IATEFL Webinar: Mental Health Training for Employers within ELT

On the 7th July (I know, I know, catching up…) I attended Phil Longwell’s IATEFL webinar about Mental Health Training for Employers within ELT.

He started by talking about research that he did, which he presented at IATEFL earlier this year, from which key things that came out were

  • most people think it’s a bad idea to disclose mental health issues
  • there is fear of reaction in the countries/cultures in question
  • there is still a lot of stigma around mental health
  • a small number people think it is a good idea to disclose in order to draw on support and to challenge stigma

For Phil’s write-up of his research and findings, please click here.

Then we considered stress. Lots of factors can cause it, there are no universal reasons and it is contextual. In teaching, things that can contribute are:

  • workload
  • perfectionism
  • job insecurity
  • meeting deadlines
  • demanding parents
  • large class sizes
  • lack of support/appreciation
  • harassment/bullying

Phil’s mantra to combat perfectionism and related stress is: “Good enough is good enough.”

Burnout is a significant cause of stress. You may feel overwhelmed by workload and expectations, you may feel complete exhaustion and that you can’t go on. There are various signs of it e.g. moaning, groaning, complaining, change in behaviour, over motivation and enthusiasm, absenteeism, missing deadlines, days off, extended sick leave. Acting on automatic pilot, avoiding contact with others and avoiding eye contact. However, none of these individually is in itself a sign of burnout, if a number are occurring over a certain period of time, it may be indicated.

We also looked at depression, general anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, OCD, psychosis, panic disorder/panic attacks and schizophrenia. We had to identify each based on lists of symptoms. It was a thought-provoking exercise.

Many of these conditions will be hidden to a manager unless they are disclosed. They are “invisible” conditions. Drink, drugs and addictions can have an effect on these conditions. They may be used as coping mechanisms but can actually make things worse. For example, people smoke to relieve anxiety but it can make the anxiety worse.

Then we looked at the ALGEE model for helping people who are suffering from a mental health issue.

Anxiety attacks/panic attacks are most likely to occur at work. The reason they occur is that something persuades the amygdala in the brain that there is danger. Therefore, if possible, somebody who is having one needs to get away from the trigger. If somebody has one, you need to help encourage them to gain control of their breathing again. They can last for a long time. You don’t need to be a doctor/medical professional to help someone. Just being there and trying to help them realise that the threat isn’t there.

Institutions can help support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees in a variety of ways:

“A beginner’s guide to being mental: An A-Z from Anxiety to Zero F*ks given” is a book by Natasha Devon that Phil recommends.

He finished with a quotation from his research:

He also provided us with some mental health resources and his references:


Thank you Phil, it was a really interesting and interactive webinar.

I work in an environment that can be very stressful and demanding at certain times – key assessment periods and so on – but fortunately it is also a very supportive environment which to me has made a lot of difference. I think having supportive colleagues is extremely helpful when it comes to mental health. I also think ELT in general has an added layer of complication when it comes to jobs and mental health, in that for many people it involves moving abroad and integrating into a new place and culture, learning a new language etc. Dealing with all of those pressures, wonderful though they can be, is a massive extra load on top of the actual work aspect of it all. For myself, I find that my mental health is better now that I am back home, much as I enjoyed working abroad. I have a much better support network outside work (which I think is important) and I can pursue the hobbies that I love (running and cycling) in the countryside that I love, which is something that I struggled to do while abroad as I was afraid to cycle and lived in cities so running (my kind of running) was very limited. As such, I think it is really positive that mental health/wellbeing is being discussed more openly within ELT. I hope it continues to be the case so that progress can keep being made in this area.

To close, here is a useful set of resources about mental health in ELT from Sandy Millin.

Edit: Half an hour or after I published this post, an email came round from “Juice” – they are the Sheffield uni health and wellbeing lot  – which amongst other things reminded us about the new staff resources for mental health which were launched in May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week. Quite a comprehensive resource! It’s not for nothing that I feel grateful to work here.


University of Sheffield Workshop: Promoting positive mental health and challenging homophobic behaviour – 23 July 2018

On the 23rd July 2018, I was happy to be able to attend an LGBT+ inclusion workshop hosted by the LGBT+ Staff Network and Open@TUOS Allies, deliberately scheduled to coincide with Sheffield’s Pride week. (It also coincided with the one Monday that I didn’t have to lead a module meeting at 1.15, which would have clashed with the workshop and a day in which my teaching hours didn’t clash either!)

It is part of ongoing LGBT+ inclusion work at the University of Sheffield. Other examples include the “Open@TUOS” campaign (which currently has over 2200 supporters across the university, most of whom wear rainbow lanyards as a visible sign of support) and LGBT History Month . According to Professor Gill Valentine, who is the Provost and Deputy Vice Chancellor and who opened the event, the workshops were hugely oversubscribed.

The workshop was delivered by Josh Willersey from Stonewall.

The first session was focusing on mental health.

We started with a matching activity for terminology and definitions relating to LGBT. I was familiar with all the words except “gender variant”. Click on the link to have a go yourself!

Some of the things I learnt:

  • Until 1990, “homosexuality” was on the WHO’s mental illness list. (Very recent past!)
  • A “cisgender ally” is someone who is not trans but supports trans people. (“Cisgender” means your gender identity matches the gender you were assigned at birth – that I knew)
  • 1 in 200 people are born intersex (that’s more common than having red hair!) but often don’t know until if/when they try and conceive.
  • Gender dysphoria can affect intersex people who have invasive surgery at birth.
  • There is a lot of overlap between Bisexuality and Pansexuality (I knew that!). Some people who come out as Bi may actually identify as Pan but not want to spend their life explaining it to people.
  • 62% of graduates who were out at university go back into the closet when they start work as they don’t know if it is ok/safe/acceptable there or not. (You can out yourself by how you answer general questions e.g. answering honestly about what you did at the weekend. You make the decision whether to do that or not depending on how safe you judge that situation to be. This bit I know!)

After the terminology exercise and feedback, we moved on to mental health. Josh used himself as an example of a person who may be perceived to be “happy” (and even receive an award for it at work) but actually simultaneously be going through a hard time. This led us to the first question.

