Friday, 25 January 2013

Mentor teachers - an #eltchat summary

This is a summary of the #eltchat which took place at 12 noon on 23rd January. The full title of the chat was:

'Mentor teachers' (those responsible for a team of teachers) and their role; best practices, pitfalls, tips.

This was my suggestion and, after a few shenanigans with a tied vote and an eleventh hour decision from our excellent moderators, @Shaunwilden and @Marisa_C, I'm pleased to say that it won and a very lively (over 500 tweets in the hour!) chat ensued.  What follows is my attempt to do justice to all of the valuable contributions from the participants.

Mentor teacher - defining the role

What is involved in being a mentor teacher?  Some suggestions:
  • being a walking advice source
  • inspiring mentees
  • being a professional checklist
  • being 'available'
  • taking a mentee 'under your wing'
  • answering questions or, better still, directing the mentee to find the answers himself
  • showing the way
  • being a quality control officer
  • observing the mentee in the classroom and being observed by him to learn about each other's teaching practices and discuss the reasons behind them
  • discussing problems and making sure teachers don't suffer in silence
  • helping a new teacher get used to the admin systems of their new workplace (and chasing them up when they don't do it!)
  • helping new teachers plan lessons
  • providing a listening ear
  • inducting a new teacher into a new institution
  • encouraging CPD
  • helping a new teacher to grow as a teacher
  • making a mentee independent
What is the difference between a mentor and a coach?

  • @louisealix68 suggested that a coach oversees in-depth reflection sessions on non-subject related things, whereas a mentor answers general questions on practical matters and, on that basis, a coach can look after any teacher in the institution, but a mentor should guide someone in his own department. 
  • @Marisa_C proposed that, unlike a coach, a mentor doesn't train, but rather he supports someone in a new learning venture.
  • @MentorEvo said that mentoring is a more frequent and detailed attention to day-to-day development than coaching is.

Who should be a mentor?

@touqo said that it was important that the mentor and the mentee be 'organisationally independent of each other' in order to ensure an informal atmosphere free of the day-to-day aspects of professional life, but @eltknowledge pointed out that this wasn't practical if part of the mentor's role is to assimilate the mentee into the organisation.  @touqo responded by saying that if the mentor's goal is to boost the mentee's career, then it is best that the mentor comes from elsewhere.

On a lighter note, @pjgallantry told us, 'As a mentor, my own role model is Obi-Wan Kenobi, though obviously without the being killed by a light sabre bit by a guy with asthma!'  This comment led to some of our participants ('geeks', perhaps - @Shaunwilden's term, not mine!) going off on a Star Wars tangent which kept them amused for the rest of the #eltchat!  Our aim is always to entertain as well as to inform!! :-)

The mentor/mentee relationship

It was generally agreed that the relationship has a natural life cycle and that, once a mentee has no further questions to ask, the partnership simply fades away.  After this, particularly if the arrangement has worked well, the mentee may become mentor to another new teacher.

Many #eltchat contributors felt that the relationship could only work if it was bi-directional, that is to say that both parties benefit from it.  It was also largely agreed that senior staff should swap mentee relationships each year in order to provide different perspectives.

@touqo suggested that the mentee should choose his mentor himself.  @yya2 went on to say the more a mentoring relationship is established by an institution, the less effective it is and that informal relationships seem to work better.

@Shaunwilden felt that both parties had to be working from the mentee's agenda for it to be a successful venture.

@yearinthelifeof commented that mentoring has to remain a symbiotic relationship built on mutual respect, trust and recognition that both sides can learn from.

Dos and don'ts of being a mentor

  • DO ask questions which encourage reflection - e.g. 'Have you thought about....?', 'What might happen if you......?', etc.
  • DO NOT make it a power relationship.
  • DO ask difficult questions of your mentee before the 'real world' does!
  • DO talk about expectations at the beginning of the relationship.
  • DO listen.
  • DO ask more questions than you answer.
  • DO NOT shout or curse at the mentee! (Not outwardly, anyway!)
  • DO make time to have a quiet cuppa with your mentee every week, even if he has no questions to ask.
  • DO be patient.
  • DO NOT impose your ideas on a mentee.
  • DO know when to keep quiet and fade into the background.
  • DO NOT have a 'know-it-all' attitude or act in a superior manner.
  • DO find out about the background of your mentee.
  • DO have a clear focus.
  • DO be sympathetic and empathetic - these qualities are more important than the mentor's knowledge.
  • DO ask the mentee what they would like you to help them with and any specific things to look out for.
  • DO use 'human video' type field notes which are non-judgemental and where the mentee can decide what to accept and what to reject.
  • DO NOT criticise, even if your mentee's lesson hurt your eyes!
  • DO remember that you are learning as well.
  • DO read this excellent book.
  • DO continue to educate and develop yourself, both as a teacher and as a mentor.
  • DO have a checklist, but DO NOT mentor according to it!!

