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Find resources and tips for managing your time, money, career, and network to help achieve your personal and professional goals.

ELT and the big C: Professional Networking in a Pandemic

in Professional Development

As more of us are working from home, what networking opportunities are we missing? Why is networking still important? And how can we continue making connections?  

WFH: working from home

For many of us who freelance from home or tutor English online, the pandemic didn’t change our working habits too much. The main difference is that our partners and friends have learned how tough it is to balance working where we live. 

We’ve learned how to structure our days with kids at home, classes online, and teaching in new ways. And we’ve had to meet these new challenges without being able to commiserate with colleagues around the proverbial water cooler.

Unknown quantities

A recent article in The Atlantic noted that for those who have established careers and strong professional networks, the lack of “face time” in an office or school may not be detrimental. But, “for those still trying to make such ties, remote work can be alienating” and have long-term career consequences. 

The author notes that remote workers are “unknown quantities [who] don’t become beloved colleagues, or get promoted.” It turns out that time chatting in the hall or prepping lessons in the same room is vital to establishing social connections that aid professional advancement. 

And, as we’ve known for some time, 70% of jobs are found through our connections.

Creating Connections

We don’t know when we might next be able to chat with a fellow teacher over a cup of coffee during a workshop break. Meeting with industry reps in an exhibit hall or grabbing a drink with newly-met friends after a weekend conference are opportunities that we may not have for a very long time. 

So what can we do in the meantime to make sure we’re growing that all-important professional network?

Maintain an online presence

Even if you weren’t teaching online prior to the pandemic, chances are that you’ve taught or taken at least a few classes via video chat since this all began. 

That means you may be meeting new students and colleagues for the first time in a virtual environment. You’re an unknown quantity that they’re going to want to get to know. 

When they google your name, what comes up? Do you have a professional online presence? 

LinkedIn is a great place to create an online professional persona. It’s the first place I check when I meet someone new in my field. After last year’s Business English conference in Berlin, I connected with everyone whose talks I’d seen. I went through business cards I’d collected, connected on LinkedIn, and threw out the cards. 

Create digital business cards

Today, there’s even less of a reason than ever before to buy old-fashioned business cards. Digital business cards are simple to set up. They offer your contacts a quick way to find your social media profiles. Also, digital business cards make it easy to set up a video chat with you.

At HiHello you can even install a virtual background for Zoom that includes a QR code so that participants in workshops can scan and go straight to your “business card.” Check out my business card.

Attend online workshops and conferences

An unexpected side effect of moving everything online is greater access to professional development opportunities from around the globe. 

Case in point: the English Language Teacher’s Associations (ELTAs) in Germany have banded together to offer free attendance to each other’s workshops, increasing opportunities to make connections across the country. 

On Nov 28th, we’re hosting the first-ever Inter-ELTA day–a full-day online conference with speakers from each of the seven ELTAs. Sure, it’s not the same as meeting in person. However, you can still get that boost of inspiration, learn from your colleagues, and chat about teaching topics. 

Organizers are wisely offering an online “lounge” where participants can hang out and chat. This will provide a vital opportunity for you to get to know other teachers…and for them to get to know you! 

 (ELTABB members can sign up here.)

Set up coffee dates and masterminds

Just because we can’t meet in person, doesn’t mean we can’t meet. After I connected on LinkedIn with people from last year’s Business English conference, several suggested we set up a video chat to talk some more. 

These virtual coffees have now become the norm. I regularly meet with fellow teachers from France, Chile, Switzerland, Indonesia, and Italy. And I’ve made helpful connections with folks in the US, China, and Germany. 

Scheduling software like Calendly can help you find convenient times to connect, while slimmer video apps like Whereby make it easier to meet with those who have slower Internet speeds or greater privacy concerns. 

Whether it’s a one-off chat after a workshop or a continuing support group or mastermind, these connections can be vital for professional feedback and support. 

Volunteer

Getting involved in your local teaching association is a great way to grow your professional network.

