Workplace Communication Skills in Canada for ESL teaching professionals in Toronto

This is going to be my first book I write in Toronto. My first introductory part starts with the overview of the book. The entire content includes what has been observed very necessary for ESL teaching professionals, especially who are internationally educated/trained/practiced/experienced, to acquire, learn and develop in order to teach English in the Canadian ESL teaching settings no matter how experienced they are or how educated they are. The target students are young adults including college students and mature adults including professionals in other fields. There is no well-known course in Toronto teaching these qualities and perspectives to new ESL instructors to Canada in a practical and applicational communicative context yet. I dare to start writing this book for ESL instructors who struggle at work while communicating with colleagues, asserting themselves with their supervisors, having a meeting with other staff or working with managers, subordinates, and coworkers for a project. I sincerely hope this book can share useful tools with those in need of better communication skills at work.

Please share your comments and critics. I will consider your feedback to adjust this book to better suit our instructors’ needs.

The content of the book is:

  • Expressing feelings appropriately
  • Expressing personal opinions appropriately
  • Making a clear agreement
  • Expressing disagreement openly, firmly and appropriately
  • Communicating about the boundaries at work
  • Asserting oneself with supervisors, coworkers, and other staff members
  • Negotiating with colleagues and employers
  • Compromising with colleagues
  • When communication principles are not shared with the other person

 

I will post regularly as I write. There will be persons’ names and situations involved in each context. However, I make it clear that they are not real people but invented names, characters, and situations even though they are based on realistic situations at work.

 

 

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Dealing with difficult situations at work

I can pay attention to details. This quality helps me meticulously plan for my duties and follow the procedures of the plans. Lesson planning takes me a long time but I accomplish what I plan mostly. The downside of it is that it takes too much time. Time Management can be an issue at times. Also, I disclose too much information to the listener and it can be overwhelming to some colleagues or students. Here’s what I am practicing now.

Basic principal of my approach: Mistakes are fine. Move forward with my lessons I take away from my mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, fails in their trials, and learns from their failures. Failing is not the end of the road. Giving up is. As long as I don’t give up moving forward with my lessons earned, I will do better in similar situations in the future. I continue trying no matter what other people tell me what to do or what I shouldn’t do. I will listen to my intuition.

The Simpler, the Easier:

Facts – Facts are as data. Interpretation is not fact. It is my perception of somebody’s words or behaviors. Let’s focus on the facts when we need to deal with difficult situations.

Impact – At a workplace, feelings are not considered by my employer/boss/supervisor and even colleagues. They are not my family. I am not my employee’s mother or friend. ‘Caring’ has been ‘unnecessary feeling’ from my part. I wasn’t expected to ‘CARE’ for others. Especially, when there’s a power distance, we need to be aware that we are not friends or family. I keep my boundaries around them.

Time Limit – This is what I need to adjust better. I am caring. I pay attention to details. I listen. I try to understand. It takes time. However, it has worked against my time, energy, and working boundaries. Then, I change it. I set the time limit when I talk to a person. I inform the person of this time limit at the beginning of the talk. I keep track of the time so I do not go overtime. Otherwise, it may exhaust me or drain me and we do not want this.

Fair request: Agreed by both parties. Clear understanding of what is negotiable and what not is important.

Focus on one thing: What’s the priority here? One thing at a time.

Consequences: I can only do my best. Anybody can only do their best.

Conflict Resolution Case #1

 

Before: I am going into a situation where I need to resolve a conflict with a classroom instructor today. There has been a complaint from this instructor about administrative tasks she was asked to do. I will write the reflection tonight. Let’s see what happens.

One basic principle of my approach: One thing at a time. I do not speak about two things at the same time because there’s no point to discuss several things if not even one thing can be changed in the situation. Let’s focus on one thing now and another thing the next time. We don’t want to give distractions but want to see this one issue resolved.

After: Here’s what has happened (Situation) and what was done today (Resolution): (Step 1) what the facts were in the situation; (Step 2) how the feelings of the participants were; (Step 3) what the requests were; (Step 4) the consequences of the discussion; and (Step 5) the start date of the new implementation.

