An Interview with Chuck Sandy (Part 1)

In a talk about finding your  teaching ‘superpower’ Chuck Sandy tells the audience his is ‘Bringing the right people together.’ Interviewing Chuck I can see why people might be drawn to help out: throughout the fifteen minutes we speak he is always modest, gregarious and ready to credit his successes to others. This traits matched with his message of empowering any and every teacher who will let him must be a mix that draws people towards him and together.

Chuck Sandy

Chuck mid plenary at KOTESOL International Conference 2015

In the short time we got to talk at the KOTESOL 2015 International Conference I asked him about his five (!) talks at the conference, teachers getting along, having a can do attitude, and his work at ITDI. He was very easy to interview, often answering my questions before I had a chance to even ask them. You can find the results after the jump.


Firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me, you’re giving how many talks this weekend?

Five, as well as four last week. They’re all different.

Which one would you say is closest to your heart, if you could only pick one?

I’d say the plenary I gave this morning. I’ve been thinking a lot about it.

And why is that one so close to you?

Because I wanted to respond to the rise of nastiness that I’ve noticed [in English language teaching]. It’s taking place on social media. In this field, and maybe in every field there are a lot of evangelists claiming that they have the right answer or that the other person has the wrong answer. It’s not necessary and it’s kind of a waste of energy. Everybody has an answer, but nobody is right. When they asked me to come to the conference, the organizers asked me to talk about inquiry. I started to think about the lack of inquiry that we as educators sometimes have when it comes to our own profession. People take sides like “I’m this kind of teacher, not this kind of teacher”, but everybody is doing a good job. Obviously some people are doing better than others, but it’s not helpful to attack one another.

When I was preparing for this interview I watched your ‘I can virus’ TED presentation. It was very slick and well prepared, even for a TED talk which are always very slick. Your talk this morning was also very smooth and well put together. How do you go about preparing for a presentation?

[Laughter and an ‘I have no idea’ shrug]

 You don’t know?

I think about it a lot. I’m a walker, and so I do most of my talk preparation while I’m walking until I can see it. It takes a lot of walking [Laughs]. I’ve been thinking about todays session for a few months really, but the shape didn’t really come together till this morning. I realized I had to take out about 17 slides. It’s a good question because even when I know I have enough material, I panic and add more. I spent the last morning making slides I didn’t use.

I’m taking a course at the moment with Luke Meddings of Unplugged Teaching fame. The course is called ‘Learning Space’ and it’s about uncluttering your teaching or your presenting. A lot of Luke Meddings and other unplugged peoples work have affected me. It’s a matter of minimalizing. Once you’ve got all the stuff, you’ve got to take a lot of the stuff out. Avoid the urge to fill everything full of content and give people space to think instead of telling people stuff. Luke Meddings last night in his online course had three slides. They were really good and the message was clear so I’m trying to learn.

With the TED talk what was interesting is that I was asked to do that and I didn’t really have a clue. I put something together and my friend Steven Herder from ITDI offered to listen to my talk. He got some people together and we met on Google Hangouts or Skype or something and this great focus group came together and they really helped me. At the end some of the lines in the TED talk weren’t mine, they were from them and some of the images were from those people as well.

A theme in your TED talk and also this morning was about making a choice to say ‘I’m going to go and do this thing, even though I’m not 100% sure how to do it.’ Do you have any stories from your life or from someone you know about people who have done that and been successful?

Actually Josette [LeBlanc] and I are going to talk about that this afternoon. We have a bunch of stories and one of them is that Josette came up to me after a session in 2011 and said “I want to talk to you, I have this idea and…” The talk this afternoon is about when you get a crazy idea in your head and then this inner voice pops up and says “No that’s stupid, you can’t do that. You’re not that kind of person at all.” Part of it is learning to silence that inner critic and not pay attention to whatever it is that is nagging at you when you get these ideas in a good way If you’re running with it and you don’t know what to do, get someone else involved.

There are a couple of good examples: one is ITDI the International Teacher Development Institute. I had this idea in my mind that it would be ‘Transformation Associates’ but I told this to someone and they said ‘What it is is the ‘International Teacher Development Institute’ and I said ‘Oh really?’ I Kept telling this story and it started to take shape. It was kind of a stupid idea. How could we build something that could reach so far?

Well it worked!

Yeah, on some level. We now have teachers in 90 countries. We’re not making any money but that’s another story.


We’ll be talking about that ‘other’ story and more about Chucks work at ITDI in part two of this post. If you want to be the first to know when it’s posted, click subscribe on the right.