Voices from the iTDi Community 3 – Chuck

Take The First Step  —  Chuck Sandy

Chuck Sandy

Every once in a way you hear someone say something so true that everything inside you shifts a little. Lights go off in your mind. Pieces of things you’ve been thinking about for years suddenly get tied together, and all at once you wind up with a new frame for the window you use to see the world.

This happened to me a few years ago when I heard community activist Bob Stilger say, “every community is full of leaders just waiting to be asked to step forward”. Those words from Bob helped me to reframe and redefine my thinking, the same way that Steven Herder’s now famous statements about collaboration did. When I first heard Steven say, “Anything I can do, we can do better (together)” and “collaboration provides just the right amount of pressure to get things done” similar bright lights went off inside me as a new framework took hold. It is now not too much to say that these statements have come to define how I think about community building, collaboration, and leadership.

With this new framework in place, I started seeing leaders everywhere I looked and began seeing the ways that leadership works within all kinds of different communities. In every community, leaders emerge, helps others grow, then steps back to let others lead. It’s a beautiful thing to see and encourage.

One of the most wonderful things about iTDi is that we put Bob Stilger’s words into practice every single day as we reach out to teachers who are already leaders in their own communities and say, “How about you, ______? Would you _________?”

As a community builder, I have discovered that the best way to complete those two questions is different every time. You complete the first question with a person’s name. You complete the second question in a way that shows you’ve done your homework and already have a good sense of what this person is good at, proud of, or perhaps working on being better at. Then, once you ask,  you encourage just enough, and then you wait while expecting the best.

That’s what I’m doing right now with you, dear reader.  I’m asking  you to take the first step. Help us get to know you by answering the same questions that Sevim, Victor Hugo, Malu, James, and Michael have answered for this issue of Voices From the iTDI Community:

What are you passionate about?

How and why did you become a teacher?

What are you most interested in right now?

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

What advice would you give a teacher just starting out a journey of professional development?

Is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

What’s your favorite quotation about teaching or education?

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

By going to http://itdi.pro and answering these questions in the Social Forum, you will begin a relationship with the iTDi community and help us get to know you. As we get a sense of who you are and what you’re best at, proud of, and working on getting better at, we’ll come to understand how best to complete that second question when we reach out and ask you to step forward and lead.

I’m asking you now to take the first step. I’m expecting the best.

Chuck Sandy

iTDi Community Director

Voices from the iTDi Community 3 – Tulay

Tülay Önder is a teacher of children and young learners in Ankara, Turkey.  She’s actively involved and passionate about developing collaborative projects for her students in Turkey to do with learners from around the world. She’s lively, energetic, enthusiastic, and in touch with her inner child.

What are you passionate about Tülay?

Teaching and still learning when l teach drives and motivates me! l am passionate about projects and trying to do more and more for my students.

We have 3 running projects at school.  One of them has just been approved  by Comenius

The title of our project is Let’s Reveal Secrets of European Gardens. There are 11 partner countries involved and the the Coordinator is Poland. In this project, we will create indoor and outdoor gardens at school and the students will learn about seeds and how a plant can grow .

Our Second Project is called International Inspiration, which is supported by the British Council of Scotland. The focus of this project is on Physical Education and its aim is to develop and expand physical education lessons while encouraging students – especially girls – to be more active.

Our Third Project is an exchange program. l found the school we are working with in Denmark on Facebook with the help of one of my Danish friends. Once we got connected we started to talk about our plans and ideas, and then connected our students on the Internet. Additionally students sent postcards and letters to each other. Later, thirteen students and four teacher from Turkey visited Denmark where our families from our exchange school hosted us in their homes, so we got the chance to learn culture through being part of their daily life. We cooked Turkish food and they cooked Danish food with the students. It was really amazing! We will host them in Turkey next April.

I am very passionate about projects like these, and I am sure you can see why. Projects are a great way to make learning come alive.

How and why did you become a teacher?

Being a Teacher was one of my dreams when l was a child.  There is a belief in Turkey that when you lose a tooth as a child and throw it under the teachers’ desk, you can become a teacher in the future.  Well, l did it and now l am a teacher so it still works …  although it is nonsense. J  l love teaching and having contact with  kids and young learners. l know that there is a child inside me and l love that child.  When l work with the children, l try to listen to this child inside me and it can help me and l can understand the children easily.

What are you most interested in right now, Tülay?

Well, as you can imagine I am really interested in making the three projects I am currently working on successful. In addition, I am also working to organize an exchange program with a school in the United States and Japan. Such projects are really very helpful for students and teachers. Being involved in an exchange programs allows but students and teachers to share and compare ideas and views while also helping everyone have a more more global focus.

