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Friday, November 28, 2008

How much does a university education cost these days?

I can tell you, because today I got a statement from the student loans company.

This is the total of four years of loans that have to be repaid - it excludes all the (non-repayable) grants that paid my tuition fees.



That's this much in a few other currencies:



It is increasing on a monthly basis - even with a low interest rate it's not an insignificant amount.

But the university experience and degree were worth every penny.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Opening of Steiner Academy Hereford


(the narration starts about half way through the video. More videos here)

Just a quick note to say how happy I am that. following years of negotiations with the government, on Monday, the Hereford Waldorf School became the Steiner Academy Hereford - the first Steiner school in the UK to be funded by the government.

I went to the Steiner school (also known as the Hereford Waldorf School) from the age of 7 to 16, as did my sister. Dad taught there for a few years but had to leave due to financial difficulties - with no state funding teachers could only be paid in peanuts (as my older sister knows only too well - she's just completed 8 years as a teacher at the Bristol school).

Steiner schools are becoming increasingly popular in Japan - a very good thing if one considers the pressures that students are under in the state system.

To learn more about Steiner education visit the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Another CELTAesque weekend

Yesterday, being a Saturday, I went to uni.

The previous day we'd been given the option of either watching a teaching practice video on the Friday, or of going in on the Saturday morning and watching it then. Four of us chose the latter option, as we felt that it would be a good way of making sure we got started on with the pile of work that we had to do for the course over the weekend.

It was a good choice (although I did feel for one of my coursemates who was a little the worse for wear, having only got to bed at 4.30am that morning!); once we'd watched the video we were able to spend some time working on our lesson plans and getting a little feedback.

Following that, it was off to the Information Commons. The previous day had seen us finally granted our full PG student ID cards, which in addition to entitling us to some great discounts at cinemas, restaurants and at online stores such as Adobe.com (85% off Photoshop CS3 extended) and Apple (free 3 year warranty + 11% discount), also give us access to the uni's wireless network, allow remote access via VPN, and access to all library resources. It's a real blessing (one tends to take it for granted until all your privileges are removed upon graduation!).

Once inside the (very quiet) IC, we set to work re-writing our first assignments (language analysis), penning our second assignments (a piece of reflective writing) and planning next week's lessons. It was good. I enjoyed working with my new friends, just getting on with it. and checking facebook.

Today's been pretty relaxed. I've done a little lesson planning, but also had time to do my own stuff. It's been good.

I'd say that the first week was definitely the hardest. It's not that the pace has slackened off all that much, but rather, we have a better idea of what's expected of us now.

This afternoon I was thinking about what I like about the course, what would make me recommend it to others over say, a cheaper distance learning course. It's something I wondered about before signing up, and I would have liked to have had some guidance to help me make the choice. CELTA is not cheap - there's TEFL courses out there that cost a quarter of the fee that we've paid.

I think if there is one thing that really sets it apart it's the opportunities that we have to observe qualified teaches, and then teach ourselves. We learn the theory, we apply it when writing our lesson plans, and we can then try it out on real students. That's followed by evaluation, which allows us to reflect and adjust our technique appropriately for following sessions.

The theory and instruction are of course vitally important, but without real live students to try it all out on, well, how could we really judge our progress or get feedback on where more work is required? I'm thinking now of distance learning courses, which strike me as being far less useful. I liken them to taking a course of driving lessons without ever getting in a car.

Of course I might be way off the mark - I've never done a distance learning TEFL course. But I know there's a lot of them about, and they're not necessarily all that cheap.

The other thing is the quality of instruction we're receiving. Our tutors have decades of TEFL experience between them, and they all have to be licensed by Cambridge in order to teach the course. They frequently monitor one another - and in a few days we'll have a Cambridge examiner coming up to visit us to ensure that the course meets their requirements.

Tomorrow, we'll be embracing a whole new bunch of students. The course requires that we teach at least two levels of students - our group has been teaching upper-intermediate until now, but as of tomorrow we'll be with a group of students who are far less proficient.

...I guess that means even less of my stunning sense of humour in the class, shame!

Anyway, best be off to bed. There's a long 3rd week ahead of us!

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Friday, August 15, 2008

CELTA: nearly half-way there

A poster I created to help get students in the mood for learning the second conditional: "If I won a million pounds I'd..." (the building featured houses about 5 classrooms that we teach in).


Wah. Shatterficated. That's what I be.

We're now almost half way through CELTA. The pace hasn't let up at all, really is intense.

I've found that I need to get in to uni for about 8am most days, after doing my Willyaki deliveries. Lunchtimes are pretty much taken up by lesson planning, so it's basically non-stop input and output all day; we are finishing by about 6pm most days now though which is nice.

For the first week, we were basically spoon-fed our lesson material. We'd write our plans with our tutors. This week however, we're just told what subject to teach, and pointed in the direction of what we might find useful. Next week it'll all just be left to us.

Last night, after four hours planning for today's one-hour lesson, I was thinking about how much longer it's taking me to prepare for lessons here than it did in Japan. The main reason for this is that if we are not careful to meet all the criteria, our lessons (which are observed by three other trainees and our tutor) will be failed (and quite a few people have been failed. I had a near-miss in today's grammar class teaching the second conditional, but thankfully just managed to pull it off). Fails can be made up for in future classes.

In class, I find it really challenging to maintain awareness of everything going on around me whilst at the same time focusing upon my lesson aims and objectives, and providing clear grammatical explanations (my weak area). I feel I need a clone.

This afternoon whilst explaining the difference between would and could to an individual student who was struggling to create example sentences, I noticed that two students on another table had finished and were looking around with bored expressions.. not good (and of course picked up by my assessor). I find in those situations my brain actually splits in half through necessity - one half continuing to deal with the student in need of an explanation, and the other figuring out what mini-activity to distract the advanced types with (should be on the plan though if I've done it properly).

Overall however, classes are going well. My strong point is rapport with the students (at the end of today's lesson a student announced to the class, 'You will make a great teacher Joseph!"). My weak points: board work, keeping the pace going, grammar explanations.

Back in the classroom where we are the students, there's been a lot to take in. Today we were looking at lesson sequencing (devising a plan that covers a series of lessons), and then later, integrating the four skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing). That was a lot of fun as we were set a 'running dictation' - a competitive race done in pairs - with one person writing, and the other running back and forth to a text stuck on the wall at the end of the hallway remembering and dictating the passage sentence by sentence. Very funny :-) We also learned more about the problems that learners face with English verbs, notably when 'present' and 'past' tense verbs are put to other uses.

Yesterday, we studied phonemes and were taught the phonetic alphabet. That was absolutely fascinating (I'm not kidding!). We also looked at how we physically create these sounds (what parts of the vocal gear we employ) - you know I never realised that the sound 'd' is an unvoiced 't', that 'j' is an unvoiced 'sh'.

Time and time again I'm staggered by the amount of stuff we know without even knowing it! The way I move all those muscles in order to produce the word 'hello' - and I can do that at the same time as walking up a flight of stairs, skillfully (and unconsciously) maintaining my balance through thousands of computations telling my body to move this way or that in response to input from my balance sensors. Just incredible how it all work. 

Also yesterday, we looked at study spaces (our group offered the IC's CILASS Collab 2 as a model study space, adapting it to suit a deprived African village), and the use of technology / realia (that's real 'things').

Other sessions this week have included 'teacher talk', materials development. assessing, and questioning - with such a variety (and at such a pace) I don't find myself tuning out at all, no matter how shattered I am.

Oh, we received our first (grammar focused) written assignments back today, the ones we were warned that we probably wouldn't pass first time. They were right - out of 16 of us, 13 failed! That's ok though, it's written into the plan. We now have the weekend to go through the incredibly detailed feedback and submit them a second time next week.

