Tony Gurr

Archive for the ‘Teacher Training’ Category

So…What Exactly Should PD Look Like?

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

CPD Blog Post 170717 slide 05 TG

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:

CPD Blog Post 170717 slide 01 TG

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?

CPD Blog Post 170717 slide 12 TG

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:

CPD Blog Post 170717 slide 03 TG

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… 


CPD Blog Post 170717 slide 09 TG


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.

CPD Blog Post 170717 slide 10 TG

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

Telling the truth (TG ver) 080517

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.

Hulk 01 (TG ver) 080517


I asked a simple question:

Is ELT Broken (TG ver) 080517

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

The reasons (TG ver) 080517


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

The Dogs (updated ver) 080517


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!

Truthiness Zamanı (updated ver) 080517


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!

Hulk 02 (TG ver) 080517


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!

Snake Oil Sellers (TG ver) 080517

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

Sheldon quote (TG ver) 080517

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

Wide quote (TG ver) 080517

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…

Rita Peirson (TG ver) 080517

…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!


The Bottom Line (TG ver) 080517

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!

The DNA of GREAT Teachers – 3 “listicles” you have to read!

In Classroom Teaching, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Schools, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training, Uncategorized on 18/03/2014 at 9:59 am

Last week, allthingsLEARNing offered a bout of bloggery from guest-blogger Steve Brown (Is it all in the Genes?).

Today we have a follow-up guest-post from Cas Olivier (all the way from Harties“, a small resort town in the North West Province of South Africa). I never actually got to Hartbeespoort on “my walkabouts” around South Africa – but now I have a reason to do so…next time.

Cas (guest post slide) 01


The story of how I bumped into Cas in the blogosphere is a funny one!


About 8 months ago, I was desperately looking for some new images to “steal” for one of my own posts on “GREAT TEACHers”. Yes, I know…some of you “hate” this phrase – but, come on – who among us all does not want their students to say something like – “Tony Hocam is a GREAT TEACHer”?

go on, tell the truth now!


Well, I was at a total loss – couldn’t find anything new to steal…sorry, “inspire” me! I had got totally fed up of using “brains” and “mirrors”!

I had lunch with my big, little girl and told her what was going on (actually, she wanted to know what all the “swearing” was about…the foul language that had been pouring out of my study all morning)!

Expletive (four)

I mentioned that I had overdone the whole “brain” thing – but I (still) liked the notion of “organic” TEACHing! She looked up and said “Dad…what about DNA – that’s cool”!

I jumped up…kissed her…and ran back to the study!


Not five minutes had passed…and the wave of obscene expletives began againbloody Google had spat out Cas’ book The DNA of GREAT TEACHers (spat it out straight in my eye it did) and I hated him almost immediately…with a passion!

Expletive (sixteen)

Hey, I am human – get over it! Least I’m honest…


You see…the same thing had happened to me when I “invented” (yes, I also “steal” ideas from me daughter – I am THAT daddy!) the term ASSESSment Literacy back in 2011 (I still “hate” Richard Stiggins…not really!) LEARNing, CURRICULUM and EDUCATIONAL Literacy, however, are still “mine” (and my big, little girl had nothing to do with them…that time it was “Dexter”, my dog…who will soon have a blog)!

I calmed down…and started “stalkingCas via his website-cum-blogLEARNingDESIGNs – could he be my long-lost brother (my dad had spent time in Cape Town, Durban and the Free State in the late-40’s), acaba?

Cas Hocam – I know you were born in the Free State…but, when exactly WERE you born? I want a date…and a pregnancy calendar!


I fell in love with the sample chapters that Cas was so generously sharing on his blog – I liked the complex simplicity of his THUNKs…and the common sense those thunks were screaming at me!

I forgave him (!)…got in touch via mail…and, his first act of cyber friendship was to send me a copy of his book. 

Paying It Forward is alive and well…in the “Harties”!


Cas and I started chatting about him doing a follow-up to Steve’s post – and although neither of us are fans of “listicles” (TY – Kevin Stein aka @kevchanwow in the big, bad Tweetiverse) he thought it might be fun…to do THREE of themin one post!

So, over to Cas!

DNA Question (for Cas)


The DNA of GREAT teachers are described from a plethora of vantage points and they all have merit.

My vantage point is my latest book: The DNA of Great Teachers in which I use the ‘DNA-concept’ as metaphor to explain teaching paradigms and explain how teachers’ genetic teaching make-up influences their mindsets and teaching practices.

Once I started to “decode” teaching-DNA, I began to understand more and more about what made GREAT teachers so GREAT!


GREAT Teachers (for Cas) 01

Let’s start with beliefs – and my first “listicle”:


The 10 Beliefs of GREAT TEACHers

  1. Teaching means to facilitate learning.
  2. Lesson planning means converting the curriculum into learning challenges.
  3. Their main tasks are to guide and support students.
  4. Are firstly followers and then leaders.
  5. Teaching is like developing new medicine. It must be based on patient needs and not the design preference of the manufacturer.
  6. The momentum of great teaching is maintained by questions asked by both themselves and the students.
  7. When students are not learning as expected, they change their approach.
  8. They cannot teach learners anything, but can make them think.
  9. Learning always starts from the known and progresses to the unknown.
  10. Lesson must cater for ‘short-legged’ and ‘long-legged’ students.