Not only can you create professional development opportunities for other teachers, but also, you’ll build lasting relationships with those you’re working alongside.

This year’s ELTABB board has navigated a lot of new challenges, starting back in February when the keynote speaker for our Annual General Meeting had to join virtually due to a recent trip to a Covid hotspot.

Since then, we’ve become Zoom experts, moving our monthly workshops online, figuring out how to continue networking Stammtische, and constantly working on better ways to support our members. Through it all, we’ve had each others’ backs.

If you’re interested in getting involved, several Board positions will open up in the new year. (for members: check the Ning for more info).

As the teaching world as we know it continues to evolve, who knows what opportunities these new professional networks may provide in the future?

Interview: From English Teacher to Trainer to Coach – an ESL Journey with Slobodan Kelečević

in Professional Development

The traditional role of an English teacher is slowly but surely adapting to the needs of the 21st century. Slobodan Kelečević has taken some time to share his own ELT journey – from teacher to trainer and coach – with us.

ELTABB: Hi Slobodan, it’s great having you here for an interview on continuing professional development for teachers.

Slobodan: Thank you for having me. I am always happy to contribute within the ELT community in any way I can. Also, I follow and am a big fan of the work you do here at ELTABB.

ELTABB: Thanks Slobodan  –  we can’t wait to learn about your adventurous ELT story! So let’s jump right in:

How did you start your career as an English teacher?

Like many non-native language professionals, my career in the world of teaching EFL started after university (those four great years of youth!). Uni explicitly prepared me to work in a public-school type of environment.

But I never worked in a public school nor with children. I’ve spent most of my career teaching adults and working in the private sector for language schools.

These days you’re a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in ELT. Can you tell us more about this?

Truth be told, to be and stay competitive in a dog eat dog “private” market situation, I had to learn extremely fast everything I needed to know about teaching adults – of all age groups and every possible background.

After a number of years of teaching and exploring, and having specialized in Cambridge Exams preparation, I started to feel that I needed to take all that to a new level.

So I went and did my CELTA about eight years into my teaching career. My entire CELTA experience was quite eye-opening and riddled with “aha” moments.

That’s when I truly realized that my learning and professional development were genuine lifelong processes that could be utilized to yield marvelous results down the line.

With remote learning being the new normal, what role does technology play in your teaching?

Since I was 16, I’ve been very interested in computers and how far technology can take us in terms of improving our lives and everyday experiences.

That’s why I implemented tech from the earliest days of my career as much as I realistically could. There were certainly limitations to how far a single PC could take the classroom teaching/learning experience back in 2009.

In 2015, right after my CELTA course, I took a leap of faith and started teaching for a Chinese online school…and got the first taste of what it’s like to teach people from another country, culture, basically, a different civilization.

It was fun and exciting at first, but it soon became a real burden to struggle with an eight hour time difference for six days a week. I was determined to find an online teaching job closer to home.

Within a few weeks’ time, I managed to get a job interview with an online school that only had a two hour time difference and webcams working on both sides. Those two things were enough for me. I got the job and I’m doing it part-time even today.

Sure enough, the adventure continued: you mentioned that you got into ESL training after that. How did that come about?

After a couple of years, I was itching for something more – again. I felt confined by the bulk of the material being used in that online school. I felt I was outgrowing those strictly book-based lessons.

That’s when LinkedIn made a fateful match, and I got an opportunity to start working as a business English trainer for a German online school.

From your personal experience, what do you think is the big difference between an ESL teacher and a trainer?

My take on the difference is this – as a teacher, I:

  • introduce
  • explain
  • practice
  • follow a coursebook
  • prepare for tests/exams

This means that I follow the prescribed steps of a curriculum toward a given date (the end of the course or semester).
Simply put, a teacher will ask themselves,

Can I cover all the material from the book today and introduce additional activities to help practice it so we’re on track in the curriculum?

