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Learner Autonomy and Teacher Wellbeing: Flip Your Classroom and Achieve More by Doing Less

in Professional Development/Teaching

This article explores the journey a teacher may embark on to support learner autonomy. It also looks at the challenges and benefits this entails for both the teacher and the learner.

In an earlier article for ELTABB, we focused on how language coaching can support students in a way that provides empowerment and true motivation.

This time, we’re taking a look at the benefits of language coaching to the teacher/learner dynamic.

Rethinking the Teacher-Learner Relationship

As teachers, we tend to feel as if we are underachieving if we do not put 120% effort into planning, designing, implementing, checking, testing, and discussing.

On the other hand, incorrectly calibrated and oftentimes needless work will just increase frustration and demotivate the learner. The issue here is the insistent focus on ourselves: our planning, our implementation, our checking.

But what about learner planning, learner implementation, and learner checking?

How about working just the amount needed to help learners reach their goals and allowing them to take ownership of their learning process?

By keeping in mind coaching guru Tony Robbins’ words, “Energy flows where attention goes,” you can learn to direct this flow to concentrate on what is truly necessary. This leads to less fretful preparation for the teacher and heightened learner autonomy.

Research Says…

The above coincides with research in the field of learning. In fact, a workplace learning report from LinkedIn suggests that:

Over 40% of Gen Z and millennial learners and 33% of Gen X and boomer learners prefer self-directed learning experiences, or opportunities to craft their own learning goals and choose the learning content that helps achieve them.1

Language coaching is intended to make time for understanding your learners’ language learning goals and how to best reach them. It’s about figuring out steps towards becoming a more effective learner and communicator.

As you engage in coaching-style activities and conversations, you will notice that learner engagement grows. Consequently, it will be easier for you to come up with motivating activities, as learners are already focused and ready to learn.

The Learning/Teaching Matrix

In order to find out more about learner autonomy in the classroom, take a look at this matrix.

©2020 Gabriella Kovács ACC

If we rethink the roles that we as teachers have traditionally been assigned—or have assigned ourselves—we might start redesigning the basic components of our classes.

To highlight a few:

  • Decision-making processes (top-down vs. collaborative)
  • Classroom language (instruction vs. questions/statements)
  • Processes (pre-planned vs. on the spot)
  • Creativity (low vs. high)
  • Correction work (controlled vs. open)
  • Strategies to overcome challenges (few vs. many)
  • Materials usage (excessive vs.  moderate)
  • Rewards and success focus (macro vs. micro)

Colour Zones in Teaching

With a coaching mindset, your lessons will mostly tend to be in the green, occasionally yellow and blue zones. More traditional approaches to teaching will primarily be in the red zone, with occasional excursions into the yellow and blue zones.

The ‘greener’ your teaching becomes, the more it will lead to:

  • Collaboration in partnership settings
  • Diverse thinking
  • Multiple pathways to reach goals
  • Exploration of a wider set of skills and competencies
  • Stronger awareness of learning strategies
  • Promotion of learner strengths and successes
  • Clearly defined goals and clear communication

Small Tweaks, Big Gains

What we have found out so far points towards learner empowerment, increasing flexibility, and resilience—and we must surely agree that in these turbulent times we can all do with a larger dose of these.

Coaching can help here because it is largely based on asking the right questions.

This leads to opening up conversations instead of instructing—paying attention with curiosity rather than with the intention to lead. In turn, learner autonomy will develop and flourish, breeding teacher and learner wellbeing that’s built on a high level of trust.

Focusing on micro-skills and rewarding on a small scale will create a safe learning environment.

However, if we fail to support learners when facing their weaknesses and blocks, these will persist and resurface as low motivation, boredom, and poor language learning skills. Working towards large-scale goals and celebrating only major successes will keep learners with lower self-esteem caught up in negative self-talk and believing they are not good enough.

Focusing on subskills and micro-skills and rewarding them on a small scale will create a safe learning environment. As they say, it’s about “progress, not perfection.” These small tweaks to teaching can all increase self-esteem for learners, which in turn leads to the motivation to make progress and learn more.

5 Practical Steps to Increase Learner Autonomy

Now that we know more about learner autonomy in theory, how can teachers and educators create a learning environment that enhances learner autonomy?

1. Use the 80/20 Rule

80% teacher silence enables 80% learner talking/thinking time. 20% teacher talking time is sufficient, no matter the language level.

