Small Change, Big Effect

“Why don’t you stand on the other side of the room?”

“Why don’t you stand on the other side of the room?” Lisanne asked after observing my Kindergarten High lesson one Saturday. Lisanne is a teacher at MY English School. Prior to her observation, I usually stood on the side of the classroom where my back was to a glass window facing the lobby. That meant the children saw their parents, who were usually standing outside of the room watching their children. That also meant the children had more distractions because they could see all sorts of other things happening outside of the classroom.

The following week, I made sure to follow Lisanne’s advice. I positioned myself on the other side of the room. Almost immediately, I noticed a significant change in the classroom dynamics. With nothing but a plain wall behind me, the children had almost no distractions. It felt easier to catch their attention. It still wasn’t 100% full attention, but at least I no longer had to compete with a parent who was waving to their kid urging them to behave, or with whatever colorful distraction behind me that may catch the children’s wandering eyes.

The tiny change—in this case, the place where I positioned myself—led to a better situation both for me and the children.

“Why did you have only 2 lines?”

More recently, Alina, another teacher, observed one of my first-year elementary-age lessons. In our post-observation discussion, she asked, “Why did you have only 2 lines for Dice Bucket?” That was how I saw other teachers run the game; that was what I saw in a training video that I watched. Alina’s suggestion to create more lines only came to mind during our discussion.

Again, with the tiny change of making a third or even a fourth line during the game, it instantly led to some noticeable changes. I tried it in my other first-year class. First, the students got more oral practice of the target language (in this case, CVC words). Second, the waiting time between turns for the children was reduced. As a result, students were not as distracted.

Sometimes all we need to address a particular issue in the classroom is a small tweak in how we do certain things.

Following these two conversations and looking back on previous lessons, I realized that sometimes all we need to address a particular issue in the classroom is a small tweak in how we do certain things. I sometimes fall into a routine regarding how I do lessons. Feedback from fellow MY teachers on what changes I can carry out, big or small, is helpful.

How about you? What tiny change(s) have you made that led to a big change in your classroom? Are you able to get helpful feedback from colleagues? For those experiencing a classroom issue at the moment, have you tried reflecting on what changes you can make? If you have, what change was it?

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It takes a village to raise a child MY teacher

The first month of the new school year is over. New teachers are finished with their monthlong training and are now teaching classes on their own. I was in the same boat around this time last year, but it is only now that something became vividly clear to me – “It takes a village to raise a MY teacher.”

Looking back, one aspect of MY that significantly helped me get through the first year was the training and support from experienced teachers. It certainly took more than one person to ensure I was capable on my own in the classroom, which on some days felt like a battlefield and on other days the happiest place on earth (second to Disneyland).

It takes a team of teachers coming from varying teaching experiences and united by a shared goal to prepare a new teacher.

It takes a team of teachers coming from varying teaching experiences and united by a shared goal to prepare a new teacher. The way MY trains its new teachers is one thing that separates it from other English language schools.

Pre-MY training experiences bring to mind a three-day or a weeklong intensive training session, lots of handouts, roleplays…and then I was on my own. Occasionally, another one-day training session was conducted.

With MY, the training from the onset was immersive, experiential, and communicative.

With MY, the training from the onset was immersive, experiential, and communicative, to say the least. One of the things I learned early was MY’s principles, starting with “We start with questions.”

It wasn’t clear to me what “start with questions” meant until I saw MY teachers putting it into action during my training. Teachers I trained with all had questions. With Parisa, “What skills do we want them to practice during the lesson?” With Aaron, “How do you get the students to play with the language?” With Alina, “How can you make those pages into a task?” With David, “What language do you want them to produce by the end of the school year?”

Not only were the teachers asking questions, but the advisors as well. When planning activities for open lessons, then-Higashine advisor Yuki also asked me: “How can the parents be part of the activity?”

I knew that I could always approach any MY teacher and they would be more than happy to give a piece of advice.

