Back to the Classroom!


My journey as an educator began in March 2020, and the very first class I taught was on zoom. It was a disaster as everything that could go wrong did! I spent most of the class being IT support instead of a teacher. Thankfully, some of my students were experts and assisted me along the way, so that we could make some learning happen within class time. All my dreams of incorporating different elements of a physical classroom in my lesson plan had to be adapted for the online world. This remained true for almost all my classes for the first term. Call me old school, but I prefer the original physical boards, be they black or white, over the virtual ones. This preference stems from the love of using different coloured markers to highlight different aspects of a concept taught in class. Blue, black, green, red, and purple are lined up neatly on the desk alongside the whiteboard eraser and the cleaner, just in case a permanent one is used on the pristine whiteboard by mistake!

The last two years have been a journey filled with transitions, constant battles with technology, and continuous effort to manage my expectations as well as provide tech support to students. Do not get me wrong, Zoom is fabulous for meetings and consultations and, to some extent, classes as well; but as I said, I’m old school, and there are certain things that, despite all my best efforts (including tech training from an amazing expert), I could not learn. One of them is the whiteboard on zoom – it reminds me of all scribbles toddlers leave on the walls and floors. Every time I tried the whiteboard, the result was pure abstract art that only toddlers would appreciate. Forget sentences I was struggling to make a straight line on that thing.

Despite some successes in the online world of teaching, I still felt like something was missing. It was not until we went back to the physical classrooms that I found the missing part – coloured markers and the whiteboard. For 2.5 hours, I was comfortable, confident, content, and most of all, cheerful throughout the lesson. The students laughed at my lame jokes and answered enthusiastically, realizing they would earn both bonus marks and candies. Most of all, it felt like I was in the space where I fell in love with teaching- I was inside a classroom with a whiteboard and coloured markers.

My favourite marker would be a blue one, and for contrast, I love to use the black one. Red is my least favourite colour because it reminds me of all the mistakes I made as a student in school. Inside the classroom, the students remind me of the reason I became a teacher- to make learning fun, and in order to do that I need my whiteboard and blue marker.

On that note tell me, what’s your favourite part of going back to the classroom?

Author’s Bio

Hi! I’m Garima, an educator who loves enjoying little things in life, such as a full 8-hour sleep, hot coffee and sunshine! My teaching journey in Canada started in 2017, when I started as a teaching assistant supporting EAL students in person at Thompson Rivers University while completing my Master of Education. There, I developed my philosophy of education, circling the idea of nurturing oneself as well as others in a holistic way. Since the COVID19 pandemic, my work and teaching has changed drastically. I currently work at a private business school in Downtown Vancouver where I support international students with their English language learning happening both online and in person. 


Voices of Experience: EAL Teacher as a Guide and Facilitator


Hello everyone! My name is Olessya Akimenko, and I would like to welcome you to the blog series. In this series, I will be interviewing EAL professionals, including teachers, administrators, and program coordinators, or those who are working in English as an additional language (EAL) education in Canada. Through this series, we learn more about the professional experiences of EAL educators working in the EAL sphere in British Columbia.

Olga is an EAL teacher of more than 20 years. She is also an incredibly hardworking and active individual. In this interview, Olga shared her professional journey as an EAL teacher, her teaching philosophy, and the important lessons she has learned throughout her career.

Olessya: Thank you, Olga, for opening this blog series with me! So, first of all, can you tell us a little bit about you? Whatever you would like to share with the readers.

Olga: I am an EAL/EAP professional, passionate about my lessons, my students, my workplaces, whatever I am doing. Currently, I teach University and Academic Preparation Program at University Canada West and English for Academic Purposes at Acsenda School of Management. I also teach English at Capilano University EAP Department and English Language and Culture Centre at Simon Fraser University and a sessional instructor. I very much appreciate this opportunity to share some of my life with my professional community. Thank you for this, Olessya.

Olessya: Great! Thank you for sharing. My next question is, why did you choose this profession, an EAL teacher?

Olga: I started teaching English in 1998 when I was a graduate student of Linguistics and TESOL in the Far East of Russia. I chose this profession because back there and then, it opened some opportunities. There was a high demand for this profession; besides, being able to speak English fluently in late 1990s in Russia made it possible not just to make a living, but also to enter the global community, a new world of ideas, contacts, cultures, technologies. It was exciting. At that point, I also discovered teaching as my passion, and it still is.

Olessya: And how long have you been teaching in Canada? Could you tell us a bit about how your professional journey as an EAL teacher in Canada began?

Olga: I’ve been teaching in BC, Canada since 2016, although in my first year here I was mostly volunteering in places like Mosaic, and the other immigrant societies. The first school I volunteered in, for just several weeks, was New Directions in Langley. I started there only two weeks as my family and I landed in Canada. I am a person who needs to be involved in professional activity. At that moment, I was not sure yet what I was going to do in Canada; however, the director Yvonne and the instructors at the school were so welcoming and encouraging; I loved the students and how the teaching process was organized; plus, everyone was so friendly and supportive, that the short experience played such a big role in what I did next, which was taking the TESOL Diploma Program at VCC. This is how the journey began.

