Lesson planning | Why you’ve been doing it wrong

Lesson plans are a waste of time. Lesson plans take too long to write. Inexperienced teachers find lesson planning too hard and too time consuming. Even experienced teachers can find lesson planning a time-consuming process or feel like it’s a waste of time. Heard or thought this before?

Why then do teachers find it so hard to plan lessons? Surely you don’t want to spend the whole night awake staring at a coursebook, a document a student gave you, an authentic article or a perfect podacst that you’re dying to use with your groups. The answer may not be in the process itself, but the way you approach the process.

Lots has been said about the merits of planning lessons and the advantages of not planning classes. This is not the a point I want to address in this post- I’ll leave that to the pros here

Anthony Gaughan and Chia Suan Chong’s discussion 

Materials are designed for learners

While the teachers book might give you a ‘final product’ style lesson plan, the students book is most often designed to give the user (aka the student) the smoothest journey through the course. I’ve only seen a few attempts to integrate lesson plan ideas for the teacher in students books, most successfully I think in the latest edition of In-company Upper Intermediate.

At the same time, some materials can be harder to unpack. What I mean by this is that the framework or methodological foundation for the coursebook is sometimes not clear to the untrained eye. If you’re trying to plan your lesson according to either your own framework or second-guess the coursebook’s framework, you might find yourself spending too much time on the plan before you’ve even come up with an idea.

Advice: don’t try and second-guess materials while lesson planning. If you have a new coursebook, get to know it and spot the patterns by looking through the whole book.

Teachers are full of ideas


Teachers have so many creative ideas

Teachers have so many creative ideas

If you’re like me, you have too many ideas when you plan lessons. Your brain becomes overloaded with new ideas and interesting warmers, adaptations or extra activities you know that could fit in. The result is a lots of content and no structure, or losing one idea because another great one has come along

That’s because your mind is brainstorming but the “I must plan my lesson” structure is inhibiting your creativity. At the risk of sounding cheesy, teachers are massively creative and take pride in their creativity. The process is hindering you. Break free and channel your creativity.

Lesson planning is brainstorming

It is. While you look at the materials you want to use, pick up a packet of sticky notes and write down ideas, one per note and stick them to the table. At this stage it’s not important whether it’s a warmer, pre-task, post-task, freer practice, controlled practice, language presentation, lesson review, learning checking, content checking, meaning checking or conversation focused idea, it’s an idea. Please do not evaluate any of your ideas in this section.

You should follow this process for about 5-10 minutes. The table could have anywhere between 5 and 20 ideas on it. Close the coursebook, put the materials down or put the podcast away. 


Brainstorming ideas for lesson plans can be a great way of fuelling the creative process

Brainstorming ideas for lesson plans can be a great way of fuelling the creative process

by jakecaptive under creative commons

Go divergent, evaluate, go convergent

Now you’ve just done something very divergent for your mind. Your brain is probably feeling tested and happy. It’s important to sort these ideas now.

Idea 1:

Put the ideas in columns. Give each column a title. This could be something like “warmer” or something like “1-1 ideas” or “group ideas”.

Idea 2:

Use a traditional lesson structure “warmer” –> “language presentation” –> “controlled practice” –> “freer practice” or whichever lesson framework you are most comfortable using.

Idea 3

If you have many similar ideas, use a descending list for suitability for the class.

Evaluating your ideas, you will be in a better position to discard some ideas. Don’t worry. You can keep them for future lessons if you really like them. What’s important is that you’ve caught all your creative goodness and put it into a structure.

Now you’re ready to converge. Get a page of white A4 paper and add your sticky notes to the paper in one column and the usual comments for your lesson plan in the other column.

What to do with the rest of the ideas? They don’t need to be lost – take a picture of them or collect them in an ideas book for future use.

When I started planning my lessons in this way, I immediately found the process more proactive and more gratifying . My students also noticed the difference the jump in creativity!

