August: this month I have…

  • Been recovering from three weeks of fun and teacher training in Kyrgyzstan!
  • Started a new job in Change Management – to be covered on this blog soon.
  • Set up a lunchtime German conversation group with my colleague Rachel, in the hope of putting my language to good use.
  • Eaten some delicious meals at the Chester Arms, the Pickled Walnut, and Manos.
  • Started planning the autumn term at FELLOW.
  • Picked more blackberries than I know how to cook.
  • Met representatives from the University of Oxford to discuss an ESOL project they are planning to support local Syrian and Kurdish communities.
  • Acquired a new housemate!

I’m (still) here

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t updated this blog in almost seven weeks. And (surprise, surprise) it’s because I’ve been busy. Really busy!

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time getting my head around my upcoming trip to Kyrgyzstan. I feel as if I’ve been planning it for years, and suddenly it’s only a couple of weeks away! The practical aspects of the trip are almost sorted: flights are booked, equipment has been bought, and I’m officially vaxxed to the max. There’s still quite a lot of planning and preparation to do around the teacher training course itself, and unfortunately I have recently received some bad news: two of my teacher training colleagues for the project are no longer able to fly out to Kyrgyzstan. This leaves me running the show! Thankfully, two new volunteers have stepped in to fill the gaps – and I’m so happy that they’re able to commit to the project at such short notice.

This week I’ve finished putting together my activities booklet, and I’ve also sketched out a rough plan of the methodology-oriented sessions I’m going to teach. Once at the teacher training centre, I won’t have access to a computer, printer or a photocopier, so I need to make sure that I have compiled all my materials and emailed them to the office in Bishkek before my arrival. It will be interesting to see how I survive without the internet…

June has also brought some interesting developments on the FELLOW front: we sent one of our committee members to this event in Birmingham, and I had a very productive meeting with a senior member of the University with regard to educational provision for displaced persons in Oxford. I hope that I will be able to share some exciting outcomes from that conversation soon!

Finally, I’ve also made a big professional change: from August, I’ll be taking a sabbatical from the big wide world of ELT and making my first forays into Change Management! I’m really looking forward to trying something new, and I’m hoping to take away some innovative ideas that I can employ in my teaching and training. I can feel a few more blog posts coming on…

April: this month I have…

  • Laid the foundations for my trip to Kyrgyzstan (read more here!).
  • Attended fascinating lectures by Levison Wood, Sir Barry Cunliffe and Dr Peter Frankopan that have only fuelled my wanderlust.
  • Started a new term at FELLOW.
  • Written an article about the language of space for Oxford Dictionaries.
  • Planned trips to Stuttgart and Barcelona to catch up with old friends.
  • Attempted to catch up on the highlights of this year’s IATEFL thanks to great blog posts here, here, and here. Thank you for filling me in!
  • Joined a French conversation group in the hope of meeting new people and getting some much-needed language practice.
  • Spent too much money on books…

March: this month I have…

  • Considered the cultural importance of handwriting thanks to ‘Who needs handwriting?’, a great podcast episode from Freakonomics.
  • Shared this fascinating simulation of reading with dyslexia with my colleagues.
  • Secured my first donation of books for Erayim!
  • Finished reading my first novel in German (Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink).
  • Done a spot of tutoring… always fun to teach one-to-one.
  • Signed up for One Stop English (a tutor needs materials!) and been overwhelmed by the amount of content available on the site.
  • Attended a fantastic lecture by Professor Nannerl O. Keohane entitled ‘Women as Leaders’ at the equally fantastic Blavatnik School of Government.
  • Tried Gefilte fish for the first time – and loved it.
  • Spent some of the Easter break walking the Thames Path. Recommended!

Putting the ‘no’ in inNOvation

A couple of months ago, while on the quest for useful teaching ideas, I stumbled across Stephen Shapiro’s Personality Poker. It’s an interesting personality test: select five cards (using spin/hold buttons) with adjectives that describe your strongest characteristics, then enter your email to discover your ‘custom personality profile’.

So I did. And my result? According to Personality Poker, I put the ‘no’ in inNOvation. I’m the reticent team member; I’m the person who’s going to shoot down your next Big Idea.

It’s hard not to react to this diagnosis when you work in an industry where technology is constantly forced in your face, and ‘innovation’ (through Change, big C) is the order of the day. An Ed Tech email pops into my inbox at least once an hour. And since the beginning of the year I have attended a number of talks where I’ve been told that I live in a VUCA world and I need to – I quote – ‘innovate or die’.

I struggle with the Personality Poker outcome for two reasons.