In 2017, I started my first instructor job in BC at Thompson Rivers University, in its English for Academic Purposes Program (now the ELLT Department). The Department will always hold a special place in my heart. I am so grateful to Dian Henderson who was leading the department in 2017 and to other colleagues; I wish I could name and thank everyone here personally, for giving me the chance to be a part of their team and providing incredible support every step of the way.

Olessya: How would you describe your teaching philosophy and/or pedagogical approach?

Olga: We live in the age when finding information, generally, is not hard. With just a click, people can find answers to most questions they might have. The key is, and the role of an instructor, in my opinion, is to encourage students to ask questions and actively look for the knowledge, to inspire curiosity and love for learning, to guide them in how to choose the right values, to increase self-awareness and to explore the world around them because the world is fantastic! My teaching philosophy would also include genuine care for the needs of the students, their physical and mental health and individual learning needs.

Olessya: And how do you care for students’ mental and physical health?

Olga: I believe in some kind of a “perfect EAL world”, which can be embedded in curricula, along with, say, speaking and writing learning outcomes, where the students can learn the importance of such things as physical activity, rest,

journaling and meditation, gratitude, etc. As EAL educators, we often have the opportunity to choose the themes and sources for creating teaching materials; this way we can implement these things in our lessons. We can also discuss them in class. We have the time and place for it.

Olessya: What have been the biggest challenges for you in your work as an EAL teacher?

Olga: I believe many ESL instructors would agree with me that the biggest challenge is the precarious nature of the position. The work can be very unstable, because it depends on the political and financial situations in Canada and other countries. Most ESL teaching positions are contract-based and don’t include any benefits. I usually don’t know at which institution and what courses I am going to teach next term. It can be quite stressful at times.

Olessya: What do you like about being an EAL teacher?

Olga: I genuinely enjoy working with people. I enjoy interacting with the students in class; their needs and their success are my first priorities. I love working in a team, having the pleasure of co-working and sharing. Besides, at absolute most of places I have worked or volunteered at, both the leadership and coworkers have been so supportive and inspiring. I’ve had (and still enjoying!) a privilege of learning from (my personal opinion!) – best in the world educators and leaders. Really, I wish I could list everyone’s name here to express my heartfelt gratitude.

Olessya: What has been the biggest lesson (or lessons) that you have learned during your work as an EAL teacher?

Olga: The biggest lesson… Communication is essential. Your expectations, your ideas, your feelings, what you want, what you need must be communicated clearly and in such a way that people can understand you. How many greatest ideas have been ruined by poor communication? Then, listening is a mega-important skill. To sum up, in all situations, from simple everyday tasks to bringing a mega-important idea to life, we need to be able to speak clearly and listen carefully. Communication is a skill we are constantly learning. Oh, and kindness is also essential. Communication and kindness, combined.

Olessya: Great, very interesting! And my final question is why did you join BC TEAL, and what do you think BC TEAL membership gives you?

Olga: For me, BC TEAL embodies two essential components in a career of an ESL educator: professional development and networking. Since 2016, I have had the honor and pleasure of attending numerous workshops and conferences. It is also a wonderful opportunity to connect and share with a diversity of experienced EAL colleagues. It is a benefit, a treasure of having a professional organization of this level of professionalism and commitment. It is incredibly valuable.

Thank you very much, Olga, for sharing your experiences as an EAL educator, as well as some really great ideas and tips that I think will be useful for all EAL teachers, both beginner and experienced. I especially liked the idea about the importance of communication and that communication is not only about sharing ideas, but also being able to listen to the other party to understand their needs better.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I share my interview with Karin, who is going to share her experiences as an EAL teacher and researcher!

Author’s bio

Olessya Akimenko is a PhD Candidate in the Languages, Cultures and Literacies program at SFU. She is currently conducting research for her thesis related to the professional identity negotiations of teachers of English as an additional language (EAL), for which she has received SSHRC CGS Doctoral Scholarship. Her other research and educational interests include dialogic pedagogy and the pedagogy of multiliteracies. Prior to starting her PhD program Olessya worked as an EAL teacher in Kazakhstan for more than 10 years.

Lessons about Lessons: Reflections on My First Year Building Ed-Tech


Jonny Kalambay

It’s been just about one year since I quit. One year since I said goodbye to my safe and well-paid software engineer job and jumped fully into pursuing my passion, building education software. Here’s the catch: I’m not a teacher. For years I’ve studied various languages, but I haven’t taught them.

“Who do you think you are, building education software if you haven’t been a teacher?” This was often whispered by the imposter-syndrome demon that hid under my desk. It didn’t stop me, but it did help me realize the most important thing for me to do. If I wanted to build something in an unfamiliar space, I needed to, first and foremost, learn as much as I could about it. It was a great idea, but the way I went about it wasn’t so great.

