Sunday 21 October 2018

Service Learning - TESOL MTh EFL Talks 2017

TESOL MTh EFL Talks 2018 are round the corner. Let me take this opportunity to remember my EFL Talk 2017: "Service Learning: From Classroom to Community".

A lot of great things happen in classrooms all over the world and many teachers get their students involved in project work. Unfortunately, the outcomes of these efforts are rarely seen by the world and often stay behind closed doors. Service learning is a kind of project-based learning which opens doors or classrooms by getting students involved in projects which address real needs in the community. At the same time, it allows students to develop a wide range of skills.

My advice is as follows: choose a cause you are passionate about and that you want to support. It can be bullying, traffic safety, environmental pollution, you name it! For me, it is the fate of stray dogs.

In my short presentation I gave practical ideas on how we can get our students involved in a meaningful project aiming not only at improving the fate of strays but also, in the long run, at reducing the problem by informing and educating community members. 

Watch my talk and get convinced that service-learning can be a truly transformative experience for your students and for the whole community.

Monday 15 October 2018

Stray life

When you choose to get involved in the fight for a better fate of stray dogs in Greece, be prepared. You will see the cruelty of people and you will feel the pain of their victims. Know that you will lose many battles, but the few that you win will make all the difference and will keep you going. You will mourn lives being lost, and you'll celebrate lives being saved. You'll wonder at the cruelty of some people, at the indifference of others and you'll admire the resilience of those fighters who devote their lives to the cause of strays. I've seen all of these.

In the last couple of weeks, I've seen one life end, one life get saved and one slipped through my fingers and I beat myself up about it, as I was not quick enough to make decisions.

I'll start with the loss.

This dog used to live with his family in a big house with a yard right next to a big supermarket in Veroia, a city in Northern Greece, where I regularly shopped.

Some time ago, I realized that I never saw the owners of the house, the yard was full of trash and the dog, rather on the chubby side when I first met him, started losing weight. Very soon, my suspicions got confirmed - I learned that the owners had sold the house and the land to the supermarket, and that the two buildings would be soon knocked down and a new bigger store with a big parking lot built in their place. The owners of the house had taken all their belongings when they moved out, but they left the dog behind. They abandoned him and left. Very soon, the place turned into a huge construction site, but the dog refused to leave. He stayed there, amidst the rabble and remains of his old home. Not even the machinery and the noise chased him away.

Together with two tireless activists in the area, we made sure that the old boy had access to food and water. But we couldn't shield him from the dangers of his new reality. Some days ago, he got run over by a truck, we've been told by the construction workers. He didn't die on the spot. Injured, he get moved to a safer place, provided shelter and care, but despite the efforts, there was no hope. His hind legs were paralyzed and his body functions got reduced day by day. He passed away a few days after the tragic event. As for his former owners - I have no idea who they are, but I know that you get what you give.
RIP, old boy. There are people who mourn for you.

That was the life that vanished before its time. Around the same time though, and in the very same place, a life got saved. Toby and his brother, two beautiful puppies with super big ears, got abandoned right outside the old dog's yard, next to the very same supermarket a few months ago. One of them, Toby, was more energetic, more cheerful, very curious about everything happening around him. His brother, Benji, was weaker, and much less assertive, in his own shy way constantly seeking love and attention. After two months of my extensive efforts to find homes and families for them, one of the two puppies, Benji, disappeared. I still look for him - I post on fb, I put up posters, I spread the word - so far, in vain. A couple of days later, I received a message from Athens from a great woman, Tania, interested in adopting one of the two puppies. Since Benji was missing, his brother was the lucky one and he would travel to the new home. It was not easy to find a way to transport Toby from Veroia to Athens, but when there is a will, there's a way. So, a friend of Tania’s drove all the way up to Larissa and I drove all the way down to Larissa, and we met there. Today, Toby lives a happy life in Athens, goes on long walks, sleeps in a comfortable bed and has plenty of food in his bowl. But first and foremost, he is loved and safe.

This adoption was a great reason for celebration. The celebration of love and life.
It's a story with a happy ending.

The last of the three stories I wanted to tell you is unfinished. I don’t know where Benji is. I don’t know if he got adopted, if he got relocated by somebody for some mysterious reason, I don’t even know if he is still alive. But I swear he will never live in the street again if I manage to find him… 

As for the link with ELT, stay tuned. It’s time for some serious awareness raising.

