Every Step Counts

Theodora PapapanagiotouEvery Step Counts

by Theodora Papapanagiotou.


Today I will tell you a story. Maybe in the beginning it will seem a bit irrelevant to the title, but bear with me and you will understand.

In my first year of college I met a very special person. Kostas was an archeology student. 17 years old. Full of energy. A promising future ahead. It was much later that I realized that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Lots of battles to give. Nothing stopped him. He is still unstoppable. I had the luck to keep in touch with him for many years and I know that even though we don’t live at the same place or have a chance to talk frequently, we still care about each other.

Some years ago my friend and I were talking about raising awareness about his condition – an important thing to mention here is that he was the vice president of  the Greek multiple sclerosis (MS) society here in Greece back then. Raising awareness is a difficult thing. People believe that somebody with a disability is not able to function in society. People feel pity, people are not always willing to help. So we thought, why don’t we include physical activity, students of all ages and their friends and parents having fun and actually gaining something from all this? That was how we came up with an idea for a fitness charity event, the proceeds of which would go to help the multiple sclerosis society cause.

I contacted my local gym. My trainer Penelope was more than willing to help and took over the organization of the event. She found a place at the local university, she gathered the trainers, she took care of all the equipment. My friend Kostas took care of the information side of the event, contacting doctors and trainers and organizing the talks. My students (some were university students, some were high school students – and their younger siblings, their parents, and their school teachers) and I took it upon ourselves to advertise the event in the local community.

Before starting the ad campaign, I thought that I could integrate the subject of “disability” into my lessons. In my search for suitable materials, I came across a lot of interesting things. First of all, there was a website with actual ELT material about disability, the Disabled Access Friendly campaign. Although the site does not exist anymore, they still have a Facebook page and they actually won an ELTon for innovation in teacher resources back in 2014.

After a few lessons talking about disabilities, how a person must feel and how we can help, my students and I started our campaign, trying to bring as many people as possible to the event. We advertised on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and various webpages; we printed posters and asked local shops to put them up; we gave leaflets with information to everyone we knew. It was amazing that everyone wanted to do something for this cause.

Needless to say that it turned out to be a wonderful event. In the first part of it, a university professor gave a talk about multiple sclerosis and exercise. A lot of patients, therapists, and trainers took part. Then the fun began! Every single trainer of the gym had prepared a routine for the people who came. We enjoyed hours of dancing, yoga, aerobics, and much more! The music with its energy contributed to the great mood! I would also like to mention that everybody volunteered their time and the money that was raised went all to the MS society.

I am not writing all this to brag. After all, I did not do much. What I wanted to say with this post is that we can all do something and it doesn’t have to be something big. Volunteer. Put a poster on the wall at your school. Talk with parents to help somebody. Involve your students in a clean-up activity at the beach or a visit to an old people’s home. Every small step counts.

Leaving you with a breath of hope and fun of this video and some other ideas and resources to use if you choose to speak about this topic with your students:

The Disabled Access Friendly campaign – a thank you post by Vicky Loras

Challenge a Disabled-Access-Friendly world: Lessons for the ELT classroom by Vicky Loras

The Wheelchair – a short video clip from the Disabled Access Friendly campaign

The Superhumans – a lesson plan based on the video about the Paralympic Games in Rio

My champion – a post about Kostas Michalakis

Community Activist in Progress

Eunice TanCommunity Activist in Progress

by Eunice Tan.


I never thought that teaching would lead me to becoming a community activist. My goal when I first started out teaching, was, very simply, to be the best teacher in the school I worked at. Thankfully, I was shown a better way and I now approach teaching less as a competition and more as a collaborative effort. This paradigm shift was the beginning of the shaping of my teacher self into some sort of a “community activist.” In this post, I will share how enjoying collaboration led me to becoming a community activist and introduce you to the community that my team and I support.

