#Nurture1415 – the past and the future

This feels like such a  great opportunity to share what 2014 brought me and what and who I hope to be in 2015 and what I’d like to do in  this next coming year.

I wasn’t really on Twitter last year. I was, kind of, but I didn’t really read it and I wasn’t sure how to tap into the various networks. This blog was barely operational last year. A lot has changed in 2014 for me – it was a truly momentous year! EAL now seems larger to me than it was those 12 months ago. My eyes have opened to the larger picture that surrounds EAL over this time and it feels like it’s redefined me as a person, as a teacher, and as a human being.

At the conclusion of 2013, I was working as an EAL Teacher and Literacy Coordinator at Twickenham Academy in west London, with planes flying overhead both my flat in nearby Isleworth and the school itself every 5 to 10 minutes or so. Whilst the job designation was EAL Teacher, I certainly had your typical EAL Coordinator duties – data analysis, updating level spreadsheets, prepping students for home language GCSE exams, training staff. And I was a Literacy Coordinator, which meant I ran a Paired Reading programme for EAL kids and Lexia Reading Recovery programme for struggling readers (EAL and English native speaking children alike). Whilst I was covering for our Coordinator on maternity leave, I loved the feeling of being able to start things up at the school. We did a Language of the Month programme at the school. I set up and started teaching iGCSE ESL course (Cambridge) for year 9 students – to name but a few!

And sometime in the midst of all this, I became somewhat obsessed, you might say, with CPD. But not with CPD that you ask your school to let you go on once or twice a year, but the ones I want to do. EAL is the kind of a job, which unlike much of  the teaching in secondary schools, is not compartmentalised to one department – that is, we do need to collaborated with all teachers and all staff. So I did: English, Maths, Science, ICT, Humanities, SEN – you name it. Working through two Ofsted inspections in a requires improvement school, seeing all the superbly hard-working people through their professional struggles, dealing with their workloads made me more empathetic and understanding and far more part of the team with other staff than I’d ever been before. The hours we all did were incredible, but the dedication to the children, despite the pressure of the leadership (pressurized by Ofsted and HMI, by the way), was nothing short of commendable.

And so I started going to TeachMeets, which continue to be my favourite type of CPD. I just love the format of learning so many new things from so many professionals and networking at the same time. The first one I went to was in February 2014, I believe, and it was a TeachMeet Bus in central London. I followed it up with the Deeper Learning TeachMeet at UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage in April 2014. And, boy, was I hooked!

I managed to complete a number of other CPDs, both on- and off-line that I somehow managed to find the time for.

  • In January, in my school, together with my line manager, I delivered a presentation to members of Whole Education on the Literacy programmes we ran at the school.
  • I became involved with the National Writing Project, which gets teachers of English together to write. It’s a simple idea: if you write yourself, you will be able to teach writing better. I believe that’s when I first met @DiLeed in person, although we had a very short chat only back then.
  • In the spring, I completed Microsoft’s Teaching with Technology online course.
  • As I dealt with a lot of data and Excel spreadsheets, I completed a course with Excel with Business online, and got an Advanced result!
  • Attended NASSEA (EAL) conference in Manchester in May, making some great contacts in the north in my own professional field.
  • Straight after this, I went to LATE (London Association for the Teaching of English) conference at the Goldsmith College in London
  • Impressed with Pivotal Education’s workshop delivered at the ATL Conference in the spring, I got myself onto their Taking Care of Behaviour course online, which I only just completed in December
  • During the May half-term, I went all the way up to Glasgow for a brilliant 3-day scholarly university conference Diverse Teachers for Diverse Learners, with bilingual teachers issues in school settings issues, networking with scholars from other parts of the world
  • Online, completed British Council’s Education for Global Citizenship course
  • In June, it was NALDIC’s Grammar and EAL Learners event in Birmingham
  • In July, I went to EAL TeachMeet at a Harris Academy in Morden, London, and also did my very first TeachMeet presentation – on EAL / English partnership teaching.

In May, I successfully attended an interview at a mainstream secondary school for girls here in Hull, and finally, after all the years of building up to it, became a fully-fledged EAL Coordinator! Yay! We moved in July and just a few days after the moving day, I went for a 5-day course for EAL Coordinators run by NALDIC in Cambridge.

This was a my eye-opener! Run by some of the top EAL practitioners in the country (Y.Foley, S.Cooke, D.Excell, S.Green, C.Leung), it covered reading, writing, speaking, listening, critical literacy, Mohan’s Knowledge Framework, Cummins’s theories, second language acquisition theories and the advantages of bililngualism – I was amazed. It has brought home to me how to work with mainstream teachers, what to teach and how to bridge literacy and language in the curriculum. I spent the next 2 weeks or so of my summer holiday doing follow-up reading on the issues covered in the course. I built up my professional library by buying – I have my own professional budget within my personal budget – several books from authors such as P.Gibbons, B.Derewianka, B.Mohan, D.Brinton and S.Kagan. The stuff I now knew – I’ve decided – all teachers should know. And so I’ve decided that passing this knowledge to as many teachers as I could was now my calling – sharing knowledge and practice – helping people out with their EAL learners.

