London Calling Stand-Up Comedy in Croatia at the HUPE ELT International Conference

Alfie Brown, Jeff Leach and Paddy Lennox surrounded by admirers after the show

This was the fist time that the Croatian Teachers’ Association, HUPE, had invited British and Irish stand up comedians to their annual conference and I suspect it won’t be the last.  It was the first time that I had experienced stand-up comedy at an ELT conference and as the final event after David and Hilary Crystal’s Shakespeare show, it put the icing onto HUPE’s 20th birthday cake and created more laughs than I can ever

Ksenija about to cut the birthday cake

remember at any other ELT event I’ve been to.

In fact David and Hilary Crystal, sitting on the front row, were immediately drawn into Jeff Leach’s routine as he teased them on whether they were a couple or not, imitated David’s Welsh accent, shared banter about Macduff and invited them to follow him on twitter.

Marinko, asking David and Hilary Crystal to follow him on twitter

“Are you on twitter Sir?…You are?..Will you follow me on twitter? That would make my year.  Look how cool he is, he was like …maybe.  I’ve got to be honest,I’ll see how many people I’m already following and if I can fit you in, I will.”

Jeff was our MC for the night and the 250 or so female Croatian teachers along with a few other teachers from Serbia, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Hungary, Bosnia and Slovenia, the US and the UK,and maybe the few random men in the audience, were quickly seduced by his charm as he invited them/us to room 505 on many occasions throughout the evening, although it was rumoured that one teacher mentioned after the show that she herself was in room 505 and was worried about how many people would be knocking on her door later into the night!

Whatever the truth of the story, room 505 has now become legendary on Facebook amongst HUPE conference goers and can never be mentioned again without a big smile and many fond memories of a sex addict half Russell Brand and half Tin-Tin. Has anyone at any of HUPE’s 20 conferences ever got up in front of an audience and declared themselves to be a sex addict? It didn’t happen in any of the talks and workshops I’ve attended.

The Role of Stand-Up Comedy

I asked the guys about what stand-up comedy was all about two days later in Rijeka. Jeff started off by saying:

Jeff next to the Slovene harvest (Paddy's gag)

“Something that speaks directly to you, for me personally, empathising with a comic on stage, finding something what they’re saying inside yourself and making a personal connection and, like I say, just good laughter. You need to make people laugh, you can make them think but you wanna make them laugh first.” And Jeff at the end of the evening while still on stage said:

Interviewed on Rijeka waterfront

“Outside of being funny as well I guess it’s the idea of learning a bit more about English culture and about how we share stories over there and how that transposes to what you do in your classrooms every single day which we are grateful for, cos you teaching young people how to speak English better than us means that they can come and enjoy our comedy, so thank you…..” .

Paddy’s take on this:

“The grandest way we can justify what we do, and not that I want to justify what we do, is that you had the court jester,

All that coffee and chestnuts....

the only person given license to make fun of the king, we’re the ones who reflect what people are thinking, and might on the ground be thinking, that’s alternative comedy, it’s

The Role of Stand-up Comedy

observational stuff and poking fun at politicians…we’re kind of getting a little bit more political now…I don’t do political stuff though, its not my bag ..that’s the currency it has that makes it valid. It shouldn’t be racist or homophobic though.”

Teacher reaction

I asked a few teachers what they thought of having stand-up comedy at ELT conferences and these were some of the answers.

“Having stand-up comedy as a part of the social event at HUPE conference that was held in April this year was a real refreshment. Talking about social events at ELT conferences in general, this one really made a difference, and what’s more important, it provoked a very

Mirna and Paddy

enthusiastic response. It showed that introducing modern and not so mainstream forms of art at a “serious event“, such as a conference ,can be very exciting and inspiring. We all stepped outside our comfort zone, something a teacher must be ready to do. We all laughed at witty and cheeky humour, and laugher, as Jeff Leach said at one point is a “fantastically healing aspect of society“, it helps us bond, and it did so. What also crossed my mind was that stand-up comedians and teachers have quite a lot in common: establishing a relationship and developing rapport with the audience/students, the importance of both verbal and body language in doing so, mixing things prepared with spontaneity, “sharing stories, ideas and trying to empathize with each other“, creating both a relaxed and thought-provoking environment, which might ultimately result in a chuckle, giggle, laughter, belly laugh or a roar and  taking risks, that’s what we have in common as well. both stand-up comedians and teachers try and experiment a bit in order to find out what might work well with their audience/students.”