What are the barriers to talking about mental health?

We had to discuss this in our groups and then there was some “whole class feedback”. Here is a list of everything I managed to note down in the course of this:

  • still a stigma about admitting it
  • looked at different to physical health (e.g. at the uni, NHS delivers physical health services, but mental health services are the university’s responsibility)
  • people feel they should be stronger, that mental health issues are a sign of weakness and they don’t want to appear weak
  • labels have certain connotations – a person may be suffering from from a particular issue but not actually match up with peoples’ perceptions of what a sufferer of that issue is and does.
  • people feel like a failure if they have to “admit” to a mental health issue
  • the term “mental health” is too broad to be helpful. E.g. within the NHS they wouldn’t say “let’s improve our physical health service” it would be more specific like “we need to improve our asthma-related services”
  • gender issues e.g. “I am a man therefore I cannot talk about this” (i.e. norms and expectations)
  • cultural issues/pressures (again, norms and expectations-related)
  • lack of support available

Then we had a few statistics:

  • £70-100bn is the estimated cost to UK of mental health issues
  • 91 million working days are lost to mental health, it is the most common cause of absence (UK centre for Mental Health)
  • 53% of people would not feel comfortable disclosing mental health issues to an employer (MIND)

Focusing on LGB+ issues:

  • LGBT+ people are 50% more likely to experience long-term mental health issues
  • LGBT+ people are 2 times more likely to commit suicide than the wider population
  • Bisexual men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than the wider population
  • 45% of LGBT+ young people are bullied at school, including via social media and text: home is no longer an escape/safe space. They are often bullied for being different, which is closely to linked to gender norms/expectations.
  • Young LGBT people are 6 times more likely to commit suicide
  • Alcohol misuse is 50% higher

Focusing on Trans issues:

  • 88% of trans people have experienced depression vs 1 in 4 of the wider population
  • Trans people are faced with two challenges: dealing with their own experience and dealing with transphobia in society which may take the form of harassment in the streets, people denying their identity, rejection by friends/family/general society
  • Transphobic rhetoric/language use is on the rise at the moment because of the changes in policy being discussed currently that would make it easier for trans people to transition
  • 60% (or 66% I can’t read my writing!) of trans people have attempted suicide
  • 77% have used antidepressants

In terms of health care provision:

  • 6/10 health and social care workers don’t believe orientation is relevant (And if LGBT+ people seek care, they may have to explain themselves/educate the care worker
  • 51%of mental health workers/counsellors/psychologists don’t believe orientation is relevant to mental health
  • 1 in 10 care practitioners believe you can be cured of being LGBT+ (Though there is now a commitment from the government to ban conversion therapy as it is proven to be very damaging)


  • People with BAME backgrounds are more likely to be detained compulsorily for mental health issues
  • The greater someone’s level of socio-economic deprivation, the higher the risk of suicide being attempted
  • 25% of older people have a mental health problem
  • 54% of people with learning difficulties have a mental health problem

Having considered these statistics, we moved on to the all-important question of…

How the workplace can help/support people

Again small group discussion was followed by “whole class” feedback

  • take time to ask how people are and listen to the response
  • be alert to recognising differences in peoples’ behaviour that may signify that something is not right
  • be aware that people may be putting up a front (and a knee-jerk “yes” to “are you ok?” may not reflect the true picture)
  • be careful how you talk about people with mental health issues – others will pick up on it and respond accordingly (i.e. if you are disparaging or negative, they will endeavour to hide problems)
  • #Timetoalk prompts: shouldn’t need a prompt, caring, supportive discussion should happen all the time
  • if it reaches a “crunch point”, too many opportunities to intervene have been missed – it shouldn’t get that far
  • One of our group who works in the uni health service said they have a buddy system and timetabled coffee breaks for GPs, to combat isolation/stress
  • If someone is off sick, keep in touch with them (in a supportive way rather than a harassing way!)
  • Training about mental health should be offered (awareness-raising etc)

Here is the slide of suggestions that Josh shared afterwards:

We were finally given some suggestions for promoting better mental health in the workplace and some resources relating to LGBT+ and to mental health:

The second session focused on bullying and harassment in the workplace specifically in relation to LGBT+ people. 

We started with some statistics relating to bullying/harassment of LGBT+ people in general:

Bullet point three is partly due to increased likelihood of reporting compared to before but also links to rise in populism and validation of far right attitudes that has been seen in the last 5 years.

Then we looked at statistics specific to the workplace:

We talked about  behaviour and what is unacceptable behaviour:


  • Still rife in modern society, common to hear language such as “poof”, “gay boy” or “faggot”
  • There is still “moral panic” i.e. a fear of LGBT+ being more acceptable having a negative effect on children (why it should have a worse effect than heterosexuality being acceptable, I’m not sure…)
  • Calling something “gay” to mean sad/pathetic/rubbish still common e.g. “This lesson is so gay”. This use of language does impact people who hear it.


  • People consider bisexuals to be “confused”, “greedy”, “selfish”, “going through a phase”
  • People say bisexuals should choose one or the other – “choose a side”
  • People say that you can’t be bisexual unless you’ve slept with ‘both’ genders
  • People consider bisexuals to be more likely to cheat on their partners
  • People say things like “she used to be bisexual but then she married a man” (This does not make her magically straight…)
  • People make assumptions based on who the bisexual person is in a relationship with at that time
  • Bisexual people face discrimination within the LGBT community as well as from heteronormative society


There are more people identifying as non-binary (or various other gender labels, other than male/female) these days. This is partly because there is now the language to express it, there is information available online and times are changing: fluidity is more acceptable among young people. (This acceptance of fluidity and increased likeliness to have a fluid identity applies also to sexual orientation, with 50% of young people identifying as something other than 100% straight in a recent survey)

  • Tends most heavily to be aimed at male to female transsexual as that is the most commonly known about narrative
  • language such as “tranny”, “shemale”
  • People might say something like “you really can’t tell, can you” – which can be hurtful because the transition wasn’t about pleasing people aesthetically, it’s about identity
  • People might say something like “oh she was such a pretty woman before”
  • People might assume that it’s “just a phase”
  • People might police the toilets – “Excuse me, I think you are in the wrong toilet”.

