I ducked into Colin’s session after another I wanted to attend was already filled to capacity. A lucky chance, because this was an inspiring talk about how to effectively develop in small ways, part of IATEFL’s Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG) Day. Plus, Colin has a really fun and refreshing presentation style—he’s one to watch for in future conferences!
First, he invited us to think of a professional problem we had. I chose irregular attendance in in-company groups. Then we thought about professional goals. I want to diversify more in my career—blending writing, teaching, speaking at conferences, and teacher training.
Colin also asked for two volunteers before he really got into the thick of the talk: one to give him only positive feedback and one to give him only negative feedback after the talk. Why not do a bit of one’s own professional development while helping others develop? I liked this little technique and found it fitting for this talk.
Colin based his talk on a book by Prof. Richard Wiseman called 59 seconds: think a little, change a lot. Technically it’s a self-help book, but Colin said that it did help him in his teaching.
He asked us to note three things to be grateful for in our professional life. I chose:
- Knowing great colleagues around the world
- Having had the courage to go freelance
- Having access to opportunities for professional development
Working in a group with Duncan Foord and Anthony Gaughan, we all came up with similar ideas. Having the freedom to do what we want in our classrooms was also something to be really grateful for.
Colin pointed out that we develop when we’re happy. Happiness and motivation are keys for developing as teachers. We also need the necessary tools and finally, creativity to develop. We can get ideas at conferences and from other teachers, but when we make these ideas our own, that’s when we develop.
In the book 59 seconds, the author recommends spending some time (ideally 59 seconds, but Colin admitted that it often really takes longer) keeping a “Perfect Diary.” You write about something positive in your life, for example, one theme for each day of the week. Here’s a suggestion for a working week Perfect Diary:
- Monday: Thanksgiving—things you are thankful for
- Tuesday: Terrific times—things that are going well in your present life
- Wednesday: Future fantastic—something in the future that you are optimistic about
- Thursday: Dear…–a letter to someone who means a lot to you or that you respect. You don’t actually send the letter though.
- Friday: 3 things—these are things that went well over the past week
In studies done on people who actually followed this advice, there was a real difference in levels of happiness, so why not try it out and come back to tell us if it helped you?
Another way to cultivate happiness is by simply smiling. Colin challenged us to all smile for 30 seconds. It certainly got us giggling! It may sound a bit quirky, but Colin said he actually creates little reminders to smile, like smiling when he stops at a traffic light. However, he recommended not overly grinning on public transport—it tends to scare people!
Colin cautioned us about thinking too positively about the future, because studies show that imagining a too-fantastic future actually led to unhappiness. Don’t create an unrealistic future, for risk of never reaching your goals. Think of it as carefully dosed future fantasy.
Showing a photo of George Orwell, Colin brought up the notion of doublethink goals in which we define a goal, but also the benefits and barriers. These are supposed to be in one word, but it’s ok to add a few!
Here’s what I came up with:
- Goal: do more writing in ELT
- Biggest benefit: professional development
- Barrier: Lack of time or novel ideas
- 2nd benefit: become more known as a contributor to our field
- 2nd barrier: finding publication outlets
- Elaboration: this was a small-group discussion of the above points
Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol provided the perfect metaphor. He was most affected by the ghost of Christmas future—it sparked him to change. The future he saw and the way he would be remembered horrified him. So Colin challenged us to do a very interesting, perhaps somewhat shocking, exercise:
Write your own eulogy.
Imagine you’ve died. What would you like a friend to say about you at your funeral? Avoid modesty, but be realistic. Include personality, achievements, personal strengths, professional success, etc.
The exercise felt a bit funny, but once you start, you begin to realize what’s important to you and where you want to go. It’s like you’re plotting the destination for the journey of your life. After that, it’s up to you to find the path to get there.
59 seconds isn’t really enough to do this exercise (it is your own eulogy, after all!) but it is an interesting one worth trying out.
Colin also reminded us that the loudest part of our inner self is not always the most creative part—think silent, creative type. We thought of a problem then kept our mind busy with a word search projected on the screen. Meanwhile, the silent part of our inner selves subconsciously mulled over the problem.
Think of a problem you’re trying to solve – do a word search or other mind-occupying idea – jot ideas to solve our problem.
In the final couple of exercises, Colin invited half of the group to think of typical behavior and characteristics of an engineer. The other half of the group had to imagine the behavior and characteristics of a punk. Then in a standard test of creativity, we had to think of as many uses as possible for a hefty 200-page tome–the IATEFL conference program.
By imagining a creative, non-conformist type of person like an artist, a punk, etc. just before doing a creative-thinking activity, you will think more creatively. Don’t think about the perfect creative person—no Leonardo da Vinci! That’s setting the bar a bit too high, but you get the idea.
Colin admitted that while these activities may not have allowed him to measure their effectiveness in his own life, they have helped him to feel more positive and creative.
I may just try out the Perfect Diary this week and then try out some of the creative thinking techniques while mulling over proposals to submit to future conferences.
And which ones will you experiment with? Let us know what you try and if/how they affect your creativity!