Stepping out of your comfort zone

Patrice Palmer profile picture
Patrice Palmer
By Patrice Palmer

The start of a new year is a time when many people reflect on their past achievements and set goals or make resolutions for the upcoming year. I am one of those individuals. Every year I actually sit down and take the time to write down my goals for the year ahead and then review the list before the year ends to see if I accomplished every item on my list.

Most of my goals for 2016 were a combination of personal and professional and a lot of them were related to travelling. It was quite easy to check those travelling goals off my list. For example, I had the opportunity to attend the IATEFL conference in Birmingham, present at a conference in Costa Rica, and take part in an intensive coaching training program in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the travel highlights for me was  a two-week assignment with CESO (a Canadian NGO) in Guyana, South America, where I trained CARICOM staff in report writing and presentation skills. My main professional goal for 2016, however, was to leave my teaching career after 20 years and launch myself as a teacherpreneur, which was definitely outside of my comfort zone. I’m proud to say I managed to achieve that goal. And even though in my new role as a teacherpreneur I had to do many things that terrified me (like blogging, writing e-books, and marketing myself), it felt good and has been exciting. That is why this year I decided to set goals that will force me to go even farther away from my comfort zone.

One of the questions that I ask teacherpreneurs when I interview them for my blog is, “What have you had to do outside of your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?”  Each one of them has given me at least one or two examples of things that they have had to do that terrified them but they still persevered.  Based on the likelihood that teachers in the live online course Teacher to Teacherpreneur in partnership with would have to do things outside of their comfort zone to move forward in their teacherpreneur journey, I decided to make this part of their weekly assignment. In our online community on Facebook, teachers post one thing that they have had to do outside of their comfort zone and elaborate on what it felt like. The feeling of this kind of accomplishment is so rewarding that I believe it gives one the confidence to try yet another challenge.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the term comfort zone was first used in 1923 and is defined as (1) the temperature range within which one is comfortable; (2) the level at which one functions with ease and familiarity. Interestingly, the term has also been growing in popularity in the last twenty years or so.

Well, I can say for myself that it certainly feels cozy and comfortable to stay in my comfort zone, so why would I purposely be planning to do things outside of it? Sylvia Duckworth, a very creative educator based in Canada, brilliantly demonstrates why in her Sketchnote that you can see below. It might seem surprising at first to see what may (and will!) happen as you start your journey out of that cozy comfort: increased confidence, a sense of achievement, willingness to try more new things… This Sketchnote is meant to motivate students, however the content can be used to inspire anyone who wants to grow, challenge themselves, and boost their self-confidence.

Image credit

A year ago, when I left classroom teaching in order to make a transition to becoming a full-time teacherpreneur and working for myself, it was not unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night riddled with doubt and fear. Until a strange thing happened. The more I did something that was scary, like start blogging, the more exciting it became to find a new challenge, like start a podcast and give webinars.

As teachers, we cannot expect our students to try new things, challenge themselves, and become more confident if we don’t know how it feels to truly feel uncomfortable ourselves. Furthermore, we can’t fully appreciate the sense of accomplishment or learning about ourselves if we don’t see the results of discomfort.

So, what is on my list for 2017?

  • A TESOL Conference Presentation in March with a publisher Dorothy Zemach;
  • Another two-week training assignment with CESO in Ethiopia;
  • Publishing a small book;
  • Writing an online course for teacherpreneurs;
  • Being interviewed (instead of interviewing others).

What are you doing in 2017 that is outside of your comfort zone?


If you are curious to assess your comfort zone, try this free, fun survey

Being Open to Teaching Online

Patrice Palmer profile picture
Patrice Palmer

By Patrice Palmer

To say that the education field often undergoes change is an understatement. Many of the recent changes relate to technology in teaching and learning. Initially, I felt that ESL could only be taught face to face, however now I have a different view based on my own personal experience. I think teachers can be open-minded to any change when we see the benefits for our students. This was key for me.

A few years ago, the college that I was working at announced in May that it would transition to becoming a “blended learning” institute the following September. This meant that students would have both face-to-face classes and online activities. At the time, I was very skeptical about teaching English for Academic Purposes in this format, and also overwhelmed with the thought of adapting both my teaching approach and materials to a blended format.  I also wondered how students could possibly learn and improve their language skills without all of us physically being in the same room.

The fall semester was rocky in that many of my international students were unfamiliar with logging in to the college platform to find course outlines, email their instructors, and locate information related to assignments and assessments. So much class time was spent helping students to navigate a absolutely new learning environment. Instead of us teachers providing handouts for students, they were asked to read and sometimes print off learning plans, readings, and other handouts before classes. As a result, many came to class without the required materials so it was often impossible to teach what was planned on that day. The photocopying allotment for each teacher per semester was cut to less than 500 sheets. In classes with 40-50 students, teachers would quickly exceed their limit. It was a stressful time for both instructors and students.