I started by researching the tools that are already out there. I figured that would give me a good idea of where I could find my place in that ecosystem. It turns out we have some awesome Canadian technology tools for language education. Here are just some examples:

  • Ellii: This seems to be the website most used by LINC teachers who want to find lessons at a particular level. They’re based out of Manitoba, which explains why they have an endless amount of quality material specifically tailored for Canada.
  • Mauril: With this app, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has made Duolingo-like language exercises based on television clips. It is funded as part of the “Action Plan for Official Languages” and, as a result of their collaboration with the Centre For Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB), includes a lot of great CLB-aligned tasks for students to try in their day-to-day lives. 
  • The Language Portal: This Canadian government-run site provides a large, easily navigable bank of learning resources for English learners and teachers. It started in 1970 as a terminology bank at the University of Montreal and has since grown into a treasure trove of learning material for French and English

“We already have all these incredible tools, built by large teams of experts. What could you possibly have to offer?” The imposter-syndrome demon had crawled into my headphones and was no longer just whispering. However, once again, there was a valid, actionable critique behind those negative words. I was going about this the wrong way, if I wanted to figure out what to build, I needed to start with the people for whom I wanted to build. I needed to talk to teachers.

On July 23rd, I attended a BC TEAL Lunch ‘n’ Learn. At that point, I had no connections to TEAL. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know of its existence until I Googled  “teacher events in Vancouver” a couple of days prior. At this event, I learned about something many of our teachers struggle with: adapting material for different levels. More importantly, I met teachers, who willingly take the time to help me understand this challenge in more depth.

To give you an idea of the depth of this issue, let’s look at one of the core components of most English lessons, the text. This text, whether it be a newspaper article, a video, or even a document, has a lot of ways to have its “difficulty” labeled. Here are a few:

  • The Flesh Reading Ease: A commonly used numeric measure of complexity designed by educator  J. Peter Kincaid in 1975. The score is calculated based on the total words, the total sentences, and the total syllables in a text. It goes from 100 to 0, with 100 being the easiest to understand and 0 being the most complex.
  • Sentence Length: (self-explanatory, I hope)
  • Lexical Density: This refers to the level of the vocabulary used in a text. One common way to measure its difficulty is by referencing frequency lists such as the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA)
  • Syntactic Complexity: This is not a specific measure but rather a catch-all term to describe the complexity of grammatical structures used in a text. Within that umbrella, one specific example is nominal density, which measures the ratio of noun groups to clauses.
  • Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: The CEFR international standard for describing language ability. It has scores that range from A1(easiest) to C2 (most complex).
  • Canadian Language Benchmarks: I’m willing to bet that most people reading this understand this one better than I do. The CLB is our own standard out language proficiency, which similarly to the CEFR, is characterized by indicators of ability

You might have noticed something different about those last two: they don’t describe the text by itself; instead, they describe the person interacting with the text. This is because, even though teachers often do this out of convenience, it isn’t the best practice to label a text in isolation. An educator has to consider what the reader is being asked to do with the text. A simple task (e.g. identifying a specific piece of information) in a complex text can be just as easy as a complex task (e.g. high-level inferences) in a more “simple” text. In addition to the tasks, there are plenty of other adjacent factors to consider when levelling a lesson, such as a reader’s background knowledge, and how the text is formatted.

Over the past few months, I’ve been studying these different characteristics of complexity in order to figure out how to design technology tools to adapt to them. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with and get help from educators with all the expertise I could hope for. I had great conversations with CLB consultants, LINC teachers, K-12 teachers, and university professors who have been kind enough to field my questions and share advice.

Things are going well, and I’ve even gotten customers across Canada with the tools I’ve built, but I still have a lot to learn. Too much to learn. These are concepts that are far beyond what I can hope to fully grasp in a short amount of time (let alone while running a business). Thankfully, I haven’t had to do it alone. 

The welcome and support from the community of educators have (almost) completely silenced that imposter syndrome demon under my desk. Looking back, I’m glad I decided to quit my cushy developer job for this journey a year ago, and I hope that it was the first of what will be many years to build tools for education.

Author’s Bio

I’m Jonny Kalambay. I’ve always been passionate about language education, but I’ve spent more time as a learner than a teacher. French is my first language; throughout my life, I’ve learned English, French, and Japanese, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Most of my professional experience is in technology, so I’m now putting my expertise and passion together. I’m working full-time on developing, a language-education toolkit to create and adapt lesson material.

Can You Really Motivate Someone to Learn a Language?


By Olessya Akimenko

Motivation is generally considered to be an important factor that can affect a learner’s success in English as an additional language (EAL). On the internet, you can find countless articles about how to motivate your EAL learners. The authors of these articles suggest multiple ways how this could be done, ranging from “triggering students’ interests” (Lesley University, n.d.) to “giving them a little friendly competition” (Pesce, n.d.) However, is it really possible to motivate a learner if they are not really interested?

First of all, let’s define motivation. According to Dörnyei and Skehan (2003), “motivation is responsible for why people decide to do something, how long they are willing to sustain the activity, and how hard they are going to pursue it” (p. 614). Speaking from my personal experience, as an EAL teacher with 10+ years of teaching experience, I don’t think it is possible to motivate someone to learn, unless they are already motivated. I believe that either a learner already comes motivated to learn or they don’t. The only thing that the teacher can do is not to let the learner lose this precious motivation. If they aren’t already motivated, there isn’t much that could be done.  

In this essay, I’d like to talk about how we as EAL teachers can create an environment for the learner, so they wouldn’t lose the motivation that they already have to learn a language. First of all, we do this by letting each and every learner contribute to the classroom practices and activities. It’s easy to lose motivation if you are not given an opportunity to actively participate. For example, Norton (1997) in her article “Language, Identity, and the Ownership of English” describes the experiences of an EAL learner who mentions how frustrating it can be to listen to only one student speak throughout the whole lesson. This student eventually drops the course feeling that she “didn’t learn at all”.