(This seems like a good place to share a photo taken at the IATEFL conference in Brighton this year:)

Like our classrooms should be – nice one, Brighton Centre!

  • Continued use of the wrong pronouns despite knowing the person’s preferences
  • Continued use of an old/dead name -known as “dead naming”, shows non-acceptance of the true identity
  • Asking what someone’s “dead name” was – can be hurtful/upsetting as often it is loaded with trauma for the person
  • Asking a trans person when they will have surgery – not all trans people do a medical transition

Then we considered what barriers there may be to reporting bullying/harassment in the workplace…

  • Fear of the effect on one’s career: not wanting to rock the boat.
  • Knowing that it could be explained away as “banter” (which can cover a multitude of sins)
  • Not wanting to be out to your manager
  • Not wanting colleagues to look at you differently

as well as the impact it can have on the person and the organisation. For a person, they may develop low self-confidence, become demotivated and/or suffer from anxiety/depression. For the organisation, overall it can lead to low staff morale, increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, recruitment and retention problems and possibly costly legal action/

So what can organisations do? 

  • Cultural change (takes time)
  • Policy: it should mention LGBT phobia as unacceptable specifically – it’s a lot harder to report something if it isn’t clearly articulated in company policy
  • Organise training around awareness-raising
  • Make use of inclusive messaging e.g. messages sent to all staff that send a positive, inclusive message around LGBT+ (such as the LGBT+ history month here)
  • Make sure reporting routes are clear to all employees
  • Have an LGBT employee network group


Who is responsible?

  • The source: the one whose behaviour is offensive
  • The target: should tell someone if their behaviour is upsetting. Discriminatory behaviour must be challenged (also among students!)
  • Any observers: there is no such thing as an innocent bystander, you should call out offensive behaviour
  • Person in authority: Managers should address inappropriate behaviour. It is the employer’s responsibility to maintain a respectful, inclusive environment.

How to call out inappropriate language/behaviour

UHT – I UNDERSTAND you don’t mean to be offensive when you say x, HOWEVER, it is offensive (and against company values?) to say x. THEREFORE, please don’t use language like that again.

Stop, Identify, broaden: Stop the harassment (if you feel threatened, you could just speak to the target so that they aren’t stuck in a 1-1 with the harasser); Identify the behaviour as discriminatory; Broaden the response by linking to company values etc.

I feel <x feeling> when you do <y action> and I’d like you to <a preference>

Having considered these approaches, we looked at three case studies:

Again, group discussion was followed by coming together.

Case Study 1

  • We thought the main difficulty in such a situation is having “a way in” to talk about it. We came up with “I’m sure you’re not trying to cause offence but…”
  • We also thought the response might depend on the environment e.g. if this was at the uni, we’d be acting in a professional capacity and know that it is against organisational values etc. Policies/training may not be in place elsewhere, so if you are elsewhere, you might flag it up to a manager
  • Flip side, if you only speak to a manager, nothing may happen, so it may be better to speak to the receptionists (especially as regardless of location, reception is public-facing so anybody could hear what they were saying)
  • Don’t just do nothing

Case Study 2

After making sure the person being harassed is ok, challenge that person by getting them to explain their statements, using “why” a lot. Challenge their thinking:

  • There are LGBT+ people of all faiths. There are inclusive people and readings in all faiths. The two are not mutually exclusive.
  • Orientation is not “a lifestyle”, it’s part of someone’s identity
  • Both people of faith and LGBT+ have experienced discrimination for that identity
  • Faith values: acceptance and love, not hatred.

Encourage the person who was being harassed to report it

Case Study 3

  • Ask James what he wants you to do/how he wants you to proceed (very important)
  • Offer support/options (e.g. confront the colleagues involved, make a formal complaint)
  • If you are a colleague, encourage reporting
  • If you are a manager, follow it up

Focus on the action

In all cases, it is important to focus on the action rather than the person. I.e. “x is a homophobic thing to say/do”, rather than “you are being homophobic”. If you use the latter, then they will immediately be focusing on defending themselves (“I’m not, I have a gay uncle, I have gay friends” etc!) and that is not dealing with the issue of the behaviour.

Don’t be complicit

It is uncomfortable to challenge but it is also important, as we don’t know who is listening or how it could be impacting them.

That brought us to the end of the workshop.

My thoughts

I feel very lucky in that my workplace (my staffroom, my colleagues etc) always feels like a very warm, safe environment. I love seeing the rainbow lanyards around! It’s a nice feeling. I love that this university is 24th in Stonewall UK charity’s list of the top 100 most inclusive employers.

I think the topic and content of this workshop also has relevance to the classroom and to us as teachers as well as as workers. Statistically, there will be LGBT+ students in our classrooms. We need to actively make our classrooms an inclusive, safe place for them. This means that if students say things that are LGBT+phobic, we, as teachers, shouldn’t be a quiet Switzerland on the issue. We should be calling it out. Obviously this gets a lot more complicated if you are working in a context which is not tolerant of LGBT+ people and/or in an institution whose policy on this is undefined. I think ELT school managers should, where possible, have clear policy around LGBT+ bullying being unacceptable and teachers should be aware of this and know that they would be supported in calling students out on it. (A teacher can’t tackle such a problem without the support of the school – if the student complains, the school needs to be supporting the teacher.) This, of course, is affected by the students as customers perception that is common throughout ELT. Training around how to deal with LGBT+ issues in the classroom may also be useful. E.g. what would you do if in a unit talking about personal relationships, a female student refers to her partner as “she”? Is it a pronoun mistake or an assertion of identity? How do you establish which it is? How do you deal with other students’ response?

I also think that ELT materials need more LGBT+ normative content (gay people rarely exist in ELT course books – as Scott Thornbury famously said, they are firmly in the course book closet), but that’s another topic for another day…

What do you think?