Anyway , almost halfway through the intensive course, I'd have no hesitation in recommending CELTA to anyone thinking of teaching English as a foreign / second language. And whilst I haven't done the one-year version, I feel that this intense course is possibly more effective (maybe? Maybe not. OK, so they are different things really. Perhaps). 

I dunno, it's just that with teaching practice two to three times a week, and immediate feedback on virtually everything we do, we have a chance to rectify our mistakes and focus upon our shortcomings whilst they are still fresh in our minds. Rapid and effective change. Faults dealt with before they have a chance to become patterns.

I think it's also a lot more fun - it's like being locked in a submarine with a bunch of strangers for a month. Allows for friendship development to occur at ultra-high speed; such a pleasure to experience (especially with such a nice group of people).

Anyway, I need some shut-eye. Today's Teaching Practice has left me pooped. Need to rest as much as possible in prep for the weekend which I think is scheduled to be filled with re-writing assignment 1, and writing assignment 2!

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

CELTA: 25% down, 75% to go

We made it. First week of CELTA complete. 25% down, 75% to go!

The Wikiepdia description is turning out to be spot-on:
The full-time four-week course is very intensive, and students taking it must be prepared to dedicate all their waking hours to it for the duration. Even the part-time version of the course can take up more time than a full-time job for many students, especially those with no teaching background.
The first three days were the toughest. Studying intensively for over 8 hours a day is not something I've ever done before, and my brain felt like it was under siege. So much so that I had to think of a way to give it some relaxation therapy on the way home - if I just did nothing when sitting on the bus it would just be buzzing with the days learning, and aching. First off, I tried the audio book I've been making my way through over the past month (Colin Thurbron - Shadow of the Silk Road), but after two days of that I realised I just kept on tuning out, my brain was complaining about having to process even more data; it was hard work to listen.

Music Therapy

I think it was Wednesday that I remembered the power of music. A few weeks back I'd bought the new Coldplay album, sort-of listened to it once or twice, and then forgotten about it.

Why not revive that? - if it was suitable, I could even turn it into one of those key soundtracks to a distinct period in my life (a technique mentioned halfway through this mumble).

It's turned out to be ideal. With my big headphones on I'm not bothered by the sound of the chatter on the bus, the stress of the shock absorbers when we hit the speed bumps, the squealing of the brakes. The music does not demand my attention, but rather just offers itself as a place that I can relax in. I can drift in and out of it without feeling that I've missed anything.

Just 30 minutes of music therapy after a long day in the classroom sets me up for further study when I get home.

CELTA course classes

We've covered a huge variety of topics during our first week of classes, including: learner styles and levels; needs analysis; lesson planning; many different teaching methods; grammar; ELT resources; error correction; classroom management ...and much much more.

The thing that really strikes me about this course is that we are deliberately being taught how to teach through loop input. That is, our tutors are using the teaching methods on us that we will be using in the classroom (so, in effect, we're kind of getting 80 hours of teaching in a forty hour week!).

Simple example: We might be put into pairs to do a timed brainstorming exercise on aspects of classroom management, followed by a feedback session in which all students are asked to contribute an idea to a table on the whiteboard - in that lesson then we will not only have learnt classroom management techniques, but will also have picked up more ideas on ways in which to elicit information from students / check understanding of meaning.

Sometimes, our tutors will stop at the end of a mini-exercise and ask us things like, "did you notice that I gave you the instructions before handing out the question sheet...?" (students [myself included] often tune out when given a piece of paper - they just have to read it!). In this way, we are being fed a wealth of little tips that will help us make small improvements to our teaching.

Teaching Practice

The hardest aspect so far has been preparing for our teaching practice. It's not that it's been a particularly difficult activity in itself - being week one, we have basically been told what to teach it, and to a large extent, how to teach it. The issue has been time - or a lack of it. Whilst ideally we would be writing lesson plans in the evenings, the exhaustion has left me feeling unable to do much except read sections of my 'How to Teach English' text book, and thus yesterday's (for example) was created between 8am and 9.30am, and then finished off at lunchtime (I think lunchtime for everyone yesterday turned into "Teaching Practice Planning"!). It's a good lesson in the importance of time management for teachers!

This will of course change the more that we do it. At the moment everything is new, and takes a lot longer than usual.

We've now had three Teaching Practice sessions, attended by students from all over the world who are happy to act as guinea pigs in what are for them free English lessons.

The first one was pretty nerve-wracking. It went Ok though, although I did a very poor job of introducing the vocab, and found myself telling a joke which no-one understood (I'm learning though trial-and-error about the extent to which humour can be used - it's always a bit of a gamble. Keep it simple, or avoid it altogether!).

My second class went a lot better, and I actually enjoyed it; I started to find my confidence. The third class (yesterday) was even more fun, despite a section of my lesson plan inadvertently being made redundant by a colleague who, when teaching the session immediately prior to mine, adjusted their plan so that they ended up doing an exercise that I was going to do! I decided that this was an opportunity to learn about the importance of having a plan B, and it seemed to pay off.


Following our final class last night, we popped off down the pub for a celebratory drink - we'd completed our first week! Looking back on it all now, it's great to see the progress we've made. I've not taken an intensive course before, but I'm impressed by just how much can be covered with a well-designed course and dedicated students (who have no life outside of it). It seems to me to be a pretty effective way to learn, and I feel sure now that CELTA is worth every penny of the not-insignificant sum of money invested in it.

Anyway, this weekend I've got an awful lot of homework to do. Reading, lesson planning, oh, and I have my first written assignment too... best get on.

joseph

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Merhaba! Nasılsın?

In this morning's first class we were treated to the most extraordinary experience. It was absolutely captivating, and made me forget all about the scary half-naked man at the bus stop 30 minutes earlier who had thrown bricks at a carpet-delivery van containing three men, one of whom had briefly emerged with a long iron bar and said some rather rude words to the half-naked man.

We arrived in class, only to be greeted by a woman we'd never met before who immediately started to talk to us in a made-up language. It was complete nonsense, a few of us couldn't help but laugh.

Then someone remembered - we were time-tabled to have an 'unknown language lesson', to give us a sense of what it might be like if we go to teach English in a foreign country where the students have absolutely no prior knowledge of English.

And we had none whatsoever of this 'language'. During our interviews we had been asked to list all the languages that we spoke - even if it was just a tiny bit. Our course directors then found a teacher of a language that appeared on none of the resulting 16 lists.

Having gathered from her gestures that she wanted us to go into a different classroom, we moved next door and sat in the chairs that had been arranged in a semicircle. She then started repeating strange-sounding phrases to us. We gathered that this was a drilling exercise, and so played along.

She'd say a sentence several times, we'd repeat several times. This went on for some time, gradually building up to about 7 phrases. Nothing was written on the board, and we were banned from writing anything down ourselves. It was all just these sounds in our ears that we copied, not knowing what they meant.

We were then shown a short video of two people saying these phrases. At certain points the people indicated towards a picture of a shop, then a house.

Slowly, the sounds started to mean something. "Merhaba!" must be 'Hello' in whatever this language was." Sen" appeared to mean "you". Ah... and "Nasılsın" must be "How are you?"

After thirty minutes of watching, listening and repeating (and nothing else), the meaning started to become clear.
Hello!
Hello!
How are you?
I'm fine, how are you?
Fine thank you. Where are you going?
I'm going to the shop (or was it an office?!) Where are you going?
I'm going home.
Good bye!
Good Bye!

We were paired off, and practised this new strange language.

(We later found out that it was Turkish that we were speaking).

This exercise struck me as being absolutely remarkable, and afterwards I felt positively elated.

Why?

It had given us the chance to do something we could never normally do. We were allowed to return to babyhood and experience the first year or two of language development within the space of one hour!

