Reflecting on 2018: Experiences, Emotions, and Events

Peter BreretonReflecting on 2018: Experiences, Emotions, and Events

by Peter Brereton


The first few weeks of 2018 found me spending every waking hour hunched over my laptop in a cramped study in the Hiroshima countryside with only a small oil heater for company. Putting the finishing touches on my MA dissertation, I vowed that my aim for the rest of the year would be to continue the momentum I had built up during that time. Now, as the year draws to a close, it feels appropriate to pause for reflection; return to experiences, attend to emotions, and mull over events (Boud, Keogh & Walker, 1985), with the aim of clarifying in our own minds what we’ve learned and how we’ve developed. This post is my attempt to do so.

The swing of the pendulum

When it comes to my vow to myself, I feel I have been as good as my word: this year has seen me present at five conferences and have three articles published, with three more (including my first book chapter) in press and a further three at various stages of development. Reflecting on this, however, it is interesting to note that the main achievements I can immediately point to are academic in nature, rather than directly related to my roles as an academic manager, teacher trainer, or teacher. This seems characteristic of my entire year, and while it has improved my understanding of research and my writing ability, developed my awareness of literature in some key areas (e.g. teacher training, teacher demotivation, and reflective practice), and almost certainly boosted my employability in the Japanese higher education context, I feel it has had limited impact on my actual working practices.

Indeed, this year, perhaps for the first time, my teaching has very much taken a back seat. As an academic manager, my time in the classroom is limited and I usually view teaching as a welcome (occasionally unwelcome) escape from my management duties. However, looking back, I am surprised and slightly disappointed with myself that I have carried out no classroom research or formal reflection on my classroom practices this year, focusing instead on aspects of my academic development. There is no doubt in my mind that I am not a manager who teaches but rather a teacher who manages and, on reflection, I feel the pendulum has swung too far away from my classroom practices. I intend to return to my roots next year and am already making plans to reach a better equilibrium between the classroom and the office.

Alone, together

As part of this reflection, I have been thinking a lot about my experiences at conferences this year. Some were great experiences (ExcitELT, I’m looking at you), most were good, but there were one or two that I haven’t enjoyed. While I almost always leave with a few ideas to take away and reflect upon, I am no longer as inspired by conferences as I once was and have begun to approach these wonderfully social occasions with a sense of apprehension.

This has led me to question my own aims when attending conferences. In a recent Twitter discussion, it was suggested that organisers often hold as their main objective the ability for participants to walk away with “activities you can use tomorrow in class.” While I do occasionally get one or two ideas that I can adapt and adopt into my teaching, this is not something I explicitly seek out; indeed, most sessions I visit seem to be more research- or theory-based than practical. I do, however, enjoy attending presentations, and even when I make the occasional error in session selection, this often allows me some quality time to be alone with my thoughts, unimpeded by the distraction of emails, messages, and notifications.

Most people I’ve asked about the appeal of conferences say they value the chance to network, but I don’t feel like I’ve had this opportunity much at conferences. Upon arrival, it often seems like everyone already know each other, with many attendees huddled together in small groups, presenting a very physical boundary to others. I understand people’s enthusiasm to catch up with friends who they may not often see, and I certainly do not mean to criticise anyone, but to a relative newcomer such as myself this can make some conferences appear quite cliquey.

Meeting like-minded people, discussing teaching, and sharing experiences are all things I genuinely enjoy but I guess I just feel like a bit of an outsider sometimes. This is perhaps partly of my own making; I do acknowledge that I do not often initiate conversations with others at conferences. On the rare occasions when I have done so, I have had some extremely meaningful conversations which stand out as highlights of my year, long after the memories of the various presentations have faded. Interestingly, some of the best connections I made this year at conferences were actually with current colleagues. Perhaps being able to skip the small talk and having the time and opportunity to talk to people on a deeper level allowed me to develop these relationships, which have become very important to me on both professional and personal levels. I have no doubt conference-going can be extremely rewarding, yet to get the most out of the experience I feel I need to clarify in my own mind my purpose for attending and decide how I will approach any events I go along to in 2019.