Activity: Record yourself during a lesson and roughly add up your talking time. Do one thing differently to increase your learners’ active class participation time.

Reflection: What did you change? What changed?

2. Welcome Silence

Appreciate silence in class as thinking time not to be reduced in favour of “doing things.” Thinking is when your learners are creating connections, bridging earlier and new ideas, knowledge, and skills. The most valuable time in coaching is when the client is discovering, exploring, and figuring out how to proceed.

Activity: Count to 10 before you ask your next question, give your next instruction. Also, count to 10 after asking/instructing.

Reflection: How did things change? What reactions ensued?

3. Offer Guidance where Needed

Make sure you guide the reflective process at the ends of activities, lessons, courses with 2-3 very simple questions/activities.

Activity: Use a multi-sensory approach:

  • How did this feel?
  • What did you notice?
  • What new thoughts do you have now?
  • How does this sound to you?

(Naturally do not ask all at once, but choose the appropriate question after an activity, at the end of the lesson or a complete course.)

Reflection: Did their answers surprise you? How did these questions and the answers make you see, feel, and think about your class?

4. Flip the Classroom

Learners will be more motivated and feel more involved if, instead of telling them what to do (strongly instructing), you open up space and ask them which of 2-3 things they would like to move forward with during the lesson.

By giving choices, you build responsibility. As they begin to own the decision-making process, they will become more aware of the reasons underlying the choices they make.

By giving choices, you build responsibility.

Activity: Divide your learners into two groups. While Group 1 writes down the questions that they would ask as a teacher from the class before an exercise (e.g. “p. 42/ex. 4”), Group 2 writes down the instructions that they would give to the class as a teacher before that exercise.

Reflection: How do the different types of messages make the learners react and why? Which do they appreciate more and why?

5. Focus on Resources

Focus on the skill sets and techniques learners use when learning. Call attention to and ask about these strategies. This way learners become more aware and autonomous, and you can encourage them to be open to new learning-related ideas from each other.

Activity: Create a strengths/positivity wall. Ask learners to write down what they see as a learning-related strength or positive learning habit in the person sitting next to them. Put these on the wall (or whiteboard in Zoom).

Reflection: What one word describes this activity for you? And for your learners?

Adopt a Coaching Approach in Your Classes!

Have these ideas sparked your interest in more activities of this sort? Do you wish to unlock your learners’ potential? Gain clarity and structure to support a language coaching approach in your classes and trainings.
If you think this could be the missing piece in your language teaching puzzle – take the first step and visit our website.

Courses start each season, from foundation to advanced levels. Also, check out our ILCA YouTube* channel for insights.

*ILCA is the International Language Coaching Association.




Nail that Talk and Wow Your Audience! 8 Presentation Tips for ESL Trainers

in Professional Development

Many ESL teachers and trainers give talks and presentations on occasion – find out how to provide the most value and inspire your audience by considering the following tips.

Speakers usually have only a little time to deliver a message and leave a lasting impression. The attention span of their listeners is limited, and their talk is mostly just one of many that the audience will hear that day. So let’s see how you can make your delivery a memorable one –  even if you don’t have tons of experience.

1. Choose your topic wisely

Ideally, pick a topic that is both academic and close to your heart. Maybe there is already something inside you, just waiting to get out?

For example, if you are passionate about the DOGME approach and want to make a case for relieving it from its shadowy existence in ELT, you have a specific topic and a clear message –  two prerequisites for an interesting talk.

Of course, you can choose something you are less invested in. It should just interest you and match the occasion.

2. Make it educational and entertaining

Unlike lectures and symposia, workshops and conferences have a strong social component. People don’t just go there to learn something new, but also to meet other people and have a good time. Therefore, be professional, but in a pleasant way – laughter is one of your biggest allies here.

3. Know your audience

Once you know when and where you are going to speak, try to get a rough idea of the audience:

  • Who are they?
  • What do they want?
  • Why are they there?

The people you are going to speak to will be professionals with certain backgrounds and expectations. They will also have different motives for attending. In order to reach as many of them as possible, try to adjust your talk a little.