As a language trainer, I:

  • demonstrate
  • simulate
  • discuss and debate (using the target/specialized language)
  • build up particular language skills/subskills
  • use case studies
  • advise on learning strategies
  • use metalanguage
  • have particular needs and/or company goals in mind
  • prepare people for possibly life-changing events, e.g. job interviews

A trainer will ask themselves,

What real-world types of activities should we focus on, and are they in line with the learners’ (language) goals?

You may have also noticed that I prefer the word “learners” as the word “students” sounds more classroomy and traditional (e.g. the teacher holds the information and power).

You see, I never trained traditionally to become a language trainer – I grew into the role thanks to all my previous experiences. It seems to me that happens to a lot of teachers over time. It’s like an evolutionary step if one is interested in that kind of work.

That’s not the end of my development story: roughly one year ago I got a chance to do a course to become a language coach.

Can you tell us what being a language coach means to you?

A coaching mindset was another game-changer for me: absolutely full focus on the learner, active listening and asking meaningful questions at the right time. These are so powerful in language acquisition.

Language coaching is done over a small number of sessions, but it’s highly fulfilling for both the learner and myself. In a sense, it’s the step toward self-awareness in the learning process that learners benefit from so much.

language coaching: full focus on the learner

I look at coaching as the helping hand for them to realize their own truth and answer those all-important language development questions: why, what, and how.

Having moments of silence and other coaching tools are all marvelous additions to my existing teaching/training practices.

What would you say to teachers who want to evolve their career path?

I’ve just told you everything worth mentioning about myself and my career. Now, what am I –  a teacher, a trainer, a coach? Or some hybrid of all of those things?

To be perfectly honest, I was puzzled by that question for a while as well.

The truth is that I am the latter. Yes, I mutated into a new type of language professional. It’s a kind of one-size-fits-many, according to the needs and goals of the learners.

All those things would not have been possible if there hadn’t been one important ingredient on my side—a growth mindset. That was the driver of all the little things that amounted to the final result.

In conclusion, it’s not about which school or university you went to; it all boils down to your actions after you finish your formal education.

The steps you take today as a language professional (or don’t take) will determine your future career path. If done properly, a teacher/trainer’s career improves over time and through experience. Like good-quality wine, it gets better with age.

***

 

Slobodan Kelečević started out as an EFL teacher but has found his true calling in language training and coaching. He is excited to work in this age of great changes in language learning. For more information about him, check out his LinkedIn profile.

Workshop Review: Advocating for Plain English with Simon Porter

in ELTABB/Professional Development

Simon Porter first trained as a lawyer before pursuing a CELTA. Lately, he’s been advocating for Plain Language in Legal Writing. What he’s learned about how to write has important implications for business English.

Porter recently led a workshop for ELTABB that laid out the elements of writing in Plain English. He also shared how to convince skeptical clients and students why clear writing is so important.

The Search for Strong Writing

Porter spent years proofreading to make legal writing more accessible and comprehensible. For him, it was easy to see when an idea wasn’t being communicated clearly. However, he wanted to figure out how to teach young lawyers how to write more clearly and concisely.

He quickly realized that available writing exercises are often at odds with the communication goals of business and law.

For instance, English exam books focus on passing the test by showing an ability to use a wide range of vocabulary and complex grammar. Business communication, on the other hand, requires only the grammatical structures needed to get the idea across and the vocabulary pertinent to the industry.

Similarly, exam writing may focus on fully informing the reader and even encourage longer discourse. By contrast, business writing prizes brevity and usually centers on a “call to action” for the reader.

When Porter turned to business and legal writing books, the results weren’t much better: they either referenced exams or used examples that didn’t correspond to real-life experience. Above all, the resources Porter found focused on the “what” of writing, but not the “how.”

So, how does one write clearly and concisely? Porter finally found his answer when he came across Plain English.

What is Plain English?

Called Plain English or the Plain Language approach, the basic rules explain how to best communicate your message.

First of all, the reader is the focus: the writer must start by making sure the reader can understand and make decisions based on what they’ve read. This may include formatting that favors headlines and smaller chunks of text instead of large blocks of dense reading.