It really felt like that. We had no other 'language' that we could fall back on, all there was was these new strange sounds that we tried to emulate with no concrete idea of what we were saying. It was only through use over time that we figured out the meaning - although not all of us did, with some only finding out in the feedback session afterwards.

It was so exciting to be learning to communicate all over again, from scratch.

A brilliant exercise. Thank you ELTC.




We had our second teaching practice today. I really enjoyed it. After I'd finished my bit, one of the the students passed me a note "You're going to become a great teacher" - this was was very encouraging, and much appreciated. Still a long long way to go though.

Of course I'm absolutely shattered again. I've made my packed lunch for tomorrow and will go to bed shortly. I know I really should do my teaching plan for tomorrow's course - I'l start it, and see how far I get before falling alseep!

night night

p.s. coursemates really are bloomin wonderful.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

a brief hello

The way things are shaping up I think there will be very little in terms of blog activity from me this month. Or any other kind of activity, other than working towards gaining my CELTA certificate.

It's incredibly intense. from 9.30am to 6.30pm (7pm yesterday) the 16 of us are either in our classroom being taught how to teach, or, just up the road in another classroom, teaching.

When we get home, we have a considerable amount of homework to do, including lesson planning for the following day's class, and the study of English grammar.

My brain doesn't know what's hit it! Eight hours+ of constant input is very draining, and leaves me feeling pretty out of it when I do get home. The weekend is only 2 days away - but then we have the first of four assignments to complete (for the Monday).

Not that I'm complaining - It's a fantastic course, and we must be learning an awful lot. I'll appreciate it when it's overm I know :-)

There's the camaraderie too, couldn't have wished for a nicer bunch of CELTA classmates. It's only day three - but we've already spent a whole 24 hours working together in a group, and thus know each other pretty well.

Our students are nice too. They're our guinea pigs, getting their lessons free (I guess I'm actually paying to teach them!).

I'm glad I have a comfortable home I can collapse in. I'm staying at my friends' house whilst they're in China (nice bit of synchronisity there). Part of the deal though is that I deliver sushi to 5 outlets four times a week for their catering company in return - thus it's up at 6am on those days.

I think i'll need a holiday when I get to japan!

xxx

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Degree result

information commons exterior_8500
Google Alert: Information Commons, Sheffield (tee hee)

I worked out what I got for my degree the other day. Whilst grades aren't officially published until the 14th July, with the results for all but one of modules (language) having been announced, it's not hard to tot it up. I've guessed my mark for the language module based on my previous results and my feelings about how it went (it went very well!)

I got a 2:1, approximately 66~68%. That's what I was aiming for, so I'm happy with that. Well done me. 5 years of study have paid off.

I remember Earl Nightingale talking about how we react to reaching our goals. Reaching goals doesn't give us half the sense of satisfaction / happiness as working towards them does, and I'd say that that's certainly the case here. I have this idea that I ought to 'feel more' about this result, but the truth is that the real achievement was in doing it. For me, the happiest days were those when we were in class, doing stuff. Those were the days of real accomplishment.

After all, what do we do when we reach a goal? Set a new goal! I find that knowing that now helps me deal with the unexpected a little better than I did in the past. With no goal ever being 'ultimate', if plans do go eschew, I know that that's ok, that the goal was just a guide, and really it's all about the journey.

That was certainly the case with my degree. It's all been about the journey.

inverse vapour trail_8512

Inverse vapour trail - I've never seen one of these before

Today was my last day working at CILASS. The morning was spent with a group of staff from Hong Kong who are on a study-space research trip. That was good - the vegetable samosas were particularly tasty, and I'm always a sucker for those cheese and tomato stick things. :-p

This afternoon I created a few screencasts for next year's webgroup (is Screenflow the sexiest Leopard app in the world or what?!), and spent some time with Emmy. I like hanging out with her (I mean, how could I not - she has the same Macbook as me!). After that it was off to the pub, drinks on the house. I did enjoy that. Such a groovy bunch those CILASS folks. I will miss them.

Leaving the University Arms I was well and truly lost. It was the first time since arriving at Sheffield in 2004 that I've had no 'place' at uni. Two pints of beer had to be factored in as well: they'd made me feel desperately lonely and in need of *Twinkle* - confirmation that not drinking has possibly been the cleverest thing I've done this year.

Ho hum. I'm off to London tomorrow, staying in a capsule. Best get some kip.

xxx

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

LTEA Conference 2008: Long Live Inquiry-based Learning!

It’s now the day after the closing of the LTEA (Learning Through Enquiry Alliance) conference 2008, and my head is beginning to clear. I attempted to write about my experience of this event last night, but I was “all conferenced out” as fellow student ambassador Barbara put it - my mind was just a sea of tags:
conference tag cloud
It was an intense week. In the days leading up to the event’s opening on Wednesday, I worked with the CILASS core team to help prepare the conference Wiki, a virtual space in which delegates could share, discuss and reflect upon their experiences of Inquiry-based learning. Aside from passive use of Wikipedia, I had no prior experience of working with Wikis, and thus found myself engaging in an intense IBL activity on my computer. Once I’d familiarised myself with the basic structure, I was surprised by how easy it was to manipulate; this has encouraged me to contemplate how I might include a wiki within my own website (another project to add to the IBL-inspired list!).

In addition to co-ordinating the wiki, my duties (most of which were of course shared with my amazing friends in the Student Ambassador Network) included: taking photos (that was a self-assigned role! Thanks for indulging me, CILASS), processing and uploading them to Flickr throughout the conference; ensuring that the technology was working for those presenting; uploading powerpoints to Slideshare (still a lot to do there); facilitating sessions; being available for delegates should they have any problems; watching over the luggage, drinking coffee, and eating chocolate.

Thinking about it all now, a few episodes come to mind. I’d like to share those with you.

It’s Wednesday morning, 9am. As the other Student Ambassadors arrive there’s a feeling of great excitement and happiness in the office: the months of preparation are over, and it’s too late to worry about anything. We’re blowing up balloons to tie to lamp-posts in order that delegates don’t get lost on their way to the Keynote in Firth Hall. Turns out that Jamie is a Balloon-mungster, and prior to joining the CILASS team was at the forefront of a new movement which campaigned to promote the simultaneous blowing up of multiple balloons. Jamie’s love of balloons spreads across the office, and before long the balloon bath is the hottest attraction in Sheffield.

jamie sabine natalie and the balloons

natalie balloons balloons_8061

11am, and the delegates are now arriving. They are greeted by the blue T-shirts and big smiles of the Student Ambassadors - a welcome sign of the kind of atmosphere that will embody the entire three-day conference.

Photo: James Gould

It’s now Wednesday afternoon and I’m facilitating a presentation by four members of Sheffield Hallam University’s CETL. They’ve all been using Inquiry-based technologies to help enhance the learning and teaching experience. As I sit there hearing about their successes I find myself getting tremendously excited and inspired - the work that these tutors are putting in to help students become autonomous learners really is something to be shouted about. When bringing the session to a close, I think it might be appropriate to offer a quick bit of feedback as the only student in the room:
“I’m very happy to have just completed a four-year degree, and am looking forward to moving on into the workplace. But I tell you, hearing what you’re doing with IBL inspires me to such an extent that I’m thinking I’d like to start another undergraduate degree!”
And I meant it. I am so impressed by the effort that is being put in by IBL-orientated staff to help students engage with their subjects, and by the positive results they are achieving. People must be told about IBL! It should become a norm for prospective graduates attending university open days to ask, “Could you tell me what inquiry-based learning techniques are employed within the department?”