Firstly, I’m a millennial. I’m not supposed to need stability: I’m generationally predisposed to change jobs every two years, and never buy a home or put down roots. I should thrive in the VUCA world! Like most millennials, I’m a digital native. I’m at ease with technology – and isn’t that where all the innovation is? How dare a free gambling-themed personality test tell me that I am not an innovator?!

Secondly, Personality Poker is right – and we all know that the truth can be a bitter pill to swallow. I do put the ‘no’ in inNOvation. But perhaps not in the way that the author intended.

One of my biggest bugbears about attitudes to technology in education – both publishing and teaching – is that we are all rushing somewhere. In educational publishing (and I’m sure it isn’t just publishing!), innovation rhetoric is rife with hyperbole: content is no longer king, we must innovate or die. In teaching, a lot of fuss is made about the latest app, website, or techy classroom tool du jour. A couple of years ago BETT was awash with 3D printers, being flogged to schools with the promise of preparing their students for the future job market. And yes, it’s expensive, but you can also use it to make coat hooks and trays to use around the school. You’ll save money on furniture!

Believe it or not, I did hear those words in a 3D printer presentation! Twelve months later, I bumped into a Design and Technology teacher at an art festival who confessed that their 3D printer investment had been a complete waste of money: the machine, which handled most of the design work, wasn’t compatible with her school’s GCSE syllabus and the hulking machine lived, unused, in a corner of the workshop. Perhaps not surprising.

If I say ‘no’, to innovation, it is not because I think that our current educational practices are perfect, or there is no better way to deliver learning content than the channels we use at the moment. When I say ‘no’, it is because I am reluctant to be seduced by flamboyant words or grand gestures (future boyfriends, take note). If I don’t buy into the latest Big Idea, does that mean I’m not an innovator? That I can’t change and improve? I don’t think so.

I have been trying to pen an articulate description of my feelings towards innovation and technology in education since early January. I came up with a number of different names for myself: ‘low-fi educator’, ‘slow teacher’ (inspired by slow food), ‘moderate educator’ (moder…ator?). Then I discovered this wonderful reflective blog post by teacher Ben Rimes that helped me to think more about my own identity and refine the jumble of words in my head. I may even have been googling ‘is there anyone else like me out there?’ at the time.

And to answer Ben’s question: yes, stoicism is appropriate in Ed Tech. Actually, it’s appropriate everywhere – and I think we’d all be a little better off if we brought our stoic sides into the classroom (or the meeting room) every now and then.

February: this month I have…

  • Completed my first MOOC! (Oxford Teachers’ Academy Teaching English to Teenagers, if you’re interested)
  • Given my French a workout with the help of myfrenchfilmfestival.com, a fantastic annual online festival. Check it out next year!
  • Enjoyed (and appreciated) this brilliant Vice article on ESOL in the USA.
  • Celebrated a friend’s birthday with a stand-up set by Isy Suttie, and some delicious Indian street food at Bhel Puri.
  • Considered LX in ELT materials design, with the help of Nick Robinson’s blog post and webinar. I’m looking forward to learning more about this in the coming months.
  • Been contemplating ways of improving FELLOW volunteer recruitment.
  • Been getting excited about my Dad’s plans to learn Italian!
  • Wondered whether Spritz could help me improve my own language skills…
  • Bought my plane tickets to Bishkek, as well as this book – which means I am actually going to Kyrgyzstan this summer!

Here’s what an ELT editor actually does!

An attempt to explain the main elements of my job to my family and non-ELT friends…

Research

This could be desk-based research (online focus groups, reading blogs, etc.) or it could be in-market research (meeting teachers, observing lessons and running face-to-face focus groups). It might occasionally involve BETT or IATEFL. Whatever the method, it’s really important to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the world of ELT, and what teachers and students want and need from their learning materials.

Commissioning

I commission authors; my more senior colleagues commission titles or series. When there’s a bit too much work for me to manage alone, I also book in freelance editors to work on discreet areas of a project or act as a ‘second eye’ to make sure that the materials do what they are supposed to do (and are pedagogically sound).

Materials development

In the first instance, this involves working with the author(s) to develop learning materials that fit all the requirements outlined during the research phase of the project. It also means working with a cross-functional team (art editors, designers, audio producers, video producers, developers and copy editors) to shape the final product! Depending on the materials, I could be attending a photo selection meeting, working on location for a video shoot, or rubbing shoulders with the young and talented at a London recording studio. Recording studio celebrity spots so far: Bill Bailey, Omid Djalili and Sylvester McCoy.

Project management

Making sure that everything runs smoothly: manuscripts go in and out on time, deadlines are met and the final product gets to the market ready for promotion and the new academic year.