What things do you do to help you get better at being a teacher?

I follow and look for things about education on the net, and make sure I am connected to lots of teachers around the world on Facebook. This provides a constant source of stimulation and helps me innovate every day, and we really need to innovate and improve ourselves each day.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

My biggest challenges are finding ways for my students in Turkey to collaborate with other students from around the world and good finding good people for them to do exchange programs with. I could also say that I have the same challenge on a personal level as a teacher: finding great teachers from around the world to collaborate while thinking together with them about projects we could do together once we get connected. Another challenge involves conditions in Turkish schools where class sizes are often very large and where in some schools there is not enough ICT equipment for the students. I wish all schools in Turkey had the same good conditions, but perhaps this is impossible to achieve at the moment.

What advice would you give to a teacher just starting out on a journey of professional development?

Follow and listen to your heart. Be active, be happy and go on learning without stopping.

Tülay, is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

For teachers in who are interested in doing collaborative projects, I would recommend they have a look at Comenius

What’s your favorite quotation about being a teacher?

I am not sure where this idea came from originally, but this is true:

Each teacher means a different method so there are as many methods as there are teachers in the world.

Voices from the iTDi Community 3 – Ratnavathy

My name’s Ratnavathy Ragunathan, and I am Malaysian. I’ve been teaching for the past 5 years at International House (IH) Malaysia. I’m currently residing in Ulsan, South Korea due to the nature of my spouse’s job. I love traveling, singing, and being an avid vegetarian, experimenting with various vegetarian cuisines from around the world. I’m passionate about teaching and learning, and believe that if we open our minds, the world becomes our teacher.

What are you passionate about, Ratnavathy?

This is a rather interesting question, I must say. Well, there are quite a number of things that I’m passionate about, and one of the list toppers is traveling. I’ve been traveling from a very young age, despite most of my adventures being vacation trips with families or friends. I find traveling to be such an enriching eye and mind opener to the various cultures and lifestyles of the world. It has helped define who I am as an individual and reaffirm my beliefs of the culture and tradition that I belong to.

Traveling has also greatly helped shape my teaching beliefs and approaches, which leads to the second thing that I’m passionate about – teaching. To me, teaching is about having the power to nurture and mold the creative and critical thinking faculties of learners, which play an influential role in the development of their characters. I’ve been very fortunate to work with learners from many parts of the globe. Hence, one of the most important insights that I’ve gained is the fact that learners are learners, no matter where they come from. Never judge them based on the picture that the media paints about them or their countries. Each learner is a unique and worthy individual fully capable of achieving what he aims to achieve. However, above all that’s been said, what inspires me most about teaching is the fact that I can help to make that very change that awakens a learner from within.

How and why did you become a teacher?

I would say that I “stumbled” into being a teacher and later realized that I actually enjoyed it! I was initially working as a Senior IT Executive at a multinational organization, earning a good salary with great employment benefits. But, deep down, I was very unhappy. It felt like no matter how hard I tried, I just could never excel as much as I wanted to. I felt like I was deceiving myself in doing something that did not suit me. One fine day, I sat down and deeply reflected on this conflict within me. I tried to identify what made me happy, and realized that I loved the English language and everything’s that got to do with it. I started going to night school to get my TESOL certification, and got a job at an English language school in Malaysia. My initial teaching days were definitely not a bed of roses. It dawned on me that being proficient in the language wasn’t a determining factor in being skilled at teaching it. So, my earliest teaching days were rather challenging as I tried to cope with my new career, identify my teaching style and nurture my skills.

Nevertheless, as time went on, I realized that I actually enjoyed teaching more than anything else, as it brought a great sense of inner satisfaction and fulfillment. There’s just something really magical about working with fresh young minds. I loved reflecting on my teaching and fine-tuning it. I became my own critique, questioning myself on lessons that didn’t work well and rewarding myself when something went well. I found that it helped me to improve by great lengths. It dawned on me that this was what I wanted to do, and in the long run I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.

One interesting point that I’d like to highlight is that my initial training and character development as an IT professional really helped me work diligently and professionally at my language school. Coming from an industry that banked on the importance of customer satisfaction, I kept reminding myself that my learners are my “customers”, and I must do my best to deliver my skills to them.

What are you most interested in right now?

