How to listen: A guide for TEFL Teachers

The human brain is an incredible organic machine, capable of processing more data in any given day than we can actually comprehend. As we grow, we quickly learn to filter what information is important and what is not. With the rise of the internet age of business, we are exposed to more marketing materials than ever before. This creates a near-constant state of bombardment and information overload, often causing us to disengage as our attention spans are lower than ever before. In turn, this often results in engaging with our inner dialogue, creating internal distractions that switch the dial from listening to hearing. When reflecting on how this affects our teaching dynamic, this can result in miscommunication and unnecessary stress applied in the classroom and beyond. This week’s article serves to explore how to switch back to listening and the effects that can be expected in dialogue and relationships by doing so. 

The Oxford dictionary defines hearing as “perceiving with the ear the sound made by someone or something.” In contrast to this, the definition for listening is to “give one’s attention to a sound”. What a monumental difference this makes. As a professional freelancing coach, a large percentage of my time is spent listening to people; so, one would assume that I am quite good at it. I do believe, however, that the path to improvement is never ending. And since my introduction to David Clutterbuck’s Five Levels of Listening, I am constantly evaluating my own progress. As such I have to admit; there were a lot of internal blocks and resistance that made this piece difficult to write. Writing another fluff piece on “how to listen effectively” that might not work in the TEFL classroom wouldn’t be very effective. So, I’ve worked through my own limiting beliefs to serve you this fresh perspective into active listening for teachers. 

In terms of listening, there are two very distinct categories that most TEFL communications fall into. I have been lucky to have a variety of teaching opportunities in China and Thailand. From these, I have gathered the many experiences that give me a unique insight into the lives of teachers – and their students – in the classroom, the school administrative office, the learning centre and the home.  

There are days when that quiet kid decides to join the activity, gets the answer right and glows. Or those light bulb moments when a partner teacher understands your ideas and says something supportive that adds to it. Those goofy times when you riff off your TA, crack jokes that the whole class understands and laughs at. These memories are ones you might have expected, when you told people you were moving to China to teach English. 

Obviously, not every experience goes that way. I understand and can relate to the frustration of being talked at rather than talked to. Being given additional work without the explanation of what is actually required. Told to just figure it out because that’s the way it’s always been. Or worse, that it doesn’t even matter what I do because I’m just another foreign face. I empathise with just how quickly this results in internal resistance. To listening rather than hearing. Because I’ve been right there in that boat too. 

There is an unfortunate truth about all of these scenarios that many of us struggle with as foreigners. We always have a choice, even when it seems that we have no control over many of the situations thrust upon us. This is harsh because it generally causes one of two responses – aggressive resistance or powerless submission. The instant feedback that comes next is called a reaction and it triggers an internal block to listening. Through my observations and work with clients who are involved in the TEFL or education industry, this is the leading cause of the high rates of turnover of foreign staff. There are also external blocks to listening, like the environmental situation, but these are covered in the countless other active listening articles and videos. 

The third, alternative option is not often advertised; the option that I personally call Switzerland. The teacher who responds in this manner is calm, neutral and rational. They keep their ego in check and are careful to consider the possibilities before deciding on the best course of action. The feedback that this listener provides is called a response. Contrary to popular belief, I have observed that this has nothing to do with maturity and everything to do with self-awareness. The reason this isn’t regularly displayed as the best possible choice is because we are usually raised in a society where freedom of speech is valued more than listening.  

I describe this as a choice because as we grow in awareness, we get to choose how we react or respond. We get to choose whether we engage with impatience, judgement and Being present, observing our thoughts and acknowledging our internal distractions are skills that can be honed to become better at active listening. That doesn’t always work within the cultural and language barriers, but consider for a moment that you might be speaking with a human and that you control 50% of the conversation. If someone speaks and you don’t listen, you are choosing to neglect your side of the dialogue and your responsibility as a listener. This also results in a loss of face or respect for the speaker on a cultural level. And if damaging that relationship is the outcome you seek; you probably aren’t reading this post. 

Regardless of who the speaker is, check yourself. Take a full inhale and exhale before you open your mouth. That’s pretty much it for my advice on active listening. Because, by removing the internal distractions you open up conversational possibilities that may never have existed before. And that would certainly make me more inclined to listen to you. 