April 2022 zoomed by so fast. The period with teacher trainers was over, and I was on my own. I don’t know how this year’s new batch of teachers feel, but, for me, it was a nerve-wracking time. However, I knew that I could always approach any MY teacher and they would be more than happy to give a piece of advice.

MY’s commitment to learning also helped. Monthly trainings organized by the Professional Development Team, rolling observation days, and external conferences were sources of ideas and learning opportunities.

The first month of the new school year is over. Once again, I saw a “village” of MY teachers raising…preparing new teachers for their classes. There will be “yay!” moments. There will be rough patches. Knowing that one can turn to any MY teacher for advice will surely help new teachers in their first year.

For past and present MY teachers, how was your MY training experience?  For teachers elsewhere, who is the village that raises your teachers?

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Moving forward on MY’s TEFL certificate requirements

What to do with TEFL certificates? We have decided why we want teachers to be TEFL-certified. We have done our homework to understand positive trends and warning flags in the TEFL certificate field. But what TEFL certificates will MY English School accept? How will we decide?

MY English School decided nearly a decade ago to accept OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma as MY’s recommended certificate for teachers. We have also routinely accepted the CELTA and any higher degrees in related fields. So what is MY doing differently moving forward?

The answer to that question is complicated. What are we doing differently? Not much…and a lot. At this time, what TEFL certificates does MY accept with certainty? OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma and the CELTA. For any other certificates that teachers bring to us, we will review them case-by-case.

If this sounds essentially unchanged from MY’s stance a decade ago, it is. However, in taking time to understand the TEFL field better, we have also taken a step toward a more robust review process. We hope this process will ensure better certification standards and practices.

Knowing our purpose & principles

Knowing who we are as a company and why we do what we do has helped shape MY’s discussion about TEFL certificates. During the past two years, MY’s Leadership Team and staff have worked to articulate MY’s purpose and principles. These efforts set common ground for our strategy on TEFL certificates.

Why does MY exist as a company? Our answer: “We grow success.” Whether we are considering our students, our teachers, or the company, we grow success. This is MY’s purpose. This is the reason we exist as a company.

What does this mean for TEFL certificates? Whatever decisions we make about TEFL certificates, our choices should grow success. This includes helping our students grow by having better quality teachers. It includes our teachers growing professionally. We grow a strong community of professionals. We grow a culture of learning. We grow success as a company. If we are not growing success in all these areas with TEFL certificate decisions, we are falling short of MY’s purpose.

How do we grow success? MY’s principles guide us:

  1. We start with questions. Questions allow us to understand the situation before rushing to find solutions. Moving forward, this means asking a lot of questions about TEFL certificates and accreditors. (See, for example, our lists of red flags in the previous post in this series.) For MY’s discussion about TEFL requirements, this meant asking:
    • Why should MY require a TEFL certificate?
    • Why did we choose the OnTESOL 250-hour diploma as MY’s preferred certificate over a decade ago?
    • Why is that certificate still a good option for many teachers, and why is it now not a good option for some?
    • What has changed in the TEFL certificate industry in the past decade?

  1. We are always learning. This principle is part of the reason for requiring a TEFL certificate at MY. MY’s teachers are always learning. Quality TEFL certification is a step toward learning. TEFL certification is also not the end of learning. We keep creating opportunities to grow professionally once certified.

    “We are always learning” also informs how we approach TEFL certificate decisions. We have done our homework on the TEFL field, but there remains a lot we do not know. The field is always changing. Each time we review a new accreditor or TEFL certificate, we approach it as a learning opportunity.

  1. We assume positive intent. Assuming that others are acting for good reasons can be hard when the TEFL field is littered with bad actors. Why is this TEFL certificate provider blatantly lying about its accreditation? Once we have verified externally that a TEFL certificate’s claims are false, we have concrete reasons not to assume positive intent from that provider any longer.

