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How I teach

My training and background

I have been teaching English for almost twenty years, having fallen into it while I was travelling around Thailand. When you do something for a long time, you can't help but pick up a lot of experiences and I can honestly say that my teaching career so far has been varied - I've taught class sizes ranging from one student to seventy eight students; I've taught levels between absolute beginner and post-C2; I've taught in contexts including private language schools, universities, public schools as well as private lessons in person and online.

In terms of training and qualifications, I have three teaching qualifications including Cambridge University's Diploma as well as numerous certificates in teaching IELTS and FCE and teaching online.

In the last two years, I've been adding to my skill-set by training as a coach and completing an NLP Foundation course. This training has profoundly changed the way I teach and has raised some interesting questions for me about what my role really is.

Teaching Vs coaching models

Traditional teaching models assume that the teacher has the knowledge and power while the students are recipients of the teacher's information and should defer the the teacher's higher status.

A coaching model, on the other hand, assumes that the client already has everything they need, they just need time, space and support to find it..

Training as a coach has changed the way I think about my students, myself and my work:

My (current!) beliefs as a teacher:

  • my students are equal to me - I do not assume I have, or should have, a higher status

  • my students are intelligent, creative people who can solve problems and find the answers to their questions

  • my students are capable of infinite learning and growth

  • my job is to support and facilitate that growth

  • my students' ideas and opinions about life, the world and their learning are as valid as my own

  • people learn best when they are relaxed and engaged in the learning process

  • people learn best when they are given responsibility for their actions and outcomes

  • people need time to think and the thinking process should not be rushed

How Coaching has influenced my teaching

Many of the beliefs I've outlined above are influenced by the coaching training I have done. In coaching, it is assumed that the client already has the answers and information they need; they just need help and support in accessing it. Additionally, in 'pure' coaching, the coach should not give advice or give their opinion; the session is entirely focused on the client and the client's needs. This is in contrast to teaching where the teacher is the source of information which the student lacks, whether this be grammar knowledge, information about an exam or how to punctuate a paragraph.

This creates an interesting paradox for me as a teacher /coach as sometimes I do need to give information such as when I am working with a student on a new or difficult grammar point. Even here, I will always get the student to explain the grammar to me as they understand it and then help them refine their understanding where possible. In this way, we can co-create the lesson rather than have me 'give' a lesson on something.

I also repeat questions back to my students if I feel they are trying to put responsibility for decisions onto me. Recently I was supporting a student as they created a study plan. The student asked me when I thought they 'should' do their homework. Rather than tell them what I thought, I asked when they thought would be the best. The student was able to come up with the perfect solution for them …….. they know their lives far better than I do!

How I try to help my students

Essentially, I aim to provide a safe space for people to learn in. I give people time to process information and try never to interrupt (not always easy on Zoom!). I am a 'materials light' teacher in that I don't bombard my clients with worksheets and tests. Instead, I aim to provide interesting and meaningful learning experiences where change can take place. I am a fan of YouTube, TED talks, articles and blogs although I do use course books, particularly with lower level students who need the extra support.

What's next?

In 2022 I am planning to continue my professional development by beginning my training as a Thinking Environment Facilitator. The Thinking Environment is a coaching model that aims to promote intelligent, powerful thinking in people by giving them the space and time that they need to process information. It is used extensively in business as well as in other settings such as one-to-one coaching. I am interested to see how useful it will be not only in my private sessions but also by going into companies with a significant number of non-native staff and facilitating a tolerant work environment where no one is judged or shamed because of their accent and where no one needs to fear the next meeting because they know they will be heard and valued.

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