Not looking at what we have to do, but what we have done

This year I have certainly become better at taking on challenges which appear, carrying out research, applying to present, and writing up papers at every opportunity. The enjoyment and professional satisfaction I derive from doing these things is a relatively new source of motivation for me, but I feel this has caused my priorities in terms of work-life balance to become misplaced. Returning from the long summer break, I was unable to tell my rejuvenated and re-energised colleagues of any news aside from the fact that I’d written two papers and prepared a presentation for an upcoming conference. At a reflective practice meeting soon after, my workload was praised by some, who expressed what sounded like guilt or regret that they didn’t “do more.” Pressure from modern society often means that we equate busy to good and free time to bad, but I feel that I have pushed the boundaries of how much I should take on and so I intend to scale back on things next year. I have dedicated insufficient time to reflection, focusing too heavily on what I have to do, rather than what I have done. This year has left me with little time to pause for breath, let alone to reflect. I have realised more than ever that, in order to be an effective reflective practitioner, I need boredom, freedom, and time spent alone.

Looking forward

As the publications roll in next year, I’m sure I will feel that my endeavours in academia this year have paid off. It’s not all about publications though, and I certainly haven’t spent enough time consciously reflecting on my teaching and managing practices. I feel I need to re-learn to sit still sometimes and allow myself to get bored again. Next year I intend to take a step back, reevaluate my priorities, and get involved only in projects I am really passionate about. I may have had a certain fear of missing out this year, but I have also learned that sometimes it’s okay to say no. Having sufficient time for reflection is important and dedicating time to writing this post has been very therapeutic.

The end of a year is always a perfect time to look back on the highlights and the lowlights, the achievements and challenges of the past twelve months, and to look forward to the upcoming year. Thanks to this post, I feel I’ve been able to do this. I encourage my colleagues around the world to do likewise.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.” 

T.S. Eliot


Boud, D., Keogh, R. & Walker, D. (1985). Promoting reflection in learning: A model. In D. Boud, R. Keogh & D. Walker (Eds.). Reflection: Turning experience into learning (pp.18-40) London, UK: Routledge Falmer.

2018: A Journey of Discovery

Ayat Tawel2018: A Journey of Discovery

by Ayat Tawel


It’s this time of the year when some of us believe it’s just another year of our life coming to an end, or maybe think negatively about how time flies and whether we’ve achieved some of our goals or not. Reflecting on 2018, I see it as one of the years I am so happy about. As teachers, when we think of highlights of the year, we start thinking about our professional development or what we have achieved in terms of working with our students or colleagues. But it is more than just that; it is also what we did in our life outside the classroom that might reflect on us as human beings and thus as educators. I believe every year brings us new opportunities to learn more about work, others, and ourselves. In this post I will share with you what I explored in 2018 about teaching, teacher training, and also about myself.


For me, the first highlight of the year in terms of professional development was going to the IATEFL 2018 conference in Brighton. It was a dream that I never knew could come true. After attending and presenting at both local and international conferences, going to the IATEFL meant more than just attending one of the most important ELT global events. It was an opportunity to meet other educators, learn about new teaching practices in different contexts, and share ideas with educators, authors, and publishers from all around the world. Apart from visiting the UK for the first time (one of my dream destinations, too!), the days spent at the conference were such an amazing, inspiring experience.

It started with the IATEFL LTSIG (Learning Technologies Special Interest Group) day, which was focusing mainly on the use of VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) in education. Some of the ideas presented and were open for discussion among the audience afterwards were about how AR increases engagement and gives learners the opportunity to experience what might not be possible to experience in real life.  “Feeling” the experience through virtual reality can help students to better remember and express what they learn. We also explored how VR is used now in different fields, such as healthcare, space, museums, shopping, military, etc. Though virtual reality can offer students the opportunity to access the best education facilities, attend school wherever they live, be homeschooled, or even go to university without worrying too much about costs, it has its challenges. Some of these challenges include price, tech problems, and even health issues as there have been cases of students reporting nausea.

The best part of that day was when we got the chance to experience virtual reality ourselves and go on virtual tours to different countries through the amazing VR set of Heike Philip (one of the speakers at that event, a renowned Ed Tech trainer who co-initiated some European projects and online events on the use of technology in education). You can see me going on a virtual tour in Paris in the photo.

I won’t talk about all the wonderful sessions that I got to attend and the famous speakers in the world of ELT that I got to meet, listen and talk to during the conference. I have been following or working with many of those speakers and authors online for some years, so it was truly exciting to finally meet them and share my ideas and thoughts face-to-face.