As Tony might say – have a THUNK about it.

How many of these reflect your understanding of your own DNA? How many of them are beliefs – that walk-their-talk in your classrooms? Are there any in there that you might disagree with? Why / Why not?


GREAT Teachers (for Cas) 02

The second of my “listicles” is more focused on the classroom (I’m not that sure if that term is growing on me or not)!

Before you read mine…What would your own Top 10 List include?


Questions (Joseph O Connor quote) Ver 03


The 10 Things That GREAT TEACHers “DO” in the Classroom

  1. Determine the learning status of students and then become leaders to guide their learning.
  2. Manage their classes through good relationships.
  3. Deviate from their lesson-plan to enable students to gain quick learning-wins.
  4. Provide learners with scaffolds to work out their own answers.
  5. To achieve productive silence in a class, they ask questions. To achieve productive noise give students an activity to do.
  6. Use at least 5 teaching methods.
  7. Never give answers to questions. Rather provide students with scaffolds to enable them to work out their own answers.
  8. Ensure learners are acknowledged and feel clever.
  9. Ensure students master logical, critical, creative and big picture thinking skills.
  10. Encourage learning risk takers to speak their minds.


How many were similar to your own listicle?


GREAT Teachers (for Cas) 03

List 03now, this is one of my favourites.

None of us are “perfect”…we all have room to grow. But, GREAT TEACHers often take their DNA…and turn it into an “art form”:


The Top 10 Things that GREAT TEACHers “do” to Improve

  1. Discuss their teaching with colleagues.
  2. Learn from any source to improve their teaching.
  3. Appreciate positive and negative critique on their teaching.
  4. Do not take critique personally.
  5. Keep on looking for better ways to engage students in more creative and challenging learning.
  6. Open to advice.
  7. Willingness to change.
  8. Remind themselves that they should not be the main source of information during lessons.
  9. Keep on looking for ways students can discover and create their own answers.
  10. Keep abreast by reading about teaching.


Now, here’s a thunk or 2 (again, to “steal”…sorry, to be “inspired”…from Tony)!

How many of you work in schools that give you the “space” to do these things? Schools that create the conditions for “DNA mutation and adaptation” to take place – through LEARNing conversations between LEARNing teachers


GREAT Teachers (for Cas) 04 (with cover)


Cas Olivier   –   – 

Is it all in the Genes? (from GUEST BLOGGER – Steve Brown)

In Classroom Teaching, ELT and ELL, Guest BLOGGERS, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 05/03/2014 at 8:25 am

Today’s bout of bloggery is from Steve Brown (aka @sbrowntweets on Twitter).

I first came across Steve when I was pointed in the direction of his blog post “21 Questions for Language TEACHers”. I have to admit I had not stumbled upon Steve’s blog – the very-easy-to-remember(The) Steve Brown Blog” – until Mike Griffin gave him a nod in one of his posts and I kicked meself for not seeing it earlier.

I loved his questions so I decided to stalk his blog pages a wee bit more. When I came up for air, I told him (via Twitter) that I was sorry I had had not recognised his “bloggery genius” earlier – and then asked if he’d be interested in answering a question (rather than just helping us thunk over his – he has just done another wonderful “quiz” for all us teachers, too…take a look)!


He agreed – and here we are this morning!

THUNKers Wanted (for Steve)


When Tony asked me to do a guest post on his blog I was flattered, then excited, then a bit scared.

I got (really) scared at the point when he “suggested” I try answering this question:

DNA (LEARNing TEACHer) Blog ver 01

Freakishly scary, right?


I mean, where do you start? This question isn’t just about what makes a good teacher, but what (if anything) is hard-wired into a person that predisposes them to effective, reflective, developmental teaching.

At least I think that’s what the question is!


So, let’s start with a definition of a LEARNing TEACHer.

I would suggest that this is a teacher who continues to LEARN throughout their career. Someone who recognises that completing a teacher training qualification does not make you the “finished article”. Someone who realises that there is no finished article.


Parker Quote (for Steve)


Someone who constantly seeks ways to…


develop and

enhance their skills & talents.


If this is our definition of a LEARNing Teacher, maybe we can identify what qualities such a person needs to have.

They need to be able to take new information on board, to respond well to feedback, to pick up new information and ideas, and to have the technical skills to put them into practice.

LEARNing Quote 01 (Steve)


Of course, much is made of such qualities in the world of ELT teacher training courses. Trainees are expected to make steady progress from observed lesson to observed lesson, absorbing new information from input and feedback sessions then putting it into practice at the very next opportunity.


But all that stuff is LEARNable!

Adams Quote (for Steve)


You can LEARN how to manage a class, how to give instructions, how to do effective boardwork, how to clarify language, how to correct errors. This is what the ancient Greeks called poeisis – the implementation of techniques. You learn what needs to be done, then you do it.

