Opening a door, a gentle nudge, an invitation to step outside our comfort zone, mentors do all this and more. In this special issue of the iTDi blog, Rose Bard, Marisa Pavan, and Yitzha Sarwono Bryant celebrate the teachers who reach out and help us feel that what we have to say is valid, that the way we think about teaching is important. The mentors in our community are an example of how the act of giving is also an act of receiving, how reaching out and helping someone else enriches us all. Mentors remind us that valuing each other is how we build community. The ‘Giving Back’ issue, a tribute to the mentors in our community. And a promise to take up and pass on the lessons they have shared with us.
by Rose Bard
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6.31
I didn’t use to have any confidence in myself when it came to expressing my ideas to others. It had been like that since I was a little kid. If you had asked me to talk to a peer one to one, I would do ok. I’d do even better if it was someone I knew. But if you asked me to talk in front of a class, I would be very shy. Actually, my schooling didn’t prepare me for talking in front of a group. I don’t remember school back then having us presenting stuff to the class at all. Most of the teaching was done through lectures and exercises from a textbook or board-work. Still, just providing kids the opportunity to talk in front of a class, to rehearse for the demands of their adult lives, isn’t enough. I hear students nowadays saying how awful they feel when they have to do these kinds of tasks, and how disappointed they feel about the grades they get when they do present.
But this discomfort with expressing my ideas didn’t seem to have too much of a negative impact on what I did in the classroom. I always thought that I was just a teacher and I felt comfortable just doing the teaching. I never felt the need to prove myself to my students. In fact, when I made spelling mistakes on the board–or any other mistake for that matter–and a student pointed it out, I would thank and praise them for their help and try to let them know that mistakes are part of speaking/writing in any language.
It was in 2012 that I met the wonderful people of iTDi. English for Teachers lessons were just what I felt I needed. Despite the fact that I read a lot of books on teaching and learning, academic articles and blog posts online, I was never confident to participate in conversations about teaching. The only time I dared to ask a simple questions in a teachers’ group in Yahoo, I felt totally ignored. I worried whether my question was too stupid for anyone to bother to reply. I guess many teachers out there must feel that way too. Because there are thousands and thousands of English teachers around the world and now that my situation has changed completely, I realize that I can only see a very few of them participating actively online.
But my journey into getting better at presenting my ideas really started when Vicky Loras became my mentor. After reading Vicky’s blog post in January 2013, I contacted her. In her post, Vicky showed her desire to mentor more teachers that year. Her sincerity and willingness gave me the courage to ask her to be my mentor. I told her that I wanted to develop my speaking skills because I wanted to share my journey with other teachers. Vicky suggested we meet in Skype once a week on Sundays. Sundays for me was fine, but it blew my mind the fact that Vicky would take her Sunday time to spend an hour with me. Vicky is a great listener and a great educator. We would discuss education like we were sitting in a café. She never corrected me or made me feel somehow less than her. In short, if you have the chance to be mentored by someone like Vicky you are blessed.
As soon as I felt a bit more confident, I decided to share this sense of support by inviting a former colleague to have coffee with me that same year. She had just been to Canada and I was eager to hear about a course she attended through a Fullbright scholarship. While we were sharing about our teaching and personal life, she realized I was really engaged online and said that she wished to continue learning and sharing but she wasn’t confident about using The Internet for PD or new ways of using technology in teaching. We started exchanging emails with materials, and having regular meetings in a coffee shop. It was really nice to hear about her own context. She worked, and still works, for a regular school with big groups in the private and public sector. This taught me things about a learning/teaching context I had never worked in.
Vicky always said that mentoring is not about one knowing more, it’s about learning together with and from each other. I remember when I had my first presentations online, Vicky helped me by giving tips and remembering things others had told her when she was in the same situation. She also encouraged me to take the opportunities that came my way to present and write and I know she created some of those opportunities for me too. Listening to someone who has the experience that you don’t have is very important. A mentor after all is trying to help you achieve something. Instead of doing it alone, you can have someone to walk together, think together and exchange ideas with. Because of what Vicky did for me, I’m not afraid of sharing anymore and much less to be judged by those who will read or listen to my talk. I do my best to communicate my journey to others. Vicky always praised my efforts as a teacher and a presenter. I hope Vicky is proud of me as much as I am grateful to her for all she did for me.
In fact, I wish that everyone could find themselves a mentor. And I wish potential mentors would look for mentees as Vicky opened herself up to teachers in her blog. In 2013, mentoring was a big topic and we talked about it online a lot. Nowadays, people seem to have forgotten this powerful development strategy. I am still striving to do for others what Vicky did for me.
