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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Christina Gkonou - Cultivating Wellbeing in English Language Teaching

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welcome everyone thank you for coming to

this talk my colleague Kate Pierson

couldn't make it today so I'm presenting

on behalf of both as the topic is going

to be uncultivated well-being in English

language teaching and how we are we can

support English language teachers to

flourish and thrive Rupert has already

mentioned that I lead a DMA diesel

program at the University of Essex and I

work very closely with practicing

teachers pre-service teachers most of

whom have never taught before so

well-being and their psychologies their

identities in the classroom are very

important and it's something that we

consciously attempted to in our classes

and in their practicum as well I will

start by trying to define well-being and

I say try to define well-being because

it has not been defined in general in

psychology and in general education yet

so we can't say that we have a

definition of well-being that is widely

accepted in psychology and general

education I'll say a little bit more

about that in a while

I will then talk about well-being among

teachers with a special focus on

language teachers and then share with

you some ideas that Kate and I have

about strategies that we can use to

support teachers in terms of their

well-being and also some examples of

more practical activities that we have

come up with so we thought that it would

be interesting to share them with you

let's see what well-being is and what

challenges teachers and in particular

language teachers face with relation to

their own well-being and that of their

colleagues and students right as I said

earlier there is no precise definition

of well-being so I mean if we look it up

in a dictionary the word well-being it

refers actually to the state of feeling

healthy and happy but it's more than

that well-being is not just the state of

being happy relaxed the positive

comfortable all the time a kind of a

definition that Holmes has actually

in her books she has got two really

interesting books the first one 2005 is

more theoretical than the second one the

one 2019 is a very practical book on how

we can support teachers with their

well-being so she suggests that

well-being is that date in which we are

feeling good and we are functioning well

it is associated with stress but many

people think it's the opposite of stress

yeah so we have stress as am I so

psychological as a mental condition and

then well-being is the opposite of that

but it's not exactly that okay it is

true that when we are experiencing

positive well-being we are not stressed

or we are experiencing very low levels

of stress but we can't say that the two

are opposite terms and it does not

simply refer to how individuals can be

relaxed comfortable and happy all the

time it's more than that and it is much

more complex than that there are four

core aspects of well-being you see four

types of well-being physical emotional

intellectual and spiritual this for a

core aspects in a way create a

well-being system if we want to adopt a

more systemic approach to the concept of

well-being now physical well-being

refers to the state of being physically

healthy and emotional well-being is when

our mental health is in a good State it

is in a good State and this enables us

to manage our anxiety our stress and

deal with all these stressful moments in

life professional life and personal life

as well

intellectual well-being is actually very

interesting because it refers to our

cognition to the way we think and to the

fact that we use our brain we keep

thinking and we are trying to keep our

brain engaged interested and focused on

things that are important for us or

things that are of interest to us okay

and the last one spiritual well-being is

a very interesting as well because it

actually refers to the process of being

in a good mental state by being

connected with ourselves with other

people and also with with a number of

aspects that have got some power for us

and these are not always they are

material most of the times like music

like Nate

like literature arts and so on now

these four core aspects of well-being

create the well-being system so when

they are not in place even if one of

them is not in place the whole

well-being system collapses somehow so

it is not in place as well and all these

four aspects are interrelated and they

influence one another now when it comes

to teachers you see language in brackets

and this is because I will talk about

some research findings and some insights

from general education and then I will

also talk about language teachers

specifically now the first point I think

is something that we all know that

teachers lead busy lives and they in gue

have conducted a very interesting study

in which they somehow follow that a

large number of teachers for for a

number of years and they actually

concluded that they did lead very busy

lives because they take on personal and

professional commitments at the same

time they are the central hub in the

classroom and by this we do not mean

that we do not refer to strict lockstep

environments to environments which are a

hundred percent teacher-led so the fact

that we say that teachers are the

central hub in the classroom doesn't

mean that we neglect our students and we

don't care about our students and also

teachers influence students learning and

psychologists and there is a term in

educational psychology which is

emotional contagion and this actually

suggests that emotions feelings are

contagious I don't know if you've been

to a context where you may not

understand the language you may not

understand what other people are saying

but if you see them or hear them

laughing you are inclined to laugh as

well I was actually at the talk a couple

of months ago and the talk was in German

and I don't speak German I couldn't

understand the word I could see some

information in the slide some words were

similar to English so I could just

gather some of that but it turned out

that the speaker had a very good sense

of humor because the audience was

laughing all the time and I understood

that she had a good sense of humor

because I could see and hear other

people laughing and I was inclined to

laugh as well

without knowing why actually but it was