Questions I want to leave you with

  • Is your workplace supportive of people with mental health issues?
  • Does your workplace have policy in place to combat workplace/classroom LGBT+ bullying/harassment/phobic behaviour?
  • Would you feel able to report this kind of behaviour (would you know who to report it to?)
  • Do you think that if you did report this kind of behaviour that something would be done?
  • Have you ever attended training relating to LGBT+ issues?
  • Have you had to deal with LGBT+ phobia in the classroom? What happened? How did you deal with it? (To give an example, I remember I taught a class that consisted of 3 Arabic men and I can’t remember why it came up but at some point they were ALL spouting some seriously vitriolic opinions about gay people. This was in the UK, in 2012. I had no idea what to do and I didn’t/don’t know what that school’s policy was on the issue. It was very awkward and uncomfortable! What would you have done? Fast forward to 2017, working at the ELTC, and in my elementary group, one of my students said he hadn’t seen any gay people in Sheffield/at the university. I challenged that by asking how he knows and gently pointing out that gay people don’t go around with labels on their foreheads to tell us they are gay. Gay people are just normal people. I also included gay family images in my Smartboard materials for the unit on families to supplement what was in the course book and statistics around mental health in wider vs LGBT populations in the UK in the spread on mental health issues. That was a much more benign situation BUT it needed to be dealt with and there was scope for awareness-raising. It DOES happen, the frequency is irrelevant – that it happens at all means we need to be equipped to deal with it effectively when it does. I think it would be useful for there to be more help with how to do that.)

Sorry for an extraordinarily long post, but it’s an important topic and there was a lot of ground covered in the workshop!

IATEFLections: a round-up for 2018

Reflections rather than elections! I thought I’d do a post that brings together the many posts I wrote at IATEFL in Brighton this year and my experience of the conference, accompanied by a spot of reflecting (this is, after all, Reflections of an English Language Teacher!)


For me, one of the themes I followed through the conference was that of inclusion. How to differentiate in the classroom? How to be more LGBT (and other “others”) friendly? How to recognise and deal with special educational needs in the classroom? How to adapt activities in a course book students with different needs? I think these are all very important issues to consider, as it is part of our job as language teachers to make our classrooms a welcome, helpful, inclusive place for all students. We need to get them all dancing (to borrow from a quote that Maria Dolores Gomez opened her presentation with)!

Like our classrooms should be – nice one, Brighton Centre!

Here are my posts related to this theme:


Difabilities (a better way to put it than “disabilities”)

Including everybody

I think there’s a lot we can do as teachers to make our classrooms a place for everybody, regardless of what they bring with them. I plan to blog more about this soon – am currently doing the Futurelearn course on Dyslexia and Foreign Language Learning that Lancaster University has put together and it is super interesting! Week 1 was mostly theory-based, the remaining three weeks have a lot more practical focus in terms of things to look for and things you can do. I’m looking forward to using some of what I learn.  Click on the picture below to find out more!

I’m already using some of the ideas and insights picked up in the talks at IATEFL. Nothing very dramatic so far, but it’s made me consider my practice from another perspective, according to different criteria, and make little tweaks, which is an interesting process!

Teacher Development and Teacher Training

I know these are two different things, but for the purposes of this post I have decided to group them. Especially because the teacher training post is about development for new teacher trainers!

I attended the Teacher Development forum, and it was interesting to see the 3 different approaches that representatives of 3 different institutions have used to create a culture of CPD where they work/manage. It’s always nice to get an insight into how other places do things. There seems to be a definite shift from top-down development to development programmes that enable teachers to take more control of their development while providing the scaffolding required for that to be done successfully.

I also participated in a workshop by Beth Davies and Nick Northall, who work at the ELTC here at Sheffield Uni and were both, in fact, tutors on the CELTA course that I did many moons ago. Though I am not a teacher trainer yet, it is an avenue I am interested in pursuing in due course, so it was interesting to have a glimpse of the things that new trainers have to consider and learn about. The session was as hands-on and action-packed as I remember my CELTA input sessions being, back in the day – rather a lovely trip down memory lane in that sense!

Finally, my own talk was about using the British council framework as a way of making development more systematic. In a nice, interconnected kind of way, given how the theme jumped out at me throughout IATEFL, I demonstrated the approach I set out using the “Using inclusive practices” portion of the framework. I had 40-something attendees, of whom, amusingly enough given the title, a fair number were managers! I think it went well – no rotten tomatoes were thrown at any rate…

Here are links to the write-ups of each of the above:

Emotional and Social Intelligence

I attended two talks which looked at different aspects of intelligence. One was about emotional intelligence in managers and one was about social intelligence for teachers. If I had to pick out something very simple yet very important from the social intelligence one, it’s that in order to have a successful group discussion, you need to get into group mode. In other words, you need greater awareness of the people around you and the space you are sharing together – focusing outwards as well as inwards, and being aware of your effect on what’s out there. The question that it sparks in my mind, though the talk was teacher-focused, is when we do group work with students, how do we help them to get into group mode? Bearing in mind that it may be more difficult for some students than others to do this. I don’t have all the answers, is just one of the many things I am thinking about at the moment! As for emotional intelligence in managers, the four key elements of it are: Self-awareness, self-management in terms of emotion, awareness of others (aka empathy) and managing others’ emotions. If you can’t do the former effectively, then you probably won’t be able to do the latter very effectively either, as the one is necessary for the other to be successful. Anyway, you have to deal with other peoples’ emotions more when you are an ADoS too, so it was an interesting talk for newly ADoS me! Who still doesn’t want to be an actual manager 😉

In the classroom

I always like to attend a few sessions that are directly linked to the classroom and practical things you can do it in. This year, in addition to all the talks about differentiation/inclusion which were also directly linked to an aspect of the classroom, I also went to a talk about peer assessment as a means of developing independent learning (something which we do a fair bit of here in the USIC arm of ELTC/University of Sheffield). I was familiar with many of the activities mentioned, but it was interesting to see how it is being done elsewhere and get a few ideas for possible tweaks for what we do here.

Another talk I went to which fits this theme was one about learning affordances in the classroom, which arise as a result of something unexpected. He showed us how to impose some order on those moments where you go off plan, and run with something that comes up, to maximise the benefit of these occasions.

Finally, James Taylor’s talk about teaching English in the post-truth classroom got to the heart of the need to equip students with the tools and skills to deal with a world in which truth is no longer a given. A lot of the knowledge and skills he mentions are ones that our students here have to learn in order to select appropriate sources for their academic assignments. It was interesting to see this being applied to classrooms generally, without the academic motivation.