Potential problems
  • The mentor role and responsibilites are often not clearly defined.
  • The mentor is often not trained in the role, prompting the question, 'How do you teach teachers to become mentors?'
  • Mentors are often appointed simply because they are the people who have the time, not necessarily because they are the best people for the job.
  • As soon as 'judgement' (e.g. critique of a lesson) of any kind gets in the way, the mentoring relationship will probably break down.
  • People assuming that more experienced/older teachers automatically make better mentors.  As many contributors pointed out, 'newbies' often have a lot to teach 'oldies'!
Are mentors necessary?

This question was raised, particularly in places where there is a fantastic staffroom where experienced teachers all chip in to help with the CPD of new teachers.  It was also suggested that for those of us with an amazing PLN, mentors probably weren't needed.  In fact, some contributors consider #eltchat itself to be their mentor!  In most cases, however, it was agreed that there was a need for some kind of formal mentoring system as, nice as it would be, we can't often rely on everyone to care about their colleagues' CPD.

To conclude:

I joined the 2013 Mentoring EVO course a few weeks ago and I suggested this #eltchat topic because I redefined the role of senior teacher in my institution at the start of the 2012/2013 academic year.  The job title changed to 'mentor teacher' and I wanted the focus to shift to CPD.  This is a 'work in progress' and I was still unclear as to exactly how the relationship between mentor and mentee should work.  This chat has given me so much food for thought and I thank all the contributors for that.

@AlexandraKouk summed up the key elements of the mentor role:
  • personal or professional development
  • reflection
  • informal transmission of knowledge
  • relationship based
As @OUPELTGlobal put it, 'having a mentor is like having a good friend at school.'  @Teachersilvert added that 'a mentor is a friend with benefits'!!  However, @chiasuan pointed out that a good friend is socially but not professionally obligated to listen to your problems about work whereas it's vice-versa for a mentor! 

In the end, everyone agreed that, whilst training and qualifications were important, being open, approachable and empathetic were much more crucial qualities in a good mentor.


The aplanet project on mentoring and 'Mentor' is a Greek word via @Marisa_C
Mario Rinvoluci's review of Fanselow's book via @KerrCarolyn
'Demystifying Mentoring' an article from the Harvard Business Review via @KerrCarolyn
Heron's Six Categories of Invention via @AlexandraKouk


Wordle: Mentor Teachers - an eltchat

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Glogster - terrific tool or terrible torment?

I recently signed up for a couple 2013 evo (Electronic Village Online) sessions.  I signed up for two at this time last year and, I have to admit, that I didn't see either of them through to the end!  My interest waned, work got in the way, etc., etc..  This year, however, I've chosen subjects (mentoring and podcasting) which I'm really keen to learn about and I'm determined to make the time to complete the courses, despite the fact that my Mum will be arriving from the UK any day now and will be with me for a month!!

So, the sessions started on Monday 14th and I decided to get ahead with the podcasting activities first.  Most of these were quite straightforward as I was already familiar with the platforms and tools being used - Yahoo Groups, Google Maps, Voxopop, etc.  Activity number two, however, required me to use a 2.0 web tool which was new to me - Glogster.  I had heard about it before and considered using it with my classes, but had never quite got around to it.  This, then, was my opportunity and I was excited by it!

The first thing I did was go to from the wonderful Russell Stannard and watch his series of videos on Glogster.  He extolled the virtues of this amazing 2.0 web tool and confirmed my idea that it would make a great addition to my bank of teaching tools.  Armed with this information and with Russell's clear instructions ringing in my ears, I felt confident that I could complete the task in hand.

A few days on, I can report that I have (reasonably) successfully completed the activity I had to do - to produce a Glog introducing myself as a person and as a teacher.  I was to include images, text, video, graphics and links, but no audio at this stage as we are to go back and add it later in the course.  This is what I produced:

Not a bad first effort, but am I happy with it?  No, I'm not!!  I found the creation of my Glog to be a laborious and frustrating process.  It took me far more hours than I could justify spending on it.  I found the toolbar incredibly difficult to use.  Uploading images and videos wasn't easy.  I took advice from fellow participants on my EVO course and changed my browser, but I still had problems.  It was very difficult to edit items within the Glog and I never did manage to put in links to external websites.  In the end, I gave up and published what you see just to get the assignment finished.

So, my questions.  Is it just me?  What am I doing wrong?  How do you insert links into a Glog???  I still see the potential of the tool and know that my students would love it........ if it was easy to use.  And that's the problem!  If my students had half the problems I did, it would be frustrating for them and the whole exercise would lose its effectiveness as a language learning tool.  So, I'm asking for advice.  Has anyone used Glogster in their classes?  What has worked/not worked?  Any comments would be gratefully received!!

