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Why iTDi, and why now? (by Steven Herder)

Online teacher development has arrived, and the sooner you take advantage of what it has to offer, the sooner you’ll begin to see great things: your teaching satisfaction will grow, your student’s motivation will increase, and your whole teaching world will open up to unlimited opportunities for further growth.

As teachers, we all work in the learning business. We often tell our students that the best way to learn is to study hard, practice a lot, and make necessary adjustments along the way. This is very good advice for teachers as well. And, just like our students, there are two basic approaches we can take in own professional development: learning by ourselves or learning with others.

Learning by yourself
The first way is to take charge of your own learning and hope you have enough skills to teach yourself all that you need to know. First, you should read a lot, and there really are many useful books out there. You should also video your lessons, watch them and reflect on what you are doing right and what you can improve. As hard as it may be to watch yourself teaching, videos never lie. Based on what you see, you should try new things in the classroom and critique yourself. You will certainly improve. If you are diligent, and you have those skills to know all the right answers, you will improve significantly in a relatively short period of time.

On the other hand, if you are not so diligent, it may take several years to improve. I’m reminded of the person who asked, “Do you have 15 years experience or do you have one year of experience that you’ve repeated 15 times?” I tried the teach myself approach a few times. I failed miserably because I didn’t have the stamina nor nearly enough answers on my own.

In retrospect, I wasted a lot of time in my early years as a teacher. I worked by myself and shared just occasionally with one senior teacher. She was really good. It was daunting to talk teaching with her because she seemed to have all the answers already. So, I learned by experience: making mistakes in the classroom, dealing unsuccessfully with students, and planning lessons poorly. I shudder to think how many times I made the same mistakes before I eventually learned to start doing things differently. In order to avoid facing my teaching weaknesses, I always fell back on the fact that at least the students liked me.

Teachers in 65 countries at an iTDi webinar (Dec 2012)

 

Learning with others
Then one day, I made a decision to take my professional development seriously. I started a Masters degree in TEFL and I joined a professional teacher’s association. I promised to give it my best effort for three years. For me, this meant collaborating with other teachers, engaging with like-minded souls, and making the commitment to publicly share what I thought I knew. If at the end of three years, what I got out of it wasn’t worth the effort, I could then retreat back to my quiet life.

This collaborative approach to my own teacher development worked much better for me than studying on my own. For my MA TEFL studies, I set up a Skype study group. Five of us met online once a week, for an hour or 90 minutes, to discuss our MA readings. We explained, asked questions, shared ideas, confessed not understanding at all, argued, supported one another and bonded throughout the process. We built trust, knowledge and confidence in equal measure. I coined a few phrases that came directly out of the three years of Monday night Skype sessions,

“Anything I can do, we can do better.”

“Collaboration creates just the right amount of tension to get lots done.”

Not all study groups work, and many learning communities fail to reach their potential because they lack the proper dynamics for success. Through trial and error over a 3-year period, we learned that in order for collaborative learning to thrive, a few key ingredients are necessary:

  1. Structure – Without structure, it is too easy to have a bad day, get distracted, or worse, get lazy and lose all your momentum. Having readings to do, having pressure from colleagues who are expecting you to be ready, and having an online place to go regularly, all helped us to thrive in our studies.
  2. Leadership and commitment – There is a leader in everyone, we just need to be asked to take leadership of something (a thought from Chuck Sandy). Once you commit to improving yourself, and share that commitment with others, the good tension of others’ expectations and the rewards from accomplishing things creates the virtuous cycle that is so often discussed in motivational theory these days.
  3. Trust or rapport – Trust is built slowly – one small step at a time. People can sense who in the group is earnest and sincere. People are forgiving of the idiosyncrasies that we all have, if they know that we are trying our best. Once real rapport is formed between members, the work becomes more like play – because when you are hanging out with trusted friends, it doesn’t really matter if you are working or playing, it is still meaningful and fun.
  4. Patience – We humans are a complicated and fragile species. Until you get to that certain level of camaraderie, where you can make a mistake and not have to worry that it means the end of your relationship, you need to be extra sensitive to others’ feelings. Indeed, you always have to be aware that groups need to find their own sense of balance. You need to listen as much as you speak. You need to give as much as you take. You need to support others as much as you lean on them.

