Building Relationships between language teachers

Some language teachers are the only one or one of a few in their building. Other language teachers have a department to rely on, but may be in a different place in their professional development than their colleagues. I have a great colleague who I talk to every day and in years past I planned with a colleague on a regular basis. Whatever your situation, we can all benefit from building relationships with other language teachers. I am going to address building relationships outside of your own district by joining your state’s professional development organization, forming a professional learning group and creating an online presence.

I hope you have already joined your state’s professional development organization. In Massachusetts ours is Massachusetts Foreign Language Association and like most of them nationally, we have a newsletter, online site, workshops and annual conference. Over the years of attending the annual conference, I have come to know other language teachers who I have interacted with outside of the conference from time to time.

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Vegetable in the médina in Rabat, Alexndra LeComte

But for me the best thing to happen was that I joined the board of directors last year. Serving on the board, volunteering at the conference and presenting at the conference have put me in touch with dynamic teachers across the state. You can volunteer and present at the annual conference without joining the board yet consider applying to get to know other language teachers and administrators.

It is important to realize that sometimes you need to take the first step to bring people together instead of waiting for others to contact you. Be confident. Even those teachers who in your eyes may be stronger or further on the journey most likely would appreciate joining a professional learning group. My experience was that all I had to do was ask and a group of talented educators was happy to come together once every two months to discuss new strategies, articles, adopting a standards-based grading system and discuss chapters of a useful book. In my group there is a French teacher who presents nationally, a department head and other teachers like me who are still finding their way.

If you are reading this blog, you are seeing me model a strategy that I would advise to other teachers, create an online presence. There is an online community who is out there gathering ideas from blogs. I have only 23 followers. Some of my posts have been read by over three hundred people, but not all. The most popular are the ones that are ready-to-use ideas. I am not bothered that my circle isn’t large as I am continuing to build it. The easiest way to start an online presence is on Twitter. I retweet authentic documents that can be useful in instruction and on occasion take a picture of something my students produced and post it. I also use Twitter to encourage others to read my latest blog posts. I have only two hundred followers, so I use hashtags to widen my audience, like #langchat, #fle and #authres. Online relationships have served me well. I have asked for help on Twitter and received it. I even had a teacher I never met revise my presentation for a conference. There is a Facebook page called Musique Mercredi where I have received new ideas and activities as well as posted some of my own. I may never meet in person any of the members of my online community, but relationships with them have been valuable.

We are social beings and learn great things from others. I encourage you to build relationships with other language teachers.

Who to see @ACTFL 2016

ACTFL 2016, the national conference on language teaching, is taking place in Boston this weekend. It is an opportunity to hear about current trends in language education. Last year when I attended the conference in San Diego, it took a lot of time on Twitter to prioritize which presenters’ sessions to attend. I took interest in the teachers who were active on #langchat, the ones who were making comments that showed the merit of their practice. In addition, I relied on the list of ACTFL Teachers of the Year as they are all excellent professionals.

In case you don’t have the time to do your own research, I want to share with you a handful of excellent presenters that you can catch this year.

  • Catherine Ousselin is a Digital Literacy Coach and French teacher. She has attended MaFLA in the past, so maybe you have already heard her speak. She is a leader in the area of technology. When the site Photo de Classe came online recently, its merits were obvious to French teachers and so I am intrigued to find out how Catherine uses it. Photo de Classe: Connecting Origins, Family and Identity Using Global Units. Friday 11am-12pm
  • Amy Lenord is a Spanish teacher and is the #langchat moderator. Here she will be addressing whether or not vocabulary lists hold us back. Liberation from the Lists: Vocabulary Instruction without Limits. Friday 3:45-4:45pm
  • Nicole Naditz is a French teacher and was ACTFL teacher of the year in 2015. I blogged about her tips after ACTFL 2015 and can’t wait to hear what she has to say about Interpersonal communication for novice students. Breaking Through: Building Up to Spontaneous Communication from Year 1. Friday 3:45-4:45pm
  • Noah Geisel is a Spanish teacher and was ACTFL teacher of the year in 2013. The description of the sessions states that, “Mobile Storytelling… facilitates reciprocal communication with authentic audiences” I will get out of bed early Saturday morning and leave my husband with the kids to find out what “authentic audiences” means. When Digital isn’t Enough: The Magic of Mobile Storytelling. Saturday 8-9am
  • Sara-E. Cottrell is the Spanish teacher who is responsible for Musicuentos.com. Here she is addressing a very timely subject for me and my colleagues, how to use a text book. Textbook as Aid: Adapt, Incorporate and Ditch. Saturday 5:15-6:15pm

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Takeaways from Teacher of the Year Nicole Naditz

When you go to a conference, in a particular session the new idea you bring back to your classroom isn’t always the main point of the presentation. Nicole Naditz, at ACTFL 2015 in her session Learning As I Go, was hoping for just that. It was her wish, and this is how she introduced it, that each person in the session would find some unique point to inspire them. Indeed the two ideas I took away from her session were not the main concepts she was presenting.

In passing Nicole mentioned that she has a student greet the class every day. She credited the idea to a colleague. The reason why she brought this up was because she was showing us an online tool to gather student work. She showed us a video of a student who greeted the class with something like, “Bonjour, Classe. Je m’appelle Susan. Aujourd’hui, c’est le 22 novembre. Il fait un peu frais.” It was immediately apparent to me that of course students should do this type of introduction at the beginning of class instead of the teacher, cycling through students one by one each day. I also liked that the teacher with a phone had taken a quick video and dropped it into the electronic portfolio of that student.

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The second idea that was appealing to me was the idea to have students have time for free reading once a week. Free reading is a concept that is borrowed from the elementary classroom. Nicole encouraged us to pick a day, say Thursday, and every Thursday students would know to start class by choosing a book from the class library and spend 7 to 10 minutes reading. The students would then respond to their reading with a prompt from a menu of 7 to 10 options. Each week they would use a different prompt and at the end of a couple months the teacher collects the work.

I attended three different session where Nicole spoke and it was obvious why she was named teacher of the year.