professional development

#PD by Design

I have written about how I flipped my staff meeting here and would now like to devote another post to the initial stage of that session, which I called the poster & post-its stage. I had come across IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators the previous year. I’d known very little about Design Thinking, yet just enough to get me curious. So when I found this resource which proposed a design thinking approach to address every-day situations faced by educators, I was eager to learn more about it and maybe find possible applications to my particular context.

The poster & post-its activity was meant to be the entry point to a larger reflection process in which I wanted teachers to engage collaboratively to generate possible solutions for a challenge – to find ways of successfully adaptating a newly adopted coursebook to our context. Therefore, I wanted teachers to approach that challenge by first discovering and interpreting the key elements of our teaching-learning reality by collectively braisntorming answers to the three questions below, whose answers I will now attempt to summarize and interpret in this post.

Who are our students?

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Our Advanced students are mostly teenagers. They are mostly overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork they already have aside from the work we ask of them as part of our EFL program. It is the belief of many teachers that these teenagers are under a lot of pressure from their parents and society in general to prepare themselves to compete for a spot in the best federal universities of our country. They are, therefore, busy and tired kids. They are, nonetheless, seen as bright and fast learners, who belong to privileged social classes. They have easy access to technology, and most of them have a smart phone and a tablet. These teenagers tend to have a very good level of fluency in English but could still profit a lot from more work on grammatical accuracy and on broadening their lexical repertoire. Most teachers see students as capable and demanding individuals who are also dynamic and restless. They are individuals with diverse needs who are not easily pleased.

What are their needs?

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Most teachers believe our Advanced students need practice, lots of practice. Teachers believe students need to be challenged and inspired so that they can become engaged. They also need teachers’ guidance and attention. Many teachers mentioned that our teenagers need to feel respected and heard, and that their motivation hinges on those two aspects. Many teachers also mentioned that our teenagers need to have fun, to find learning a pleasant activity. This approach would lighten the pressure they bring from school, which overloads them with work in a heavy test-taking, score-oriented culture. Some teachers also mentioned that students still need some limits and positive role models. They need to be taught discipline. There was also mention that teachers need to have students do less ‘talking’ and more ‘making’, in the sense of fostering opportunities for students to use the language meaningfully, to do something with the language they have learned all these years. Most teachers also feel that our teenagers need to achieve better command of the language and a higher level of proficiency.

How might we meet their needs?

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A majority of teachers mentioned the need to connect with students to find out what really matters to them, bringing the classroom environment closer to their reality. Teachers feel they need to plan lessons that appeal to what our teenagers like. Teachers also believe that they need to engage in meaningful, authentic interactions with their teenage students. Teachers feel they need to challenge students by promoting interaction in the classroom with a myriad of activities on interesting topics. Many teachers mentioned the need to explore the affordances of technology to engage students, saying they need to find ways of getting students to use their smart phones to do meaningful work in the classroom. It is clear that teachers believe that they need to carefully plan lessons and that they need to share those plans and ideas amongst themselves.

I must say that as course supervisor I am quite proud to work with a group of teachers who have such beliefs and whom I know to be capable of understanding what t takes to connect with our teenage students in order to make the most of their learning experiences, together. It is my impression that our group of teachers shares quite a lucid, down-to-earth take on our students’ needs, and that’s what makes us a reference among other binational centers and language institutes around the country. One of the purposes of this post was to provide feedback to our teachers on the richness of content generated by them during this in-service session. It’s always important to know where we stand and what our shared beliefs are in order to strengthen our bonds as well as our committment to realizing our own and our students’ full potentials, and in so doing, consolidating our reputation. Let us now take these reflections and insights and do great things in the classroom, together.

 

The 1st Advanced Planning Hub

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We share because we care. (design by Clarissa Bezerra)

Today we launched the Advanced Planning Hub project, with our first face-to-face gathering over at Casa Thomas Jefferson – Sudoeste Branch. This was an idea I had after analyzing the results of a recent survey I carried out with our Advanced level teachers. The purpose of the survey was to foster some reflection on the work developed throughout our first year using Viewpoint (Cambridge University Press) with our Upper-Intermediate level students. This was also a way to get feedback from our teachers as to how they evaluate the effectiveness of the material, as well as identify possible issues or difficulties that may have come up during these two semesters. The overall result of the survey was very positive. Acceptance of the newly adopted material is very high among our Advanced teachers, and we all know that’s key for successful teaching and learning in any course.

There was one aspect that called our attention in the survey results. Apparently, a few teachers had been having some difficulty planning and delivering the Conversation Strategy lessons (lessons C in Viewpoint) in a way that would be more meaningful for their students. It is worth mentioning here that the majority of our upper-intermediate and advanced student population is made up of teenagers, which makes our reality very peculiar, since most, if not all of the EFL/ESL materials available at this level target older learners (young adults and adults). Teachers felt that the way these lessons are structured sometimes yields quite mechanical responses from students. Therefore, we needed to find ways of making these lessons more meaningful, fostering more authentic communication in class. That’s when the idea of the Hub first occurred to me. As course supervisor, I’d been not only teaching with the material, but I had also been talking to teachers about it, as well as observing a number of classes. I knew that there were teachers who had been planning and delivering highly engaging, effective Conversation Strategy lessons, for example. What I needed to do was get those teachers who’d been struggling together with those who had been having all sorts of great ideas for those lessons, and let the magic of sharing work its wonders. And so it was that at 10:00 am today, we had a beautiful collection of thirty eight teachers (that’s about 40% of the total number of Advanced level teachers this semester, so wow!) eager to share their wonderful ideas with each other.