I’ve always loved getting learners involved in fun collaborative projects where they’re required to think, pool their thoughts, work and coordinate with one another. I believe this to be a vital process that enables learners to both flourish in a new language and develop their personal characteristics and communicative skills. I also encourage my learners to question what they’ve learned and voice their opinions confidently. Thus, most of my classroom tasks are designed with the underlying objective to build and increase learner confidence in using the language, even at the lowest levels. It truly inspires me to watch learners using the language to discuss and provide supporting explanation for their arguments in their best possible English. The more learners communicate, the more confident they become. I’m also interested in designing competitive language games because I find that learners have a lot of fun participating in them. Despite numerous past studies that have provided conflicting evidence in using competitive means in language learning, in my case, I find that learners have lots of fun and thoroughly enjoy competing with one another. The fact that I’ve joined several public treasure hunts in Malaysia has helped me so much in designing these language races. Another amazing discovery I made from these races was how much the reticent learners in my class actually enjoyed participating! To my surprise, they really did give their best and worked very well together with their teammates!

Apart from classroom teaching, I’d also like to share my experiences on “successful classroom activities and ideas” in the form of workshops, as many teachers I know are very keen in participating in “hands-on” workshops about ideas and tasks which have worked well in the classroom. I’ve recently started conducting training workshops, both online and offline, and found it to be a whole new experience. Technology is amazing, I must say! However, since I moved to Korea, I’ve not been able to conduct any workshops, but am looking forward to a few that have been lined up in the near future.

Another thing that I’m really interested in is to meet like-minded ELT professionals from around the world to share experiences as well as empower ourselves via conferences and discussion groups. There are a number of conferences coming up in Korea in a few months, and I’m really looking forward to participating in them. I’ve also been recently introduced to #KELTChat and KOTESOL by Josette LeBlanc, and am in the midst getting accustomed to using it (sadly and regretfully, I’m not so much of a twitter person but I guess it’s time to change!).

What things do you do to help you get better at being a teacher, Ratnavathy?

I remember one experience that was a true ‘eye-opener’ in my teaching career; a chance I got to observe one of the most creative teachers at my language school. It was an experience I’d never forget! Observing him was almost like a revelation in my teaching career about exactly what I needed to do as a teacher. And things were never the same again in my classroom! So yes, I really find peer observation to be an opportunity for teachers to observe, learn and help one another in improving our individual classroom practices. I personally feel that observing my peers can be very resourceful and inspiring, and most importantly set two primary, yet simple reminders: things I should do and things I shouldn’t do as a teacher in the classroom!

I’m also a very reflective person by nature. Reflecting on my teaching has been so beneficial to me that it has helped me constantly in improving myself as a teacher. I write my reflections about my classroom practices in a diary on a weekly basis, making notes on successful lessons and unsuccessful lessons, my learners and my observations on them, and generally, every other thing that happens in my classroom. My diaries were more of a conversation with myself, in which I questioned how and what I could possibly do to further improve my teaching. Sometime in the near future, I might start a blog on my teaching reflections (which I should have done a long time ago!)

And of course, last but surely not least, is just talking to my learners. Sometimes, as teachers, we feel that we know exactly what needs to be taught. But we need to remind ourselves that what we want to teach is probably not what the learners want to learn! I’ve always made it a point to have informal discussions with my learners just to get a grasp of their background, language learning aims, source of motivation and what they look forward to learning in the classroom. I find that learners sometimes have some wonderful ideas that I’d never have thought of myself!

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

To continuously come up with new, dynamic, fun, stimulating and engaging lessons in the classroom! Each learner is uniquely different from one another, with varying needs, motivation, and aims for learning the target language. Sometimes I find it quite challenging to find a single “common” theme that the whole class is interested in. And that’s the reason why I see the need to have informal chat sessions with my learners on a constant basis just to keep me on track

What advice would you give to teacher just starting out on the journey of professional development?

Constantly experiment with new teaching ideas and techniques in the classroom. It’s always about experimenting, reflecting, refining, fine-tuning, and re-experimenting again. Fret not, and never give up, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel! Also, constantly observe and be observed in the classroom by experienced teachers; be open to constructive criticism given by them and put some deep thought into their feedback. It will really help you unfold as a teacher. Most importantly:

a) learning is a life-long process; always strive to continuously develop your skills

b) participate in and present at ELT conferences, it will open up a world of knowledge to you!

c) read, read, and read! Be it teaching resource books, the Internet, or teaching blogs.

d) always ask yourself, “if I’m a learner in this lesson, will I enjoy it and find it engaging?”

Ratnavathy, is there any online link or blog you’d like to recommend?