Is that all that teaching involves though? Is it just a matter of following set procedures, using tried and tested techniques?

Sure, you need to be able to acquire those technical skills, but you also need to know when to use them.

Best TEACHers (new ver) TG


Teaching is an essentially human activity; you’re working closely with real people, and these real people will respond in very varied ways to the techniques you implement.

A sensitivity to these responses and an ability to react appropriately are therefore crucial. This is more like what the ancient Greeks called praxis – action that is informed by a wider context, taking into account the moral, socio-economic or political consequences that your teaching might have, beyond the classroom.

I mean the impact on the students’ lives, and the resulting consequences for society in general.

Resnick Quote (for Steve) TG ver


In terms of what goes into a teacher’s DNA, therefore, the skills themselves are less important because they are LEARNable. What is more fundamental is an inherent AWAREness of the “implications” of employing these skills.


But the question isn’t just about a good teacher; it’s about a LEARNing teacher.

So as well as an awareness of what you’re doing, there needs to be something else in the DNA that “drives” you forward, that keeps you “wanting” to LEARN more.

Resnick Quote TG ver


I would suggest that this requires FOUR qualities:


You can’t LEARN how to be interested in something – either you’re interested or you’re not. So you need to have an interest in the subject you teach, and you also need to have an interest in the whole “business” of teaching and LEARNing.


Again, this has to go in the DNA because you can’t LEARN how to want to do something. Desire to take action comes from somewhere very deep down. 


I suppose you could argue that this is very closely related to motivation, but it’s not exactly the same. While motivation is a desire to take action, inquiry is a desire to find things out. You can have your interest piqued or your curiosity raised, but I think that a constantly questioning approach to life, or a reluctance to just accept everything as it is, is something you either have or you don’t have.


Tolstoy Fish Quote (new ver) TG



In order to get better at something, it is important to be able to recognise how bad you are at it. In fact, failures or shortcomings need to be welcomed and embraced as opportunities for development.

We tell this to our students, so we need to demonstrate these qualities in ourselves as well. Humility is certainly something that can be developed, but the ability to equate failure with opportunity is something that some people find very difficult, and others find impossible.



I’m not sure I’m doing very well here in describing what the DNA of a LEARNing teacher looks like, though.

Can we visualise it?


Apparently, regular DNA looks like this:

DNA (Steves Ver)


You’ve got the four chemicals Adenine, Cyostine, Thymine and Guanine, surrounded by sugar and phosphate.

Maybe the DNA of a LEARNing Teacher can look pretty similar.

Replace the four chemicals with Interest, Motivation, Inquiry and Humility, and surround it all with…AWAREness!


What if 06


Of course this is incredibly “unscientific” and I apologise to everyone who actually knows something about DNA. I would welcome any comments from such people.

Trying to answer Tony’s question has raised three related questions for me, which I think I can answer now:



Steve Brown


What if…

In News & Updates (from the CBO), Our Schools, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training, The Paradigm Debate on 17/09/2013 at 4:44 pm

What if 08 (WWZ Poster) TG ver


Yes, Rosie! I love my Zombies, too…


What if…?

Imagine for a second…we changed the way we thunk about what goes on (or should go on) in our classrooms.

You know…

What if 01

…did a bit of a swap!


Not only in what we thunk…but also in how we talk about what we thunk.


Would the world come to an end, acaba? Would the Zombie hordes that tormented Brad Pitt and his ever-so-sweet movie family over the Summer…move into our cities, suburbs and schools?

I know, I know…the zombies have already taken our Ministries, our School Boards, our “Reform” Agenda – but Brad did “win” out in the end…did he not?

By fighting on the “front line”!


Many of us have already taken the first step. I mean…we have been asking:

What if 03

…even though we might not like the term “business”!


AND…we already kinda recognise that…

What if 04

LEARNing is sooooooo much bigger…

…and something we (as TEACHers) cannot (however much we may want to) do on behalf of our students.



Brad kisses a zombie

No Zombie apocalypse!


I mean…a few simple questions is all that it takes to get us there:

What if 02


Mmmm – ouch! But, a nice “ouch”…


Hey, here’s a thunk…what about if all TEACHers-In-Training (you know, those lovely TEACHers-To-Be) had these questions at the heart of their “curriculum”…lecturers that “felt” these questions in their bones…and “walked their talk”.

I wonder what impact this might have on these TEACHers when they get to “do business” – in their own classrooms?

Pretty much the same in the case of humanities – …what if we had humanities educators that (instead of teaching their students “about” books or what so-and-so “meant” in lines 14-15 on page 69) help their students to LEARN about life, work and themselves…”through” reflecting on books!



What if 05


Hey, just a thunk

What if 06


The alternative, I fear, is waiting for those other Zombies to come up with the next:

What if 07


And, this time…Brad is not around to save us!


In Praise of CREATIVITY (Pt 02 – from GUEST BLOGGER Chaz Pugliese)

In ELT and ELL, Guest BLOGGERS, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 17/08/2013 at 5:40 pm

Creative ADULT (Le Guin quote) Ver 02


In the last post from Chaz, we looked at the concept of creativitywhat it is, where it is and its role in the classroom.