Mentoring is still one of the backbones of my PD, and here is some of my plans for 2015/2016:
- Continue being open to teachers online who contact me
- Start a local group for English teachers to meet and share practice, concerns and especially to inspire each other and show PD opportunities online
- Be more open to my own colleagues in my workplace
- Start my M.A in Media and Technology in Education
“The role of mentors is so important, regardless of the profession one is in. Especially for us educators, having a mentor and mentoring other teachers can evolve into an amazing and creative relationship. It is as simple as talking to someone about their worries, concerns, interests and guiding them into new paths. New kinds of teaching, new studies even. Be open and help out someone who needs it!” Vicky Loras, March 2013
by Marisa Pavan
When I joined Twitter in 2009 I was lucky enough to come across Shelly Sanchez Terrell and to find out about her blog “Teacher Reboot Camp.” As I read her posts about motivating students through the use of technology in the classroom, I remember feeling excited about the possibility of introducing these innovations into my own teaching practice. Almost as soon as we started interacting through Twitter and through comments I made in her posts, Shelly encouraged me to develop my Personal Learning Network (PLN) online so as to grow professionally and improve my teaching practice. Twitter was my first social network, and meeting educators there was like opening a window on the world. I was part of an endless exchange of teaching experiences and opportunities all which could help me update my teaching practice. But it was the initial interactions with Shelly that gave me the confidence I needed to reach out and interact with other educators.
Probably the first thing I really learned from Shelly was the importance of leaving my comfort zone. I remember when Shelly invited me to write a guest post on her blog. It was shortly after we started interacting through Twitter. I felt really excited and honoured to have received the invitation. Shelly gave me the freedom to write anything I wanted to about edtech and my experiences. She also offered me all the help I needed to write my post. I did not have much experience at the time but I felt confident enough to give it a try. After about four hours, I finally finished my first post To Use Edtech or Not: That is the Question In the post, I describe how technology was rarely used at the time in classrooms in my country and how interacting with my PLNers helped me learn how to bring tech tools into my classroom. As I received lots of really positive comments on this post, I felt inspired to start my own blog: Linguistic Consultancy. I thought it would allow me to share my experiences and reflect on ways to improve myself as a teacher. From my first post on helping my students devise language learning goals, to posts on the skills and attitudes we need to help students develop through the learning-teaching process, I’ve come to see how I can use the lessons of personal growth that Shelly shared with me to also help my students grow as independent learners.
And it was from positive feedback from Shelly and my growing PLN that eventually led me to using Facebook as a tool for professional development, a tool which has proved even more helpful to widen my PLN and increase my level of interaction with a global network of educators. I’ve been in touch with educators from Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, Greece, Italy, the UK, and Turkey among others. I still remember when Cecilia Lemos from Brazil first introduced me to the use of word clouds, a tool I still use in my classes. The fact that she encouraged the readers of her blog post on the topic to not only read about word clouds, but to actually join in a blog challenge and use the tool themselves, helped me see how blog posts could be interactive and about creating a sense of conversation and community.
One of the most surprising things has been how reaching out to teachers in other parts of the world eventually brought me closer to the teachers at my own school. I started to share what I learned through my PLN with my colleagues and they have also brought technology into their classrooms. The first tool I shared with them was PBworks. I created a wiki for the school staff, which the other teachers and the director of the school have found helpful to share material and to communicate. And even though we are in the same building, we’ve begun, after some initial reluctance, to use Facebook as another means of communicating with each other. I’ve worked at the same school for 26 years, but once we started communicating online as well as offline we’ve been having a more fluent exchange of ideas. My colleagues and I can ask each other questions anytime, regardless of our class schedule, and I’m always ready to offer my help on anything they might need.
But even with my expanded PLN, and the growing sense of community at my school,
I still look to Shelly for inspiration and a leading hand. In March of 2014 I attended Shelly’s iTDi course and I learnt how to further my use of technology in my teaching practice. I walked away from the course with the ability to share videos, reading passages, and dictionary links in my classroom. The more I grow, the more I realise that for me, Shelly Sanchez embodies the very spirit of mentoring and support. She has amazing leadership skills and I feel blessed have her at centre of my PLN. I have never met Shelly in person, but I’d love to be able to meet her one day. Until I do, I will try to do my best to foster the same kind of support and ability to grow and change that Shelly helped provide for me.
by Yitzha Sarwono Bryant
Teachers are people who dare to open doors and make ways for the students to find themselves . But sometimes, even the teachers need someone to open the door for them too. And that happened to me.
