An article about developing different mechanisms of peer support.
"I love my new job. I can be creative in my class preparation, I get along really well with my students and I really appreciate the responsibility. There's nobody looking over my shoulder all the time when I'm at work. It's me and my class.""I feel bored and a bit depressed with my job. I feel like I am doing the same thing over and over again. I have no new ideas and I hate my course book. I don't know if I can do this for the rest of my life. One of the problems is that I feel so lonely, even with a class full of students. I think I'm becoming disconnected from it all."
The first quote is from a new English teacher in their first few months of teaching (after the “fear” of the first classes has worn off) and the second is from an English teacher who has been working for some years. Do either of these sound familiar? Why does the second teacher feel that way? What has happened?
The second teacher may be close to suffering from teacher burnout. Burnout is a response to chronic, everyday stress, rather than to occasional crises. As Dr. Susan Barduhn, President of IATEFL, notes, "People who go into teaching (or nursing, social work, fire-fighting or any kind of helping profession) often have a high need for approval and high expectations of themselves. The burnout-prone individual is one who simply takes on too much." One of the best ways to avoid burnout is to start supporting and cooperating with fellow teachers and professionals. According to many studies, burnout and teacher turnover is drastically reduced when successful peer support exists.
This article is about Collaborative Teaching. I take Collaborative Teaching to mean more than teaching or planning a class between more than one teacher (although it can take that form). For me, collaborative teaching is about developing different mechanisms of peer support. It is also about developing professionally, but not in isolation. What follows is a series of tips and activities for teachers to do to start collaborative teaching and stop burnout before it occurs.
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to start collaborative teaching is to swap ideas. Teachers often do this anyway. You can formalize this process at your school in two ways:
- Organize a folder entitled Ideas and Tips. Divide it into sections (either by level, or by theme) and ask other teachers to contribute. For a project like this to work you really have to have someone in charge of keeping the folder or folders in order. Why not rotate that duty among teachers? You could also have a “Tip or Activity of the Week” that you can post on the staff room wall.
- Offer to organize a meeting to exchange ideas at your work. All you need is a time and a place where teachers can meet. At a school where I worked we called it the Materials Circus Maximus(Gladiator had just come out in the theatres!) We all met on a Friday afternoon and shared activity ideas. This became even more popular when teachers would “teach” the others using their material. It made the activity more memorable when teachers actually played the part of learners.
Sharing ideas in your school can be beneficial for all involved. But why stop at your school when you can share tips and classes with English teachers all around the world! One way of doing this is through the onestopenglish Lesson Share competition. See section G below for other ideas.
Start a teacher discussion group
This aspect of collaborative teaching means going further than just swapping tips and materials. Get together with a group of other teachers (or even just one other teacher!) to exchange ideas and methods and reflect on your teaching. This could be to discuss problems you have had with a certain class or course book, to share good and bad moments in class or to reflect on a particular aspect of your teaching. It could be a formalized meeting with other teachers at the school, or a more informal meeting at a cafe.
Here are some directions that a teacher discussion group could take:
- The group meets to discuss discipline problems in their classes and ways of dealing with them.
- The group meets to offer advice and suggestions to one member who is having trouble motivating a class.
- Each member of the group researches an aspect of methodology which they haven't tried (examples include Total Physical Response, Using Literature in the Classroom, ) and then presents their findings at the meeting. A good starting point for research like this is the Methodology section of onestopenglish.
- Each member of the group writes some reflections on two different classes – one which went well and one which didn’t go so well. Teachers come together and exchange reflections. They then discuss the classes.
Observe a colleague
Peer observation is a great way to get new ideas and see how others deal with everyday classroom occurrences. Have you ever wondered what was going on in the classroom next door? Why was it so quiet or why was there so much laughter? Here’s your chance to find out.
Choose a colleague who you respect and ask them if they would mind you observing them. With any luck they'll jump at the chance of having an extra pair of eyes in the class. You could use the observation to steal some new ideas for your own classes. There are many forms available to use as a guide for the observation. Click in the box below for some samples from Jim Scrivener's Learning Teaching. Alternatively, make a form yourself for your exact needs.