I read lots of online blogs, but other teachers have already mentioned most of them. However, there are some really good websites I’d like to recommend:

http://www.writefix.com – fantastic resource for academic and exam-based writing, lots of examples and techniques that are explained well.

http://www.busyteacher.org– lots of ideas, worksheets, resources, games that teachers can use in the classroom.

What’s your favorite quotation about being a teacher?

“… And the true teacher is the learner.” – Elbert Hubbard

Voices from the iTDi Community 3 – Michael

Mike Harrison is an ESOL teacher. He currently lives and works in South East London. He’s interested in the use of non-verbal stimuli, like sound effects and images, in the classroom. He believes that learning is a personal and social enterprise, so tries to make his classrooms centred round the people in the room and spaces where people can be and work together. He’s also a keen traveller and likes to swim!

What are you passionate about, Mike?

To be honest, I’m not really the type of person that is wildly passionate or driven about any one thing. I prefer to study what’s going on, what’s interesting, what’s different. That’s what I get really intrigued by – the differences in life, and I think that language is one of these key differences.

How and why did you become a teacher?

I don’t think I actually planned on becoming a teacher. It just kind of happened. I’d just finished a BA in languages, and wasn’t really sure what to do with that afterwards. I wasn’t the type of person who could be happy with an office job.  I needed to do something that would keep my mind engaged. I didn’t know what that would be, so in the meantime I enrolled on a PGCE (Post-Graduate Certificate in Education) at the University of Greenwich. That was back in 2006, and now I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything other than teaching!

What are you most interested in right now?

Well, I’ve just finished the Cambridge DELTA, so formal studying is the last thing on my mind at the moment! I plan to keep up with my development as a teacher relatively informally, through blogging and engaging with others through social media. At some point I hope to be able to attend more conferences, as I’ve enjoyed being able to share teaching ideas in workshops over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself going to any until 2013 as I need to save up some money!

I’m also attempting to work more on developing resources. I am working on a project for The Round and am also writing materials for the British Council’s ESOL Nexus site

What things do you do to help you get better at being a teacher, Mike

As I mentioned, one of the ways I reflect on my practice is through my blog. I love how I can store and share ideas there. I also love attending conferences, which I also mentioned. I can’t think of many other professions where people are so interested and excited about what they do. The buzz of an ELT conference, if you can get to one, is some thing to be experienced!

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

I work in the public sector in the UK teaching ESOL, so the pressures we face generally come from outside – the government, regulating bodies, targets, funding agencies. There is great pressure on the ESOL sector at the moment from our coalition government, who seem set upon depriving those who most need it the opportunity to learn English, while at the same time saying that anyone who comes to live here must speak English! This led to the Action for ESOL campaign, which, while I was not personally involved with, has had a profound influence upon how I am as a teacher. I’m much more politically aware than I was when I started teaching, and I believe that this is a very important thing.

Mike, what advice would you give to a teacher just starting out on a journey of professional development?

I think the first thing is to realise that professional development does not have to be a course that you pay for. It can be as simple as keeping a diary of what happens in your teaching. However to truly develop, you have to make space and time to be able to reflect on what you did or didn’t do, what went well or not so well. Being able to do this helps you make choices, and possibly changes, in the future, to find out what works best for you. I think this is key, as professional development should also be personal to the person doing it.

Is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

http://the-round.com – a publishing initiative founded by Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clandfield

http://esol.britishcouncil.org – an online portal set up by the British Council as part of an EU funded project to support 3rd country nationals wanting to settle in the UK

What’s your favorite quotation about being a teacher?

This was actually a quote I first saw in an email signature in an email from Cecilia Coelho, but it’s completely appropriate:

“A teacher sees the world in a par­tic­u­lar way, and it is not only when he is in a school. I am a teacher all the time.”

— Christopher Rogers

For me it’s so true that I don’t seem to have an off switch when it comes to teaching or thinking about teaching, because I get inspiration for lessons and projects all around me. In fact, I’m not sure I’d want an off switch:  maybe just a dimmer.

Voices from the iTDi Community 3 – Dina

Dina Dobrou is an EFL teacher and freelance translator from Athens, Greece who has been working for over 16 years in language institutes in Athens, both as a teacher and a Director of Studies. She currently works for an educational organisation in Athens, Greece and spends her summer teaching multicultural classes in the UK. She is as passionate about teaching as she is about learning foreign languages and Argentine Tango. She believes that with a little luck and a lot of hard work you do not need a little luck.

What are you passionate about Dina?