because I could see other people

laughing so emotions are easily

transferred among different people and

this is very common among teachers and

students who spend a lot of time in the

classroom together now in the workplace

these are some challenges that all

teachers face not just language teachers

they have an excessive workload demands

in many institutions a workload model is

introduced ok I'll put it this way so

there is a workload model which is

introduced and it indicates how many

hours should devote it should be devoted

to each task the fact that the workload

model has been introduced in some

institutions doesn't mean that it is

followed 100% yeah so many teachers are

overworked they do a lot more than what

is included in their workloads

interpersonal relationships can be quite

challenging sometimes interpersonal

relationships with colleagues and with

students as well

there is often lack of support of

autonomy and control in the classroom

there are contexts in which teachers

have little autonomy in what they are

going to teach and in how they are going

to teach it there are issues with their

professional role and you see some

examples in brackets like

responsibilities adjustment to change

career prospects personal fulfillment

like when teachers are trying to reflect

either on their own or with their line

managers where exactly this is taking

them so how can they advance their

career and there might be some obstacles

there and since we are talking about

engagement a lot in this conference

another challenge is disengaged students

so students that do not pay attention to

what is happening in class and for those

students teachers need to expend

additional effort in order to keep them

focused to get their attention back to

what is and to what is happening in

during the lesson now who is affected by

low levels of well-being

everyone is likely to be affected yeah

some people tend to think that newly

qualified teachers are the ones that are

affected by low levels of well-being


most but the research has actually shown

that everyone is likely to be affected

at some point during their careers some

teachers are more immune to stress and

hayver and Dornier in 2015 they

introduced the concept of language

teacher immunity and they have suggested

that negative we are trying to avoid

negative experiences but in fact

negative experiences make us stronger

and for the teachers that they were

talking about in their article these

negative experiences have made them more

immune to stress and they allowed them

to have like like a protective armor in

a sense or coping strategies that they

would activate when they wanted to

battle a stress or other anxiety

provoking aspects of their teaching and

of their roles so some are more immune

to stressors but some others are more

vulnerable and here you see a bit more

like more detailed information about who

is affected and I have divided the

people that are likely to be affected

into three groups

the first one is newly qualified

teachers who face high levels of

attrition and research has actually

shown that the majority of newly

qualified teachers who might suffer from

very high levels of stress are the ones

who leave the profession within the

first five years of teaching of their

careers so newly qualified teachers are

affected because of attrition mid-career

teachers are also likely to be affected

because here we are talking about a more

chronic kind of stress which might lead

to burnout and when it comes to leaders

managers directors and so on the

challenge here is that they need to

manage their own well-being but they are

also in charge of the people they work

with so it is not just in your own

well-being that they need to focus on

but they also need to look after other's

well-being in their institutions when it

comes to language teachers in particular

Kayla and I have tried to reflect on the

the difficulties or the challenges that

they experience and we have come up with

some ideas the first one being this

debate that was very common back in the

80s and the 90s about the natives being

like English speaking teachers and the

non-native and the non-native English

speaking teachers mainly the work by

Peter met guys who actually wrote an

influential article in 1997 in the

English language teaching journal in

which he actually discussed the let's

say the advantages and disadvantages of

being a native and a non-native speaker

English speaking teacher some of the

like more specific challenges are accent

this is something that stresses out our

students they the one of the main causes

of speaking anxiety among language

learners is the fact that they have you

know this native accent yeah so the

traces of native accent that it's very

difficult to get rid of even for those

are not just our learners but even for

those people that are much more

experienced speakers and have been

living in to a certain country for a

large number of years so a foreign

accent is something that remains for all

of them and this is one of the main

causes of speaking anxiety among

learners but when it comes to teachers

and we are talking here about non-native

English speaking teachers accent is one

of the causes of language teacher

anxiety as well and it not only does it

lead to high levels of language teacher

anxiety but also to low levels of

self-confidence and self-esteem when

they deliver lessons in the classroom

the second point that is related to

native versus non native

english-speaking teachers is learning

versus acquisition and by this I mean

that we all have acquired our native

language naturally we we were listening

to it by the people that were around us

and this is how we learned it and then

at school we might have received some

more specific instruction on aspects of

the language but in this case in the

case of our native languages we are

talking about acquisition but in the

case of foreign languages

even second languages sometimes learning

classroom teaching has actually taken

place and this is what we mean by

learning in this particular case and

sometimes when I because I do research

with language teachers and when I

interview language teachers many of the

negative teachers actually tell me that

it was very challenging at the start of

their careers because they felt that

they had to relearn their native

language in order to be able to teach it

and another point that I has been put

forward with relation to this native