As it’s not always easy to buy ELT resource books in my country and ordering them online takes time and costs a lot, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity given to IATEFL attendees to meet authors and publishers and buy some of the recently published books at a reduced price. The following are three of the important books I bought and recommend for all, especially those who are interested in educational technology or experimenting with different teaching methods:

  • Best practices for blended learning, a very interesting and practical book that is full of ideas for educators who would like to implement blended learning in their teaching;
  • ETPedia technology by the amazing Nicky Hockly. It’s a valuable resource book for teachers that has 500 practical ideas for using technology in the English language classroom. You can also find quotes by educators who used some of these ideas in their classes all around the world – and my testimonial was among those, which definitely added to my excitement of owning that useful resource book;
  • Scott Thornbury’s 30 Language Teaching Methods, a small, pocket-sized book that summarises the most famous teaching methods in an engaging, simple and informative way.

Teacher training

Working closely with both trainee and more experienced teachers was another highlight of 2018 for me. During the summer I worked on designing training materials for trainee teachers and a mentoring program, and it was an eye-opening experience as I learnt how to identify and address teachers’ needs. Team teaching was one aspect of the training that we were trying out for the first time and which proved very useful for both trainees and experienced teachers. Taking this experience further, I worked with experienced teachers following the same approach but focusing more on teacher independence, giving teachers the opportunity to lead their own training programs and choose areas of development according to their needs and teaching priorities. That was another insightful experience as I had to find the balance between being a teacher myself and a trainer and how each experience feeds into the other. All the help and encouragement I got from my mentors this year has also helped me develop more as a trainer and showed me how to be supportive in a way that guarantees others still have the freedom to choose their own path to professional development.

Outside the classroom

Finally, I would like to share with you a personal highlight of 2018 for me. We can get so busy with teaching even outside the classroom, as we think of what we would be teaching the following day, or how to find a solution for that behaviour issue in class, or have to write a lesson plan for an observation. Among all this and while I was thinking I needed a change, I received an interesting email with an invitation to join a detox program. The program was not only about the food we eat, but also about our emotional and mental detox. It’s a program for finding physical and mental harmony in addition to work-life balance. Besides eating green, natural, and unprocessed food in order to get rid of all the toxins we get through our meals, this program took me on a journey of emotional detox. It started with an emotional reset as we got rid of the toxins caused by stress by doing some exercises, setting goals, and practicing self-love talk. I was introduced to new food, recipes, and tastes that I had never tried in my life. I had the opportunity to meet many inspiring ladies who were a great support on that journey, including the amazing coach Shahinaz El Tarouty. I also started setting different goals for my personal life, such as taking up different activities that would help me enjoy life more and gain different experiences. One of the goals I set after that program is learning a new language and I already started taking a Turkish course a couple of months ago. I am really enjoying that feeling of being a student in class, learning a new language and going through everything my students experience when they start learning a language.

I am really proud of everything I did and everyone I met in 2018. Above all, I am grateful to the iTDi family, who not only contribute to our professional development through their courses but also give us a chance to reflect and share our thoughts with other educators on this blog. I wish all educators a wonderful new year full of success, health, and love!

Achievements in 2018, and What’s Next?

Shoko KitaAchievements in 2018, and What’s Next?

by Shoko Kita.


I am glad that I was asked to write my reflection this year because the year 2018 has been an important one. In the past few years, I was going through my first major low motivation point as an English teacher, but now I can say that I have overcome my demotivation (I think!) and have found goals for my next step.

Overcoming the low point 

In 2012 I started my career as a teacher at a language institute in the United States, where I enjoyed teaching academic English to international students, discussing teaching with my supportive and passionate colleagues, and developing as a professional. All of this meant I was highly motivated, involved in teaching projects outside of work, and did not mind presenting three times at one conference (well, I did mind, but still wanted to try!). However, after I started teaching at a private English school in Japan in 2015, my passion for teaching faded away. I did not feel like talking about teaching after work, stopped going to conferences, and started applying for non-teaching jobs. The main reasons for this demotivation were burnout caused by poor working conditions, the lack of meaningful communication among colleagues, and the lack of satisfaction with my professional development. Moving to my current job at a university in Tokyo in 2017 helped me gradually recover from this low point, and this year I have felt that my motivation is finally back! Once again I am ready to be actively involved as a teacher and have returned to presenting at conferences, as well as teaching classes outside my main job. A number of factors have influenced the recovery, but it seems that building stronger connections with other teachers and gaining self-awareness of my development as a teacher have been the most important ones.

