The Oxford dictionary describes trauma as “an unpleasant experience that makes you feel upset and/or anxious”. For many of us, coping with teaching from home, often under lockdown conditions, against the backdrop of a global health crisis, is indeed traumatic. Yet, strangely, many educational institutions and we as teachers are often trying to carry on as if this is normal or as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary has happened. However, we need to allow ourselves ‘permission to feel’ (Brackett, 2019). Continue reading
Resilience, the ability to bounce back from stress, is an important attribute for anyone facing a difficult situation. In English Language Teaching there is a focus on encouraging students to build their individual resilience to aide their learning and improve their mental health. There has also been an increasing focus on building resilience in communities that have fled conflict, and how language classrooms can be a safe space for learners to work through the effects of trauma.
How does learning English support the resilience of an individual?
In ELT there has been a particular focus on building individual resilience, as education places more importance on learners’ mental health. Resilience of students, particularly from communities of migrants and refugees, can be built by combining personal development with the development of skills for employment. While acquiring age-appropriate levels of literacy and mastering a new language, it is essential to ensure that spoken and written forms of the mother tongue are also affirmed. This bilingual resilience-building model results in better academic performance, literacy rates and language learning, all of which enhance children’s likely success in education and future employment. Thus, success is related to developing the mother tongue as well as additional languages such as English.
How does a bilingual resilience-building model support communities that have fled conflict?
Opportunities to use home languages when learning English create inclusive learning environments less likely to marginalise children based on social, ethnic, or gender. In addition to benefiting academic performance and language development, these language programmes also foster inter-generational ethnic connections, increase family cohesion, and support cultural identities. This is achieved by helping English language learners bring home languages and cultures into the classroom.
Where can I learn more?
Below is an infographic from ELT Journals, outlining the role the ELT classroom plays in building personal and academic resilience. You can find the full article, including references, below:
I have a theory: ‘A teacher’s stress level at the beginning of the year is inversely proportional to his/her years of experience’. It does ring true, doesn’t it? It’s also true that the more one prepares in advance the smoother the first days will be and the easier it is to cope with contingencies. The purpose of this blog post is to help reduce ‘back to school’ anxiety for novice teachers and experienced colleagues alike, with one or two new ideas to add to your ‘bag of tricks’ so as to give flagging enthusiasm a boost. I hope you find them useful!
1. Set Back To School objectives for your students
Ask yourself: what would you like your students to achieve by the end of the year? Setting back to school objectives is hugely important because it gives your students something to aim for. Here are some tips:
- Make sure your students can relate to your objectives (e.g. [for Business Students] ‘By the end of the course, you will be able to give presentations at least as well as your colleagues from the UK and the US’).
- Aim high. Expectations act like self-fulfilling prophecies (provided you believe in them).
- Make sure your objectives are measurable. How will students know they have achieved a particular objective?
- Ensure buy-in. As teachers, we often automatically assume that what we desire for our students is what they want too. Not so! We need to discuss these objectives and get our students on board.
2. Set objectives for yourself!
Don’t forget about your own development. It can be all too easy to pour all of your energy into the development of others, but self-care and personal growth are essential if you want to be the best you can be. Worried you won’t have time? Try these everyday development activities for busy teachers.
3. Prepare a stress-free Back To School environment
Prepare a learning environment that energises, rather than one that demotivates and increases anxiety. High levels of pressure are counter-productive to learning, and creating a safe space for students will give them the confidence to push themselves. Watch the webinar to find out how you can manage your own wellbeing and how this can be transferred to help students in the classroom.
4. Prepare your Back To School classroom
Perhaps you would like to encourage more open discussion among your students this year, or just fancy changing things up to help returning students (and yourself) begin anew. The correct back to school classroom layout can also help you manage your classroom more effectively, as you can design it to support the tone you want to set in lessons (see below).
5. Revisit your bag of tricks (what do you mean you don’t have one?)
OK – a ‘bag of tricks’ is a collection of games/activities/tasks that you have used in the past, your students enjoy and which you know and trust (see your free downloadable activities below). You might think that there is no reason to write down ideas you are so familiar with. Wrong! Time and again, when I get frustrated while planning a lesson, I go through my list only to marvel at how activity X – which was my favourite only a year ago – had completely slipped my mind. If something works, write it down. The faintest pencil beats even the best memory!