Materials Development

I attended the Materials Wring SIG pre-conference event, which provided the majority of the materials-development related talks that I saw. The theme was “Writing for the World” and two of the talks were about inclusivity with regards to differentiation and special needs, so I have included those in that theme at the top of this post. The remaining talks were about ELF and materials writing (issues with current materials and how to deal with/embrace ELF as a materials writer), writing effective pronunciation materials, writing for language education in emergencies and development, and a panel that gave the audience the chance to question the speakers further about things that arose in the sessions.

In the main conference, I attended Heather and Julie’s session about versioning coursebooks. I’ve always* (slight exaggeration, but since I read Gray’s 2010 book about coursebooks and consumerism) wondered why there don’t exist versions of coursebooks for the UK. As vs using global course books which are not best known for their diversity and inclusivity (I won’t go any more into this now, I might blog more about it soon or wait and see my book chapter about writing materials for an English speaking environment, coming out next year! Suffice to say, when I posed the question at the end of the talk, no one in the audience had seen it done or had an answer!).

Wild card

There’s always a talk that doesn’t fit into any of the categories. This year, it was a talk about labels. I reflected on the content in my write-up so I won’t go further into it here, but I do enjoy the kind of talk that makes you think! Certainly there were some strong reactions from the audience.

So, that was IATEFL! And I shall finish off with a hearty round of applause to Brighton and the Brighton centre for their excellent job in catering for a vegan! I actually got to have the included lunch at the pre-conference event this year, for the first time in my vegan life! Also had some really good value sandwiches that really hit the spot. Pity Brighton is so far away from Sheffield!

Not sure when I will next be able to attend IATEFL but once again it has been a wonderful experience and one that has infused me with motivation and lots of interesting things to think about in relation to my practice. So worth all the time and effort (and dealing with the consequently manic week 3! – good news: I didn’t drop any balls, All The Things got done!!)  🙂

So long, IATEFL, till next time!




IATEFL 2018: Special Educational Needs and Disability – How to identify, differentiate and celebrate! – Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton wants to talk about all those students who have additional needs and need support for that. She is “Mister Messy” (Mister Men), and also a paediatric speech and language therapist, an EFL teacher for adults and her main interest is the overlap between SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and TEFL. Currently there is a lack of research and knowledge and sharing between the fields. Speakmylanguage is her website

  • It is a huge topic, so today is about general awareness and signposting session.
  • Resources and tips form the IATEFL 2018 workshop (this one!) will be on the website

SEND: Why does it matter in the ELT industry?

Inclusion is a “hot” topic at the moment, schools are under pressure to show that they are aware of and catering for these issues. On a more practical level, SEND affects most classrooms whether you are aware of them or not.

  • Facts and figures
  • How to spot the students with them
  • Practical strategies for supporting these students

UK SEND code of practice: for 0-25 years but applies to older people too.

“significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority  of others of the same age”

4 broad types of SEND:

  • Communication and interaction: developmental language disorder
  • Cognition and learning: general learning difficulties
  • social, emotional and mental health e.g. anxiety disorders
  • sensory and/or physical needs e.g. hearing loss

Today we will focus on the first 2.


  1. A staggering number of people go through life without an official diagnosis. Lots of undiagnosed students in our schools.
  2. Many SENDs are long term, won’t disappear and require management.
  3. Students with SEND do not generally have a lower overall IQ than the rest of the population. May form part of the diagnosis for some but not synonymous.
  4.  14% of young people (under 25) have been diagnosed with a SEND in the UK – they are the ones that we know about. And this is in the UK where it’s a hot topic, rather than in places where it may be taboo for example.

Which SENDs might fall into these categories?

  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning

(autism/aspergers, dyspraxia, dyslexia, sensory processing disorder, ADD, ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder, general learning difficulties, stammer, language disorder)

How to identify students with these conditions?

Our role of EFL teachers is not to diagnose students, that’s what the specialists do. We aren’t specialist teachers offering specialist teaching in a mainstream setting. But we should be aware of some of the signs of SEND, support students with basic strategies and seek further help as needed. We are looking for the type of difficulties not a diagnosis. Looking at what they find difficult so we can help them.

Why does a student make slow progress?

Tiredness, lack of concentration, not engaged, so many reasons. Could also be a SEND? Could be language-specific issues. Could be poor engagement/laziness? Could be personal/emotional problems? Could be a teaching-learning style mismatch – may not account for all but may be a factor.

Do some detective work

  • consider relevant linguistic/cultural factors (do they have a different script? absent structures?)
  • observe them in their own language (are they sociable? do they read?)
  • speak to the student directly (may tell you or may say I don’t know but I find x y z difficult)
  • monitor for consistency (if it is genuine you can’t switch it on and off, won’t change across teachers/host families etc)
  • adapt your teaching style (play around, do something different), note impact (has it helped? has anything changed?)
  • keep an eye out for common difficulties/behaviours (flags/warning signs)

Difficulties common to many SEND

  • slow processing, slow to understand
  • memory problems (short term, long term, working)
  • organisational skills (knowing when you need to be where, what time)
  • focus and attention (being able to sit without fidgeting etc for sustained period)
  • difficulty with lateral thinking

Dig a little deeper into “bad” behaviours

  • boredom
  • defiance
  • absence

Why are they there, are they hiding something? Not necessarily but could be.

Task – consider a profile of a student and possible explanations for the behaviour

This could be a classic dyslexic profile. These are common to dyslexia and other SENDs. But there could be a whole host of other reasons. E.g. script difficulty, needs glasses, maybe she needs her hearing checked, maybe she is tired. It’s about digging deeper.

Supporting/celebrate SEND: practical strategies

The good news: you’re already using some of them! There are general strategies which do benefit many students. There are patterns we can make the most of.

Common underlying factors

Underlying “processing” deficit – get quickly overwhelmed by speed and quantity of information. Relative strength – e.g. visual. A lot will have a low self-esteem as they are used to failing and having to work a lot harder to not be as good as others.

