoing work of TEFL Equity Advocates, and the conversation which has been happening all over social media for much of the year. The fact that the profession is now beginning to move away from the native-speaker bias that’s plagued ELT for years is something worth applauding.
  1. There’s been a vigorous discussion about what it means to be an ELT teacher going on throughout the year. While at times related to the equity issues raised above, this discussion has also seen many questioning what it takes to begin work as a qualified English language teacher.  For an overview of this discussion, you might start with this post on Hugh Dellar’s Lexical Lab blog.  But don’t stop there. For a full range of the discussion and the bigger picture of the problem, do a search for TEFL or TESOL or EFL teacher qualifications and spend some time looking around.  As you do, consider for yourself what it means to be an ELT professional and what sort of qualifications new English language teachers should have upon entering the field. This is a discussion we’ll be seeing more of in the coming year.
  1. Several groups around the ELT world have begun experimenting with the notion of what a conference is and exploring the ways that ideas and initiatives can be shared. Who should be invited to speak? How long should keynote presentations be? Should there even be keynotes? Do we even need a traditional venue? What would happen if the doors were widened enough to bring in ideas from education, psychology, and business?  Although there are several groups and individuals I could mention,  Innovate ELTExcitELT, and EdYOUfest come to mind. Then there’s Laura Patsko and her Pedagogy Pop Ups on Periscope. It will be interesting to see how these start-up conferences and idea-sharing platforms develop in the coming year. Maybe you’ll be participating in one or more of these or forging ahead with new initiatives of your own.
  1. Everyone has probably noticed the slow but steady rise of the indie ELT publisher over the past couple of years. It may have all started with The Round but now there’s Atama-ii with its “choose your own adventure” books, Wayzgoose Press with a growing list of titles, and the soon to be launched The ELT Workshop.  There is also a growing series of collaboratively written books produced by Heart ELT which are beautifully done. These are well worth a look.
  1. It seems that teacherpreneur just might be the ELT word of 2016. Though I first became aware of the word some time ago while exploring the archives at the mostly K-12 Teachers Pay Teachers, it didn’t register fully until I connected with Patrice Palmer. Her website is full of interviews with teachers who have made the jump from classroom teacher to provider of hand-crafted materials, self-published books, and online lessons. If you find this intriguing and are considering making a similar jump yourself, Patrice will be leading an iTDi Advanced Course in January 2017 called Teacher To Teacherpreneur that will help you explore your options as you learn about the business end of ELT.
  1. Perhaps it’s because I live way out in the middle of nowhere as I do that I’ve been even more amazed this year by how easy it is to collaborate on projects with people in far-away places. The things I’m working on now couldn’t have been done even a few years ago. The tools which are now available to us have become that easy to use. I can hardly imagine what’s next.
  1. I’m going to go out on a limb here and call 2016 the beginning of a post-PLN (Personal Learning Network) world. What I see from where I sit is more people getting connected in more ways and yet collaborating more closely in smaller groups. My friend Michael Obrien calls these smaller groups pelotons – a word that comes from the cycling world. A peloton is a group of cyclists who work collaboratively towards the fulfillment of a common goal. Sometimes one rider takes the lead while others block the wind. Sometimes another one does. Sometimes one rider will pull ahead while others fall behind. Then that one waits for others to catch up. “You can never be faster than your peloton,” says Michael. Nor should you.  You’re all getting to the same place together and because you’re getting there together, that makes the whole experience better. Working in this way with my peloton is my goal for 2017.

And perhaps our paths will cross as I read your posts, or as we work on online projects together, or maybe we’ll even meet up out in the physical world somewhere.  Although I write to you from a distant outpost, the ELT world is a small one. To where ever you are and for whatever you do, I thank you and wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous year ahead.

Co-Mentoring Our Way Back to The Basics

Chuck-0215-1by Chuck Sandy

“The positive effect of one loving relative, mentor or friend can overwhelm the negative effects of the bad things that happen”David Brooks

People toss the word mentoring around so easily that you might be tempted to believe that everyone is talking about the same thing and that it’s something easy to do. Be a mentor, people say. Find a mentor, others advise. That’s how you move forward, serve others, and solve our world’s problems all at the same time. If only it were that simple. I used to believe it was.