Effective goal setting for educators

So far in this series, we have discussed the importance of developing teachers as Classroom Leaders, giving and receiving feedback effectively, creating strong professional intercultural relationships, and using the GROW method to manage the time and direction of a lesson. As lifelong learners ourselves, it is imperative to set a direction and goals around our own education as well as for our students. With high rates of teacher burnout leading to increasing rates of turnover, professional development amongst TEFL community can become stagnant. This article is intended to encourage effective goal setting and review professional success within the context of educator’s development.

The TEFL certificate, a bachelor’s degree, post graduate certificate, and home country teaching license are ultimately different destinations along the same journey. In coaching, choosing a particular destination along that journey and narrowing down the precise measures of success is what we call goal setting. While different countries and jobs have different requirements, the ultimate goal also reflects a certain commitment to the field of education or a teacher’s path in their professional life. We all have a desire to do well in our profession; the only real questions to be explored are how well, and also, how will we know when we have achieved this?

There is a degree of professionalism that exists around this conversation, and the idea of permanence is not always one that is considered when moving abroad. Many within the expat community have arrived seeking radical change in their lifestyles; it doesn’t get much more radical than living abroad. Over time I have observed that most people know that China is or isn’t the right place for them after 90 days. They either stick around in the same company or hop between a couple over the first few years. After that, expats in the TEFL community begin to shift in identity and question- is this really what I want to do with my life and in this location? It can be very difficult to set goals based on what is truly desired, as the identity of an individual is thrust into the whirlwind that is this lifestyle. However, that is precisely why the importance of goal setting is important.

Within a coaching relationship exists a variety of different goals that are discussed. We might begin with the client’s overall goal in a discovery session – why do they want to engage in a coaching agreement? If the client were a teacher for example, their goal might be to have more confidence in the classroom, to ask for a promotion at the end of the year or to formulate a career development strategy for the next 3-5 years. By partnering with a client, we can identify if they have a dream goal, an end goal, a performance goal or a process goal. And from here we can co-create a strategy that breaks down any goal into a smaller goal or series of goals and develop a plan that empowers them to take action.

SMART is a useful framework to consider when thinking about goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-framed). I see a lot of people setting goals that are specific, achievable and time-framed, however little thought is given to measurable and relevant. To make sure that we are actually successful in achieving our goal, we need to be able to measure it. This can be assessed very easily by asking of any goal – how will I know when I am successful? For a goal to be relevant, it must also be in alignment with what we actually desire. To set a goal of finishing typing up lesson plans by next Thursday is great, but it also needs to connect with your why. This reminds you that you need to get the plans done by Thursday because they are due on Friday.

Another key factor to success in goal setting is that it must be in our control. As Sir John Whitmore wrote in Coaching for Performance, “I have to is for you, I want to is for me”. When we create goals that rely on others, we begin to lose some of the control over the goal. The more control we lose over the goal, the less attached we are, and the least likely we are to achieve the results. Alternatively, by allowing someone else to drive the results while remaining highly attached, we can become highly stressed or anxious by the result, especially when they take the credit. One relatable comparison might be any teacher that has set the goal of becoming better at classroom management. A teacher that has tried to control the disruptive behaviour of their students, may have had some success. But the teacher who has controlled their response to the disruptive behaviour of their students is likely to have had a greater success.

Another critical component to setting achievable, efficient goals is that it remains positive. Any smoker who has tried to quit smoking rather than engage in smoke free lifestyle can attest to this. It doesn’t matter how much we remind them that smoking is bad for their health, it affects their appearance and their students tell them they smell like Grandpa. The negative reinforcement from quitting is part of what will always drive them back for another. I know this because I smoked for over 10 years. What helped me to finally make the decision to permanently put down the cigarettes was a psychological change. I had to take ownership of my goal, and I had to reframe it in a positive way. I wanted freedom from the addiction of smoking, I wanted to remove the weight of “smoker” as a label on my identity. That was almost a year ago and since then I have gone on to coach others through the very same process.

Effective goal setting for teachers is what defines success within the TEFL industry in China and beyond. That could be in the way classrooms are managed physically or virtually today, it could mean creating a professional development strategy over the course of the next school year, or it could be developing an exit strategy to transition out of teaching in the next 5 years. Whatever goals you are setting professionally, I encourage you to stay accountable to them by assessing them against these criteria.

If you would like help to set, achieve or review your goals, send me a message today!