The main principles: ROAM

R– reduce processing load

O – overlearning (recycling/repetition)

A – achievable  tasks

M – multi-sensory teaching

10 Strategies

  • Pause: allow extra time for ss  to respond to questions/instructions; use more pauses in your talking
  • Deliver instructions in small chunks and in a logical order
  • Multisensory teaching: tap into all the senses; cater for different learning styles
  • Repetition: lots and lots of recycling and task repetition
  • Small goals: achievable tasks to increase confidence and success
  • Movement: incorporate this into activities, allow “mini-breaks” to help with processing
  • Safe space: ensure students feel valued and supported e.g. class buddy system. Be positive.
  • Self help: encourage use of strategies e.g. rehearsal/requesting help earlier
  • Reduce board copying: it can be TIRING! Give handouts/allow photos instead. If you have dyslexia or struggle to form letters or slow in general, you can waste all your energy writing rather than on the lesson content itself.
  • Visuals: explain tasks/concepts/lexis using pictures/symbols/words Spoken language is fleeting, for a student with difficult processing or needing more time, visuals can be helpful. (see website for useful visuals)


Parting thought: language learning: “everyone can benefit[…]and no one should be excluded” Hillarry McColl Language without limits




IATEFL 2018 An inclusive ELT classroom: being asked to dance – Maria Dolores Gomez

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Myers (2012)

[What a brilliant quote!]

Activity 1:

Work with a partner. Decide who will be Student A. In one minute Student A is going to report to Student B about a wonderful holiday or about yesterday. Student B no words containing the letter ‘E’ This is to show how apparently easy tasks that we assign every day to students in class can be difficult without our knowing it. Students may have difficulties that we cannot see, that are underneath.


Maria works at a school of languages in Spain, an institution that caters for people who can’t afford to go to expensive language schools. Ages 16 upwards, two days a week. Increasingly, they are finding they have more people who have special needs/requirements but this is unknown until they require some accommodation for exams. So only the tip of the iceberg is seen until then.

A typical class:

  • Carmen 59 Huntingdon’s disease
  • Manuel 57 just retired from the military
  • Lupe 34 fled Venezuela for political reasons
  • Luisa 31 Mental health problem
  • Susana 29 panic attacks
  • Juan 29 Mild aspergers
  • Student very shy
  • Student avoids contact with the opposite sex
  • Student thinks s(he) is too old.

Educational, geographical problems, economic, social, cultural differences, health problems, disability.

Education 2030 – Incheon declaration and framework for action ensure Targets 4.5 and 4.7 eliminate discrimination in education; education for sustainable development and global citizenship.

We all expect there to be ramps for people in wheelchairs or people who have had accidents or people with pushchairs. It is part of the universal design – an architectural movement begun in the 80s by an architect who had to use a wheel chair and was very frustrated as it was hard for people who weren’t mobile to move around. Principles: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, tolerance for error, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use. We can use universal design for learning (UDL) by providing options for perception. expression and comprehension.

Inclusive pedagogy

Being able to transform the capabilities of people who say they don’t have capabilities. Not something that teachers can do alone. Learning is a shared responsibility between teacher and learner (co-agency). Need to build up trust for that. Ts and Ss make meaning, two way feedback. It’s everybody together – our actions as teachers impact the students. We need a growth mindset.


I cannot be a teacher without exposing who I am (Paulo Freire). Teachers are models of emotional intelligence. This involves empathy, compassion, for others and self, and attunement. Emotions in the classroom are like neon signs telling your brain “remember this!” How do we communicate emotions? Proxemics (rules about appropriate use of personal space e.g. ), boday appearance (alterations to your body), body positioning and movement (how your body appears), gestures, facial expressions, paralanguage (clues to identity or emotions contained in our voices).

No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment (Carol Dweck) Everyone can make effort regardless of level or ability.


Use tools like Project Implicit – Harvard University – take a test to see if you have some kind of biases. Teaching tolerance. Representation matters (if you want to show people who don’t look like the typical people you see in course books) The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. The protagonist is not as you would expect. The undateables. Some people who may not feel seen in the class might feel seen when working with this kind of material. Even something as simple as mentioning dyslexia is also a problem for adults.

Reduce memory load – give instructions in different media, not just verbally but also written. Make sure students can see your mouth. Allow think time. Don’t feel this is a waste of time!

  • Make text reader friendly. Use large fonts.
  • Have high expectations still.
  • Use assistive technology
  • Communication – she recommends using Edmodo.
  • Assessment – use different tools e.g. Kahoot, Quizzes, Plickers (for younger kids), Quizalize, Kaizena (allows written and oral comments). For older students who are not used to being assessed with new techniques: chocolate chip cookie rubric (demonstrates how the criteria work by showing them as applied to cookies!)

This is not all about disabilities. Maybe students just feel they are too old, too…? Whatever the case, let’s get them dancing.

IATEFL 2018 Forum – effective and personalised: the holy grail of CPD

1. How do you create a culture of CPD?

by Oliver Beaumont from Regent Oxford and Duncan Jamieson from OISE

They see CPD like a big beautiful garden. For greta things to happen, you need the right conditions. Important to focus not only on what you are doing but also on how.

Conditions needed: engage, energise, empower


What nutrients do you need to engage your teachers in CPD?

The vision, sharing the purpose of thea ctivity. Why is it happening at this time, how does it fit in with teachers’ career path and the vision of the school? Relevance need sto be clear. The environment – set up the conditions of the room so that it is conudicive to CPD, with posters that reflect the methodology in use and flipcharts from previous sessions. Make it a priority, ringfence time. How can you replicate that in your school? Not doing it after hours or in a lunchtime.


Give teachers a level of autonomy not only in how they deveop but what they develop as well. A level of choice in where they are going to go with it. This gives them ownership over it, making it more likely that they will invest in it and make an effort. Collaboration – try to foster it as much as possible.


It’s a grand word but purposefully so. Often the part that is missed. It starts with follow up – meaningful action following whatever CPD so that development doesn’t stop at the end of the workshop. Feedforward – looking to the future and looking to help the teacher to develop, coaching them to be better.  Impact – reflect on the impact not just of the training session or peer obs but on the implementation and how it affects learning etc.