Chaz pointed out that, given the right type of motivation, everyone can be creative. But creativity doesn’t  just happen like that; it needs to be embraced, invited, nurtured and encouraged.


Creativity (Sir Ken quote 01)


In this second post, Chaz talk about three stimulating strategies he uses to boost his own creative potential. For each of these he provides a short outline and an example to illustrate how it can be implemented in the classroom. He also describes an activity teachers can use themselves to overcome blocks and fears and to unleash their own creativity.


Strategy 1: Simplicity

Keeping things simple in the classroom involves focusing on the learner rather than on the materials to be ‘covered’. Most importantly, to teach more simply is to teach more purposefully and with a minimum of needless distraction. If necessity is the mother of invention, then frugality definitely plays a big role in boosting our creativity.

The simplicity strategy can be spectacularly applied in the language learning classroom – in activities that require little or no preparation time and which are designed to use the students as our primary resource. What you need, to put this strategy into practice, is some knowledge of who your students are as people, what they like and how they like to learn.

The rest is down to some thinking, some work and, to a lesser extent, some inspiration.

Creativity (Emerson quote 01)


Blind portrait (a warmer)

Level: Any

Preparation: Have some pencils and A4-size sheets of paper ready.


  1. Put the students into pairs and make sure they have a piece of paper and a pencil each.
  2. Ask them to draw each other’s portrait without ever looking at the paper.
  3. When they’ve finished, ask them to compare their portraits (this inevitably triggers laughter).
  4. The lesson can now start.
  5. Alternatively,  and especially if the students don’t know each other very well, you can ask them to draw the same object in the classroom – again, without looking at the paper.


Over the years I have found that using a touch of humour in the classroom is a great tool to diffuse tension and relax the students (and, often, the teacher).


Strategy 2: The ability to “play”

Think, if you can, of a life deprived of play. You give up? I don’t blame you.

The ability to play is the capacity to have serious, purposeful fun. This is seen by many creativity researchers as an important step in the creative process. In the words of psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, ‘there’s no question that a playful attitude is typical of creative individuals … but coupled with its antithesis, a quality of perseverance and endurance’. As early as the 16th century, Erasmus and Montaigne both recommended games as mnemonic devices, and recently Guy Cook has explained how play has a cognitive function that supports and fosters creative thinking.

A playful attitude is important in the classroom because it helps the teacher create a stress-free environment, and is essential because it allows us to pay heed to the child within us that is still longing to be creative and playful. We can approach self-expression with a greater sense of balance and, in some cases, with renewed enthusiasm, making it easier for our creativity to flourish.


Lingo Novo

Level: Intermediate and above

Preparation: None, as such, beyond keeping an eye open, as always, for the best time to do it.


1.Ask the students to work in pairs.

2.Tell them they have ten minutes to invent a new language. This language should include:

  • a greeting
  • a farewell
  • expressions for:
  • thank you
  • please
  • sorry
  • why and because
  • if
  • a positive comment (I like the weather.)
  • a negative comment (I’m not Jean Jacques.)

3.When they are ready, ask the students to form new pairs and to teach each other their new languages.


Strategy 3: Risk taking

Risk taking is about getting out of one’s comfort zone. Charlie (‘Bird’) Parker is one of the most influential jazz musicians who ever lived. The first time he played in a jazz club, he got booed off the stage, and the drummer even threw a cymbal at him in sheer anger. Parker’s sin had been to venture into new territory: he wasn’t interested in playing mainstream music, and that’s the risk he chose to take. He persevered and contributed to the birth of a whole new chapter in the history of jazz. Bird was prepared to be wronghe had the guts to challenge the establishment, and that’s perhaps the lesson for all of us: creativity takes courage.

Risk-taking (quotes)

Taking risks doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us; it makes us feel uncomfortable and edgy.

This comes from a fear of being wrong. As children, we feel free to experiment with reality and we don’t care about the results. By the time we are adults, we lose that capacity and become frightened of doing things differently. This is largely because we stigmatise mistakes. So, what we do, according to Sir Ken Robinson, is to ‘educate ourselves out of creativity’.

However, there is only one alternative if you don’t want to take risks, and that is to play it safe – to give in to the sirens of routine, an approach which never really pays dividends. Risk taking in the classroom is about assessing the situation, daring to try different approaches and entering the discomfort zone. The outcome won’t be spectacular at first, but taking risks is a necessary step if one intends to engage oneself seriously on this path.

Creativity (Scott Adams quote 01)

Picture this

Level: Intermediate and above

Preparation: You will need a set of pictures of works of art.


1.Put a collection of pictures of works of art on your desk. Invite all the students to come up and pick one picture they’d like to do some work on.

2.Ask them not to show their pictures to anyone.

3.Put the students into pairs (A and B). Explain that the As are going to describe the opposite of the picture they’ve chosen, and that the Bs should draw or write (see the Comment below) the opposite of what they hear from the As. Thus: If A says: ‘In this painting there’s a cat sitting in a tree’, B may draw or write: ‘The monkey’s eating a banana’ or even ‘There’s a dog sleeping on the sofa’.

