How teachers can inspire and be inspired by teaching

My name is André Hedlund and I’m a teacher. But I’m not just a teacher. I’m an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in the country that currently holds the 63rd position in science skills, 59th in reading, and 66th in mathematics according to OECD’s PISA survey. These numbers would alone be bad, considering that there are almost 200 sovereign nations in the world, however, they’re even more disastrous when we realize that only 70 nations were assessed. I live in Brazil and I am certainly not proud of my country’s current educational status. Now, if you are reading this, after you finish, take a few moments to check where your country stands and answer yourself the following question: “Am I proud of my country’s position?” If you’re not, I hope my text will help you find the strength to pursue your mission of changing that scenario. If you are, I hope my text will make you realize how much you can contribute to the world’s teaching community and help peers become transformation agents.

Let’s start with my story. I became an EFL teacher by accident in 2005. I was 19 years old and I was looking for a job. I saw an ad in the newspaper and went to an interview. I didn’t have any background in teaching, but, nevertheless I got the job. I have a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and I did one year and a half of a Political Science master’s course before I realized that was not what I wanted. I’ve had bad moments in my career, thought of giving up a couple of times, and in 2015 I embraced the fact that my mission was to be a teacher and teacher trainer. I knew I had some talent and I came to terms with the idea that I love my profession and that being a teacher is my life’s goal. I am now a Chevening Scholar at the end of my MSc Psychology of Education in Bristol (read about it here)

But being a teacher is a challenge. The biggest and most necessary of challenges. We teach, educate and connect our students to knowledge. Knowledge that they might not run across if it weren’t for us. And it is with this knowledge, no matter in which area, that we transform the world. Remember this and find the necessary motivation to continue transforming lives, which, in turn, transform the world. If you’re on the bottom of that OECD list, it means that, just like me, you’re not treated by the society and the government as you should. You’re not respected like teachers in Japan or Finland. That’s another reason to stay strong and keep fighting against adversity. You’re even more necessary.

Allow me to paraphrase an amazing author who, with a brilliant idea, love, and dedication, has transformed the world. In an epic speech, she said that she had failed in her personal, financial and love life on a scale that perhaps no one would experience. But her failures changed her focus to the only job that really mattered in her life: writing. And, after several rejections and prejudice, she became the author the world knows. Her name? J.K. Rowling.

I have “failed” – or at least haven’t completed things – on many levels of my life. However, my failures have also shown me the only possible path for me: education. I don’t intend to become a multi-millionaire as Harry Potter’s author, but I do intend to transform the world as much as or even more than she did. After all, J.K. Rowling was somebody’s student. And many somebodies were, are and will be my students. And I honestly hope that any sparkle from the knowledge I have shared, share and will share with them will be enough to make them as transformative as J.K. Rowling or, simply, transformative in their own way. Mine was, is and will always be teaching. As Malala Yousafzai  so brilliantly put:

“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world”

Malala

Become an agent of transformation in your community. How can you accomplish that? Well, I started reading about teaching and education. I traveled to different countries to interview experts and to do professional development. I started presenting at conferences and symposia. I met references in my area and became a member of Facebook groups. I started following inspiring educators and people who promote education such as Sir Ken Robinson, Ken Wilson, Jim Scrivener, Scott Thornbury, JK Rowling, among others, on social media and blogs. I designed professional development courses and masterclasses (check them out here), started a group on Facebook, a blog, and an Instagram account. I started a journal about my teaching and enrolled in online courses about teaching, ELT, education, and neuroscience.

And I’ve just got started. My next steps will be finishing my MSc, implementing a brain-research-based educational program in Brazil, starting a global initiative for education, and getting a PhD. I also want to become a TED Fellow.

My point is this: we’re living in an integrated world with nearly unlimited learning/teaching resources and we must take advantage of them. Implement the 21stCentury skills (or needed skills, as I prefer to call them) we want our students to use so much: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. Add Choice to the list.