We’re now between sessions, the busiest time for me and my USB stick. Myself, Pam from the CILASS core team and Pepe the penguin have to make sure that the presenters in all five of the simultaneous sessions hosted in various spaces around the IC have their presentations/videos lined up and are ready to roll. Remarkably, there’s not a single problem with the technology at any point during the conference - it all goes like clockwork.

pepe and the conference flash drive_8470

The next parallel session has begun, and I’m back in the office processing photos and slides. We’re all buzzing - things are going really well. I’m starting to think about what a great team we make, students working with the core CILASS staff. I reckon we could be hired out (at great expense, of course) to dazzle and amaze conference delegates around the world!

Conference GCHQ:

Conference GCHQ

Tom, Barbara and Nat point delegates in the right direction:

the road to the keynote_8356

It’s nearing 7pm - time for the conference dinner at Whirlebrook Hall. Myself, Nat and Sabine have a true Inquiry-based learning journey to the venue as we don’t know where it is: we stop at two pubs and a private house to Inquire as to where we might find it. Finally we locate it, and we’re actually almost the first to arrive (further proof of the effectiveness of IBL)! Champagne in hand we move out to the terrace, where I soon whip out my camera once again to try and capture the atmosphere. Dinner is then served: a melon slice creation, soup and then a main dish of goats cheese wotsit on rice. Delicious. Finished off with a dessert, and more wine. I must come to these conferences more often… I’m really happy to have the chance to talk with Pam and Sabine. I learn about giving birth, and breastfeeding, things I feel I ought to know about in preparation for the birth of our children in 2010 / 2011.

Nat, the new CILASS Student Co-ordinator for the Student Ambassador Network

conference dinner_8267

Tom, and Laura: Clearly the stress of being the outgoing SAN co-ordinator is getting to her

they weren't always that way

Day two of the conference, and we’re on the coffee. It’s going to be a long one, but with a timetable in my pocket detailing what needs doing when, it’s actually pretty relaxing. It offers reassurance that things are going to happen as planned anyway, just do your bit: the power of teamwork.

Now and then someone will come into the office raving about this AMAZING session that they’d just been to - onto the award winning CILASS student blog it goes.

The delegates are happy. The keynote address, given by the President of the University of Miami, is both relevant and thought-provoking. As the day moves on so notifications of changes to the Wiki increase in number - it’s being used as hoped!

Thursday evening sees us take a coach from the IC to The Edge, the new student village where the delegates are staying. I’m happy, relaxing with friends, eating olives and parsnip crisps, chatting with a member of Sheffield Hallam’s CETL. We’re then ushered through to a large room adjoining the bar: time for a bit of entertainment and reflection with Playback Theatre (York).

conference playback theatre_8387

Playback Theatre are quite remarkable. Consisting of teachers, counsellors and actors, they literally play back to the audience thoughts and feelings that have arisen from the conference. An academic might express her feeling of fear that arises from embarking upon new adventures in IBL, and the joy of then seeing students come into their own through the new module. The actors listen to the story, and then spontaneously create a short performance that sums it up. There’s little in the way of ‘lines’ as such,rather, movement and sounds take centre stage. I was delighted, amused and entertained by their production. Others in the audience were deeply touched; tears were shed. For me, it highlighted just how much passion the delegates had for what they were doing, how, at the end of the day it’s about doing the best one can to make a difference, and finding satisfaction though helping others.

The closing plenary saw us once again in Firth Hall, summing up the questions and ideas that had arisen through the conference. Thanks were then given, with special mention made of the CILASS core team, and the Student Ambassadors. My mind flicked back through the previous few days, and indeed us SA’s really had had a positive impact upon the entire conference. By participating to the extent that we did, we were able to not only paint the place with bright happy blue t-shirts, but also to provide the student point-of-view in many of the discussions - this of course is vital as students are half of the equation when it comes to Learning and Teaching.

I feel that this conference was a model for what a conference should be, and I hope that everyone who attended from other universities goes home and sets up their own Student Network!

Me, demonstrating the brand new CILASS student website - made BY students, FOR students

san skills session_8408
Photo: Sabine Little

The overall feeling I have looking back on the LTEA Conference 2008 is one of gratitude. Gratitude for having been able to take part in such a fantastic event. Gratitude for having been a part of such an amazing team made up of such genuinely lovely people.


Photo: James Gould

There was very much a feeling of partnership between students, staff and visiting delegates throughout, with little sign of hierarchy. I felt very much valued and appreciated as a student: this makes me feel incredibly positive about the future of higher education in the UK, and I won’t hesitate in moving back to the UK from Japan 10 or 15 years down the line in order that my own (as yet to be conceived!) children are able to benefit from it.

Long Live IBL!

This post is cross-posted on the CILASS Student Blog

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The end is nigh (in a good way)

Well, this is it then folks. In 12 hours and 29 minutes I'll have finished my final exam on this four year degree course. That will be a big relief. And probably a little surreal - the venue is Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (I hope the pitch isn't too waterlogged, or the papers will get really muddy).

I'm not in the least bit nervous about the exam. More, just wanting to get it over and done with. This is not due to some mad feeling of excessive confidence, but rather because I know that all I have to do is pass. I've done a fair bit of revision and feel comfortable with the thought of completing two of the three sections - the third section I'll tackle as best I can.

The exam starts at 9am, finishes at 12pm. I think I might even give myself the afternoon off. 'Stuff' can wait until Thursday (maybe. I know how much I want to get this 'stuff' done).

It's going to be a big change.

I'm looking forward to embracing it.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Above the architecture section

Today, like yesterday, and no doubt tomorrow too, was a good day. I feel some important memories were made.

It was also a very happy day, as last night my brother's partner's daughter gave birth to a very cute little boy - really great news - congratulations to all involved!

Congratulations also to dear Michael (from the Waldorf years) and his wife on the birth of their baby. Another real cutey!

Somewhat less exciting than the birth of some babies was the selling, this morning, of my Claud Butler bike of 17 years. As a child I saved up for it for a long long time, and finally, when I was about 13 years old, it was delivered to school in a big brown box. I was so excited, as were my classmates. I remember having to attach the pedals, and rotate the handlebars 90 degrees. I still have the instruction manual.

I really loved that bike, but it can't come with me to Japan. It's the beginning of the big clear out. Soon, I'll be giving away the ultimate student kit, including a whole kitchen (rice cooker, food mixer, pans, plates, cutlery, sieves etc), stationary, hanging clothes things, and 4 big springy clip things that have a myriad of uses).

Any takers? Sheffield or Hereford area OK. £10 donation to wedding fund appreciated.




This afternoon I had a 90-minute interview for the CELTA English language teaching course. I enjoyed that, and learnt a little about English grammar, something I've never really understood despite using it on a daily basis. I'll hear tomorrow whether I've been accepted.

It sounds incredibly hardcore; prospective trainees are required to sign a declaration stating that they understand that they will have no life for the duration of the course.

As one of the instructors told me, "It's incredibly demanding, and not everyone will make it to the end ...but it's fun too". I could tell from her voice that the type of 'fun' that she was referring to was that that can be had by taking part in a team event that sees one walking 100km non-stop over 7 mountains in 31 hours. One of those experiences that at the time is pretty damn painful, but when you do complete it you feel a special bond with the group without whom you would have never made it to the end.




Following my interview it was back to Western Bank library which is now open until midnight. It's funny, we've not studied in there this year, but just this last week myself and my classmate Jason have migrated back to the exact same spot that a group of us used to study in in our first year, on the mezzanine floor above the architecture section. It feels natural to complete the cycle, to end where we began. We even had Matthew join us from Japan (he left in our second year) - at least by email anyway.

I really enjoyed 'studying' today - although there was much laughter as I basically spent the first 8 hours re-enacting this video. I finally started to get my 'stuff done' at 7pm - this was made possible by my taking my Macbook home, and returning to the library without it (I was actually very productive during those 8 hours, it's just that none of my activities related to my exam).

