Skip to content ↓

December 2022 - Year 24 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Pilgrims News

Mercedes Pérez Berbain interviews Chaz Pugliese Director of Education and Teacher Training at Pilgrims, and Hania (Hanna) Kryszewska, editor of Humanising Language Teaching

I, Mercedes Pérez Berbain (MPB), am here with Chaz Pugliese, who apart from being a well-known teacher trainer and book writer is the Director of Pilgrims, and with Hania Kryszewska, an experienced teacher trainer, book writer, and Editor of Humanising Language Teaching. Thank you for being with us and for allowing us to pick your brains.  I’m going to start by asking you to describe humanising teaching.  

Chaz Pugliese (CP): I think that before even attempting a definition of humanistic philosophy it may be useful to frame it historically. Humanistic philosophy, humanistic approach developed by Carl Rogers and Maslow in the US. It was a response to Skinner’s behaviourism, which was dominating back then. Skinner believed that humans were driven by a system of punishments and rewards and this belief was transferred in education. The humanistic “movement”, for want of a better word, was a response to this. Humanistic thinkers, like Rogers or Maslow, or William James even before them at the end of the last century, believed that human beings are driven by a multitude of factors, for example emotional factors. I think it’s important to situate Humanism within a very specific historical perspective. I think it’s easy to say what humanism is not. It’s not a methodology, it’s not a technique, it’s not a teaching strategy. It’s a philosophy. It’s a vision of what human beings are like. Humanism shouldn’t be reduced to activities or strategies, or exercises of this and that. I think that we all agree that Humanistic philosophy is the pillar upon which Pilgrims have been built. We all agree that if you fail to address the needs of the students in front of ou can get away with it but if you fail to address the needs of the human being in front of you, you will be history. Hence, the importance that we place on the cognitive needs but also, the social and emotional needs of the person in front of us. So, to me it is a human-centred way of teaching. And the role of the teacher is to basically create an ideal learning environment, whereby the learner can motivate themselves, number one, and can also be led to thrive in this environment. This is how I’ve always looked at it. 

Hania Kryszewska (HK): I really agree with you, and I’d also say that when you open a course book, you will not see humanism in a course book. Humanism happens between the people. Humanism happens between the students. Humanism happens thanks to the atmosphere we create, the attitude, and the care that we provide and the attention we pay to the individual. A little example, we ask the students to do an activity and instead of saying “You have got 10 minutes to do it” we can say “see how much you can manage in 10 minutes”. When you give students a test you can say “you choose which 10 questions you want to deal with”, then we can talk about the ones you were not so confident about and see why that was so. Always looking at this personal perception and the personal friendship and friendliness which transpires whatever we do as humanistic teachers. 

CP: I think what you are saying is very relevant. Asking students to be in charge of their own learning. Giving them choice, giving them options. Incidentally, these are all concepts which Howard Gardner reutilised or made his in his theory of multiple intelligence in Frames of Mind 1982 and even more so in the book which came after that Unschooled Mind which has more practical considerations in my view. Giving choice, allowing the student to be in charge of their learning process which until then it was unheard of. During the Skinner (the behaviourist) era, the students had no say in what they had to learn. And it is sad that in some countries and some contexts, as we are all aware, this is still the case. So, for me this is what it’s all about – giving the students choice, giving them options, helping them self-actualise, to use Maslow’s terms, helping them realise the fullest human potential. And this is our role: our role is to lead the students on the path of self-determination which is an ever-better word than motivation. Motivation is a bit empty. Motivation means everything and nothing at all. Self-determination, I think, is a much richer, much more pregnant word in my view. 

HK: And you think that what stands in opposition to humanising language teaching, humanism, is the educational ethos in which tests are of the greatest importance, ticking the right box. Zero-one system of correct and wrong answers. And the product of such a system is when students do an exercise what is the right answer? What does the key say? and they only want to match the key at the back of the book or in the teacher’s book and that’s all. That is what humanism is not about. This is what humanism is against. 