Situation: I am an ESL school manager in charge of several schools. I started working part time last year and have made fewer visits in each school in this new school year. So I had to frequently communicate with my instructors by email. I asked all instructors to send me the student information who request for the school letter in order to verify with their social workers if it was actually requested by them. I did not have any issues with other instructors but this particular instructor. First, the information she sent me was often incorrect. We emailed back and forth and the process got often delayed. Second, miscommunication often occurred: I ask question A and she gives answer B. The communication did not go anywhere to get the work done. Third, I changed my request thinking it would help the communication process easier. I asked her to send me the scanned image of the final letter. I told her I would fax it from my office. The next thing happened (problem) was, she called my supervisor and reported her that I was imposing her more work and she would request the union to take an action on managers including me. She phoned me, asked to stop my involvement in the process, and informed me that she got the complaint call from this instructor.

Step 1: the Facts

  • She was emailing me with her small cellphone. It was very inconvenient for her to type all numbers and names with those small buttons. That’s why there were many mistakes. Also, she was receiving so many emails not only from me and she sometimes missed my emails. She was not able to follow all my information (questions and clarifications) I was sending out to her. Therefore, the email communication wasn’t working for her.
  •  What I was informed about the verification procedure was not accurate. There has been a communication breakdown in our department. No orientation for a new staff member, no consistent instructions for managers to follow by the supervisor, no followup conversations or discussions when there is a staff change regarding one duty, that is, no consistent monitoring and guiding system for managers exists. Therefore, each manager practices differently in the field and this is not monitored.
  • This instructor did not know how to attach a scanned image to an email as an attachment even though she had a scanner. She could not comprehend the instructions that I gave regarding ‘scanning and attaching a file to an email’ at all. Her technical competency was way lower than the level of abilities that she believed and told she had which I did not know.
  • She actually had spent a lot of time lesson planning to follow the new system implemented by the government. I did not know how much effort she was putting into her lesson planning and documenting before I visited. I understood that today.
  • I learned about this instructor as a person today by talking with her for 1.5 hours. She is a person who remembers negative memories and feelings for a long time. For example, her anecdotes she was sharing today were all negative stories. One event she was explaining as if it happened yesterday was an event from 15 years ago. This person is not a happy person. This person would not let go of any negative emotions and rather brood on it over and over and years after another. This person can easily hold a grudge and try to make the other person pay back. She is aggressive. She can be very nasty gossiping or verbally dominating when arguing. She is not good with listening to the other unless the other person expresses the goal of the conversation is to maintain a good working relationship.

Step 2: Feelings

  • Compassionate: I was open. I was ready to listen. I decided to be compassionate before I went  into the conversation whatever she would talk about and however she would talk.
  • Focused: I decided to discuss the letter only but nothing else today. I expected she would bring up so many other complaints and she did. I brought her back to the letter issue till we agreed on how we would do from now on.
  • Frustrated: She was frustrated due to the workload.
  • Overwhelmed: She was overwhelmed by the new evaluation system implemented by the government.
  • Upset and angry: She was upset at the learners who were leaving the classroom for calls or washrooms during the class time. She yelled at them. A counselor visited a learner at the end of the class. She shouted at her too.
  • Embarrassed: When she shouted and yelled at her students, I showed indifference on my face by paying attention to other objects in the classroom because I felt embarrassed and did not want to address that today. However, I started the conversation with her by asking her “Why did you yell at them?” expressing my surprise at her inappropriate behavior. I will address this later.
  • Cooperative: She apologized for her anger at me and understood I did not mean to impose any more burden on her. I expressed my understanding of her overwhelming workload and gratitude for her effort into lesson planning and documenting. She asked for support and help. I offered her my reviewing her lesson plans and scheduled another visit next week to offer suggestions on more efficient lesson planning in her case.

Step 3: Fair Request

  • I asked her to issue the letters whenever necessary and she did not need to report that to me any more. [Reducing unnecessary administrative process]
  • I asked her to call the social workers if the learner shows poor attendance.
  • I will look into how to improve lesson planning procedure using an online program. Next week, I will bring my suggestions for her. At the end of this month, I will visit her class again in order to assist her to evaluate the learners when she will need to decide on promoting or retaining them.