Managing Time and Direction using the GROW Method

Effective time management is a skill which many people list on their CV yet few actually understand and even less employ. It is a crucial skill for teachers to develop an awareness of, as they demonstrate this to their students on both a conscious and a subconscious level. The best lesson is one which activates learning, includes the sharing of information and elicits high student engagement. By using a clear structure within both the planning and classroom setting, teachers can provide a greater sense of stability within their classroom routines. This encourages clearer expectations and direction for all involved.

Lesson planning is the bane of many teachers’ existence. With so many varying critical factors to consider, it can be quite the challenge for a new teacher. Indeed, even an experienced teacher meeting a new class, grade or school for the first time can be a somewhat harrowing. There are several “right” ways to plan a lesson, and yet one critical factor often overlooked is the structure of a lesson. This article serves to introduce a simple model that can be used to consider the framework of a singular lesson, a series of lessons as part of a unit, or a series of units creating the curriculum.

The GROW model is an adaptable 4-step model that was first developed in the late ‘80s by Sir John Whitmore. It is a highly interactive technique which can be used to structure team discussions or overall classroom goals by looking at the purpose, measures of success, obstacles and ways to move forward. In coaching, I personally use the GROW model to structure the time and direction of individual sessions. For the purpose of this article, we will investigate the use of the GROW model within an individual lesson.

G – Goal. Several studies have concluded that there is a direct link between setting goals and achieving success in them. Within a coaching context, co-creating a clearly defined session agreement is critical to measuring success. This could be compared to a student’s learning objective in a classroom environment. However, in a classroom setting, the learning objective is often directed to the student from the teacher. By asking powerful questions, the teacher as a Classroom Leader can explore their student’s motivations behind learning. Involving students in the early stages of goal setting could have a greater impact and therefore help them to commit to achieving the goal of increased learning. With better understanding, the teacher as a Classroom Leader can plan activities to elicit higher student engagement and learning happens intuitively.

R – Reality. The reality is that not every student has the desire to learn every subject or possess the same level of ability within a class. This is especially true within the TEFL classroom. In fact, there are several barriers to student learning across the education industry. However, one key element of the coaching mindset is detachment from the outcome. Truly, there is no way to force any student to learn; it is a process they must take their own responsibility for. As teachers, all we can do is create an environment where they feel safe enough to take their own leaps of faith in learning and vulnerable enough to try. This can be done by assessing internal and external barriers to learning, and removing or minimising them as much as possible. It may also be of value to discuss some of the barriers to students. For example, discussing their internal feedback allows them to develop greater self-awareness. This, in turn, enables them to learn for themselves what motivates and what disempowers them. Ultimately, this leads to greater autonomy and responsibility for their own learning.

O – Options/ Obstacles. In assessing the reality of the situation, student’s and clients alike are probably going to feel a little disheartened. This is where the coach and the teacher as a Classroom Leader need to trust the method the most. Instead of slipping into the spiral of despair, this is the point in the model where we get to open up to greater possibility and inspiration. It can be easy to give in to the temptation to advise; instead, try challenging your student’s and really listening to their responses. Paraphrase their obstacles and return them with a question that requires them to think. Yes, it might be challenging, so what would make it easier? Yes, this might be boring for you, so how can you share your knowledge as a resource with your classmates? Yes, I acknowledge that you aren’t interested in practising this grammar point, so how can we make it more fun? Involving students in this process encourages participation in dialogue which allows them to feel heard and acknowledged.

W – Way/ Will forward. As long as students can come up with ideas and feel listened to, record their responses. Collect these as they may be highly valuable later when you want inspiration for the next lesson/ unit/ class. Show them you respect their ideas by incorporating some of the feedback you were given. Ask them how they would like to get started. How will they stay accountable? How will they show you they are successful in their goal? How committed do they feel to this goal now? How will they stay accountable? How do they want to improve on this in the future? This builds further on their autonomy, putting the responsibility back on them for their learning.

By following the GROW framework, teachers as Classroom Leaders could boost student engagement and autonomy. This creates the space to focus on the time, direction and completeness when delivering their lesson. There are multiple scenarios where this method could be effective from curriculum planning, team meetings or drafting a field trip Try using the GROW model, stay curious to what opportunities open up, and let me know how effective it was for you!

