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Where there is well-being… there will be learning

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.


ELTOC

Stephen Ryan
 is running a webinar on this topic for OUP’s free English Language Teaching Online Conference in March 2019. Register now to secure your place by clicking here.


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.


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Well-being – How teachers can support themselves with meditation

Relax!

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.

In this webinar we will look at simple, easy techniques that you can add into your everyday teaching activities. Simply by stopping and giving yourself a few minutes or changing how you perform activities can achieve a relaxed state. Meditation techniques can take just a few minutes and these small changes can have a big impact on your life. 

Join us to explore which techniques will work for you and start supporting yourself through meditation.


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ELTOC

Ushapa Fortescue
is running a webinar on this topic for OUP’s free English Language Teaching Online Conference in March 2019. Be the first to know when registration for this fantastic professional development opportunity opens by clicking here.


Ushapa Fortescue Ushapa has worked as a teacher trainer around the world. Soon after becoming a teacher, Ushapa was introduced to meditation and for the last 14 years, alongside the teacher training Ushapa has spent time visiting, living and working in meditation centres around the world. Ushapa loves engaging and encouraging teachers so they can pass on a love of language learning to their students.


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De-stress your classroom: stress management and well-being for teachers and students

Marie Delaney trained in the UK as an Educational Psychotherapist, English Language and Modern Foreign Languages Teacher and Teacher Trainer. Marie has extensive experience of working with pupils who are experiencing difficulties at school. Today, she joins us ahead of her webinar, ‘De-stress your classroom: stress management and well-being for teachers and students’, to discuss what she will be covering in the sessions.

Teaching and learning can be fun and energising. However, many teachers and students nowadays feel pressurised, stressed and de-motivated. Teachers all over the world seem to be faced with increasingly unrealistic expectations, scarce resources, widely diverse student needs as well as the continuing challenge not to be replaced by new technologies. Surveys suggest that students also have increased levels of anxiety and stress around school and future prospects.

We need, therefore, to be looking at the issue of teacher and student well-being. How can we reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety in our classrooms? We need to begin by recognising and acknowledging them. Suppressing and denying feelings of stress will often lead to physical and emotional burnout. Stressed teachers are not effective. It is important to focus on conscious coping strategies for managing our own well-being so that we can best support our students.

Strategies to promote teacher well-being include:

  • Eating properly, getting enough sleep and regular exercise.
  • Spending time on activities which you love doing. Find time for your interests and passions.
  • Becoming aware of people and tasks which energise you and those which drain you. Make sure you are creating time in your day/week for those which give you energy and positive feelings.
  • Talking through issues with supportive colleagues, who do not need to provide solutions but who can listen non-judgementally. Avoid moaning sessions with negative colleagues, which do not make anyone feel any better.
  • Practising positive self-talk and catching your own unhelpful thoughts. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect perfection.
  • Trying to stay in the moment and enjoy it.
  • Noticing what is working and doing more of that, rather than paying attention only to problems

When we start to do these things more consciously we can begin to share the ideas with students. Many of them do not possess good coping strategies for times of stress and anxiety. They need to learn how to get into positive states for learning. For example, music can be used as a positive trigger or anchor to bring classes into a calm mood for learning. It is worth spending some time helping students to identify other positive triggers for their own moods and encouraging them to use them to get into the right frame of mind for learning.

It can be useful to teach students how thoughts can affect feelings and behaviour. For example, optimistic thoughts can influence a student’s success. An optimistic student who gets 5/10 thinks ‘That’s good, I know half of this, I need now to look at what I got wrong and see who can help me get it right. A pessimistic student who gets the same mark, thinks ‘Oh no, I’m so stupid, I might as well give up now’. These thoughts will affect their feelings and their behaviour in the approach to the next test.

The webinar on 22nd and 23rd October will explore this topic in more detail and suggest further ways for teachers to de-stress their classrooms.

Register for the webinar


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7 tips for helping learners minimize anxiety in speaking

Man with hand over his mouthIn this post, Li-Shih Huang, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, looks at anxiety, an important affective factor in second-language learning.

“Picture your audience naked!” “Focus on listening, not on thinking about how you are going to respond!” “Take a few deep breaths!” “Just relax!” — Many students will tell you that these methods don’t work or that they are easier to recommend than to do!

As we know, some people are predisposed to feeling anxious about things (called trait anxiety), while others experience state anxiety in relation to some particular events or situations. Many learners may experience anxiety because of their perceived inability to adequately express their thoughts, or because they are afraid of being judged negatively or not being socially accepted. Anxiety, according to various researchers, can be debilitative (or some call it “harmful”) or facilitative (some call it “helpful”). The latter kind, as the term suggests, can benefit speaking performance, as indicated by numerous research studies (see Brown, 2007).

In this post, I’d like to share some strategies for dealing with state anxiety, which might occur, for example, when performing a speaking task in class or in real-life situations. This kind of anxiety might prevent students from enjoying practicing with peers, doing oral reports in class, or engaging in conversations with other English speakers (Woodrow, 2006). If you have students who seem to need some help in overcoming the kind of anxiety that does not require professional intervention, then you might consider sharing these strategies with them.

  1. Allow for planning, preparation, and practice time. Continue reading