Mirna from Serbia.

Aneta and Alfie

“It was such a breath of fresh air to have a colorful threesome of comedians at an ELT Conference that I’m even considering they should become a staple at such gatherings! Jeff, Alfie and Paddy left their hearts on the stage at HUPE 2012, and I would be more than happy to see them perform in Macedonia very soon! Yet what we were all wondering about the next day before leaving for home was if anybody had entered Room 505 and left it in one piece!”

Aneta from Macedonia.

Daniela and Jeff

“Campaigns promoting products and services are trying to make us believe that innovation is everywhere. However, the reality does not often fullfil one’s expectations. Personally, I am a great fan of innovation of any kind whether in teaching, learning or in one’s personal life. I like changes. There are certain cases when an innovative idea is not promoted in advance but it turns out to be indeed revolutionary. And this is the case of including stand up comedy at ELT conferences. If performed with cultural awareness and sensitivity, as it was at HUPE conference, an innovative approach might gain a lot of fans. Stand up comedy at the HUPE conference was a bright and successful idea. I suggest it might serve as an inspiration for others not in the sense of copying but rather in the sense of enforcing creativity.”

Daniela from the Czech Republic.

“I liked it a lot. it was great having that amount of laughter after two days of learning through different kinds of workshops. And what I liked the most is how they, the comedians, prepared for their stand- up, making jokes about teachers, Croatians in general and they

Ana and Paddy

compared it to situations in England. So, we could, in a way, learn something as well. they connected with us, the audience, talking about their lives.”

Ana from Croatia.


“I think that social events at conferences are meant for fun after whole day’s sessions and serious stuff. I also think that our lives in general are getting more and more difficult in all respects, so we sometimes need to forget about everything and let things go. There are also some of us in our let’s say “golden age” and if we can forget about this fact for only a moment, we have done a wonderful thing…”

Dubravka from Croatia.


“Laughing at someone’s jokes makes you live longer – so, why don’t we do it more often…Laughing at London Comedy stand up comedians makes you die laughing – not everyone can do that.That was an amazing evening that we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives. Seeing a couple of them doing it so easily and then hundreds of people laughing at them so hilariously made me forget everything bad in this world, at least for an hour or two. The jokes they just let out of their sleeves, their stories that made us love them just a bit, and, finally relaxed people and the whole atmosphere…”

Lidija from Croatia.

Marinko and Paddy

” Apart from bringing great fun to the conference, the stand up comedy is also very authentic as it brings language and cultural references from the native speakers. On the other hand, it was great to see comedians adapting their materials to the audience which reminded me of us teachers doing the same things in our classes. Also, comedy is often produced from the subtlety and intricacy of language and as a language teacher I really enjoyed some of the puns and witty remarks.”

Marinko from Croatia.


“It was great to see live English comedy. Everybody was having fun and it was good  to relax after hard work (teachers need that, too :)”

Irena from Croatia.

“Well, we heard genuine English humour and could test both our language & culture… Some people of my generation said it was too loud & too much dirty language… but, like always, degustibus… Most of the people liked one guy in particular, the ladies will remember the number of his room on their death bed! They were refreshing, genuine and every conference should have something like that!”

Višnja from Croatia.


Ksenija getting some relaxation with Alfie and Jeff

“I think that people at the conference need relaxation after the whole day of working, sitting, listening…and there is no better way than LAUGHTER!!  People expect HUPE to be fun, and not only hard work…
So, that was the main reason for inviting them…Also, you know that we always try to have smething new at HUPE, so I BET it was really something BRAND NEW!! It was a bold thing to do but having guts paid off well!”

Ksenija from Croatia.