I’m passionate about change, development, and taking things to the next level. For example, I firmly believe that one idea is enough to change the world so it should be shared. Even if that idea seems silly, it may inspire someone else to develop it, adapt it, change it and take it to the next level — a level that’s going to make a difference to all.

On the same note, an Italian proverb says: He who leaves an old route for a new one, knows what he’s leaving but knows not what he will find. So, exploring new routes also fascinates me. I think one of the reasons I became a teacher is because I have the student syndrome myself and don’t want to be far from a classroom. I love this childlike sense of wonder and always want to learn more and explore the world around me.

How and why did you become a teacher?

My story of how I started teaching English goes back to 1995 when I took a turn from sitting for the University Entrance exams at Athens Polytechnic to taking a CertTEFL course. In those days my main aim was to add an extra qualification to my Cambridge Proficiency Certificate so that I could teach during my studies at University, but I soon fell in love with ELT and decided to postpone my aspirations of becoming a Mechanical Engineer.

I was hired by the central branch of a big chain of language schools here in Greece. This school focused on adults and I had to spend the first week of my contract just observing other teachers and discussing any notes I’d taken with my DoS. The week after, I was asked to teach a group of Elementary students and remember being absolutely terrified.  My DoS said something that put me at ease, though. She said  “Don’t worry. You know more than they do. And you know how to guide them and help them learn.” To this day, whenever I feel stressed about entering a new class, I keep these words in mind.

Upon entering that first class, I felt a sense of belonging in this profession. Everything just fell into place and though I never returned to my old dream, my somewhat technical background assisted in my Diploma in Translation exams where I got a Science and Technology specialization. It  has also kept me highly motivated to use technology in my current profession. I do work as a translator on and off and I do enjoy the peace and quiet this job provides, but I cannot live without the everyday hustle and bustle in a school for more than two daysTo sum up, I feel that whatever I’d chosen to study, I’d still have ended up teaching it…

What are you most interested in right now?

I’m particularly interested in Web2.0 tools and CPD through social networking. Two years ago I was introduced to the world of PLNs and technology in education. Connecting with like-minded educators from around the world has opened a whole new world for me and my students that I didn’t even know existed and I intend to explore that more. I’d like to do an MA in Educational Technologies in the hopefully not so distant future and find out more about how technology can be used so that it can be of more educational value to learners. Also, being part of a PLN, an online community of teachers and sharing ideas with them is just so stimulating and leaves you feeling that you are actually, literally helping shape the world of ELT that you’re a part of.

What things do you do to help you get better at being a teacher, Dina?

I try to do a little bit of everything, time permitting. I attend conferences (local, international and online ones), seminars, webinars, participate in #ELTchat, read books, journals and blogs. I have also started a blog to reflect on my teaching but it’s been inactive for a couple of months due to too much work, really. My next step is to do a DELTA course soon.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

One of the biggest challenges for me has always been balancing the time I need to devote to teacher development with the time I need to work and sustain myself. What I do is take notes, lots of notes, of all the things I want to do, and then I prioritise. If something changes along the way, I re-prioritise and try to assign time for both. Most of the times it’s more work than development, but I have created a path and I try to keep on track as much as possible. I’m also trying to have a better work-life balance. I don’t have time to do all of the things I like but I try to make that time because I need to be away from work too. There’s a fine line between taking your work seriously and taking yourself seriously and we should not cross it.

What advice would you give to a teacher just starting out on a journey of professional development?

Take one step at a time, but make sure it takes you to where you want to go. Create a structured career path, picture yourself in where you want to be weeks, months or years from now and work towards it. Also, try to put into practice everything you learn as soon as possible. Any new teaching ideas you find exciting may soon be forgotten if not put to practice.

Dina, is there any blog or online link you’d like to recommend?

My favourite blog is Shelly Terrell’s blog. I find it’s a hub of all things Web2.0, which I’m currently interested in. I also like her 30 Goals challenge series.


Other sites I find useful as a teacher include.


It’s helped me a lot in training myself on how to use technology.


This is an exhaustive list of resources and THE place to build your PLN on Twitter. The site has recently moved to a new domain: www.eltchat.org


The journey to building your PLN need not be a lonely one. Get free mentoring.

What’s your favorite quotation about being a teacher? 

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost.  That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau

When I started teaching many years ago, I felt that my initial training was not enough as I hadn’t studied English Literature like you would expect an English Teacher to have done (at least in Greece) and I always felt there was something missing and there was always something more I should have learnt to be better at what I had chosen to do. After a while, I embraced the fact that learning need not be linear. In other words, I didn’t destroy my ‘castle in the air’ but strived and am still striving to create sound foundations under it.