Tony Gurr

So…What Exactly Should Curriculum Planning Look Like – for 2017/18? (Part 01)

In Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Our Schools, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 22/07/2017 at 7:37 am

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I know, I know…most of us are still on holiday…but I am sure there are a few of us out there that are (already) experiencing anxiety about some of the tasks we have to complete when we get back to the factory floor. Especially, if a new textbook was selected just before the semester ended…

Do NOT worry…I am here to help you get over that anxiety and give you the PERFECT curriculum planning toolshiriously!

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…and it won’t cost you any more than the price you paid for this blog post!


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As with any planning system, we need to decide on the key concepts that will guide us – and I have found, as we are in ELT, that 3 work wonderfully:

PLANof course!

IMPLEMENTbecause we have to take stuff into the classroom!

TESTwell, just because…we love doing this! OK…we want to check what has been learned!


The first of these steps is sooooooo easy…and involves 3 more mini-steps – take a gander:

Blog Post (Curric) Image 04 220717And, here’s you getting all worked up during your holiday! Most of you have already done mini-step 01 (hey, some of you might even be using Headway…even though the authors died 10 years back)! The key, however, is mini-step 03 – once you have the pacing guideline (the weekly ‘checklist’ of stuff to teach), you are more than halfway home. Indeed, if you work in a Curriculum Unit you can start planning your holiday for July 2018!


Now, the teacher steps up to the plate – ready to breathe life into the wonderful documents you have created.

What do they need to do?

Again…easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy:

Blog Post (Curric) Image 05 2207173 more mini-steps even a burger-flipper at McDonalds can execute! Again, the trick here is to make sure you stay on track…covering every activity (except those pesky ‘pronunciation boxes’ and maybe that last ‘speaking task’after all, who needs them…and besides…you’ve run out of time)!



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Ahhh, now we come to the home stretch…because we all know that ‘assessment’ is really the ‘curriculum’ for every single student. I mean…come on…have you ever heard a student say, ‘Hocam, that was a wonderful lesson – I loved the way you blended those two Learning Outcomes with the notion of critical thinking and creativity through that truly authentic and communicative information gap task’!

Voilà – this is how:

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3 final mini-steps even the most mathematically-challenged ELT teacher could follow (with a calculator and a pre-prepared spreadsheet)! OK, OK…that last one can be tough on the old heart-strings… ‘but I did warn you to study more and not play with that bloody phone of yours so much’!

AND, that…ladies and gentlemen…is how you do it!


Tried and tested all over the globe – a model that has found its way into…

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…and I gave it you HERE…for:

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Life doesn’t get better than that…for a teacher (and that means most of us) on a salary less than 50% of what she is worth!


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Well, as a great Jedi…sorry…Reiki Master told me,

‘You get what you pay for’!


So…What Exactly Should PD Look Like?

In Conferences, ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 17/07/2017 at 1:55 pm

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There I am…under my favourite olive tree, looking out at the point where the Aegean almost meets the Mediterranean…on the Turkish Riviera.

Sounds like heaven, yes?

So what the hell am I doing on my MacBook Air?

I’ll tell you – looking at the marketing bumf for the training courses that support a book entitled ‘A Handbook for Personalized Competency-Based Education (PCBE)’ from Robert Marzano and his gang at Marzano Research. Yes, as the sun goes down, the soft Aegean twilight floods the mountains and bay around Akbuk (near Didim)…here’s me reading about the type of Professional Development (PD) needed to ‘inspire’ teachers to breathe life into PCBE.

BTW – Did you know that the word inspire is derived from the Latin ‘inspirare’ which literally means to breathe life into another? Stephen Covey learned me that a few years back…

I am such a sad, sad man!

Neyse, and I know I have been critical of such terms as ‘competency’, ‘personalised instruction’ (esp. when linked to ‘standard operating procedures’…sorry, that combination just makes me pee a little in my underpants every time I see it!) and ‘content delivery’ (in earlier blog posts), but what I found in this set of marketing materials was a model for ‘getting PD right’.

