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
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.
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.
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
What about reducing stress for students?
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.
This topic is broken down in full below, with tips and tricks to help you manage your stress levels and wellbeing (and a look at how this can be transferred to help students in the classroom):
Marie Delaney is a teacher trainer, educational psychotherapist, and director of The Learning Harbour, educational consultancy, in Cork, Ireland. She worked for many years with students of all ages who have SEN, in particular in the area of behavioural difficulties. She has worked with Ministries of Education and trained teachers in several countries on inclusion policy, curriculum, and inclusive pedagogy. Her main interests are bringing therapeutic approaches into teaching and learning, supporting teachers in their dealings with challenging pupils and promoting inclusive education principles for all. Marie is the author of Special Educational Needs (Oxford University Press, 2016).