Transfer of learning into practice – if you add feedback and coaching into a session with theory and demonstration and practice, transfer increases dramatically.

Three examples of activities

  • Flash training
  • Personalised peer obs
  • Academic flair development programme

Focus not on what but how, this is how to put EEE into practice.

Flash training

Inspired by flash mob – short period of time, full of energy, memorable. Good for busy times. A simple way to do a CPD exercise that doesn’t need a lot of time. You only need 20 minutes.

  • Look at a current practice. (How do you…? How often do you…?) Input some fresh ideas – a few practical ideas or resources
  • Action (What will you do this week with what came up in the session)

The following week for 10 minutes you have reflection – they can reflect on how it went, they can invite a peer in to observe for the specific period where they are doing something and focus on that particular point.

Personalised peer observations

Trying to move away from the lottery element where you go in not knowing what you are going to see, maybe see some good ideas maybe not, maybe put them into practice maybe not.

Decide on a personal focus (what is it that you want to develop in your teaching); construct an observation tool that targets this element; go and observe a lesson using that tool; reflect with peer and design an action plan. (E.g. swap and be observed using the tool you made)

Academic flair development programme

The opportunity to explore beyond a single session:

Progress theory – not just driving for the end goal but when workers (teachers in this case) can see progress, small steps of progress:

Exploring psychology in language learning and teaching – Marion Williams, Sarah Mercer, and Stephen Ryan

If you are looking to create a culture of CPD, focus on the nutrients, focus on the conditions, and amazing things will grow from there.

2. Are we really supporting new teachers?

Alistair Roy, manager of a BC teaching centre just outside Madrid.

Why this topic?

He has been teaching for 12 years, has worked for 6 dfferent schools and had 12 different posts. A lot of change, a lot of coming and going has been seen. Out of those 12 posts, only in 1 of them has there been a proper mentor and mentoring process. 26 – the number of people he has “mentored” in his career apparently. In one year he remembers having 7 mentees at one time, which is basically impossible. In Sept 2017, he started his latest role of manager. He had no mentor or induction. He got a phonecall on Friday and was told to start on Monday. He also had to deal with two brand new teachers when he was also brand new. When he asked other centres for help, he got checklists with things like “Do you have an ID card?” to use with the teachers. Not mentoring. He has since spoken to 24 different teachers about this issue, to show the teacher’s point of view of mentoring.

Do you remember your first day in your current job? Was it overwhelming? Yes. Most common doubts: How do the computers work? Do we use course books? What? Where? What is the assessment policy? Is there an acceptable behaviour policy? Where are the toilets? etc.

Do you remember your first day as a teacher? In addition to all the above the fact that you have never taught a class alone in your life.

Scraps of paper were planted in the audience. Think of them as info, questions, doubts etc teachers have on first day of work. They had to try and hit him with them. 6 hit. So imagine 6 things stuck beyond day 1. The rest: the pieces of missed information.

On one occasion he gave a checklist to a T and most of the answers were I don’t know. Information overload had occurred.

Were you assigned a mentor? What should a mentor be?

  • a carer
  • a teacher (a leader)
  • a friend
  • not a soldier but a colleague
  • same level as you

A person who guides and supports by building trust and modelling behaviour

In one role, in a regular school, his induction programme lasted for the whole first year. He had an actual real mentor. Was one of the best things that happened to him ever. The mentor was in the same department, had a weekly 45 minute meeting built into the schedule. He was observed 9 times in the one academic year. Had the chance to observe 4 peers. He had a structured training programme provided and a training record that he could take with. He was given a bi-annual appraisal.

In the next role, a private language school. There was…none of the above. He was given in-house training from unskilled owners (never done a CELTA). He was given a contract and “the talk”. Then told to go teach FCE and Advanced. He didn’t know what they were.

91,7% of the people he spoke to have never been given a mentor.

What makes a good mentor?

  • good communicator
  • well organised
  • approachable
  • available
  • honest but fair
  • diplomatic
  • understanding
  • objective

What should a good mentor do?

  • make time
  • share experience
  • set a journey
  • be curious
  • be inquisitive
  • help the mentee self-assess
  • share
  • reflect

What can managers do?

  • invest – not just economically
  • dedicate time and resources (give teacher and mentor time to talk together)
  • support
  • understand (don’t forget what it’s like to be there)
  • a good teacher is your best resource (if you don’t keep them, you’ve got nothing)

After 5 years, 91% of teachers who have a good mentor stay in the profession. That falls to 71% if they don’t have a mentor. Quite a distinctive difference. Highlights the importance of a good, structured mentoring programme.

3. Personalised Development Groups: A framework for collaborative, teacher-led CPD

Josh Round and Andy Gaskins

Personalised Development Groups is shortened to PDGs.

  • Research underpinning approach
  • What are PDGs and how to do they work?
  • Evaluation – how personalised and effective are they?

Traditional approaches are one size fits all, the focus is decided by the manager or trainer (top down), easy for participants to consume passively, probably not much follow up, minimal impact on practice.

There is a lot of research available now on the importance of CPD and its impact on improving student outcomes. Need to make this clear to the teaching team, is not just a tick box thing.

E.g. of research

(Josh highlighted the highlighted words.)

Need to move away from transmission of knowledge and skills to something more collaborative. reflective development, creating learning communities.

A fresh approach to CPD

They wanted something less top-down. They would always have a person at the front talking, who gets more out of it as they had to prepare it. They wanted everyone to get more out of it. It was always Friday lunchtime and then it was the weekend all was forgotten.

Instead: less topdown and fragmentary and more personalised.


Pathways – broad areas of interest for groups to work on (some their ideas, some from the teachers – areas that would benefit the school or teachers were looking for more support or to refresh their practice) e.g.

Running the sessions: a balance between freedom to take ownership and support/structure to make it more beneficial.

6-8 teachers pr group, given a framework (the action research cycle) but left to the group to decide how to do this. Everyone gets involved.

Action research – qualitative and descriptive, observing what’s going on in the class, reflecting on that, implementing some kind of change.