If everyone sees education as a global mission and realizes their part in promoting it, we can create a movement that will knock down obstacles and inspire people to take action. And I truly believe we, English teachers of the world, are the ones with the necessary tools to make it happen. We don’t simply teach English, we teach an instrument of empowerment. A tool that enables our students to claim their global citizenship and communicate with different cultures. We teach people how to talk to other people and exchange experiences. Let’s do what we are teaching. Let us talk to teachers from different realities and learn from successful stories.

Regardless of being at the top of OECD’s list or the bottom, remember one thing: you could be the teacher who inspired Malala to fight for her right to education. Or maybe the teacher who motivated JK Rowling in her English literature classes. Or even, who knows, the teacher who made Sir Ken Robinson want to become an educator. Be inspired by your teaching. Be an inspiration to your students and be an inspiration to other teachers.

To help you get started, here’s my list:

  • 1) Embrace your mission. Realize that you play a vital role in education, no matter which area you work with. Teaching goes far beyond what happens inside our classrooms. Decide to be an agent of change.
  • 2) Teach, reflect, and research. Keep a journal and share with your colleagues and peers around the world, talk to them about best practices. Check out the latest literature on your area. Watch TED Talks, read blogs, attend webinars and conferences. Write and publish articles.
  • 3) Start a blog or a Facebook group/page. If you’ve been told by your colleagues that you have a gift, share it with the teaching community. Help identify teaching talents and convince them to start sharing as well.
  • 4) Educate everyone around you about education. Insist on the idea that it is through education that we become great and change the world.
  • 5) Get inspired. Watch the videos below:

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

Geoffrey Canada: Our failing schools. Enough is enough!

Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion

Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit: The power of passion and perseverance

Linda Cliatt-Wayman: How to fix a broken school? Lead fearlessly, love hard

Joe Ruhl: Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future 

The Finland Phenomenon: The Best Education System

Hopefully, with your help, I can take my country from the bottom of that list. And so can you, or at least help other people accomplish that. After all:

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. 

Nelson Mandela

MASTERCLASS RECORDING

Receive the link to watch this amazing MASTERCLASS with important tips on classroom strategies based on the Science of Learning. We'll talk about some of the best classroom strategies based on the Science of Learning suggested by 5 authors, a lot of research, and years of teaching experience. This is part of the dissertation I am writing at the University of Bristol. Things you will learn about (hopefully): -attention, memory; -emotions, mindsets, motivation; -methods, assessment;

$20.00

Braz-Tesol SIG Symposium – Day 2

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Natália Guerreiro inspired me (and Mr. Trunk, obviously) during her incredibly well-delivered plenary on CPD

The second day of Braz-Tesol SIG Symposium was phenomenal. It started with the interesting plenary of Marcelo Barros about school management. Marcelo is in the Leadership and Management (LAM) SIG and he talked about our economic system, how it affects the market, the fact that China is what resembles the most what we have, except for one major detail: China accepts only Native English-Speaking Teachers (NESTs). He also laid out the 4 pillars of management:

-Learning to know

-Learning to do

-Learning to live together

-Learning to be

Next, I attended my dear friend Claire Venables’ amazing session on Reflection, Empowerment, and Action. In her session, we were forced (good sense here) to look back and think of the best professional decision we made in the past six months so that we could identify how we’re moving forward toward our goal. She made us write down (this was the brain dump bit) some of the experiences and achievements we would like to have by the end of this year. Her great presentation enlightened me and gave me the clarity I need to focus on my mission. Her mission is to CREATE, CONTRIBUTE, CONNECT and I’m amazed at how much she has accomplished already. It was only because of this session that I was able to write down my mission for the first time: SHARE, INSPIRE, CHANGE. Thank you so much, Claire! Your tip on how to mind mind traps and mindsets has set me on a course of accomplishing even more great things.