The best time to start
Whether you work alone or in collaboration with others, the time to focus on your own professional development is right now. Many professional teachers believe that, “Being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to learning”. Once you realize how much more there is to be learned, you owe it to yourself to get started immediately.

As the economy weakens in many parts of the world, we have the dual responsibility to do better for our students and to protect our own jobs as well. When times get tough, a number of curious things happen: lipstick sales increase because women want to feel good at minimal financial cost. Men buy more neckties, for roughly the same reasons. But most interesting is the fact that people spend more on improving their skills and knowledge through educational courses and workshops. This is exactly what iTDi has to offer: affordable, accessible, collaborative teacher development.

iTDi for teachers by teachers at Thai TESOL2012

The iTDi dream
The entire faculty of iTDi came together because we share the dream of providing meaningful professional development through collaboration. Each of us has grown and succeeded with support and encouragement from other teachers.  We are better teachers because we work together. We want to share that message with other teachers around the world.

“For teachers by teachers” is not just the iTDi motto. It’s our commitment to welcome you into our community, to offer you an excellent professional development opportunity and to provide you a place to connect and collaborate with like-minded teachers – all from the convenience of a computer in your home, at school or even at the local Internet cafe.

If you’re ready to become the very best teacher that you can be, I hope you will join the iTDi community. There’s a team of amazing educators just waiting to help you achieve your professional development goals.

By Steven Herder
iTDi for teachers by teachers

15 Comments

  1. Barbara says:

    Thank you, Steven, for being so eloquent. I’m honored to be part of this great team, I believe in what we’re trying to do, and I’m humbled by the trust that so many teachers have placed in us by supporting the dream of becoming better together :)

    1. StevenHerder says:

      Yes, Barb, I agree wholeheartedly.

      And even though the days are long recently, and our hearts rise and fall with all of the challenges and small victories that come with creating something new, we can never lose sight of the friends we are making in the process and the fact that it’s really all about the joys found in the process.

      I love that we are for teachers by teachers…

  2. micaela cangemi says:

    Thank you so much, all of you are so important to me, right now I feel a bit disappointed by my teaching and i do want to improve my skills. I have been teaching English in a so-called middle-school for 10 years. I teach to young learners and I love them, but I’d like to get out from a sort of “language swamp” and feel more confident with my spoken English. I’ m looking for a good teacher training course and I’ d like to stop feeling “inadequate”. I’ m often afraid of making mistakes. I want to do my best for my young students and the iTDi is a good way to start.

    1. StevenHerder says:

      Hi Micaela,

      I was very touched by your post. Your honesty and passion to be a better teacher inspires me and will affect many others as well I’m sure!

      I’m also sure that most of us have felt as you do. I know that I felt like an impostor for about 14 years in my high school job. I wasn’t formally trained as a teacher so I relied on my instincts and the ability to learn from the mistakes I made. When I finally had a chance to study with many other teachers, I blossomed through their feedback and all of the inspiration I received from them. My confidence increased by leaps and bounds as I combined theory, practical training with my years of experience.

      I hope that you will join our iTDi community and study with us because we all believe in the power of community and collaboration. We will be live very soon so keep your ears open and I’m sure you’ll hear when we launch.

      I’m looking forward to meeting you some day and hearing about your successes in reaching your potential as a teacher.

      I hope you’ll keep in touch with us,

      Steven

      1. Micaela Cangemi says:

        G’day Steven and thank you,

        I was struck by your words, because blossoming and reaching my potential as a teacher is exactly what I’m going to do with the iTDi community.

        I also believe in the strengh of our true desires/dreams; iTDi is now motivating thousands of teachers, who, I’m sure, will find an answer to their questions/needs.

        So I won’t miss this great opportunity: my amazing students (they are 120 elementary and pre-intermediate young learners) deserve their teacher at her best!

        I also hope I’ll meet you and Barbara some day.

        Micaela

        1. StevenHerder says:

          To my new friend, Micaela,

          It sounds like you are already well on your way to reaching your goals. I’m just happy that we get to know you more in our community, and watch you grow.

          I’m sure we’ll meet one day because the world keeps getting smaller as we reach out our hands and connect with one another.

          Steven

  3. Anna Loseva says:

    I love everything about iTDi. The idea, the people, the confidence it’s given me, the support, the knowledge, the inspiration, the comfort. The openness and sincerity. The life-and-energy-proclaiming colours and shapes of the badge!)
    A wonderful post!