Do a little online research, though, and you will quickly find over fifty definitions of mentoring and tons of the motivational memes about mentoring that float through our social media feeds. But dig deeper, as I’ve been doing, beyond all that and widely into readings in education, psychology, sociology, and counselling and you’ll eventually find evidence-based research-driven mentoring models and training programs that will give you a better idea of what mentoring really is.

Although these models and programs all have very different aims and objectives, all of them have these three intertwined threads running through them: the centrality of relationships, the need for careful listening, and the call to be empathetically non-judgmental. Oh, and the idea that the learning is slow, very slow, so slow that it won’t even look like learning until the day it (maybe) becomes self-directed change.

At this point you might be wondering why I’ve been doing all this research and reading about mentoring and I’ll tell you the truth. Having found myself in a position in which people began seeking me out as a mentor, I most often got it all wrong and failed miserably. My most miserable failures as a mentor occurred when I talked more than I listened, misunderstood the relationship, wound up answering questions people didn’t have, and gave advice that wasn’t right. It doesn’t really matter how right my intentions were. Those failures happened.

This year, though, I had a wonderful opportunity. I had a health crisis which forced me offline and into a long period of quiet reflection and focused reading. Although I’ve now come out the other side of all that into a period of renewed health, I’m still offline for the most part. That’s because I’m trying to put into practice what I’ve been learning. Central to that is the idea of co-mentoring and a return to the very basics of community building.

In our ever more connected online world — a world in which everyone’s talking and no one’s really listening — it’s easy to forget how isolated and fragile so many of us really are. We attend a webinar or online course and feel thrilled that we’re a part of something bigger than we are. We build a PLN and marvel at how our ideas can so quickly spread across the globe. This is no doubt a wonderful thing and I’m all for it. But it’s an illusion to believe that these are communities unless we very consciously one by one and two by two make them so. That is possible. Enter co-mentoring.

A while back both Jason R. Levine and I found ourselves in a fallow period of our lives. We were between ideas and feeling kind of down about it all, so one day we decided we’d meet once a week on Skype to spin ideas, talk about our lives, and really listen to each other. What developed was much more than a friendship. We discovered a way of being together that’s empathetic, relational, and listening focused. No, that’s not a crazy idea. Tell me more. I’m listening and I hear you. Yes, I’ll be here next week. It’s hard work and it’s time consuming — but there’s real value in it.

That’s why I’ve also been building similar co-mentoring relationships with  Philip PoundTim Hampson, and Josette LeBlanc. While it’s true that Tim, Josette and I are building structures to help people find their calling and share their stories, and true that  Philip and I are working on EdYOUfest, the bigger story is the one about how we’re co-mentoring ourselves through the days. This means we’re not even thinking about fixing each other or doing much advising. We’re just building little communities of two or three while doing a lot of listening.

Meanwhile there are the people around me in this physical world and the little communities we’re co-creating and co-mentoring  together right here in the very area where I sit and write — but that’s another story. It follows the same principles but is much easier  because of the shared physical space.

In a wonderful essay on the Evidence-Based Mentoring site  Dr. Tim Cavell   writes that “the lesson here is that less is more … That means we might have to pull back from the urge to ‘sell’ ourselves to others, to be always entertaining or engaged; sometimes it’s best to simply be with those we love. That’s the essence of accepting others. Finding a way to simply be with them.”

That’s the real work. I know, that doesn’t sound like much and perhaps none of this is new to you, but as usual, I’m a slow learner and have had to learn the simplest things last.

Breaking The Cycle of Failure

Chuck Sandyby Chuck Sandy

I hadn’t realized my 10th grade math teacher had been watching me struggle, but as I closed my book and put my pencil down in frustration she walked over and asked me if I was alright. “No, I’m not all right. I can’t do this,” I said. She pulled up a chair and sat down. Then she asked, “are you using everything you’ve been given to solve the problems?”