CP: Yes, very much so and it’s for students’ creativity, and students’ self-expression and helping the students go beyond the shackles of the correct answer. It’s very true what Hania is saying. 

MPB: I instantly feel like being in one of your lessons, in your classroom, in your realm. If only this were true in many more classrooms, and with many more colleagues, I think we would have a better world. 

HK: I think also that there’s this important element of personalisation that when planning a lesson thinking along the lines of “one student may prefer to be doing one kind of homework and another student may prefer to be doing another kind of homework so giving them options and even asking them what they would like to do for homework and then negotiating with them. It’s a very beautiful way of implementing personalisation, and in a humanistic way thinking about assignments we give them and the choices they can make rather than everybody being treated in exactly the same way, don’t you think? 

CP: Definitely. 

MPB: Chaz talked about Humanistic teaching being a movement, not a method with specific strategies. But as we may all agree, this view of teaching, this philosophy, is seen or becomes concrete by means of some kind of strategies. Would you like to share with us a favourite strategy that you have implemented, one that might have made an impact on your learners, or on yourselves, or on both. 

CP: If we are talking about micro strategies, I think definitely yes. I live in a country, France, where making mistakes is still criminalised. And people are seriously punished for each single mistake they make. And not just in a foreign language learning classroom but in general. The French have very little tolerance for mistakes. They place the bar very high. They are not tolerant of mistakes. One of my jobs when I meet a group for the first time is to try and infuse the group with positive attitudes towards making mistakes. I learnt from Mario Rinvolucri, every once in a while, I don’t do it all the time, but I write them a welcome letter and in mywelcome letter I write amongst other things, I introduce myself, I ask about them, I tell them about me and my life and stuff like that and then I say “please make as many mistakes as you can”. And I underscore that. And they think I’m nuts, and they think that I have a weird sense of humour and in fact I mean it and then I try to walk the talk. To take the negativity out of mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes you don’t make anything, somebody famous said. But the French don’t look at it that way so in discussing strategies, micro or macro, on how to apply humanistic thinking in the classroom we also have to remind ourselves that whatever methodology we adopt in a certain classroom this cannot and should not be divorced from the context in which we operate. There are certain countries, certain contexts, in which a certain way of doing, certain ways of teaching, certain ways of being with our groups wouldn’t go down well. And that requires extra mental effort on our part to see which parts of the system can be rejigged and which parts of my thinking should be rejigged so it can fit in, without penalising my students. 

HK: I’d like to add something along these lines. I’m always on the look out to find moments when I could boost students’ self-esteem. And it can start by simply noticing somebody’s new hair style and how great they look or giving them feedback. Of course, I have to correct the mistakes but the students don’t see the forest because of the trees. And helping them to see the success, what they have been good at, the kind of sandwich effect if you want that psychologists talk about. Little bursts of boosting students’ self-esteem. And I think it doesn’t only work at the individual level, but the students also see that somebody else’s self-esteem has been boosted and it has a very positive effect on creating a humanistic atmosphere in the classroom. 