Saturday 25 March 2017

11 April - World Parkinson's Awareness Day

My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1994. I was 16 years old then, right in the middle of my turbulent teens; a self-absorbed adolescent preoccupied with my own needs and wants. I cannot really say I wasn’t of any help – I provided immediate assistance whenever it was needed, but I don’t think that was enough to call me supportive. A classic teen, I don’t think I ever got into the trouble of trying to understand how my father felt when he was struggling to make his feet move faster or to control those shaky hands. 

He is long gone and the time for me has come to pay my long overdue debt. 

11 April is the birthday of Dr James Parkinson who was the first to describe the symptoms of the disease. Let’s all #UniteForParkinsons and do something with our students around that day, the World Parkinson’s Awareness Day. 

Without Her” is a one-act play written by our dear colleague, Despina Karamitsou, in which in a humorous way she presents the causes, symptoms and ways of dealing and living with PD. The play has been translated into several languages and I was more than happy to translate the play into Polish (Except for the original Greek version, there is also a Turkish version available so far). There is also a file with plenty of ideas to choose from if you decide to talk to your students about Parkinson’s. 

The recording of the performance is available in Greek with English subtitles.

I would like to thank Despina for giving me the opportunity to get involved. Her work has showed me that Parkinson’s disease does not have to be a curse if you don’t treat it as one.

Wednesday 1 March 2017


I have always tried to teach with a twist, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that there was a conference for people like me, a TWIST Conference organized annually in Warsaw. I got intrigued by the unusual concept of the event; as the conference organizers put it, TWIST is all about promoting “extraordinary 'ordinary' teachers who take the stage to share their success stories!”

Personally, I tried to contribute to the event with a session on the use of Silent Discussion, my personal teaching success :), a technique especially useful to tackle “difficult” topics in class.

Photo by Małgorzata Warmińska

Silent discussion is a collaborative learning strategy which helps students explore a topic in depth, but most importantly, it allows each student to work at their own pace and engages even the most intimidated students. It first takes form of written self-expression and exchange of ideas, and ultimately turns into a verbal discussion. The instructions need to be very clear: the participants are not allowed to talk for fifteen minutes and the only means of communication among them is a long stretch of big wrapping paper and markers. My session aimed to prove that silence can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. It can open up space for productivity, creativity and cooperation. When held in silence, discussions on even the most controversial topics resonate loud and make a deep impact.

Here is my follow-up article which appeared in the latest issue of The Teacher

Friday 27 January 2017

ELT for Social Justice – Addressing the Issue of the Holocaust

The article ELT for Social Justice – Addressing the Issue of the Holocaust which I co-authored with Mark Andrews and Adam Janiszewski and was kindly published by the IATEFL Global Issues Special Interest Group is a fruit of international collaboration. The issue of the Holocaust viewed from various perspectives: our own, but also through the eyes of Mark's students in Hungary, Adam's in Poland and mine in Greece.

Happy reading.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Note to a Stranger

Isn't it fascinating how a single image can become a springboard for a class discussion, a lesson plan, or at least for an engaging activity?

The picture below was taken somewhere in Warsaw, Poland by a colleague and an inspiring educator, Milada Krajewska and shared by her on her Facebook page. I read the note in the picture and I couldn't resist :) The warm-up activity just "wrote itself". 

Don't tell your students what the lesson is going to be about. Let them discover it by themselves. 

First, ask them what kind of messages and notes they expect to see pinned up on traffic and signal lighting poles, or in other places in town: at bus stops, or electricity poles. Let them brainstorm ideas: 
advertisements, announcement, apartment rental ads, obituaries, lost pet notes, private classes announcements, concert posters, etc.

Show them the picture below. For the fun of it, you can ask them to read it. Can they recognize what language it is? Do they believe that this note belongs to any of the categories listed by them earlier? There is no contact number, there seems to be no address, no time indication, no image...

Tell them that the note says: "Whoever you are, I wish you well." Ask them to freewrite for five minutes about how reading this kind of note would make them feel.

Wish them a nice day before you dismiss the class.

Photo credits: Milada Krajewska

Talk to your students about the importance and benefits of treating others in a kind manner. It may be a life-changing lesson for them and for the world.