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My next experience was simply fantastic! I had the privilege of watching Natália Guerreiro’s first plenary. She’s with the Teacher Development (TD) SIG. The funny thing is that I’ve always wanted to meet Natália in person and that when she saw me the day before, she shouted: “That’s André Hedlund!” I had a blast! Then we met during the coffee break and when I asked her how she was doing, she replied: “I got the flu and I’m nervous because of my presentation”. Well, Natália, if I had known how awesome your presentation would be, I would’ve told you not to be nervous at all. I confess it’s been a while since I’ve attended such a fun, well-thought, well-delivered, thought-provoking session. The only experience I can use to compare is when I left the movie theater after watching La La Land with my wife (I hope Natália doesn’t hate La La Land, LOL). I felt lighter and inspired. She talked about Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and I’m pretty sure I can say this on behalf of all the attendees: YOU ROCKED, Natália! She talked about the feelings teachers have toward CPD, especially fear of exposure, and how CPD can be found in the smallest things, such as Class Observation. She mentioned Hattie and Freire and the paradox of being in education and not wanting to learn or keep learning, the distance teachers think there is between theory and practice, Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset and more. My greatest insight was realizing the difference between TRAINING and DEVELOPMENT. Development is personal and, naturally, comes from a personal decision. Her geek side categorized everything she talked about in a very fun, and The Big Bang Theory-fan, way:

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I also enjoyed reading Henry Ford’s quote:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

After many laughs (I actually had tears in my eyes when she talked about the carrots, “entendedores entenderão”) and an incredible response from the audience, she wrapped up with Dr. Twerski’s lobster anecdote about discomfort and progress:

Thank you, Natália! Never stop presenting!
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Following Natália’s great plenary, I attended another mindblowing session by Alberto Costa. He showed us how to go beyond the 21st-Century Skills four Cs and, with a very intelligent analogy with marbles, he made us realize that we’ve been Communicating, Creating, Collaborating and Critically Thinking for a long time, not just in the new millennium. He moved his way through the three industrial/technological revolutions and showed us the incredible 4.0 revolution with cloud computing, big data, augmented reality, among others. He also mentioned how important it was for teachers to become digital literates (check Cambridge’s The Digital Teacher website here) and he recommended a great article by The Economist you can find here.  Another wonderful suggestion was the pioneering book Multiliteracies by Cope & Kalantzis. I can’t wait to start reading it. He showed us the three foundational skills: creativity, problem-solving, and empathy. My takeaway can be summarized in his quote:

“Teachers will be more like project managers than teachers.”

I felt really honored to be mentioned because of my Braz-Tesol Newsletter article and lovely project with my Iraqi friend Afrah.

Thank you, Alberto! Too bad we didn’t get to eat the kebabs we ordered in the evening. But the pizza was amazing!

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Then I went to Karin Galvão’s amazing Let’s Get Critical about Critical Thinking session. She was upfront and told us right away that she is annoying and that when she was in high school the principal called her parents because she “asked too many questions”. LOL. I loved the way she made us think critically by asking questions. The highlights for me were the fact that we had to come up with our own answers and question assumptions, and also discuss questions such as: “Is a paper dictionary better than an electronic one?” or “Is it fair that a CEO earns 20 times more than an employee?”. She really made us think about being critical thinkers and how to deal with critical thinkers. I, for one, fit all the items on her list about critical thinkers! I suppose she was right when she showed us Lichtenberg’s quote:

“Nothing is more conducive to peace of mind than not having any opinion at all.”

Thinking critically is not easy but it is certainly a must!

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The last plenary was given by the incredible Cecília Nobre, to whom I owe so much since she was the one who inspired me to start blogging. She is part of the Voices SIG, a group of wonderful women who discuss gender issues and empower women’s voices in the ELT community. That was the topic of her talk: gender issues in the classroom and how to tackle them. I would like to acknowledge Cecília’s courage to talk about such an essential topic before 250+ people. It took a lot of guts to be standing there and raise the questions she did. She started by showing us a bit of her life as a child and the fact that she was bullied and did not feel comfortable in the pictures she brought to us. Then she shared with us the results of a survey she did on social media about the issue and, to my surprise, the number one reason why teachers are reluctant to address those issues in the classroom is that they feel students don’t have much to talk about when questioned about them. We discussed with peers and came to the realization that the underlying problem is how uncomfortable they feel when discussing such things. She gave us tips and showed as the humorous video the amazing Ellen Degeneres made, which you can find here. Nonetheless, and that’s definitely the takeaway I want to share with you, gender issues are not to be treated lightly and most certainly need to be addressed in the classroom.

