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Editorial - Barbara's editorial Archive

This has been a year of firsts.

About a year ago, I took my first online courses to learn about technology in education (through TESOL's Electronic Village). I was immediately fascinated by the potential of social media for professional development. EFL can be an isolating profession, and anything that helps teachers connect is a winner in my mind.

Learning about social media is like learning about language. The only way to understand how social media works is to use it. So, filled with visions of stolen identities and spam, I cautiously created my first online profiles and took my first baby steps into cyberspace. Suddenly I was on Facebook, Linked In, Google, Delicious, and Twitter. I found teacher blogs to follow, and joined even more Yahoo groups. At first it was overwhelming. Everything had a learning curve, and I was at the bottom of each one. But, each day, I met new teachers in different countries. My days began with discussions from my groups and a slew of new tools and resources from teachers on Twitter. I felt like a kid in the education candy store!

Social media started to make sense. While I'd used the internet to stay in touch with people I already knew, now I was using it to connect with new people. Amazing people. Amazing people in education. It was like being at a never-ending teachers' conference, or being in a school staff room that's open 24 hours.

Next, I started to blog. I had dreams of creating a community of EFL teachers, but secretly feared I'd be a community of one. Luckily, teachers online are really, really supportive and so far more than 25 teachers from 15 countries have added their voices to Teaching Village (including Steven and Theron!).

I revived an old column for Teachers Learning with Children, but with a new slant on technology for teachers of young learners. I also gave my first technology-related workshops--about using social media for professional development, and ways to use high tech tools in low tech classrooms. Trying to embrace the openness that defines social media, I created a wiki so that I could make the presentations available after the workshop and to share other resources I found.

Writing for ELT News is another first. I'm excited to have this opportunity and humbled to have been asked.

The goal in sharing my online adventures is to encourage other teachers to give social media a try. If this not-so-techie teacher can learn how, anyone can!

Steven's call is for us to dig deeper. Theron's is to collaborate. Mine is to connect. There's a world full of teachers learning together, attending conferences virtually, and collaborating internationally--just a mouse click away.

See you in May. Until then, see you in cyberspace!

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

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A year ago, an Internet search for my name would have brought up my books, presentations, and articles. Google would have described Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto as a teacher who creates stuff.

Today, I ran another search to see how a year of living online has changed Google's impression of me. Now, search results also list interactions with others online--their comments on my blog, mine on theirs, and updates and conversations on Twitter and Facebook. Google sees me as teacher who connects with others (and still creates stuff).

What kind of difference can these online connections make?

Online networks give us access to other ELT professionals.

For example, when ETJ hosted Paul Nation for the Expo last year, conversations started with teachers at his workshops continued (via the Internet) long after he left Japan, resulting in a collaborative book project with MASH on Fluency in EFL. (The deadline to submit a paper to this project is May 31st.)

Scott Thornbury got to know Japan-based teachers on Twitter months before his plenary at JALT 2010. The connections built prior to JALT created a relationship between speaker and audience that enhanced the actual event. Those connections are bringing Scott back to Japan this September for MASH Collaboration JALT Equinox 2010.

These same types of connections also create informal opportunities for teachers around the world to share, collaborate, and create with each other on a daily basis.

Online connections help classroom teachers get recognition they might not otherwise receive.

Cyberspace is full of talented EFL teachers who have gained international recognition for contributions on their blogs, wikis, and websites. Online networks can help level the playing field in ELT. The Internet doesn't make these teachers amazing--it just gives us a chance to find them.

One of the biggest efforts to recognize these teachers is Lexiophiles' annual Top 100 Language Blogs competition, which ends Monday, May 24th at midnight CET (Tuesday, 7 am here in Japan). My blog, Teaching Village, has been nominated in the Language Teaching category (along with a bunch of other great blogs--you can vote by following this link) If you are interested in language as a learner or teacher, the competition is an opportunity to discover some excellent blogs related to language teaching, technology, and learning.

Check in every weekend for a new editorial by David, Steven, Theron or me. We love your interest in EFL and your comments!

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When you're trying to connect with other teachers in social networks, how private is too private? How accessible is too accessible?