6. Revisit your list of sites
Looking for material or ready-made activities to use with your students? A site like Breaking News English for instance offers graded texts, based on topical issues, each accompanied by dozens of exercises for you to choose from. For Listening material, the British Council site has a huge range of excellent clips for all levels. If you or your students are movie fans then Film English might be just the thing for you, or if you believe, as many do, that students learn best through songs then a site like Lyrics Training is right up your street! As for comedy fans, there is always the ‘Comedy for ELT’ channel on YouTube… 😊
7. Prepare templates instead of lesson plans
Lesson plans are good, but Lesson Templates are far more versatile! A Lesson Template is a set of steps that you can use repeatedly with different materials each time. For example, a Reading Skills Template can be used with a new text each time (see this one for instance; you may even choose to use this particular set of activities for the first day of school!). Prepare a template for each of the four skills, and an extra one for a Vocabulary Lesson. Seeing is believing! Here are examples of a Writing Skills template, and a template combining texts and activities from Breaking News English with Quizlet.
8. Support yourself with apps
Learning doesn’t stop when students leave the classroom! Apps like Say It: English Pronunciation, LingoKids and Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary can deliver time and time again whenever you want to give your students homework with a twist! You can find all of these on iOS and Android.
9. Set the tone in the classroom
Do it from day one. Make sure each lesson contains at least one fun activity (a song/game/funny video clip etc.). It is best if this is linked to your lesson plan, but it does not have to be; motivation trumps linguistic considerations (I hope OUP do not fire me for this… )! Don’t avoid using your best activities early on for fear of running out of interesting things to do later. If your students come to see you as a fun/creative teacher, this will colour their perception of whatever you do later. Plus, by doing exciting things in class you set a standard for yourself and this will do wonders for your professional development!
10. Have a great first lesson!
Below you can download some back to school activities for your first class (feel free to tweak the activities or play with the order as you see fit). Given the number of things a teacher has to do at the beginning of the academic year, it is comforting to know that at least the Lesson Plan for the first session is out of the way!
Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been active in ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner, presenter and teacher trainer. He has travelled and given seminars and workshops in many countries all over the world. He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles in which he draws on insights from such disciplines as Marketing, Management and Social Psychology and which have appeared in numerous newsletters and magazines. His areas of interest include Student Motivation, Learner Independence, Teaching one-to-one, and Humour.
This post is a collaboration between Nick Michelioudakis and Oxford University Press.
Being a language teacher is not an easy job… I know that now. But, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, when I first started out as a teacher, I really did think that it was going to be easy. Of course, I knew that I had a lot to learn about the technical side of language teaching, but I was confident that with a little experience, I would be able to master this in time. And when it came to the personal, emotional side to teaching, I was confident that I was a ‘natural’ and that I did not need any real training or work in this area. The point of this confession—and its relevance to my talk—is that I just wasn’t prepared for the long haul, the inevitable bumps in the road. And this lack of preparedness—resulting in feelings of stress and low professional well-being—affected my teaching. There were times when I began my working week feeling like the teacher in this photo.
In my webinar, I want to think about the importance of teacher well-being in the language classroom and consider practical steps teachers can take to enhance their feelings of well-being. I will begin by keeping in mind the words of the famous psychologist Kurt Lewin, who held the view that “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.” This means that I will look at some of the major recent developments in thinking about well-being, and in particular, I want to focus on the concept of mindsets, which is most closely associated with the American psychologist Carol Dweck. Mindsets have been receiving a lot of popular and positive attention in recent years, but most of this has focused on the role of mindsets in learning. In my webinar, I want to turn the tables and look at mindsets in teaching.
At its simplest, the concept of mindsets is based around two distinct worldviews. Some people tend to believe in the fixed nature of humans, that we are all essentially born with certain talents and characteristics and there is little we can do to change them. In contrast, other people see more potential for growth and change; if we work hard enough at something we will eventually succeed. Of course, people may have different mindsets for different areas of their lives, but in education, most of the discussion around mindsets has concentrated on ideas of natural ability and the power to grow through sustained, focused efforts. But what about teachers and teaching? Do mindsets play a role here? I will argue that an understanding of our ‘teaching mindsets’ can help our overall sense of professional well-being.