Thinking she might be criticizing me, I got defensive. “Of course I am,” I said angrily. “I don’t think you are,” she replied as she opened my book back up to the proper page. “Who have you asked for help?” I thought about this for a moment and said, “No one.” She handed me my pencil and said, “then you haven’t used everything you’ve been given to solve your problems. Let’s get to work.”
As I noted her use of the word let’s and her shift from the problems to your problems she asked if I was willing to let her help me. I agreed I was and she promised that she would. Then for the last few weeks of that semester between classes, during class, and after school she set aside time to work with me.

Whenever I didn’t understand something she’d say, “so you’re not ready do to X yet and that’s ok. I know you can do Y though, so let’s go back to that point and figure out where we got lost. Meanwhile, try this.” Then she’d offer me some new strategy to use on a problem I could do, and when I used that successfully she’d congratulate me. “See, I knew you could do it,” she’d say. Eventually I started to believe her and as I did something changed inside me. I started to feel good about myself and looked forward to her class. Maybe I wasn’t a failure after all.

That’s why it wasn’t a catastrophe when my high score on the final exam wasn’t enough to save me from getting an F in the course. Yes, I failed the course, but because this teacher had given me a place to stand, a way forward and a path out, the second time through her course I came pretty close to getting an A.

More importantly, I finally broke out of the cycle of failure I’d gotten trapped in.

Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this teacher and the way she’d helped me to break the cycle. By the time I’d gotten to her class in 10th grade I knew for a fact that I couldn’t do math. I was also pretty sure I was a loser and that everyone knew it. Though I could tell you the long story about how I’d come to believe this about myself, I don’t really need to because my story could be anyone’s story.

You hit a bad patch, skip a few classes, and now you have no idea what’s going on. Then you move to a seat in the back of the class and hope no one will notice how lost you are. You haven’t done your homework because you don’t know how so why even bother? Then what’s this? It’s a quiz on which you just scored close to zero. All you want to do is get out of that room where you’re failing and find some place where you possibly could feel better about yourself.

But that’s when your teacher decides to pull you over and tell you that you really need to try harder and wonders why you’re so unmotivated and says something like “you’re going to fail my class unless you shape up” without giving you a clue about how you might do that. That’s what my 6th grade math teacher told me before adding “and don’t ever come to this room without your homework done.”

All that talk does is scare you and when you do come back with your homework done it’s all wrong because you still don’t know how to do it. But all you get is that lecture again and then you fail and you fail and you fail and now it’s not just that one class. It’s everything and you’re sinking fast and there’s no place to stand until you get to the 10th grade and you’re lucky enough to have a teacher who gives you one. Yet there’s more to the story as there always is.
There’s also the story about how much easier it is to turn on the television or hang out with friends than it is to work at something you’re not good at. Then there’s the story about not fitting in with your peers or maybe you come from a family who doesn’t have much and your whole life is a struggle, or maybe it’s that you’re overweight or your clothes are out-of-style hand-me-downs or you don’t feel well or you’re depressed but you know this part of the story, too. There are a million reasons why someone might start the slide into failure and wind up in danger. Failure is complex, multi-layered and human. No one is immune.

Whatever the reasons students might get trapped in a cycle of failure, I’ve never seen any of mine get out of that trap because someone’s given them a lecture about trying harder or because they’ve seen some meme on social media about how failure is just a part of success so stand up when you fall down. The only times I’ve seen real change made were those times when someone pulled up a chair like my 10th grade math teacher did and offered a place to stand. Then even if a failing grade should still happen, that not really failure because there’s now at least the possibility that the cycle of failure could be broken.

I learned this as I was failing a 10th grade math class. None of this is easy and there are no guarantees it will work, but I’ve learned that the way out begins by asking are you alright? Are you using everything you’ve been given to solve this problem. Who have you asked for help? Well, I’m willing to help you if you want some help and yes, I do understand you can’t do this now, but I know you can do this other thing and here’s how we could get started on that.

