Cambridge Assessment English – Resilience: Teaching in tough times webinar

Here is the link to this webinar. It was delivered by Pablo Toledo and Alberto Costa. The link has links to related handouts too. I recommend checking those out! I was alerted to the existence of this webinar by the ELTC TD team (of which I am no longer part as I stepped down at the end of last academic year!), thanks guys! While watching the webinar, I made the notes here below and also reflected on the webinar content (at the end of this post). Hope someone finds this interesting/useful!

What is your life like now? is the first question asked. There has been lots of change with Covid and the shift to online teaching and learning. There are many strategies teachers are using to adapt to our new reality and there have been lots of articles about this. One such article has a headline “Teachers reinvent themselves to teach online” Teachers mentioned improvisation, getting used to new tech, learning from the experience and drawing conclusions from it. During another webinar by CAE, they used a poll to survey the teachers about the platforms being used – Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, other. Zoom was the majority choice by a big margin. In the current webinar, the speakers give us a different poll relating to the initial question, What is your life like now?

  1. in full lockdown, without teaching?
  2. teaching online from your institutional platform?
  3. teaching online using your own online tools (e.g. Skype, Zoom, Hangouts)
  4. a combination of 2 and 3 above?
  5. teaching face-to-face in an ordinary classoom?

For me, the answer is 2. We use Blackboard VLE including Collaborate for online lessons and Google Hangouts and chat for working with colleagues. In a previous delivery (the previous day) of the webinar, most of the participants selected 2, while in the current delivery 3 and 4 were more common. The fact that Covid and lockdowns just happened with no warning means that there was no time to prepare, which had an impact of stress and resilience.

What is resilience?

The speaker quotes Nelson Mandela “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” and defines resilience as the ability to be happy, successful etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened. Definition taken from Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. The relevance to current times is clear. Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or significant stress. It involves bouncing back and can also involve profound personal growth. This is according to the American Psychology Association. It is a good thing but feels messy. It doesn’t mean that you will not experience difficult or distress. If something difficult happens and you feel bad, that is normal, you are not doing anything wrong and it doesn’t mean you won’t recover. It is not a personality trait that only some people possess, it can be developed by anyone. It isn’t a fixed quantity, you can’t use up all your resilience. There is always more, you can always develop more. To do that we need to take into consideration what resilience is about and how to build it.

How to build resilience.

This is very important for teachers. It’s a difficult time both in the home sphere and the work sphere, and it is a difficult time for our students and for society at large. We have responsibility for ourselves personally and professionally but also for our students as we are leaders in their learning so we need to support them through this too. The seven Cs of resiliences are as follows:

C1 – Control

The most disempowering feeling we can have is that something bad is having and we can have no effect on it. We need to provide ourselves and students to feel a sense of control. Offer students choices, things that they can manage. Let them make some decisions. Also about realising that we can take an active role in our emotional health.

C2 – Competence

We have the skills to get through this. Teaching online happened, it is difficult and stressful but we have our competence and skills as teachers to bring to it, which will help us get through. We can help students identify how they are handling the challenges of the situation and what strengths they are bringing to it and this will help them too.

C3 – Coping

Managing. How do we manage the situation? When something difficult happens, we respond to it in different ways. Distraction for example – shifting attention away from something difficult on to something else. Withdrawal – I cannot deal with this today – and denial – No no not happening! These aren’t positive strategies but they are strategies. An example of a positive strategy is positive reframing. Good idea to talk to students about coping strategies, different options they could use.

C4 – Confidence

Feeling confident in yourself and your ability to manage the situation is important. We can praise students for overcoming obstacles and help them realise it isn’t luck but agency.

C5 – Connection

We are at home but not alone. We feel emotionally secure when we are connecting with other people. Staying in touch is very important. Developing that connection and empathy is important. The most important question to ask students in a class is “how are you? how are you feeling? how are you doing with your school work?”. Not an activity to do and move on. Spend time with it. The teacher-learner relationship is more important now than ever. Not a book/explanation/platform etc that is doing the teaching, it is the relationship between the teacher and the learner.

C6 – Character

Need to develop character. We have to strengthen our characters, our personalities. We should talk to students about their values, about who they are, their identity, what makes them who they are. The things that they believe in and which re important and strong for them.

C7 – Contribution

You have to acknowledge the contribution you are making for the situation. How can we help students with this? Talk about the ways in which they are contributing e.g. at home – making the bed, cleaning the house, staying in your room and trying not to make noise while your parents were working in the living room. These are all positive contributions.

Teacher resilience checklist

  • look after yourself
  • be true to yourself
  • be realistic
  • keep in touch
  • trust
  • focus on the essentials

If you are not ok, you cannot teach well. Look after your mental health, your body, work on your resilience. You are your key tool.

Be you. YOU can do this.

Don’t set crazy expectations. If you feel that it is too much, pull back. Don’t try to be normal. You almost certainly can’t do as much as before, don’t judge yourself by past metrics.

Connect, connect, connect.

Trust yourself, your colleagues, your learners, that things will get better. How do we know students are telling the truth? We just have to trust.

Focus on the basics. Don’t try and be fancy.

“Keep calm and carry on” was a WW2 poster but the message for resilience is “Keep calm and adapt” – nothing is normal/the same. We need to adapt.

Embracing change

When we are struggling with new platforms, resources, environment, we are doing our best to make learning effective. There is a lot of trial and reflection. Lots of new tools and terminology to deal with it, very different from before. We need a computer with a camera, a headset, stable internet connection and a platform for teaching live. But we also need staples like a whiteboard, pictures, puppets, realia. There is a vast array of online resources. Your students also need to get used to them. Think about context and learners:

  • What is the actual learning environment like?
  • How can I engage my students?
  • What can technology offer me?

