Nothing compares to giving birth to your own educational material; drawing, improving, adapting and editing it step by step, based not only on your academic knowledge but also on the precious knowledge you’ve gained in your lab (that’s what I call my school). A lab full of distinguished minds – my students - who are now grown-ups and choose to bring their own children and even their grandchildren to a school that still inspires them.
By Sophia Papadeli
I started designing ‘English Tricks 4U’ in 1989 - when I opened my school. This educational material has been tested countless times. I’ve witnessed it being implemented in a wide variety of classes with the same enthusiasm and effectiveness. This teaching method reminds me of amazing recipes seeking chefs –not necessarily master chefs- but the most motivated ones. What is left to add is the spices: the educators’ personal style, their talents, their authenticity, their signature that verifies the genuineness of their own masterpiece.
I was always aware of the positive influence of aesthetics on people. But it was when I combined aesthetics with meaningful details when magic was born. Students became much more engaged and keen to learn more, to experiment and to explore. English Tricks 4U is not just a method. It’s a process and a movement. It creates an environment that allows the teacher to promote collaboration, autonomy and deeper learning.
It was in 1995 when I felt a strong desire to share some of this educational material with other educators. After all those years of collecting experience, I decided to organize a workshop. In the beginning I booked a small boardroom for 30 people. It never crossed my mind that I would end up booking a large room at the Athens Concert Hall. I followed the same strategy as with my students. I became the director once again; I used costumes, an orchestra, a script, roles and theatre props. It was show time! Just like in class! I managed to tame my stage fright, my loyal companion since my teenage years. I managed to make my fear invisible and soundless – to the audience at least.
All the seminars I’ve organized since then have helped me develop myself as both an educator and a material designer. Things started moving to a higher level as I had to take photos and record real lessons to get my message across. I concentrated on my natural talents and the things I love. Students really benefit from that exposure to different teaching styles and this is what I focused on.
The Children’s Oncology Hospital was the next stop of the ET4U journey. Over 2,000 educators asked to participate in this special seminar called “Life Lessons”. It took place in the dreamy Acropolis Museum – I still can’t believe it - where all attendees were wearing their long red capes, which symbolized the educators’ love for their students. Since then we haven’t stopped building up a group of super-teachers who teach and are also taught by the bravest hearts of the world: the kids that suffer from cancer.
Many parts of my work have been shared in the groups I have created on Facebook. They include videos from my seminars, photographs of face-to-face lessons in class, techniques that promote learner–centered and learner-led approaches, keeping all students active simultaneously. Thousands of interactive worksheets, printable card games and my pictograms, too. In these groups, I’ve had the opportunity to meet phenomenal educators, who really crave for innovative ideas and new approaches. We have created a really strong educational community. The desire of creativity, the smell of magic, the appointment with inspiration, the anticipation of a bright idea are only some of the things that keep us united.
Our dreams are on silent mode temporarily because of the covid-19 pandemic. However, we are still wearing our costumes and directing our online lessons. We have learned so much that now we know that difficult times increase in value when we learn from them. Difficult times make us teachable and everything around us is influenced for the better. Our students need us to let them know that we understand what they are going through. Because we all know that the question that all students ask in their heads is: “Do you care for me?” We have to feel what they feel. Feelings are transferred by feelings. We have to listen (not always with our ears), learn and then lead. Besides, this is an educator’s life, isn’t it? A journey towards a vision , with a lot of stops on the way. But even in times of pandemic, the show must go on!
*I have a BA in English Language and Literature (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens). I’m a teacher, a school owner, a teacher trainer, designer of educational material, the founder of English Tricks 4U, co-founder of Unlearn Relearn and the founder of Life lessons at the Oncology Department. Passionate about experiential learning strategies and transforming physical classrooms into an exciting learning process. My mission is to motivate educators and students to be their most authentic self. •