That this offer of help is sometimes rejected hardly matters. Even pulling up that chair and making the offer let’s students know that their struggle has been acknowledged, that there’s a place to stand if they want one, that there is a way forward and a path out. It says I know this is hard for you but I’m here if you need me. You could open your book, pick up your pencil, and we could begin here.


Unleash The Superpowers

Chuck SandyOn Kiran Bir Sethi, Design Thinking, And Saying Yes


Chuck Image 1Kiran Bir Sethi is founder of Design For Change, a global initiative that empowers children to express their own ideas for a better world and put them into action. Since beginning in a single classroom with one teacher at Kirans Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India, the movement has spread to more than 25,000,000 children in over 35 countries.

Superheroes are not in fairy-tales. They are in every child who says I can. Kiran Bir Sethi

In fact, there’s a superhero residing deep in every one us, but it often takes a teacher we meet in school or encounter in the world before we realize the power we have to create positive change in ourselves, our communities, and our world. Such a teacher unleashes our powers by believing in us. That belief not only empowers us to do and be more, but also calls us to in turn believe in and empower others. This is how we change the world: one teacher, one student, one community at a time. Kiran Bir Sethi helped me understand this.

I first met Kiran the same that way millions of others have. I watched her TED talk “Kids Take Charge” in which she asks, “when are you going to wake up and recognize the potential that resides in every child?” I woke up. It was 2 AM on a winter night during a shadowy time of my life. Lost somewhere between dreams, I was clicking on random Internet links when Kiran turned up explaining how she took an idea she started in her own classroom, spread it through her school, then her city, and later all across India and into the world. The idea was Design for Change and the model was so brilliantly simple that anyone could do it.

Chuck Image2

Feel. Imagine. Do. Share. As I watched again, I became so excited and so infected with the I Can Virus which Kiran describes that I rose out of my funk, did some Googling, got Kiran’s contact information, then cold-called her and essentially said, “I can and I will, just please let me work with you.” The first thing Kiran said was, “Fantastic, let’s Skype,” and then my life changed forever. I tell that story in my own TEDx Talk but what’s important to know is that I’m no one special. I’m just a person who said yes. Each one of us has the power to change the world. In the largest sense, it works like this:

Ask others, “What change do you want to see in yourself or in your community?” Listen and encourage. Then ask, “What can you do to create that change?” Listen and encourage some more. Then say, “I know you can do that. I believe in you.” At this point the people you are working with will probably ask, “Really?” Say yes, then prove it by giving them the space, time, and tools they need to work that change. Keep encouraging. Meanwhile, provide a platform on which they can share their story of change, learn more, and connect with and encourage others. Does this sound familiar? It should. That’s a big part what iTDi does.

One thing I learned working with Kiran is that the Design Thinking that drives Design For Change is an incredible tool that helps teachers unleash their superpowers, too. Once that begins to happen, teachers often feel empowered enough in their own practice to then unleash the superpowers within their students. That’s how we change the world.

Not all that long ago I interviewed Kiran about the ideas that drive Design for Change, and asked what advice she’d give to other change-makers. Here’s some of that conversation.

When did you first realize that ordinary people have the power to do extraordinary things?

Its an ongoing realization. Its more like seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. The goal is to keep seeing the potential that resides in people and then to keep opening up avenues for them to realize that potential.

 What principles underlie Design For Change?

We dont advocate a particular cause. We work with whatever bothers children and consciously focus on empathy. When children interact with life and empathize, they see they have the tools to make a situation better. Listening to children and sharing their designs is whats behind it.

Whats the most life-changing advice youve received, Kiran?

The greatest investment you can make is in yourself. If you invest in yourself first, then you can invest in others. Still, my father taught me that nobody and nothing is indispensible. Living in the present, if you live it 100%, is more important than holding on to what you might have in the future.

What skills helped manage Design For Change?

The way this spread so quickly forced us to put aside fancy management ideas. The most important thing is to respond to requests immediately. We let partners know theyre part of a larger idea, and explain why they should do it, not how they should do it. Initially, we handhold, but we want them to say, This is now our story, not Kirans story anymore. Thats an important construct. 