    With prospective teachers, however, how should we react to previously acquired TEFL certificates that they bring to MY? If a certificate is rejected by MY, so be it. We will explain in detail to the teacher our concerns with the certificate and why we cannot approve it.

    We do not want to fall into the trap of blaming teachers for obtaining bad certificates. We will not point fingers for failing to notice the same flaws that we see. We will not assume that a teacher chose this certificate out of a desire for something cheap and easy. We will continue to assume that a teacher obtained this certificate with good reasons in mind.

  1. We are proactive and accountable. The TEFL certificate field is far too vast for MY to proactively identify and review every possible TEFL certificate so that we can transparently show teachers exactly what is approved and what is not. I doubt any language school has resources to devote staff almost full-time to TEFL certificate review. What would be the point?

    MY is proactive about communicating our purpose, principles, and standards for TEFL certificates. We aim to be as transparent as possible about our process and our decisions. We have staff at multiple levels in MY’s structure who will hold each other accountable for those decisions.

  1. We do what’s best for MY. MY is not only the company’s bottom line financially. MY is also our students, our staff, and our company culture. For every decision, including about TEFL certificates, we aim to do what is best for all of these as a whole.

Two tiers of certification

One significant change at MY moving forward is that we will accept two tiers of certification: Preliminary and Extended.

Extended MY Certification is essentially what MY has always accepted for TEFL certification. We require a quality, recognized, approved TEFL certificate. Extended Certification earns a significant salary increase. We do not regard Extended Certification as an end point for professional development. Certification is a starting foundation, on top of which we will add MY training and other professional development opportunities outside MY.

In addition, we also recognize that many teachers come to MY with other certifications that may not meet MY’s standards. MY may still reject some certificates, but, from the perspective of teachers and students, the certificate is not what is important. What we seek are quality teachers. A hard-working teacher may still gain knowledge and skills even from a subpar certificate. Certificates that do not meet MY’s quality standards may still have some value. If we can see that a certificate offers a basic introduction to TEFL, it may earn Preliminary MY Certification for a smaller salary increase.

Topping up

With two tiers of certification, MY teachers need a path from Preliminary Certification to Extended Certification. Enrolling in a second introductory TEFL course that covers much of the same ground, even if in more breadth or depth, may feel tedious or unproductive for teachers. Most TEFL providers also offer specialized short courses (usually between 30 and 60 hours in length). Many of these specializations, such as teaching young learners, teaching business English, leadership & management, or teacher training) could be highly relevant to MY teachers. MY has begun reviewing specialized short courses as “top-up” options to raise certification status from Preliminary to Extended without having to take an approved full TEFL course from the start.

Robust review (doing the work of accreditors)

MY continues to recommend OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma and the CELTA for our teachers. When incoming teachers already possess other TEFL certificates, our Leadership Team has reviewed those certificates and decided our approval or disapproval. What we have lacked is a robust review process. Generally, I think that we have arrived at good decisions about certificates, but our process was made easier by starting with narrow standards.

MY lacked a clear framework that would still allow us to make good decisions after opening our TEFL certification to two tiers. We did not want to accept every advertised 120-hour certificate for Preliminary MY Certification, but how do we go about determining yes and no? Our staff are not trained accreditors. Yet the situation needs us to perform the role of accreditors.

One step forward has been building a color-coded list of accreditors that MY can use internally to assist our decision-making:

  • Accreditors we reject. When we see certificates with this accreditation, we should always reject these certificates immediately, with minimal review.

  • Accreditors we may accept. In some cases, these are potentially good accreditors that we have not reviewed yet. In other cases, they exhibit good points, but they may also raise some concerns about quality or their review process. We need to subject these to robust review.

  • Accreditors we probably will not accept. We may opt to submit certificates with these accreditations to robust review, but these accreditations likely will not carry much weight in our decisions. In some cases, they are legitimate memberships and certifications that are not actual accreditation. In other cases, they seem likely to be sham organizations that we need more research to verify.