Jason had just received notice from the Embassy that he will be working in Osaka next year (on the JET scheme as an ALT), so in-between revising and talking about Apple's OS 10.5.3 (released today) we chatted about this good news. I'm delighted that he'll be somewhere that's easy to visit, and I reckon he'll love Osaka (he's not been there before, and is happy with his placement). It has two Leica dealerships and an Apple store - what more could one ask for?!

It was during these conversations that I felt that this was a situation to be truly grateful for, one worth remembering. Sharing stuff with a friend, in a comfortable environment that carried with it a great sense of achievement. University really has been a blessing.

We finished our revision at about 10.30pm, joking that I was going to then rush home and download the new update for my Macbook, then spend half the night exploring the new features. Thankfully, it's rather a dull update, so I should be able to get a full night's sleep.

Night night nice world. Thank you for today.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

SeeChange Residential Event: Day 1

It's been a fascinating day today.

Following that early morning jog, I slowly got my stuff together and headed over to the Computing Centre, where I was to met a couple of university 'colleagues' for the 50-minute drive down here, the Derbyshire Hotel, from where I'm now staying for a couple of nights (all expenses paid. Thank you Sheffield!).

This three day residential event is the product of the university's investment in change. The idea was spawned at a national "change" event attended by a couple of senior members of staff, who then thought "Wow! What a great idea! Let's have our own 'Change' process at Sheffield ...and let's call it SeeChange!" The call then went out for project proposals, one of which was drawn up by Patrice of Learning and Teaching Support, and Mark of CiCS/CILASS fame.

The goal of our project is to formulate a strategy that will see students utilising Web 2.0 tools to positively impact upon their learning process. This might include tools such as Facebook, RSS feeds & newsreaders, Flickr, YouTube and social bookmarking. It's not going to be easy. The use of Facebook by university staff is the topic of some debate and has cropped up several in CILASS debates; the current consensus seems to be something along the lines of 'stay away'.

What is key to our project is that it is student driven. If the university was to 'hijack' these popular services, the response would most likely be students choosing to go elsewhere. It's a difficult situation: A university driven initiative that cannot be university driven!

I'll describe some of the tools we've been given to aid us in our change process tomorrow.




I feel very fortunate to be involved in what really is an exciting project. And it's not just the project itself, it's the way it's being launched. The four teams that are here (making up a total of about 30 people) were selected following a competitive tendering process - thus we already feel quite special, it's like winning a holiday (although the hotel's not all that nice, and the Internet access deal is the biggest rip-off in the history of the galaxy. Having said that, I love staying in hotels and am very grateful for what we have been provided with. I'll be going for a Sauna when I wake up tomorrow...). The reason it's a three day residential held outside of Sheffield is, according to one of the organisers, to stop people nipping back to the office at lunchtime - we have to be fully focused. And I think it does help the creative process.

I'm also very appreciative to be able to partake in the training sessions that are being provided as a part of the package, the kind of things you'd pay good money to take part in privately. I'll talk more tomorrow about the Team Management Profile, a 'test' that leads to a personalised 25-page report on your contribution to a team. They are scarily accurate and offer invaluable insights into one's own character.

It's fascinating attending this event in the role of 'student', surrounded by staff. Whilst I may be 30 years old, I often feel more like I'm a teenager, and am prone to elevate staff above myself in the university environment. But seeing them work together here, it strikes me just how much they resemble my classmates and I as we carry out some group project. This leads me to think on how difficult I find it to take on the mantle of 'adult', and I wonder if this is a consequence of being labelled as a 'student'. How will my sense of identity change when I begin work?

I digress.

I'd better get to bed really, it's late. We have a full schedule tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Going for it

Highslide JS
About to press the magic lever (Starring Susie, and featuring my arm)


Here we are then: the moment when I reached out and pushed the magic leaver that saw the my dissertation bound. Job done!

Looking back on these past few days of hardcore writing I'm inspired. I got so much done - now how about if I turn that energy and single-mindedness to my language revision, just for two weeks? I feel pretty unconfident about the exam at the moment, but having seen what I've just done, I appreciate that I could turn the situation around.

I think it's definitely worth a go.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Japanese stage debut

I've never been one for over-dramatisation...



(an extract from a mini-drama staged in our Japanese speaking class today. Sorry about the poor camerawork. That's the problem when one is on the wrong side of the camera - unless one has a psychic link with the camera and tripod it's difficult to get it to zoom in etc.)

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wanted: No Internet

It's reached the stage with this dissertation writing where drastic action is called for. I need to go on retreat this weekend to write it.

The only problem is finding somewhere that is affordable, quiet, and has no Internet access. Hotels are out on both counts. I've found a camp site, but it lacks a desk.

If I hadn't got Broadband put in at mum and dad's I could have gone there. Any ideas?

There is another 3-step option, which is looking more and more like the only option:
1) Set up parental controls on my Macbook's second user account so that it will not allow any Internet access, and will only allow me to use my word-processing application, then...

2) Ask my class mate to reset my Macbook's admin password, and not tell me the new password until Monday. Then...

3) Spend the weekend in Western bank library, which has very few PCs with Internet access.
Sounds like a plan.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

My Life Purpose


One benefit of committing the story of one’s life to a blog powered by Google, hosted by some other company and then sent to you by email (and then burnt to DVD) is that when one turns 90, the chances are there will still be a copy of it somewhere. Why should that be important? I’d like to be able to look back on my life at the age of 90 and see if I can draw lines between developments in my thoughts, feelings and decisions early on in life (now) and later occurrences.

For many years, I kept *real* diaries. I have about 49 of them in a big box that will soon be sailing to Japan. They span some 15 years of my life from the age of about 12. There’s only one copy of them, and should the boat go down, they will go down too.

I pretty much stopped writing my *real* diary when I met *Twinkle*, who became the one I talked to about things that mattered. As time has passed, so I’ve grown more confident about writing about my feelings here on the Internet, which has been especially useful this past year with those friends who are happy to talk about such things being some distance away. It took me a while to develop the confidence to open up, and I know that without the inner work, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. It’s only though learning to trust my heart / spirit that I can feel confident in what I write. Confident in that I am being honest with myself (as opposed to confident in my being ‘right’, a view I don’t subscribe to. How can I be ‘right’ when things have no intrinsic ‘rightness’? Don’t they only have the rightness or wrongness we as individuals choose to assign to them?).
So there’s my long-winded preamble about why I’m writing this.

Things have been happening in my life this week. Well, actually, it’s more a case of things have always been happening all my life, but I feel that now is a critical period, like some kind of climax. There’s all these things that are happening. I feel like there’s some role being shaped for me, but I have no idea what it is. I’m getting this message that I have some kind of responsibility to do something. But not just an everyday something, but a something that is going to make a big difference. I don’t know what it is.

You know there’s that quote of Gandhi’s, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. I can’t say I can recall ever hearing it before this week, and suddenly, it’s everywhere. It was on a website I stumbled across the other day in bold letters. Then, it popped up on an audiobook I was listening too (quite the highlight actually - if you’re after self-development books give Brian Tracy a miss!), then the other night I was suddenly moved to pick a book off my shelf that had been there since January, untouched. It’s called “Be the change”, and is a product of the organisation of the same name, based in my second home town of Bristol. There on the front page is the quote by Gandhi.

Then there was the person I met in the pub the other night. Well, I say ‘met’. All I actually did was shake his hand and then talk to someone else on the other side of the table for 20 minutes, but the following day I received an email from his partner (my good friend) passing on a message for me, talking about my future. It was a reflection of the feelings I am writing about here.