What advice do you have for future change-makers and social entrepreneurs?

Start with empathy. You cannot change the world for somebody else. It has to start from within.

In a recent article in The New Indian Express, Kiran says …

“I teach because I love learning and no two days are ever the same – so, everyday I can become an explorer, or an artist, a magician or a storyteller. Teaching design thinking cultivates the design mindset – building empathy, ethics and elevation. To see the children and teachers look at situations as ‘opportunities’ instead of ‘problems’ is the greatest joy.”

If you feel the same way, I encourage you to get involved with Design For Change. Learn more about Kiran’s work, The Riverside School, and why all of this is so important here. Whatever you do, please know that you too have this power to change the world. Say yes.


Waymarks Along The Way

Chuck Sandy

“I’ve come with a gift,” said the pilgrim.

“But what took you so long?” asked the master.

“The journey is the gift,” the pilgrim replied.

“Excellent,” said the master. “Keep going.”

Last autumn I walked across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. Along the way, fellow pilgrims would ask, “How far are you going?” and I’d say, “As far as I can.” I wasn’t trying to be evasive. I really didn’t know. Some days were easy and I’d get farther than I’d ever imagined I could. Other days were harder and I’d not get very far at all. At night when someone would ask, “How far did you get?” I’d say, “As far as I could” and I wasn’t trying to be evasive. What I meant had more to do with what was happening inside me than it did with distance. I took each day one step at a time, and over the course of this journey, those steps added up.

The destination was Santiago de Compostela, but walking the pilgrimage wasn’t really about getting somewhere. It was about being open and present, learning whatever there was to learn, and staying on the path. That last part was easy as there were always waymarks along The Way. Just when I’d start to think, “I might be lost” there’d be a yellow arrow pointing up one path rather than down another.


Often, though, there were options. One waymark would point towards a more difficult, longer, and less traveled path. Another would indicate a path that was easier, shorter, and more generally traveled. I’d stand at those crossroads and think, “this way or that way?” knowing that the choice I made would effect how I’d later answer the question “how far did you get?” On the Camino, I took both kinds of paths and enjoyed it all. Not surprisingly, though, it was following waymarks up the longer, harder, less traveled paths that got me farthest, changed me the most, and in the end brought me the most joy.

This is exactly what my life working in education has been like, too. For more than thirty years I’ve been following waymarks along the way, making decisions about whether to take the shorter, easier more traveled paths, or the longer, harder less traveled ways. Just like on the Camino, the waymarks leading up the more challenging paths through education have gotten me farthest, changed me most, and brought me the most joy. Here are ten of those waymarks from the journey. Think of these ten books as gifts of offering from along the way.

Teaching As A Subversive Activity – Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner

When Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner wrote Teaching As A Subversive Activity in 1969, it was news. It still is. This book is as valid an attack on lock-step teaching and unimaginative schooling now as it was when they first declared that, “There are trivial ways of studying language which have no connection with life, and these we need to clear out of our schools.” One of the reasons this book has been reprinted as many times as it has over the years is that we haven’t quite managed to do this –yet. Perhaps not enough people have read it. I’ve read this book a bunch of times, and hanging by my door is a card on which I’ve written these questions from the chapter entitled, “So what are you going to do now?”

What am I going to have my students do today?

What is it good for?

How do I know?

Even if you don’t read the book, try asking yourself those questions before you walk into class. Then ask the same questions of yourself when you finish teaching at the end of a day but leave the words have my students out of the first question. Make a practice of this. See what happens.

Reflecting on these questions before teaching a class, writing an activity, or deciding how to spend an afternoon has helped me to rethink the way I teach, the activities I write, the reasons I teach, and the way I live. Not bad for a book I got for less than a US dollar 30 years ago.

On Becoming A Person – Carl Rogers

Roger’s beautiful book opens with these words.