A Coach’s Classroom Takeover

In 2018, I left my TEFL classroom, transitioning into tutoring and literacy coaching before taking some time out for my professional development. I enjoyed working as a literacy coach because it met my passion for reading and my desire to inspire lifelong learning, while combining it with the skills I had picked up working in TEFL. However, I found that I wanted to push the inspiration for lifelong learning beyond literacy. After feeling burned out from the industry, I felt unsupported by my local expat community and I wanted to create a service for the many other expat TEFL teachers I saw burning out in the industry. I did some research, worked to get my first ICF accreditation and began working towards establishing myself as an independent coach. As I began building my business, I reflected on how I could work towards giving back and providing value through my unique perspective. This Coaching in Education series is one such response, so I wanted to take some time this week to “imagine if” I was to walk back into a teaching role today. 

As any good teacher would, we ought to start with lesson planning. As a coach, my intuition has grown from what could only be described as “teacher instinct”. I was that teacher that could be handed a lesson plan, quickly form a judgement on how effective it would be, and wing it when I just wasn’t feeling it. Nowadays, if I were to be handed such a lesson plan, I would scan for the teaching outcome or objective… and probably still wing it. Coaching has reinforced for me that the best laid plans can quickly be derailed. Instead I would take 5 minutes and work out some stepping stones or connections that might help my students get from A to B, but I wouldn’t necessarily share them with the class.

Every class that I ever taught started with a review usually in the form of a game, because it gave the students a chance to warm up while I observed their energy, who was missing and who was fighting with who. It also gave them a chance to get a quick win by celebrating something they already knew. In my opinion, acknowledging their accomplishments is something I consider so important that I have also carried it over to my coaching clients. It’s not often as adults that we stop to reflect on the progress we have actually made since yesterday, last week or last month. As a coach, and along my own journey, I find that taking time to do this reinforces the motivation my clients and I have to reach our goals. Today, I would still use this technique to build rapport with my students, developing trust and letting them know that I care for them and their goals.

Next, I would introduce the lesson objective by introducing a bullet point list on the whiteboard of what some measures of success would be. It would usually be something like “learn 5 new words, use the new words in a sentence, spell the 5 words”. As we discovered in a previous post titled Effective Goal Setting for Educators, by asking the students to set their own learning goals, it flips the responsibility over to them and encourages student autonomy. This also resonates with me as a coach, asking my clients to set their own measures of success for a coaching session, following the line of inquiry into why those measures are important and asking my clients at the end of a session how they will reward themselves when they have reached their success for the week. If I was to step back into the classroom now, the difference is that I would involve my students in the learning objective by asking them how they would know they were successful, rather than dictating this to them. Having also taught a variety of levels within one class, I would ask for 2 or 3 measures of success because I know that some students require more of a challenge.

Introducing vocabulary in the past might have meant holding up some word cards and asking students to repeat and point to the picture in their books. Now, I would begin by writing some simple sentences on the board to give my students some context clues. I would follow up by asking the class to elicit the possible meaning and why they think that. Then, I’d ask the class to vote by raising their hands if they agreed with each suggestion. By letting students vote if they think the suggestions are correct it involves the whole class, so even if students don’t know they may be more willing to get involved in the activity. This reminds me of one of the presuppositions of all coaches, that clients already have their answers or the resources to find out. As adults, we often don’t recognise what we already do know, or that we do have resources available to us in the form of people, knowledge, or experience. Sometimes it takes a coach to pull that childlike risk of saying something out loud or challenging ourselves out of us. 

Moving on to the grammar section, I would erase words from the sentences previously written on the whiteboard and play a memory game to get students to use the example sentences while I continue to erase words and have the class chorus the full answer. As a teacher, I found repetition one of the dullest required parts of a lesson, as did many of my students. So, I would usually find some way to add at least an element of fun to it by calling the answer and giving points to the team who was loudest, quietest or adding gestures and seeing which team was paying the most attention. The competition that this created was often enough to engage the most disruptive students. As a coach, my clients sometimes struggle with competition in the form of comparing themselves to others, or where they think they “should be” in terms of their goals. I work with my clients to challenge them to play that game with themselves instead. By comparing where they were a year ago to where they are now, clients can come up with their own empowering statements and oftentimes, when I repeat this back to them a breakthrough happens and their passion is reignited.