Advantages are:

  • By not introducing a framework too early, you don’t inhibit your creative ideas
  • Brainstorming allows you to explore many possibilities without constraints. You let your creativity flow.
  • Sorting and distilling helps your ideas fit into a framework
  • Closing the book and then going back to it treats our materials as stimuli for the creative process of lesson planning; not the cause of the creative drought.

If you try it out, take a picture of the divergent stage and final lesson plan and share your experience with me in the comments section.




ELT Hackathon

Hackathons have become part of the professional lexicon in Berlin. The event, which can last anything from one day to a whole weekend and sometimes a whole week, is a place for like minded individuals to get together and create something to solve a problem. Hackathons have burst out of their techie bubble and are taking a number of industries by storm and are even being used to solve social problems in some sectors.

The concept is that a large group of professionals come together normally over a number of days to engage in collaboration. The general consensus is that each participant / group of participants can work together on whatever they want. Some view the importing of a concept or common goal or improvement as a bit of a bastardization, but others say it adds value with clearly-definable success criteria. For the purpose of playing around with the idea, I’m going to postulate that we have a shared focus.

What topics could ELT hackathons focus on?

The first thing that springs to mind is materials development. Other topics could include advocacy movements, teacher development, assessment or test development.

What, do you mean making a whole course book in a day?

Baby-steps. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

But what if it could be?

Let’s take a short-course book. Give it 5 chapters and 35 pages. Focused on a predefined topic, just to speculate, let’s say English for bike holidays. What steps would it need to go through in a hackathon?

Briefing ahead of time

What kind of skills will participants bring to the table? It’s important to have depth to your hackathon. Let’s go back to the short-course book idea for a moment. People you might want to get involved would have experience in editing, product development, product management, graphic design, marketing and last but not least authors. For this, it’s vital you have a diverse network and reach out well beyond your personal contacts to find these people. Meetup or eventbritte are two platforms you could use to reach out to people on for this purpose.

Set goals of hackathon

To help define what people expect to get out of the hackathon. Survey participants for their expectations and goals as well as their skills beforehand. Many people will attend because they want to network or learn new skills in addition to solving the problem in question. How will your hackathon be organised to help people best reach their own goals as well?

Have clear rules

Timescale, manifesto or mission statement for the hackathon, software standards (googledocs, word, libreoffice, pages – we all use different tools; what will your standard be?)

Decide these ahead of time and keep everyone on the same page to avoid any frustrated hackers.

Keep powered, keep connected

Power outlets need to be in plentiful supply and wifi needs to be strong and readily available.

Clear goals

For example, “English for Bike Holidays”, a 20-page short-course book to be developed over the course of a weekend in a 12-person team. If there are a number of projects going on in your hackathon, make sure the judges at the end are not external and transparent. Also, will there be a prize for participation? What if the event is sponsored by a publisher and the best product receives a deal?

Silence the rumbling stomach!

Caffiene, fruit, water, junk food, Red Bull, jelly sweets. Participants should remain fuelled and up to the task of creating exceptional value.

The proposal: an ELT Hackathon?

A weekend hackathon to develop a short-course series book that fills a gap in the current ELT publishing market. Sponsored by X publisher. Winners will receive a deal for the publication of their product. What else can participants hope to get out of the hackathon? At the end of the hackathon, each group will pitch their concept and product.

Skills sharing, community building, new contacts, networking, practical experience, creating solutions.

What kind of hackers are we looking for? 

Complete rookies in materials development looking for a big break

Experienced authors looking to share or get involved in an exciting project

Experienced pros with project management, graphic design, product development or marketing experience

Editors with experience in ELT


ELTstat | Why I’m getting excited

I’m getting really excited about the new ELTstat project. The results from the Germany Pay Survey 2014 can be found on this blog, but that’s not all. There’s a new survey up there that’s been streamlined, there’s a contact formula to answer any questions you have about the data set and there’s more information about where the project is going next. Here’s a quick extract from the website and a cheeky video to get your juices flowing…

The reason this blog exists is to disseminate the information collected in the 2014 Germany Pay Survey and ensure all future forays into this data set or any subsequent dataset has a place online, readily available, for anyone to find, any time of the day or night.


