Alberto Costa, a professional I admire, once wrote a comment about my blog entry describing the Braz-Tesol SIG Symposium. He said that I “had a way with words”. I was really flattered to read that but somehow I now struggle to find the words to describe the fantastic experience I had on Saturday. Perhaps it’s Rio’s atmosphere, great weather and incredible landscapes that numbed my senses a tiny bit. Or it is simply because I was part of the first face-to-face BrELT event and it meant so many things that it is indeed difficult to put it in words. Even though I struggle, I’ll do my best to share with you what I saw, heard, felt and, of course, can remember.
To begin with, you should probably know what BrELT means. It stands for Brazil’s English Language Teachers and it is an online community devoted to Professional Development. Its main channel is Facebook, but you can find it on Instagram, WordPress, and Twitter. BrELT hosts online chats, webinars, interviews. blog posts, and anything that can assist with teachers’ CPD. All of it exclusively online, except for this fantastic event in Rio.
The event was held at Escola Nova da Gávea , a beautiful school in a rather charming and bohemian district of our “Cidade Maravilhosa”. The entrance hall was filled with publishers’ stands and their materials, long tables right in the center, and our much needed shot of caffeine up for grabs. When I got there, Bárbara Furtado welcomed me and soon asked about Mr. Trunk, who was taking a nap inside my bag. Later, Andrea Câmara, Vinícius Tavares, Natália Affonso, and Márcia Reis were kind enough to ask him to take a photo with them. Mr. Trunk was quite happy. We decided to take many photos! Nina Loback, Bruno Andrade, Thiago Veigga, Nicolle Albornoz, Claire Venables and Jamie Keddie couldn’t escape.
The first session was delivered by Bruno Andrade who said BrELT had been a beacon of hope for him when looking for CPD and hearing this from one of his bosses:
“Bruno, my dear, your English is enough to work here”.
Bruno took it so seriously that just a few years later he actually wrote his Master’s thesis on how BrELT contributed to teachers’ CPD. Among his findings, reflective teaching, new knowledge, motivation, different perspectives were some of the terms he stressed. Two things I’ll take from his lovely introduction: 1) BrELT has truly helped both those who started as Bruno himself, eager to do CPD and without hope of getting it from their own schools, and those who are experienced teachers; 2) Bruno’s wonderful ear-to-ear smile to be there presenting about one of his passions.
Next came the amazing Jamie Keddie and his inspiring plenary. Speaking of grinning from ear to ear, that’s exactly how I spent the better part of the next hour: either smiling or laughing uncontrollably. I actually told Jamie: “My cheek muscles hurt” when I approached him with Mr. Trunk. It all started with a frog. The poor frog tried to catch a dragonfly and failed miserably. It jumped and got nowhere near the smart insect. Then we moved to a panda bear and its little baby. According to Jamie, the panda “got a fright” from its screaming – quite unexpectedly – little one. Most of us used “got scared” or simply “scared” to describe the scene. The refined ones added “the hell out of” or “the bejesus out of” or even went with “spooked”. But Jamie chose “got a fright”. We found out later that his family had influenced his word choice. What really matters is what Jamie discussed and how we can make the best of his great ideas.
Jamie is an incredible storyteller who takes advantage of what YouTube has to offer to help his students build stories around the videos. The narratives that each person chooses after watching a 30-second clip of an animal doing apparently nothing (like the frog, and the panda) are nothing short of wonderful. They vary greatly and tell us how differently we can interpret the world. If you would like to know more about Jamie’s inspirational tips to storytelling (or 4pm videotelling, as he calls it), check out his website here. My takeaways: 1) Jamie is indeed a great storyteller who can keep you on your toes till the very end; 2) Almost any video can be used in the classroom to give students autonomy and spark a little creativity; 3) Jamie said: “BrELT is one of the best things to come out from Facebook”. You’re right, Jamie.
We had a quick coffee break and got another shot of caffeine. Then we had to move quite fast to find where we were supposed to be. I decided to go to Marcela Cintra’s “Observe to Blossom” session. Marcela Cintra is a professional I’ve admired since my time at Cultura Inglesa in São Paulo. I hope she knows that. She started by asking us what type of observations there were and gave us precious tips on how to blossom from sitting in our peers’ classes or even from getting pointers from peers who watched us or simply watching ourselves teaching (the feared filmed observations). Planning is key and setting an observation goal is paramount to make sure there is something clear that can be assessed and become the feedback target. A quote that summarizes it well was:
“Doctors have to sit and observe surgeries and we have to sit and observe lessons”.
Indeed, Marcela! I loved when she said that we were above doctors because we have to operate on many “patients” at the same time.
Two things I will keep: 1) Observing is a great way to learn techniques from our peers; 2) Blossoming does happen when you observe or get observed. After all, it was by observing Marcela herself, and some other references to me, and what she has conquered that I have gotten this far in my own career. Thanks for setting the wonderful example, Marcela.
Another coffee break. Sugar and caffeine. The sweet aroma of books coming from the shelves and tables. Faces I had only seen as profile photos on Facebook and Instagram. Exciting!
The last part of this energizing morning had three presenters: Giselle da Silva. Eduardo Mazzeu, and Nicolle Suazo Albornoz, who came all the way from Chile.
Giselle shared her incredible experience with Project-Based Learning in a public school in Espírito Santo. Even though she had only 20 minutes to share, her enthusiasm was palpable while she talked about how her students got to speak more by making and playing board games. Guess Who and Go Fish are excellent tools to make your lessons more communicative
Eduardo’s great tips on how to make listening activities more meaningful and pleasant reverberated in every teacher’s mind in that classroom. Not only did he give us interesting statistics about how we communicate (we hear between 20,000 and 30,000 words a day, we spend about 55% of our time engaged in listening, and only 7% of our communication is conveyed in the form of words) but he also suggested some cool resources: Lyrics Training and Lingo Rank. He also mentioned the importance of joining discussion groups. WhatsApp is a great tool for that.
Nicolle showed us the very interesting scenario of mentoring in Chile. She pointed out aspects such as lack of linkage between universities and schools, lack of mentoring courses, unclear roles of mentors, and the communication between supervisors and mentors as areas that need improvement. She made clear that mentors should be professionals mentees look up to and her message to those mentors who are unsure of what they need to be was spot on:
“You need to be the mentor that you needed when you were being mentored”
Nicolle Suazo Albornoz
Her insights on Chile’s situation made me reflect on our reality in Brazil.
After this great CPD morning, off to lunch we went. I still have more about the afternoon sessions. Stay tuned for more! You can’t miss the next post about part II.
So far I can only say it was fantastic to witnesses this event come true. I hope I was able to convey my message (or at least 7% of it) with these words.
To give you another great perspective, here’s Stephan Hughes’ take on the event.