Douglas Finn III, one of the authors of the book and designer of these training courses, tells us that ‘…this customizable on-site training will prepare your team to begin your school’s transition and offers practical strategies for addressing seven key design questions’ – which are:

  • What content will be addressed within the system?
  • How will the learning environment support student agency? 
  • How will instruction support student learning?
  • How will student proficiency be measured?
  • How will scheduling accommodate student learning?
  • How will reporting facilitate student learning?
  • How do we transition to a personalised, competency-based system?

OK – these questions have been imagineered to ‘change’ teachers (never a good move) but a sensible set of questions to structure a training module or PD event to be sure – especially if you want your PD to have an impact on student success. I like many of them…I do!

However (you knew it was coming…you know me so well), I can’t help feeling that this set of questions (and the type of PD it would lead to) is light-years ahead of the actual, real-world needs of most schools and teachers…it certainly isn’t the type of PD that we need in my adopted homeland – canım Türkiyem!

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What’s the alternative, Tony Paşa? I hear you cry…

Well, it certainly ain’t the kind of PD and conference sessions I mentioned in my last post – what I should have dubbed, in hindsight, the ABCD’s of PD and Conference practices:

  • Amuse (or ‘titillate’ with BS stories…half of which are made up)
  • Bribe (with free books or even tablets…extorted from publishers)
  • Comfort (with guitar recitals)
  • Distract (with magic tricks and the like…)

I used to blame publishers for a lot of this but have come to see that it is schools, colleges and universities (at least in Turkey) that have caused this awful situation (as well as presenters, with far too little classroom experience trying to fake-it-till-they-make – it in a business they really have no right to be in) – by failing to make teacher learning an integral part of how they conduct busyness and by refusing to create PD budgets that can be used to develop fit-for-purpose learning opportunities and events for teachers.

This is even in the wealthier private sector – where conferences and PD events are seen as little more than PR or marketing opportunities ! These are the same schools, BTW, that tell teachers and Heads that they are ‘too fat’ or ‘not attractive enough’ for the schools ‘image’ (yes, they exist…and know who they are)!

So this is my heartfelt listicle for getting PD ‘right’ in a context like canım Türkiyem…Let’s start with a pretty obvious one:

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A ‘C’ definitely needs to be added to the ‘PD’ component (and not just because it is trendy or sexy to do so). Teaching has changed so much since the 1960s, the mid-80s and even over the 17 years we have been in the 21st century! PD must enable teachers to move to the next level of expertise and enhance their ability to make changes that will result in increased student success and learning – this will only occur if teachers are provided with expanded learning opportunities, loads of peer support, and extended time to practice, reflect, critique, and practice what they have been learned.

Teacher learning is an ongoing process of reflection, risk-taking, feedback, reading, talking and adaptation – it needs to be continuous and ongoing, continuously supported and funded on a continuous basis.

Despite this shift in (global) conventional wisdom in PD practices, the vast majority of professional development in canım Türkiyem still consists of teachers attending one or two workshops on traditional themes or on topics containing the latest, sexy buzzwords in education. Participants listen passively to so-called ‘experts’ and are waved off with an encouraging pat on the back to apply the strategies in their own classrooms – no one ever does! We offer no support to link these new professional development events to past training and follow-up activities are rarely applied when teachers return to their classrooms.

And…we wonder why teachers start to hate PD!


CPD (look…sadded the ‘C’ already) should never aim to change teachers and their beliefs. As Peter Block noted, ‘We cannot change others, we can just learn about ourselves’.  However, CPD opportunities and events can be conceptualised as ‘learning conversations’ driven by questions – such conversations are not just ‘talk’ (from a ‘sage on the stage’ as is usually the case)…they need to be viewed as ‘action’.

Just as is the case with students:

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Afterall, The best way to solve a problem is to first come up with a better question…

CPD activities organised around questions (not answers spoon-fed via an over-crowded powerpoint slide) help teachers reflect on how they present content to students themselves and demonstrate the value of thinking (and sharing) productively rather than simply ‘reactively’. This type of approach also allows presenters to really engage with participants in an authentic and meaningful manner – making sessions more interactive, spontaneous and (dare I say it) ‘fun’!

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CPD opportunities should be also built on a progressive (and research-based) model of what good teaching looks like – to counter the effects of the fact that many teachers still teach the way they were taught. Teachers need to see this ‘model’ and be given the chance to weigh and measure themselves against it.