Check it out at www.eltstat.wordpress.com

How to get the most out of your DOS

Directors of studies can be a mixed bunch. I’ve had a few; the one who’ll always be there to lend and ear or help out, the one who is useless with admin, the business person who’s guiding mantra is bums on seats, the all-round superhero leader (I bet we all wished we had that one).

Whatever type you’ve got, here are a few ways to make sure you get the best out of them.

1. Follow up on the important stuff

Didn’t get back to you on your email? Never fear. follow up on it, your DOS may thank you for it. With emails flying in to the DOS’s inbox and a million problems to sort out, it’s easy to see how your request could go on the back burner. If it’s important to you, follow up on it.

2. Workshops

Ask about them. Suggest topics, offer to sort out the of organisation. No one in the world would openly say that development doesn’t matter. Can you give workshops? Help out or take a small part of one? Let them know. You might be the solution!

3. Keep emails short and to the point

One topic per email. You don’t want what’s important to get lost in a sea of rambling. Can you make the solution or follow up action clear? Yes? Do it. Saving your DOS time will get you what you want and fast. Rant and ramble with six paragraphs and don’t be surprised if your requests are ignored. Consider your reader.

4. Glorious observations

Ask for them. Welcome them. Have a positive attitude to them. It takes time to organise and time to do (especially if it’s in-company). Be timely with your lesson plan and take it seriously. In the worst cases your professional attitude will reflect well on you. In the best cases it will contribute to a great working relationships.

Not all schools offer observations. You can ask for one. Ask and you shall be rewarded.

5. Come with questions

Popping by to say hi? Come with some questions. New courses? Missing your books? Come and ask. You might just catch your DOS with a few minutes free and then have all your questions answered. Be proactive. Don’t wait until it’s a problem.

6. Ask how things are going

It sounds trivial but it’s so refreshing. Ask about the company, how everything is going. Making small talk will build relations. We teach it, do we do it?

7. Share your thoughts

Feedback is important to me. So important. How the course is going, if the students like a new book. Try to think of a positive and a constructive. You don’t want to get a reputation as always negative after all.

8. Keep your admin in check

Invoices, lists, records. Every time these are late. Chasing up on these things and the delays involved creates more work.

What should I say? You’re probably nodding your head and thinking “that’s what I do”. Then congratulations on your working relationship with your DOS!

How NOT to get freelance Business English work

How to not get freelance Business English work with a language school

Joining a language school might seem like quite a simple process. From a small provider to national or international school or language agency, there are a few things you can do that will make sure you do NOT get the job.

En-masse applications

Let’s get off to a good start. Send a personalized email. Find out the right name and get in touch with the person with the power to make the decision. Mass-produced emails with all the schools’ emails to which you are applying visible say one thing: You’re not worth the five minutes it takes to write an individual email. You don’t want to make that impression.

Location, location, location

Don’t Start your email with “I’m currently living in X far away country and would like work as a teacher in your school, do you have any openings”. Instead, apply in the country/city or make first contact and follow up when you’re here and ready to work. Find out what we might be looking for (websites are great for this) and hone your first line. Something like “I’m sending you my CV for consideration for  freelance Business English training in Berlin”.

Don’t start with your pitch 

Include a long list of jobs and unrelated qualifications and experience. Make it difficult for the person hiring to find out why you are special. This will ensure you don’t get filed away in a dark corner of my inbox.

Instead, take a look at some more interactive CVs on the net. Spend a couple of hours making it interactive or jazz it up with interesting formatting. Highlight your expertise and detail your relevant experience – this is your one-minute sales pitch. Don’t give a timeline. Select, refine and target your points.

I received a CV the other day in a lesson-plan format with lesson aims (in the form of experience and qualifications) on it. After that, I was keenly interested in speaking to the person. Raise interest. Think about content, layout, presentation. Your CV is your pitch.