Here are four types of listeners you are likely to find among the audience:

  1. The ‘what’s in it for me?’ type. They attend your talk for a reason and they surely want to get something out of it. Whatever you tell them should be succinct and actionable.
  2. The conscientious no-nonsense type. They are interested in what you have to say, as long as you back it up with evidence. Sprinkle in a few numbers and statistics here and there for credibility.
  3. The warm and caring type. Unlike the first type, they love pleasant banter and light infotainment. To them, the feelgood factor matters just a tad more than the transfer of knowledge. They want to feel welcome and will respond best to charm.
  4. The proactive, playful type. They are in for a good time with friends – including lots of laughter and networking. They love an interactive element and the media. You can slip in a game or videoclip to make them happy.

Granted, these are overgeneralisations – however, if you provide valuable information that is both actionable and factual in a lighthearted, playful manner, chances are you will reach most of your listeners.

Now it’s time to concentrate on yourself, your topic and your core message.

4. Structure your talk clearly

I’m aware that you probably know most of this but for the sake of completeness I will mention it here.

Writing helps sort out your thoughts, so it’s essential for a good talk. In the brainstorming phase, organise your ideas using the good old mind map. (By the way, mind maps look like synapses and the brain seems to respond to that with heightened creativity.)

Who doesn’t love the flowery little mind map?

Once you’ve gathered enough ideas, you can start weeding out what you don’t need and write an outline – the actual scaffolding of your talk.

One of the easiest ways to structure your presentation is the classical triad. It consists of an introductory statement or question which is followed by a string of arguments leading up to a final conclusion.

The introductory statement/question should reflect your core message, for example:

“Could the DOGME approach be the future of English teaching?”

This would be followed by your arguments in ascending order (the idea here being that the last point is generally the most memorable):

  1. first argument (weakest)
  2. second argument (stronger)
  3. third argument (strongest)

Illustrate each of your arguments with examples. You can use Powerpoint to enhance your presentation, but it’s best used sparingly because slides tend to distract the audience from what you are saying.

In order to strengthen your point, think of possible counterarguments and ways to deal with these. If your talk is of a more neutral, informative nature, you will have subitems instead of arguments. In any case, brace for possible questions and answers.

In the conclusion, sum up your findings and clarify in how far they support your initial statement (for an informative talk, just highlight the key points).

Moreover, pay special attention to the beginning and ending of your talk. As we know, the first impression counts… but the last impression stays. Start with a funny anecdote, joke or witty quote and end with a punchy bottom line that sums up your message in a nutshell.

Alternatively, end with a recommendation or call to action, such as “Try to incorporate the DOGME approach using this simple five-minute-activity…”.

If you care deeply for the subject, it’s okay to make your presentation a little emotional – as long as your arguments are valid and rational.

5. Keep it relevant

Before you finish your outline, think about what you want your listeners to get out of your talk.  Two or three gold nuggets of high-value information are way better than an overabundance of interesting points that afterwards will be forgotten. Crop out excess information in a final run-through to make it short and sweet.

6. Practice a good deal

While a good talk feels effortless and natural, it does so because of all the ‘invisible’ preparation that went in beforehand. Good speakers have practiced speaking diligently, and they usually have a roadmap in the background.

Thus, best make a few notes of the most important aspects – use bullet points for this and write like you would speak. Whenever you get a little lost, you’ll find what you need at a glance. Don’t memorise everything – it will sound rehearsed and awkward.

It’s best to rehearse in front of people, but if you are alone, use a mirror as your mock audience. Also, try recording yourself in order to evaluate your presentation afterwards:

  • Was your speaking understandable?
  • Was the message coherent?
  • Were you nervous or relaxed while presenting?

Recording yourself may feel uncomfortable initially, but it will soon become natural. Even without a proper audience, self-evaluation will help you hone your skills.

If you are nervous, try this: stand in a relaxed way and keep one of your nostrils shut with your index finger while gently breathing through the other one. Do this for about a minute to feel calm and at ease. You can also use this trick before your actual talk.

7. Treat yourself and forget

After days or weeks of practice, reward yourself with a day off before the big event. Taking your attention away from the presentation will help your subconscious connect the dots. In fact, you won’t learn much last-minute anyway.

Instead, take a walk in the forest, meet friends or just do something relaxing. If you can, go to sleep early and prepare everything you need the night before. The next day, you should feel refreshed and ready to rumble.

Don’t worry if you are still nervous before presenting – stage fright is normal for most people. If you have done your homework and practiced your talk thoroughly, your mental memory is likely to see you through.

8. Enjoy your talk

With the right preparation, your talk should be worthwile and fun for everyone, including you!

