- Do you have an overall philosophy of teaching, something that motivates you, or guides your interactions with students?
I’m much more practical than theoretical. The best motivation for me is working with clients who are actively using English in their jobs, rather than those without any specific goal in mind. I love the process of determining what a client wants to be able to do better in English, designing training that mimics their real-life tasks, and then seeing them immediately apply the knowledge and techniques and come back with boosted confidence and success.
- What are Visual Springboards™ and how do you use them with your clients?
Visual Springboards™ is the name I’ve given to a series of visual worksheets designed to help anyone who wants to improve their speaking skills. They feature an image with spaces for the client to add in some notes on what they want to say. The client then describes the picture as they speak, using their notes as reference. (If you want to see what I’m talking about, there are some examples on my website.)
The springboards are better than text-based notes alone because the image is a powerful memory aid that helps the speaker remember the structure of what they want to say even later when they don’t have the worksheet in front of them.
- What prompted you to develop your Visual Springboards?
The materials I like to use most with my clients are very flexible framework worksheets, with a neat, clean presentation and one topic per page. The problem is, I haven’t been able to find many of these materials, so I decided to make my own. I developed the springboards in response to a problem I had in my training—when asked to prepare a few notes for a speaking task, my clients would often write out their notes in full sentences and then read them out, which made their speech sound awkward and didn’t improve their speaking skills. So I designed the Visual Springboards™ to have limited space for note-taking, forcing the client to only write down a few keywords to jog their memory.
I also added my flair for design because I believe that any kind of learning has to be fun and engaging in order to be effective and keep the learner motivated. So far I’ve gotten good responses to my springboards, but I would love to test them more and find out which other topics trainers often teach that could benefit from a visual worksheet. I have a few sample ones I’m happy to send to trainers to try out in exchange for their ideas and feedback; they just have to email me.
- Besides your Visual Springboards series, how else do you incorporate art and creativity into Business English teaching?
Whenever possible, I use visual or tactile materials—I’m always making cards for activities or having clients get up and write or draw on flipcharts and move around the room as much as possible. Even simple changes—like doing a matching or ranking activity with cards rather than on a worksheet —activate different areas of the brain and make the activity more enjoyable and memorable. I also love when I can bring discussions about good and bad design into my Business English training—after all, in our digital world, most people “meet” by interacting with your website, business card or profile photo before they ever hear you speak, so visual communication is just as important as spoken and written communication.
- You`ve presented at conferences. What advice do you have for first-time speakers who are on the fence about presenting?
My advice is: just do it! Dale Coulter (the ELTABB Chair before me) kept urging me to present, but I thought I had to be an expert on a particular topic first. He gave me the best advice ever—he asked me what topic other teachers often ask me about or what I often discuss with them, and then suggested I present on that. I realized that other teachers often asked me about the telephone training I was doing at the time and that I did know a lot about it, so that ended up becoming the topic of my first presentation.
Now I try to present at every single conference I go to. It is the best way to get a whole roomful of people to know you and your work all at once (very helpful if you are shy about networking!) and it gives you something to discuss during coffee breaks. It can also lead to work contracts, interesting conversations, and who knows what else?
- Although you’ve said it’s still a “work in progress,” your website looks really great! Do you have any tips for those of us who don’t have a background in design on how to build a professional website?
Thanks! It depends on the type of site you want to build. If you are looking for a simple profile site, try a service that lets you choose a pre-made template, fill in your details and text and then does the rest for you—it’s the easiest way to get a professional-looking site that works well. But if you want anything customized or slightly more complicated (like a shopping cart or specialized forms), try to find a designer who understands your needs and you can communicate well with.
Either way, make sure it is easy and not too expensive to make changes to your site later on. There are also lots of tutorials and tools that can help you build your site yourself, but then you need to deal with additional issues such as responsiveness, SEO rankings, bugs, etc. (all things I’m dealing with now because I have design experience but not so much web programming experience!)
- Tell us about your experience volunteering for ELTABB. What prompted you to get involved?
While it may seem altruistic on the surface, I usually get involved in whatever organizations I’m a part of simply because I like being able to shape the organization and have a say in its vision and direction! But I also recognized that volunteering for ELTABB would help me get to know the Board members and other volunteers much more closely, and I knew they were people I could really benefit from knowing well, in addition to what I could provide to the association. The connections I made through volunteering for ELTABB have gotten me around 95% of the work contracts I have, plus invaluable leadership and management experience, and some really good friends—I highly recommend it!
- Question from Jin: As a woman and a freelancer, I want to have a family one day but I’m afraid that having children will be detrimental to my career. Did you have any similar thoughts? What came into consideration? I hope this is not too personal but if you have any thoughts or advice, I’d love to hear.
Not too personal at all! My little daughter Becca just turned 2 months old, and I am still amazed at how little I am able to accomplish each day from my to-do list, even though I’m not doing any paid work at all right now—even just finding uninterrupted time to sit down to write this interview is a real challenge! I think there are definitely ways to balance both family and career, but it is surely not easy. The woman doesn’t have to be the primary caregiver, but you need to be clear about what your priorities are and willing to let go of less important things that you just won’t have time for. Be clear, but also be flexible to change your plans once you have a child because it’s really quite impossible to predict what the child will be like, and how your own feelings will change once you become a parent.
For me, being a freelancer has meant that I have the flexibility to choose when I want to start working again and what kind of work to take on, and that has been incredibly valuable. And in fact, the changes I’ve gone through in this new life experience, in addition to my newfound respect for the value of time, have made me rethink what kind of work I want to be doing once I do start again, and consider ways of making an even bigger impact. The possibilities are exciting!
- Who would you like to nominate as ELTABBer of the month and what question would you like to ask them?
I would like to nominate Tia Robinson.
Question for Tia: How has your career developed, and what were the key catalysts for getting you to where you are today? Is there anything you would have changed if you had it to do over again?
Edited by Stephanie Anderson