On the one hand, if you stay too private, it's hard to make new friends. If you make yourself too accessible, then spammers and hackers will also find you. So, how can we be open enough to make new friends and protect ourselves from spam and viruses?

I haven't found a simple answer, but I have come up with a few simple guidelines that work for me.

Use the same common sense online that you use with email.

We're suspicious of links we get in email messages. We delete messages from people we don't know. We scan attachments before opening them. We need to do the same with messages we receive through social networks. Friends don't usually send friends links in private messages without some sort of explanation.

Check shortened website addresses before opening links.

Short URLs make it easy to share links, but difficult to know where those links might lead. It's always a good idea to check the original address before clicking on a link. Some programs have a built in function to preview websites, but you can always copy and paste a short URL into Sucuri Security and get the real URL and see where the link will take you, and decide whether or not you want to go there.

Avoid online games and quizzes that ask for your ID and password.

This is a tough one, and I know teachers who enjoy playing games on social sites, and even use the games for language teaching. But I don't feel comfortable with programs that ask for access to my friends, or my private information.The main point is to be informed so that we can choose the balance between privacy and accessibility that works best for us. The ACLU has an interesting quiz if you ever want to see what kind of information quizzes can access: What Facebook Quizzes Know about You. (The ACLU has a privacy policy that prevents them from using any of the information they access--their quiz is an educational tool.)

What about you? How have you found a balance between privacy and access? What tips can you share to help us enjoy the benefits of social networking, but still stay safe?

Check in every weekend for a new editorial by David, Steven, Theron or me. We love your interest in EFL and your comments!

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School administrators want to hire good teachers. Parents want to find good teachers for their children. Students prefer to have classes with good teachers. Teachers want to be good teachers.

But, what is a good teacher? It might depend on who you ask.

Teachers say that they attend conferences and workshops because they want to become better teachers. They want to learn new and innovative techniques to become more effective English teachers. They continue to study English in order to develop a deeper understanding of their subject. So, a good teacher is skilled and knowledgeable.

School administrators (at least in private language schools) want to hire teachers who can attract and retain students. Sometimes this is a case of skillful teaching, but often it's also in combination with personal characteristics that students find appealing. So, a good teacher has charisma.

Parents want teachers who will help their children develop as skillful language users (and perhaps pass exams), but they also want their children to look forward to attending class each week. So, a good teacher is a juggler.

Children want a teacher who is friendly and fun, and doesn’t give too much homework. So, a good teacher is entertaining.

Carl Rogers, an American psychologist, identified three core teacher characteristics of effective teachers:

Being yourself in the classroom, not hiding behind your ego or job title.

Knowing that each student has value, without being judgmental.

Understanding your students, understanding their lives, trying to see things from their perspective.

Who’s right? Are the qualities of a “good” teacher universal? Does it matter whether we’re teaching English in a high school or in a language school? Does it change if we’re teaching children, or university students, or business people? And where does a teaching degree or certificate fit into the picture?

What do you think it means to be a good teacher?

Check in every weekend for a new editorial by David, Steven, Theron or me. We love your interest in EFL and your comments!

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This past summer, I spent part of my time in Hawaii, snorkeling. I generally try to unplug during these trips, since I'd rather be in the water than online. However, at one point during my vacation, I decided that I'd upload a few photos to Facebook.

I was outside my usual country, and on a different computer than usual, so Facebook asked me to verify my identity. I guess because Facebook is all about "faces" the test is to assign names to photographs posted by my friends. Now, even in the days when my friends list was populated by high school alums and relatives I may not have been able to pass this test. I've never been all that good connecting faces and names. But, now that the majority of my "friends" are people I only recognize from small avatars online, I didn't stand a chance.

So, does Facebook think that friends are people you have coffee with in real life? If so, why do they make it so easy to have friends of friends of friends? Since there was no way I was going to be updating my Facebook page, I poured myself a glass of pineapple wine and sat on the lanai, watching another gorgeous sunset and getting all metaphysical.

