The iTDi Principles


The iTDi Principles 

At iTDi, we share a dream of providing quality professional development for all teachers that is meaningful, accessible and affordable. We also share a vision of a vibrant global community of teachers, helping one another to become better teachers. Each of us brings different skills and talents to help make this dream and vision a reality in the International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi).

From our beginning two years ago, two principles have defined our vision:

Anything I can do, we can do better.

Whatever the problem, community is the answer.

Community has certainly been our answer. As we’ve worked to make iTDi a reality, our community has grown and helped us gain a better understanding of what these two principles mean in practice. As we open our doors to the world, it seems appropriate to share with you what we have come to believe about education and professional development and we now call the iTDi Principles.

1. Every teacher matters
The iTDi community is full of teachers studying side by side from all around the world. They come from every conceivable teaching context, with a full range of resources, support, and compensation. We’re all on a similar journey of development and we all have something of value to share with others. All teachers deserve equal respect.

2. We can always become better teachers
It doesn’t matter what your first language is or what qualifications you currently have. In other words, it doesn’t matter where you come from; it matters where you want to go. There is always something new that we can learn.

3. We learn better together
Teachers are perfectly capable of directing their own professional development. We have also learned, though, that there is real power in learning together. It can be more effective, it provides just the right amount of pressure to get more things done, and it can be entirely more enjoyable than working alone. When we succeed at learning together, we become even better with our successes.

4. Every teacher deserves access to professional development
Teachers who want to become better teachers should have the opportunity to do so. Teachers can’t always afford the time or money to travel to conferences or to enroll in degree or certificate courses. Professional development must be of the highest quality, accessible from remote locations, and affordable to all.

5. We are all learners
Although members of the iTDi faculty have years of experience in various areas of expertise, we are also ongoing learners. We expect to learn from the teachers who join our courses. You have unique insights and experiences to share, and your contribution to our community is invaluable. Every voice matters. We are all on the same journey as teachers and learners.

6. We can all be leaders
We fully believe all teachers have the potential to become leaders for other teachers in their communities. We’ve seen this happen again and again, as teachers become not only leaders within their own local communities, but within the international education community as well. Leadership is possible for anyone willing to make the effort.

7. Community works
Being a member of a safe, caring community helps us grow as teachers and as people. The relationships we foster within our community provide us with powerful growth opportunities as we mentor and nurture each other.

8. Education leads to change
As we grow both professionally and personally within our community, and as we become better teachers, we change. We change not only ourselves and the way we teach but we can also have a positive impact on those around us: our students, our colleagues, our schools, and our local communities.

9. Education matters
The best way to change the world for the better is to provide quality education for all learners. The best way to do this is to give all teachers the opportunity to become the best teachers they can be. If we do this, we really can change the world.

10. Together, we can change the future
We strengthen our teaching profession by making sure that all teachers have the opportunity to participate in professional development. At iTDi, we believe that the best way to do this is to work together in a community built on an atmosphere of mutual respect, caring, and trust; to take responsibility for our own professional development and to make this community the first step in making positive change for learners everywhere.

All of us share this vision and affirm these principles. It is no longer just a dream. It is iTDi. We invite you to join us, work side by side with us, and help us continue to shape iTDi into all that it can be. We truly are better when we work together.

If you would like to work with us, click here to sign up as a new member of the iTDi Community. As a member, you can connect with other teachers, post in community forums,  and try a couple of free lessons. When you are ready to go further by investing in a lesson from our Teacher Development or English For Teachers courses, we’ll be there to work with you and show you how we put these principles into practice.

For teachers by teachers, iTDi

Scott, Chuck, Barb and Steven

Scott Thornbury
Scott Thornbury
Academic Director

Chuck Sandy
Chuck Sandy
Community Director

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto
Barbara Sakamoto
EFT Program Director

Steven Herder
TD Program Director

PS: “Don’t be fooled by my name on the post. In this case, it simply means I uploaded it. It was a real pleasure working with Scott, Chuck, and Barb on this post. Chuck sent around the original draft of these principles, and we finally found the right words for this set of shared principles which we all deeply believe. Working in this collaborative manner is one of the things I love about iTDi.” – Steven 

Motivating our students – Steven Herder

A Message For Teachers By One Teacher

Motivated teachers can inspire and motivate their students – and the opposite is just as true. It’s all a part of the circle of life in education.