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Thank you, Cecília! Your talk inspired me and other attendees to keep on fighting for equal rights and to bring our students together to fight the cause.

You probably envy me, right now, don’t you? Yes, what can I say! It was one of the best events I attended and every single session made me a better professional, eager to make a change through my practice. My suggestion: attend one of these conferences wherever you are and share with the ELT community because it is true that:

The more we are, the stronger we become!

If you want to share your experience here, feel free.

PS: I felt incredibly special and fullfilled when many of the great professionals I admire came to me to say they have subscribed to my blog or simply accessed it. You guys make me want to do more! Thank you!

Braz-Tesol SIG Symposium – Together we are stronger

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With my eyes wide open to absorb everything in this wonderful event in São Paulo

Two days of learning and connecting with fantastic people. That’s what the Special Interest Group (SIG) Symposium is all about. At the beautiful Instituto Singularidades venue, in the vibrant neighborhood Pinheiros, this event has brought together great names of the ELT world to share their knowledge within each of the 10 Braz-Tesol SIGs. So, this entry is my modest attempt to capture this precious moment by sharing some of the takeaways from the sessions I attended.

The opening plenary was given by Rita Ladeia and Selma Moura in the bilingualism SIG. They talked about the curriculum in bilingual education and a quote that stuck with me was:

Curriculum is not just what’s  written in the book, but everything that happens in the class

They also mentioned that there are 75 sovereign territories where English is an official language and that we, English teachers, are teaching an instrument of power. I learned the terms Metalinguistic Awareness (a child’s incredible capability of mixing two or more languages to communicate), and Garcia’s Translanguaging (the influence L1 and L2 have on each other, increasing literacy in both). When they talked about cognition and how the linguistic codes are not isolated in different areas in our brains, I remembered all of the studies I’ve been reading about neuroscience.

They wrapped up with policies for bilingual schools and the sentence:

Considering language a TOOL, not a GOAL

Next, I went to Sylvia de Moraes’ session on how children benefit from early learning. Her talk involved a lot of concepts of neuroscience and some studies showing that early exposure increases mental development, reasoning and memorization skills, self-esteem, as well as mathematical and logical skills. She mentioned that 10-12 years of age is a period known as critical age, as it becomes more difficult for children to learn after that window once they are entering puberty. The most interesting fact to me was to see a brain scan of a child and another of an adult learner. The child’s brain showed a larger and intertwined area when stimulated to speak two different languages. The adult’s brain had more defined and separated areas.

The second session of the morning for me was Paulo Torres’ take on bilingual education. He answered a lot of questions I had about the subject and even tapped into the field I love so much: neuroscience! He talked about the importance Donna Fields (EduCluster Finland) places on emotion how it is key to learning effectively. The best part was when he showed us a new list of essential 21st-century skills with not 4, but 13 items! Want to know more about it? Click here.

After lunch, we attended the inspiring plenary given by Ana Maria Menezes in the EduTech SIG. She showed us how to use technology to foster collaboration and encourage students to take chances in writing. I was moved by the samples she brought of her students’ letters and how they were able to work together using a concept map-making app called Popplet  in such an innovative way. The feedback she got from her students highlighted words such as empowerment, opportunity, collaboration. Not only were they able to accomplish more, but they were also introduced to a new tool that is now being used in seminars by the very same students. She ended the session with the great quote:

I can be more of a teacher by being less of teacher

The next session was Jacques Freitas’ and it was about international programs. Jacques represents Education First (EF) and he talked about opportunities for educators. He stressed the fact that Brazil is not doing well in the English department, having less than 1.8% of its population speaking English at an intermediate or high-intermediate level. He also explained how they assess students going on international programs. My takeaway was that having any international experience and being proactive are the two aspects that matter the most. You can find more information about EF here.

