Energising the world

17th May 2013 at 01:00
Teachers are powering a revolution in global education - and they are doing it by sharing their ideas at TESConnect. Fifty million teachers and students in 197 countries now benefit. We talk to some of those making it happen

It has been suggested that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, it can result in a tsunami on the other side of the world. Now the same can be said of the work of teachers. The internet has allowed for the most extraordinary teacher-led sharing revolution - and TESConnect is right at the heart of this. Every week on the site, thousands of classroom resources are uploaded and millions are downloaded globally. In fact, at its peak, there are nearly 700,000 downloads a day, 3.7 million downloads a week and 14.5 million downloads a month.

Not only is the site changing the way teachers think and work, the way they plan lessons and the amount of free time they have, it is also improving teaching around the world by allowing educators to rate classroom plans and to share their own best ideas. The most highly rated rise to the top and then hundreds of thousands use them to improve their lessons.

Indeed, TESConnect - together with its sister sites, such as Share My Lesson in the US and TES India - now touches the lives of 50 million teachers and children* in 197 countries, with downloads being made from Vatican City to South Korea. Some 20,000 new members from at least 150 separate countries register per week.

Yet this teachers' treasure trove began almost by chance. TES was among the early pioneers of internet publishing, launching a website in 1997. This move soon gave birth to extremely popular discussion forums, where teachers swapped advice, teaching tips and support.

But by 2005 everything had changed. On their own initiative, these forum users had begun to use the site's messaging system to send each other lesson materials such as worksheets and PowerPoint presentations.

These exchanges flourished and, to help teachers share their ideas more easily and safely, TES launched a "resources bank" in 2006. It quickly became the most popular part of the site. Tools were added so that teachers could rate resources and comment on them, and further improvements came when TESConnect was relaunched in 2008. Since those early days, an amazing 274 million downloads have been made.

With 2.6 million members and more than 600,000 resources and growing, the site has become an essential tool in the work of schools. Former London schools commissioner Sir Tim Brighouse described it in a recent book as "a cornucopia" for any teacher keen on professional development.

And England's education secretary Michael Gove also recently pointed to the transformative nature of the website. "You can see in the resources teachers share through the TES website ... an environment in which the best minds can collaborate to improve what our children learn," he told an audience of education professionals.

Making this collaboration easier is at the heart of what TESConnect does. Last weekend, for example, much of the site was reorganised to improve the community, and next month marks the launch of TES Australia, in partnership with the New South Wales Board of Studies and the Australian Education Union.

Weekly resource downloads now exceed 3.5 million worldwide and there are eight downloads every second. TES is proud to play host and facilitator to such an incredible flowering of teacher empowerment.

"Teachers are coming here to find the very best-quality resources because they are rated and peer-reviewed by other teachers. There is no doubt that this is the major driver," says Louise Rogers (pictured left), chief executive of TSL Education, parent company of TES. "Take, for example, English, where we have 85,000 resources, of which there are 3,500 for Shakespeare alone. That is staggering.

"We used to be surprised at the rate of growth. For a long time we were almost overwhelmed by how it grows internationally. One of the reasons people come to our website is to find great-quality content, but when they get here, they find a huge community and begin to engage with each other from there."

TESConnect has become a facilitator for this community, allowing teachers to run the site themselves, through teacher panels and subject advisers.

And the site is attracting interest from governments around the world.

"Governments are seeing that our site is making a difference in their countries and they want to know more about this," Rogers says. "Certainly in the US we have an incredible partner in the form of the American Federation of Teachers. Who would have thought that a British private equity company and an American labour union could come together?"

The resulting collaboration, sharemylesson.com, has attracted nearly a quarter of a million members, and was described by US education secretary Arne Duncan on Twitter as a benefit to "teachers everywhere", adding that he looked forward to "seeing it succeed".

"Our philosophy is a simple one," Rogers says. "If we had four of us in a room developing a lesson plan on Pythagoras, you would expect that one of us would develop one that was the best. If all four of us then took that lesson into class the next day, you would hope that we had just raised the standard of teaching, which in turn raises the standard of education."

With this in mind, at TESS we thought it was high time we caught up with some of TESConnect's top uploaders - the ordinary teachers whose extraordinary work is transforming the lives of millions of students around the world.

* TSL has calculated TESConnect's reach from more than 270,000 responses to a TES survey during November-December 2012.


Username: ACOYEAR8 Profile: bit.lyTESConnectACOYEAR8

Jon Wallace loves the "intellectual challenge" of producing resources. He has created an amazing 195 of them, which have been downloaded 192,100 times by 65,800 TESConnect users in 173 countries.

His most popular piece of work is a lesson relevant to students from any country - a discussion about the 50 things you should experience or learn before the age of 20.

Wallace, 52, is a linguist as well as an English teacher, and taught English in Spain from 1985 until 2001. He has worked at Hayes School for 11- to 18-year-olds in Kent, England, for four years and is now head of Year 7 (ages 11-12). He is also in charge of a "transition" group - a small, structured teaching group for children with potentially poor school attendance or lower ability.