London Calling Live

And here is some of the show for your enjoyment or to enjoy again:

Nino Bantić, a Croatian journalist working in London and the guy who brought the comedians to Croatia, believes that stand up comedy is an important part of British culture and well worth exporting. “When I was a student we were not

Nino Bantic, the driving force behind the whole event

only learning just the English language but about English culture, this language that is quite alive… but stand up  is also an important part of English and British and English speaking culture and I think this is a natural choice.”

What is obvious is that lots of people liked it at the HUPE conference and I think if you have a session after the stand up where people have a chance to talk to the comedians about stand up comedy then that would be an added attraction enriching and deepening the whole experience.

Rapport, Reflection, Risk, Respect, Empathy, Spontaneity, Humour and Hrvatska

The areas of developing rapport, spontaneity, empathising with your audience, respecting your audience, the role of humour and laughter, pushing back the boundaries and moving into areas which involve a certain amount of risk but which engage and involve people and getting people to consciously reflect more on everyday familiar things, but from a different perspective, are areas which we as teachers certainly share with stand-up comedians. And it may be that we have a lot to learn from each other, especially when we go to other countries and enjoy their hospitality.  And wasn’t it Lidija who said the more we laugh the longer we live?

Jeff captured us on camera at end of the gig and got us to do a Mexican wave. If you were there, click on the photo and see if you can find yourself and if you weren’t there click on the photo and see if you can see any of your friends. Can you spot the Welsh linguistics professor who’s still thinking about following Jeff on twitter?

Jeff's photo of us doing a mexican wave at the end of gig

Finally, this was the interview I did with Jeff, Paddy, Nino and Vince before their next gig in Rijeka. Am looking forward to the next ELT event with some stand-up comedy,these guys would,I’m sure,be definitely interested in bringing their wicked, playful,charming and engaging brand of humour to your conference at the mere drop of a glass of rakija,a bite of burek or a strong shot of coffee in one of those wee squirrel cups Paddy has grown to love so much, provided he doesn’t mix it with too many chestnuts.

Hvala za zve! Stand up ELT, comedians and teachers of the world unite, where will the next ELT comedy be…… Čakovec?

Mark x

Václav Havel “What will our schools be like post 1989?”

A book I read and re-read many times and used in my methodology classes with students in Czecholovakia in Pardubice and Olomouc after the revolutionary changes in 1989/90

Following the death of Václav Havel many things have been flashing through my mind, recalling those monumental days in Olomouc and Prague in November and December 1989.   Over the last 24 hours I’ve been in touch with several people who experienced that time together, some of them are teaching, some are in journalism but all of them were heavily influenced in their attitudes and values by what happened when they were involved in shaping the future of their country during the university strike.

Students on strike in 1989 in Czechoslovakia

During the revolution, although the students were on strike, the classrooms came alive.  They drew and painted posters,produced a student newspaper almost every day and held meetings about the strike. In fact, the students were actually more active and involved when they were on strike than they had been before! I found myself thinking that the task of teachers after the revolution will be  to try to harness the same kind of energy that was there in the making of the revolution for the purposes of  English language learning and English studies in general.  In those six weeks I learned a lot about what my role should be as a teacher afterwards and those events have  informed my teaching methodologies ever since.

I felt that I had gained an enormous amount from the revolution and afterwards asked a group of students what they themselves had gained from the whole experience of  taking part in the strike and this was one of the replies I got:

One personal anecdote from one of my students

“It was all very dramatic for us: the work at school, typing, painting, drawing posters, going to villages and towns in the whole of Moravia and talking to people, taking part in demonstrations and meetings at the theatre, in the hostel and in the sports hall. Every day nearly the same.  But during the month I learned and got to understand a lot of things.

I understood the meaning of some phrases and words which had been empty for me until then. I think I have learned (a bit at least) to listen to people, to consider their opinions and mainly to tolerate other opinions. And generally we have learned how to discuss, thinking while speaking and hearing, not to be scared of voicing our own opinions. I am proud of being a student now.”

I  know that those were very special conditions back in 1989 but the skills which were developed during that strike amongst students are the same kinds of skills and values that I think are central to teaching and teacher development today.