CP: Creating a humanistic atmosphere in the classroom. One of the ways of doing so is by creating and fostering and strengthening the social connections. One thing that I like to do is, if I had a group for one or two lessons and I realise that people are still in their little cocoons, I ask students how many students’ first names they can mention so who is Joe, who is Mary and so on. And then I like everybody to be aware of each other’s names. I think you can’t even start working with the group, when you have 15 or 20 people, and they don’t even know their first names. What are you going to do? “She said this” and “He said that”? That’ not conducive to a nice, relaxed, stressed-free sort of atmosphere. So as Hania has said it’s about “what have you noticed about him and about her?”. “Have you noticed anything?” because sometimes they don’t because they think these things are peripheral, you see, they ask what have these things got to do with English? Well, a lot if you ask me. One of the things I like about being a humanistic teacher is paying attention to students’ emotions. This is considered to be airy-fairy, flower-power, Californian thinking. But in fact, when you stop and think for a minute that there is an emotion behind a student’s behaviour, behind a student’s decision, when then you realise that it’s not so peripheral anymore but that it’s very central. If a student is looking worried or apathetic or listless, or concerned about something I think it’s one of my responsibilities to find out why the student is feeling this way because if she or he is being worried this is going to have an impact on their learning. This is nothing wishy-washy but it’s who you are dealing with. Are you dealing with furniture or are you dealing with a human being? And I think it is incumbent on us to try and find out, without intruding into students’ private lives. I try to place myself in the student’s shoes. How would I feel if I understood that the teacher actually noticed that I am a little stressed out, that I’m a little worried or concerned? It doesn’t take much but it travels a long way. It makes the students feel like wow, he noticed so I’m not a number, I’m not a piece of furniture in this group. I think it does make a big difference. 

HK: And I noticed that in COVID times when we were in lock-down and we were teaching on-line, humanist became so important because otherwise the student was just an image on the screen, if there was an image, if it wasn’t only a voice; and noticing and talking to them and being open to their feelings and emotions, being outgoing and helping them with whatever problem they had online. I think humanism was extremely important in that period. 

CP: I agree. I think it was one of our challenges to try ways to be humanistic online because it’s a lot “easier” to be humanistic when you share the same physical environment with the students you’re with, with the people you are with, but online you have this barrier. All of a sudden you don’t have body language; sometimes the students wouldn’t even turn on their cameras, it would be much much more complicated to retain your usual humanistic without betraying your humanistic ethos while working in a different manner altogether, so for me it was one of my biggest challenges during the pandemic. 

MPB: You have mentioned very important concepts and issues around humanistic teaching such as what it takes to be human, what it takes to be a humanistic teacher and learner, noticing, fostering self-determination, how what may seem like details can make a whole difference in a group of people and as Hania said “it’s what happens between people” (which is one of the most well-known ideas Stevick shared with us). Would you like to mention anything else on humanistic teaching or humanising teaching?

HK: We could go on forever.

MPB: We could, couldn’t we?

HK: How long have we got? (laughing) 

CP: I just want to say one thing. And this is not about preaching about humanistic, anybody is free to do whatever they want to do, everyone is free to teach with whatever method they want to choose, but I find it really painful when I see that humanistic has been given such bad press by people who haven’t actually even bothered to see what people like Carl Rogers or Abraham Maslow would say. It’s a bit sad because it is for me the ABC. Any teacher, any leader in fact, and that’s something else – teachers are leaders. I think humanistic leaders, paying attention to students’ emotions, which is very central, focusing on the students’ emotional state for me is paramount and you shouldn’t have to be a humanistic teacher to take that onboard so, I think it’s fundamental. So it kind of hurts when I see humanistic thinking being misrepresented or misinterpreted or being labelled all sorts of different names like I said before airy-fairy, wishy-washy, nothing substantial, and that is the most innocuous peripheral. How can it be peripheral when you pay attention to how your students feel in front of you? Is that peripheral? I don’t know…

HK: I think that you have said something very important: somebody who is a humanistic teacher, should we try and find a different name for this teacher? like you said “leader” or “coach”, or perhaps another word to describe a humanistic teacher because a humanistic teacher does so much more than teach. 