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The Hub in action.

For our F2F gathering today, I had put together a workspace within our school wiki – The Advanced Planning Hub – a place for teachers to share their lesson plans (lesson goals, step-by-step procedures, and supporting materials) and also find help when they have run out of ideas. So this morning, I showed them our new workspace. Our Hub gathering began with two of our teachers, Diana do Amaral and Cristina Bolissian, sharing/presenting a lesson plan of their own, which they had sent me the previous week and which had been shared on the Hub workspace. After that, teachers worked in smaller groups, sitting in round tables spread in the room, and engaged in very productive lesson-planning dynamics. They organized themselves into the different levels they are teaching this semester and went about feeding our Hub with great lesson plans.

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Macaroons of appreciation! (photo shared by teacher Anna Lúcia)

Time flew by, and it was already 11:30 am when I interrupted their busy work. I asked if anyone would like to share something they had learned during that time spent together with their fellow teachers. Some of them volunteered to share all kinds of tips, ranging from handling technology in the classroom (like using the class software and configuring the right screen definition for it to work properly) to actual methodological aspects, such as asking more challenging questions to engage students, and how the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs may help us do that. After that, it was time to go, but not before getting a small token of appreciation from their supervisor – ahem, yours truly – in appreciation for the fact that each one of these educators had chosen to spend two hours of a lovely friday morning planning lessons together, having a good time together, and showing that they care for their own professional development and for each person sitting next to them.

This post goes to all of the people who helped this idea fly today. Hopefully, this was the first of many Hub gatherings to come!

Here’s to caring and sharing!

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Set sail for finding my Voice (Part 1)

This is the first of three posts in gratitude for the people who are making a difference in my professional and personal development journey.

“If you don’t know you need others, you don’t know much.”  – Dan Rockwell

For the last fifteen years, I have had the privilege of working at an institute that not only greatly values  but also fosters professional development among teachers and administrators. Even before becoming a supervisor, I’d been listening to Carla Arena, our Educational Technology expert, go on about the endless possibilities that technology offers us in order to optimize the learning experiences of our students. I can clearly remember the feeling whenever I walked out of her countless training sessions – a mixture of eagerness to engage, to productively incorporate technology in my lessons, and an awkward perplexity, a sort of ‘overwhelmedness’, which would then result in my ineffectiveness at putting any of those ‘tech’ intentions into practice.

Five years ago, I became a supervisor and I kept on drinking from Carla’s well of vast tech knowledge – via formal training sessions and via informal conversations between cohorts. Little did I know that the tiny seed Carla had planted over a decade ago would finally begin to blossom in me – and indeed it did – fifteen years later. It was another colleague and friend of mine, Ronaldo Lima Jr, who introduced me to the wonders of Twitter. I must say, however, that it did not sink in until about a couple of months ago, when it finally dawned on me that Twitter could actually be a powerful professional (and personal) development tool. It had been over a year since Ronaldo literally sat down with me and showed me the Tweet basics, going as far as even sharing with me a list of his own crème-de-la-crème followees, a handful of Tweeple he read and admired.

Flash forward 15 years… 

Let me add yet another layer to this story. It involves a feedback session on my 2013 self-evaluation as course supervisor, skillfully delivered by my academic superintendent Isabela Villas Boas and head supervisor Katia Falcomer, in which they went on about all of my managerial strengths and skills, thanking me for my dedication and effort, but also proposed a reflection: how active had I been as a teacher trainer? That brought up  questions such as ‘why didn’t I become more engaged in teacher-training projects of my own?’ and ‘what was I waiting to become a presenter in our institute’s annual seminar?’ and even ‘how engaged was I to my own professional development?’

Something’s gotta give…

I went home for my recess holidays with more questions than answers. I didn’t know where to start. I let it all simmer for a couple of days, and as I did so, I felt compelled to give Twitter another go. Little did I know (again!) that I’d be taking the definitive leap right there and then. There would be no going back after that. I was in it for quite a treat! I came across George Couros‘s blog The Principal of Change (part of Ronaldo’s crème de la crème) and after perusing it for a little while, I thought “what an interesting person! Let me watch his TEDx Talk.” It was as if he was talking to me. George Couros had finally helped me determine what was it exactly that I was soul searching for: my VOICE.

Way too many questions to my answers

‘Way too many questions to my answers’ by Németh Szilvia is licensed under CC by 2.0

Thank you Dan, Carla, Ronaldo, Isabela, Katia and George.