4.Give them a good ten minutes for this. When they’re ready, ask them to check B’s picture or description against the original. How close did they get?

5.Invite the students to exchange roles.


The idea of an ‘opposite’ is naturally very subjective, hence there’s an element of creativity that makes the activity more engaging. It is important to provide the students with options. Some may prefer to write a description, others may like to draw. By giving them a choice, hopefully the activity will more inclusive.


Overcoming blocks and fears

Not a single person I have met finds it easy to nurture and unleash their creativity.

As teachers, we have to deal with all sorts of fears that may keep us from being creative, including fear of change, fear of accepting failure, fear of rocking the boat, fear of standing out, fear of disappointing and fear of uncertainty. Working in an environment that doesn’t value creativity is another huge mountain to climb.

Creativity (Matisse quote 01)

Having worked with hundreds of teachers on creativity courses, I know from experience that discovering that we can actually begin to create is the real trigger. There are no magic wands and no easy tricks, but please try the activity below. It is easy and powerful, and it should get you started.

Remember two thingsthat there is no such thing as right or wrong and that you need to trust the process.



The same exercise can be done using pictures. Visualise a picture you’re familiar with and, when the image is clear, change its colours, add or eliminate features, etc. Remember to experiment and to let your imagination run free. It is the process that matters: you may feel particularly proud of the end product – or not!

The same exercise can be done using pictures. Visualise a picture you’re familiar with and, when the image is clear, change its colours, add or eliminate features, etc. Remember to experiment and to let your imagination run free. It is the process that matters: you may feel particularly proud of the end product – or not!


The music of change

1.Take a few moments to relax, unwind and ‘gather attention’. Feel every muscle in your body relax and let your breathing become even and deep.

2.Now visualise a piece of music you like: anything, a song or an instrumental piece. Play it in your head. Play it loudly, as if someone were performing it in front of you.

3.Focus on the details. When the image is clear, change just one feature of the music. For example, change the tempo from slow to fast or from fast to slow.

4.Now change another feature in your imagination. For example, hear different instruments performing the music.

5.Keep changing the music as ideas spring to mind until you hear a whole new different piece of music, something neither you nor anyone else has ever heard.

6.Be as daring or as subtle as you wish, but allow your mind room for something new each time.

7.What does the creative experience feel like? Take some time to think about this.

8.Make notes and share with a partner or discuss with your colleagues – according to the possibilities of the situation you are in.

Change (Margaret Mead quote) Ver 02


If you want to learn more about creativity, why not take a look at Chaz’s book – “Being Creative: The Challenge to Change in the Classroom” (DELTA, 2010).

Chaz also recommends the following “bedtime reading”:

  • Cook, G – Language Play, Language Learning OUP (2000)
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M – Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention HarperCollins (1996)
  • Robinson, K – Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative Capstone (2001)

Creativity (Sir Ken quote 02)


ALSO, in case you want a bit more BEDtime READing – check out Tony’s CREATIVITY Library! Now, tell me if you can’t find 3 (or 6) books there to keep you going!


Tony’s CREATIVITY Library

In Praise of CREATIVITY (Pt 01 – from GUEST BLOGGER Chaz Pugliese)

In ELT and ELL, Guest BLOGGERS, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 17/08/2013 at 5:12 pm

Am I creative enough (TG ver 01)

We’ve all asked ourselves that question, haven’t we?

I know I have…still do – every day!


Today, we have a guest post from Chaz Pugliese, a teacher-trainer and musician (he plays a mean blues tune or twobased in Paris. Chaz and I met in Istanbul a few months ago and when I learned his “passion” was allthingsCREATIVITY – I just had to ask how he felt about allthingsBLOGGING!

I’m glad I didTake a read – feel free to contact him at


He’ll be back soon with “Part İki”

Creativity (Niebuhr quote 01)

We live in a culture that doesn’t encourage us to be creative unless there’s a chance we are going to strike it big with a commercial hit. Creativity, like so much else in our world, has been co-opted into consumerism and its worth calculated by how much money it generates.

The teaching world is no exception: the big pull is towards standardization, exams, regimented syllabi, a senseless don’t rock the boat attitude, intellectual shortsight that will do nobody a favor. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin, when asked why he was teaching factory workers to draw, said:

“I’m not teaching them to draw, I’m teaching them to see”.


Isn’t learning a language, too, a way of learning to see anew? I would venture to say that enhanced seeing and feeling are the real reasons to create, whether it is an exercise, a song, a haiku, or a brand new thought.

Creativity (Angelou quote ver 03)


A creative teacher knows how to get his/her students’ attention. and help them keep it. A creative teacher knows how to teach in ways that are meaningful to the students. A creative teacher will always find ways to make her lessons stick.


Creative teachers can do all that.

Creativity is not an optional extra for a teacher, but rather the foundations to base our practice upon. Think of the word creativity and images of imposing Renaissance men or 20th century iconoclast physics will come to mind. Well, luckily for us common mortals, the story is a little more complex than that. If you’re after a genius type of creativity and you’re wondering whether this article will make you attain the heights of a Leonardo da Vinci or BachI’m sorry to say that, no, it won’t. But please read on, there’s hope. If we talk about an everyday type of creativity, absolutely everyone can be creative.