Little by little, we may move a few accreditors from the white and yellow categories to the blue and red. Some will remain permanently in that middle zone. In a previous post, we have already looked at red flags for accreditors. In addition, good accreditors:

  1. Evaluate curriculum content
  2. Set standards for course hours
  3. Evaluate instructor quality
  4. Assess student outcomes
  5. Evaluate business and management practices
  6. Actively assess the program periodically, not rely solely on self-reporting or give a one-time endorsement
  7. Offer transparent, meaningful criteria and standards
  8. Publicly list the organizations, programs, courses, or certifications they accredit
  9. Are accountable
  10. Avoid conflicts of interest

As much as possible, MY seeks reliable accreditation frameworks to assist our decisions about individual TEFL certificates. When an accreditation does not fully earn our trust, we are left to become the accreditors.

Acting as accreditor for a TEFL certificate will be difficult. As much as the detailed standards of TESL Canada or the CELTA have helped set expectations for course hours, curriculum content, instructor qualifications, student outcomes, business practices, and so on, we lack many of the tools and resources of accreditors. We may contact a TEFL provider with questions, but we lack the full cooperation of the provider in opening their books and courses for us to audit. TEFL certificates that fail to offer transparency will struggle to gain our approval.

For TEFL certificates that do not have any accreditation? Should MY choose mostly to ignore them? The time and other resources needed to review these certificates make them almost certainly not worth our while.

Rejecting all unaccredited certificates is unfortunate in some cases. MY will likely exclude a handful of very good TEFL certificates. If a TEFL certificate providers, having seen the messy TEFL accreditation landscape, has foregone gimmicky accreditation as a marketing tool, that is understandable, even laudable. At the same time, how can a language school discern the value of that certificate to teachers? Good accreditation is not a gimmick. Good accreditation helps us make better decisions. TEFL certificates that do not opt into valid accreditation have decided that MY and MY teachers are not part of their client base. That’s O.K.

At the start, our approved and rejected lists remain short, essentially unchanged from the past decade. With each new certificate teachers bring to us, we expect our lists of accreditors, certificates, and top-up short courses to grow. These lists will improve transparency and flexibility for our teachers, and they will help maintain MY’s quality instructor promise to our students.

Who decides?

With a general framework for TEFL certificate approval decisions in hand, MY’s Leadership Team struggled with a final question: Who at MY will review and decide about TEFL certificates? Who applies the standards?

We considered existing teams at MY: Leadership Team, Hiring Team, Professional Development Team. In each case, TEFL certificate review would, at times, be a substantial distraction from these teams’ primary functions.

We settled on an ad hoc committee of three or four people drawn from MY’s Hiring Team, Professional Development Team, and managers. The committee can meet only when needed without significantly disrupting the pressing work of an entire team. The ad hoc committee can draw perspective from several groups at MY, who all have a stake in holding the committee accountable.

Following months of work to understand the TEFL certificate field better, this may sound like a depressingly bureaucratic response–what is MY doing to address the TEFL certificate question? We formed a committee.

This said, we are optimistic that we are moving in the direction that is best for MY’s students, teachers, and company culture. Our next step is to begin training this committee to act like accreditors. Several current and incoming teachers are already seeking the committee’s review. We are handing the committee good tools and entrusting this small group to care well for MY’s principles.

This ends our four-part blog series on the TEFL problem. How to handle TEFL certificates remains far from a settled question for employers and teachers. We look forward to continued debate and to further changes and developments in the TEFL field.

Part 1: The TEFL Problem
Part 2: Why TEFL?
Part 3: Three Bright Spots in the TEFL Industry (and a lot of red flags to watch for)
Part 4: Moving forward on MY’s TEFL certificate requirements

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Training the Teachers (Who Train Teachers)

Teachers who have been at MY for three, five, ten years or more and teachers who are in their first year at MY have very different training needs. The gap in knowledge and experience is significant, and many of MY’s training efforts are aimed at helping newer teachers close this gap with experienced teachers as quickly as possible.