While it is important for us teachers to continually look for ways to motivate our students, I’ve been reminded this weekend about how empowering it is for teachers to get reinvigorated, rejuvenated, refreshed, and re-inspired by hanging around other passionate teachers. Allow me to share a brief, but timely story.

I have just spent the weekend at the Executive Board Meeting (EBM) of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) in Tokyo, Japan. As this year’s conference co-chair for the International JALT 2012 conference in October, I joined some 100 educators from all over Japan for conference planning meetings and two days of general JALT business. To be honest, I’m pretty tired from the work hard/play hard pace of the weekend; but more importantly, my motivation tank has been refilled well beyond the top. The inspirational impact that this community of teachers has on so many friends who have gotten involved at the national level is quite mysterious. I remember when I first got a glimpse of its magic.

In 2008, I took on a somewhat daunting personal challenge by volunteering to help with organizing the PR for the international conference (with my great friend, “MB”). Traveling to Tokyo in January for the first planning meeting of the year, I immediately fell in love with the teachers I met on the night before the meetings began (I’ll never forget meeting “SB, AM, CK, DT, HN, MS, AK,” et al). Collectively, they oozed wisdom, experience, passion, maturity, generosity, openness and some of the warmest and genuine smiles I had ever seen among teachers in Japan. It was blatantly obvious how happy they all were to be together and how they all fed off the synergy of the group. I felt “home” among teachers like I never had before. Again, this weekend, I came home feeling motivated and somewhat blessed to be a teacher. This feeling was nurtured through a series of meetings and social events.

The meetings were polite, professional and productive. Enough said.

The social aspects of the weekend were… well, priceless. Over two days, I spoke to dozens of people over coffee breaks, lunch, a stand-up dinner buffet and an evening trip into Shinjuku with some of my adventurous comrades.

I’d like to offer just a glimpse of the range of discussions that were happening:

Raising bilingual children – fathers both younger and older shared challenges and wisdom from the ongoing battle to equip our children with a fair balance of English and Japanese language ability.

Writing a book – a few of us brainstormed ideas to write a book reflecting our similar deepening understanding of the classroom experience of EFL students.

Doing a PhD – In Japan, many, many teachers now have an MA degree. So, if you want to get ahead, you need to do a PhD or the Doctor of Education degree (Ed.D. or D.Ed.) and a bunch of young teachers (mid-30’s) who I spoke with are now doing one. It is great for them and scary for the rest of us who remain on the fence.

Collaborating on writing projects – I found two other teachers who love teaching writing as much as I do. We shared our best experiences and so many common approaches that we are now looking for ways to collaborate on either research or a writing project together.

There were a number of other discussions as well. Of course, different people talked about different things, and I’m sure everyone found topics that matched wherever they are in their own teaching journey. Some other discussions that I don’t have space to go into include: Colleague’s new projects; Speaking opportunities over the summer; Balancing curriculum with student needs; The EFL context in Japan, and various hopes and dreams for the future.

So, I hope you can see what happens when you put a whole bunch of active teachers together, people who are willing to step up and give their time and effort to not only developing themselves, but also developing the education industry as a whole…

Overall, it is a pretty motivating experience.

For any of our readers who have yet to take a chance and get involved beyond their immediate teaching context, can you share any of your stories about being motivated by other teachers?

As a kid, this library in Japan would motivate me to read!
Simple truths motivate me
Clever ideas inspire me


How important is lesson planning? – Steven Herder

Don’t let a lesson plan stifle magical moments
Has this ever happened to you? You discover some new thing and suddenly you notice it everywhere. This happened with the first car I bought in university: a 1964, baby blue VW beetle. It was 400 dollars and had a homemade wooden floor. The funny thing about this, though, was that having bought a VW beetle, I suddenly began to notice other VW Beetles. They were, in fact, everywhere. This very same phenomenon is happening in my classroom with what I have coined, SLOW moments.

Slow down
These Spontaneous Learning Opportunity Windows (SLOW) are serendipitous moments when everyone is suddenly focused on exactly the same thing. It may be triggered by a student’s comment, a joke, a mistaken answer, something from the textbook, or something I just said. At that moment, everyone’s brain has stopped and a small window has opened. If you are ready, it is very easy at that moment to slide something through the window and into the student’s brain. It actually gets easier and easier the more you keep an eye open for these SLOW moments.