In this post we will tackle a few important questions such as:

  • What is creativity?
  • Why should I bother?
  • How can I become more creative?


What is creativity?

But what are we talking about when we’re talking about creativity? There are as many as 125 different definitions of creativity in the literature.

Creativity (Sir Ken quote 03 definition)

One thing is certain, there’s more to creativity than just thinking outside the box (or divergent thinking as it is called by creativity researchers). In fact, there seems to be general consensus that rather than just a single trait, creativity is best thought of as a cluster of skills used to produce an idea that is novel and culturally appropriate or valued.

There’s another definition I have always liked by professor Robert Sternberg, perhaps the world’s leading researcher in the field. For him, creativity is a decision we take. Wanting to be more creative is the main drive, the rest is up to hard work.


Why should I bother? 

Creativity (Einstein quote 01)

A few years ago a few hundreds school kids in the UK were asked to name the qualities they thought a top teacher should have. What came first was ‘originality’, followed by ‘fairness’. This is hardly shocking news: great teachers have known all along that you can’t teach anyone anything if you haven’t managed to get through to them. And the best way to get our students’ attention is through a surprise: yes, kids like to be surprised (but don’t we all?), and anything that smacks of routine is bound to fail. So, a surprise gets us attention.

Interestingly, this seems in line with neurobiology research findings on the quality of attention: one of the four factors that has an impact on attention, and gets the students in a state of mental arousal is novelty (the three others are a perceived need, meaning, and emotions). Without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to come up with any surprises. Without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to cater for the great diversity of our classrooms: mixed levels, mixed intelligences. And without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to inject new life in the coursebook, either.


How can I become (more) creative?

Creativity (Scott Adams quote 01)

The idea that creativity is a gift bestowed upon a few select ones by the gods above is one of those myths that tend to stick around for a long time. Just like intelligence, creativity is not a fixed, unitary trait, and can be in fact developed. But creativity needs to be invited, welcome, embraced. There is a myth about the creative soul that if you don’t feel inspired, you don’t have it.

I’ve been a musician for 30 years and if I had to depend on my inspiration every time I picked up my guitar, the guitar would stay mute. I’ve experienced every emotion imaginable when I play—from abject terror to sheer frustration to feeling absolutely nothing—and through it all like a recalcitrant mule, I have plodded on.

Creativity (Steve Jobs quote 01)


There’s no quick fix, no magic recipe, but  below are just a few things that may get you going:

  • Cherish the company of creative people around you. Engage them in conversation, ask questions, tease them.
  • Seize the moment. Always keep a notepad and a pencil ready. When an idea strikes, don’t EVER brush it aside thinking you’ll remember it later. You won’t. That’s not the way our brain works, once that synopsis is gone, it’s probably gone forever.
  • Is there a time of the day that seems to be conducive to better thinking? If so, try to stick to it.
  • Don’t be disappointed if what had seemed a great insight doesn’t lead to much. Put it on the back burner, you’ll come back to it later. Sometimes an idea needs a good incubation period. Nurture it, take it apart, play around with it. Play, play and play.
  • Take baby steps. You’re not out there to blaze new trails, or revolutionize the ELT world. Just keep telling yourself that every little bit helps. Fail, but fail better each time, to quote Beckett.
  • Value feedback, but believe in what you do and persevere. Charlie Parker was mercilessly booed off the stage for playing something new. Negative reactions didn’t stop him from pressing ahead and become the greatest jazz musician who ever lived.
  • Take sensible risks. Remember: learners like to be surprised, but they certainly don’t like to be shocked.


So here’s what I’d like to see:  creativity training in ALL Teacher Training programs, from the newly-initiated or the inexperienced all the way up to MA level!

Creativity (Matisse quote 01)

Teacher LEARNing, PD, CPD, Training….wotever! When are we going to get it ‘right’?

In Adult Educators, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 13/07/2013 at 8:06 am



As you can see from those little images, all is not well in the State of Teacher LEARNing, PD, CPD, Training (delete as you “prefer”) – and not just in the sense that I outlined in my last post!

Indeed, when we try to speak to many TEACHers about their PD or professional LEARNing – more often than not, we get a response like this:

Dont make me use my TEACHer voice (TG ver)


But, maybe…that’s half the problem?


When we do ask TEACHers to use their voice on allthingsCPD, we tend to find that many of them are split into TWO camps:

CPD (two camps)

…but this is to the “untrained” ear!


When we dig a little deeper (and I’m more interested in the “unsmiley group” – that is the problem), what we actually hear them saying is things like this:

PD is crap 01

…and a couple of other things, too:

PD is crap 02


To put it quite bluntly – many of the “solutions” are thereright in front of our eyes!

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason…proportionate use is the key.


Sure, there many be issues with money and funding (isn’t there always?) – get creative with sponsors! If we really value LEARNing (of the TEACHer variety – and we should), we’ll find a way to trim some “fat” and inject it where it “matters”. Yes, and there might be one or two malcontents out there (in our staffrooms) who will give us a hard time…whatever we do.