Friday, 11 January 2013

What makes a lesson great? - an #eltchat summary

This is a summary of the first #eltchat of 2013 which took place at 12 noon on 9th January.  It felt good to be back after the Christmas break and exchanging ideas again with colleagues old and new from around the world.  The full title of the chat was:

What makes a lesson great?  Favourite lessons - the ones we do over and over again that always work.

This was my favourite kind of chat - a lively and informative conversation between enthusiastic teachers with few links to external sources.  It was expertly moderated by @Shaunwilden and we were pleased to be joined in the closing stages by @Marisa_C.

The hour kicked off with a tweet from @teflrinha which resonated with many of us - 'I find favourite lessons like jokes ... I can never remember more than a vague impression and have to reinvent the wheel ... should keep a note.'

So what does make a lesson great?

Some ideas:
  • When I think of the lessons I like to run year after year, they are the ones that allow the students to surprise me - @kevchanwow
  • Any lesson when students have that look that says 'I got it and can use it!' - @PaulIhcordoba
  • Lessons that are engaging and involve all four skills - @worldteacher
  • It flows effortlessly, completely engaging the students and leading to a satisfying outcome. - @teflrinha
  • Lessons which are well-planned, engaging, energetic and fun - @TPMcDonald85
  • Interesting tasks that bring out lots of language from the students - @eltknowledge
  • Lessons in which students collaborate and learn from each other with some help from me - @BrunoELT
  • A great lesson has room for us as teachers to really learn and stretch as well - @kevchanwow
  • Lessons with games or any kind of competitive element
  • Adaptability is a key issue for a successful lesson, both in terms of the lesson being adaptable for different groups and also being able to adapt a lesson as you go along according to circumstances on the day
  • Lessons that take advantage of sudents' dynamics - @kevchanwow
  • Lessons which are coherent, stand alone, and where the students come out feeling they have learnt something concrete - @jo_cummins
  • Tasks pitched at the right level, just by the sense of challenge and chance of success, generate interest - @kevchanwow
  • Lessons which include student-generated materials - @teflrinha
  • Any lesson involving drama or role-play
  • Being creative and having fun while problem solving sounds like a good combination - @AlexandraKouk
  • Lessons where students are doing most of the work - @SueAnnan
  • A great lesson is a combination of material/students/teacher/planets aligning... - @jo_cummins
  • Lessons which give the students something to chew on, which have the shock factor, even - @ColeenMonroe
  • The most successful lessons I have seen or designed always had a powerful context/story and great memorability - @Marisa_C
  • I know it's a good lesson when students forget to remind me that it's break time! - @worldteacher
  • .....or don't notice the bell! - @GemL1
  • .....or ask, 'Has the lesson ended?' - @prese1
  • .....or if I myself say, 'Is it over already?' and don't notice the time passing! - @eltknowledge
Do teachers and students agree on what makes a great lesson?

@yitzha_sarwono began this thread of the chat by making the comment that her favourite lessons to teach are sometimes very different to her students' favourite lessons, adding that, whilst she favours pronunciation classes, her young students prefer learning grammar!  There is clearly a danger of teachers teaching lessons they love, but which don't teach much of use, as talked about in this article by @hughdellar.  However, most participants agreed that if students enjoy a lesson, the teacher does, too and vice-versa.

Examples of favourite lessons

Most of the contributors' favourite lessons seemed to involve an element of collaboration and teamwork and many were project or task based.
  1. 'How to murder your teacher' - students hotseat the teacher, then plan the perfect murder (via @eltknowledge).
  2. 'Teacher Disappears, Students Suspected' - a news story based lesson which uses all four skills (via @worldteacher).  (I'll write this activity up as a separate blogpost now that I've been reminded of it!)
  3. 'Create an alien' - great for reviewing/expanding parts of the body vocabulary (I can write this one up, too, if there's sufficient demand!).
  4. 'Describe your house' - pairwork activity where student 1 describes where he lives and his partner has to draw it (via @chiasuan).
  5. 'Show and tell' (via @yitzha_sarwono).
  6. 'Redesign a house' - a group task which can be simplified by providing lexis or shifted to different conversation topics (via @kevchanwow).
  7. Student presentations - allow students to present on topics they've chosen - a totally student-centred activity (via @eltknowledge).

Great lessons are not necessarily the ones which have been meticulously planned - sometimes they just happen, but they are the ones which are relevant, engaging and varied with a clear learning outcome.  We also acknowledge that a lesson that works incredibly well with one group could just as easily fall flat on its face with another!  The most important thing, therefore, is to know our students and tailor our lessons for them.  We cannot control what our students learn, but, by keeping them engaged, we can provide the potential for learning.