Simplicity—not complexity—is a hallmark of good writing.

Other guidelines include favoring the active voice over the passive (“we sent the letter” vs “the letter was sent”) and favoring verbs over nouns (“discuss” vs “have a discussion”). Plain Language also encourages reducing unnecessary text, arguing that simplicity—not complexity—is a hallmark of good writing.

Porter acknowledged that it’s not always easy to convince clients that plain language is a better way to write. Thus, he shared some ways to educate clients who think “sophisticated” writing can’t be simple.

Why Plain Language Matters

If you’re an expert in your subject, but you can’t clearly communicate your ideas, then what good are they?

Porter would argue that plain language enables his clients to better share their expertise, and he’s done the research to back it up. In the workshop, Porter shared with us a study by Benson and Kessler that showed the plainer your English is, the more educated you’re perceived to be in your field, and the more persuasive you are.

He noted that evidence-based studies like these are the key to convincing skeptical businesses that this style of writing can be more effective than the “way they’ve always done things.” He also suggests identifying proven benefits to clients; for instance, fully informing customers creates better relations and can even save money when you don’t have to hire a telephone bank to help interpret your poorly written instructions or rules.

“Plain” writing focuses on the most effective way to reach the target.

Porter also points out that many large corporations, especially tech companies, are rewriting their in-house style guides according to plain language guidelines. In fact, governments like the US, UK, and EU are now prioritizing its use. In general, he emphasizes to potential clients how important writing is to business communication.

He also highlights that unclear writing is a problem across all industries for both native and non-native speakers. Rather than impressing clients, “sophisticated” writing often confuses readers while “plain” writing focuses on the most effective way to reach the target.

Shifting the Focus from Reader to Writer

Porter shared with us his own research survey. It critiques a Cambridge study that claimed reading and speaking are the two most important skills in business communication. He noticed that the study didn’t interview employees but rather their bosses, who tend to focus on problems that can be solved in-house.

However, Porter pointed out that it’s unfair to blame employees’ reading skills. When they receive incomprehensible emails, they may ignore what they can’t understand. Reading is really a two-way street between the reader and the writer. Perhaps it’s not reading skills that are at fault, but rather the sender’s writing skills.

70% of employees said that writing was the skill they used most. When asked which skill they’d like training to improve, 95% chose writing over reading.

Porter decided to run his own study and surveyed employees about which skills they thought would be most important before they entered the job market (speaking). He also asked them which skills are the most important now that they’re in the workplace (writing). In fact, almost 70% of employees said that writing was the skill they used most.

When asked which skill they’d like training to improve, 95% chose writing over reading.

How to Teach Plain Writing

After the workshop break, Porter led participants in analyzing some English textbook writing exercises. He helped us see how business writing books fall short when it comes to useful exercises that actually help students learn “how” to write.

He then showed us how to create short and simple practice assignments that address audience, context, formality, and format, rather than testing students on their proofreading, which can easily be left to Grammarly.

We also looked at how adding small, flexible writing exercises to every class can give students skills which more effectively transfer to a business environment. Writing multiple quick emails and instant messages a day is the norm for many employees.

Porter’s workshop was an eye-opener for many participants. It was also a confirmation for those of us who know how essential clear writing is in today’s workplace. He thoroughly impressed us with his research, examples, and robust defense of Plain English writing.

For more about Simon Porter’s work, you can find him on:

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like Stephanie Anderson’s tips for professional networking in challenging times.

Workshop Review: “Student-Centered Online Teaching” with Russell Stannard

in Professional Development

Last Saturday’s ELTA-Rhine workshop definitely kept its promise of demonstrating how to add variety to the digital classroom. Within the space of an hour, I felt confident creating and using a range of fun online games and applications. We all left energised and engaged. Talk about creative inspiration!

Russell Stannard’s fast-paced delivery was as easy to follow as it was intriguing. Although he asked us to turn off our cameras and microphones due to the size of the group, he managed to make us all feel welcome and integrated throughout the workshop.