I’m not advocating the introduction of a formal set of standards at the start of every professional development activity – but teachers need to know where they should be going (esp. in an institutional context) and clarity in this area can be a friend to both teachers and school leaders.

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CPD Programmes must help teachers understand that ‘poor teaching’ is essentially down to the over-emphasis on ‘teaching’ itself (especially when ‘content’ is spoon-fed via PPP and translation-driven approaches models and ‘practice’ is little more than textbook grammar boxes or handouts packed with fill-the-blank exercises) and the lack of attention to the ‘processes of learning’ by teachers themselves. This is hard for many teachers to ‘hear’  – but it’s important that CPD opportunities emphasise that our job is about expanding and improving student learning…not just about increasing the number of teaching tools and activities we have in our armoury.

Of course, CPD sessions that provide teachers with (easily-adaptable) tasks activities that help teachers get out of these vicious cycles really help reinforce these messages – if we ask teachers to reflect on why these activities / tasks impact learning so much more than simplistic worksheets.

It also goes without saying that schools dropping those infamous ‘pacing guides’ they create every week would be a great start – least that might give us a chance at cutting down the amount of coverage-based (or CYA) teaching and timetable slots given over to teaching the same tired ‘grammar McNuggets’ again and again.


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CPD and professional development opportunities need to be grounded on an approach that recognises that all teachers (regardless of experience) need to further develop a ‘reflective disposition’. I have never met a teacher educator that has disagreed with this idea – or not criticised the reflective skills of their teachers-to-be.

Maybe it is a bit more about ‘cultural baggage’ here in Turkey (reflection is not a big part of our DNA…and we are doing a lot to ensure that what we do have is expunged) but I have also met many native speakers from the UK or USA that lack this disposition. You see…it’s also about character as much as it is about reflective skills – being open-minded (and open to learning), entering into CPD activities with whole-heartedness and accepting the imperfect and paradoxical world that is teaching…with humility and sensitivity to the needs of others (trainers and facilitators included).

REFLECTION 02 (Wheatley quote)


Then, we have two thorny issues:

  • What topics or themes should we focus on in CPD opportunities?
  • Who should ‘lead’ them?

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Let me tackle the second of these first. While many teachers do enjoy listening to ‘experts’ (if they know how to engage participants and keep them from falling asleep), I’ve always found that teachers really enjoy CPD sessions grounded on personal experience, facilitated by people they trust (and who demonstrate both passion and integrity…bit like regular students in class!) and are infused with challenge and an abundance mentality.

It is this last characteristic that inspires others to become ‘students of their own teaching’ (my lead-in quote at the very top of the post), reflect on their strengths and ‘soft spots’ and share these insights by finding their own voices. In this light, leading CPD sessions is about leadership (and not just ‘formal positions of power’) and collaboration…and draws on Stephen Covey’s ‘8th Habit’ – CPD that helps educators and teachers move from ‘effectiveness’ to ‘greatness’. Anyone in a school (including students) can do this…

What about that first issue – topics and themes? Well, in the last few years we have seen a lot more research into this area:

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Teachers clearly want these issues addressed…they want more of a ‘grass-roots’ or ‘bottom-up’ approach to be taken. Come on…we are talking about Teacher Learning…after all and it ain’t rocket science, guys!

Teachers want CPD that is relevant to their students and classrooms, treats them as professionals (not burger flippers) and, as noted above, is led by someone who understands their experience and issues.


…what about CPD that teachers ‘need’and is hidden from sight by that lack of reflective disposition we noted earlier? 


In an institutional context, there has to be a role for CPD that deals with the wider challenges the school has identified…and the strategic priorities highlighted for both school and teacher improvement. This means there will be need for PD that teachers have not ‘requested’ – and this is where we need the wholeheartedness and humility I noted earlier…the most.

The problem here, of course, is that so many schools in Turkey are pretty awful at planning and despite the growing interest in accreditation, still fail to see that ‘quality enhancement’ is very different to ‘wall decoration’. Many schools do not have improvement plans (fewer have annual operational plans…god-forbid you mention…a 5-year Strategic Plan)!

It’s difficult to plan CPD, if you do not have a culture of planning and quality enhancement – but just muddling through and making last minute calls to trainers or publishers to help you keep bums on seats ain’t gonna win you any friends… 


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While the CPD models being developed in the States by Marzano and his pals appear, on the surface, to represent ‘Next Practice’ in connecting student and teacher learning, on closer inspection we have to admit that they were not developed for countries with educational cultures like Turkey in mind.