Hey, that’s life…deal!



…the fact remains that…most TEACHers are human beings, too (!) – they too are imagineered for LEARNing…they love LEARNing new things…new stuff…new ways of promoting student LEARNing


The LEARNing opportunities we provide them just need it to be “fit-for-purpose”…to be convenient…to be useful…and FUN (but not just a “laugh-and-giggle show”)…

Gamification 02


There’s been a few really good posts thrown into the blogosphere of late – many of them offer some great THUNKS on how to get it right:

Blogger (still ignore you)


Adam Bellow did a lovely post based on FOUR critical wordsPD: Four Ways to Start Changing the World This Summer


Josh Round did one some time back (but I only found it this week) – What to Put in the CPD Pot – full of sensible practical ideas.


Med Kharback (aka @medkh9) put an EDtech and DIY “spin” on professional development in his post – Top 8 EdTech Tools for Teacher CPD.


Laura Conley gets us to think about “flipping” (no, not THAT type !) with her great post – 7 Steps To Flipped Professional Development (first appeared on


@WhatEdSaid (aka Edna Sackson) made a storming return to the blogosphere with her – 10 Principles of Effective Professional LEARNing… – a post that stretches us to be “thunking doers” not just “PD delivery boys” (and girls)!


LEARNing (cannot be delivered) Ver 02


…and….ONE more:

Susan Lucille Davis gave us her – What Teachers Really Want – a post that every PD Coordinator, Training Manager or EDUboss should take note of (TEACHers, too)!


All good stuff!


But, then again…it’s always better to hear the voices of our own TEACHers!


When Spoon-feeding the “Kids” is NOT Enough… (not a RE-boot)!

In Adult Educators, ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training, The Paradigm Debate on 09/07/2013 at 11:53 am

Spoonfeeding TEACHers 02


This was a question a very irate TEACHer-cum-PARENT asked me the other week. She was, of course, talking about LEARNing our kids to feed themselves.

“They are turning my kid into a little test-drone” – she told me. Here, she was talking about her child’s school…and, probably, she wasn’t far wrong.


Most of our schools are firmly grounded on 4 ways of “doing business”:

Spoonfeeding TEACHers 03


Yeah…sorry about that – but, if it’s any consolation, that little image up there took me ages to do…guess I was making up for that last, imagesiz blog post I did.


I don’t want to get into all of them – one-by-one – and, besides, most of you know what I thunks:

LEARNing (cannot be delivered) Ver 02


You also know…in your heart-of-hearts that:

High Grades and LEARNers (Wiggins quote)


I do not really care how many practice books, online resources, mock tests, or so-called “extra-curriculuar” tutoring sessions a school offers its kids…if these materials or opportunities are of the just-in-case, EXAMocracy type (rather than the just-in-time, LEARNing type) – the result is the same.

Pigeon holes (even of the “multiple intelligence variety”) are too small for our kids!

Hey, I did manage to cover them all!


Twilight Zone 01b (TG edit).jpg

However, the story did not stop there.

I got a call from one of the “team” at the school (where my friend sends her kid) – quite by co-incidence.

They wanted me to to come to their school at the end of August and…wait for it…. “deliver a lecture” to their TEACHers…a 60-minute lecture, no less / no more (because, I was told, TEACHers cannot focus for more than 50-60 minutes) on….wait for it… “creativity with the new textbooks they have adopted” .

Do they not know me…at all?


HULK (keep calm TG Ver)


To add insult to injury…they also asked me if I knew any other native-speakers that would be prepared to come a give a 60-minute session on…and this was the killer… “any topic they wanted!


The SECRET (Expletive)


Now, I’m not going to get into the whole “NS vs. NNS TEACHer thingy” (though I would really love toI would)! But, it’s worth exploring some of the the other underlying assumptions…behind this seemingly simple request.


There are many schools (and universities, too) out there that are basically looking for a way to “fill up” the Summer schedules of their TEACHers…called back to work far too early…when nothing of much value has been planned.

Now, I’m not saying this is the case here…Vallahi Billahi…(yep, Google Translate still sucks!) – but the request “smelled” of something…something very fishy!

Balik bastan kokar (TR ver)


Why would a school want to invite a speaker or trainer to “do” a session on “anything they wanted” ?

Thunk about that for a minute…


Even worse…why (oh, bloody why) would they want someone to come and deliver a lecture on a topic area or theme that is clearly so grounded on critical thunking, classroom practice and collaborative co-creation?

We’re talking about “creativity“, guys – not exam prep classes!

Duh (TG ver 4 blog)


Now, call me old-fashioneddoesn’t happen very often…but I’m OK with it.

I’ve always believed that:


The ART of TEACHing (van Doren quote) Ver 02


…it just makes sense that TEACHer LEARNing (TRAINing, even – though I do prefer my other term), should follow the same principle…similar processes.

You know, all that stuff about “walking-our-talk” and “being the change we want to see in the classroom” –

posing and answering questions together,

working stuff out together,

solving real problemsTOGETHER!