Who are our online friends? Like most of us, my friends fall into several categories: people I'm related to by blood or marriage, people I went to school with, people in international marriages or living in Japan, people whose kids went to school with my kid or lived near me, and people who have some relationship to education or writing, It looks something like this:


The blue circles are people I have online friendships with. The yellow circle represents those friends I've met face to face. Thanks to the friends-of-friends phenomenon, there are people in each category that I wouldn't be able to recognize on the street. In my professional friendships, there are a lot of people I wouldn't recognize.

Are they all friends? I think so.

Sometimes, I chat on Facebook with teachers who've found me through my blog or through their friends. Frequently, Facebook is their main connection to an online community of educators. They don't have computers at home, and even if they did they wouldn't have access to the Internet. They travel to Internet cafes to connect, and humble me with their efforts to develop professionally.

Their experiences are far different from my own, but we share many of the same concerns as teachers. If I limited my friends to only those people I could pick out of a line up, it would be a much poorer collection of people.

I don't have anything against identity verification. Every time I switch computers or locale, my bank wants me to prove that I'm me. I appreciate that. The problem, I think, is that Facebook decides how I should prove I am the real Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, and I really suck at attaching names to faces. Facebook ought to let members choose their own security question, or at least pick which photos to use for the test.

Until that happens, I'm certainly not going to change my friendship habits. I'll just take my own computer on vacation next time!

Check in every weekend for a new editorial by David, Steven, Theron or me. We love your interest in EFL and your comments!

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In September, I did my first ever Pecha Kucha presentation: Everything I ever really needed to know about teaching I learned underwater. One of the lessons I shared in my 6 minutes and 40 seconds is that we all need to be part of something that's bigger than we are--it feeds our souls. (Altruism also lowers stress, raises endorphins, and helps keep other problems in perspective!)

Teachers are no stranger to altruism--we volunteer in professional organizations, like JALT or ETJ, we volunteer as teachers in our community, and we work with charities. Sometimes we have a chance to play a big role, and sometimes a supporting role, but I generally find that teachers are willing to do what they can, when they can, to help whomever they can.

The upcoming Be The Change evening on November 20th is an excellent example of a lot of people working together for a cause that's bigger than they are--in this case for the goal of spreading Hope Clubs and Design for Change across Japan. It started with two organizations already doing a lot of good--Hope International Development Agency Japan and Design for Change Japan. Enter Chuck Sandy, the Energizer Bunny of volunteerism. Chuck has written a wonderful blog post explaining how he became involved and where donations will go--he does a much better job explaining the event and its background than I ever could.

DFCHOPE4.jpegCengage Learning ELT (one of Chuck's publishers) is underwriting the event, which includes a buffet dinner, drinks, silent auction, and raffle. Kiran Bir Sethi (the founder of Design For Change and the person who inspired Chuck with her 2009 TED talk) is flying in from India to speak at the event, Takahiko Emi (one of Chuck's former students) has written a theme song which he’ll premiere that evening, and 14 teachers who are committed to the evening’s ideals are doing Pecha Kuchas on the theme of Positive Change (Phillip Shigeo Brown, Jon Catanzariti, John Gunning, Marc Helgesen, Steven Herder, Kim Horne, Lesley Burda Ito, David Laurence, Steven Nishida, Joanne Sato, Svetlana Semenovykh, Cameron Smith, Matt Smith and me!).

I'm thrilled to be a small supporting player in such a fabulous program--I can already feel those altruism-related endorphins coursing through my system!

If you'd also like to play a supporting role in this evening, there are still some seats available. There's a minimum 1500 yen donation (remember, 100% goes to charity!). You can register here--the evening begins at 7:00 pm at Shooters in Fushimi (just 10 minutes from the main JALT venue in Nagoya).

If you aren't going to be at JALT, or can't make it to Be The Change, but still want to be part of the project, you can still donate online (be sure to note that your donation is intended for Design For Change / HOPE Clubs).

This is how I've chosen to be involved. How about you? What are you part of that's bigger than yourself?" I'd love to hear about more wonderful projects like Design for Change!

Check in every weekend for a new editorial by David, Steven, Theron or me. We love your interest in EFL and your comments!

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