Discovering the power of collaboration

I started out teaching in Singapore for the Ministry of Education, which trains its body of teachers very well and sets teachers’ development as one of its priorities. When I moved to Japan, I did not have similar learning opportunities and so charted my own, rather lonely, professional development journey through taking the CELTA course and studying for an MA in TESOL.

Then, very recently, there came a point in my career when I returned to a work environment that takes the professional development of its teachers seriously.

I had been working in solitude on developing my teacher self for so long that when given a community of like-minded individuals (my current department!) to develop and grow with, I was struck by how much more fun and more satisfying it is to accomplish something with others. Nowadays, things always turn out differently and just better whenever I build up the courage to ask for and accept help from people around me.

Realising the need to give back beyond the classroom

Having gone through many a professional development course/session, I have realised that professional development for teachers is effective up to a point. There is only so much I am able to apply to a lesson after expanding my repertoire of skills.

So how do you give back as an educator? In many of my colleagues as well as in the general teaching community (of course, bearing in mind not all teachers do what they do for the same reasons as me), I see that we seek out ways to facilitate learning in others who are not our students – through mentoring, leading and managing local educational circles, or simply listening to a fellow educator. I believe that, to keep on being an effective educator, teachers who have been blessed with a rich professional development experience have to give back, and not only in the sense of teaching a better lesson to our students. Sustainable teacher development entails opportunities for teachers themselves to give back to a wider community. That’s why I chose to financially support a teacher development programme.

Finding a community to support

While looking for ways to give back, I read an article about a Singaporean missionary who went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo a year after she graduated, despite a brilliant undergraduate performance and potential to succeed in academia. Here was a fellow Singaporean who had taken the road seldom travelled (not a crazy rich Asian!), and maybe I could do the same.

She now works for an organisation called Justice Rising, which sees teacher education as part of the solution to rebuilding communities suffering from conflict – and right there was the connection I was looking for! This was the wider community I could contribute to, who lack the very resources I have easy access to, and for whom having effective, committed teachers establishes a level of stability and peace many of us take for granted.

* * *

The Campaign

Ariette in her classroom, getting students involved in their learning.
Credit: Justice Rising International

So, earlier this year I started a crowdfunding campaign entitled Teachers For Progress: Help Congolese Teachers Make Education Sustainable to fund a teacher training programme for Congolese school teachers. At the heart of this campaign is the drive for sustainability that results in a long-term solution for Congolese children. This solution comes from an education system that works and which cannot exist without the continual training and development of teachers – local educators with strong, organic ties to their communities, who stay despite conflict and violence breaking out in their villages. Justice Rising, that I mentioned earlier, takes a three-pronged approach to achieving its goals, the third of which is related to training and developing teachers to educate a new generation of Congolese children, many of whom have never known realities outside of teen marriages and child-soldiering. Most of the teachers themselves have experienced social and political instability for the majority of their lives since conflict in the Congo has been going on for 20 or more years.

This is the community we are campaigning for – Congolese teachers who have learnt to teach in unstable environments and yet who are bent on improving as educators so that they can lead their communities out of a vicious cycle.

Credit: Justice Rising International

As I started, I approached this campaign as an individual hoping to get help from others here and there; I had thought this cause was just that – mine, and mine alone. What happened next was unexpected, though. Through the fundraising activities, I began to see that my colleagues, friends, and family had in different degrees taken on this cause. Many of them are now part of the campaign community, expressing interest in the Congolese teachers’ professional development needs as well as raising funds for Teachers For Progress in their own ways. They have made me a community activist. From each of their areas of expertise and experience, they offer help, encouragement, and valuable ideas; from their understanding of who I am and what I do, they inspire me to continue being a community activist.

My colleagues at the Food Sale with their delicious contributions.

The campaign activities that Teachers For Progress carries out are simple, ranging from Dessert and Food Sales to Crochet Craft sales and donations from friends and family. We are also planning to share more about this Congolese teacher development programme at conferences or through blog posts like this, hopefully providing opportunities for other educators to join us in supporting them. If you have any ideas on how we can better run our campaign, we will be happy to hear your ideas!