  1. question (not easy, some groups took a few weeks to get going – useful to give prompts to help them get started, possible ideas to explore for each of the pathways.)
  2. Small change (take ideas into the classroom, doesn’t have to be huge, very narrow, very focused – decide what to do)
  3. implement (do what you have decided to do, be transparent about it, tell your learners what you are doing)
  4. observe (questionnaires, observations, interviews, teacher diary – simple things)
  5. reflect (talk about what you’ve done in your group, think about what to do next)
  6. repeat

How did it work? How was it received? (Evaluation)

They started doing this in Sept 2015, now in the 6th cycle, it’s been established, got going, has become a norm. They have done some staff surveys after the first cycle and at the end of last year.

  • 83% of t’s and 96% agreed it was effective
  • space and time to explore something they are interested in
  • take away practice ideas and experiment in teaching practice
  • In the first round a lower number thought it helped them discover new resources but in the last round 100% agreed.
  • High rates also for agreeing about it making a more reflective teacher and improve confidence/skills

Why do they sometimes not work so well?

  • absence or sickness
  • lack of structure
  • some members do not contribute much

Enthusiasm of early adopters can have a positive effect, that is what you hope for  to sway more reluctant ones.

At the end of the cycle, they do feedback presentations. So you (manager) finds out what has happened. Each group really wanted to tell/elaborate/share – each group gets 30 mins. Everybody gets to participate. Also promotes new, stronger work relationships and ongoing conversation about teaching.

Every second Friday at lunchtime, groups meet. But also in lessons, in the classroom, in your planning. It isn’t tidy, it’s a bit messy, needs getting used to. Teachers make two choices from range of pathways and you try and get people in first and second choice. Takes some time to get going and take off.



IATEFL 2018: Effective peer assessment as a step towards independent learning – Agnieszka Łuczak

Agnieszka is going to tell us how peer assessment helps develop learning independence and give us some ideas of how to incorporate it in our classrooms.

Why use it?

  • It increases independence and autonomy but also their responsibility.
  • It develops students’ knowledge of assessment criteria.
  • Students can learn from each others’ successes and mistakes.
  • If our students know what they are doing and are engaged in peer assessment, it reduces our workload. It’s a great thing to see students doing something useful for them and have a breather at the same time.

Students are often skeptical of peer assessment.

  • It’s my teacher’s job
  • I don’t want anyone to see my work
  • I don’t know what to say/write
  • I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings
  • There are so many mistakes, I don’t know where to start

Students might be too generous, too critical, lack confidence etc.

How to fight the skepticism:

  • Explain to your students why they are doing it (A usually tells them if you know how to do peer assessment, and help your classmate, you learn more about the assessment criteria and what I am expecting from you and you will be able to self-evaluate more effectively. Highlight that mistakes are very welcome in the class. Don’t be ashamed of them. Let’s use them, discuss them.
  • Provide the necessary tools: checklists, language to assess
  • Monitor: we need to be there and listening, as a safety net. Encourage learning independence but need to be there
  • Make it regular: practice makes perfect, if it is regular they will see the benefits. First they have to be trained it and then they need to practice it in order to become good at it.

How to include it in class?

Peer correction

Nominate an expert: Give them a bell. They nominate a student to give an answer. If the student agrees, they press the bell and if they don’t, they have to say why. Teacher is an observer and only helps out as a last resort.

Homework checking: Put students in groups. One student is the leader. They have the answer key in an envelope. This can only be consulted if students disagree. They need to discuss first “I think you were wrong here, I think this is right because…” This simple homework check takes 10-15 minutes. They become confident about the answers.

Proof-reading: Students proof read each other’s work produced in class and correct it. Give them three areas to focus on and check for e.g. words we learnt last week, irregular past forms and articles.

Correction codes (see handout below): Students need symbols and example sentences with errors highlighted. Then students create sentences containing different kinds of mistakes and then swap with a partner who needs to find the mistakes. This is something they don’t usually expect but are good at and they gain a better understanding of the code. Once they have understood the code, they can use it to look at their classmates’ writing.

Checklists and feedback forms (see handout below): For presentations, for IELTS, for any kind of assignment where you have criteria. Simplify the criteria. Have one sheet with dated columns so that they can monitor progress. Use a likert scale and students have to justify the scores they give in discussion. “You said:…. You should/could have said/added… Action plan for round 2: ….. This time you managed to….” (She exemplified it using IELTS speaking exam practice – students in pairs, one is the student and one is the examiner. They make the action plan together. This can also be adapted for writing.

Monitoring the quality of peer assessment

Important to ensure that the feedback is useful. We need constructive feedback and it is not easy to give it. When students start giving feedback they don’t know how to do it. It’s a life skill so it is worth practising. So we need to give feedback on feedback. When students give feedback, A goes round and listens and writes down any good examples she hears. She writes them on the board for all to see. You could also draw attention to examples that don’t work. You can brainstorm useful comments and non-useful comments on a padlet and save them. Tutorials with study buddies could also be useful. Once a month A takes them to the computer room and sets a task for them. Then two peer assessment buddies come and work w


ith her. They give each other feedback on for example a piece of homework. She is there to help them and guide them. It’s very effective but timeconsuming and not easy to organise. Worth it, however, if you can, as students become more confident.



Get students to prepare questions.

  • Daily revision: students put questions in a hat. Play pass the parcel, whoever has the hat when the music stops has to answer the question. Hot potato: ask a question, throw it (a safe projectile) someone if they can answer they do or they say hot potato and throw it to someone else.
  • Revision quiz – 30 minutes to prepare questions, teams take it turns to answer the questions. It has the added benefit of making them practice making questions. Teacher is an observer/the last resort. 
  • Students, in groups, make a test for another group to answer.


Question 1: how to deal with lower levels? Simplify the language used and build on it.

Question 2: what if quiz questions are repetitive? The first few times it might happen but as they get more competitive, there will be fewer. You could also get them to create 15 but only go through 10 so there are back up questions.

Question 3: What about teenagers? Make it more competitive, use a points system. With the correction code, let them create one.

I have done the putting students in groups to make up quiz questions for a review quiz thing before but I hadn’t thought of giving them question frames to help! 🙂 I like the checklists and feedback forms too. More food for thought!