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Workshop report: Andrea Downing’s workshops


Well, the Prague March workshop cycle began in style with Andrea Downing’s two fascinating workshops and the feedback from participants was extremely positive.

The first “Getting There” looked at what options available for teachers, beyond teaching and whether it is possible to put together a career plan. The discussion started with six main areas:

  1. Academic management
  2. Working in the university system, i.e. academic language teaching
  3. Working for publishing houses e.g. demonstrating textbooks and teaching materials at conferences
  4. Materials design
  5. Examining
  6. Teacher training and development

A group discussion of what skills and attributes are needed turned up the following.

  • Interpersonal skills – being likable and interested in people – Andrea added that “the willingness not to be liked” is something that may worth considering!
  • Communication skills –Andrea commented that it was a two-way street. Working in these areas is not just about the people you’re working with but about you and your development as well so being able to find out the right information about the position on an ongoing basis was an important skill to have.
  • Higher qualifications e.g. degree – An interesting comment was that there is very little available qualification-wise for training in EFL management.
  • Experience in academia – Andrea’s advice here was experience and knowledge in these areas, like teaching, come by doing. Don’t wait until you’re “perfect” because you’ll be waiting for however!
  • Outside management experience – Andrea commented that, in her experience, this was not usually the case although the most successful managers she had met were those who had an interest in management, outside of EFL.

The final question for discussion was how much of this can I do on my own and how much help do I need?

  1. The group looked at official qualifications like the Diploma in TESOL and the DELTA. Andrea commented “Getting my Dip made me more secure. Feedback meant I reflected on what I’d done before and on how it didn’t work” A number of participants echoed this and some commented on how they also felt secure in terms of having more earning power and feeling able to apply for more senior positions
  2. Andrea also presented a number of options for things to do before you take on such a qualification e.g. go to conferences, start building your own materials, go to workshops, present your own experiences, do action research and blog about your experiences, observe other teachers and ask colleagues to observe you.

The next session “Being There” began with a quote from an ex-colleague of Andrea’s who had said “Whatever you do, don’t take a job in a school that doesn’t do observations”. She felt it was a great maxim as it gives you a very clear signal about the school and how it feels about its staff’s development. After a group discussion of the difficulties of being observed and observing, the options for pre-observation work were discussed.

  1. Do nothing – the default for many observees and observers due to time for the most part. All agreed on this!
  2. Discuss why the observation is happening.
  3. Agree on a focus.

Andrea then discussed how as the observee, you can take initiative and ask for what you want/need in advance. As an observer, you can explain what you’re doing and why. Consider your body language for example and how it might appear to a “stressed” observee. Do you move closer to groups of students because you haven’t got the best hearing? How might this be construed by the observee? An interesting area for action research perhaps!

The feedback discussion lead to many interesting areas, all of which centered around Andrea’s ideas that we have a lot more choices in the observation process than we may originally think, in both roles and that this kind of development is not linear. Questions are a powerful tool, e.g. what were you thinking (at that moment), as it might unearth some rationale which explains the person’s behaviour. Another potentially useful question/request given was “Can you help me to understand why you’re asking that question?”.

The group talked Carol Roger’s theory of Unconditional Personal Regard, and how helpful it can be to discuss what has happened in the classroom, particularly if it hasn’t been a successful lesson. Some more interesting reading highlighted was Heron’s categories of intervention and how these counseling techniques might help provides other options.

A phenomenally interesting presentation and discussion. Thank you, Andrea and all the participants!

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