non-native speaker debate is empathy as

we extend to which we can understand

other people's difficulties and concerns

and the and how easy it is for us as

teachers to put ours and to put

ourselves into our learners shoes and

understand what happens and what makes

them nervous when they are learning a

foreign language I'm not saying that

these arguments are all true really and

I think that research has moved forward

and we are not talking anymore about

native non native who is better

many people have introduced the term LX

speaker so X can be any number yeah we

can think of L 2 L 3 L 4 and so on but

this is something that at least for

newly qualified teachers can be an issue

it can be something that concerns them

the second set of let's say difficulties

or challenges that language teachers

experience its language these are

anxiety which I have already mentioned

or other emotions and in this case we

are mainly talking about negative

emotions primarily negative emotions and

concern the concern over professional

identities like Who am I in the

classroom in this particular context Who

am I outside of class in the staff room

okay there are lots of professional

identity shifts that are happening

throughout their careers and the

limiting self beliefs that are caused by

high levels of teacher anxiety we

actually mean low as I mentioned earlier

role levels of self esteem or low levels

of self confidence they believe that

they are not good enough in order to be

able to teach that language which

impedes them from improve

from becoming better teachers so the

high levels of language teacher anxiety

in the limiting self beliefs have an

impact on teaching selves on teaching

practice their own feelings about the

professional role and the expectations

of their roles as well the other cause

of the other set of causes that might

influence levels the levels of teacher

language teacher well-being are large

classes and they are in fact the problem

in many parts of the world so when

someone let's say gives a lecture which

is a like an academic lecture it doesn't

really matter how big the audience is

yeah because a lecture does not

necessarily require participation and

interaction but when we are talking

about language teaching smaller groups

are most of the times more manageable

and smaller groups help the teachers

better achieve the aims of the lesson

but the truth is that large classes are

very common in certain parts of the

world and they can be very challenging

for teachers to manage so in these large

classes communication is hindered

because of the number of the students

and there are also implications for

classroom management and teacher roles

we know for example that we have a

smaller and more manageable groups the

teacher can take on different roles the

teacher can be the feedback provider

teacher can be a participant okay so the

teacher can participate in what is going

on in class or participate in what

students are discussing in groups but if

we are talking about large classes this

is not always possible so managing these

classes can be quite demanding within

language education well being the

concept of well being has only recently

been discussed there are some very new

publications one of them is not out yet

but is forthcoming I was thinking about

that that within language education lots

of other related concepts have been

discussed we haven't used the term

well-being as such in research in

language education research but we

indirectly touch upon well-being by

researching the three constructs that

you see on

the screen by researching emotions so

when we are researching emotions

language teacher emotions and in

particular language teacher anxiety

which is the most widely studied emotion

negative emotion in this case with that

upon well-being okay because anxiety is

an important part of that and so are

other emotions when we talk about

emotional intelligence

again we indirectly refer to well-being

we do not use the term well-being as

such but in motional intelligence

entails well-being so emotional

intelligence which refers to our own

ability to to understand the emotions

that we experience our ability to

understand other people's emotions by

empathizing with them or helping them to

regulate their emotions and our ability

to form relationships like bonds with

other people in different ways different

kinds of relationships so all these

abilities indicate higher levels of

emotional intelligence so when we talk

about emotional intelligence in language

education or when we research emotional

intelligence in language education we

touch upon well-being as well and

burnout is also another concept that

includes well-being somehow and it is a

psychological construct that has been

researched by some language education

researchers so it is not that is it is

such a new concept it is just that we

haven't touched upon it we haven't

discussed it and by using this specific

word another reason might also be that

it is something that we cannot measure

as such it's difficult to include it in

research designs but we are getting

there so more and more people are

interested in this topic and more

projects on well-being are taking place

when it comes to cultivating well-being

there are strategies that we can use and

we can also look at strategies that are

used in psychology in the general

education and see how we can possibly

adapt those to the work that we do and

in language but before I talk about the

strategies and some possible activities

I just want to show you this so what

this actually shows is that within

teacher education

the focus is mainly

on technical skills and teaching methods

so you see it's that way so the focus

mainly on technical skills and teaching

methodologies and these are education

programs either pre service or

in-service we talk a lot about what

method is the the best one to choose how

we can create materials how we can adapt

existing materials how we can use

existing materials as they are without

making any changes how we can give

feedback our students how we can test

our students so these are very common

topics that are part of language teacher

education programs these are very

important topics okay so the fact that

I'm saying that social-emotional

dimensions of teaching should be given

more attention doesn't mean that we need

to take out the technical skills and the

teaching methods okay technical skills