A few last tips: before you start, have someone else introduce you. Just like being introduced to a friend of a friend at a party, it creates instant trust and connection.

During your talk, try to make eye contact with the audience. If you let your eye wander across the room in a half-circle, your listeners will feel more involved. This can be intense though. Alternatively, pick a spot above the audience or briefly close your eyes to interrupt the connection and feel more secure.

Try to stay relaxed and keep breathing. Most of your listeners will actually be interested, well-meaning and friendly (for real – I’m not making this up!).

If all goes well, you’re in for a big round of applause – enjoy it as the reward you deserve for all your hard work and let the audience show you their appreciation.

Afterwards, ask a colleague whose judgement you trust for feedback, so you can learn and do even better next time.

Good luck with your presentation!

For an example of a passionate talk regarding the societal dimension of ELT, check out Rob’s review of last year’s BESIG conference.


Review: “Taking Control of your Workload instead of Letting it Control You” – A Webinar with Claire Hart

in ELTABB/Professional Development

In this webinar we looked into the reasons why we let our workload get out of control, the stories we keep telling ourselves to impose even more work, our decision motivators, and finally, what we can do to change this.

Eltabbers are used to attending fantastic CPD workshops that provide new ideas and activities we can bring to the classroom. In the hunt for a perfect activity, lesson plan, new approaches and methodologies, always keeping in mind our LEARNERS and their needs, we tend to forget about ourselves – the teachers.

Fortunately, this webinar focused on teacher well-being. Perfect timing, Claire!

Even though we were sitting at home in front of our screens Claire managed to create a very safe and trusting atmosphere. By opening her own heart she invited us to share our own experience and emotions. “Go vulnerable or go home!” was our motto. Every part of the webinar was followed by a reflection in which one or more participants shared their thoughts or stories.

Claire started the webinar by reflecting on what her workload looked like in 2012. Most of us could relate as we do multiple jobs: university teaching, corporate training, presenting at conferences, writing, volunteering for BESIG or local organisations… Choose out of the list or/and add your own. How do we end up with this amount of work?

We might use excessive work as displacement to avoid parts of life we are dissatisfied with, or we might think that the more we work, the ‘better’ our professional selves are.


Next stop – storytelling. We keep telling ourselves false stories. The typical ones include:

  • “This happens because I’m a freelancer. That always happens to freelancers.”
  • “This happens because I can’t say “no” etc. 

Because our ‘chimp brain’ (see references) that is activated to protect us from danger and emotional distress always tells us, “Don’t do that! You’ll fail!”

But instead of making excuses or imagining what others might think, we could switch from storytelling mode to reality mode. During Reflection 1 we discussed that teachers often struggle with imposter syndrome and ‘analysis paralysis’. Also, we are ‘shoulding’ ourselves instead of focusing on COULD. We all agreed that we need to give ourselves permission to be NOT PERFECT.

Decision motivators

Then we sorted decision motivators into 3 categories: positive (red), negative (blue) and neutral (yellow). The latter can be positive or negative, depending on the context.

Image: Claire Hart

While positive motivators comprise enjoyment, connections and goals, negative ones include aspects like fear, avoidance and comparison. In contrast to that, the neutral category contains motivators like ambition, sense of duty, settling a debt and money.

What would nana say?

Afterwards Claire introduced us to the Wheel of Life and asked us to imagine what our 80-year-old selves would regret doing, regret not doing and what advice they would give us. I volunteered to share during the reflection. Something I believe my 80-year-old self would definitely regret is procrastinating. I often have a lot on my plate and when it gets overwhelming, I simply stop doing things. I am still on my way to solving this, but I have already taken some steps.

That was followed by a list of NOT-to-do things, such as checking your online banking obsessively, or looking at other people’s social media profiles, or staying up late binge watching, or worrying that you’re not good enough…

The importance of ‘No’

Then we discussed the fear of saying ‘NO’. Why do we keep saying yes? Is it to avoid confrontation? Is it FOMO (fear of missing out)? Are we afraid to lose our job, or not to be offered jobs any more? It is the lack of control over our workload that leads us to this fear.

But what would have happened if one had said ‘No’ to the last job offer? There’s a very high chance that there would have been no confrontation, no job would have been lost and new job opportunities would have appeared.

Asking yourself some helpful questions

Finally Claire suggested a plan to manage your workload by asking these questions:

How are you going to counteract the damaging stories you tell yourself about your work?