Don’t sell your qualifications 

CELTA? OK, pass A, B, or just pass? That makes a difference. Pass A candidates prick up my attention. Don’t sell yourself short by not including it.

Don’t provide accurate information on schools

So you’ve worked with Amazon, Siemens, Vodafone. Impressive. Was this through a school? Still impressive. It’s not underselling yourself to say that you worked with a private language school. Actually, I’m in charge of hiring for one and I want to hear that you’ve got experience of working with our type of company

Quote your rate in the first contact

Rule number 1 of freelance negotiation. Try and get the school to quote first. They have a rate. Being pushy with your rate won’t improve your remuneration – it just comes across as demanding. I want to know if I can work with you – if I can, I’m likely to also be flexible on payment.

Under-prepare for the interview

Bad tip: Don’t read our website. Don’t find out that we provide learner-centred and interactive lessons.

When I ask you about how you’d present and provide practice in a specific grammar of vocabulary point, I’m really looking for how you have understood what we stand for. That means that starting with “I’d put some example sentences on the board and explain it” is a no-go zone.

Don’t bookmark blogs

Sidestep all the information out there online about us. Bad idea.

Check your potential employer out on LinkedIn, Xing, WordPress, Twitter.

A quick search online will show you what I’m into as far as teaching goes, what I’ve written and what I’ve done. I’m not saying suck up, but doing your background work on me will show me you’re motivated and info-savvy. Always do your background work on your learners’ companies, and this is also true of your interviewer.

No business acumen 

Respond at 12 at night to emails, don’t sign off your emails or better still make glaring mistakes in your writing. This will not make a good impression.

That’s not you though, is it? In Germany, freelancers are also our clients too. Do you have a signature on your email? Do you respond on time? Communicate in a professional way? If I’m looking for someone who could teach email writing and other facets of business communication, I want to know that you can do this yourself.

Scrap the follow-up

Leave your application for months and never come back to it. Again, bad advice. Actually, your friendly reminder might just bring that stunning application back to my attention at the right time. Better still, time it for late Aug or early Jan and you might just catch me in the middle of a search – I’ll want to interview you right away and I’ll be really grateful your brought it to my attention.

So there you have it, a few simple tips to avoid getting hired. Now you can get back to being great language training professionals. Maybe I’ll be speaking to you some time soon?

How do you analyze needs?

Needs analysis is the foundation for providing effective Business English training and it seems more and more often that I am teaching English for meetings. Every school has its own needs analysis questionnaire including a variety of business skills and personalised questions in addition to a language test which give a sense of the ability and preferences of course participants. The results of this needs analysis goes into the syllabus design and informs trainers on what kinds of skills to include in their training. This process, it is safe to say, has taken place as the scientific cornerstone of much our needs analysis practice.

This takes me back to my secondary-school science classes and needs analysis doesn’t differ that much from a scientific experiment in the sense that trainers gather a batch of information that then forms the basis of a number of assumptions. For example, a group of team leaders in an international E-commerce business will need English for a variety of different meetings. What’s the next step? Go and make a syllabus, find materials and input that expose learners to the language they will need for meetings.

Now looking back on my science classes I remember the next essential part of the process was testing these assumptions. To borrow from the start-up culture here in Berlin, assumptions on user and customer behaviour for a new product or service is are numerous and a start-up is the business equivalent of the science class. You wouldn’t find a successful start-up around that hasn’t thoroughly tested its assumptions before launching its product. I had a meeting with a guy from Microsoft earlier this year who was trying to launch an online news app for teachers that reduced their lesson planning time. His assumption was that teachers would buy into the product. Actually, what I believe his conclusion from his initial meetings was that in fact the learners would be the ones buying into the product – trainers already know which articles they like to use and wouldn’t spend money on a product that did that for them.