Second, we make sure that that the needs of all learners are addressed. People come to language classrooms with various needs, such as to get a (better) job or pursue post-secondary education, and those needs should be the main priority for the teacher. This, of course, might be harder to do in larger classrooms, but maybe this means that the classrooms do not need to be large.

Norton (2015) also suggests that classroom practices need to draw from and legitimize learners’ cultural capital, i.e., their prior knowledge and experience. Therefore, it is important to choose materials and activities that learners can relate to. Canada is a multicultural and multilingual country. However, do the learning materials for EAL students always reflect this cultural and linguistic diversity?

These are some of the ways that I believe can help teachers retain the motivation of their EAL students. And I am positive many teachers are already applying them. However, if you don’t, it’s probably high time to start.

Now, going back to my original idea that a learner either comes motivated to learn or they don’t, you may ask then why people come to learn a language if they are not really motivated? Can you really motivate them to learn? Well, this is something I’d like to hear your ideas on!

Olessya’s Bio

Olessya Akimenko is a PhD Candidate in the Languages, Cultures and Literacies program at SFU. She is currently conducting research for her thesis related to the professional identity negotiations of teachers of English as an additional language (EAL). Her other research and educational interests include dialogic pedagogy and the pedagogy of multiliteracies. Olessya also teaches at the Faculty of Education at SFU. Prior to starting her PhD program Olessya worked as an EAL teacher in Kazakhstan for more than 10 years.


Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. J. Doughty & M. H. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 589-630). Blackwell.

Lesley University. (n.d.). 3 strategies for motivating ESL students.

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.

Norton, B. (2015). Identity, investment, and faces of English internationally. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 38(4), 375-391. Pesce, C. (n.d.). How to motivate ESL students: The 10 best ways to increase teenage student motivation. Busy Teacher.

Everyone has an Accent


By Tara Toroghi

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the term “accent” is defined as “the way in which people in a particular area, country, or social group pronounce words” (2022). Some examples of accents include Canadian, British, American (such as Southern or Boston accent), French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Persian, Jamaican and so much more! The latter highlights that while we may think differently, everyone who speaks English has a distinct accent, including Canadian, British, and American individuals. For example:

  • Canadians say “about”as “a-boot”.
  • British citizens say “British” as “Bri-ish”.
  • Southern Americans say “you all” as “y’all”.

While these different pronunciations show that everyone has an accent, some accents are seen as “inferior” which impacts people’s experiences when speaking English. As a result, accents bring up different emotions for different people. It can make someone feel confident in their ability to speak a language aside from their mother tongue. It can also be a reason why someone feels embarrassed because their accents are preventing others from fully understanding them.

I have experienced a few uncomfortable situations firsthand by speaking my first language – Farsi. During my early teenage years, I was teased by family members for pronouncing words in Farsi with an accent. I was mortified, uncomfortable, and from that moment, I decided to limit speaking Farsi out of fear. A few days later, I witnessed my mother experience a similar situation while speaking English in a grocery store. I noticed that the encounter did not stop my mother from speaking English despite her accent. Watching my mother remain confident made me realize that having an accent is a strength as it shows one’s ability to persevere and learn.

Today, I believe having an accent is something that one should be proud of because whether they have taken the time and effort to learn a whole new language or it’s a part of their mother tongue, their accent is a part of their identity. I had the opportunity to interview a few who use English as their Additional Language regarding their experiences associated with their accent as well as if they believed there is a correlation between accents and fluency.

Q: When was the first time someone mentioned your accent to you and how did that experience impact you?

  • “Although I am proud of myself for learning a completely new language, when my accent was pointed out, I felt self-conscious. However, I did not allow that to stop me from speaking English because practice makes perfect.”
  • “Everyone has an accent. The first time someone mentioned my accent was when I traveled to Seattle for a conference after living in BC for a couple of years. This surprised me and made me question myself during presentations and job interviews, however, I did not allow that experience to hinder my growth.”
  • “The first time someone mentioned my accent was in the fourth grade. One of my classmates made fun of me when I was presenting a skit. From that moment, I have been self-conscious of the way I speak, especially with my pronunciation. Experiencing this at such a young age has made me doubt my abilities when it comes to speaking English.”
  • “The first time my accent was mentioned, I was four and baffled. One of the parents at my school told me I had an adorable African accent, and I couldn’t help but be confused about what that meant. It would be like saying someone has a European accent. German? French? What does that even mean? But I was four, so I said thank you then learned to tie a shoelace.”
  • “My mother sounds distinctly British. Which means that sometimes… I sound distinctly British. People seem to find that incredibly distinguished, posh, intelligent even. When I get excited, however, I might find myself sliding into more AAVE, which has almost the direct opposite effect on people then when I sound British.”

Q: In your experience, are accents and fluency related or unrelated?