Then there was that person who warned me, “Don’t hide behind *Twinkle’s* success”. Now that was a well-placed kick up the backside, and a very timely one at that. Likewise, I can’t hide behind the name of any company or government I might work for in the short term. I might want to, and no doubt I will do so at times due to my ego demanding a stroke, but it will be fatal if I subscribe to such a practice long term.

It’s not these superficial happenings that are overwhelming me though, it’s this feeling that growing inside me that I have a responsibility to use the immense fortune that I have to make a difference. I’m not talking any financial fortune, I’m talking being born in the UK in the late 20th century to loving parents who sent me to a Steiner School, and have always supported me emotionally in all that I have ever chosen to do. In having loving siblings and friends who share my positive outlook upon life and also believe that we can do great things.

Sometimes, the feeling is positively palpable. Like tonight. I had to lie down on my bed and hide under my duvet, hugging my teddy as I felt all these things happening, all this energy surrounding me (if only I could channel it into pressing the appropriate keys on my Macbook to write a dissertation on NGOs in Japan!). I’ve been reading these incredibly inspiring stories in the Be The Change book about individuals who have done the most amazing things and are changing lives. In some cases, just a few lives, and in other cases, many. There’s no fundamental difference between these people and anyone else, except that they have made a decision to make things happen, and then acted. They didn’t know how they were going to do it, but that is not important when one first embarks upon a project.

So, I’m not quite sure what to do. I don’t think the time is right to act yet as I need more clarity, and it may be a case of waiting some years before I do know. That’s not to say that I have to “wait until everything is in place” - the biggest excuse in the book that, things will never be ‘just right’! But I do know that it’s vital that I continue to study, study my passions, study others, study those things in life that present themselves to me with a label on saying “study me” (sometimes need an ultraviolet light to see the writing though).

I also know that living in accordance with what my heart tells me is right, is working. It must be almost a year now since I started that ‘experiment’, and the results in terms of being at ease with decisions made, not attaching importance to the subjective opinions of others who are acting out of a perceived necessity for defensiveness, and my ability to love others for who they, are wonderful to experience.

It’s pretty difficult for me to tell even a white lie now. Although I did the other day, first time in a very long time. I can’t remember exactly where I was. It was somewhere on campus, I remember that, and it was someone who I didn’t know too well, and they asked me an awkward question. I told them the answer they wanted to hear, and boy oh boy did I feel bad. I almost burst out laughing I was so amused by my inability to lie. If the person had known me they’d have spotted it right away, but they didn’t.

In a way I can comfort myself with the knowledge that the publishing company we are establishing is essentially a social enterprise, helping others to help themselves without heavy emphasis on profit. If my energy is directed into that, I can feel happy knowing that I am doing a good thing. Perhaps I’ll get the Jet job. If I do I know I’m going to have to use every opportunity within that to make myself a better person, in order that I can make things happen in an area where my true passions lie in the future.

If I don't get it, that’s great too as it means that there’s some other exciting path waiting for me.


So, 90-year-old Joseph, do the lines join up?

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spanners, deadlines, and night-time inspiration

Email from the parents:
"No post for you from the embassy today either. They must be sorting out necessary changes in law for you to be made emperor"


Having had a very long day, it was a great relief to get home last night. Managed to finalise the business plan and actually submit it 6 hours before the competition deadline. It was just a shame that only thirty minutes later we had a meeting with the company responsible for developing our website in which we were informed that they had suffered a major breakdown in internal communication, and thus were unable to proceed with development under the current contract, the quote having been based upon a hopelessly optimistic timescale.

That was quite a shock, as we'd previously been informed that the coding was proceeding smoothly; this puts us two months behind schedule, two months we don't really 'have'. Still, ultimately this is a good thing as the project has now been transferred to another somewhat more professional team within the organisation, thus meaning we are more likely to get a robust, good-looking site (provided we can afford it!).

It's good that we learn this lesson now with a business that we are not relying upon to put bread on the table in the immediate future. Whilst of course we very much want it to be up and running and successful as soon as possible, were that not to happen it would not put our 'families' under duress as we each have other income streams. A couple of years down the line the story might be different, with a delay of several months in the commencement of trading for whatever other businesses we may be running then having a huge impact our daily lives.

It reminds me once again of what a great learning experience this is: I'd urge any university student who is considering setting up their own business in the future to do so whilst at uni - there is so much support available, and ultimately if things don't work out you can write it off as good lesson that could not have been attended in a classroom. And remember, as only one in ten businesses is 'successful', it's a good idea to start up at least ten businesses in your lifetime!




I also met the deadline for applications for further CILASS funding - although I later realised that the CD that I had meticulously prepared the night before (used pretty blue pen to write the label, found a case for it in cupboard) actually contained no data! I'd postponed burning it until I'd had the OK from my department on the wording of the application. Silly boy! The judges meet next Friday - Fingers crossed.

I then submitted 12 photos to the International Office for a competition being run to help them increase their stock of publicity shots. I like the idea of contributing to this campaign, not just because I might win a digital photo frame, but also because it's nice to give back to the uni, and especially this department as they were instrumental in bringing *Twinkle* into my life!

I submitted another 5 photos to the Photosoc (photo) competition, the deadline of which was Thursday. I'd wanted to be a lot more involved with Photosoc this year, but ultimately, it had to take a back seat due to things like CILASS (although I don't regret that). I doubt I'll win that as I had few striking images that could be bent to fit the available categories, and decided not to make time to shoot some specifically for the competition.

In the afternoon myself, Tom and Mark went about recording our 'Unlocking IBL Technology session" (IBL = Inquiry Based Learning, as promoted by CILASS) . That was fun, a good chance to practice talking to the camera. It once again highlighted my tendency to sway back and forth when giving a talk, something I'll continue to work on as I'm sure that public speaking will be one of my things in the future. ...if i can just find something to talk about. (I recommend Presentation Zen for anyone else interested in how to deliver effective presentations. And no, I don't subscribe to his blog just because he gives regular presentations at Japan's Apple Stores!).

When I got home at 6pm it hit me. The exhaustion. I was done in. I just managed to prepare a big organic salad, before collapsing onto my bed. I could do nothing but lie their dazed, staring at the ceiling, half-listening to the latest episode of TWiP. After an hour or so I felt I wanted to do some sewing, and so got my patchwork trousers out and worked on some recent holes. For background noise I'd put on the trashy yet mildly entertaining Azumi, one of those films that requires no attention whatsoever and that you forget seconds after it's finished.




Fast forward to 2am, and I'm now awake and alert. Been thinking about what I'm going to do after I graduate. I've been encouraged recently to seriously think about where my passions lie, and thus where I would be best directing my energy for maximum results. I can sense a path opening up. Hmm, there could be a future here. I get out of bed, turn my mac on, and buy 5 new domain names.

Today, I wake up and for a change, the domain names bought in the middle of the night (and the idea that they represent) still seem to hold genuine potential. This is a good sign. Usually, I check the emails from the domain registrar and wonder what on earth I was thinking.

But anyway, more on that in the future. For now, I need to get this dissertation out of the way.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A day in the life of Joseph Tame

Crikey O'reily. Talk about busy!

Not a bad list of accomplishments for the day:
  • 65 meaningful emails received
  • 60 fairly meaningful emails sent
  • Hair cut (meditation time as she wasn't very talkative)
  • Wedding invites redesigned & ordered
  • Provided technical support for the folks having problems with Firefox
  • Euthanasia Vocab learnt
  • Enrolled on coaching course
  • Had meeting to prepare for next week's presentation on being a student ambassador and employability
  • Had consultation and arranged meeting to prepare for Friday's technology training session for staff
  • Spent half an hour spent trying to scan document required for us to marry
  • Attended Japanese speaking class
  • Meeting with teacher to discuss entering department into competition to win more money for IBL projects
  • Tried (and failed) to sort out wordpress blog used for 2nd year Japanese students
  • Attended birthday party
  • Finished 'Market Overview" section of business plan
Phew. Time for bed. It all starts again in 6 hours.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Heading North, one last time

So this is it. I’m on the train for my last trip back to Sheffield. In seven weeks, it’ll all be over (that is, apart from one exam and my graduation).