When ending the lesson, my students would always line up to receive their stamps and I would double up on this time by asking them to review one new piece of vocabulary again. This final review reinforced their learning while giving them an opportunity to try for one last bonus stamp if they could use the word in a sentence. If I were in a classroom now, I would scrap this idea in favour of asking my students one simple question and giving them a bonus stamp for answering- “what did you learn today?”. This enables the student to give feedback, possibly about the activity, possibly about the vocabulary or possibly about their own learning. As a coach, asking the very same question enables my clients to identify what helped them and sometimes that is enough to help them move forward.

I hope this post has served to show how easily coaching techniques could be modified to suit the classroom. While teaching and coaching are so similar and complement each other well, they are not quite the same. There is a fine line in the differences between teaching and coaching, which I believe is best summed up by looking at the two sides of coaching; the being and the doing. While both are equally important; one is a skill while the other is a mindset. The doing of coaching is akin to the practical side of learning, rather than the theory. It is in the asking of powerful questions, the use of mental exercises and the deep listening. The mindset embodied by a coach is similar, almost an extension of, the growth mindset that translates into the majority of teacher training. This leads me to believe that coach training would make an incredibly useful resource in any classroom or learning environment, especially within the TEFL or language learning context.

Feedback. How to do it right

In our last post we opened up to the idea of developing teachers as Classroom Leaders. We began to see how shifting some of the responsibilities of the teacher creates an environment where students become more responsible for their own learning and development. As the 2019-2020 school year draws to a close locally in China, many teachers are receiving their end-of-year review and asked to provide feedback. This can create tension within working environments as beliefs and cultures can clash about what makes effective criteria for evaluation, and how this is given and received.

Today I want to introduce to a tool that will revolutionise the way you feel about feedback. It’s called FeedForward. This concept was introduced by Marshall Goldsmith, and it was originally created as a way to help businesses learn and grow. Like many tools, this is useful to adapt into education as it sets a much more positive tone in both the office and classroom environment. This is achieved by putting the responsibility back onto the learner, creating that same autonomy that the teacher as a Classroom Leader instils into their student.

In FeedForward there are two roles; Role One as The Learner, and Role Two as The Helper. You can assume that there are both smart and nice people in the room because it is possible that every human has the potential to be both of these things. If we can imagine this is true, we can suppose that you want to learn from the smart people and help the nice people. If you don’t believe me, just ask the smart/ nice people to raise their hands in your next meeting. So, if there are smart people we want to learn from and nice people we want to help, how can we do so? The answer is to focus on feeding forward.

There are only two rules with FeedForward. The first is NO feedback about the past. If it’s gone, done and can’t be changed, how does verbally repeating and berating mistakes serve to improve the teacher? It doesn’t. That is why it is always met with a silent or defensive stance that doesn’t actually help anyone. This type of feedback tears down their accomplishments, invalidates their efforts and chips away at the self-esteem. It also creates the idea that TEFL teachers are disposable, reinforcing the instability which leads to depression about the past and anxiety about the future. Over time this can create a vicious cycle, causing teacher burn-out and high staff turnover. No one wants that. So, the focus needs to remain on what is controllable- the future.

The second rule is that you can’t critique or judge ideas. It is easy to be critical; what is challenging is to allow the teacher to be in control of their own development and improvement. In order for FeedForward to be effective, there needs to be trust. The Seeker must be able to ask for input from the smart person and receive ideas from the nice person. The recommended philosophy is to treat the input like a gift. When it is received, regardless of what it is, the socially accepted response is to say thank you and accept it with gratitude. Even if it is an ugly Christmas sweater and you are never going to wear it except maybe at an ugly sweater competition. It’s okay to say thank you and let it go.

This method has been used in both small and large groups, with individuals or teams. It follows an effectivr simple, repeatable formula. A one-on-one conversation might look like this:

“Hi, my name is Pam and I’m looking for ways to improve my percentage of students completing homework.”

Then you give me two or three ideas that you might use, without past feedback or critical judgements.

I say “thank you”

And then you say “Hi my name is ABC and I’m looking for ways to improve my cross-cultural communication.”

Then I give you two or three ideas that you might use, without past feedback or critical judgements.

And you say “thank you”

And then we move on. Seems pretty simple right?

Here is where I challenge you Dear Reader, to take this exercise and implement it in your own life. Try it the next time someone wants to give you feedback, when you are asked for feedback, or even as a classroom activity.