Wallace signed up to TESConnect two years ago and was immediately impressed with the online community. The anonymity it provides allows people to be frank about whatever has been created, so you know the good from the bad very quickly, he explains.

"The fact that so many people have downloaded (the) 50 things (resource) is mind-blowing," Wallace says. "It's not a prescriptive lesson, which is why I think it appeals. Everyone is going to have different ideas and attitudes and is going to see things differently. It is adaptable and versatile, which is why I think it is popular."

There is also a second part to the resource, so in fact there are 100 things for teachers to talk about with their students.

"It's fascinating to see the different responses now that it is out there in the global community," Wallace adds. "It is so interesting to see in Shanghai, for instance, what Chinese students do before the age of 20.

"(The resource) is easy to understand and follow, and stimulates discussion and interaction. I'd love to see some subject-specific versions next.

"Every teacher should share their best resources on TESConnect."


Liyang "Sophia" Liu, an English teacher in a Cambridge International Centre in Shanghai, China

The resource is very helpful and was well received by the students. I owe Jon a big thank you. I also want to thank TESConnect for providing a platform for teachers around the world to exchange ideas and share resources.

My students are learning A-level courses and preparing to study abroad. They are at the age of 16-18, so I thought the topic of the resource could be very intriguing to them and used it as speaking practice in class. I asked them what they think they should do before they reach the age of 20.

The lesson has many thought-provoking questions and interesting visuals to attract students' attention. The whole class enjoyed the discussion and shared their opinions actively.

Marcus Bergehamn, located in the suburb of Taby, north of Stockholm, Sweden

We worked with the resource for 70 minutes and then I gave the students some time to write what they were thinking about. After that we had discussions in small groups followed by a classroom discussion.

I chose the resource because it looked like it would suit my students at that time. They were 15 years old and many of them have problems with languages, and that's why they study extra English instead of Spanish, German or French.

Because they will leave our school for upper secondary school (ages 16-19) soon, some of them are really tired of schoolwork. That is why I chose to let them work with this resource. They thought it was fun and they had a great discussion about what they wanted to do after they graduate.

Alice Kralicek, a French teacher at an international English school in Sweden

I downloaded the resource for a fun time with my seventh grade (aged 12-13) mentor class. We went through the PowerPoint together and they raised their hand for every thing they had done already.

After that, we chose some slides suggesting things to do (like "talking to an older person" or "making the right choices") and the students discussed in groups how to do it and when. There were practical and philosophical discussions going on.

Jill Perfect, a librarian at a K-12 (ages 5-18) school in South Dakota, US

I teach on a Native American reservation and many of our students live in great poverty. The "50 things" resource stimulated their thinking about possibilities.

I personally use TESConnect to view articles and keep connected to what other professionals are doing; as a kind of informal professional development monitor.


Username: rtea Profile: bit.lyTESConnectrtea

The 13 resources uploaded to the website from a village in the Spanish region of La Rioja have been downloaded 49,600 times by 13,600 TESConnect users in 110 countries. Raquel Macarron Urena, a teacher at a primary school (ages 6-12) there, wrote them because she wanted to "repay" all those in the profession who had provided her with inspiration over the years.

Her resources include worksheets related to children's books, including The Smartest Giant in Town, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. She created them for her students learning English.

"I wrote the first four years ago and put all of them online at the same moment. I know I get so much from other people's resources, so when I started producing them myself I felt I had an obligation to share them," she says.

Macarron Urena's school in Albelda, 16km from the capital of La Rioja, has 300 students. From this year, the school is pioneering bilingual teaching in the region. Macarron Urena's Year 1 class, who are aged 6-7, can read English, speak in short sentences and understand instructions given in English.

"I really like it when people comment on my resources," says Macarron Urena, 36, who has been a teacher for 13 years. "Someone said they had used them with children with special needs in England and that made me really proud."


Chris Walker, a teacher in a small school in Vietnam

The downloads were very handy because our five students, aged 3-8, all love Julia Donaldson books. The Smartest Giant in Town is a favourite of mine but I've never actually used it for literacy before. My whole class did the story in an assembly, which they loved, and the resources helped.

Catherine Passmore, a teacher at a British school in Romania

I downloaded the resources for World Book Day last year. We did an activity day at my school and the children in the Reception class (aged 4) loved The Smartest Giant in Town.

As they were so young the activity was differentiated to suit their needs. The first task was to fill in the gaps and recall the story - what items of clothing were given out by George the giant and to whom. The more able children wrote letters describing what they liked about George.


Username: Ross Morrison McGill aka @TeacherToolkit Profile: bit.lyTESConnectMcGill

Ross Morrison McGill is on a mission - he wants to save teachers time and free them from laborious lesson planning.

He has set out to prove that you do not need to produce a detailed plan to do well in school inspections and lesson observations. The resource he has put on TESConnect, The Five-Minute Lesson Plan, does exactly what it promises - it helps teachers prepare what to teach in a short space of time.

The 27 resources shared by McGill have been downloaded 225,000 times by 45,900 TESConnect users in 146 countries.

McGill, 39, who has been a design and technology teacher for 20 years in North London, started blogging and set up his TESConnect account in 2010.