Just seven weeks. It’ll fly by. That’s kind of comforting, because I know that no matter how many things I have on my to do list for this final stint, in seven weeks, they won’t be on it any more.

The challenge is to stay motivated. It’s harder now than ever before as these past few weeks my mind has steadily marched ahead of me. It’s now looking towards the wedding, starting a new life with Twinkle, leaving the UK, working. What makes it a little more difficult is that no matter what my results this semester, my final degree classification is unlikely to change. If my calculations are correct, it’s either a 2:1, or a fail (I’m not prepared to bust a gut for an unlikely first).

I should hear next week one way or another whether I got the local government job in Japan. I know three of my friends have received job offers (congrats!), but I’m yet to hear a thing. The embassy tell me that they send them out over a period of a month, so it could be anytime. Whilst the interview went well, I was very honest about my feelings re. Twinkle and thus am not going to be the most desirable of candidates: fancy putting a relationship before a job!

[an hour or so later…]

It’s been a difficult last few days as I have battled with myself over this dissertation. With my interest in the topic (NGOs in Japan) having peaked about 2 months too soon it is now a real slog to get the words out. In fact, I gave up writing anything half-decent and resorted to just typing up what I knew, almost in spoken form. I know I’ll need to rewrite it all, but if I don’t get something down they’ll be no progress at all.

With this frustration has come late nights, tiredness, and a short temper. I’ve been snapping at my parents, which I’m sorry about. I feel very hypocritical, but at the same time appreciate that I wouldn’t be human if I was always able to live in harmony with my core beliefs. It’s just a shame I chose them as my victims.

On a slightly more upbeat note, I had a lovely evening last night. Went over to see some old school friends who I’ve remained pretty close to since leaving. We sat around, talked, ate a delicious supper, talked some more. I felt so happy. They are one of the nicest families I know. So kind, so easy to be with, so welcoming. It's spending time with people like that really reinforce what a precious gift friendship is. What would we do without it?

Anyway, bus motion is making me feel a bit sick, so I’ll toddle along. Must get to sleep as soon as I get home, we have a meeting at 8am for our publishing business!

Tarra.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Total Success Institute


Great day today. Got that video submitted to the competition - I've had that lingering on my to do list for several months now. Then, it was wedding planning. Phone calls made, meetings arranged, all very exciting!

Following that it was congrats to my *Twinkle*, who in the month of March saw sales in excess of 1.8 million yen (about £9,200) - a new record for her (our) relatively young direct marketing business (organic food, organic supplements, eco-consumables etc). Says a lot about her character, and what she expects out of life. Good to have a successful partner, keeps you on your toes. If you get too lazy they bring a millionaire home to replace you.

A bit of Japanese homework, and then finally, the call I'd been waiting for.

A few days back I blogged about a call I'd had with a life coach. It was interesting, inspiring, but not especially life-changing. A bit like the latest audiobook on personal development I'm listening to. You find after you've read the ten or fifteen core texts there's not much but rehashing, people just jumping on the bandwagon to make money, lacking any real creativity or insight themselves. I've been pretty fortunate in that I've only found myself stuck with two such duds. And last week's coaching call.


But today was a bit different. I'd mentioned that previous phone call to my sister, who then recalled a one-day seminar she'd been to a year ago run by the Total Success Institute (new website on the way). She'd been really impressed, and personally knew of two people who had taken their courses - I should contact them. I did, and got prompt replies from both of them.
"Everyone should take this course, it makes for an all-round better life".

"It will definitely be a worthwhile investment".

So, the next step was to get a taste of what they offered. I listened to an interview with the founder, it sounded good. I read some of the information on their website, and signed up for a free coaching call.



Why do I feel I need coaching?

In the next few months, several things are going to happen:

1) I'm going to graduate
2) I'm going to marry my *Twinkle* and thus have my own family (includes baby mac)
3) I'm going to be faced with the choice of where I direct the bulk of my energy for the first time in 5 years

These are pretty mega changes, and I want to make sure I make the most of this huge opportunity to steer my life in the direction I want it to go in.

I don't have much experience of marketing myself in the professional field. Sure, I have a popular website (thank the horse cocks for that; they remain at No.1 in the Search Query Report for the 6th year running), I have language skills, computer skills, people/communication skills ...but when it comes to the marketplace I'm lost, and don't know how to position myself to utilise my full potential. I lack the necessary confidence. I lack these skills.

Books can only give you so much. At some point, you have to put them down and act, otherwise they only have as much of an impact as one hand clapping loudly against the air. A book doesn't know my specific skills set, and a book can't set me specific targets to help me motivate myself and move forward. Coaching can do that.

I've invested over £20,000 in my BA Japanese Studies degree. It's been money very well spent. Thinking of that, it seems only prudent to invest a little in learning how to take these skills and turn them into something that generates an income.

If I was the type destined to enter a big company and then leave my development/future in the hands of their HR department, well, perhaps I'd be alright as I am. But I'm not. I love being creative, making things happen, making a difference. I want to generate my own income stream doing the things I love to do, whether that be consulting, speaking, writing, teaching or whatever.

(Incidentally, this is one reason why I am keen to work as a CIR on the JET scheme - annual contract with not a sniff of a pre-determined career in sight. It's like an internship. Opens doors.)

So, this is why I would like to have some coaching. It feels like natural progression (especially considering the way I was introduced to it). Like a logical next step in this 18-month journey.

Some may scoff and say "you don't need coaching! what a waste of money!" I wonder, would these people say the same to a wannabe singer who has a fabulous voice but is yet to learn how to control it?




I called Cliff at the agreed time (although it took a bit of thinking to figure out what the 'agreed time' was, as the clocks have just changed here and he's in the USA!) and was soon struck by the homework he'd done. He'd been reading some website called Tame Goes Wild, and knew all about me. He even knew I'd spent some time this afternoon preparing for my wedding. How does this information get out there?

I was pretty staggered to learn that he knew what a Steiner education was; this of course meant he had a better idea of what kind of person I was, what with the (good?!) reputation us Steiner / Waldorf kids have! I also found he was open to my ideas on spirituality, which served to help build my trust in him.

As we talked so I found myself wondering at his intuition. He was incredibly observant and picked up on a lot of stuff that I hadn't mentioned during the call and wasn't posted online. "Have you got a brother called Wayne Dyer?!" I asked at one point, laughing.

In the end we were talking for an hour and a quarter. Having got a pretty good idea of where I was in life, he made some concrete suggestions regarding how I approach the opportunity on the horizon, one of which had never even occurred to me, yet fits my skill set perfectly. I was impressed, and realised that were I to agree to work with this coach, 'things would happen'.

There was no high-pressure sell, and there has been no high-pressure sell in the follow up. Just demonstrations of professionalism and integrity.

I can't say I recommend the coaching that TSI offer yet, because apart from today's phone call, I've had none. Still, I'll be signing up for an introductory course when my student loan comes through, and keep you posted so you can laugh with me, or at me (whichever suits your personal opinion the best). I hope in the long term to take it further with 1 on 1 coaching. I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

I would say though, that if anyone is already seriously considering coaching, DON'T consider TSI. It was in a totally different league from my last coaching experience, real big-picture yet pragmatic life changing stuff.


Oh, and if you do contact them, do mention TameGoesWild!

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Euthanasia: The debate begins

In a couple of weeks we'll be asked to create a drama for our Japanese speaking class. The theme is Euthanasia.