What are you going to base future work-related decisions on? What will you not base them on?

What ares of your life do you want to devote more energy to or be more satisified in? How can you achieve that?

How will you create more time for yourself and what will you do with this time?

We all switched off the monitors with food for thought and Wheels of Life printed out, plans already forming in our heads,  inspired to start changing.

Want to read more from Galina? She shares a funny anecdote about her CELTA training here.


Steve Peters. The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness.

The Wheel of Life:

Go Digital Like the Teaching Pro that You Are! 5 Amazing Online Tools for English Teachers

in Professional Development

English trainer Slobodan Kelecevic shares five great online tools that make a teacher’s life a lot easier. And what’s best: all of them are free! Find out how to make the most of the current options out there and compile your own digital Swiss Army knife.

1. Edmodo

Edmodo is an educational platform with many features of social networks. I discovered it two years ago and thought it was fantastic. Now, I think it’s become even better – productive and ideal for both teachers and students.

You can create Edmodo groups for groups of learners or simply provide your one-on-one student with a great experience. As soon as you log in, it feels like a generic social media platform. It’s quite easy to navigate and all customizable. You can have fun creating polls/quizzes and setting tasks with a due date for entire groups or individuals or just send private messages to some of your students.

If you decide to take some of your teaching to Edmodo, you will find an abundance of ideas, how-to videos, tutorials and plenty of all-round support from the staff. Moreover, it comes with a great global community of teachers who are already using it.

To sum up, with all the changes schools worldwide went through in 2020, Edmodo is close to what we may call “the new standard”. It can most certainly support and enrich your teaching in many ways; and it is a stepping stone to transforming a group of students into a community of learners.

2. Evernote

I typically use Evernote for offline lessons – it’s an app for taking notes, obviously. Evernote is really great because you can use it on your phone, tablet, laptop, desktop… The sharing is super easy, just one click away.

What’s more, you can integrate all kinds of files and attachments into the notes. For instance, if we talk about some vocabulary, I can effortlessly insert an image of a mind map explaining or supporting that vocabulary topic.

But the best thing about Evernote is that both I and the student have a permanent record of what was done in a particular lesson.

I can reuse and recycle the materials which makes it even more convenient.
Simply consider this: who did you have a lesson with on Wednesday after Easter last year?

Who would remember that, right?

Evernote knows what was discussed when and with whom, and all this is readily available to be reused, modified and shared.

3. Doodle

Doodle is an app that makes scheduling easy for you, especially when there are more than two people involved.

For instance, let’s imagine I need to set up one-on-one sessions with five students for next week. Instead of sending everyone a list of my available time slots (with double-booking and lots of email traffic bound to occur), I select the dates and time slots on the Doodle calendar and just send the link to everyone. Then, they select whichever time slot works for them. No hassle, no headaches!

The best thing: once someone has picked a slot, it is immediately taken off the table for other people, so no double-booking is possible. Also, both them and I get notified and there is a clear record of the lesson time. That way, misunderstandings concerning timing are no longer an issue.

This way of scheduling is very clean-cut and it saves time and energy for everyone involved.

4. Trello

This is a productivity tool commonly used by teams for collaboration. Personally, I use it to organize my weekly and daily schedule as well as to keep the Mrs up to date on my lessons schedule. I use it every day and it’s amazing.

It also works as a to-do-list manager. I usually make three columns with file cards: ‘to do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’. The satisfaction of dragging and dropping the cards into the ‘done’ column is fantastic.

We can share a Trello board and all of its cards with anyone we collaborate with. For example, we could share it with two colleagues we are working with on a common school project. Thus, all three of us would see and have control over the cards; we could edit them and change how they are organized.

By using different colors for any changes we make, we know who made which card and who will/has completed each task on the board (i.e. in the project). Once a task on a card is completed, we can either mark it in green or simply archive it and clear the whole board that way.

The application itself is very flexible. You can use it on your browser on literally any device you can imagine.

5. Blogger

This has huge language practicing potential, supporting students much beyond its original function. Blogger is actually a Google service for blogging, so if you have a Gmail account, you’re in luck. You can start using it immediately without any further registration, verifications, etc.

You can start as many blogs as you want on a single Google account, just be sure to name them differently. Also, you can customize the design theme of the blog so your students can be very comfortable there from day one.

