My talk as part of a panel on “The Future of ELT and Women” at the Future of ELT Conference, Trinity College London.

Where have all the women gone?

A few weeks ago,  there arose the opportunity to give a talk on a panel, along with Varinder Unlu and Emily Hird (Speakers)  Jackie Kassteen (Chair), on the topic of “The Future of ELT” – in relation to Women-  within the programme of the eponymously-named Conference run by Trinity College Exams Board.

After some thought and initial research, I decided to talk about mentor-coaching for women and setting up such schemes in ELT institutions globally.

I introduced myself and I explained that I did not put myself forward as an expert but that I am an expert on being a woman! I talked briefly about my former profession as a therapist in London.  I also talked about running Seahorse English BCN, a facebook group for Teacher Development. I asked people to view my talk through the prism of storyteller as I feel that my professional life as an ELT practitioner, Teacher trainer, writer, improviser, storyteller, facilitator and coach are all performed within the auspices of, and informed by,  the role of storyteller and narrator. Even my research into SLA is focused on  dialogic interaction in teaching /learning English: narrative is my own lingua franca, so to speak,  and all roads lead from there.

I then read from a poem by Jackie Kay:

Sign (excerpt) the present tense: a flashback

is something held between her thumb

and her index finger, faster than memory, or film.

It is this

vast lingusitic space,

this intricate grammar, growing

as a fish grows its fins, a foetus

its eyelashes. Nothing is learnt. Everything grows

in the right place.

From “Darling” New and selected poems, by Jackie Kay 2007 Bloodaxe Books


I bring client-centered practice from my therapy practice and have transformed it into ELT practitioner- centered practice in teaching. We put learners at the centre of pedagogy, and quite rightly so, and so we must, I believe,  allow teachers similar affordances for development in general and CPD in particular. I also feel very strongly that women do not have enough “nearby” role models to aspire to. To digress slightly, I then mentioned Nicola Prentis and having seen her plenary at InnovateELT in 2016. And in May 2017, I gave my first plenary (and third seminar) at InnovateELT in Barcelona.

What do I mean by “nearby”? We are bombarded with celebrity and there are famous women as potential role models and, indeed, they have an important role to play in an ever-changing and fast-paced internet-loaded society.

But what about role models closer to home- in the workplace. More of this later. Role models of women other than white women too. Role models of women other than straight, middle-class and able-bodied women. We need older role models and trans sheroes too.

“Teachers need to take charge if they want to move forward” says Duncan Foord in his book, The Developing Teacher. I couldn´t agree more. We need to take personal responsibility for our development and grow ourselves into roles rather than expecting others to do it for us. It is clear, however, that many women do not feel empowered enough to do this on their own. As part of preparing for this talk, I did some initial research and time again women (from different backgrounds) mentioned “a boys’ club” attitude in the workplace, and that this hindered women from advancing or getting into leadership roles.

(photo credit Emily Hird)

I then read from my own poem, written for this talk:

Where have all the women gone?

Where have all the women gone?

through the cracks and crannies and closes

but not for long.


Where have all the women gone?

they´re here, they´re there,

they´re everywhere.


Where have all the women gone?

defiant, determined and standing strong,


So, what could be a way forward? Could there be a way which harnesses the many strengths women have within a more structured framework of support, empowerment and advancement?

I feel that mentor-coaching may offer one possible avenue for enriching women´s potential and to empower women into more senior roles or leadership.

Coaching is “unlocking people´s potential to maximise their personal performance.” (Whitmore 2011, cited in Nieuwerburgh, C 2014). Mentor-coaching combines the best of mentoring – where the mentor is the expert- and coaching- where the coach and coachee are more equal in the encounter. It allows for differences in workplace contexts and means that coaching, mentoring or a combination of both can take place, according to the needs of the individual.

I chose the GROW model of coaching (op cit 2014) as it is relatively simple and accessible and simplicity is, I strongly believe, the key here. The idea being that any women who wants to have a mentor-coaching session can access this through the workplace  and another woman can put herself forward to be the mentor-coach. They meet and plan goals.

  • Grow      Example questions- What can you build towards? What do you want to achieve?
  • R Reality    Example questions- What have you achieved already? What´s happening at the moment?
  • O Options   Example questions-What could you do? How would somone you admire deal with this siuation?
  • W Will        Example questions-What is the first step? How will you know if you have succeeded?

I ended the talk by drawing some strands together -namely that coaching, teaching, teacher training, writing, storytelling and learning all encompass similar values:

  • Building:  rapport, empathy and relationships.
  • Active listening skills and being genuine
  • Mutual respect
  • Taking responsibility

I hope you have found some of the ideas useful and I will be trying to put some of these themes and ideas into practice into practice in the form of a pilot scheme in September. Let´s sieze the moment and use mentor-coaching as a way of empowering and support each other to develop and into leadership roles. There needs to be more women. Period.

Thank you very much for coming.


Chair Jackie Kassteen, with speakers Varinder Unlu, Emily Hird and Melody Philip

(photo credit Caroline Robinson)

Dedicated to Norma, my mom- a strong and sassy  woman if ever there was one.

Melody Philip

Director, Seahorse English

Seahorse English BCN Facebook Group (Teacher dev group)


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