Are you teaching synchronously or asynchronously? Both? How about the families? Are they ready to deal with the new reality? How much access to online resources do you and your learners have? How old are your students? How expert are they at using technology – their own and that which you provide? Students are at home and may be interrupted by other family members doing housework. playing, using band-width?

To engage students, you need empathy. See the situation through the other person’s eyes rather than your own. Withhold judgement and provide as much support as you can. Try to understand students’ feelings and communicate that to students. Allow for short breaks when you are teaching. Make sure things are clear. Clear instructions and task steps. Help students learn how to study in this way, to organise their learning etc. Where relevant, advise family on their role in this.

Technology offers variety and flexibility. Flexibility is very important. We can’t reproduce classroom teaching exactly, there have to be lots of adjustments. Tech offers creative language practice, opportunities to develop learner autonomy. You need to teach them how to be autonomous. What kind of resources can they make use of for this? Online dictionaries? Make sure you allow for self-assessment. Ask them how did you feel after completing this task? How did you like this handout, did it help you? What do you think about this way of using online dictionaries, did it help? Set up collaborative projects e.g. doing research together, short presentations, recording videos of it. You can also use a flipped classroom approach. Tech also allows for lots of professional development – learning how to teach remotely and make use of resources is a good opportunity for development.

Points of reference are helpful. E.g. https://thedigitalteacher.com One of things this portal allows is to do self-assessment of where you are at technologically and suggestions for moving from the level where you are now to the next level. There is also a review section which has reviews about different online views. Along with the reviews there also strategies for using the tools and short courses in using them. A good go-to place for developing digital skills.

Choosing digital tools for language learning

There are 3 things to consider when choosing online tools.

  1. user experience
  2. language learning
  3. technical information

It’s very important to establish clear criteria and we can use the above categories.

  1. Is the content presented clearly? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Is navigation easy?

2. What skills can learners practice through the resource? How much control do learners have over pace of learning. This goes back to learner autonomy and giving learners control. How helpful is the tool for teaching large classes? Can learners set their own learning goals? Are there self-assessment opportunities? Does it allow students to reflect on their completion of the task? Can teachers observe learners’ strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities are there for communication between learners? What collaborative opportunities are there? E.g. using breakout rooms in an online platform. Padlet and Flipgrid are other tools which enable this. What kind of communities can develop? What opportunities are there for developing intercultural skills (essential in today’s world). How can learners use language to build knowledge in school subjects? What critical thinking skills can learners develop?

3. What devices and internet connections are needed? Ones that require a lot of bandwidth can create difficulty. How will the product company use your data? What user support does the product company provide?

Cambridge Assessment English has put together “Supporting every teacher” which is a one-stop shop for many things such as webinars for teachers, activities for learners and lots of different things to help you and your students. Cambridge Assessment International Education also has a support pack that can help you keep abreast with this new reality. You can also find a playlist of all the webinars that have been delivered (there are 3 or 4 every week). CUP has World of Better Learning which has great blog posts from teachers, course book writers etc. You can also download a number of resources which help you extend your repertoire of ideas.

Recap

As we apply these principles and start teaching in new ways, there are 4 fundamental questions that we should take away and use:

  • What really matters? What are the key things that learners should take away?
  • How much structure does it need? There is a tendency to over-plan. Sometimes a very structured lesson is exactly what you need, sometimes you need to go in with a few questions and just let things happen.
  • Should I try new approaches today? You are using an LMS and video conferencing. Don’t try to do everything new all at once, innovate step by step.
  • What I have learned so far? Keep being reflective, reflection is very important now. Talk to your class, talk to colleagues, keep a journal.

Today’s takeaways

This is new, this isn’t normal, but we are still teachers and we are still teaching students, who are people first and students second. So, do what you know. Make use of your pedagogical skills. You can do this. Good enough is good enough. What you are doing right now is making a difference – so celebrate instead of feeling guilty.

“I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse to be reduced by it.” – Maya Angelou

My reflections:

I actually found this webinar to be a bit disjointed (BUT got a lot out of it never the less!). The blurb focused on resilience so I was surprised by the switch to the focus on technological tools. I had thought the tools it referred to in the blurb (“the tools that can help us make sense of tough times”) would relate to resilience.

Nevertheless, my favourite part of the webinar was the bit about the seven C’s and how to help our students with them. The timing of when I watched that part (I couldn’t watch the recording in one sitting as time didn’t allow) meant it influenced the shape of my tutorials with my new group of students this morning and I think in a beneficial way. It has also helped me think of ideas for asynchronous content to include in my Class Noticeboard padlet. Firstly, a column for “getting to know you” in which so far I will add a new question each week for students to respond to, so that the group continues to get to know each other in the background of the lessons. (My context is EAP and the duration of the lessons and course in combination with the assessment demands means that there is limited space for personalisation as speaking activities tend to be focused on topics that require research and evidence to support ideas etc.) Secondly, a Wellbeing column, to share links about maintaining mental health and wellbeing generally and in trying times. I am hoping by making it a part of the Noticeboard, and therefore students’ daily life, it will emphasise the importance of it and normalise talking about it and asking for help when things are difficult.

Otherwise, it is always helpful to hear the need to look after oneself be reiterated. It is the foundation of everything else but it is so easy to either let it slip or feel guilty for doing it! And while the bit on technological tools was nothing new to me, it still has given me food for thought.

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