After that, students always ask the big question, “Can everyone see and read my writing online ?” This is when you tell them they shouldn’t worry and that the blog is entirely private.

There are two privacy options: a) the blog is listed in Google’s services and b) the blog can be found by search engines. If you check “No” for both of those, the blog will genuinely be private. Other students in the group will be able to read (and hopefully review) all their work though.

The next step is to invite people to become authors on the blog and check the other preferences in the settings menu. The settings are very intuitive and can be dealt with in a matter of minutes. Also, there is a convenient app for your phone so you can quickly check what’s new on the blog on the go.

You or your students can set up writing tasks by simply adding new pages to the blog and then everyone in the group can comment and reply to the task. Who knows, maybe some of them will be willing to make the blog public one day. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

For more online-related content, check out this article with 12 tips for better remote lessons.

If you are looking for tools that help you create fun content for your learners, such as newspaper clippings, crossword puzzles and posters, take a look at the TEFL Zone.

Teach the Rainbow: Insights from LGBTeachers about Queer Visibility in ELT (Part 2)

in Berlin/Professional Development

For Pride Month and CSD, we’re here and we’re queer! In case you missed the first part, ELTABB has collected interviews from queer teachers in Berlin telling us their thoughts and experiences on LGBTQIA+ visibility and representation in ELT.


Name: Shaunessy

Pronouns: he/him

How do you identify? I try to avoid identifications of any kind, but I fall into the “gay” category.

What do you teach? I am an editor at a German educational publisher in the Foreign Languages for Vocational Education department. I also taught, mostly adults and often in-company, from 2000 to 2007.

Are you publicly out at work?

Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

As a teacher I rarely, if ever, made a lesson around LGBTQ+ issues. I was out, though, and would occasionally mention my relationships or my participation in a gay event, going to a gay club, etc. I never had a bad reaction from any clients in Berlin or Brandenburg.

It is fairly easy to portray same-sex parents, couples, etc. without making a big deal out of it.

As an author and publisher, I have been responsible for bringing the first LGBTQ+ themes/portrayals into our programme. Unfortunately, not many Bildungspläne (educational plans) allow space for dealing with the issues in depth. But it is fairly easy to portray same-sex parents, couples, etc. without making a big deal out of it.

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

I don’t remember any. I think my students perceived me as a self-confident gay man and so wouldn’t have dared say anything anti-homosexual, so “handling” the problem begins with your own self-worth. If anyone had said anything anti-LGBTQ+, I would have stopped the lesson to teach about this.

I’ve also not had any incidents at my current employer. My boss has never objected to the LGBT content I’ve introduced.

However, just because there are no ‘incidents’ does not mean that I get the same respect I would get if I were straight. Anti-homosexual conditioning goes very deep, and it’s clear to me that when I speak, my “gay” voice doesn’t command as much respect or status as a straight voice would. Together with my foreign accent, it’s a double-whammy against me. And I don’t have a wife and kids elevating my status.

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

They need to be ready to deal with anti-LGBTQ+ statements when they occur. So, they need to have thought in advance about what it means to be L, G, B, T, Q, gender non-conforming, etc., and WHY it is ok to be so, why people ridicule us, why we deserve respect, and why we deserve protection. And they need to be able to articulate this.

What problems should be addressed in regard to queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

One problem appears to be a lack of materials. Recently the Tagesspiegel reported on a study in which schoolteachers of all subjects said they were in need of material for dealing with the anti-homosexual bullying that they witness on a regular basis.

My assumption is that they feel they need, number one, instructions on how to deal with incidents when they occur, and number two, subject-specific material they can base lessons on. But the study also found that many teachers were woefully ignorant of the presence of LGBTQ+ students at their school, assuming it to be a problem of adulthood, so Aufklärungsarbeit (educational work) is also needed.

Name: Kevin

Pronouns: he/him, they/them

How do you identify? Queer

What do you teach?

Adults, mostly Business English (in-company), EAP (English for Academic Purposes), and ENSP (English for No-specific Purpose)

Are you publicly out at work?

Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

It’s no secret to my students that I have a husband, so if a student asks, “What did you do at the weekend?”, they will get a queered response. So I would, in general, casually include queer topics in the classroom. For me, queer in the context of teaching is best understood as a verb, and it’s something that we do in our lessons not what we are in our lessons.