With all the different features we got to know and try out for ourselves, time just flew by.

Activity is key

First of all, Russell highlighted the importance of activities.

Sitting in front of a desktop for hours on end is tiring—not only physically but also mentally. Our brains are wired to do real things with real people in the real world. Therefore, variety and social interaction are essential for successful remote learning.

The more we ‘do’, the less drained and the more motivated we feel after an online session.

AnswerGarden—plant a seed and grow a flowerbed

As a warm-up, we commented on a live pin board that Russell made available through screen sharing. It was fun to see the board fill up with our answers to the question, “How do you feel about teaching online?”

It looked something like this:

The pin board filling up (source: answergarden.ch).

Finding out about the other participants’ opinions was a nice way to create instant connection. Many answers were similar and relatable.

Padlet

Next, we used Padlet as a more sophisticated version of a live pin board. It allows you to post comments under your name and to comment on other people’s posts. Moreover, it lets you record little sound snippets which you can then share on the board as well.

In big groups like ours (over 50 people), it’s impossible to get everyone to talk. However, a pin board is a convenient way to engage participants and fuel the discussion, no matter the size of the group.

The Padlet pin board (screenshot from Russell Stannard’s Youtube channel).

Again, being able to read and comment on other people’s views created connection and provided food for thought.

Padlet has some more cool features to offer, such as quizzes and questionnaires. For more info, check out this video on what else you can do with the app.

Wordwall

Last but not least, Russell introduced us to Wordwall, a web application for creating online games around words. With its huge variety of templates for resources (gap-fills, gameshow quizzes, whack-a-mole, etc.), it was a real show-stopper.

My favourite was the ‘random wheel’, a game providing prompts that can be used for group discussions or in breakout rooms:

Spinning the wheel is a way of randomly picking topics for discussion. Source: wordwall.net

Unlike AnswerGarden, Padlet and Wordwall require registration. However, anyone will be able to use your resources once they are published. Thus, you can register and create activities that you can share via a web link afterward.

If you want to know more about digital learning tools, you will find a wealth of information on Russell’s website. There, he also offers step-by-step tutorials on how to use the apps mentioned in this article.

Blended Learning: a real game-changer

Besides activity, Russell talked about blended learning as the second most important feature of successful digital learning. With online teaching being the new standard, “blended learning” means getting your students to do their homework in between online lessons.

Once they start coming to class prepared, you will be able to elevate your training sessions to a much higher level. This also means that your learners will have to take a lot more responsibility for their progress.

However, surprising them with entertaining and creative activities will go a long way towards engaging and motivating them to actively participate.

In the long run, you can actually start developing your lessons together with your students, as the term “student-centered online teaching” implies. With the help of their feedback, you will be more and more able to custom-tailor your lessons to their specific needs and interests. This in turn will increase motivation and autonomy.

Sounds like sure-fire success? Absolutely!

Workshop Review: “Teaching and Using Visual Language in the Language Classroom” with Sherri Williams

in ELTABB/Professional Development

With her art and design background, Sherri encouraged our own creativity by sharing the ways she uses images to guide learning and spark discussion among learners.

By this point in the coronavirus crisis, I am no longer intimidated by having to teach my courses online, but I’ve been wrestling with how to inject more spontaneity and liveliness into my computer-based lessons. Participating in Sherri Williams’ webinar on using visual communication in the language classroom couldn’t have been better timed.

The power of visual communication

For starters, Sherri emphasized the primacy of visual communication. As she explained, the visual sense is so powerful that it uses more neurons than the other four senses combined. This comes as no surprise, as it preceded language development in human beings.