I've not given euthanasia much thought before now. But over the past couple of weeks I've come across a few programs on Radio 4  that have touched on the subject, including this morning's Saturday Live (listen again, interview is about 10 minutes in) which had an interview with the sister of John Close (see the 47 minute video about his life and death here).

Unfortunately I missed last week's interview with Alison Davis, who had wanted to kill herself for over 10 years as a result of suffering from severe spina bifida, but was prevented from doing so by UK law. She subsequently came to value her life once again following a trip to India to meet two children that she had sponsored, and now campaigns against euthanasia.

It's a really difficult subject, and I just don't know how I feel about it.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bank Holiday stuff

Every time I come back to my parent's house I make a point of a) eating mum's home-made chocolate cake, and b) sorting through the stuff under my old bed to see what of my belongings can be given away. As time passes so it becomes easier to dispose of stuff, and it's now reached the stage where all that's left is photos, 40 or so diaries (written when I was age 10 ~ 25), Main Lesson books from the Steiner School, and a large collection of letters from friends before the dawning of email. Oh, and the two amazing jumpers which mum knitted for me when I was about 7 years old, which I'm keeping for our girls (they WILL like dragons!). Come July, it'll be a case of packing these up and giving Yamato Kuro Neko (delivery co) a call - Sheffield Japan Society members being eligible for a discount.

When having a look for any boxes I may have missed last night I came across a camera bag: in it, the old Olympus OM10 that got me started in photography way back in the 18th century. I thought it had been chucked, and so was pretty happy to see it again. I was even more pleased to find the old flash unit that went with it, which, it turns out, works with my NIKON D40x DSLR. OK, so it doesn't exactly sync - I have to put the D40x on manual and compensate -but it fires. Can't use it at shutter speeds above 1/250 though as the flash fires too late and you end up with a section blacked out as the shutter closes (see example of various shutter speeds, from 1/1000 to 1/300 to left). But yeah, this is great as I've wanted a flash unit for a while now as the built-in flash tends to result in bland images, and new Speedlights cost a bomb. This one's got the 360/90 degree swivel so it can be bounced off any surface, resulting in a much more natural spread of light.

Just watching my *Twinkle* on skype. She's on the phone to a friend but left the camera on for me to gaze longingly at her. Happy. Haven't been in touch much lately so it's so nice to see her face again. Reassuring to know that I can understand almost everything she says despite feeling that my Japanese has suffered a bit since I left Japan. And reassuring to find that she's even cuter on skype than in my imagination (tee hee). What will she be like in reality I wonder?

You know I said recently that I'd be taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test test this year? Well, I've been thinking a bit more about this and decided that really, I'd like to enrol on some language course or have a weekly private class to ensure that I really do continue to improve. Also, I'd like to take some training courses of some kind. Exactly what kind I don't know. Some vocational courses. I feel that if I'm to make the most of this chance then I need some guidance. It's all very well having skills, but if you don't know how to apply them you're no better off than a hedgehog armed with an aluminium foil helmet being approached by the Wheels of Doom.

It's funny really, on the one hand I am sick of studying, but on the other hand, the thought of further study/training really excites me. I guess it's because I associate further training with almost immediate benefits to my family. Must be careful not to hide behind "needing more training" though.

Anyway, I'd best finish off this assignment that's due in tomorrow.

Tarra!

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Phone call with a personal coach

Well, that was very interesting. 

I just had a 30-minute conversation with a life coach based in Thailand, worth $100, or $1000 depending on which literature you check. I paid $1 via Paypal.

He's published a couple of books, he runs workshops in various countries (including Japan), and has that vital appalling childhood story to start off with (it is pretty bad).

I think he's a student of the Anthony Robbins school, as much of what he said sounded quite familiar. Nice guy, I did like him. He's got really good communication skills too, making sure he's on the same level as you, and prepared to listen. Budgies twirping in the background.

It sounds like the crux of his coaching technique is basically helping you set goals, and then making you accountable to him for reaching those goals through some kind of software and phone calls / emails. Of course, he provides guidance along the way (in the form of daily/weekly/monthly coaching sessions), but I realise that at the end of the day, the change will not come from him - it has to come from within.

I can see the value of this system for someone like myself who has a real problem with procrastination. I feel that I've come a long way in the last year in that I have discovered my foundations,  come to appreciate that fundamentally I am no more or no less than anyone else on the planet, be they majorly 'successful' or living on a bench in the park. I appreciate that I, just like anyone else, have tremendous potential. However, I do still get a bit stuck with acting on that potential. I'm thinking that the main reason why hiring a coach does work is that one has paid a substantial sum of money in order that one can 'improve'. If money means something to you, you will make sure you get something out of it. (This is one reason why I am happy to pay for copy-protected Audiobooks, it makes me appreciate them all the more!).

So, why not just pay $300, $2000, or $3000 to your local animal rescue centre, and link that to a step-by-step plan for 'success'. Chances are, it would probably have quite an impact. But the dogs won't phone you if you haven't done what you've committed to doing, and they probably don't know all that much about procrastination-busting techniques. "Shall I go to sleep for a while? Naaa, I'll do that later after I've had a lie-down".

I'm really glad that I had that conversation though. Whilst the final 15 minutes were basically his sales pitch, the call as a whole served to reinforce the confidence that I have in my own potential. Whilst I won't be signing up for any of his courses right now, I can see the value of at least attending one of his seminars in Tokyo later in the year.

I've deliberately omitted his name here as his web site is truly appalling, an embarrassment to the industry, and very much at odds with the image of the person that I gained through talking with him.

Ho hum. On with homework.

xxx

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another reason to study Japanese at the School of East Asian Studies

No, Sheffield University's School of East Asian Studies isn't paying my bandwidth bill, nor are my examiners reading the Daily Mumble (that wig and false nose suit you pretty well actually).

However, the department has played a huge part in giving me the best possible uni experience ever - an experience which will shortly be coming to an end. Thus, it's only right that I try and give a little back, by encouraging anyone thinking of studying Japanese in the UK to choose Sheffield.

It's not just me that thinks it's great by the way. Check out this table, taken from the new UCAS web site www.unistats.co.uk. It details overall satisfaction levels in Asian Studies departments at UK universities.

(Click image for a bigger image)

Keywords: Japanese, Japan, language, university, UK, Sheffield, SEAS, School of East Asian Studies, study, BA, Japanese studies, degree, HE.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Japanese Language Proficiency Test: Decision made



I have a friend in Bristol with a Japanese wife and a child, who keeps a blog on which he posts updates about his progress in learning Japanese. This week, just like thousands of others around the world, he received the results of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, held every December.

This time he didn't pass, but he's already looking forward to his next attempt. Reading his blog (which for some reason I can't find now, I've lost it in my jungle of RSS feeds!) has inspired me to make the decision to take the test myself this year.

I don't value JLPT so much for what it certifies, but rather, I value the motivation I believe it will give me to continue to work on my Japanese when I return there in the summer. I know from experience how easy it is to get by in Japan without using Japanese - and this is not necessarily a bad thing, who ever said one should have to speak the language? ...But for me personally, I really want to have good communication skills, as I feel it will have a great impact upon my relations with my immediate family-to-be, and also my in-laws. Additionally, I believe it will give me more opportunities to explore my passions whilst in Japan. Oh, and it keeps my brain ticking over too!

I can imagine that after I leave uni the last thing I will want to do is enroll upon yet another language course, but I think that if I don't set myself some specific goal (such as taking JLPT in December) then as has been the case this year, I will forget much of what I have learnt thus far.

Finally, I'd like to congratulate my classmates who did take it this year, Charlotte, Chris and Jon. I think Jon deserves particular recognition - 76% at Level 1! Amazing stuff, I don't know how they managed it what with everything else they had going on.

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