Around 2010 I started working for Montessori school. I was literally lost when I began learning about the Montessori method. I felt like everything I knew about teaching was suddenly of no use to me. That’s when I met Ms Helennor Otaza Lasco, the head of curriculum in my school. She was tough. She expected nothing but the best out of me. She would position me as a student whenever she showed me a Montessori technique, and whenever I asked her a question, she would help guide me so that, in the end, I would try to figure out an answer for myself. She always tried to spark my curiosity, and I realised that was the way I wanted to make my students feel as well. With Ms. Lasco’s help, I’ve come to realise that Montessori is based on 2 things : Learning by using all your five senses, and that all children should be provided with the freedom (within limits) to study at their own pace, so no one is left behind and no one is prevented from trying to strive for something even higher. It’s a truly student centred environment.
But Ms. Helennor Lasco not only opened my eyes to Montessori, she also encouraged me to try finding more doors to open. And as they say: Fortune favours the bold, so I searched out more ways to improve my teaching. As I was trying to find resources and opportunity to learn more, I joined Twitter and there I found #ELTchat. I wasn’t sure if I belonged at first because I felt like I was the only one in that community who was teaching children. But the topics discussed were useful for me (and all teachers, really) things like how to handle assessment in the classroom or Methods for teaching writing. At first, I was petrified to join in the conversation. But after getting a few responses to my first tweets, I became more involved. I even wrote up several of the official #ELTchat summaries.
It was in #ELTchat that I met James Taylor. After a discussion on #ELTchat about Dogme teaching, I posted on how I thought that it was a bit similar to Montessori. Dogme is a communicative approach to language teaching that encourages teaching without published textbooks and focuses instead on conversational communication among learners and the teacher. In Montessori, the focus is on one-on-one lessons without textbooks as well. So I was interested in using the communicative techniques in Dogme in a Montessori environment. I felt it would be a good match as both recognise the centrality of the learners’ voice. To my surprise, James contacted me to support the idea of me trying to combine Dogme teaching and Montessori in my class. Not only that , he also gave me 3 slots on his blog for me to write up my experience about it! I wasn’t sure at first since I wasn’t a regular blogger. And to write on his blog felt like a little bit too much for me. But he convinced me to try. He let me write a draft for him and then he took the time to proofread it so I had the confidence to continue writing. I’m thankful that James, just like Ms Helen, never said that what I thought or wrote was not good enough. Instead of negative criticism, he gave me more space, the space I needed so I could get my ideas out and organised in words. James taught me that ideas belong to everyone, and every idea matters.
Long story short, the opportunity James gave me has opened up a lot of doors for me. James, along with Vicky Loras, helped me to get a piece on my Dogme/Montessori teaching experiences into the ETAS Journal, I’ve presented in 3 difference conferences ( 1 online and 2 in indonesia), and even more important, what James helped me do has made me believe in myself. Now I know that even this little teacher who teaches Kindergarten could leave a footprint in the ELT world and be accepted.
Since that #ELTchat back in 2012, my approach on teaching has changed. And how I see my students has changed, too. I realise that learning doesn’t always need to follow a plan. The other day we were supposed to have a picnic in our school’s yard and do a drama play on “Family”. But the rain fell, and kept falling, so we couldn’t go outside. Instead of giving in to a feeling of disappointment, my students and I had a tea party in the classroom and I read them a story and we had fun as the rain fell. Now, when my class doesn’t manage to complete an assignment, or I don’t meet the weekly goals I’ve set for myself, I realise that goals are not what’s important. Learning is what matters. And instead of making my students stay late after school, I remember that there is always the next day to take the next step.
In 2013 I met two important friends, Ika and Indrie. They had come to their first iTDi event in Jakarta that year. I surprised myself by how keen I was to interact with them. I could see a reflection of myself in them. They were so eager to know more, to learn more, and to reach for more. Their desire was a reminder of those first positive influences I had gotten from Ms. Lasco and James. But Ika and Indrie were not only taking in a similar positive influence, they were also eagerly working to find ways to spread it out further. One thing I’ve learned about myself since I’ve come to know Ms. Helen and James, I’m no longer afraid. I now believe that, when it comes to studying and teaching, everyone should have the same chance. And that’s what I’m trying to do, to give that same chance to all the students in my class and to find ways to pass on those chances to my fellow teachers. Because there are a lot of doors out there in the world, and we need to have as many hands as possible that are ready to swing them wide open.