Linking the revolution with the English classroom

When I returned to Czechoslovakia in 1992 after doing an MA in ELT at Lancaster University and writing my dissertation on teacher development in Czechoslovakia there was one quote I always used to use and work with in both pre-service sessions and at conferences. It was a quote by Václav Havel and one we used to discuss at length. I think it is still relevant in teacher training today. I am convinced that English can  be a subject which develops the kind of critical thinking and involvement in civil society which Václav Havel was  trying to encourage.

The student newspaper in Olomouc which came out almost every day following the beatings in Prague on November 17th

” The most basic sphere of concern is schooling.  Everything else depends on that.  What will our schools be like?  I think that in ten years they should be fully reformed and consolidated.  The point, understandably, is not just the reconstruction of school buildings or the supply of computers and new textbooks.  The most important thing is a new concept of education.  At all levels schools must cultivate a spirit of free and independent thinking in the students.  

Students during the strike in Olomouc co-operating and reflecting on the changes in their society in the way Havel would have wanted


Schools will have to be humanised, both in the sense that their basic component must be the human personalities of the teachers, creating around them a “force field” of inspiration and example, and in the sense that technical and other specialised education will be balanced by a general education in the humanities.

Students in Olomouc taking responsibility on the eve of the student strike that led to the revolution in Czechoslovakia

Posters of Václav Havel were everywhere in the last two weeks of 1989 and people were encouraged to sign them if they supported him becoming President

The role of the schools is not to create “idiot-specialists” to fill the special needs of different sectors of the national economy, but to develop the individual capabilities of the students in a purposeful way, and to send out into life thoughtful people capable of thinking about the wider social, historical, and philosophical implications of their specialties.”

Václav Havel 1992

Two of my former students in Olomouc had this to say in the last 24 hours

” I was crying all day long yesterday because it all came back. If you haven’t been through it, if you haven’t felt the atmosphere penetrating your skin, you can’t understand as the experience was so unique, that’s for sure.” Lenka

Chatting yesterday with one of my former students from Olomouc 1989

And there was always a very special relationshiop between Havel and Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. I still have the ticket of the Velvet Underground concert I went to in June 1993 on the wall of my flat that Havel also went to.


ELT Summer Courses as Learning Communities

ELT Summer Courses as learning communities and ways of developing a rich learning environment: A process approach from the perspective of a course tutor.

It has been a long time since I last wrote on my blog and I think it’s to do with changing circumstances. I have taken a year out from teaching in Budapest and have been dividing my time between being with my mother in Wolverhampton and developing materials for courses at SOL in Barnstaple where students come, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, for a 10 day immersion course in British language and culture. I’m also taking a break from my role as co-ordinator of Hungary’s IATEFL Culture and Literature Special Interest Group, it was in IATEFL-H’s mELTing Pot that this first appeared.

Last summer I was working on two teacher training courses and have been reflecting on what makes those courses effective and enjoyable. This blogpost addresses these issues. Some of the things are just as valid on any teacher training courses and some are specific to a summer experience.

“A summer school doesn’t work without people who are there for you, care for you and help you. All in all, ingredients on their own don’t make a dish, but putting them all together you can make a delicious meal.”
I have taught on summer courses every summer since 1991 in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Russia and Britain and drawing on that experience I’d like to 1) give practical examples of what seems to create a quality, rich and relaxed learning environment and 2) address what a process approach to a summer school might be. Earl Stevick argued that what goes on between learners is the most important part of what goes on in a language classroom. Similarly, during a summer school, if you adopt a process approach, attending to what goes on between sessions and between days might be the key to a course’s success.


mixing ingredients

The “meat” of a summer course is traditionally seen as the pre-prepared sessions which tutors bring to summer courses. I have now come to realise that concentrating on getting the meat right might not be the key ingredient of a summer school. 10 years of my life were spent as a vegetarian and I’ve never liked the “meat metaphor” to describe the main element of anything anyway. I prefer the idea of a risotto, partly because of my love of Italian cookery and partly because the success of a risotto is to do with how much something is stirred, when it is stirred, how it is garnished, what is sprinkled over it and when. How things are glued together and recycled will depend on constant attention to the unfolding of the course process, much in the same way as being attentive to when we add and blend in herbs and spices in a risotto.
There isn’t a recipe for the success of summer courses but what follows are some ingredients which seem to help the process along. I have included some relevant comments by teachers to exemplify and illustrate key aspects.