While Marzano is totally correct in believing the effectiveness of professional development should not be measured by how teachers feel about it, but by the impact that it has on their practice and – more importantly – the achievement of their students, we have to recognise that we first need to have more impact on teachers…if we want to have more of an impact on student learning…in the long run.

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For now, this needs to be teachers…and the type of CPD opportunities we co-create with them.

I’ve tried to outline a few of the priorities I have seen with my own eyes in this post (which is now much longer than I ever planned it to be).

Canım Türkiyem (TG Ver 03)

Would YOU add any others?


Is ELT ‘Broken’? – Part 01: Is it the training or the trainers?

In Conferences, ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training, Uncategorized on 08/05/2017 at 1:21 pm

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I started this post as a bit of a ‘rant’ on FaceBook prompted by a session I did at a conference in Kool, Kalm Kocaelli.

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I asked a simple question:

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…and suggested a wide range of reasons why the so-called ‘ELT profession’ is not functioning at optimal efficacy:

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A lot of the participants were a bit gob-smacked at first…but, funnily enough, very few of them disagreed with me!

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One of the areas I noted was the quality of ‘training’. I didn’t get into the whole Undergraduate Teacher Education or CELTA debate (that would be another 3 to 5 sessions on its own) but noted how so many of our conferences are a total waste of time and how the input/guidance of people that call themselves ‘trainers, consultants and researchers’ is frequently of such low quality – here in canım Türkiyem.


Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure (or not…) of seeing a wide range of trainers / presenters at an even wider range of events and conferences around the country – and it would not be an understatement to say I am still totally UNDER-whelmed with the knowledge, skills and attitudes of most of these self-proclaimed ‘experts’.

It’s almost as if many of them have never heard the old saying…‘it doesn’t matter what you say about YOURSELF, it’s more important what OTHERS say about you!’

I have decided to be one of these OTHERS…today!

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Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying everyone on the ‘circuit’ (I really hate that phrase, too) is total crap. There are many trainers and presenters that really help conference participants ‘thunk‘ by asking meaningful questions and sharing great hands-on ideas and materials. These real trainers invest serious time in their sessions, work hard to draw on research (quoting sources), combine this with some original insights of their own, and make their materials ‘reader-friendly’ and ‘useful’. They also use humour effectively, demonstrate their wealth of experience and come across as having integrity and/or being authentic human beingsheck, some are even ‘inspiring’ and help teachers ‘motivate themselves’ to be the best teachers they can be.

AND…I’m even happier that more and more of these rock-solid presenters and trainers are Turkish.

BUT, they are few and far between!


Sadly, so many of our ‘sages-on-the-stage’ that stand up (and, ohhhh…how they love standing on the stage!) and then tell us to be ‘guides-on-the-side’ simply are NOT good enough!

Yes, there…I said it!

These so-called training experts do not walk their talk, have more ‘ambition’ than ‘talent’, and more often than not spoon-feed teachers junk from the internet!

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I find it’s easier to group these ‘trainers cum consultants cum researchers’ (that’s actually how many tourism businesses describe themselves in canım Türkiyem – restaurant / bar / disco – değil mi)?


TYPE 01 – The ‘Fake-it-till-I-make-it’ Trainer

These trainers usually come with a level of training / experience that you could fit on a postage stamp. Often, they tend to be native speakers (but not always) who find the classroom too ‘hard’ and will grab any opportunity to escape a future of ‘kids in the classroom’.

Some of them are actually quite good learners themselves – but frequently fall foul of the ‘read-a-blog-post-and-tell-the-world’ syndrome. Sad really!

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Many of them are also quite good ‘salesmen’ (or women) – the problem is that many real educators see them for what they are…‘snake-oil sellers’ who can’t quite pull off the authenticity required for a sustained relationship with teachers or schools. This is mostly as they tend to repeat the same tired ‘stories’ again and again and try to build their ‘brands’ (yes, they use this type of language) with teachers via use of pathetic, little one-liners like ‘What did you learn today’? …one-liners they have, in fact, ‘stolen’ from others!