and teaching methods are very important

but we might want to consider looking at

the social-emotional dimensions of

teaching a lot more and find ways to

include them to incorporate them in

teacher education programs at any level

it's funny actually because teacher

well-being for some people might mean

that we adopt a selfish or an English

centric approach to teaching yeah

because we focus on our own well-being

as teachers and when I was working on I

was interviewing teachers very

experienced teachers a couple of years

ago and the the study was about the

emotions that they experienced and the

strategies that they use to deal with

those emotions in the classroom and I

interviewed a large number of teachers

who teach English at universities in the

UK so one of them told me this aporia

apologize for the length of the quote

but I thought I should keep it as it is

so that you read it

so for me that was maybe the most

interesting answer I received to air all

the interview questions I did for that

project because it enabled me to think

and to think of what we mean by using

terms such as teacher well-being

supporting teachers supporting teachers

the flowers to thrive and so on and so

forth we are still talking about

communicative language teaching

classrooms in which communication and

interaction is enabled and classrooms

that are learner-centered the fact that

we focus on language teacher well-being

in research or in teacher education or

in discussions that we have does not

mean that our classrooms are not learner

centered anymore they are still learner

centered but why do we need to attend to

that ok because we need to look after

ourselves because we are able to look

after other people an example that Kate

and I were thinking about is the oxygen

masks in the airplanes so when the

flight intent attendants are showing two

passengers the safety instructions yeah

they say that in the unlikely event of

an emergency landing and so on you need

to apply your own oxygen mask and if you

are traveling with a child you need to

do your own first and then the child's

yeah so it doesn't mean that you're not

going to look after the child

yes so you're going to put your own

oxygen mask first and then you will help

a child but it probably indicates that

you need to be in a position to be to be

in a position that enables you to help

someone else okay so teachers often need

oxygen masks and I'm I'm using it here

metaphorically okay not literally

teachers often need oxygen masks in

their own teaching in their own practice

and they need to put on their own oxygen

masks first yeah so they need to be

emotionally safe or healthy in the

classroom in order to help their

students then right so the strategies

are divided into three main sets so this

is number one and what I have done here

is the first slide includes four

strategies that we have thought about

the second slide includes a possible

activity then we move on to strategies

number two and circumstance of the set

of strategies and a possible activity as


now the first set of strategies is what

we have called the self-critic

increasing teacher self-awareness this

is something that it's done in the

majority of teacher education programs

and this is also something that

reflection is also something that

teachers very often do and most of the

times it is done unconsciously when they

go back home after class they might be

thinking about the lesson so this is a

form of reflection but it is not done in

the official way that it is done in a

CELTA course for example or on an MA

course but a reflection is happening all

the time

teachers are reflective but what about

the strategy that could be useful in

that case is to increase this amount of

reflection and to increase teacher self

awareness because this will enable

teachers to be personally and

professionally effective and efficient

just one example is time management

skills which can be an issue for a large

number of teachers and this can also be

done through journaling like producing a

journal entry or a diary entry being

involved in action research projects and

these do not have to be like

longitudinal projects that last for a

longer period of time but action

research suggests that teachers peak

pick up a problem that they face in

their own teaching or something that

challenges them in the classroom

something that they do not feel

comfortable they don't they are not sure

about how to deal with it and research

it by trying different methods by

discussing it with other people

experimenting a little bit if you like

and in order to see how they can improve

their practice because this process or

this suggestion will make teachers more

confident about what they will about

what they will do now a possible

exercise in the next staff training day

ask teachers to think of a time when

they felt capable often in control of

their stress at work or their

in their life overall so what is

different now trying to think like to

look back and choose the moment when

they were control of their emotional

conditions let's say so what is

different now and ask them to draft a

plan outlining what they would like to

improve so for each area of improvement

they should describe both the current

state and what they are aiming at okay

so they should describe your current

state they are target and some practical

steps that can help them to reach this

this target you you see that this

possible exercise requires a reflection

and the tree it focuses actually on what

reflection is all about reflection

includes it's likely the like the Roman

god Janus yeah who is looting on both

directions yeah so reflection in a way

enables us to look at what's at what has

already happened and what is going to

happen like looking backwards and

forwards as well something that I

actually come across in errors book it's

called the elephant in the staff room I

don't know if you have come across this

book before it's called the elephant in

the staff room how to reduce the stress

and support these are well being

something like that so he actually

suggests that low levels of well-being

and emotional challenges are always

there but we do not see them we neglect

them this is why he used this metaphor

the elephant in the staff room it's

always there it's something big it's

something important but we don't want to

see it so in his book he actually uses

this for let's say visual diagrams all

four represent work-life balance and so