I. Creating a stress-free atmosphere

1. Balancing work and relaxation

Teachers who attend summer courses have usually just finished a hectic and exhausting term and see summer courses as partly holidays and we need to bear this in mind in any preparation. A recurring issue is striking the right balance between content, time allocated to reflection and time for relaxation. Summer schools are places where teachers can share common concerns and gain strength and a sense of optimism from being together, in the knowledge that they are not alone and that their concerns are not specific to their own teaching contexts. Being freed up from family roles and responsibilities allows space for these issues.
“On our way to Lynmouth, I talked to one colleague and I found that we have so much in common, discussing even a delicate private matter and getting the best advice like we have known each other for ages, a benefit from a 10 minute informal talk.”

2. Setting the mood by pre-course communication between tutors and course participants

A process approach to summer courses will involve constant discussions with tutors both before and during the course. Writing to course participants beforehand and asking them to do a pre-course task is a nice way of gently getting teachers into the mood of the course. This might involve reading an article of relevance to the course and commenting on it. Asking teachers to bring photographs or objects of personal interest to be used in sessions or just welcoming them to the course with a kind message and expressing how much you are looking forward to working together can also be part of a pre-course message. You can also provide information for teachers and be available online to reassure them about things they might be unsure of.

Hiya everybody,

Just wanted to say that I’m really looking forward to meeting you all next week on our course. Devon is an enchanting place. I spent my holidays there every year from the age of 2 to the age of 16…..

Hi Mark,
I got your message, thank you for the nice words. As this will be my first time in England, you can imagine how excited I am. Counting the days,

3. Getting to know each other and learning names

All courses include “getting to know you” activities. These may involve getting teachers to meet each other and write down where people come from, a good teaching experience they have had recently, a band they like, or something interesting they have just read.

Teachers can arrange themselves into a map of where they come from. This year in the four corners of our map we had teachers from England, Bulgaria, Morocco and Poland. They then said who they were and where they come from. You often hear people asking whether the group is good or not, but tutors also have a role to play in promoting good group dynamics, even on courses which only last four days and good beginnings can contribute to this.

Where is Madedonia in relation to Serbia and the Czech Republic?

“I liked the idea of recalling positive experiences in the warmer (remembering a good lesson). I’ll definitely use something similar in the warmers after the summer holidays.”

Learning names and using people’s names appropriately is always good. Name cards are sometimes used on courses, although they may lead to not investing the time and effort which is usually needed to memorise and use names.
Time spent in between classes and on the first two evenings can be devoted to this by regularly consulting the list of course participants and trying a bit harder each time to make sure you know who is who. This year we took photos of all the teachers on the first day and on the second day projected them and got people to identify everybody.
“I love being here and I appreciate all the effort on the part of the tutors to get everybody involved”

4. Playing music on courses

The value and importance of music on a course

Music has a huge influence on the mood of a summer course. I sometimes have a tendency to play music too loud but greeting people in the morning with songs like “Good day Sunshine”, “Raindrops keep falling on my head”, “ It’s a beautiful day”, “Manic Monday”, “Friday I’m in Love”, can be very welcoming, played on the appropriate days and at appropriate moments. Playing music in between sessions also has its place but we should be sensitive to when silence is best. Songs can sometimes become soundtracks to courses which come up either in sessions or as part of social events and which can then be sung on the last day. My own examples of this have included “Falling Slowly”, “Streets of London”, “Steal Away” and “Green Grow the Rushes O”.

“Using music was so relaxing for me because sometimes I feel very nervous”

5. Paying attention to timing and breaks

I have never experienced a course where there haven’t been people who have been upset at tutors going on too long in sessions and eating away at precious break time. When you are working with process this isn’t always easy and I have been guilty of this on many occasions. However, I also know that sometimes deviating from the pre-planned programme or taking a break in the fresh air is best. Giving up a session might also sometimes be the best course of action when working with process if a fruitful discussion emerges.