"(My uploads) all form part of a jigsaw puzzle," says McGill, who is assistant vice-principal in charge of staff development and teaching and learning at Greig City Academy, a school for 11- to 18-year-olds.

Although it was brought to the world's attention by McGill, the five-minute resource was produced by John Bayley, a behaviour guru and star of Teachers TV education videos, and London teacher Katharine Birbalsingh. Bayley gave it to McGill, who used it in his own school before putting it on TESConnect.

According to McGill, the resource has been so successful because it is both a mentoring tool and a planning aid.

"It got a reaction because a lot of schools stipulate teachers must do detailed plans. This causes so many problems - young teachers spend hours planning and the process for all teachers can become bureaucratic," he says. "(This resource) helps them plan better. It helps with their time management and therefore stress levels. It helps you plan smarter."

The success of the resource reached a tipping point when school leaders and inspectors working for English schools inspectorate Ofsted began to endorse it online.

Before being observed in class, McGill posted his own five-minute plan on Twitter (where he is known as @TeacherToolkit). Soon after the observation, he let his followers know that his lesson had been judged to be outstanding. His observer sent a tweet confirming this.

There are now many versions of the plan and it is available in nine languages.

"Obviously you have got to be a good teacher already and have good systems in place," McGill says. "I've heard (the resource) has led to people securing jobs, and getting their first outstanding judgement in their careers.

"I'm blown away by it all."


Zayra Vogensen, director of studies at a private language school in Portugal

Even though I do not work in the British system, I always seem to find something I can use in my school and classroom on TESConnect. As a teacher trainer, I am interested in classroom management and assessment of students and teachers. The five-minute lesson plan provides a fresh approach to every teacher's worst nightmare, presenting evidence of a planned lesson when you are overworked and short of time.

James Wilson, a teacher at South Bromsgrove High School for 13- to 18-year-olds, West Midlands, England

I downloaded the resource after seeing so many people tweeting about it. I have used it to inform my mid-term planning - instead of planning the next term over a few days I can make mid-term plans in an hour.

It is unbelievably useful, and saves me so much time that I can then use elsewhere, planning or creating my own resources. I use the resource to plan sets of lessons in one go. In the past this would be a long process, meaning I could only finish two or three in a day. Now I can plan a whole term in one go.

Rachael Godlement, secondary (11-18) English specialist, recently qualified special educational needs coordinator and former pastoral leader, Hampshire, England

I used the five-minute lesson plan earlier this year and received my first ever outstanding grade. The five-minute lesson plan let me escape the restrictive minutiae of a traditional lesson plan and express my intentions, ideas and thinking to the observer, at the same time as focusing on my students' learning in the lesson itself.


Username: philsha Profile: bit.lyTESConnectphilsha

Philip Moore, 30, has spent his career teaching in England, Italy, Thailand and El Salvador. He believes that working in international schools has allowed him more time to plan and prepare lessons. He thinks it is "very cool" that the 18 resources he has shared have been downloaded 85,100 times by 21,600 TESConnect users in 110 countries.

Moore says that he is "pleased to have saved people time".

After spending the past year teaching in the UK, in September he will begin a new job at an international school in Dubai. "There is a lot of unnecessary paperwork ... It stops teachers being able to do what is really important - spend time on creating engaging lessons," he says.

He started producing resources for TESConnect when he first qualified as a teacher, but when he was teaching at international schools, the different working environment meant he had time to produce them to a higher standard.

"It is nice my resources are so popular - the fact that so many people are using them shows they must be a good thing," he says. "I think they work internationally because there is an understanding that even though teachers work in different countries, we are all doing the same job."


Georgina Davies, a teacher at a small village primary (aged 4-11) school in the South of England

The resource about rocks and soils has been brilliant. I have a mixed class of Years 3 and 4 (aged 7-9), so the resource was pitched perfectly. I downloaded it because we were studying the subject as part of our science curriculum. It has been really fantastic, a great starting point to launch from. The children have really enjoyed learning about rocks and soils. They like the animated PowerPoints that have been so cleverly put together. I am very grateful to the author of this resource.

Monique Lees, a teacher at Trinity All Saints Primary School, Yorkshire, England

My Year 3 (aged 7-8) class loved it. I used it as part of a topic on volcanoes. I shared this with the other Year 3 teacher and we adapted the lesson plans and the worksheets for our own use. It was really effective and of high quality.

I am eternally grateful to all the teachers who share their resources. Coming into teaching later in life just three years ago, I found the workload at times unbearable, so to be able to use resources and lesson plans that are tried and tested is such a help and a big time-saver.

Marianne Cullen, a teacher at a British international school in Dubai

My children are in Year 3 (aged 8-9) and are a mixed class with Indian, Filipino, Emirati, Egyptian and Iranian heritage. Nearly all my students have English as an additional language.

We have been using the resource as an introduction and then I have been planning my own activities. The children have loved the PowerPoints and they seem to be grasping the concepts a lot better this term, remembering all the new vocabulary.


philsha - number of downloads: 85,100

ACOYEAR8 - number of downloads: 192,100

rtea - number of downloads: 49,600

Ross Morrison McGill - number of downloads: 225,000.

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