Teaching is about so much more than the simple transfer of mental knowledge but the interpersonal side to teaching receives relatively little attention, leaving teachers feeling that they lack control or the power to change things. While many teachers are very supportive of growth mindsets for academic learning, they can have very fixed mindsets when it comes to the stressful aspects of teaching. And one reason for this is that we rarely discuss these topics in a way that empowers teachers. One aim of my webinar is to get teachers thinking and talking about what they can do to develop their own growth mindsets. As a concrete example, let’s take the area of time management. One of the major causes of stress for teachers is the feeling of being pulled in several directions, always under pressure to meet deadlines, of simply not having enough hours in the day. However, teachers often see poor time management as a personality feature, just ‘who I am’, and something they cannot change.
I hope to show that there are simple practical steps teachers can take to reduce feelings of stress, to feel more positive and enthusiastic about their work, to essentially change themselves. I also hope to stress the point that thinking about teacher well-being is not an optional extra, but it is an essential responsibility for practicing teachers. Thinking about oneself is not selfish. Professional well-being makes teachers perform to a higher level, it encourages learners to take on bigger challenges, and it results in improved learning outcomes.
Stephen Ryan has been involved in language education for over 25 years and for most of that time he has been based in Japan. He is currently a professor in the School of Culture, Media and Society at Waseda University in Tokyo. His research and publications cover various aspects of psychology in language learning, including the award-winning OUP book Exploring Psychology in Language Learning and Teaching, co-authored with Marion Williams and Sarah Mercer.
Meditation is a strange spiritual practise, sitting in funny yoga postures and humming or chanting mantras, right? How on earth can that be of any help to teachers? This was not an uncommon response I used to get when teachers were first introduced to the idea of meditation.
Thankfully nowadays, perceptions of meditation have changed, schools and teachers are embracing it as a highly successful way for improving wellbeing. Meditation can help in relation to a word we sadly hear too often when talking about teaching; stress.
Demands, targets, new initiatives, and behaviour issues all generate stress for teachers. The Educational Support Partnership charity (UK) has recently claimed that over two-thirds of teachers say their job has adversely affected their mental health.
The effects of stress
While short periods of stress are inevitable for most of us, it is prolonged and constant stress that can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. Most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” response. When our bodies are exposed to danger or a threat (physical or perceived) our bodies create an adrenaline rush to get us out of danger. The hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are released from the adrenal glands resulting in increased blood pressure, faster pulse, faster breathing, and increased blood flow to the muscles. All of which are needed to help us escape from danger. However, our bodies aren’t very good at distinguishing between actual danger and the (mostly un-hazardous) challenges we face in our daily lives, so the same response is triggered.
If we experience this fight or flight response over a long period of time, it can take its toll on our physical and mental health. Long term stress can cause cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
Counteracting the effects of stress
So, before we all get totally depressed thinking about stress, let’s look at how we can counteract these affects.
It is vital to remember the old adage “You can’t pour from an empty jug”. Teachers can’t give what they haven’t got. They need to take care of themselves first. As teachers, we often can’t change the pressures or demands on us, but we can change how we deal with them. Unsurprisingly, one of the most effective ways to combat the stress response is to elicit the relaxation response.
Easier said than done you may be thinking. We don’t all have the time to relax, as relaxation activities are sometimes time-consuming and expensive. You’ll be pleased to learn then that the relaxation response can be elicited in a variety of ways, including through meditation techniques.
Adding meditation to your everyday activities can be a remarkably successful way of de-stressing, and through regular practice, can reduce the emotional and physical consequences of stress.
What is meditation?
Meditation comes in many forms and there are numerous techniques to choose from. To clarify, meditation is simply having a relaxed awareness of the present moment. Everyone has experienced this but maybe has not recognised it as meditation. It is those times when you are fully involved in an activity and yet relaxed and aware of what is happening around you. People experience it through sport, or movement sometimes called “being in the zone”, others experience it while painting or being creative, while cooking, singing, dancing, even cleaning. It can also happen when we are more passive, sitting by a river watching the water flow past, watching the moving clouds, or on the beach watching the sea coming in.
Like any good language learner knows, practice makes perfect. As teachers we explain to students that learning English does not happen overnight, they have to keep on using the new language and practising it. The same is true for meditation. It is like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets. A single silent sitting mediation before a class isn’t going to be a cure all for all the demands placed on you. However regular meditation can act as a strong foundation on which teachers can build healthier social-emotion skills.