Motivation (the CHALLENGE)


But, then again, maybe some schools just feel it’s easier to “manage” their TEACHers…when they manage their “diet”, too!


Feeding our TEACHers is important…


The problem is, however, that wonderful advice that Neila Hocam (yes, click on that link – it is a “real” book) gives us:


If you dont feed the TEACHers (Connors quote) Ver 02


…is also dependent on the “type of food” we make available to our TEACHers!


To LESSON PLAN or NOT to LESSON PLAN…that is the question! (the RE-boot)

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 02/07/2013 at 5:51 am

big bad İSTANBUL


Continuing with my series of 500K bloggery RE-boots here!


This one was one of my very earliest posts…from all the way back in March 2011. This probably accounts for it being one of the top posts I have ever done…despite the fact that it used very few images and I was still LEARNing how to “highlight” on WordPress.


Now, I’m not sure…but I think the element of this post that people seem to like is the “personal touch” in the two stories that the post uses.

You decide!

The VERY best TEACHers


An old friend of mine caught up with me on Facebook the other day. He was a great “natural” when we worked together in Dubai…a few years back – he was a bit of a “maverick”, an architect who taught maths and computing, and enjoyed taking risks.

My kinda teacher…


In his Facebook message he made a “confession” – in all the time we worked together – he had never prepared a “lesson plan”.

He explained that it was “against his religion” and noted:

I always hated the idea of lesson plans…because lesson plans are about what the teacher wants, not what the students need. Education should always start with students’ learning, not teachers’ teaching.


I pointed out that lesson plans were actually quite a good idea – if they were LEARNer-centred.


TEACHing is not LEARNing


His reply:

Sorry! I assume lesson plans to be TEACHer creatures that often have very little to do with students. I should have been more specific! Yes, ones that focus on students – good!


3 Lessons (of a TEACHer) Ver 03


It’s often said that every TEACHer teaches 3 lessons (in every lesson they do);

the lesson you plan to teach (Lesson #1),

the lesson you actually teach (Lesson #2) and

the lesson you wish you had taught (Lesson #3).


It always made total sense to me that if I wanted to see the difference between these 3 Lessons, I had to have some form of “lesson plan” for the first of these – so I would get better at the second type by reflecting on the third type.

Reflective Savvy (3 slides) Ver 02


Does that make sense – to YOU, too?


The problem was, as my friend noted, when I was TRAINed (as a TEACHer) I was asked to jump through all sorts of silly hoops and prepare 3 or 4 page lesson plans for every single “dreaded” observation.

Now, I know this was probably not the intention of my teacher trainers (we wrote on slates in those days and the LEARNing rEvolution hadn’t quite “kicked off) because we spoke about this – a lot!.


A typical conversation went something like this:


Tony: Come on, this is just a waste of time – you can’t seriously believe this is going to help me be a better teacher.

Trainer: Look, I know it and you know – but this is what {INSERT name of exam board} want. If you don’t do, they’ll fail you.

Tony: You mean YOU will fail me!

Trainer: YES!…just get through the observation…you can do what you want when you get the bit of paper!


I actually liked the trainer!

And, did everything she saidespecially the last bit!


When I started teaching full-time, I quickly realised that it was not what I wanted to do (as a teacher) that was important – it was what I wanted the students to do that really “mattered”!

It also dawned on me (some time after the fact) that everything my trainer had LEARNed me was not that stupid – the one thing on the lesson planning form I had to repeatedly complete in my training emphasised “objectives”.

The problem was that {INSERT name of exam board} defined these as TEACHing objectives”  – notLEARNing outcomes” (I think they may have evolved since then…but then again).


3 FQs (purpose)


OK – I had “translated” that to mean purposeand brought it together with the idea of “what will the students be able to do with what they LEARN”.

This focus on “purpose” led me to another discovery – that in every “lesson”, I should have a “big idea” that students would “get” and take away with them.


It was these three things that always formed the basis of Lesson #1 – the written version.

Rather than writing down every single “step” I was going to do (with “specific timings” and “classroom interaction patterns”), my lesson plans were about the steps the students would take (the “stuff” they would “do”) – and how I would know if the steps students were taking actually helped create LEARNing.


Engagement Ver 02 (credit)


This actually meant that Lesson #2 started to get better – I was more relaxed, I didn’t have to keep looking at my notes (written on a slate, of course) and I could focus on “BEing with” my students much more (rather than “TEACHing at” them).

The beauty of this approach meant that I was more willing to focus on Lesson #3 – and got better much faster.


And, you know what else? 

Observations stopped being so “dreaded”!

LEARNers and non LEARNers (Barber quote) Ver 02


So, to sum up:

YES, lesson planning is important and useful (when you focus on “purpose”)

YES, lesson plans should be about what the students will do (and what they will be able to do with what they LEARN “with” you)

YES, lesson planning can help you become a better TEACHer

NO, format does not matter – and size certainly doesn’t…


For those of interested in getting better at planning (and reflecting on) your lessons, why don’t you take a look at one of my libraries: