The year 2021 marked thirty-five years of the crucial work of IATEFL YLTSIG, and the anniversary web conference, Beyond an industry: professionalising global TEYL practices not only celebrated the occasion, but also opened doors for the crucial question: is TEYL a profession or an industry? The three-day event brought together speakers and attendees from around the world and Strand 2, which focused on professional development, raised further questions including the position of teacher research, relevant approaches to teacher education, the need to listen to the child’s voice in YL ELT, and the importance of community-building.
Daniel Xerri – How to research your classroom: practices and professional identity
In his insightful plenary, Daniel talked about the importance of teacher research, and teachers as researchers of their own classrooms. Although some in ELT may say that research is not a domain teachers should concern themselves with, Daniel emphasized that teaching and researching are complementary processes and, as such, research should not be seen as something disconnected from what teachers do daily. He posed several questions, and the first, What is research?, has a very simple answer – research is about answering questions about our own teaching practice and everyone is eligible to engage in it, especially as teachers know their contexts best and they are entitled to generate knowledge relevant to them. To do this, they need to develop research literacy skills, i.e. how to locate and access relevant research, understand and evaluate it, and use these skills to for their own research and to gain confidence. In short, teachers need to see research as part of a new identity: a teacher-researcher identity.
Daniel highlighted that the first step in engaging with research is by formulating a research question which is interesting for us as teachers and worth investigating. We need to begin with the what, the how, and then the why. There are different pathways that a teacher-researcher can take as part of the research design that will lead them to their destination – the answer to the research question. This includes the type of data to be collected, quantitative or qualitative or perhaps both. The teacher-researcher needs also to think about tools to collect data that suit the research question. Finally, the teacher-researcher needs support from mentors, collaboration with colleagues and students as co-researchers, teachers’ associations such as IATEFL, social networks, and open access resources. Daniel’s plenary showed that the importance of teacher-led research in TEYL cannot be ignored if we are to be considered as a genuine profession. You can watch the recording of Daniel’s plenary here.
Lise Bell – Who needs a parachute? Sustainable education for TEYL
Lise’s talk focused on two popular approaches used in TEYL teacher education, explored issues associated with these, and suggested ideas for creating more sustainable, contextually congruent programmes. The first model, parachute training, is when a group of teacher educators ‘drop into’ a context for a short period of time (hence the ‘parachute’) to deliver a pre-prepared teacher/trainer training programme to groups of local teachers and/or teacher educators. Once the training is finished, the trainers often leave without any real follow-up. The second model is cascade training, whereby a teacher education programme is delivered to a group of selected teachers or teacher educators who in theory go on to reproduce the training by cascading it to other teachers in their context. Both models are extremely popular because they are a timesaving, cost-effective way of providing professional development, particularly when delivered in contexts with large groups of teachers. Lise highlighted the limitations of both models and emphasized the need for more sustainable teacher development.
Training course designers and trainers are sometimes very unaware of the contextual realities and challenges on the ground. In countering this issue, demonstration of activities during a TEYL training course need to be supported with discussion of learning objectives in that particular context and ways to adapt those activities to teachers’ contexts and their learners’ needs. At the same time, materials developed specifically for a TEYL teacher education programme should aim to reflect developments in the field to encourage teachers to remain abreast of these and then consider what is most relevant for their YL ELT classroom practice.
Many course programmes include reflection and self-evaluation nowadays. However, these skills may not be embedded in a local educational context. Teachers need scaffolding in reflective practices and to be encouraged to apply them in their work. One idea suggested by Lise is to include modelling of the processes of reflection and self-evaluation and to provide sufficient time for reflection and discussion during the sessions. She went on to highlight how issues of upskilling and educational reform directly influence teachers and their motivation to be a part of teacher education programmes. Therefore, responsibility for professional development and reform needs to be shared between all stakeholders. Teachers may find themselves in a situation where they are afraid to try out new ideas because of the fear of negative feedback from supervisors and inspectors who do not recognize and appreciate other methods. She explained how this is because supervisors and inspectors are routinely excluded from teacher education projects and therefore lack understanding of the value of new ideas.
The overall message of Lise’s talk was that the key to professionalising teacher education programmes is shared responsibility and encouraging stakeholders to be on a similar page. You can watch the recording of her talk here.
Kate Gregson – Using the primary learner’s voice in reflective practice
Reflection is a recognised part of teaching children English, but what should be equally prioritized for TEYL as a profession is the inclusion of the child-as-learner’s voice in such reflection. As Kate highlighted, it is every child’s right to have their voice heard and this right is stated in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The child’s voice is an integral part of a learner-centred approach which encourages learners to be active, interactive, and responsible participants in their learning. Benefits of including the child’s voice are development of critical thinking, self-awareness, independence, and agency.
Kate maintained that including the child’s voice also has benefits for the teacher. It changes the way teachers think about children and their English language learning. But how can this contribute to teachers’ professional development? Reflective practice is an important tool for professional development as it encompasses teacher-generated data from (self-)observation, reflective journaling, critical incidents, and self-evaluation. However, we also need to include learner-generated data, i.e. the child’s voice.
Learner-generated data can be included in the initial stages of reflective cycles, which capture concrete experience and reflective observation. Kate gave examples of the ways in which learner-generated data can be collected through questioning, feedback and formative assessment and then fed into the reflective cycle. In this way, we can valorise children’s voices in the shaping of TEYL course content and classroom practice. You can watch the recording of Kate’s talk here.
Rachael Pooley – C is for community: lessons from a pandemic
Rachael’s talk focused on her personal and professional experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of community in both these areas. She defined a community as ‘a social unit (a group of living things) with commonalities such as norms, religion, customs or identity’. She gave examples of how a community can be geographical, dialectal and/or speech-related, professional, musical, political, and many other forms. She then asked why community is important and explained how because humans are social beings, we have a need to belong to a group. Rachael also highlighted how communities also bring benefits such as support and safety, connection and belonging, influence, sharing, learning, acceptance, and success.
She went on to explain how this sense of community was crucial in her professional context at British Council Thailand. As in many other contexts, teachers had to transition to teaching online in two days and as such went from being members of a busy staffroom to an isolation station, struggling to move from face-to-face to online teaching while maintaining lesson quality. To support each other, they set up a teacher-led community without involvement from management. She explained how teachers had meetings during which they shared tips on TEYL and engaged in activities (e.g. show and tell) and better connected with each other. These meetings involved teachers from several teaching centres and in this virtual way, they were able to meet each other and exchange their ideas and experiences.
The example in Rachael’s talk is one example of a community set up by teachers to help them through the pandemic. She ended by reminding us that there are other crucial communities for professionalising TEYL such as special interest groups, action research groups, planning groups, and different social media platforms. You can watch the recording of Rachael’s talk here.