you see in a working life are two

separate things they are independent so

the two circles do not touch each other

in be work and life are sort of closer

to each other but the work circle is

much bigger yeah which probably means

that we attach more importance to work

rather than life now see is just one

circle that includes work and life

together we don't know how much is

devoted to each aspect

they are together and indeed we see

again one big circle which is life and

part of that is work so work is a much

smaller circle within the bigger circle

that is called life and it is

interesting to use these graphs that air

has included in his book and give them

to teachers and ask them to choose the

one that applies for them and ask them

to also comment on which of these is the

ideal one yeah or maybe which one they

would like to read again thinking ahead

now the second set of strategies is to

encourage teachers to ask for help okay

this is something that we as teachers

encourage our students to do we always

invite them to ask questions we ask them

to come and see us during our office

hours we might arrange one-to-one

meetings with our students but it is

important to encourage teachers to ask

for help from other teachers peer

dialogue is encouraged in this way

encouraging caring and healthy

relationships with colleagues through

co-teaching through peer reviews of

teaching and sharing of good practice

co-teaching is something that is

happening in many institutions I'm sure

peer reviews of teaching are also

happening in many institutions but it is

useful to reflect on how these are

happening these are taking place how

they are done and who could be paired

with whom yeah in order to increase the

learning potential for the teachers and

in order to increase their willingness

to learn from others and to share with

others and in an exercise that I have

included here is again about the staff

training day so in the next staff

training day ask teachers to make a list

of the people that they will turn to for

help if needed

ask them to also reflect specifically on

how each person on the list could help

them and there is an interesting term in

psychology that of significant others so

significant others are those people that

matter to us and they can come from any

aspect of their of our lives

okay so significant others for each one

of us might be some of our colleagues

might be some family members a very

friend it is useful to find a way to use

this concept this idea of significant

others and see how teachers could

benefit from them

so making this list of people that they

could come from any aspect of their life

not just from work and reflect on how

each person could possibly help them and

encourage them to seek for help from

these specific people that they have

identified as people they could turn to

for help and now the third set of

strategies is relationships and

yesterday I attended Sarah Mercer's talk

and it was on learner engagement but she

I highlighted the role the importance of

rapport of teacher-student rapport and

the quality of relationships

interpersonal relationships in the

classroom so the these set of strategies

focuses on building and maintaining a

strong and supportive relationship with

students because this is something that

will make classroom management are

easier but it also encourages it is also

important to encourage teachers to

become effective communicators and by

this by communication we do not just

refer to verbal communication what we

say and how we say it but we also refer

to non verbal nonverbal communication

and by these we refer to so many

different aspects of classroom

management that teachers are trained to

attend to

so when classroom management as a topic

is discussed in teacher education

programs we tend to focus on things like

eye contact maintaining eye contact with

your students or with your audience

using gestures facial expressions

actually gestures are being used in

classroom teaching in a very nice way

and after they are used for a certain

period of time they create like a unique

code of communication among the teacher

and the students I have observed the

teachers who use gestures and students

immediately understand what the teacher

means and this is because the teachers

have been using these specific gestures

for a longer period of time and they're

after a certain time they don't need to

say anything just use the gesture and

students get it and they know what they

are expected to do so we are talking

here about verbal communication what we


and also the use of humor many teachers

like using self-deprecating humor as

well and so not just jokes but using

self-deprecating humor through anecdotes

and also nonverbal communication through

gestures eye contact facial expressions

etc so the possible exercise in this

particular case in the next staff

training day give teachers a list of

techniques that are used in class to

help them relate with their students

communicate effectively with them etc

and ask them to take off from that list

which of these techniques they use and

which ones they don't use because there

might be some techniques that they do

not use at all or they do not often use

and again ask them to reflect on why

this is so and how or when they could

use them in class it could be useful to

maybe expand this to include like

observations things that they have

observed during the peer reviews of

teaching that they are useful techniques

for effective communication and for

effective classroom management that they

would like to steal in inverted commas

have from other colleagues to conclude

teacher well-being should be seen as the

key priority in contemporary classrooms

we said earlier it's not selfish and it

doesn't mean that the classrooms our

teaching our lessons are not learner

centered anymore they are in fact

learner centered but we attend to that

as well it is difficult to maintain for

all teachers but there is some hope okay

children's matter but teachers matter

too and thinking of the amount of

emotional contagion of this theory that

I mentioned earlier and thinking of the

relationships between learners and

teachers student well-being might also

we can say that it also begins with

teacher well-being so one of the next

slides is are my references good thank

you very much thank you


The Description of Christina Gkonou - Cultivating Wellbeing in English Language Teaching