  • “In my opinion, there is no correlation between having an accent and fluency. One can have an accent when speaking English but they can be as fluent as an English First Language speaker.”
  • “I believe that accents are more fluency based. I focus on whether I can understand the person speaking rather than judging their accents.”
  • “Accents can affect fluency of communication; however, rather than focusing on people’s pronunciation, I believe that listening skills need to be improved if one is unable to understand someone speaking with an accent.”
  • “In my experience, fluency has nothing to do with accent. Fluency is about being able to speak on a topic while accents depend on one’s geographical location.”
  • “In my experience, accent and fluency have almost no correlation. Though, clarity is occasionally an issue (just go to Newfoundland). However, I’ve found that an accent can change people’s perceptions of fluency and ability.”
  • “I’ve found that the way we interact with people, fluency or not, has more to do with perceptions of the accent they use than with how well they speak our language. I’ve also found that it’s easy to forget, when surrounded by people who speak like us, that there is no such thing as not having an accent. Everyone’s from somewhere after all.”

As mentioned above, everyone has an accent, and based on the answers given for their personal experiences, most interviewees felt shame when their accents were mentioned. However, all of them continued pursuing the language for personal, educational, and professional goals. Regarding the correlation of fluency and accent, there were mixed views as some believed that accents affect fluency while others said that there is no correlation between the two. Something that stood out to me was how some interviewees mentioned that people should further exercise their listening skills rather than judge someone for their accent.

What is an experience that impacted your view on accents? Did this blog change your view on accents? If so, how? Feel free to share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Remember, your accent is a sign of intelligence. Speak loudly and speak proudly!


Cambridge University Press. (2022). Accent. Cambridge Dictionary.

Author’s Bio
Teacher, writer, and free-spirit, Tara is someone who encourages people to embrace their authentic selves and live their life’s purpose. Growing up in an immigrant household, she witnessed and experienced judgment when it came to accents when speaking English and Farsi. Writing about this topic is Tara’s way of spreading awareness and showing acceptance of accents.

Start the New Year with Learnings from 2021


Happy New Year! We asked our board and committee members to share with our readers their learnings from 2021 which they will carry forward to 2022 .

Self Care

Self care definitely stood out among all the themes occurring in what we learned: “…there is nothing wrong with making time to take care of yourself” (Jennifer Cummins), and “It’s important to take care of myself, first. It’s like the oxygen mask in the airplane: Put your own on first” (Cindi Jones) and “to encourage others to take care of themselves, too!” (Taslim Damji). 

We also learned to give ourselves permission to take a step back. For Mercedes Bueno, it’s about disconnecting from work periodically: “…the mind needs to disconnect from work regularly in order to be more productive weekly. Working online doesn’t have to equal being available 24/7.”  For someone who experienced uncertainty and significant changes, they may find Karen Aughtry’s wisdom resonates with their learning: “I have learned (am learning) to float with the ebb and flow of life. …This year I’ve been experiencing all types of conditions on ‘the sea’. I’m learning to choose what suits my capabilities (I don’t mind learning new things, though) when there are many tugs of options on my line, and I’m learning to chill when there aren’t any. I will keep doing this in the unknown of 2022!”

Through the challenging times in 2021, as devoted and caring educators we realized the importance of self care, so that we can be a strong support for our students, coworkers, family and friends. We learned to slow down, ground ourselves, take breaks, care for our own needs, prioritize our own wellbeing, and let go of the things we are unable to control.

Supporting Others

While we learned to take care of ourselves, we also learned and kept improving the ways we try to take care of others and their unique needs. “…Each person deals with adversity in a different way, and the challenge is to provide the kind of support that is unique to each individual. To demonstrate true care involves giving the ‘cared for’ what they need, not what I think they need” (Karen Densky). Shirene also shared that “…socializing in small groups or one-on-one allowed me to spend more engaged time with the ones I love”.

As we are busy preparing for learning opportunities and supporting our members, Azzam learned not to “put off things for tomorrow as there are always fires to be put out then” – It is also a snapshot to show you how hard our board, committees and volunteers are working to bring you more professional development opportunities! 

Through the Challenges of 2021

In 2021, we experienced challenging wildfires and flooding amongst the continuing pandemic; however, we did not stop learning. As Fedha Muema summarized: “…In 2021 I finally began to understand what it truly meant to be a lifelong learner. … [Learning is] not just someone who takes college credits for fun well into their twilight years; it’s not just the student in the classroom or the Dojo or the dance studio. It’s also all the little things you accumulate in the most unexpected places. … In 2021 I learned that education is a conscious choice to be open to discovering something new, and to never stop reaching for more. “

What is one thing you learned in 2021 that you will bring with you to 2022?

#CdnELTchat & #teslONchat Summary: Truth and Reconciliation in #ELT


#CdnELTchat & #teslONchat summary for June 15 

By Bonnie Nicholas, Jennifer Chow, Vanessa Nino, and Augusta Avram

Like all Canadians, we were horrified by the confirmation of the graves of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops in May. Many of us did not learn about the tragic history of residential schools during our own school years. This part of Canadian history was not part of the curriculum.

Since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in 2015 and its 94 Calls to Action, all of us working in ELT and particularly those of us who work in settlement programs know that we have the responsibility not just to educate ourselves but also to help the students that we are privileged to teach to learn about the history of treaties and residential schools. This is articulated clearly in Articles 93 and 94 of the Calls to Action. The confirmation of the graves in Kamloops and the almost certainty of more discoveries ahead has given urgency to this responsibility. 

