Over the last few years, Canadian LINC teachers have demonstrated tremendous resilience and adaptability in challenging situations. They have gracefully navigated shifting learning environments and pivoted when necessary without seeming to miss a beat.
In my conversations this past year with LINC teachers and administrators at in-person and virtual conferences, such as TESL Toronto T4T, TESL London, BridgeUniverse Summit, and CESBA, I’ve been able to get a feel for what teachers consider their most pressing professional development needs.
- Communities of practice. The need to have frequent, ongoing professional networks and connections, whether they be online or in person, is prevalent among educators.
- Technology KSAs. Knowledge, skills, and abilities related to educational technology still top the list of teacher PD pursuits.
- Learner-engagement strategies. Teachers in blended learning environments have noted a kind of learner online fatigue setting in and are looking for ways to mitigate it.
Communities of practice
Connecting and collaborating have taken on deeper significance as of late, given what we know about personal growth and mental health. More and more teachers work remotely or in blended classrooms. Being part of an engaged community of practice means staying connected and on top of what’s important and relevant in the field. It means teachers feel less isolated when they are part of an active in-person or virtual community of practice.
Networking and collaboration are of huge importance. Little can be gained from repeating existing practices; we need to move forward, to progress. Doing the same things over and over and expecting different outcomes is simply not plausible.
–Dr. Sandra Kučina Softić, EDEN (European Distance and E-Learning Network) president
Finding ways to get involved
Take advantage of social media. Find out about relevant learning opportunities and take part in them. For example, I stumbled across an excellent BridgeUniverse webinar recently on 21st-century skills and was able to connect with teachers and publishers globally. Sometimes these incidental meetings prove to be fruitful and serendipitous.
Don’t leave it all up to chance, though. Make your connections intentional. Schedule time each morning, every evening, or whenever you have a few moments, and make it part of your routine. Take 20 minutes a day to browse social media, comment, contribute, and make note of the events that are relevant, interesting, and practical to your teaching.
Connect in person whenever you realistically can. Conversations, laughter, and the hey-I-didn’t-know-you-were-going-to-be-here type of run-ins can lead to strengthening relationships in your community. TESL Ontario is having an in-person conference day this fall; the other two days will continue to be virtual. I am eagerly anticipating the in-person connections.
I recall the last TESL Ontario in-person conference, where I found myself sitting by a giant open fireplace and having excited tête-à-têtes with fellow teachers and administrators. We were deeply engrossed in stimulating conversations, which often included laughter. There was one heated and exciting debate over Stephen Krashen's input hypothesis, and there was even an impromptu reflection on Canadian culture mishaps. This all started as a would-you-rather icebreaker—would you rather come face-to-face with an angry beaver or a mild-mannered moose? I mean, come on! Where else would we be able to ponder these quintessential Canadian dilemmas?
Communities of practice need to be tended, cultivated, and intentionally pursued. Online or in person, teachers need to find ways to refuel, reconnect, inspire, and be inspired. These connections can help improve a teacher’s confidence and foster more positive mental health.
Given the pace of educational technology innovation, teachers and students alike can feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available. Who has the time to test out different quiz applications and alternative LMSs or find the perfect forum discussion board?
The recent buzz about AI in education has not gone unnoticed. AI-themed workshops have been offered at recent conferences since teachers now need to grapple with how to deal with this new phenomenon. While AI-generated content isn't about to replace teachers, it will have an impact. It's just too early to know the extent of that impact at this time.
Keep your students' overarching learning objectives in focus. No matter what activity or task you choose, you'll need to ask yourself how this furthers the real-world learning goal? For example, if you are developing real-world reading skills (such as comprehending information on a university application website), consider using Microsoft's Immersive Reader to encourage students to engage more deeply with the text, to notice the parts of speech, or even to activate prior knowledge through the L1 translation function.
Be intentional about your technology use. Keep it simple and routine as well as accessible and in line with your learning objectives. Choose one tool per function and use it often.
Online learning offers opportunities for working students, students with young children, students with mobility difficulties, and students residing in remote communities. Reaching these marginalized students has never been more important. For teachers working within a blended learning or fully online environment, however, learner engagement continues to be a stress point.
What teachers have said to me is that they want to do more than just reach their students. They want to engage them, motivate them, and inspire them to take control of their learning and develop their own learning pathways.
Digital literacy continues to be a skill that students need to develop. As I learned at a recent CESBA workshop, many service-providing organizations now have a digital literacy plan in place where digital concerns can be addressed and basic skills built at the outset of students' enrollment in language classes.
But it’s a long way from having competent keyboard skills to being an engaged and active learner taking part in classroom activities, discussions, and collaborative efforts. Teachers have noted a kind of online learning fatigue setting in, though this could also be applied to in-person evening courses that have students who are busy throughout the day, working and taking care of their families.
Ideas to help
Use resources and activities that are interesting, relevant, and useful to your specific group of students. Find stories and articles that reflect current events and pop culture—things that people are actually talking about.
As a teacher myself, I welcome the opportunity to develop a robust community of practice where we can discuss technology KSAs and learner-engagement strategies. Let’s talk about what’s working, what we can improve, and what we’re excited about. Let’s take a note from Emily Bryson and sketch it out! Let’s meet in person when we can and further strengthen our connections. Let’s challenge each other to refine our teaching methods and stay up-to-date on technology in the language classroom. Let's look for ways we can help inspire and motivate our students to become the best version of themselves that they can be.
And occasionally, let’s meet up for a strong cup of coffee, share a few laughs, and then finally make that critical decision—would you rather have a chance encounter with an angry beaver or a mild-mannered moose? (The answer, of course, has got to be angry beaver. What’s the worst thing a beaver can do?)
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