There is No Labor in Collaboration

By - Rob Howard

We hear a lot about collaboration working in the EFL classroom. We hear how effective it is in learning, engagement, team building and more. As teachers, we try and take advantage of these assets to foster better learning results. But do we practice what we preach to better our own teaching results? Collaboration between teachers is something that most shy away from. Sure, maybe you talk to your best friend and share ideas, maybe you present your success to your peers at work. Hopefully you are sharing your ideas at conferences or blogging to help spread the word. But are you sharing enough?

Collaboration is an amazing way to improve as a leader, an innovator and a learner. Now I’m not talking about recommending others’ courses or affiliating yourself with popular people when you don’t even know what they are offering. I am talking about sitting down and working together, sharing ideas, building something together. This is collaboration and the results are amazing.

As EFL/ESL/ELT professionals, we are part of a unique group. It’s just a guess, but I don’t think any other group of specific subject teachers share as much with each other as we do. But we can do much more. If you look at the numbers of members and active participants in organizations such as IATEFL and TESOL, add in the numbers from country specific and regional groups, the percentage is scarily low. Where is the membership? Where is the sharing? Where are the new ideas? These groups, with their conferences, webinars, publications and blogs are an incredibly useful enhancement to all professionals. The sharing, networking and overall feeling of togetherness is amazing even for a seasoned professional with years of experience. If you haven’t joined a professional organization, do it. Seek out the best group for your needs and one that you can become actively a part of. It will help you in ways you wouldn’t imagine.

I think back to my own experience (seems like last week). For me, it all started with a webinar from Jason R. Levine. Jason, aka Fluency MC, ran a month-long web course called Teachers Teaching Online. He had a great line-up of speakers discussing a variety of subjects that were pertinent to me for my own online business, Online Language Center. Towards the end of the course, he made the offer for anyone interested in sharing to do their own webinar. As I had given a talk before about Online Retention which I had done for BRAZ-TESOL, I offered myself up. I haven’t stopped since. I was opened to a new world of teachers, which I would later add to my own PLN (peer/professional learning network), and started getting invitations to join in on other projects. I was invited to join in on another web course for Dr. Nellie Deutsch. Nellie is the absolute leader of the webinar world and the one of the most prolific, hardworking professionals I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with. Under Nellie’s and Jason’s tutelage, I decided to take the plunge and venture outside of my comfort zone and put together a webinar. What happened next was epic. EFLtalks was born. Back to that later.

Since I started collaborating with others, my career has taken a turn. I have made so many new connections and friends that I never could have dreamed of sitting back at my computer plugging away with websites, social networking, advertising and blogging. John Donne, back in 1624, wrote, “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” How true this is when I think back to the last four years of collaborating with some of the greats. Working with Integrating Technology and Nellie has opened so many doors for me. This led to Vance Stevens and the Global Learning Conference. Then on to Philip Pound at EFL Magazine and Chuck Sandy at iTDi, both generous supporters of my work. Next, doing a webinar for the IATEFL BESIG which I later joined, and my appearance with Heike Philp on Virtual Round Table. Being invited to take part in Shelly Sanchez Terrell’s EdSpeakers group, Kieran Donaghy’s Visual Arts Circle, Phil Wade’s great PARSNIPS in ELT and Prepping Clients for… series.

This lead to a busy speaking year in 2017 travelling and presenting talks and plenaries throughout Brazil and Europe.

Working with the IATEFL BESIG saw us collaborating online together leading me to bring together a few of my colleagues to form the Business Language Training Institute offering a low-cost entry-level course for English teachers making the transition to Business English teaching. In it’s current configuration Karin Heuert Galvão, Henrick Oprea and myself deliver classes worldwide and the response has been outstanding.

Another noteworthy collaboration is IAPG, the Independent Authors & Publishers Group which I co-founded with Dorothy Zemach based on conversations we had at the ECUATESOL Conference a few years ago. With our second booth at IATEFL this year, we have brought together independent authors, publishers, eBook writers and other causes and companies to provide a lower cost booth space for us smaller entities that normally couldn’t afford a booth alone. We hope to help promote the value that smaller publishers bring to EFL and help spread the word and offer support to the growing eBook and Print-on-demand publishing market.

All of this has lead to EFLtalks. For 2 ½ years now, I have been running what must be the largest independent EFL PLN in the world with 170 speakers, almost 300 videos over 250,000 distinctive viewers worldwide in a growing, free online teaching and sharing environment that is truly a study in collaboration. Getting together and working with ECUATESOL, BRAZ-TESOL, the collective groups of Latin America, BELTA, TESOL Macedonia Thrace Northern Greece, the groups of the Middle East and finally on to the International Women’s Day 2-day event has been one of the most enriching experiences of my professional teaching life. From day one, contacting the cream of the international crop in pedagogy, methodology classroom issues and more has been a fulfilling and collaborative voyage. Our 10 in 10 videos, available for free at have been view close to a million times and we are constantly adding more content. Being recognized as a finalist in the 2016 British Council ELTon Awards for Innovation in Teacher Resources was a tremendous nod to our work. Working together with likeminded professionals that share the vision of building a legacy for the future of our craft has been the ultimate collaboration for me.

They say behind every great success there is a great teacher… well, I’ve got 170 behind me.

Rob and Louise have been successfully collaborating often over the years since first meeting at the BRAZ-TESOL Conference in João Pessoa and are always discussing future opportunities to work together, to spark innovation and to share and learn from each other.

Rob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center, partner at Business Language Training Institute and founder of EFLtalks. He is a speaker worldwide on Teacher Development, Continuing Professional Development, Online Business Retention and Image Presentation. He is President of the BRAZ-TESOL BESIG, member of the IATEFL BESIG Online Team, Online and Video Coordinator and Video Interviewer for the Visual Arts Circle as well as co-founder with Dorothy Zemach of the Independent Authors and Publishers Group. He has authored and coauthored several books for EFL. He was nominated for the 2016 British Council's ELTon Award for Innovation in Teacher Development.