Experienced teachers become teacher trainers, which offers many new challenges and room to grow. However, experienced teachers need training, too, and usually this training needs to follow a different format from what may best help newer teachers. Planning training sessions to meet the needs of both experienced and new teachers is a challenge.

The most effective way to eliminate the experience gap between new teachers and experienced teachers is to fire all the experienced teachers.

MY’s owner, Ryan, has sometimes joked that the most effective way to eliminate the experience gap between new teachers and experienced teachers is to fire all the experienced teachers. (MY isn’t going to do this.) MY typically adds at least two or three new teachers ever year, and so the experience gap is always with us.

At our August training day, experienced teachers enjoyed an opportunity to step back from training others and focus on our own professional development. What are we doing to develop ourselves professionally? What more can we (or should we) be doing? I invited the teachers to complete this survey of their professional development during the past year.

What stood out to me from our training session is how diverse the experiences of MY’s teachers are. As we discussed what activities we have done in the past year that we think we will still regard as memorable and significant to our professional development five years from now, every teacher listed a different activity.

MY gives so many out-of-classroom opportunities to our teachers that this is not surprising. A teacher involved in developing curriculum grows in different ways from a teacher involved in hiring, software development, leadership, or management. What impressed me from this training session is that there is no one-size-fits-all training for experienced teachers. The more we pursue diverse interests and opportunities, the more diverse our professional development needs to be.

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Professional Development Weekend – Hosted by MY English School – Featuring Michael Griffin

MY English School is hosting a two-day professional development weekend with featured guest Michael Griffin on October 18-19. Both days of the event are free and open to the public.

Anyone wishing to stay overnight at the hotel and onsen is welcome to join us for the opportunity to interact with the presenter and other attendees in a more relaxed setting. The deadline for a hotel & dinner banquet reservation is October 11. Please contact Chris Saunders regarding reservations and details.

Event Speaker: Michael Griffin

Session Topics:

  • Practicing Reflection
  • (Re)considering “bad teaching practices”
  • Behavioral Economics

When :

Friday, October 18th, 2pm – 5pm

  • Behavioral Economics

Saturday, October 19th, 10am – 5pm

  • (Re)considering “bad teaching practices
  • Practicing Reflection.

Where: Zao Onsen, Forest Inn Sangoro
〒990-0017 Yamagata, Kamihozawa, 不動上国有林28

Driving Directions:

Contact or questions: Chris Saunders

Event Theme: Professional Development

Admission: Free for everyone

Overnight Cost: 10,000 yen, including: Nomihoudai Dinner, Breakfast, Hotel room.


Practicing Reflection: Reflective Practice is something of a buzzword in ELT. “What does it mean, and how do we do it?” are two very reasonable questions. Reflective Practice seems to mean different things to different people, though most agree it’s important and useful. In this interactive session, we will broadly define the term and think about what it means to us before diving into activities that will offer hands-on practice reflecting. Through this practice participants will find ways to include reflection as a pillar of their own teaching. This session will offer guidance, tips, questions to consider, feedback, and strategies for becoming a (more) reflective practitioner. There will also be a great deal of practice.  Through practicing reflection in a guided way and learning strategies and techniques for further reflection, participants will become more comfortable and skillful reflecting on their own in their regular work.

(Re)considering “bad teaching practices: There is no shortage of received wisdom about what the “bad” teaching practices are in EFL. Training courses, conferences, workshops, and colleagues are common sources to learn what’s “bad” and should thus be avoided. Chances to step back and consider why this is so are not as common. Many teachers internalize the “rules” about these “bad” practices but don’t examine specific cases and contexts were these practices might not be so bad. In this interactive workshop, participants will be asked to consider the potential positives of widely-known and negatively-viewed teaching practices. Ideas and assumptions about what constitutes “bad” teaching will be challenged, and participants can expect to walk away with a clearer idea of their own beliefs on common and commonly mentioned practices.