There seem to be two different approaches amongst the EAL teachers/professionals to building EAL/language capacity in schools. Some people seem to get grumpy with mainstream teachers for not doing what they want them to do. That is, there are some who have the utopian idealistic approach that just telling others that EAL is important should be enough. Well, that’s not me. I do not tend to be confrontational – it simply does not work. The vast majority of teachers have not been trained in EAL in their ITT – either not at all, or just barely. Given this, and their enormous amount of responsibilities, I prefer to be helpful. Being confrontational and hostile has never brought any results, but being helpful and aiding people has – which is what I’ve started doing.

So I started talking about EAL and literacy-related matters. I say EAL and literacy, but I see them as too connected and intertwined for there to be treated as separate entities. So what have I done since then?

  • Tweeting – I am now actively networking, sharing and communicating on Twitter with close to 400 followers – in comparison to 20 last year, I think that’s quite a success
  • Blogging – on EAL matters and on immigration / language / racial matters – see my response to a certain horrendous Daily Mail article or one calling for EAL and mainstream teachers working together – for examples
  • Speaking to teachers at events, mostly TeachMeets – this autumn, I spoke at an EAL TeachMeet in Glasgow and a TeachMeet here in Hull. I delivered a short presentation at NALDIC’s Annual Conference in Leicester – on a lesson planning template of my own design incorporating thinking skills and key visuals. In November, at the invitation of @lisajaneashes, I became a member of the organizing team for Pedagoo Christmas Party and delivered 3 presentations: on Graphic Organizers, Partnership Teaching and on Thinking Skills/Key Visuals lesson template.
  • At my school, I delivered a well-received whole school EAL training into the use of graphic organizers (across the curriculum) to facilitate teaching bilingual learners at the school.

Oh, and did I mention that I’ve been writing an MEd EAL dissertation (University of the West of Scotland) – to be completed by summer 2015?

So yes – a rather busy and rather successful year 2014! I can’t really think of much that has gone wrong professionally – although I might have wanted a bit of a breather now and again. But a lot of the additional training has been my own doing, so I shouldn’t complain…

So what are my resolutions for 2015?

  1. Continue helping teachers, both locally and nationally, in understanding EAL pedagogy, about bilingualism and most of all about the need to work together for our bilingual students. This is a dire need across the country and I am already committed to several talks across the country at various TeachMeets: in January in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, then Beverly, Humberside and Brighouse, Yorkshire, in March in Leicester and in April in Liverpool)
  2. Develop my skills as a teacher further – particularly the skills to link my EAL lessons to more subjects across the curriculum. This is only doable if I continue learning from mainstream teachers, hence my continued drive to go to various teacher events, such as TLAB 2015 in Berkhamsted, Herts, in March.
  3. Develop a new EAL assessment system in the view of the fact that we’re not beyond levels. Rather important in the work of any EAL Coordinator! We have a NALDIC (National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum) RIG meeting at my own school in February and the theme is assessment and I’ve committed to speaking on how to link the EU language levels (CEFR) to assessing EAL levels – so I resolve to this well and have a working system for July 2015!
  4. Develop further understanding of critical literacy and issues affecting students learning at schools and barriers that schools put up. I am learning so much from my Twitter contacts and networking with others. I am hereby extending a particular thank-you to the massive experience and expertise of @DiLeed – she has pointed me recently to a book by Shirley Brice Heath Ways with words analysing how home literacies can diverge from those expected and taught by schools. I’m reading it now – it’s precisely that kind of understandings that I need to develop more to improve my own professional practice. More and more and more research, reading and reflecting on my own practice – not letting the pressures of my job to stop me from investigating and questioning my own work and questioning policies which might want to force us to teach in politicised ways – more research will allow me to combat this easier!
  5. Reach more and more people by blogging and online networking. Definitely want to use social media to reach more people and write more on this blog! Not only about EAL itself, but immigration, racism issues (including institutional racism!), politics and power affecting bilingual learners and those struggling with literacy in the UK and worldwide.
  6. Work towards becoming teacher educator on top of being a teacher. Being local is just not good enough anymore. The need for teachers to know more about how to teach EAL learners, bilingualism, second language acquisition and related issues is too great – I don’t want to be confined to one area. I am now at a stage where I am beginning to be invited to speak at events, and it’s just something I’ve decided to work towards. More talks at teacher events, developing capacity for better literacy and EAL teaching wherever I go, busting myths around bilingualism. Thinking of writing for a journal perhaps, writing a paper for a conference?

Some big plans, I know. But it should be a great year 2015!

Have a wonderful year 2015 yourself, too!

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