“I speak as a person, from a context of personal experience and personal learnings”

To offer yourself, as you are, to a group of learners is the greatest gift you can offer them. This is at the center of Roger’s work and at the core of what I believe about authentic teaching and learning.

For me, being a teacher means constantly working to become who I am while openly sharing that journey with others. My experience has been that the more I offer who I am on any particular day, the more likely it is that others will do the same. Under these conditions, real learning and teaching become more possible.

This is not an easy thing to do, and so it’s only right that On Becoming A Person is not easy reading. It asks questions like: “What is the meaning of personal growth? Under what conditions is growth possible? What is creativity and how can it be fostered? How can one person truly help another? Is it really possible to teach anyone anything?” Rogers grounds his work in a lifetime of practicing psychology and teaching to share the answers he’s arrived at. In the process of reading, you’ll likely discover your own.

Still,  be careful. Not too long ago, a friend suggested that it is the educators who most strongly believe that teaching is a calling and not just a skill-set who end up working their way right out of teaching. My own experience speaks to this, and Rogers provides a good example of how it happens when he writes:

“My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach.”

“It seems to me that anything which can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant influence on behavior.”

“I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior.”

“I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.”

“Such self-discovered learning cannot be directly communicated to another.”

“As a consequence of the above, I have lost interest in being a teacher.”

While I’ve certainly felt the frustration Rogers feels, I haven’t reached that last step and don’t think I ever will — but perhaps this is because I’m alive and working at a time full of interesting alternative ways of thinking about teaching and learning that Rogers didn’t live to see. Yet,  I’m pretty sure that the work Rogers did helped us develop those alternative ways of thinking about teaching and learning. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, remedy that.

A Place To Stand: Essays for Educators in Troubled Times  – Mark Clarke

 Like many teachers, you might be experimenting with non-traditional ways of teaching. In Clarke’s words you’re “a change agent” promoting not just change in your learners as you create conditions that make autonomous learning more likely. You’re also promoting change in the way things are done. Fantastic!

Be ready, though. People are going to notice, and not all of these people are going to be happy. I know this from hard experience. Reading Clarke’s book has saved my career more than once. If you’re doing non-traditional things in your classroom that some might consider a threat to the status quo, get this book and take the following advice to heart:

Invite others in to see what you’re doing in class, but be sure to prepare these observers for what they’re going to see. Then, as your students are huddled up around laptops gathering data, while others are in some other corner practicing their presentation, while still others are noisily doing something else all together, be ready to “help others see the structure and order of events and how these build upon each other toward a coherent experience for the learners.” Then be ready to be accommodating.

Sure, I’ll get them to quiet down. Of course, we’ll use the textbook sometimes. Yes, I’ll make sure students learn what we’ve all agreed needs to be covered. Then smile, make sure you do those things, and get back to work. Then, if those in power still don’t get it and try to get you to tone things down, go find somewhere else to do the good work you’re doing.

Rose Where Did You Get That Red? – Kenneth Koch

 “There are a lot of poets who have the courage to look into the abyss, but very few who have the courage to look happiness in the face and write about it – which is what I wanted to be able to do” wrote Kenneth Koch. Well, not only is that exactly what he did do, he also taught a generation of New York City school children to do it, too. Then, he wrote this wonderful book about that experience so that any of us could carry on the good work he started. Whether you’re interested in introducing your students to great poetry, want some ideas about how to get started on writing some great poetry of your own, or just want to hold something in your hands that is full of happiness, this book is for you.

I Won’t Learn From You and Other Thoughts On Creative Maladjustment – Herbert Kohl

 We’ve all had students who have refused to learn whatever it is we set out to teach them. Perhaps, like me, you’ve even been that student. Herbert Kohl’s classic essay on actively not learning suggests that such behavior is a conscious choice made by people who “choose to not learn from a system which they feel is oppressive or deadening.”

While these active refusers might look like unmotivated failures, they’re actually working tirelessly to maintain a strategy that they truly believe is essential to their survival in a situation that is out of their control, beyond the limits of their understanding, and perhaps even a threat to their identity. In some cases they could be right.