They tend to have the ego the size of a bus…and lack respect for those Turkish teachers that know what it means to really learn a language and ‘earn your stripes’ through years of trying, failing and learning. This ego, however, is so often very fragile…and hides far bigger issues than a lack of ‘real experience’ in teaching.


TYPE 02 – The ‘Know-it-all’ Trainer

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Loathe to refer to themselves as ‘teachers’ or ‘learners’, these trainers have a dusty M.A or PhD somewhere on their CV’s (if the latter, woe betide you if you forget to add the title ‘Dr’ to your conference poster)! However, most of them have done nothing original since they got their beloved bit of paper – indeed, chances are they did nothing original to get the said bit of paper…they certainly would not have obtained their qualifications if they had been in a higher quality, more serious educational environment.

They still hang onto their love affair with the scientific / academic method and fill their slides with stuff even Superman (with glasses) could not read. To make matter worse, they churn out the same ‘tired’ semi-academic PPTs every time they are invited to an event (some use the same ones for bloody years…that having been said, many of the older ELT native speaker ‘hacks’ do the same)!

The more savvy among them have learned how to edit pictures they download from the internet – but frequently do not cite their sources. Indeed, many of these trainers and presenters try to pull off ‘little fibs’ or ‘white lies’…when they say, for example, ‘This is something I prepared’ or ‘…this is what I call…’! –  and lose all credibility with those of us that are in the know (and we are growing as a group – wifi is free with a cup of coffee these days)!

Teacher Learning (Sackstein quote)

Ego is also an issue for these trainers, too – however, it is their inability to recognise (and praise) the strengths of other presenters or presentations that really stands out (if they bother to stay and watch others…they usually don’t…why would they – they know everything). They tend to opt for back-stabbing and passive-aggressive forms of critique – both essentially driven by jealousy and the fear of being discovered for what they really are – mediocre intellects who have also largely avoided the classroom.

Many of these trainers also like to work on themes like ‘motivation’, ‘inspiration’ and other ‘bleeding-edge topics’ in ELT (also forsaking their academic principles and adopting the ‘read-a-blog-post-and-tell-the-world’ just to say its one of my key research interests’) – the problem is these trainers are so dull, so boring and just leave most of us wanting to cut our wrists!


TYPE 03 – The ‘Not-quite-there’ Trainer

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I almost did not add this group to my list – their hearts are in the right place, they are eager to share with other teachers and they have the ‘humility’ that Type 01 and 02 trainers sadly lack.

Many of them are very experienced (and successful) teachers…BUT, all of their classroom abilities just do not ‘come together’…they do not ‘gel’ – a good teacher does not always a good trainer make! I think Yoda said this…

Sadly, they are encouraged by commercially-driven or vanity-based TTT (Train The Trainer) Programmes that frequently over-promise, under-deliver and do very little ‘screening’!


All three types of trainers are ‘real’ (you probably know a couple by name), they live amongst us and they are waiting in the wings to ‘deliver’ their next ‘performance’. The really sad thing is that many of them just lack the interpersonal abilities, emotional intelligence and reflective skills to realise they are just not cutting it.

It’s almost as if they have never heard the (other) sports saying ‘You are only as good as your last game!‘ Many of these guys have been playing the last 5-6 seasons like this…

…and Publishers have been inflicting them on us by continuing to sponsor them! Now, that is what I call really dumb – not good busyness at all!

These trainers and their sponsors just don’t get what Rita Teyze learned us…

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…and the fact that teachers do NOT really learn from any of these three Types!


A worrying trend, however, is the rise of the ‘Type A / Type B Hybrid’ – a presenter that still wants to hang onto the kudos of being a so-called ‘academic expert’ in an area they really know very little about.

The solution?

Bit of ‘googling’, lot of cutting ‘n pasting and maybe a video from YouTube – just to distract the audience from the lack of real content, thought or analysis. And, if this isn’t quite engaging enough, these hybrids might even throw in a magic trick or (God forbid) pull out the musical instrument that just happened to be in their travel bag!

Canım Türkiyem deserves more!


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Time for our schools and teachers to demand more…

Time for sponsors to lift their game…

Time for these trainers to evolve…from ‘KNOW-it-alls’ to ‘LEARN-it-alls’…

– or EXIT…stage right!