And most importantly, don’t forget to FeedForward and tell me what you thought of this article by commenting, liking or sharing on social media!

Let’s Talk About It- Teacher Burnout

Professional burnout has been studied for decades and was recognised by the World Health Organisation as a chronic syndrome. Dr. Christina Maslech, is one of the world’s leading researchers, professors and speakers on the subject of burnout. In her speech at DOES in 2018, she described how the term burnout may have originated from engineers. One example she used was the way that ball bearings burn out from being in an abrasive environment with no oil. One cause of burnout through a human resources lens could be the way some companies view employees as being in a sprint while employees are viewing their work as a marathon. Being fascinated by both of these metaphors, I wanted to explore how they apply, and what solutions can be found, within the TEFL industry. 

In 2019, the World Health Organisation defined burnout as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. There are three key symptoms to burnout which are feelings of exhaustion, cynicism (distancing from one’s job) and reduced professional effectiveness. Burnout can affect other areas of life but the root cause is always related to occupation. Some of the common ways I have observed chronic workplace stress affecting teachers are the pressure from teaching large classes of students, ever increasing demands of the parents, feeling unsupported by their school or company, lack of recognition and value for their ideas and performance, having a heavy workload of classes without adequate reward or compensation, and being constantly on edge waiting for plans or events to change at the last minute.

According to Dr Maslech’s research, there are six key strategic areas of job-person fit that should be considered in the conversation around teacher burnout. They are workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values. In TEFL, there are a variety of teaching environments with varying requirements in each of these areas. While workload, reward or compensation and fairness are obvious and measurable factors, I have observed that control or autonomy, community and values are often overlooked. Teachers who feel that they have no control over their classes, lesson plans or work they are contributing often feel like their ideas are not valuable. This can be combined with a lack of community if their voice is made irrelevant by their partner teacher, team or leader. And, when their personal values are out of alignment with the school’s values (or they aren’t clear on what those are) it creates insecurity and uncertainty about their place. As mentioned previously, this can go on to affect their life outside of work, and this often directly affects their sense of belonging and even their identity.

Oftentimes, teachers ignore their internal resistance from these scenarios because they feel that it’s “just part of the job”. While this may be true, it forces the teachers to become like the ball bearings in the metaphor described earlier. If the school or company is the abrasive environment, then the oil required is the release of pressure or peace of mind which the teacher experiences. Maslech described the effects on the human ranging from disruptions of personal life, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, long-term stress and health problems, loss of self-worth and meaningful achievements, anxiety, burnout, depression, and in extreme cases even suicide

These factors affect professional effectiveness so it is in the best interests of the teachers, their students, and the schools for teachers to have access to support to address the issue of burnout in education. Unfortunately, I have observed that many of the corporate training centres and leaders in the TEFL industry have a belief that teachers are replaceable. The ones who burn out are those who “can’t stand the heat, so they should just get out of the kitchen”. This However, this is not an effective long-term business model. Rather, this creates a toxic work environment where job security, support and control are very low while the workload demands increase. This shifts the problem to the teacher without dealing with the root cause, which often saves the company management from having to accept any responsibility.

Of course, it would be fantastic if the abrasive environment that is the TEFL industry were to start valuing their humans as their most precious resources. Unfortunately, as teachers, that’s not something we have a lot of control over which often leads to further frustrations. And I have seen those frustrations, more often that not, develop into a negative attitude towards an entire country. This then begins to erode at the very core of our identity, forcing us to question our belonging in a society that doesn’t welcome us, to go home to a society now estranged from us, or to leave for a other environment only to start from square one and find it’s a different flavour of the same sandwich.

However, there is something that is within our control. It’s not easy, but when we begin to look at the internal environment we can choose to learn the skills to metaphorically apply the oil. This is the point where many teachers reach out to me; I call it “I know I need things to change but I don’t know how”.  It starts by disconnecting from work. Being engaged in the teaching profession is not just about the way we show up to the classroom. Time is also required for planning lessons, preparing materials, communicating with parents and so much more. This is why taking time to actually step away and disconnect from work allows your brain to take a breather and relax. I highly recommend using the STOP tool at the end of a working day. STEP back, THINK about your win for today, ORGANISE your thoughts for tomorrow and then PROCEED to turn off the lights and move on with your life outside of work. 