This should be negotiated openly and sometimes voted on, preventing resentment from building up throughout the course. If teachers are able to make choices they feel empowered. Taking feedback early on can also be very informative for tutors. This might be best done either informally, if you don’t want to make a big issue of something, or you might choose written feedback at the end of the second day.

providing fruit on courses

Providing fruit during breaks or during classes is always appreciated. This may be passing round grapes, cherries, strawberries or blueberries or whatever is in season. Sometimes teachers share their own fruit. On one course I made the watermelon the actual content of the session, teachers tasted it and we looked at literature about watermelons. In the final poster summaries of the course a nicely coloured red and green watermelon featured on all posters: an example of the power of VAKOG and engaging all the senses! (Namely: Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory.)

“It was so nice to go for a five minute walk, to have lunch together in Cafe Libri, to talk to local people there.”

II. Reflecting on and recycling course experiences

Keeping course diaries which tutors may look at informally during the course and then go through and comment on at the end of the course can be an excellent way of getting teachers to reflect. The content and structure will depend on the nature of the course but reflections on new experiences and implications for teachers’ future classroom work are likely to feature on most summer courses.

“Writing diaries is a great idea not only for making interesting or important academic notes but also for remembering certain moments, feelings, people and situations”

Reflecting and making sense of daily experiences

The use of course photos and videos in breaks or at the beginning of the following day is a useful tool for developing course cohesiveness. This might involve regularly projecting photos and videos of the course taken by both course tutors and course participants as part of the beginning of a session or as background to breaks. It is wonderful to see the smiles and laughter on teachers’ faces when they see moments they have experienced collectively. Making the teachers themselves and the content that they generate part of the course itself helps teachers to feel part of the course rather than just having “input” projected onto them.

Leaving space for teacher contributions every morning and giving different participants opportunities in pairs or threes to review the previous day’s work in the form of a poster, powerpoint or pictures is also good recycling. This might involve reviewing new language, new teaching ideas or memorable course moments.

“Filming was great, seeing myself in the videos and then using them for different purposes worked really well.”

III. Being inspired by and drawing on the participants and their culture

1. Giving teachers opportunities to introduce their own culture

On courses where there are teachers from different countries it is always good to create space for talking about their cultures. Singing evenings are good for this. I often work with teachers from the countries of ex-Yugoslavia and it is always heart-warming to see teachers singing songs together which they love and have in common. Cooking together can also be great for this.

Teachers from Serbia and Croatia joining together singing at our folk night

For instance, this summer teachers showed us T-Shirts, dresses, flags and banknotes  from their different countries. ELT courses are not just about ELT, they are also about learning about each other and each other’s countries.
“The group is great, the people come from different countries so we can share experience from our countries and we can compare our countries”

Explaining one's own T-Shirt to the other course participants

2. Celebrating birthdays and anniversaries

If anybody has a birthday on the course, which they invariably do, it’s a good idea to acknowledge and celebrate it. On the last course I was on, the teachers organised a party for Ahmed from Morocco. It was a wonderful initiative and contributed greatly to the cohesiveness of the course. Other anniversaries might also be referred to such as July 4th and the birthdays of famous people.

Celebrating birthdays

“We celebrated Ahmed’s birthday with his host, John. His home made birthday cake was so delicious.”

IV. Better communication between tutors and course participants alike

1. Noticing teachers’ moods and responses to the course

On any course there are different ages, levels of English and levels of engagement. Some people experience the course as more tiring and others won’t be feeling good for whatever reasons at any given moment and some might be struggling with being away from home. We don’t need to know everything but we need to be attentive to how people are feeling and respond appropriately.

Making an effort to spending an equal amount of time with people might be a part of this. Obviously tutors will get on better with some people but at the end of each day checking the list of teachers and seeing who you have spent time with is likely to help you in deciding who to give more attention to at future “in-between” moments.

There isn’t enough time on a summer school to go through Tuckman’s group cycle of forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning but there is forming and adjourning, and there may be a moment of storming where resolution of group conflict might be necessary.