You would think that this experience would make me shy away from teaching online courses, but it did not. Slowly, I began to see the benefits for both instructors and students. For example, the online assignments helped to reinforce material. Content was covered in class for each 2-hour lesson, and then materials were uploaded for reference. For example, if I were teaching essay writing, I would provide a sample after class. Writing that was completed outside of class could be checked for common errors using Spellcheck and Grammarcheck. For quiet students, the chance to interact online was a perfect alternative. Lively discussion ensued online which I believe would not have happened in a classroom setting. Discussion boards provided students with an opportunity to ask questions, help each other out, practice their writing and communication skills, and gain more comfort navigating the course platform.

Once I felt comfortable with teaching online, I started to look for other opportunities. As a result, I now teach two TESL courses for a college located in another city. If the courses were only offered face to face, I would be unable to travel to that city and students from all over the province would be unable to obtain a TESL credential. Since we can’t meet face to face for practice teaching, students record their teaching at home and upload their videos to the course platform. Having a video of one’s teaching also helps new teachers reflect on their skills. It is also beneficial for me because there is always an odd student who challenges me on their grade, and then I have a chance to go back and review a particular part of the lesson if necessary.

Learning to be an ESL teacher online presents some challenges but there are more and more technology tools available to create an interactive environment. For instance, I frequently record videos using Vimeo and post them to provide clarity or general feedback on assignments, and like to use voice recording software available inside the course platforms to leave comments on assessments.

In addition to teaching the TESL course, I have also had experience teaching a well-designed university-level academic writing course online. Each week students were introduced to a writing technique and submitted an assignment to practice and demonstrate their learning. Overall, students did very well in the course, and I could see the importance of developing essay writing skills over a 12-week period. For example, students submitted a draft and then a final piece of writing after receiving feedback which facilitated their learning.  I also appreciated having all of the course materials including rubrics prepared by the Department and uploaded before I started teaching. This gave me more time to grade assignments and provide robust feedback which is so important to improve one’s writing.

Despite the benefits outlined, I do believe that teaching online requires much more time for both students and teachers. It should not be seen as an “easy way” to either take a class or teach one. Online courses are not for everyone but before you say “no”, keep an open mind. I am glad that I did because it has opened many new teaching opportunities, including an online course that I will be teaching for in January 2017!

Teacher to Teacherpreneur

PatricePalmerby Patrice Palmer

As a language teacher, I am sure you share my delight when new words are coined and become part of the English language. Words such as “edupreneur” and “teacherpreneur” are two great examples. There are several definitions for edupreneur/teacherpreneur:

“Teacherpreneurs are classroom experts who teach students regularly, but also have time, space, and reward to incubate and execute their own ideas – just like entrepreneurs!” (Berry, 2015)

“They manage their own incomes, colonize and create new learning environments, create their own content and taste the kinds of artistic satisfaction that only freelance, independent teachers can experience… They are free to do what they love; teach, share, inspire, write, create. Many edupreneurs work online, where they can build up massive networks of students and teachers. They can choose to do voluntary work, make a difference, publish inspiring work on their websites and still earn a healthy living.” (Guigan, 2015)

The definition that I like to use is from Kiana Porter-Isom (2015): “A classroom teacher or school based leader who is both educator and entrepreneur; an educator who works a flexible and/or freelance schedule; and/or an educator with a “side hustle” that supplements their income.”

So why did I become a teacherpreneur? I have had an incredible 20-year career in Canada, including 7 years in Hong Kong. I have taught students from 8 to 80 years of age in a variety of programs such as EAP, ESP, language programs for new immigrants, and Business English. However, like many ESL teachers in Canada, I have been piecing together several teaching jobs in order to earn a full-time salary. I used to worry about whether or not I would have work for the following semester so, like many teachers, I overloaded myself. At one point, I had 6 part-time jobs! I started to feel worn out and realized that it was time for a change. I also craved variety and wanted a creative outlet.

The real reason why I wanted to become a teacherpreneur is because of my dream to relocate to Costa Rica in 2017. Earning an income from online work seemed to be sensible, so more than a year ago I started teaching an online course in a TESL program to see if I would like it, while still working as a classroom teacher. When I discovered that I enjoyed teaching online, I took on another course teaching academic writing for a university. This gave me the courage to leave my teaching position at a college last December to become a full-time teacherpreneur. Every semester now I teach two to three online courses which is a nice, steady source of income.

Working from home is very different from working full time at a school. Instead of travelling to a school (and in the past it may have been two different locations in one day), I now only work from home. I have time to read in the morning, catch up on emails, check out social media, have lunch/coffee with friends, and continue to find ways to be creative, on my own terms. I have found that I have more energy and creativity, but at the same time working from home requires discipline and good time management skills.

As well as teaching online, I am writing online courses for other people managing some social media accounts for entrepreneurs, and developing my own online courses and materials. There is so much variety to my job now, which I really love. Here are some of the projects that I have completed since January 2016:

  • I’ve designed and developed a 10-module online English course for students in Saudi Arabia;
  • I’ve written an online course on Anger Management for a psychologist and another online course on well-being related to positive psychology;
  • I’ve evaluated an ESL/EFL website for students to improve their listening skills;
  • I’ve designed a one-day lesson plan for a trainer in Spain to teach presentation skills;
  • I’ve been writing bi-monthly blog posts for two ESL/EFL websites plus for my own blog;
  • I’ve been working as an instructional coach providing service to teachers around the world;
  • I’ve written an e-book A-Z Guide: How to Survive and Thrive as a New ESL Teacher.

