'ELT Footprint: a personal reflection' by Katherine Bilsborough

7th July 2020

The most surprising thing about ELT Footprint is that it didn’t already exist. There wasn’t a go to place for those of us keen to discuss the relationship between our profession and the climate crisis, to find engaging classroom materials for our students that went beyond the typical environment unit in the course book or to share ideas that might lead to real change. With the creation of ELT Footprint - first the Facebook group, then the blog, website, Twitter and LinkedIn - all that changed. Below are five examples (in no particular order) of ways in which ELT Footprint has made me a better professional and perhaps even a better person.

1. A broader outlook and a touch of humility

ELT Footprint is a community with more than 3,000 members from all over the world. Coming from the UK and spending most of my professional life in Spain, I’ve had very few insights into the experience of my peers in different parts of the world. In the Facebook group when someone shares a poster about recycling, for example, someone else promptly reminds members that recycling isn’t a problem where they live because they have nothing to recycle. I’m convinced that by tackling issues of greed and an excess of consumerism, teachers can make the world a fairer place. Hearing about hardships and innovative solutions to a lack of resources is inspiring and I welcome the constant reminders of inequalities and injustices. Without them we are in danger of burying our heads in the sand.   

2. An increasingly rigorous attitude to news

Many people like to share shocking statistics in an attempt to shake us up and get us thinking about what we need to do to make changes  we so desperately need. In terms of the climate emergency there is no shortage of graphs and charts informing us of how we are destroying our planet. But often when this data is shared in the ELT Footprint community, someone points out a flaw in the findings or a bias in the reporting, prompting members to look for evidence to back up claims or dismiss something as unscientific. We can’t be over-rigorous. Now, more than ever everyone needs to fact check until it becomes second nature. And as educators we need to teach our students how to evaluate information, to ask questions and to check the validity of pretty much everything that is presented as fact.

3. Bringing issues into the classroom

Everything shared in the community should ultimately come back to the heart of our purpose: students, teachers and the classroom. In our enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge the group has shared more than 2,000 posts and links in the past twelve months. I see one of my roles as asking (and sometimes answering) ‘How could these be used in a classroom?’ It’s exciting to see how a single photograph or a short news article can be a springboard for lesson ideas in a dozen different contexts. The best part is when teachers try some of these ideas out with their students and report back to the group to share the outcomes. Teachers are well placed to craft materials for their own classrooms because nobody has a better understanding of their students’ context, needs and preferences.

4. Collaborating and cooperating

Educators often talk about the importance of collaboration and cooperation and we try to encourage it in our students. For many teachers, they are two of the fundamental ‘c’ words. But we don’t always practise what we preach so I always find it heartening to see teachers and materials writers work on joint projects. This happens a lot in the ELT Footprint community when people living on opposite sides of the world discover they are teaching in similar contexts or have shared interests and decide to take an idea from a chat one step further and do something magic, like create a set of free resources to be shared with colleagues.

5. There is no Planet B

Ultimately, the success or failure of any group is dependent upon the people who belong to it. A shared passion for our amazing planet is one thing we all share, no matter what differences we might have in other areas of our work and experience.  For a large section of the community, the climate emergency is the most important issue right now. We do care about other issues of course. Many inequalities and injustices are inextricably linked to some of the causes of the environmental crisis. But as somebody wise has said, ‘There is no Planet B’. We all have a moral obligation to do what we can to stop harming the planet and to do everything in our power to repair what we can. Through ELT Footprint I’ve learned that there are lots of ways that educators can do this. We can share ideas of how to reduce our individual carbon footprint but we can also make a big impact by going one step further and taking action in schools, Teaching Organisations, Publishers, Ministries of Education and anywhere else where we happen to meet en masse. And as we figure out new, greener ways of teaching and working, belonging to a group like this will, I believe, give us a place to find the support and encouragement we require to first figure out what changes we need to make and then to implement them.  

Everyone is welcome to join the ELT Footprint community. Find us on Facebook, explore our website (especially the blog), follow us on Twitter or/and hook up on LinkedIn.

Website: https://eltfootprint.org

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/eltfootprint/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8908518

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ELTfootprint

About Katherine Bilsborough

Katherine Bilsborough has worked in ELT for more than 30 years, as a teacher, trainer and author. She has published books with several key ELT publishers and writes blog posts and lesson plans for the British Council’s Teaching English website and National Geographic Learning’s In focus’ blog. Katherine is on the committee of IATEFL’s MaWSIG (Materials Writers Special Interest Group) and is a co-founder of the ELT Footprint community. 


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