How Do We Embrace Change?
Malu Sciamarelli is a teacher, teacher trainer, and conference presenter. Her main interests are literature, creative writing, and creativity in the English language classroom. She is the current coordinator of the Creativity Group (http://thecreativitygroup.weebly.com/ ) and the IATEFL Literature SIG Web Manager. Website: http://malusciamarelli.weebly.com/
There are two kinds of change in life:
- The first is the planned change that we have had time to think about and prepare for.
- The second is the unplanned change that is often forced upon us by unforeseen events and circumstances.
Both these can have personal and professional effects. However, managing both kinds has become increasingly difficult for ELT professionals, who have to respond to the demands for improvements in classes, training and education systems, on top of the complex issues that we face on a daily basis. So, how do we embrace and respond to change?
1. Planned change
Let’s consider first planned change.
Planned change is done consciously. Maybe there are aspects in your lesson plan, classes, training or results that you are not happy about. The first thing you need to do is draw up a plan. No change is possible if there is not a framework to be changed, a starting point towards the desired outcome.
After designing the plan, you must be willing to do something different. In order to do so, we must continuously stretch ourselves by stepping out of our comfort zone. However, the moves do not have to be big; by taking small yet consistent steps, you may achieve big results (Fanselow 2016). For example, if you always keep the same seating arrangement in the classroom because it is easy to manage the students or trainees, try a different one and observe how you feel and how the students react.
One thing that educators often face is lack of motivation along the way. To maintain your motivation, it is essential to take full responsibility for your decisions and actions. Results in the class will not be different, students and trainees will not act differently if you yourself, as an educator, do not change. Educators are role models for students and trainees to follow. That is why it is vital to be fully accountable for the change you want to make.
‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.’
The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs
If you teach young learners in a more traditional way or train more traditional teachers of young learners, try ‘embodied learning’ (Miller & Nigh 2017), which is based on the idea that learning is not just about remembering. It involves using the mind and the body to collaborate, discuss and explore. Students need to be emotionally, intellectually, physically and socially engaged.
- Plan. Think of a topic that is suitable for the group of students you are teaching. Select the material needed, list the steps and expected results, as well as possible drawbacks.
- Small steps. In some classes before the activity, ask students questions related to the topic you select and observe how they feel and how you feel.
- Step out of the comfort zone. Do the hands-on activity – bring the topic previously introduced, ask them to draw a story, for instance, compare with what other students have done, ask questions and ask them to explain why they created that specific story.
- Sustain motivation. Be engaged by showing them you also draw, ask questions and explain your story. Be a role model.
- Change. You will have incorporated ‘embodied learning’ in your more traditional classes.
If you teach teenagers and adults in a more traditional way, try using alternative approaches to teaching grammar. One suggestion is to use the book Teaching Grammar: From Rules to Reasons (Norrington-Davies 2016), in which teachers and students discover how writers and speakers use grammar to express themselves in real life. Another suggestion is to incorporate more creative activities in your classes. The book Alan Maley’s 50 Creative Activities (Maley 2018) contains an extensive range of activities, from playing with language to working with music and sound.
When you are planning changes, it is crucial to focus on the long-term results and not worry so much about the short-term ones, which might be random and inconsistent. They might not reflect the long-term change you will make. Thus, it is important to stay focused.
‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there.’
Another important thing is to avoid changing things too fast or all at once, especially during the early stages of changes in your classes or training. Remember to take small steps.
Finally, the most important thing is to change your mindset. If you do not believe in the changes you want to make in your classroom, then students and trainees will not believe in them either. It is essential to believe in the process of change you have selected and be a role model for your students and trainees.
Unplanned change can be challenging. However, it can be highly beneficial if handled thoughtfully. That is why it is best dealt with an exploratory mindset together with an experimental approach.
Also, unplanned change may require new habits and routines while abandoning old patterns and behaviours that may no longer serve the needs of your students and trainees. In addition, it is important to stay open to opportunities that may exist in your professional development as a result of this change. If well managed, it can be incredibly beneficial and rewarding.
2.1. How to embrace unplanned change
a Prepare yourself. If you as a teacher or trainer do not have any previous training, you will not be prepared to change. It is essential to be prepared for the unexpected (Maley & Underhill 2012). For example, if you have a lesson plan and something unexpected happens, you will be able to spontaneously deal with the situation yet achieve a worthwhile result by the end of the class.
b Respond fast and positively. When the unexpected situation happens, it is best to respond in a positive and proactive way. As in clowning, for instance, you need to ‘accept the offer’. It will help you take the best decision at that moment. However, it is also important try to understand things in their context and be open to new ways of looking at things. This is when you may see things from other perspectives and bring about change.
c Be realistic. There will be some things that you will be able to control and others you will not. Maley and Underhill call the latter ‘the dark matter’ in the classroom. With those things, you must simply adapt and make the best use of the opportunities in the classroom, or simply act by responding to the flow (Csikszentmihalyi 2008).
d Learn from experience. Take some time to think and reflect on what happened in your classroom, learn from this experience to help you act differently when you encounter a similar situation in the future.
‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy,
not on fighting the old, but on building the new.’
As teachers or trainers, we must bear in mind that questions are a vital part of the class as they allow for clarification and consolidation of learning. However, sometimes students ask a question that will interrupt your planning. Nonetheless, it is essential to answer before you can continue, otherwise they will not understand. In this case, we have to change the plan to keep the flow in the class and enhance the effectiveness of learning.
A simple example is when we are teaching the ‘Present Perfect’ and students ask, ‘what is the past participle?’ Sometimes we have to change all the strategy of the lesson plan to answer this question. But without answering, it is impossible to continue the class.
A complex example is when a catastrophic event happens in your country and a student raises this issue. It is vital to discuss and incorporate it into the group, rather than ploughing on with the lesson plan.
If they are simple or complex issues, it is important to stop, listen, understand, involve students in the process and respond.
3. Benefits of embracing change
a Embracing change encourages development. We learn new things every time something changes. We discover new insights about different aspects of our own development, classroom routine, students learning, for example. We learn lessons even from changes that did not lead us to where we intended to go.
b Changes make you more flexible. When you face changes, you are more likely to adapt to new situations and face challenges more easily. You will also respond positively when something unexpected happens.
c Reflective practice. Changes make you re-evaluate a situation in your classroom, reflect on what you have done and look at things from a different perspective.
d Change breaks up routines. Some routines in the class are very important; others, however, stifle creativity. By changing things and doing them differently, you allow more creative practices in your classes.
e Change leads to new experiences. Every change, whether planned or unplanned, that happens in your classroom is an invitation to take advantage of a new opportunity and have a new experience. Teachers build their personal theories of teaching and learning through a continuing process of reflection on their lived experiences. This process is what makes them grow personally and professionally (Maley 2018).
‘To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.’
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
Fanselow, J. (2016). Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning. iTDi TESOL.
Maley, A. (2018). Alan Maley’s 50 Creative Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Maley, A. & Underhill, A. (2012). ‘Expect the unexpected’ in English Teaching Professional. Issue 82, pp 4-7.
Miller, J. & Nigh, K (2017). Holistic Education and Embodied Learning. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing.
Norrington-Davies, D. (2016). Teaching Grammar from Rules to Reasons: Practical Ideas and Advice for Working with Grammar in the Classroom. London: Pavilion Publishing.
The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. (2012) Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 57, Yale University Press, New Haven.
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How Do We Embrace Change?
Malu Sciamarelli, Brazil
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Rod Bolitho, UK