Saturday, 18 October 2014

Professional Development for Practitioners With a Passionate Attitude

At the TESL Ontario Conference 2014 (#TESL2014), I was a part of a wonderful session: “Free Professional Development for Practitioners With a Passionate Attitude (#passionatti)”. I’d like to share the story that preceded this collaboration.

English Online Inc. - Your English Language Learning Network 

It is not a surprise that many of us may feel disconnected in our professional lives. Teaching once was called an egg-carton profession – it is a well-known metaphor introduced by Dan Lortie (1975) to suggest that teachers are often isolated in their practice inside their own classrooms without interacting with each other similar to egg cells in a carton. Simultaneously, unique teaching experiences and wonderful discoveries are happening inside these classrooms day by day, but unfortunately they may never be shared with our colleagues. It may be lack of time that prevents us from collaborating with each other, or our busyness, pace at which teaching is happening, lack of support on behalf of our colleagues, lack of space, etc. Thinking of your own workplace, does it allow for collaboration with other teachers (do you have any PD hours provided, do you have space where you could meet with your colleagues, etc.)? In my own case, being an adult ESL Literacy instructor, I found myself fighting a never-ending battle in the classroom in an urgent need of someone’s expertise and support. But how, when and where?

I decided to look for PD online. I attended a webinar led by Tyson Seburn (an exceptional teacher educator and TESL Toronto’s president) with a self-explanatory title “Globalizing the Staffroom: Social Media for Language Teachers”. I watched it for a few of reasons: to learn how to use social media in order to connect with like-minded teachers, support my colleague, and to see what it was like to lead a webinar session (I was sort of thinking of doing one by myself, but obviously was to scared to make it happen). In the chatbox, I noticed that a few people were particularly active, knowledgeable and interested in connecting with other teachers. They shared their Twitter ID’s and this is how I met @yvetteinmb, @countmein2805, @mbjamieson.

I started using social media mainly to be up-to-date with what was happening in our profession, stay in touch with practitioners that I met online or face-2-face at professional development events (often we meet someone at a conference, but then never get to see, call, or email each other again). What I instantly noticed is that teachers are generous in sharing their discoveries, practices and reflections. Connecting with like-minded professionals has in fact influenced me in more ways that I expected. Imagine a dedicated teacher spending a few hours a day of personal time on professional development sharing aha moments and practical insights with you. Then, multiply all these hours, work, knowledge, and insights by hundreds of other committed teachers who may be a part of your professional network doing the same thing. I have realized that the best resource that teachers have is each other and without collaboration we are limited to our own perspectives (a quote from Robert John Meehan).

In the beginning, my online activity was limited to scanning through resources that seemed relevant or interesting and then reposting or re-tweeting things that I found valuable or worth sharing.  As I became a bit more comfortable with technology, my perspective shifted to delving into practices and strategies that looked relevant to my own classroom reality, implementing ideas, trying out things with the learners, and very soon I found myself capable and eager to talk about my own learners, my materials, lesson plans, things that worked and made a difference in my own classroom. As many other teachers, I started a blog – which I have envisioned as a space for reflection, sharing best practices in adult ESL literacy and collaboration with other educators in Canada and beyond.

Natalia Aleko contacted me wondering whether I would be interested in doing a webinar with the EnglishOnline team. Honestly, I had been thinking about it for quite some time, but never had the courage to go for it. Natalia, on the contrary, had every confidence in our success: she had encouraged me and, in a way, enticed me by offering her full support and any training I would have possibly needed. During our first Skype conference call with Natalia and Yuliana Bagan (@BaganYuliana), I presented a few ideas (in very general lines), the team connected my theory with their practical experience of moderating multiple webinars and made their suggestions. I came up with a topic and the outcomes of the webinar that later became known as “Self-discovery and language learning in adult ESL Literacy classroom.” And the work began.

I put together a PPP. Yuliana supported me a lot. She edited it, made her suggestions. We had a 2-hour run-through session to boost my confidence and skills using the BigBlueButton during which we laughed, talked, discussed the slides, questions, and shared our own experiences. It was a lot of fun!

On the day of, I was extremely nervous. I connected half an hour before; both Yuliana and Natalia were there to assist me. A few people from my own professional network came to watch the webinar live and support my presentation. It wasn’t perfect, but it went well. There quite a few things that I realized I needed to work on, but other than that it was an incredibly valuable experience. I would say a massive professional development!  I became more observant and reflective in the classroom while trying to collect the comprehensive examples to support the ideas in the presentation, I enhanced my PP skills trying to create visually appealing slides, upgraded my digital skills by learning to use a new platform (BigBlueButton), worked on my public speaking skills, confidence, and ability to foster meaningful professional development conversation among adult ESL professionals. And most importantly, I met an amazing #passionatti team, dedicated to our profession and working together for the best interest of all adult ESL learners in Canada.

In September, I did my second webinar, this time it was in collaboration with TESL Ontario, and I was able to utilize the skills I gained from EnglishOnline. If you are thinking of doing a webinar yourself, but not sure whether you have enough material or confidence to do it, there is something that I’d like to share with you. Those professionals who come to your session are there to support you. Who else would be able to understand how much work you have put into your presentation (not just the hours of devising a PPP, but years of experience you gathered to accumulate the knowledge that you are sharing with your audience) if not teachers? Who else would want you to succeed on your task more than teachers do? Once you start sharing your experiences and thoughts, you may be surprised how many other teachers may be interested or may benefit from it.

EnglishOnline is great place to start. You can learn by watching tons of great sessions they have already recorded for us, by joining a live session and supporting a presenter by responding to the prompts, initiating meaningful conversations in the chat box, or presenting yourself and benefiting from the training and support from an awesome team.
Webinars - English Online Inc. TWT Webinars - English Online Inc.

My journey has still miles to go. Hopefully! I have been working on my next project in collaboration with the Adult ESL Literacy Network.

Six years ago, I found myself in a situation (which I am sure many of us here have encountered): I had to start all over again from scratch. Today, I am happy to be a part of a network of adult ESL practitioners in Canada and beyond generously sharing their practice and knowledge for the best interest of our learners and profession in general. It has been possible because I said yes in the first place even though I was scared, I learned, and as Chuck Sandy (a great mentor, committed teacher educator and an amazing person) would say: “Yet, I’m nobody special” (talking about himself). "Anybody could say yes.” I hope that my story will inspire some of you to say those “Yes’s” for the first time, and many more times to come.

Connect, share, collaborate!

REALize! Forum 2015 - English Online Inc.


  1. What a candid, heart-warming, powerful article, Svetlana! Anybody could say yes and open up a whole new world of learning, sharing and growing.

  2. Thanks for this, Svetlana! I'll be back to read more soon.

    1. Hi Kelly! It was a real pleasure meeting you at TESL Ontario, 2014. Thank you for attending the presentation. Look forward to connecting!

  3. Good connecting with you, too! By the way, I have just loaded my Mo Stays Warm activity pack to the ESL Literacy Network's Showcase area. The worksheets are free to download. Cheers!

    1. Kelly: thank you very much for sharing your resources. They are wonderful! I really like the idea of using the KG Primary Penmanship Lined and OpenDyslexic fonts. Thanks for sharing your expertise at


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