On June 15th, #CdnELTchat and #teslONchat held a joint Twitter chat for English language teachers and admin. Our topic was Truth and Reconciliation in #ELT. This special joint chat was to find ways that we can move forward with the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and work for reconciliation. Because we are all mourning the little ones who lost their lives in Kamloops and elsewhere, and because most of us in ELT are settlers on this land, we started our chat with a reflective thread. We’ve included a slightly revised version of this thread here.

Before we begin, let’s take a moment of silence to remember the 215 children in Kamloops, the 104 children in Brandon, and the many others who were taken to school and never came home. We are greatly saddened by this confirmation and we mourn their deaths. Many of us live on Treaty territories; others live on unceded lands; all of us live on traditional territories of the many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people who lived here on Turtle Island in harmony with the land before the arrival of settlers. We also invite you to join us in taking a moment to reflect on the land, the place where you live, work, and play. If you have a personal land acknowledgement and if you are comfortable sharing it, we invite you to do so. 

As ELT professionals, we (the #CdnELTchat and #teslONchat teams) recognise our responsibility to work towards reconciliation in our personal and our professional lives. The Calls To Action are everyone’s responsibility. Those of us working in settlement language programs have an additional responsibility to teach newcomers to Canada information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools, as outlined in Call to Action 93 of the #TRC. Karen Joseph, CEO of @ReconciliationCanada has said,  “This is not a time for shame. It’s a time for action. Keep showing up. We have the responsibility. Everyone has a voice. Being an ally means that it’s Indigenous People’s fight, but this fight belongs to everyone who lives in Canada.” 

We accept this responsibility and we recognise the privilege of our position in #ELT. We are grateful for the land that we live, work, & play on. We know that we still have much to learn about what truth & reconciliation mean for us in our daily lives. We know that we need to do this work ourselves and that we cannot ask Indigenous educators to bear yet another burden. We need to be not just allies, but co-conspirators. 

During this chat, we asked participants to share & amplify Indigenous voices, through links to social media, the arts (including videos, books, & music), websites, and other resources. These have all been added to our Padlet,  

We know that we must be mindful of our privilege as we do this necessary work. We are grateful to have had guidance & wise counsel from Sharon Jarvis (@romans1v17). Any mistakes we make will be our own, but we know that inaction is not a choice. 

During the hour-long chat, we posed a series of questions for discussion and further reflection.

Q1: What does reconciliation mean to you as an educator? How do you see your role in the process of truth and reconciliation? 

Q2: How “comfortable” or “ready” do you feel to embed the Calls to Action into your teaching? What do you need in order to be more prepared to do this? 

Q3: Can you share & amplify Indigenous voices, through links to social media, the arts (including videos, books, & music), websites, and other resources?

Q4: Take a moment to think about the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Which one resonates with you?  

Q5: Many of the Calls to Action are for governments and the legal system but also for everyone in Canada. The final two Calls to Action were written specifically for newcomers to Canada, so these are the two that impact our approach to indigenisation and classroom teaching. Neither Discover Canada nor the citizenship oath have changed. It’s our responsibility to honour the spirit of the calls to action as best we can with the tools and resources that we have. How can we honour these in our teaching?  

Q6: Call to Action #57: “We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations.” This will require skill based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism. What can we do within our organizations to advocate for mandated training in truth and reconciliation? 

And perhaps the most important question of all: We invite you to join us in reflecting on what actions we can and will take in our personal and professional lives to honour the Calls To Action of the TRC and work for truth and reconciliation.

We’ve collected the relevant tweets from the chat using Wakelet, Truth and Reconciliation in ELT. You can also search for the relevant tweets on Twitter using the hashtags #CdnELTchat and #teslONchat.

Jennifer Chow, @JenniferMChow, Augusta Avram, @ELTAugusta, and Bonnie Nicholas, @BonnieJNicholas on the #CdnELTchat team hosted the chat along with Vanessa Nino, @Vnino23, from #teslONchat. Thank-you to everyone who participated. We are especially grateful to the Indigenous educators and knowledge keepers that we have learned from and will continue to learn from. We encourage everyone working in #CdnELT to continue to listen & learn from Indigenous people. 

Thank you to all those who contributed resources to the Padlet, which we hope will continue to be a useful resource: June 15 #CdnELTchat & #teslONchat 

Even if you’ve missed the synchronous part of this #CdnELTchat and #teslONchat, it’s never too late to join the conversation. Please tweet your comments, replies, & resources at any time. This was the last #CdnELTchat before we take a break for the summer. We will revisit this important topic of truth & reconciliation again. 


zAB6NaOy_400x400Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas) is an enthusiastic participant in the bi-monthly #CdnELTchat as well as a member of the #CdnELTchat team along with Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), and Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta). Bonnie teaches LINC at NorQuest College in Edmonton.