Anyway, I digress. A needs analysis in my mind is not successful unless it tests the assumptions it provides a trainer. Just today, I was listening to a meeting participants in a course of mine had made of their work meetings and it turns out that yes, they do need language for meetings. My initial observation from the needs analysis was that they needed language for giving updates. What the recordings have however shed light on is that in these meetings the language that causes problems involves two elements: firstly, language to manage the discourse and presenting problems as solutions with longer conditional style phrases like “if we were to have the training on a fixed date every month, would that chance anything” instead of “the problem is that the date keeps changing”.

The more scientific approach I have taken from this is that needs analysis involves:


Without going deeper into the problem, there is the risk that despite an initial needs analysis, the assumptions made may well be far flung from the linguistic needs of participants and the training not as effective at helping them perform better in their jobs.

It’s time to talk about TBLT

I came home from work today and I cleaned up the kitchen. Why did I do it? I wanted to, the mess from my dinner party last night, still left in the washing-up basin, quite frankly, I found quite repulsive. I guess my housemate would have done it when he came home, but I did it of my own accord. What I just described was, according to Long (1985:), what is summerised as a task:

“a piece of work undertaken for oneself or for others, freely or for some reward. Thus examples of tasks include painting a fence, dressing a child, filling out a form, buying a pair of shoes… in other words, by ‘task’ is meant the hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at play and in between”

However much one might like to dream, nobody gets their Intermediate evening class to do the washing up – I hope not anyway. Ellis (2003: 16) jumps in with a more specific definition of what a pedagogical task is:

“A task is a workplan that requires learners to process language pragmatically in order to achieve an outcome that cane be evaluated in terms of whether the correct of appropriate propositional content has been conveyed. To this end, it requires them to give primary attention to the meaing and to make use of their own linguistic resources, although the design of the task may predispose them to choose particular forms. A task is intended to result in language use that bears a resemblance  direct or indirect, to the way language is used in the real world. Like other activities, a task can engage productive or receptive, and oral or written skills and also various cognitive processes.”

In a recent seminar on TBLT, I asked participants to make a top-five list of their favourite restaurants in Berlin. The next task I gave them was to make a call to another participant and invite him or her to one of those restaurants, give a summary of the menu, make arrangements and give directions.

Would they do that in real life?
Was there a goal or outcome of the task?
Was their primary outcome the language they wanted to use or the aim of the task?
What were the main forms used to complete the task?

Funnily enough, in the first task lots of language was thrown up in the discussion relevant to the next task: “it’s a bit pricey, anything up to €20 a head”, “It’s closed on Mondays but you can go any other day of the week”, “It’s a kind of Thai-Vietnamese fusion”, “kofte, kebab, that kind of thing”, “you know that bridge near Kottbusser Tor, it’s near there, just down the road and on the left, next to the supermarket”. In the second task, participants reused the same forms again, with the small addition that they had to negotiate when was a good time to go out to dinner.

They were, I have to admit, all native speakers – so let’s face it, choosing the right linguistic forms wasn’t much of a challenge. Had they been learners, the negotiation of meaning would have occurred in the during task phase, as Lightbown and Spada Lightbown & Spada (2006: 150) write:

“When learners are given the opportunity to engage in interaction, they are compelled to ‘negotiate for meaning’… the negotiation leads learners to acquire the language forms – the words and the grammatical structures – that carry the meaning they are attending to”

But – and this is a pretty big but – even if you think you’re running a really tight ship, leaks can still occur and it shouldn’t be taken for granted that a well-designed task alone will smooth over all gaps in meaning; while learner are attending to meaning, breakdowns in understanding can occur.

The tasks were appropriate according to their aim: the first was intended to prime participants for the language forms to come by performing a similar task with the aim of brainstorming places to go for dinner and the second provided the outcome of making arrangements for dinner. I picked two boxes from the task cycle I drew up below:
Task-Based Teaching outline copyWhile reading around, I found that there were many different types of task cycle proposed by Nunan, Jane Willis and Ellis so I took elements of all of them and fused them together in attempt to try and make a more comprehensive map. I feel it’s important to note that TBLT works best when it exploits the right blend of component parts of the task cycle appropriate to the task, the level of the class, the materials (if) used external requirements on the course.