Ok, so now what? How can we re-channel that energy? Herbert Kohl has some good suggestions that have helped me numerous times over the years — both as a teacher working with such students and as a learner who has found himself in such situations. The three other essays in the book are equally brilliant. My favorite is The Tattooed Man: Confessions of A Hopemonger. Reading it will make you proud you’re a teacher and thankful that you’ve had the chance to “become an explorer with the goal of uncovering or helping your students uncover the gifts and strengths which can nurture them as they grow.”

How Children Fail – John Holt

I’ll let Holt speak for himself, but as you read, replace the word children with the word teachers and the word learning with teaching. Watch what happens.

“Schools assume that children are not interested in learning and are not much good at it, that they will not learn unless made to, that they cannot learn unless shown how, and that the way to make them learn is to divide up the prescribed material into a sequence of tiny tasks to be mastered one at a time, each with its appropriate ‘morsel’ and ‘shock.’ And when this method doesn’t work, the schools assume there is something wrong with the children — something they must try to diagnose and treat.”

“We who believe that children want to learn about the world, are good at it, and can be trusted to do it with very little adult coercion or interference, are probably no more than one percent of the population, if that … My work is to help it grow. ”

That’s my work, too, and since you’ve read this far, it’s probably your work, too, and so you might want to read this book if you haven’t yet. The good news is, we’re no longer the one percent. We’re a movement whose members do not quite make up a majority yet, but we’ll get there in my lifetime. I’m sure of it.

Breaking Rules – John F. Fanselow

“Only by engaging in the generation and exploration of alternatives will we be able to see. And then we will see that we must continue to look.”

Look carefully until you just might be seeing what’s really there and what’s really going on. Describe that in as much detail as possible. Then change something and look some more. What’s happening now? How is it different? Now describe this in as much detail as possible. Avoid making judgments and stay as far as you can from words like bad, worse, good, better, and best. Now, change something else. Look again. Soon you’ll realize that nothing is the way you think it is, that few things are permanent, and that you have the power to change almost anything. That’s what I’ve learned from this book and that’s led me into a way of life I try everyday to live, sometimes fail miserably at, and so what to do? Try again.

We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change – Paolo Freire

While everything that Freire wrote has had a big influence on how I think about teaching, learning, and schooling, this book is the one which includes these lines:

“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”

Read that again. Say it out loud. You are an artist. So is everyone else.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation – Parker Palmer

 This is a wonderful little volume that is often overlooked even by teachers who’ve fallen in love with Palmer’s classic The Courage To Teach. It’s in this book that Palmer writes …

“We must come together in ways that respect the solitude of the soul, that avoid the unconscious violence we do when we try to save each other, that evoke our capacity to hold another life without dishonoring its mystery, never trying to coerce the other into meeting our own needs …”

Say what? Well, he almost echoes Freire, doesn’t he? Simply said: we’re not here to save anyone, shape anyone, or even change anyone, and certainly not to coerce anyone into fulfilling our own need for personal fulfillment, professional acceptance, love, power, control or whatever. “Oh, I’ve never done anything like that and never would,” you say, and I’ll say the same thing. But let’s be honest. We’re human. Writers like Parker Palmer help us more fully accept that fact.

Teaching to Transgress: Education as The Practice of Freedom – Bell Hooks

I like what Bell Hooks says here in this powerful book:

There are times when personal experience keeps us from reaching the mountain top and so we let it go because the weight of it is too heavy. And sometimes the mountaintop is difficult to reach with all our resources, factual and confessional, so we are just there, collectively grasping, feeling the limitations of knowledge, longing together, yearning for a way to reach that highest point. Even this yearning is a way to know.”

Yes, even that collective yearning of ours to keep improving, even that constant longing to be better teachers -even when the way is hard – is a way to know. We’ll never reach the mountaintop but we’ll never stop trying, will we? No, we won’t, and we won’t choose the easier paths either. The journey is the gift. Keep going.

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” – Basho

An earlier version of this post appeared as part IATEFL TDSig’s Ten Books series.