There also needs to be a clear distinction between what is acceptable and what is not. And, we need to be able to communicate these boundaries clearly and assertively. As this links to many other areas of life, this can be highly sensitive and triggering.

Disclaimer: If you feel like this could be you, I recommend having a trusted, non-judgemental person listen as you work through boundary setting. It could be a friend or family member or a therapist. I am not a trauma specialist and I am not a trained medical or mental health professional. 

However, as a coach, I work with my clients to highlight and draw out the skills that help them to overcome the overwhelm. We talk about the fears holding them back, we explore their limiting beliefs and we weigh up the consequences of their choices. As a result, my clients often walk away with increased awareness, confidence, and hope. They learn to develop better coping mechanisms, stronger resiliency and stress management skills that they can continue to use to combat stress leading to burnout for the rest of their lives. 

So, the solution to the burnout problem? Disconnect from work, set clear boundaries, know what you want, and use the tools and resources available to you, like coaching. In exploring burnout, sometimes we realise what’s required is a total career change. Sometimes it’s a location change. Sometimes it’s a lifestyle change. But without first stepping back and acknowledging that the problem exists in the first place, we can’t begin to manage it and move on. 

Developing teachers as Classroom Leaders

A teacher’s role is to facilitate their students’ learning in coordination with their school’s best practices for education. In a foreign environment, with a language barrier, and without adequate support, this can be a real challenge that sinks many expats into a state of unhappiness. More often than not, this results in lacklustre classroom performance, a high turnover amongst teachers, and a jaded experience for those who remain. In this series, we will explore what can be done to reverse this current trend and elevate the level of the learning culture within education, specifically within the TEFL industry.

At first glance, many would consider the teacher as the head of the classroom. Indeed, there is a “student body”, however in TEFL there is also often an overworked and overlooked TA or Teaching Assistant. During my time spent in the classroom, I worked with several local TAs. I found that the chemistry established with them at the start of the year would determine how the rest of the year was going to go. 

Regardless of experience, age or gender, I found that the best relationships were built on mutual trust and understanding that whatever came up throughout the year, we would face together. This partnership meant sharing the credit, the workload, and the balance between “good cop/ bad cop” in our classroom discipline. It required constant open and honest communication, a willingness to give and receive feedback, and faith that we both had the best intentions. 
On the opposite end of the scale, I can reflect that those relationships that did not have the same chemistry from Day One led to ongoing problems both in and out of the classroom. By not being on the same page as my TA, our partnership was not as effective and our classes were never really in sync. This affected my personal life too. I would often go home at the end of the day carrying heavy emotion, reflecting that I could have performed better in my own role. As a teacher, I wished that I had been introduced to the idea of becoming a Classroom Leader, rather than a Classroom Manager before I had burned out of the industry. 

Within the context of education, we could say that a Classroom Manager would be responsible for managing student’s attention, assigning individual or group activities during class time, and checking homework. These actions fall under the “correct” components of a successful traditional lesson. However, they also operate under a strict regime that could quickly become boring. This leads to uninterested students who are easily distracted. These students go on to cause their own entertainment through whatever behavioural delights they are partial to employing. In contrast, a Classroom Leader provides just enough information to pique their student’s curiosity and then leaves them the clues to facilitate their own learning. This throws the door wide open to possibility, student autonomy and collaborative learning. 

The teacher who is a Classroom Leader surrenders much of the responsibility for their student’s learning, which was never actually in their control. This is something that many teachers struggle with. However, by partnering with TAs and students, this teacher is focused on inspiring rather than directing. This then creates freedom to provide additional learning support to those students who really need it, to establish a growth mindset amongst their classes, and to create better partnerships within their team and their school. 

One such technique that could be used to lead rather than manage a classroom, is the use of coaching. There are many aspects of coaching that can be used, but the simplest place to start is the definition. Coaching is about establishing partnerships that unlock a client’s potential; it is a learning intervention that aims to facilitate client growth, awareness and learning. This differs from the traditional view of teaching which focuses on the teacher having more knowledge, experience and wisdom than their student by putting both players at an equal starting point and asking, “how can we move forward with your understanding of a concept so that you can confidently achieve your goal?”. 

There are many strategies that can be used to explore how to develop the role of Coaching in Education, and we will uncover these over the course of this series.
For now, Dear Reader, I would be curious to know; where do you stand along the scale from Classroom Manager to Classroom Leader?