Ever been asked to create an English environment at your school, office or club? How did you find it? Did everybody come on board with enthusiasm? If so did that enthusiasm last? Or did you find people sabotaged their own best efforts by getting out of their habit before they even got into it?
During the past 6 years I've been working to create English learning environments in schools and institutes around Jakarta, Indonesia. Usually I'm given all the main ingredients you would dream of for such a program.
1. Support from the board of directors (they are the ones who asked for the program)
2. Enough teachers around the campus who speak English easily (some schools/institutes had more than others depending on the recruitment process)
3. Enough Students who already had a good level of English
So what could go wrong right?
It seems like if these were the main factors we needed and we had them there shouldn't be any problem, but in reality there are many other factors to consider and there are no two schools the same.
In this article I wanted to share with you some of those factors that I've found slows down the transition to an English Environment.
If students see an inconsistency in the way teachers and staff try to carry out the program before you know it they will have worked out how much effort they should put in around different teachers. Usually if the synergy is bad teachers with high motivation and commitment will usually just be avoided by the students around campus. I'll mention this a few times in this article students are great observers, they can work out the loopholes in your plan before you even realize they are there.
When first launching the program at one school we found some teachers reminded students to speak English on campus but most didn't. The students themselves found Bahasa Indonesia the easier language so they kept testing the teachers to see how long they would continue to remind them for. Before long the teachers who had been in the habit of "reminding" gave up because of lack of support from their coworkers (they felt they were chasing their tail) and because they didn't see any immediate results with the students.
Take away points:
1. The team must be in it together for better or worse, choose one course and stick to it together
2. There should be a degree of patience involved
3. Regular follow up meetings should be made to have teachers think of solutions together
I will give you a metaphor:
Let's say you were given the choice of two roads to pass a mountain range. A tunnel or the windy road that went up close to the peaks? Of course the tunnel is quicker and if you took that way everyday you would surely take the tunnel as it's much quicker and less effort.
Let's say on day the tunnel is blocked and you are forced to take the scenic route, no doubt while on it you would experience and learn more that going through the tunnel. Your life would be better for it.
Now in many cases for students their L1 (Indonesian) is the tunnel and the L2 (English) is the scenic route, if you give them an option between the two they will of course choose the former. So you have to close the tunnel in some way.
For two years one school made everywhere an English Zone except to the Musholla (prayer room). When the students saw a teacher coming they would dash into the prayer room as quick as they could so they wouldn't get in trouble for speaking Indonesian. They chose to run instead of speaking English because it was easier for them.
Take away points:
1. Close the tunnel
2. Make sure your regulations are not full of loopholes
If you have a few people trying to undermine the new program or who are slow to pull their socks up this is normal. If however those people are in any level of management it can be fatal. Middle Management such as Principals, Vice Principals, Administrators and Coordinators must lead by example if the program is to work. If you have been assigned to set up a program and you see that the "leading by example" is not there. It is crucial that you speak personally with the person involved and if you still don't see any improvement the board of directors may have to give more direct instructions and clarity of expectations to their Middle Management.
All in all if you are being put in charge of helping set up an English Environment I can't give you one formula that will work, as every school is unique. But taking care of the above and keeping yourself adaptable, communicative and persistent will take you a long way in your efforts.
Until next time, good luck and let's change some lives!