Visual communication is effective because it:

  • eliminates problems of communicating across different languages
  • illustrates complex concepts quickly and clearly
  • facilitates memory and recollection
  • promotes creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, and
  • helps you stand out from the crowd (think logos)

Visual communication in the classroom

In the classroom, visual communication works well because it

  • is appealing and engaging
  • helps structure ideas and information
  • reduces cognitive demand on the learner since structures and relationships are already shown
  • improves recall and retention
  • creates a visual record of learning
  • limits note taking and encourages fluency (for example, Sherri’s Visual Springboarding worksheets provide only limited space for notes, encouraging learners to describe images and relationships in their own words)
  • can be effective in groups of multi-level learners

Authentic content

Due to the fact that “normal” people are now publishing content on the web and social media, not only are we used to seeing imperfect content, but we actually prefer the authenticity of content that hasn’t been produced by professionals. This means anyone can harness the power of creating and using images in language learning!

We actually prefer the authenticity of content that hasn’t been produced by professionals.

Just making the letters of the alphabet already requires us to draw lines and curves. So if you can do that, you can draw simple images for use in your lessons.

Tools and methods to apply in the language classroom

Having established how powerful visual communication is, Sherri walked us through some tools and methods we could use to exploit the power of visual communication in the classroom. Google any of these to see some examples and get more ideas for how you might use them in your classes or have learners generate them.

1. Mind maps

Mind maps can be a useful way to brainstorm things like vocabulary individually or collaboratively. They’re also a good way to diagram relationships between things.

 

2. Fishbone cause and effect diagram

These diagrams are a way of displaying possible causes for an ultimate effect or for brainstorming problems and solutions.

3. Sketch journals

Sketch journals can be used for all the things we might use a traditional journal for—except in a sketch journal, our notes are made up of sketched images along with minimal text. Sherri let us see an excerpt from her own sketch journal, two pages where she drew pictures of things she felt grateful for.

At this point in the webinar, we broke into groups and practiced this technique by “drawing” our CVs, and in the process, learning some very interesting things about our fellow group members, and the diverse paths that brought us all to language teaching.

4. “DrawToast” visual brainstorming activity

Sherri next introduced us to the ideas of “business visualization” expert Tom Wujec, and his “DrawToast” method of having groups brainstorm the “nodes” and “links” between parts of processes. Wujec uses this method to help organizations address problems by collaboratively drawing them out. Participants draw the nodes (or individual parts of a process) using post-it notes or cards and work together to organize them into a synthesized process.

 

 

Wujec’s demonstrates this method (which he discusses in an interesting Ted Talk) by having groups draw out the answer to the question, “How do you make toast?” (For instructions on how to conduct an activity like this, see Wujec’s website at DrawToast.com.)

I teach engineering students and legal professionals, so I want to use the “DrawToast” method when teaching online to have students collaboratively describe a process or give instructions by using a virtual post-it note wall like Padlet. Someone else suggested that I could teach linking words and the functional language that connects ideas by focusing students on the links between nodes.

5. Flipchart drawing

Sherri said that many organizations are moving away from PowerPoint presentations, and instead asking presenters to use old-fashioned flip charts.

Presenting this way keeps the focus on the speaker’s interaction with the audience and makes the presentation more spontaneous. One of my engineering students did his final presentation this way last year, and it was remarkably effective. Sherri suggested checking out these additional tips.

6. Sketchnoting

Like sketch journaling, sketchnoting is a way of taking notes to summarize the main points of meetings or presentations using a combination of sketched images and text.

Sherri recommended this article of tips for sketchnoting.

7. Visual Springboarding

Visual Springboarding, Sherri’s own creation, is a way of using image-based worksheets to structure presentations or spark discussion. An illustrated worksheet provides ideas and structure but space for minimal notes. So while the speaker can use the notes they make, they need to come up with the language themselves. This is a great way to develop fluency. Some sample worksheets are available on Sherri’s website.

I am looking forward to having students share and explain personalized versions Sherri’s Visual Springboarding worksheets online. It will be a nice change from sharing blank whiteboards. The worksheets are eye-catching and engaging, and will encourage learners to be creative in the language they produce. And I’m sure I am not the only one who left the webinar feeling inspired to experiment with the rest of Sherri’s techniques—even those of us who think we can’t draw!

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