CP: Well as you know, Carl Rogers talked about being a facilitator. Rogers was a therapist, a psychologist. I never really warmed up to the use of the word facilitator in our field. I think teachers shouldn’t shy away from using the term leadership. It’s like you know teachers don’t want to talk about psychology because psychology is such a highfalutin word. Almost in the same breadth, teachers are very happy to talk about motivation, group processes, anxiety. What is that if not psychology? So, similarly when we are talking about issues like creating a motivating environment, building self-esteem as you said before Hania, well that’s the job ofa leader. When you are a teacher you are a group leader whether you want it or not. And if you don’t think leadership is for you then maybe this profession is not for you. Especially when you teach middle school level, high school level. Imagine the transition between elementary school to middle school, potentially one of the most traumatic transitions: everything changes. You don’t have one teacher any more, you have a bunch of teachers. You are feeling so anxious because you’ve heard all sorts of stories about how older kids pick on the younger kids. You’re a nervous wreck. And if you as a teacher don’t have the right tools and as a leader you don’t have the right tools to help people transition between elementary school to middle school, you know what you’re going to do? You’re going to blame the students. And how fair is that? So I think teaching and leadership go hand in hand. The problem is that just as people have different ideas about what humanistic teaching is all about, people have all different ideas of what leadership is, what constitutes leadership, so you mention the word leader and people would think of people like Steve Jobs or Nelson Mandela and that is just one type of leadership that we shouldn’t be concerned with. There are other types of leadership. Being a leader, in our field, is basically infusing people with the motivation to learn; helping the students ignite the spark that is already burning in their bellies. That’s our job. I don’t know if I would go to a cocktail party and introduce myself as a leader because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be asked back. I know Hania that you’re not discussing semantics but yes there is a real need for another word for teaching. I don’t know what that word is. 

HK: I think we have answered your questions, have we?

MPB: You most certainly have and I’m very happy. This is what happens when people get together. Somehow it’s always more than the sum of the parts. And as both of you know it’s also the need of updating a concept that started so long ago. Humanistic teaching as you said is very timely and we define it day after day. We are different. The world is different and still these ideas are very relevant. 

CP: Totally and if I may add one more thing, Humanistic teaching, like creativity, is not and cannot and should not be a one-off thing. It’s not something like, “Today we’re going to talk about your feelings”; “today we are going to do something creative or fun” because it’s Friday afternoon, the sun is out and off we go to the beach. I think that will be really wrong. That would be doing a de-service to our students first of all and ultimately to ourselves and giving ammunition to those people who seem to think that humanistic teaching is just airy-fairy, for me that would be the wrong approach. I hope I’m not sounding dogmatic. I’m trying to sound coherent. I think if you have a belief, you have to have that belief A through Z, and not on even days or odd days. 

MPB: And that brings us back to what you said at the very beginning – Humanistic teaching not being a method, it’s not about doing this and doing that, but it’s about being. You cannot be eclectic with your being. Yes, you can develop yourself day in and day out: you are a humanistic teacher being the best version of yourself as you possibly can, and helping learners to be who they want to become, and that is indeed leadership. 

CP: I think you can be a communicative teacher teaching the humanistic way. I don’t see any contradiction there. If you care for the development of the human potential in the students, if you care about their emotional well-being while at the same time you also happen to believe that communicative teaching is the best way to teach or the method which best sits with you, then there’s no contradiction, simply because we’re not talking about the same thing. One is about how a language should be taught and the other one is a way of being in class with the students. There’s no contradiction at all, that's why I don’t think humanistic teaching is a method. 

MPB: Hania, would you like to round up this brilliant conversation. 

HK: I’d like to say that I am very happy that Humanising Language Teaching, the magazine which is sponsored by Pilgrims has been around for well over 20 years, which has brought together like-minded people who are interested in humanistic teaching, who want to write about humanistic teaching, who want to publish articles about humanistic teaching. It is a fantastic hub for humanistic teachers and I think it plays a very important role in promoting humanism, helping teachers on the way to develop and become more humanistic. 

MPB: And it is as relevant today as it has been all these years. Thank you very much for spending time with us. 

CP: Thank you!

HK: Thank you!

November 2022


Please check the Pilgrims f2f courses at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Pilgrims online courses at Pilgrims website

  • Humanism Today by Pilgrims Trainers, Mercedes Pérez Berbain interviews Chaz Pugliese Director of Education and Teacher Training at Pilgrims, and Hania (Hanna) Kryszewska, editor of Humanising Language Teaching