Then, the most expected moment arrived for me. I finally met the wonderful Mirela Ramacciotti whose work on the brand new Mind, Brain & Education (MBE) science promises to revolutionize education. Mirela delivered a fun and mindblowing talk on how neuroscience, psychology, and education have been brought together to form what is known as neuroeducation. She debunked some neuromyths and left participants longing for more. It was a special session because it was also the launch of the new MBE SIG in which I take part. We met the team and started sharing ideas. Brace yourselves! Great things are coming! If you want to check out some of the entries I have about this topic, click here, here, and here.IMG_20170708_181120_283

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Last but not least, the incredibly funny and inspiring John Corbett delivered the last plenary of the day about the Intercultural Language Education (ILE) SIG. He talked about cultural differences in the classroom and the topics we were (are?) often told to avoid: politics, religion, and sex. His brilliant session showed how things can be completely different from one country to another and, to illustrate, he showed the political campaign of Covas and Maluf in the 90’s. It was enlightening! It emphasized the fact that we can definitely use materials in L1 to develop critical thinking in L2. The way he interpreted the billboards was quite impressive because he used the photos, the colors, the appearance, and, of course, the text to analyze the message they meant to send. Truly inspiring!

And, obviously, look who came with me below. My travel buddy is always around!
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To sum up I will only say that being here in this event with these wonderful speakers who took the time to study, prepare and present the results of their efforts is a unique opportunity that has opened my eyes and given me more motivation to keep pursuing my mission of sharing, inspiring and changing the context of education in this country. I truly believe that TOGETHER we are STRONGER.

If you are attending the symposium, you are welcome to share your takeaways here!

 

 

Sharing to multiply: the unbeatable old formula of life, and just about anything, including Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

CPD.pngI’m a science addict. Everything, really. You know what’s one of my favorite books? The Illustrated Version of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. His eloquence and simplicity make such a dense topic flow so easily inside our brains that it is a delight to discover the depths of the universe as one of the most brilliant minds unravels it. Charles Darwin is another idol of mine, and I absolutely love the theory of evolution and the scientific method. And if there’s one thing I learned from science and my irreverent high school Biology teacher is that life will find a way. Or, as said by one of Jurassic Park’s characters: “Life will out”

Do you know how life “outs”? By sharing, and, obviously, multiplying. See, a cell’s life expectancy is really very short, and it spends most of its lifetime preparing to multiply. It first duplicates its genetic material, shares it with what’s about to become a new, however identical, cell, and it finally multiplies itself.

I’m discussing Biology here because the analogy seemed to fit this week. I will be sharing my knowledge and that of my peers at two exciting events. The first will take place in Belo Horizonte, MG, and I’ll lecture about the Neuroscience of Bilingualism for National Geographic. My highly-skilled peer Claire Venables will also be there discussing Professional Development. The second will be the Braz-Tesol Conference in Goiânia, from which I borrow the title of this entry: Sharing to Multiply. I will talk about how sharing made me realize my life’s purpose and attending this conference is certainly a type of Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

The purpose of this writing piece is exactly that: to share. And in sharing, to discuss CPD. In order to do so, I’d like to introduce the epitome of sharing nowadays: a hashtag. How about #isharetomultiply? The idea is to share something you produced, are proud of, have heard about or anything worth sharing. What I’m sharing with you is my precious   Chapter II of my still unborn book about education. At the end of the chapter’s intro, there’s a list of some wonderful online courses you can do for free or for very little money. I cannot forget to mention that this epiphany came to me because of my recently completed British Council Teaching for Success: Learning and Learners course. The intense sharing with FutureLearners and educators was simply phenomenal and the sense of accomplishment throughout this four-week, objective and extremely useful course was wonderful.future.png

CHAPTER II

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection”.

Mark Twain

The vital role of professional development

One of these days, quite unpretentiously I must say, while browsing through my LinkedIn profile, I came across a quote by a man named Peter Baeklund who’s been working as a Professional Trainer and Coach, owns a leadership company and consults for a number of executives and businesses in Denmark. It goes like this:

“CFO asks CEO: What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?