Classroom interaction
The SLOW strategy can improve your teaching by exploiting classroom interaction during a class. Since these interactive decisions must be made on the spot, this technique takes some practice (Google Allright; Bailey; Wajnyrb; Tsui; or Nunan and classroom interaction for lots more).

To get started, there are three things necessary to become adept at exploiting a SLOW moment: 1) confidence, 2) awareness of the syllabus and 3) the ability to riff like a jazz musician. If you don’t believe in yourself when you go off-script, you risk the students also not believing you. Secondly, you need to know the syllabus so you can make sure that everyone succeeds in being able to do what you ask them to do, using meaningful language that isn’t too far away from what you’re doing or have done in the past. Finally, riffing simply means improvising with some underlying intention. So, here are some examples of a few things that led to SLOW moments:

Yuki complains that she’s hungry (Onaka heta). Yuki is always hungry, every week, like clockwork. So, I call out, “Yuki is hungry again. Yuki, this morning I had a big breakfast. I had 2 pieces of toast – one with peanut butter and one with honey. What did you have? Nothing? Really? Everyone – Why do you think Yuki didn’t have any breakfast? (Elicit ideas and give feedback) OK, let’s give Yuki some good ideas to help her fix her life. Yuki, I think you should _____. Anyone else? What should Yuki do?

Chikako reports, “I went *to shopping and *studying English last night.” I call out in a cheesy quiz show host voice, “Double chance!” and suddenly we are all in the same moment. “Can anyone find two small mistakes?” Then, “Can anyone else give me a two-verb sentence about last night?” Can anyone ask Chikako if she bought anything cool?

Miki asks, “What’s on the test?” I call out, “Miki sure loves tests! Miki, what do you think is on the test? If you were Steven, what would you put on the test? Everyone, ask your partner, “What do you think TERRIBLE Steven will put on the test?” Ready… Go. (Time passes…) OK, let’s review what could be on the test.”

Killing time
Hiromi suggests, “Let’s play a game today.” I call out, “Hiromi is the queen of “killing time” What does it mean in Japanese? Yes, exactly, jikan wo tsubusu. In this class, who else is good at killing time? Which teachers are weak against these killing time queens?” “Everyone, ask your partner, how do you sometimes kill time?”

Yuri writes, “I take… *on the train to school every day” while I’m walking around the room during a writing assignment. When I see this mistake, I call out (knowing that this student will laugh rather than being embarrassed) “Wow, Yuri, you are a very macho girl. Everyone, do you know how macho Yuri is? Every morning, she takes on* the train (I gesture putting on a train like a backpack). There are two or three good ways to say this. Anyone? Yes, “take the train”, “catch the train”, “get the train”… great.

Hidden bonuses
This technique is actually full of hidden bonuses: it builds extra rapport with students, it teaches students to learn from other students, it promotes consciousness-raising, and it encourages active participation. The more you invest time into observing what is ACTUALLY happening in your classroom, the better your lessons will be.

Working with difficult students – Steven Herder

I wonder if any of you veterans or wise younger teachers feel the same way?

The longer I’m in the classroom, the more that difficult students have morphed from being powerful and disruptive, to being a manageable challenge in the classroom. They used to be able to throw me off my game completely; their stares of disinterest, boredom or defiance wreaked havoc on my delicate teacher identity. Now, more often than not, they end up becoming some of my most memorable students because they are so used to being misunderstood and judged inappropriately, that simply by recognizing that they need something before jumping to judge them, I have a much better success rate than I used to have.

If I were asked to give advice to any younger teachers, I guess I would say the following 5 points:

  1. Never forget the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
  2. Give choices rather than ultimatums.
  3. Be willing to lose a battle, in order to win the war.
  4. Be a teacher; sometimes that means taking a stand when push comes to shove.
  5. Be clear about your expectations, what’s negotiable, and where you draw the lines in your classroom.

Sitting here thinking about advice to that younger teacher, I immediately recalled students and situations that I handled either very well or very poorly. I’d like to offer a little more explanation or an anecdote for each of the 5 points above.

So, if you believe point 1 and approach the classroom from that perspective, I would be willing to bet that you have just eliminated 70% of your potential problems with students.

If you haven’t learned the power in point number 2, try having a child, because nothing has taught me more clearly and repeatedly that (little) people respond better to choices than to threats, than dealing with my own kids. Trying to force my children to eat their dinner, take a bath, or go to bed always ends up in a battle. Negotiating through choices with them works 90% of the time.

