Because teachers matter

Soon after I moved back to Japan, I had coffee with Kazu Nakamura, the new (at that time) president of Oxford University Press Japan. During our conversation, Kazu outlined his goals in regards to OUP’s educational mission. Part of the conversation, paraphrased in my memory, went like this:

Kazu: I want us to provide teacher training workshops in all areas of Japan.
Me: OUP  already organizes workshops every year in all regions. How would this be any different?
Kazu: I want to send authors and trainers to the rural areas that don’t usually get attention. Even if only a few teachers attend, that’s OK. I want teachers to know that they matter.
Me: That’s nice.

I smiled, and gave Kazu credit for having his heart in the right place, but really didn’t expect to hear anything about his idea again.

Then, earlier this year, I got the list of venues for the OUP All-Japan Summer Tour. 123 workshops in 60 locations around Japan between June and October. I was impressed, but still didn’t really believe that something this massive could be pulled off. To give you an idea about the difference in scale, I’ve just received the list of venues for the Spring Teaching Workshop Series, which will have workshops in eleven cities over a period of two months–a more typical schedule. The logistics of getting speakers, support staff, books, and technical equipment to as may as nine different locations in the same weekend would be a challenge for even a large organization. OUP Japan is not a large organization.

View Oxford University Press All-Japan Summer Tour 2011 in a larger map

In addition to simple logistics, the tour faced a few challenges from mother nature. There was a typhoon in Okinawa and an earthquake during the workshop in Fukushima. The biggest wrench was thrown in before the tour even began. In the original schedule, Sendai and Fukushima were scheduled to host two of the earliest workshops. The earthquake and tsunami in March changed everything (in more ways than messing with a tour schedule). I wouldn’t have been surprised if OUP had dropped both cities from the tour after the disaster, but the only concession was moving the dates to the end of the tour to allow time for recovery and to find new locations.

The All-Japan tour was a huge success, but not because it attracted huge numbers of teachers. A typical OUP workshop in Tokyo might attract 400 teachers. Many of the summer workshops were small. Very small. Granted, when you’re conducting a workshop in the middle of a bookstore or a coffee shop, a large group would be problematic, anyway. No matter how many (or few) teachers attended a workshop, they had a good time and they learned something new to take back to class. It was the first time that I’m aware of any publisher sending teacher trainers to some of the more remote locations we visited. It’s expensive to do so and all companies have to justify the money they spend on things like workshops, especially these days when money is tight for everyone. However, in every one of those hard to reach corners of the country, I met teachers who had never before attended a teacher training workshop . They’d never had a chance to connect with other English teachers professionally. They had fun and they learned something new, and (just as important) they were ready to look for additional professional development opportunities. They were excited that someone cared enough about them to organize a workshop where they lived. They felt like they mattered.

If you’d like a taste of what the long and somewhat crazy tour looked like, I’ve put together a short a slide show. If you would like to see more of the photos, I’ve started a group pool on Flickr called Oxford University Press All-Japan Summer Tour 2011. If you attended a workshop and have photos you’d like to share, please add them to the pool. Or, if you attended a workshop, please say “hi!” in the comments!

(If the link doesn’t work for the embedded player, you can see the slideshow on animoto)

Finally, a heartfelt THANK YOU to the workshop presenters and the team at OUP who gave up their weekends and explored the gamut of transportation, hotel and food options available in Japan over the past five months in order to make the summer tour possible:

Richard Attwood, Oli Bayley, Marco Brazil, Kevin Churchley, Aurora Dobashi, Simon Downes, Caroline Gerner, James Harris, Yoshiko Hashimoto, Kim Horne, Kayoko Ikeda, Yumiko Igawa, Kathleen Kampa, Michiko Kanamaru, Eric Kane, Ken Kamoshita, Yuco Kikuchi, Koji Kita, Ako Kitamura, Koichi Kobayashi, Matthew Lane, Gerard Marchesseau, Noriko Matsumoto, Ritsuko Nakata, Kazu Nakamura, Yoko Niwa, Karl O’Callaghan, Eri Okuda, Noriko Ono, Rob Peacock, Frank Pridgen, Naoko Saito, Miki Sakai, Kaj Schwermer, Fuyu Shimomura, Kaori Sueyoshi, Devon Thagard, Setsuko Toyama, Charles Ullmann, Chuck Vilina, Jason Wains, Keiko Willhite

Thank you putting the idea that teachers everywhere matter into action. I’m certainly happy to be home long enough to unpack my suitcase, but I’ll never forget the All-Japan Summer Tour!


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11 Responses

  1. Marco Brazil says:

    I’ve got three letter word for this, Barb. It’s WOW!

    • Barbara says:

      What a coincidence, Marco! That’s the three-letter word that most often comes to mind when I think of you :)


  2. Setsuko Toyama says:

    You never stop amazing me, Barbara. What a fabulous post with a fantastic slide show!

    I participated in 5 cities of the All-Japan-Tour: Niigata, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe and Kyoto. Touring with you in Kobe and Kyoto was such a treat. Living in Niigata, I travel one whole day or two days to go to any event where I present for 45 minutes, but I think the opportunities I get to see familiar and new faces in the audience make the travel more than worth while.

    Looking forward to another tour where our paths cross!

    • Barbara says:

      I’m so glad I had a chance to present with you, Setsuko! I enjoyed getting to know you better. Definitely, the travel time was much longer than the presentations for most of us.

      I’ll look forward to our next chance to work together :)

  3. Kathy says:

    Wonderful article Barbara! It really was an amazing tour. It was impressive to see all of the cities OUP traveled to in such a short time.

    It was fun meeting so many dedicated teachers through the tour!

    • Barbara says:

      It sure was a lot of cities, wasn’t it? I actually had to use a map to find some of the cities when I was putting together the google map. Proof to me that we’d never gone there before on tour :)

      Sorry I didn’t have a chance to present with you, Kathy, although it was great seeing Chuck!

  4. It is heart-warming to see the effort put in to reach everyone, not just those in the big cities!

    • Barbara says:

      When there are regular workshops in “big” cities, teachers who are aware of the them will travel a long way to attend. That’s always quite humbling in itself, since they spend what is perhaps their only day off, and their own money, to do so, and transportation in Japan is not cheap. It also makes me do my best, and be sure I’m not wasting anyone’s time.

      What was different about these workshops is that I met teachers who would not have known about anything going on in the nearest big city because they didn’t have the initial awareness. They saw a poster, perhaps, in their local bookstore, and came because it was convenient. Hopefully, now that they are aware that there are free professional development workshops, they’ll look to see what’s happening in their nearest large city and join more often!

  5. Devon says:

    Great great job putting this together Barbara. And amazing job by the OUP team!

  6. Kevin Cozma says:

    Thanks for putting the slideshow together, Barbara. We enjoyed the workshop very much here in Takamatsu. I hope that you can make it next time, too.



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