CEO: What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

Credits to one of my former colleague Hulgo Freitas, whom I follow on LinkedIn and always posts interesting quotes and tips. I naturally had to repost it and try to get this out to as many people as I could. I suppose what drove me to do that was a sense that in many situations it is exactly what happens. Companies, schools, and universities will, especially in my country (at least that’s the feeling), prioritize saving money rather than developing their staff. It is a widespread notion that spending money that is not for paying the salary or benefits is not worth spending (we’ll talk about the exceptions too). Was it always like this? Has anything changed over the years?

To illustrate what has changed, allow me to share one experience I had. I remember when I was an undergrad International Relations student in São Paulo and my university brought in an expert who coached young entrepreneurs for a workshop. He showed us two intriguing charts with the following patterns:

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After asking a group of give or take 20 students and getting nothing but silence for an answer, he told us the first chart represented a worker’s life in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (perhaps even the 70’s). A person would get a job and work for the same company for basically the rest of their lives, starting from below in production (let’s use a factory as an example), moving up one degree in the ladder and taking over the mentor position, then supervisor, manager of the department moving up little by little toward, who knows, even presidency. It was a steady line to the top. This was surely my father’s case, who started out as a junior electrical engineer and ended up as chief of his section and international liaison reporting back to Sweden at Asea Brown Bovery (ABB). He worked at the same company for over 40 years. He was the guy they looked for when they couldn’t solve something. He was what we call an “expert”. A few people could do his job. I’m taking a bold guess here and assuming your dad or even granddad followed similar paths (and, depending on the year you were born, maybe you too).

What about the second chart with many ups and downs? Well, that represents my generation. The babies of the baby boomers. Generation Y or Millennials, if you may. Born in the late 70’s or 80’s – some authors will even consider the 90’s – into a world of technology and abundance, at the peak of capitalism and the blossom of hundreds of new fields. According to the “expert” lecturing in my university, these workers have a totally different profile. They work a couple of years (sometimes even less than a year) here and then move to another company there, always seeking satisfaction, personal and professional growth. Now, the funny fact about my generation’s erratic movement to the top is that satisfaction doesn’t always mean more money or a higher position. It’s OK for this worker to start at the bottom in a different company as long as it fulfills a certain need and offers a perspective of learning (and growth). And, since technology and professional development are widely available, a “multipotentialite” (a person with many interests and great adaptability skills, according to career coach Emilie Wapnik) is preferred on many occasions.

What I intend to discuss in this chapter is how the fast-moving world has been demanding professionals with expertise in the area they are working and, simultaneously, workers with skills that can add value to the company – a differential. Being both an “expert” and a “multipotentialite” seems to be a reality anyone in the job market has faced, faces or will face. And to make matters worse, we have to achieve those on our own many times as companies may be reluctant to offer professional development opportunities. That is exactly why my focus here will be on how teachers/educators can keep investing in their own careers without relying solely on their school’s, university’s or any other institution’s initiatives. I will offer tips and discuss ways in which we can improve through online courses, conferences, conventions and symposia, lectures and workshops and, the best part, most of which we can do free of charge. I will share with you my journey in 2016 and what I learned from the professionals I met with and interviewed. At the end of this chapter, you will have precious pointers and a list of courses and other professional development activities you can embark on. Also, since it never hurts to ask, I will teach you how to be more persuasive with your boss and get him/her to help you develop since being static doesn’t really benefit anyone.

END of the intro.

Let’s start with my online course list:

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/english-language-teaching
https://www.edx.org/course/classroom-strategies-inquiry-based-utaustinx-ut-iitl-11-02x
https://www.coursera.org/learn/being-a-teacher
http://eltjam.academy/p/elt-in-the-digital-age
https://www.linkedin.com/learning/teacher-tips

As for the conferences, symposia, and other events, I have only two tips for now. Become a member of your local Tesol committee, and check out this website:

https://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/calendar-of-events

Sorry about the long post, but sharing has these things. How about sharing a little? Use the space below and don’t forget the hashtag: #isharetomultiply

Life is all about sharing. And, in my opinion, we’re not sharing enough.