Ask a colleague to observe you
Choose a colleague you admire and trust and invite them to observe one of your classes. Choose a focus that you'd like them to concentrate on, such as your instructions, interaction with students or use of L1 in the class and ask for feedback on that specific point.
Always remember that giving feedback is a skill in itself and you should aim to be mainly positive, by giving constructive advice and ideas. Think about what you would like to tell the observee before you begin the feedback and consider how best to tell them.
Set up a mentor program
In English language teaching, the idea of having mentors in a school is relatively new. The mentor is an experienced teacher in the school who knows where things are and is familiar with school procedures. A new teacher is assigned a mentor when they start. The mentor is responsible for this new member of staff. The mentor has different “roles”:
- that of model (to inspire the mentee)
- that of acculturator (to show the mentee around and get them used to the school culture)
- that of sponsor and support (to “open doors” for the mentee, to introduce mentee to the “right people”; to “be there” for the mentee)
- that of educator (to listen and coach the mentee so that the mentee can achieve professional learning objectives)
A more informal mentor program could be a simple buddy system by which new teachers are assigned a “buddy” on the staff who they can turn to if they have any problems or questions.
Inter-class communicating and swaps
If you teach in a school at the same time as another English teacher with a similar level, there are many interesting possibilities for collaboration. Here are some ideas.
For oral tests, swap classes with the other teacher. This can be beneficial for getting an outside view of your learners’ oral competence. It will almost certainly mean that your learners will take the test a lot more seriously. For learners who are preparing for an external exam like the Cambridge First Certificate or Advanced, both of which have an interview component this could be a good practice run for them.
Run friendly competitions between classes. This could involve trivia quizzes for example. Post the results of each group in the classrooms.
Have learners write letters to each other. You can even set up written role plays. For example, have one class write a series of job adverts for the other class. The students in the other class decide on which job they would like to apply for and write letters of application, which go back to the first class. This could even be followed up by a face-to-face interview.
Have individual learners come and visit the other class from time to time. They could be interviewed by their new classmates, or make short presentations.
The above ideas all more or less take place inside one school. You can expand your horizons and link up with other English teachers in your area. For example:
Go to a conference, seminar or product presentation. Many countries have an English teaching association and run a yearly conference. Conferences are great places to meet other teachers, network and get new ideas. Sometimes a local school or organization will set up a seminar on an aspect of language teaching. Finally, publishers will often have special teacher development days or product presentations (these often include free books or a free breakfast!). Get in touch with the publisher’s local representative.
Start a teachers' newsletter. You could start this in the school where you work, or organize it between two or three schools. Include lesson ideas and tips and news about teaching in your local area.
Collaborate world wide
Do some of the above projects seem too difficult to set up in your school? Maybe you work in many different schools and therefore are not in a position to implement or participate in such programs. Does that mean you can’t do any collaborative teaching? Not at all! There is a whole community of English language teachers helping each other around the world.
Here are two of the largest international Organizations for English teachers and what membership benefits they offer:
IATEFL - http://www.iatefl.org - is an international association of teachers of English as a Foreign Language. It is based in Whitstable, Kent in England. It has more than 3,500 members in over 100 countries around the world. Members receive regular publications which include their magazine IATEFL Issues and two free publications per year. IATEFL also holds an Annual International Conference in England every year, for which grants are available to attend. There are 15 SIGs (Special Interest Groups) on a variety of issues of interest to English teachers. See website for more details.
TESOL - www.tesol.org- An international organization with headquarters in Virginia USA, TESOL has more than 14,000 members. Members receive a quarterly newspaper with articles on professional issues and concerns, access to different interest sections (focusing on a particular aspect of English teaching often their own website and e-discussion group) and the possibility of grants and awards to attend the yearly TESOL conference in the USA. See website for more details. Many countries will have their own associations as well.
Collaborating through onestopenglish
The onestopenglish community offers you lots of possibilities of communicating with other teachers, sharing ideas, lessons and stories about teaching.
Lesson Share Competition
The best resources for teaching English are created by you the teachers. Share this work and take part in creating a databank of lessons for all teachers to use. All entries win a great prize.