Of the parts in the task cycle, arguably the most important in terms of learners’ linguistic development is a Focus on Form. This idea differs from the Form-focused instruction found in PPP methodology in as much as it focuses on the salient forms that emerge from the task, i.e., those immediate to the learners’ communicative purpose. The advantage that this proposes is that by achieving a task that has a meaningful communicative purpose, while receiving (overt) support from their teacher in doing so, learners will retain language better. 

It’s quite right to say on the hand that if not correctly implemented, TBLT will swerve away from the well-intentioned rationale stated and veer dangerously towards pedagogical nothingness – an important consideration to bear in mind when designing a lesson. What this means is a TBLT lesson requires a lot of thought about the right tasks tailored to the learners’ communicative needs and a teacher equipped with the right tools to second-guess relevant forms and be prepared to clarify emergent language.

Doughty, C.,  & Williams J., Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition, Cambridge Applied linguistics, 1998

Ellis, R.,  (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N., How Languages are learned, Oxford University Press, 1996

Dogme Reality

Great to see the great Phil Wade posting again on the blog. For anyone who doesn’t know the man, he’s an ELT Jack of all traits now teaching freelance in Rèunion in the Indian Ocean.  This time, he’s going to talk about how even bending over backwards to make this personal and student centred, it can be like banging your head against the wall!

I remember having a short Twitter chat with Rob Haines who used to handle the Dogme discussion group about Dogme allegedly being the ‘golden bullet’ to cure all teaching woes. Well, it’s good and brings live to classes of students used to heads down work but it doesn’t always work.

This term I’ve had problems with discipline. Students have been chatting heavily in the L1, messing around and not participating by answering no questions or doing any pair work in
English. It’s been doing my head in as I enjoy ‘Dogme moments’, student choice for activities, working with their output and a general positive attitude.

Finally, I realised that some just don’t want to pass, it’s that simple. It sounds crazy to me but logical if they get to resit a class rather than do another either more difficult one. If they don’t get penalised for failing and graduate anyhow, well, I get it. It’s not the mentality that I wish for or expect but now I understand.

Thus, we’re talking zero student contributions except for turning up and sitting down.

I think we teachers beat ourselves up over getting students on track, keeping them so and pushing them. On the CELTA we learned to push them and to keep lessons snappy and were used to eager students with motivation. Take that away and it’s not the same ball game.

There has to be a point where we admit defeat and just let things go before they consume us. In my case, this may mean letting some L1 chat pass or cutting out pairwork. My official course objectives will still get met as they are for people to complete the course i.e. attend and do the exercises. They may pass the test but many may not and thus fail for the 2nd or 3rd time.

I say goodbye to Dogme hopes for this class and put aside my interesting ideas and student-based activities. Sad but the reality is that Dogme doesn’t work with everyone and in every situation. Sometimes it can be a real uphill struggle changing students attitudes and getting them to see the benefits, this can lead to complaints too and if your colleagues are sticklers for teacher-based lessons then you may even face a serious chat.

My Dogme approach will live to fight another day but as it’s now an integrated part of how I always teach, it means I must teach unnaturally. For me, doing all the interesting and responsive stuff is what I like and what teaching should be about.


“Be formless… shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You pour water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or creep or drip or crash! Be water, my friend…”

Bruce Lee’s famous words, which I came across after some post-Way-of-the-Dragon research on the martial-arts master. These words have something profound to say to professionals intent on providing the best service possible. Good – better – best practice, however, conjures up a notion of the one perfect form for a teacher of a second language. On the contrary, Lee’s quote made me think that you are the form, the liquid form – not the Trevi Fountain of teaching – and you adapt to the cup, bottle, teapot, dirty old bucket full of mould (we’ve all had that class, right?). There seems to be, therefore, a mismatch somewhere between the notion of best practice and how it is achieved.