Behavioral Economics: Are there things Kahneman, Thaler, Harford, and Levitt can teach us about English language teaching that Thornbury, Nation, Graves, and Ur cannot? What can insights can behavioral economics provide to English teachers?  In this interactive workshop, the world of Behavioral Economics will be connected to the world of English Language Teaching. Prominent and accessible theories from the field of Behavioral Economics, like the endowment effect, sunk-cost fallacy, endowment theory, and loss aversion, will be applied to English teaching. Questions about how such theories can be applied will be raised and considered. Participants can expect to walk away with insights from Behavioral Economics and new ways of framing and attempting to work through challenges they encounter in the world of English language teaching.

About the speaker:

Michael Griffin has been involved with English teaching for 20 years. He has worked as a teacher, teacher trainer, trainer-trainer, curriculum developer, substitute teacher, assistant director, and mentor. Intercultural awareness, world Englishes, curriculum development, alternative ways of teacher development, and reflective practice are some of his main interests. Currently, Michael works online with the New School’s MATESOL program and for World Learning on American English E-Teacher courses sponsored by the US Department of State.  He blogs at

Hotel Website:

Photos of the hotel and venue:

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MY Training Day with Lesley Ito

Teachers talking together about teaching is one of the highest impact practices schools can use to boost student learning.  We become better teachers when we reflect and share ideas.  Since I started at MY, MY has annually set aside a number of days when we close all of our schools and gather for training.  Over the years, we’ve experienced some fantastic, memorable sessions that I’ve learned from immensely and that have changed the way we teach at MY.  But it’s easy to become insular if we’re always talking among ourselves, so, this year, we are branching out and inviting outside speakers to two of our training days.

Our first outside speaker this year, Lesley Ito, visited
MY this past weekend.  Lesley is a school
owner in Nagoya and has been active in publishing and presenting around Japan
for many years.  On Saturday afternoon,
she presented two sessions:  Teaching Grammar to Children and Extensive Reading for Young Children.

I deeply enjoy conference sessions where the speaker is a
couple years ahead of me in identifying and working out a problem.  In the first session, Lesley shared some of
her research into how children learn grammar and react to error
correction.   MY’s students check their
own homework, after which teachers check, which has many good aspects.  However, as we’ve become more and more
structured in this homework check system, I’ve begun noticing, especially this
year, a lot more stress among our youngest elementary students.

Usually students are smiling, energetic, excited to start
class, and having a lot of fun by the end of their first month of lessons.  This year, many are, but I’ve also noticed many
young elementary students crying and showing other signs of stress after they
arrive for lessons, even a month or two into the year, which is abnormal.  Lesley’s explanation of how younger kids
process grammar and error correction may help explain why this is, and it has
me thinking of ways we can do better for our stressed first-graders.

Hearing Lesley talk about kids’ ER didn’t give me a
similar “Aha!” moment, but it was gratifying. 
MY’s extensive reading program is in its third year.  There’s very little researched and written
about kids’ ER (and about kids’ ELT in general).  While there are a few schools that can serve
as models, building a kids’ ER program mostly requires trial and error.

MY still has a lot of work to improve our ER program, but seeing the benefits of ER for kids in Lesley’s presentation was a strong reminder about why we created the class.  We especially need to do more to sell ER to our students and parents—yes, reading for an hour without the teacher choosing the book, checking comprehension, or grading results is an excellent way to improve language!  In the past two years and two months of ER classes, we’ve stumbled on a number of ideas and practices for how to do ER with kids, and it’s nice affirmation when another respected teacher like Lesley has independently arrived at similar conclusions and adopted many similar practices.

I’m already looking forward to our training weekend with Mike Griffin in October!

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