Queering is a way of challenging (hetero)normative standards, and there is lots of research showing that those standards are harmful to learners. I’ve used images showing women in different clothes and asked students to imagine the lives of the people shown and discuss what those ideas are based on. It’s more about asking questions than leading someone somewhere.

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

I didn’t as a teacher but as a student when I was learning German. A classmate brought up the issue that queers don’t exist–I mean literally that–but the teacher (who identifies as queer) didn’t intervene. His reasoning was that he didn’t want to alienate the other student, and my argument was that he shouldn’t alienate me. His reaction was a choice. These are always choices. And how and why we as teachers make choices has an effect.

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

The first thing is to be sensible about safety. You have to use your common sense about the potential danger of the environment, and what sort of material can be used. For this reason, the questioning process that lies at the heart of queer methodology as espoused by the likes of Cynthia Nelson is so useful. It’s an approach that works with any material, really.

Check the support you are going to get from heterosexual colleagues.

Also, check the support you are going to get from heterosexual colleagues. If you know the agenda you’re putting out is OK with your employers, then that agenda may be OK in your class. For example, if you want to share a queer text in the classroom, discuss it with employers and colleagues and ask if they have ever done something similar.

What problems should be addressed in regard to queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

I suppose for years academics like Heiko Motschenbacher or Ashley Moore have tried to raise the lack of queer visibility or lifestyle in textbooks, so the onus has been on individual teachers to create their own material. Again, lots of research shows that how people are represented in course materials is key to learners’ understanding of how they are perceived and valued in that culture; it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine what not being represented feels like.

Therefore, I would say that at least in some way the question of dealing with the material gap has to be looked at. Should, for example, English language teaching associations offer a resource centre for people who wish to use queer materials in the classroom? Also, of course, that queer teachers offer each other.

Name: Allia

Pronouns: she/her

How do you identify? Queer

What do you teach? Everything and everyone

Are you publicly out at work?

I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve ever shied away from. I talk about LGBTQ+ issues all the time, I always have some element with regard to gender stereotypes, and I do workshops with GLAAD. I’d like to think it’s obvious, but maybe people don’t know.

Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

Yes, most of the time they are put under the umbrella of larger topics such as gender issues, rape culture, or hate crimes. What I’ve noticed is when I put it under the umbrella topic the students respond positively meaning they are more willing to engage in the topic.

When put under the umbrella of larger topics, students are more willing to engage in the topic.

One example is from my college-level argumentative writing class when we were talking about the power of visuals. I had put up a series of pictures of those who have been murdered for being LGBTQ, such as Matthew Shepard or Amber Rose. I had students identify the people in the pictures to see if they could remember who these people were, but then it turned into a conversation about LGBTQ treatment in the justice system, the media and a discussion of hate crimes.

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

I was teaching at a charter high school in Compton, and we were doing a lesson about gender stereotypes. A student was sharing her experiences when another student insulted her mumbling “d***” under his breath. The student who was sharing got upset and started yelling.

To deescalate the situation, I told her that her anger was not unjustified and asked her to leave the room as I would deal with the situation. While she was gone, I addressed the other student in front of everyone, and, instead of reprimanding him, I just asked him a set of questions like, “What does the word mean?” and “Where did you learn it from?” He started answering the questions and eventually explained that he heard it from his father who would also frequently use the term “f*****”.

In the conversation, the student realized that he didn’t really feel this way, and that it was his father’s influence. This then carried on into a conversation among the rest of the students reflecting on their own upbringing, experiences, and things that had been passed down from their parents. Later, I pulled the student aside and said that it was his choice to either apologize to the individual or apologize in front of the class. The student ended up doing both.

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

To ensure safe queer visibility, a teacher has to create a conducive environment for learning and discussion. That could look like creating a mission statement together as a class (or class rules). It can be teaching students how to respond to an individual coming out as LGBTQ+.

And it can also be including information in your syllabus, for example, on LGBTQ centers in addition to mental health and homelessness resources. Also, students will mirror the teacher’s behavior.

What problems should be addressed in regard to queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

Everything! But if I had to pick two, I would say the lack of visibility and an unwillingness to fully dive into the topic.

We hope that you have found these interviews thought-provoking yet inspiring because, let’s be perfectly queer, this is only one step in guaranteeing positive LGBTQIA+ visibility and representation in the ELT world and beyond. If you want to know more, here are some useful links for you to peruse. And Happy Pride!


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