I also have time to travel at any time of the year. For example, in April I attended IATEFL conference for the first time as it would normally fall on the exam week at my college. I will present at a TESOL conference in Costa Rica in July and teach report writing in Guyana later this fall. For me, working from home and travelling means all the freedom that I did not have before.

 Words of advice 

  1. Before you take on the challenge of becoming a teacherpreneur, think about what you really LOVE about teaching English (e.g. curriculum design, academic writing). Personally, I have always loved the process of writing lesson plans (reading, researching, browsing online resources to find the right clip art, an image or a quote), and so most of the work that I do now relates to writing. Once you narrow down what you really love, it makes it easier to find this kind of work and you will be happier in the end.
  2. It takes time to find freelance work so if you are considering becoming a freelancer, plan well in advance. Start by setting up an account and profile on or and then bid on projects that match your skills.
  3. Learn how to brand yourself and boost your reputation online. There many online resources that can help you with branding. The key is to differentiate yourself from others in terms of your skills, experience, and niche.
  4. Learn all you can about social media. Set up accounts on Linkedin to start. This leads to the next point.
  5. Connect, connect and connect! with people online. For example, I connected with a materials writer in the UK on Linkedin and then she recommended me for the Saudi writing project.
  6. Talk to other freelancers and get all the information you need before making this decision. Find out how they got started and how they get work. You might think that other freelancers wouldn’t share, but there really is a sense of collaboration, not competition.


The quality that I needed the most to become a teacherpreneur or freelancer was courage. The classroom provided a sense of comfort in that I knew what I was doing. Venturing off on my own means that I have had to learn a lot of new skills such as email marketing, design, and social media.  I am solely responsible for my “pay cheque”. Despite a huge learning curve, I am glad that I made this leap from the classroom to my home office, and I would be happy to help anyone who has questions about making this change.


  1. Berry, B. in Wolpert-Gawron, H. (2015). The Era of the Teacherpreneur. Retrieved from;
  2. Guinan, S. (2015). Edupreneurs – Creating a New Wave of Disruption in Education. Retrieved from;
  3. Porter-Isom, K. (2015).  Edupreneur Today. Retrieved from

TESL Student Feedback

PatricePalmerBy Patrice Palmer

In my role as a TESL trainer, I believe that the most important aspect of practicum observation is for students to mentally prepare themselves for feedback. I tell students BEFORE they start teaching that my feedback is given in the spirit of professionalism with the goal to help them develop their teaching skills. I also make sure that they understand that feedback is based on their teaching skills only and is not a reflection of them as people. These are two very different things.

In my experience, the majority of teacher-trainees have responded well to feedback and are actually grateful for advice on how to improve their teaching skills. Unfortunately, a small number have viewed feedback as negative and/or as criticism.

Here are two good examples from former TESL students enrolled in the same course:

Student A 

“I feel there is so much to remember in a lesson in terms of how to organize, what questions to ask, when to ask, etc….I feel jumbled. I appreciate your feedback – it is so sensible and valuable. I know I have great deal to learn and trust it will come more naturally in a real-life setting and in time. I value your insight as you have practical and beneficial comments that promote positive change. Thank you again for all your efforts to help me improve”.

 Student B

“Your criticism of my teaching seems to be negative and critical. I am just about the finish my TESL program and I don’t feel ready”.

So how can two people have very different views on their feedback? It should also be noted that Student A did not perform better than Student B. I believe it could relate to having either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Let me explain.

For the past twenty years, Dr. Carol Dweck (listen to her TEDtalk Developing a Growth Mindset here) and her colleagues at Stanford University have been conducting research in the area of student success related to their beliefs regarding qualities, abilities and intelligence. As a side note, I’d like to say that my own views on teaching and learning have been greatly influenced by Dr. Carol Dweck and her book, Mindsets, but that is another blog post. In any case, in relation to learning the theory of mindsets focuses on areas such as how students face challenges and obstacles, their effort, and feedback. A person with a fixed mindset would respond poorly and see feedback as criticism, whereas a person with a growth mindset would learn from feedback and suggestions, embrace the strategies suggested as a way to improve, and act on the feedback from the instructor.

Dr. Dweck recently spoke at the Leaders to Learn from Conference Education Week in the United States. In her talk she suggested that teachers should not “use mindsets to label students.“ She also pointed out that “there’s a misconception that every student and teacher can be put into one of two categories: those with growth mindsets and those with fixed mindsets, but in reality, everyone “has a little bit of both.”

As I prepare for the end of course practicums, I am mindful of how my feedback is perceived, and of the fact that I want to encourage new teachers, not demoralize them. It is a fine balance and I am still walking that tightrope.

mindset References:

Blad, E. (March 2016). Leaders to Learn from Conference – Washington. Retrieved from

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House

Holmes, N. (n.d.). Retrieved from