KOTESOL part 4: Scott Thornbury

It’s no secret that Scott Thornbury is one of my favourite TEFLers, so I was pretty excited for his plenary on Saturday evening. I actually met Scott afterwards and managed not to say anything too silly (I realised recently that my earlier paranoia about saying silly things came from this blog post).

I told him I really enjoyed his talk and he said, in an almost disparaging way, that it was a light feel good presentation. The focus on the talk was about embracing change and near the start he said that anyone who had come to a conference had already embraced change. I think that, possibly, it’s one thing to ’embrace change’ and another to actually change. I also think being encouraged to change might be more useful than knowing what to change. I know quite a few ways I could change in class but they’re scary and different to what my classes are used to and might go down like a lead balloon.

At the heart of Scott’s talk were 5 principles that he’d borrowed from a book about professional development for doctors (note to self, read more weird and random books). The five principles were:
Don’t complain. Lots of teachers (and most people) complain about their jobs, but it’s not really helpful and it’s pretty annoying. He suggested #KELTchat for people in Korea as a forum where TEFL discussion happens in a positive way. I really like the sound of KELTchat and I’m going to be taking part this month.

Ask an unscripted question. It’s important to have real conversations with pupils and ask questions from a place of genuine curiosity. If we do this then we can learn about their interests and give classes that really matter for them. We can also ask questions like ‘When did you use English?’, ‘What’s easy and what’s hard about English?’ and ‘What do you want to say in English that you can’t?’ that give really obvious ways to change our classes to make them better.

Count something you find interesting. At the end of the day research just comes down to counting something ‘Count something’ sounds less scary to do. There are so many aspects to TEFL that there are an overwhelming number of things a teacher could research. Scott talked about counting the number of times he used certain mannerisms and how this made him stop. I know I say ‘so…’ all the time, if I counted it, it would probably make me stop to. One could also count the number of ‘real’ questions asked, how often the students spoke or how often names were used.
Write something. Scott talked about how writing a blog, tweeting or something of that ilk can be really useful. If you write something down you can clarify what you mean and think it through properly. You can also get help from other people by doing it. Writing up these KOTESOL blog posts has helped me consider what I heard and I’d recommend it for other teachers.

Change. The last point was to just change. The phrase “Recognise your inadequacy and seek solutions.” stuck out for me because it’s blunt and positive at the same time.

I’d be interested in knowing what other people thought about the talk. I really enjoyed it. I think the five points he mentioned are something I could come back to again and again if I ever feel stuck in a rut.