#CdnELTchat summary for June 1, 2021 (Self-Directed Professional Development with Anna Bartosik)


#CdnELTchat summary for June 1, 2021
Self-Directed Professional Development with Anna Bartosik

I’ve been using Twitter for self-directed professional development (SDPD) for about 8 years now. I started out just following educators and lurking on Twitter chats; that led to the discovery of blogs, journals and teaching resources. At first, I didn’t know if what I was doing on Twitter counted as PD, but over time, I realized that the learning I was doing on Twitter allowed me to be more responsive to the challenges I faced in my own teaching practice than organized PD did. 

#CdnELTchat was happy to have Anna Bartosik (@ambartosik) share her expertise on Self-Directed Professional Development (SDPD) on June 1. Anna is an English language teacher at George Brown College, instructional designer, and PhD Candidate at OISE. Her research is in self-directed professional development in digital networks. Learn more by reading her blog:

Before we started our discussion, we had a moment of silence to mourn and remember the #215children in Kamloops. #CdnELTchat is also taking the time to reflect and plan a future chat with #teslONchat later this month to talk about what we need to do in order to move forward with the 94 Calls To Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and work for #Reconciliation.

Here are the questions that guided our chat: 

Q1: How do you define self-directed PD?

Q2: What do you do for PD? How would you describe your own PD? #CdnELTchat 

Q3: Why do you do self-directed PD? Is there something missing from organized PD that you get out of self-directed PD? 

Q4: What have you done for self-directed PD over the past year of #COVIDteaching? Are you planning to continue with self-directed PD, post-COVID?

Q5: What about some of the newer platforms like Instagram and TikTok? Do you have recommendations on who to follow or suggestions on how to use these (or other) platforms? 

Q6: What kind of barriers might educators face from administrators when they engage in self-directed PD? What strategies can we use to mitigate these barriers? 

You can read the collection of tweets from our chat using Wakelet. Thank-you to Anna Bartosik and the enthusiastic participants who generously shared their thoughts during and after the chat. 

Here are some highlights from the discussion:  

We hope #CdnELTchat can provide the space for #ELT educators across Canada and beyond to continue to reflect on what we’re learning, what we’re finding challenging and what solutions we’ve tried, especially during this time. Use the hashtag #CdnELTchat anytime to connect and to share information of interest to the #CdnELT community. 

#CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to more reflective practice for all of us involved in ELT. If you are interested in joining our team, or have any ideas for topics, please send @StanzaSL, @EALStories, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Our Padlet is also always open for your questions and comments.

Jen Bio Pic

Jennifer is passionate about learning how technology can empower her students. After experiencing how technology enabled her to stay connected as an educator, a parent and an active citizen, she is motivated to find the same opportunities for her students. Twitter: @jennifermchow


#CdnELTchat Summary: Decentring Whiteness in ELT with JPB Gerald


#CdnELTchat summary for May 11, 2021 with Guest moderator JPB Gerald

By Tanya Cowie, Jennifer Chow and Bonnie Nicholas

On May 11, the #CdnELTchat team along with #teslONchat welcomed JPB Gerald (@JPBGerald) as our special guest moderator for a live chat on the topic of Decentring Whiteness in #ELT. JPB Gerald is a doctoral candidate in Instructional Leadership. His scholarship focuses on language teaching, racism, and whiteness. Learn more at or by listening to the podcast, UnstandardizedE. We can also recommend his article in the BC Teal Journal, Worth the Risk: Decentring Whiteness in English Language Teaching, as well as his most recent co-authored piece (with @ScottStillar and @Vijay_Ramjattan) in Language Magazine, After Whiteness

Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow) and Tanya Cowie (@tanyacowiecowie) co-moderated the chat on this challenging and important topic. 

We’ve collected the relevant tweets in a new #CdnELTchat Collection, Decentring Whiteness. You can also follow the conversation (although in reverse chronological order) on Twitter by searching for the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Thanks to everyone who shared their ideas either synchronously or asynchronously post-chat as we explored what decentring whiteness might mean for all of us working in ELT. These are the questions that guided our discussion, along with some of the responses that were shared. 

Q1: What should we do when colleagues push back against confronting issues of #racism in language teaching?

  • Gerald suggests we start by asking questions about their resistance; build and strategize with colleagues; be willing to take risks in solidarity with others.
  • Ideas from participants: keep going; exemplify; keep learning and educating ourselves; keep the conversations open; talk to ally leaders;talk about why this is important; be aware of the space we occupy; make anti-racist work impossible to ignore.

Q2: What needs to be done in teacher education to prevent future educators from reinforcing #whiteness in #ELT? 

  • Gerald suggests looking for new voices and scholars in ELT, and challenging the assumptions that there is one standardized English. 
  • Ideas from participants: White teacher-educators need to acknowledge whiteness and what it means in ELT; hire more diverse teacher-educators; get rid of training materials that reinforce the white-dominant and white-default narrative; normalize examination of power structures in teacher education; revise the curriculum to include critical anti-racist approaches; go beyond the minimum requirements for certification; de-colonize the curriculum from within; educate ourselves by diversifying what we read and who we follow on social media; question everything; intercultural and anti-racism training.

Q3: What is the role of #ELT professional associations in decentering whiteness in this industry? 

  • Gerald says to start by diversifying conferences and publications (including social media); use “white” and “racism” where needed; bring in PD from racialized members.
  • Ideas from participants: have more racialized folks on boards (and examine why Black folds are not already there), have racialized folks speaking at every conference; ensure that our associations represent all sectors; recognize self-directed PD (including informal PD like #CdnELTchat).