    1. StevenHerder says:

      Thanks, Anna,

      Wow, what a great bunch of nouns you’ve strung together in your post!

      Yes, there is a world of confidence, camaraderie and collaboration waiting for anyone who wants some in the new iTDi community. We are very lucky to have you as an Associate and I look forward to growing and learning together.

      iTDi is about empowering teachers and you’ve done so much before we’ve even launched. I can’t wait to see you in action once we get going properly!

      Steven

  4. Echoing Anna’s comment: iTDi has great direction, a great community behind it and I see really wonderful things evolving with this organization over the next few years. Great post, Stephen and as we say in France: “bonne continuation”!

    Cheers, Brad

    1. StevenHerder says:

      Thanks, Brad.

      Hearing such positive feedback really helps, believe me.

      I’m sure you know the effort it takes to get anything “new” off the ground and so many of us have been working at this non-stop for a very long time, so unexpected encouragement added to our own determination is an added bonus. We’re almost there and hope you’ll join us in some way for the ride we’re about to take.

      I agree that we are poised to have a wonderful few years ahead of us – the people already involved have pretty much guaranteed a good time for all.

      Salut,

      Etienne (Steven)

      1. Yes, there is nothing more exciting and challenging than getting something “new” off the ground. You all have the right impetus. Keep it up, Etienne! ;-) (et oui ça reste Brad en français, et je suis souvent obligé de dire “Brad comme Brad Pitt”…)

  5. Mourad DAHMANI says:

    I’m an Algerian teacher. I teach English in a high school in a rural region where English is not considered as a foreingn languge but as an “alien” language. That’s why the idea of sharing thoughts with teachers who teach the language in different circumstances may improve my teaching skills or shall I say cmpetencies for we are applying the Competency Based Approache which focuses on developing learners competences by integrating all skills and using authentic language. The only problem is that the English language for our learners exists only in movies and songs that they don’t undrestand. There is no real communication in this language. So how can we apply such a methode which I, personally, think is meant to be applied on learners who study English as a second language not as a foreign language in and inan English speaking environment.

    1. StevenHerder says:

      Hello Mourad DAHMANI,

      Thank you very much for your post. I think you make a very important point (one of my favorites) that ESL methodologies don’t necessarily work in EFL contexts. Let me be clear that the rest of this response is my own personal opinion and not iTDi’s policy.

      Like you, I have been teaching in an EFL context throughout my career. For over 20 years in Japan, I have often wondered why the textbooks and teaching ideas from experts in the UK and US often didn’t quite relate to my teaching situation.

      Here are a few key points that have become my own teacher beliefs over the years:

      1. Motivation is more important than anything else in EFL.
      2. A four-skills approach works best, with a balance of input (reading and listening) and output (speaking and writing). However, the balance changes from level to level.
      3. For beginners, I focus on more input practice, so the balance is probably 70% input and 30% output. I tell a lot of stories and encourage reading of simple graded readers, while introducing a foundation of grammar and vocabulary necessary for all beginners.
      4. As students gain a little bit of confidence, I shift towards a 50/50 balance between reading, writing, speaking and listening.
      5. I only use materials that I think students can be successful with. Building their self-confidence is one of the biggest parts of motivation.
      6. I must gain the trust of my students in order to teach them.
      7. I must always find ways to challenge them with reasonable expectations.

      For EFL teachers around the world, I believe that you must develop an original EFL set of teacher beliefs. In my case, I did this by talking and interacting with others teachers. That is what iTDi is all about: a community where you can get methodology training, mentoring, and collaborative learning.

      I hope that you will check us out when we launch in the near future.

      And again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and the reality of your teaching situation.

  6. […] As the economy weakens in many parts of the world, we have the dual responsibility to do better for our students and to protect our own jobs as well. When times get tough, a number of curious things happen: lipstick sales increase because women want to feel good at minimal financial cost. Men buy more neckties , for roughly the same reasons. But most interesting is the fact that people spend more on improving their skills and knowledge through educational courses and workshops. Why iTDi, and why now? – Teaching Village […]

  7. […] Online teacher development has arrived, and the sooner you take advantage of what it has to offer, the sooner you'll begin to see great things: your teaching satisfaction will grow, your student’s …  […]

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