Connecting with other teachers  

Actively engaged in teaching and spending more time with my colleagues outside work again, I have felt more connected with other teachers, which has had a positive impact on my motivation. For instance, while preparing for and during conference presentation sessions, I had a chance to deeply discuss teaching with my colleagues and genuinely enjoyed our meaningful conversations. Through our conversations, we have got to know each other on a deeper level, and now I know that we are ready for a casual chat about lessons, frustrations, reflections or anything at any time. After we became closer, I have learnt about their professional strengths and their passion for what interests them, such as continuing to regularly organize reflective practice meetings, taking the initiative in helping colleagues build relationships, raising funds for Congolese teachers, and striving for academic development. Their passion has made me explore more and search for my own specialty, for example, by taking an online course on teacher development and co-leading a reflective practice meeting.

Returning to conferences has also given me opportunities to connect with teachers outside the realm of my work. After my presentation sessions, some teachers came to talk to me and we discussed issues in each other’s contexts. Learning that we have similar interests and that what I do does matter to some other teachers has reminded me of the importance of professional development – being able to share more and learn more from them.

Identifying my achievements and next steps 

Another factor that helped me overcome my low point was the increased self-awareness in my own professional development and my next steps. At the beginning of the second semester, as part of a professional development project teachers in my department read an article by Tsui (2003) about the differences between novice and expert teachers. Later on, we came together and discussed how we would rate ourselves on a scale of 1 to 5 on a number of aspects related to teaching in our context (one example is shown below). The eleven aspects included such characteristics as autonomy in teachers’ own action, efficiency in lesson planning, flexibility, knowledge, efficiency in processing classroom information, ability to improvise, and principled decision-making (Tsui, 2003).

If I had had a chance to do the task last year, I would have put myself in a “novice” category for the most characteristics. In the meeting in September, however, I placed myself at 3s and 4s, and it clearly showed to me which areas I had improved in and which areas I can still work on.

The biggest change I have noticed is my lesson planning process. Tsui (2003) explains that novice teachers tend to focus on planning one lesson at a time, while expert teachers usually make connections across lessons. Last year, especially in my first semester in the program, I did not see the whole picture of our course. This year I often noticed that I consider the impact of previous lessons on the following lessons in the course, as well as on how I can prepare students for tests at earlier stages.

Another difference I found in my teaching is that my reflection-in-action (Schön, 1983) process has improved and I have become much more comfortable being flexible and spontaneous in terms of in-class decision making. In other words, I am more aware of the needs of each particular group of students and feel comfortable reacting to those needs on the spot. My selection of feedback activities illustrates this change. In my first semester I would feel insecure if I did not have a detailed feedback plan in advance and I used the same activity in most classes (our program employs a unified curriculum where I teach the same lesson to 14 different groups of students a week). This year, I have different types of feedback that I could give in mind and, based on my in-class observation of the students’ use of target language, their skills to self-reflect, the flow of lessons, time, and their energy level, I try to choose a feedback activity that seems most appropriate for a group of students at each stage of each lesson.

Goals for 2019

Conversations with colleagues and reflections on my professional development have raised my interest in teacher training and made me start observing teacher trainers, reflecting on the skills and qualities I hope to gain. With that in mind, here are the goals I want to pursue in 2019:

Spend more time learning about other teachers. As mentioned above, this year I have developed connections with some colleagues and learned more about them, which expanded my interests and opportunities. In 2019, I would like to also initiate conversations with other teachers to learn more about the ideas and opinions that different teachers have.

Gain further knowledge of teaching and teacher training approaches. This goal may sound a bit broad but there are two tasks that I would like to work on. The first task involves reading about a variety of aspects of teaching and gaining knowledge on different ELT-related topics, so that I could have deeper, better-informed discussions with other teachers. The second task is for me to review the feedback I have received on my teaching and professional development projects from both current and former supervisors in order to consider how I would like to communicate my feedback to other teachers.

Reflecting on 2018 through writing this blog post has helped me see my achievements more clearly and I now look forward to working on my goals in 2019!


Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. London, UK: Temple Smith.

Tsui, A. B. (2003). Understanding expertise in teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press.