How You Can Help

As with many non-profit organisations, it is monetary funds that are needed to sustain the teacher training programme, to pay for the 80+ teachers’ trips from their villages to the training site, for their food, board, and learning materials. The programme costs USD$20,000 to run, but if you break it down simply, USD$44 will cover one day of the annual week-long training programme for one teacher (if you are keen to support our efforts, you can go to our website or join our Facebook page to find out more). Upcoming fundraising events include a pub quiz and a progressive dinner walk in late autumn, in western Tokyo – anyone is welcome to these events (please leave comments if you’re interested). If you do not live in Tokyo, but would like to join us in supporting our fellow Congolese teachers, please share your crowdfunding experiences or crowdfunding activity ideas in the comments to this post!


Autism Changed Our Perspectives

Aziz SoubaiAutism Changed Our Perspectives

by Aziz Soubai.


When you give your students some space and time to do whatever they want, amazing things happen. I don’t force them to do something they don’t like in my classes. Instead, I suggest topics, look at their reactions, and take their comments into consideration. That’s exactly how my students and I ended up getting involved in the project that I’m going to talk about.

Raising awareness about autism was the main purpose of the activity that my students and students from Al Hadi High school in Lebanon collaborated on and that I would like to talk about in this post. My students worked closely with the Lebanese autistic students and they learned a lot from them. It’s worth mentioning that parents and the whole community were involved in this project as well.

The project was part of the global Connecting Classrooms programme that brought together some schools in and outside Morocco, including mine. On the Schools Online website there are samples of projects, types of school partnerships, and samples of themes a teacher can use to collaborate with other schools. For my students, I chose to focus on autism because there exist a lot of misconceptions about it.

While participating in this project, I found out that students have a lot of potential and become extremely motivated if they are working and learning in an anxiety-free atmosphere. My students had creative ideas and were engaged while learning with their international peers, which showed to me the huge importance of project-based learning and its impact on the learners.

The activity itself was essentially a celebration of the World Autism Awareness Day, April 2nd. Our schools collaborated to help increase students’ awareness of this condition by exchanging questionnaires with the partner school to collect information regarding autism or any other similar conditions. The science teachers were also involved providing some support to us in the process. In fact, involving other teachers in such projects is crucial because of their cross-curricular nature. Students then brainstormed ideas on how to create attractive posters, drawings, or paintings, which were later exchanged for comments and feedback.

The next step was creating a Facebook group and a Facebook page where the posters were shared to show support for people suffering from this condition around the world. The ongoing purpose of the group and the page is to keep the interaction between the two schools alive and to make people change the way they look at this condition.

As part of the process, we also watched an amazing movie about Temple Grandin, telling the inspiring life story of the American professor of animal science and famous autism spokesperson. One of the things that students learned from this movie is that being different doesn’t mean something negative. The movie helped to change stereotypes about autistic people and treat them as human beings. Adding the movie to the list of activities was suggested by the Lebanese partner and it was an important step as schools from both sides had a great learning experience from it.

At the end of the project, the teams from the two schools exchanged certificates of thanks and appreciation. After taking pictures and writing detailed reports about the different stages of the activity, we managed to document the whole process into a portfolio of evidence. The main objective of the portfolio is to record the international work for assessment and evaluation by the Connecting Classroom ambassadors. The document also contained many types of evaluation sheets: for teachers and parents, for students (to write what was good about the activity and how it could be improved), as well as for visitors who might include colleagues from other schools or community leaders and activists.

To conclude, participating in this project was a tremendous eye-opener for me personally, for the students, and for the whole school. Society always regards autistic individuals as inferior creatures who lack social skills, and I hope that this project changed that view a little bit and our students became aware that autistic people can be creative, funny, social, and extremely intelligent.

I think sometimes parents and teachers fail to stretch kids. My mother had a very good sense of how to stretch me just slightly outside my comfort zone.”  (Temple Grandin)