Q4: Should (white) #ELT teachers try to convince their students that native-speaker Englishes are not a good goal to aim for? If yes, how can we facilitate that without marginalizing students’ perspectives?  

  • Gerald suggests framing their language as perfectly valid, deemphasizing required testing practices, and (long-term) eliminating the native speaker construct.
  • Ideas from participants: teach students that communication is the goal; show that we value who they are; include a variety of authentic voices in our classroom materials; eliminate discussion of native-speakerism from our classrooms; share statistics that show language diversity among Canadians.

Q5: How can racialized educators who work with mainly white colleagues and supervisors advocate for change in their organization and ELT? 

  • Gerald suggests finding people around the world who will support you, and then find white people who will actively support you by taking risks. 
  • Ideas from participants: Have a support group that can listen and heal together; white colleagues need to not take up the space for racialized colleagues; not expect those same racialized colleagues to do all the heavy lifting; organizational commitment to anti-racism work is essential.

Q6: Teaching ‘academic language’ is central to ELT, but some scholars have argued that the idea of academic language is racist. What are your thoughts about the role of academic language in ELT? 

  • Gerald suggests that yes, its role is to “pathologize the racialized and their language practices”.
  • Ideas from participants: ask whose language? and whose rules?; question the staticicity of academic language; redefine what academic language means today; introduce critical applied linguistics and critical EAP approaches in the curriculum.  

This was a challenging topic, and one that we need to reflect on and then revisit, more than once. #CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to connections, learning, and a more reflective practice for all of us involved in #ELT. Questions are collected in advance of each chat on Padlet, and then 5 or 6 are chosen for the hour-long chat. Our Padlet, Questions and Topics for #CdnELTchat, is always open for comments. If you have any ideas for topics or have comments about #CdnELTchat, please send @StanzaSL, @BonnieJNicholas, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Please connect with the team if you are are interested in guest moderating a future #CdnELTchat. 

And in these challenging times, remember to practice self-care. Feel free to reach out and check in anytime with your colleagues in #CdnELTchat.

zAB6NaOy_400x400Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas) is an enthusiastic participant in the bi-monthly #CdnELTchat as well as a member of the #CdnELTchat team along with Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), and Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta). Bonnie teaches LINC at NorQuest College in Edmonton.


#CdnELTchat Summary: Building Community in Online Classes


#CdnELTchat summary for April 27, 2021
By Bonnie Nicholas

As we continue with online  teaching and learning, I think all of us have discovered the importance of building community in the online spaces that we spend so much time in. I suspect that we have all also discovered that it’s more challenging to build a community in an online environment than in a face-to-face class. #CdnELTchat hosted a Twitter chat to talk about this ongoing challenge.

During the one-hour conversation, we discussed the following questions. We hope that the questions and tweets will provide material for reflection, even for those who didn’t participate in the live chat or the asynchronous post-chat tweets. Our hope is always that #CdnELTchat will lead to more reflective practice for all of us. This is why we collect the tweets and share the summaries afterwards.

Q1: What does community-building mean?

Q2: What should we be mindful of when we design community-building activities for synchronous classes?

Q3: What considerations are important when we design community-building activities for asynchronous classes? 

Q4: What F2F community-building activities have you adapted for an online environment? Have they worked well in the online space?

Q5: How is building community online different (or the same) from the physical classroom? 

And a question for further reflection, that we didn’t have time to discuss: What advice might you give to your pre-pandemic self about building community? 

We talked about the importance of building trust, knowing our students, humanising our classes, and creating safe spaces for everyone. Here are some suggested readings and resources from the chat: 

This is the seventh year for #CdnELTchat. During that time, we’ve hosted almost 100 chats on a wide range of topics in ELT, as well as a number of informal check-ins since the start of the pandemic. We are always open to having guest moderators join a chat and share your passion for a particular topic in ELT. Fill in this Google Form, post on our Padlet, or contact us through Twitter: Jen Chow (@Jennifermchow), Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta), Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), or Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas). 

Use the hashtag #CdnELTchat anytime to connect and to share information of interest to the #CdnELT community. The best thing about using social media like Twitter for self-directed PD is that you can choose to actively participate or just lurk. Both are equally valid choices.

#CdnELTchats chats are held about every second week, usually on a Tuesday evening. Please let us know if you have an idea for a topic, a suggestion for a guest moderator, or if you’re interested in moderating a chat on a topic in ELT that you’re passionate about. Reach out to a member of the #CdnELTchat team: Jennifer Chow (@Jennifermchow), Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta), Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), or Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas). We hope that growing your #PLN and connecting through social media will lead to more reflective practice for all of us. 

Please join us for our next chat on May 11 with special guest moderator, @JPBGerald, to discuss Decentring Whiteness in #ELT. For links to his podcast, @UnstandardizedE and more of his scholarship on Whiteness, Racism & Language teaching, got to Please add your questions to our padlet.  

zAB6NaOy_400x400Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas) is an enthusiastic participant in the bi-monthly #CdnELTchat as well as a member of the #CdnELTchat team along with Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), and Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta). Bonnie teaches LINC at NorQuest College in Edmonton.