It all started in the end of a session during the 3rd VRT (Virtual Round Table) last October. Berni Wall (@rliberni) said she would do another ELT PD Week for overseas teachers in January, and invited applications. I had my attention grabbed right there and went to her website to check the details. A week in Yorkshire, with other ELT teachers discuss teaching? I can’t think of many better ways to spend part of my vacation. A few email exchanges later I was buying my tickets.
The idea was to tackle the most important topics related to English teaching during the days and discuss/watch films of the Brontës novels in the evening. Most of us arrived on January 2nd: me and Wellington Oliveira (wellingtonros) from Brazil, Dina Dobrou (@dobroudina) and Maria Zygourakis (@mariazygourakis) from Greece. I had been interacting with Berni through twitter for a while, she is a moderator at the wonderful #ELTChat and is also the head (and creator) of Gapfillers - a great website for English learners. She came pick us up at the Northallerton train station. I recognized her as soon as she pulled up – another great help from twitter and PLNs. that day we got to know each other a bit better, then a wonderful dinner and we watched the first Brontë film: “The Tenant of Winfell Hall”.
Berni lives (and teaches) at Fleetham Lodge, an incredibly beautiful place, with fireplaces everywhere (Thankfully – it’s was a very cold week!). I slept alone for the first day, for my roomate, the fantastic Shelly Terrell (@shellterrell) had some problems making it from the US to Yorkshire. On Monday we went to Haworth, the city where the Brontë sisters lived at and their father was perpetual curate of the church. What a wonderful day! A charming, old town, cobblestones, buildings and business that have been there since the Brontë sisters lived there… We visited their museum with their possessions, clothes, manuscripts…), the church, the cemetery, strolled around the streets, tried reaching the ruins they say inspired “Wuthering Heights” – it was too cold to walk all the way there. It was a perfect day. We even had lunch at the pub where Bramwell (the Brontë sisters’ brother) used to go to! Personally I was fascinated. I always am when I see things that bring closer, bring to reality things I’ve read about in books. I recommend anyone who has the opportunity to visit Haworth. After dinner we started watching “Wuthering Heights”. Shelly arrived late that first night. And she is everything she seems to be on twitter: sweet, smart and an insomniac like me (which translates into looong talks into early hours of the morning).
On the first day of PD we discussed Listening, Vocabulary and Technology. We talked about our views on teaching the first two and using the third to promote learning, but mostly – and more importantly – we shared. We shared our opinions, shared approaches and activities that worked with us, shared doubts and insecurities… When we discussed technology it was a real treat having Shelly with us, who not only is a fantastic teacher but also is a pro at how to integrate technology into the classroom and use it for enhancing students’ learning experience. At night we watched the second part of “Wuthering Heights” after dinner that I had cooked (some Brazilian flavors: caipirinhas for cocktail, fish in coconut sauce and cashew nuts rice).
On Wednesday Shelly had to leave us. In the PD front we discussed grammar (shared views on form X function and lots and lots of activities). we took a break to participate in the #ELTChat. At night, since it was the 12th night, we had a special dinner of goose and did our version of the “mummers play” – which Berni’s husband (and fabulous cook) filmed and photographed. We had such fun!
On our third day we tackled blogging, error correction and speaking. Our serious professional development session was interrupted by a heavy snowfall which made the 4 of us – not really used to snow in our home countries – go outside to enjoy the snow on the ground a bit.
On Friday we discussed reading and in the aftgernoon Berni took us to Northallerton to walk around the town and do some shopping. On Saturday we had a day off, so the four of us took of and spent the day in York. We visited the York Minster, walked around the beautiful streets, had fish&chips for lunch… another perfect, fun day. Then on Sunday it was time to say goodbye – how quickly a week goes by when you’re enjoying yourself and the people you’re with!
My final assessment of that PD week? Well, before I went a friend, who also works with ELT asked me what she (Berni) got out of it. After all she is opening her home, her family life to a group of “strangers’, housing and feeding them with no financial payback. So what does she get from it? I didn’t ask her that, but I can wonder. I think she – as a passionate, committed teacher – loves sharing, exchanging ideas, learning how things are done elsewhere. Kirkby Fleetham is somewhat isolated as far as ELT goes. Of course Berni goes to conferences, she reads, moderates ELTChat… But mostly she works on her own. So I think in a way, the PD Week opportunity she offers is a way for her to have a bit of a teacher’s staff room for a week, as well as connecting with teachers from different cultures and realities. She is a wonderful teacher and has lots to share, and I consider myself very lucky to having had the chance to experience that. It only served to prove even further what I feel about sharing and how much sharing is an essential part of a teacher’s life (you can read more about my views on sharing in this post I wrote about it). Besides, Berni and her family have a heart of gold. I learned a lot that week. Things that I’ll use in the classroom, with my students and in my life in genral. And I thank Berni for the opportunity.