Regarding point 3, it took me a long time to learn that it was okay to lose sometimes to an individual or to the whole class. In fact, it was much better to lose sometimes because it empowered my students, gave them more responsibility for their learning, and showed them that life isn’t always about winning, but very often more about how you play the game.

I clearly remember the feeling in point 4 of not taking a stand in a classroom situation with a problem student in one of my early classes. Looking back, I’m sure that everyone knew I would back down if push came to shove. I remember an older teacher simply saying, “You have to be their teacher”. At the time, I had no clue what she meant. Finally, after a number of disheartening classes, I finally confronted one of the ringleaders, not from any preplanned strategy, but simply as my instincts took over. I stood over her desk, and demanded that she turn over her _______ (I can’t remember if it was a comic book, chewing gum, or a gun) but I can remember deciding that I would stand there for as long as it took for her to realize that I was her teacher. Even though it felt like hours, it was in fact some minutes before other students convinced her that I was serious, and nothing else would continue until I got what I had asked for. Things never became great with that class (because I had waited too long to be their teacher), however things definitely did get better. And, a few years later, that student and I got along.

Finally, I can honestly say that I can’t remember the last time I had a student throw me off my game for 2 lessons in a row. Besides getting a little older and a little grayer, I think I have finally learned how to see a problem coming and deal with it before it gets the best of me; the secret to that is in point 5.

I wonder if you can help me increase my list of 5 points of advice to a younger teacher?


Encouraging student collaboration – Steven Herder

“Collaboration creates just the right amount of tension to get lots done.”

Collaboration helped me to launch the idea of MASH Collaboration among my fellow MA students and gave me the confidence to face the enormous challenges of joining a team to build an International Teacher Development Institute called… iTDi.

“Collaboration may not be for everyone, but for me it is everything.”

Why bother with encouraging student collaboration?
Collaboration works. There are countless success stories based on collaboration: The Beatles in music, Apple and Microsoft in corporate giants, the Wright brothers in inventions and Warner Bros in entertainment. The list goes on and on…

What are the advantages of collaboration?
It makes it easier for people to take a chance and try things. Everyone is good (or good enough) at something. They can choose to do the things that they have confidence to do. Collaboration builds confidence by letting individuals shine at what they do best while being supported in their weaker areas. Collaboration creates an incredible balance between many important functions of learning: confidence, motivation, support, pressure, expectations, success and achievement.

Samples from the classroom
I have done many collaborative writing and group projects. Here is a synopsis of one – My second year high school students had to (or more appropriately “got to”) write an original story and produce the actual story book in groups of 2, 3 or 4 students (based on their proposal of how many people were needed). We spread the activity over three 90-minute periods. Most groups couldn’t finish in three periods but eagerly did the homework necessary to be finished on time. There were several steps and several different roles to be filled:


  1.     Brainstorm a story genre
  2.     Decide on the characters
  3.     Draft a storyboard of 16 pages
  4.     Sell the story to the teacher (i.e. get approval to continue or revise)
  5.     Begin to write the story (35 – 50 words per page, depending on the class)
  6.     Peers check the grammar. Then check it again, and again.
  7.     Final check by the teacher, then revise towards a final draft
  8.     Design the pictures to match the story
  9.     Draw the pictures, and then color the pictures
  10. Design a front and back cover
  11. Present the book to the class
  12. Give a speech about the experience, discussing problems and solutions
  13. Put your book on the shelf for all other students to read


  • Leader
  • Ideas generator
  • Schedule maker
  • Writer
  • Editor
  • Illustrator
  • Reporter (to teacher)
  • Speaker (to class)

What did students learn?
We have done this activity a number of times and the same comments emerge:

“I didn’t know hard it would be to make a book from start to finish.”

“I was really glad to work with my partner because she was really good at writing/drawing/English, etc.”

“I realized how important grammar is for the first time because I wanted people to understand my story.”

“I want to try this again someday, because I know how to do it now.”

“I learned that I have to give and take when I work on a team.”

“I felt a lot of pressure from my partners to do my best.”

For output activities like writing and speaking, especially from low-level beginners to intermediate-level secondary school students, doing collaborative activities is an excellent way to provide fun, meaningful and successful learning opportunities.

How do you encourage student collaboration? I’d love to hear your stories…