Step 4: Consequences

  • She was heard and understood by her supervisor regarding her difficulties and negative emotions about her workload.
  • She understood I wanted to support her.
  • We will work toward the improvements in lesson planning and evaluation till the summer.
  • HOMEWORK: I now understand how she is. I need to build up strategies to leave the conversation when she leads the talk into a very negative direction. It may drag me because I am a good listener. She does not know when to stop her talk. I need to develop the strategies to interrupt a talk in order to change the subject.

Step 5: Date & Time of Implementation

  • Thursday April 6, 9:00 – 12:00

 

What a long day! I feel good though. I will share more cases. This reflection will help me develop more awareness and strategies in dealing with difficult situations. Thank you for the opportunity of learning, the universe!

Supply instructors’ struggles

A supply instructor visited me today. She was expressing her frustration since she started looking for a decent employment teaching English in Canada.

I do not know which good answer I could give to them. They get hired as a supply instructor not knowing when they will get calls for supply teaching hours in multiple organizations and wait. No calls are made by any instructor for months. They give up and gradually lose their hope in getting a JOB.

What training would they need?

They are looking for ‘connections’. The goal that should not be the goal becomes their goal. Should they be blamed for this tendency? Isn’t this safe to say our employment environment is indirectly leading them toward this direction because they want to ‘survive’?

What do they need?

Who can show them the right path they should follow?

Should this be up to their own learning, time and life lessons?

Thursday March 30 2017

Connect

It’s been 8 years since I came to Canada to pursue my dream: Ph.D. in TESL/Applied Linguistics/Curriculum Development. At all crossroads I’ve been in, I made choices. Looking back, it looks as if the choices were very relevant to employment situations.

I like working: teaching, contributing to a program development, creating and organizing teaching materials, developing new curricula, evaluating, etc. Perhaps, my decisions were made to find a workplace I could settle in with thinking I could do use all these skills for the school for a long time. Here I have one question: does a permanent position exist? Yes, it does in several organizations including school boards. Then, how do I evaluate the quality of the performance by those permanent employees (ESL teachers)? School boards: Not so great by the majority of them even though a small number of instructors do their best to offer beneficial lessons to their adult learners. How do I evaluate ESL program managers’ performance including myself? They do their best but they’re overwhelmed with more and more responsibilities adding onto their shoulders. Going back to the topic of my ‘choices’, how much am I using the skills I wanted to use and upgrade my skills by using them?

I am not teaching anymore. According to the collective agreement, I am not supposed to teach.

What does work mean to myself?

Employment situations in Toronto is not really favorable to all job seekers (ESL teachers) now. It’s been more competitive and many professionals work hard to impress employers on papers, online, and in person. These (especially young professionals between the age of 25 up to 40) ESL teachers look for a stable employment that may not exist, whatever it takes and whichever workplace who is baited by them. Is this desirable for the future of the industry?

What does ESL market do to the Canadian economy? How many ESL teachers are there and are they treated fairly? Are they hired equally and fairly according to the Labour Law?

Connect. I think about ‘Connect’ a lot these days. I wanted to connect with TESL professionals. That’s how I decided to take TESL Canada and Ontario courses basically to look into what differences there would be in Canadian TESL courses compared to American and Australian TESL courses and MA courses in TESL. CLB, LINC,  and highly emphasized Task-based language teaching, Communicative Language Teaching (that was quite old-fashioned in the US) and Grammatical features in LINC curriculum were quite different. I taught in LINC centers, ESL centers, and taught an ELT (Enhanced Language Training) course for internationally trained English teachers. Because the employment market is tough, ‘connecting’ seems to be considered as ‘finding connections to gain employment’ in Canada. (My perspectives must be biased strictly within Toronto though since I have only been in Toronto working in organizations.)

My heart says it doesn’t feel right that ‘connecting’ is regarded as ‘finding a person who can hire me’. Volunteering is regarded as ‘finding a connection to a person who can be a good reference for my appeal to the employer’.

Should there be a systematic effort into improving the employment situations for new ESL instructors and old instructors in Toronto? Professional development and training programs need to be in line with the market situations. What would help ESL teachers and instructors grow and keep their jobs? What do employers need to consider and take actions into?

I would like to connect with TESL professionals to discuss questions like these. Can’t wait to meet and talk.

Justine