“I would say your ‘every person matters philosophy’ works brilliantly as each person in the group feels rewarded and supported”

2. Communicating and co-operating with other course tutors

Regular communication with other course tutors about the content and process of the course is crucial. Course participants need to see that tutors work well together and misunderstandings, which always occur between tutors, need to be talked through. Even tutors who have a very similar concept of how summer schools should be run will need to work through conflict and it is vital that time is found for this. Some element of team teaching can contribute to this.

3.The use of people’s mother tongues

Giving teachers space to speak their own languages is obviously necessary, it can be tiring speaking English all the time. Some teachers might feel excluded from conversations if they do not share the other teachers’ mother tongue, so intervening can be helpful, but the teachers often realize this themselves.

“There is only one thing that I’m sorry about which is that some people use their mother tongue quite a lot. I don’t think it’s appropriate to do this in a multicultural environment where English should be spoken and used.”

4. Socialising with the teachers between and outside sessions

Knowing when to leave teachers alone and when to engage with teachers in coffee breaks, at meal times or on excursions can be important. No tutor is the same and some tutors love going off with teachers and having a smoke while others like being quiet in the classrooms, gathering strength for the next session. What I do feel though is that being generous with your time and being available for teachers outside the sessions is one of the responsibilities of being on a summer school. On residential courses a willingness to stay up late might also be desirable! On two Serbian summer schools I remember us offering late night films for those who were interested.

Spending time on walks together

The social aspects of summer courses can be just as important as the pedagogical aspects and a willingness to join in these activities by tutors and course participants contributes to a cohesive fun summer experience. For instance, I once saw a great pub quiz by Philip Kerr, and Verissimo Toste did a brilliant illustrated talk on his visit to Mozambique. Success of the evening activities usually depends on audience participation and interaction and doing a quiz at the end which draws on the course itself is perfect for that as well as being learner-centred and a good review of the whole course. As one of the quiz activities I have sometimes used pictures of the teachers showing a bit of tongue or necklace  from which their identity should be guessed.

“The pub quiz was brilliant, full of good ideas, highly competitive and in a really nice atmosphere. The ‘Picture Quiz’ was just great! Really motivating, bringing people closer to each other. I will try it with my new class after coming back from our class trip at the end of August. Thank you for organising this, it was great FUN!”

5. Providing proper closure to courses

Having ceremonial beginnings and endings gives a satisfactory sense of both accomplishment and closure. Some courses fizzle out as people drift away without proper endings. I’ve found creating group posters which capture the essence of a course effective in this. As an activity, teachers can then vote on the best poster.

This summer, Uwe Pohl, my co-tutor, made coloured cards for teachers with their names on each one. Each teacher drew a card with somebody else’s name on it and they were invited to write a gift for them and say why they were giving it. It was a lovely activity and many people were very moved by what people had given them when they read it out to the whole group. I was given a picture of Ukrainian storks with “Made in Ukraine” written on it, as I had worn a “Made in Poland” storks T-shirt. The teacher had noticed this about me and thought I’d like it as a present. I did!

If there are certificates to be given out, tutors might share this task, as well as singing a song, having a drink and sharing a few nibbles. It is the end of the summer school but it won’t be the end of people’s newly found friendships or even professional co-operation. Creating appropriate channels to share both personal and professional concerns will extend the summer school experience and keep precious memories alive and keep people in contact with each other. This might be done on Facebook or another internet site.

Final Thoughts

Working on summer schools is one of the most satisfying professional experiences that I have had throughout my career as a teacher trainer and I am still in touch with people who were on summer schools I taught on 15 years ago. It’s good to go the extra mile and be 100% immersed in the summer school experience. I’d like to end with a comment from one of the teachers which I received inscribed in a book, “The Still Point” by Amy Sackville.

Dear Mark, It’s difficult to capture in words what this course has given to me. During these days I felt like being ‘at the still point of the turning world’. Being with you all was a really exceptional and inspiring experience. Thank you. Barnstaple, 23rd July 2011.

And finally the sea and in particular the Atlantic Ocean is very special for teachers from Central Eastern Europe and being by the sea and reflecting on its role in British society and British history is a key ingredient of SOL courses in Devon as you can see in the responses of these teachers from Serbia and Croatia in the video.