Last week I was asked the most important attribute of an ELT teacher, to which I immediately responded “flexibility”. There was no hesitation at all. Methods, approaches, language awareness, classroom management techniques – learnable. Flexibility – acquired on the way thanks to a combination of success and failure.

Failure: flunk, bomb, mess up, flunk – there’s so much negative stigma attached to this word. Just taking a look at the red pen the letter ‘F’ on the test on the right and let the memories come flowing back of that embarrassing arithmetic test in which you scored zero when you were thirteen. Calling out your mark, much lower than every other in the class, every week, was an absolute nightmare. Enough of my year-9 mathematics nightmares now.

There is negative stigma that doesn’t do justice the learning power of failure

Kathryn Schulz, in her talk ‘On Being Wrong’, differentiates between being wrong and realising that you are so, providing a really striking analogy of what it feels like: The Coyote chasing Road Runner off the mountain and the sudden realisation dawns on him mid stride that he’s about to drop hundreds of feet to the bottom of the abyss. Before, he runs off the edge in complete ignorance of what he’s just done, takes a few more strides and suddenly sees the ‘F’ staring him in the face, then falls. It’s about 1:08 in this video if 6 minutes of Looney Toons is too much for you.

Obviously, it’s not fun in any respect to realise that you’ve done something wrong. The double-edge sword is that firstly you cannot do anything about the mistake and secondly you often find out from someone else – losing face an having the risk of dwelling on it. Not necessarily a sword though, all of this. I’ll come to that a bit later.

I digress a little from the original point of flexibility. At this point I feel I should link the two strands; flexibility and failure. When you hit the bottom and brush yourself off after the Coyote-esque fall, to avoid yourself from doing the same thing over and over again, there comes a point when quiet reflection on your practice is necessary to avoid any future reoccurrence. In this way, failure feeds into flexibility as the protagonist; it is the reason why you end up resembling either the Trevi Fountain or the water it spurts out.

Let’s not get too hasty here though and assume making mistakes over and over again will result in flexibility. The Coyote, credit to him, experiments with a number of different methods to try and catch the pesky Road Runner. He doesn’t keep on making the same mistake over and over again (although that famous falling scene does have a habit of poking its nasty head up more than once, touché). To my mind, he is trying to be like water and should deserve a lot of credit for it; he’s only doomed to failure thanks to the script he has to follow. This might have some significance to teachers who have a script forced upon them by a third-party, too.

“Now water can flow, or creep or drip or crash! Be water, my friend…”

How to be more like water: You put the teacher in a class and the teacher adapts to the class. Seems simple, 1+1 = 2, right? Trust me, this is NOT as simple as it sounds and it’s very likely that you’ll fall off that cliff once or twice. There are, thankfully, ways that can help you realise when you do in the hope that in future you see the cliff coming and take a detour.

  • Listen to your students and respond to their feedback, even if it involves doing things that don’t fit well with your teaching beliefs
  • Collect feedback on a regular basis; don’t be afraid the negative stuff – you’re water, you adapt
  • Is your classroom a cup, a bucket, a glass? Find out this stuff before and when your course starts
  • Use a variety of methods and approaches – even the ones that your not so used to or consider to be not as conducive to learning; if you’re students learn benefit, then why not?

Warning: bending over backwards too much can lead to back pain.


Just a note to finish on: The Coyote, who finds himself messing up all the time, at least tries a variety of different methods to achieve his goal. He’s wrong, he realises this; that doesn’t stop him from trying something new. Be like the Coyote, you’ll find the right method one day. The process will make you more like water, better adapted to take the form of the vessel.

Some afterthoughts

I would like to make a call to any teacher that has ever received a nasty comment from a student, some negative feedback on an observation, below-average marks from formal training: do you consider yourself more flexible as a consequence?

Secondly, how do you go about ensuring you don’t fall off the cliff when you are handed a new class? Does this always work?