Posted by:

Building a local community of English teachers through regional ETJ groups



Starting and Reactivating Local ETJ Groups

One of my main projects this year is to start or reactivate local ETJ groups. This is going quite well. I am very grateful for the support of teachers around Japan who have volunteered to help.


In the past, some regional ETJ groups found things difficult because we were all still learning about how to build up a successful group, and, in some areas, there just weren’t enough members and it was difficult to bring in new members. There are now over 10,000 members around Japan, much more effective ways of getting the word out about workshops, and we have all had a lot more experience, so I think it is a very good time to focus on building up regional groups. If you are interested in starting or restarting an ETJ group in your area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can contact me at

Building Up a Successful Group

Having seen regional ETJ groups succeed or fail over the last 18 years, I have come to identify a few key factors in building up a successful ETJ group. By successful, I mean a group that has good and growing attendance at meetings and is empowering teachers in the area.


I think a meeting where teachers come along and listen to a long presentation is missing the point. These kinds of meetings don’t do enough to build up a community and don’t draw in and empower less experienced teachers. It’s rather like a children’s class where the teacher is the ‘entertainer’ or uses a teacher-centered approach, and then wonders why the children are not self-motivated autonomous learners and not contributing more.


If we want to have regional groups that expand beyond a small number of regular members; if we want an active local community to develop; and if we want to encourage teachers to be more self-motivated to develop professionally, we need to have meetings that encourage the active participation of members.


Here are my suggestions :


Have general topics that everybody feels are relevant and can say something about

For example, if there are topics like ‘Teaching preschool children’ or ‘Teaching at public elementary schools’, the teachers who don’t teach preschool children or who don’t teach at public elementary schools won’t feel the topics are relevant and won’t have anything to share. However, if there is a topic like ‘Teaching phonics’ or ‘Using games effectively’, some teachers can talk about how to teach phonics or use games at preschool, some at elementary school and some in junior high school, so everybody can relate to and feel involved in the workshop.


This is especially important for ETJ groups that only have meetings once every two or three months  – every meeting needs to feel relevant to as many teachers as possible. If teachers don’t attend one meeting, there will be a four or six month gap between meetings they attend, and their identification with the community will be weakened.


It’s not about having ‘exciting’ topics

Some organizers of groups focus on finding a presenter with something different or ‘exciting’ to say. I think this is a mistake. Apart from being difficult to sustain a type of meeting that depends on having interesting new topics or ‘exciting’ presenters, it usually doesn’t encourage participation enough. I think the key is to find topics that most people can say something about, but can learn more about from each other. More important than ‘What new thing did I get from this meeting?’ is ‘What did I share in this meeting?’


Avoid long presentations

One of the missions of ETJ is to encourage and empower teachers. This means giving less experienced teachers a chance to share ideas. Having one or two guest presenters who talk for a long time doesn’t do this and doesn’t build an active community. The key is to base a workshop around a topic, and, if possible, have at least 2, and preferably 3 or 4 teachers giving short presentations, and also have plenty of time for everybody to discuss the topic in groups. A good way to set up groups is to have teachers who are teaching in a similar kind of situation to be in the same group.


Aim for teachers of children
Within ETJ, there are teachers who teach in all kinds of situations and to students of all ages. However, experience has shown that the community that sees ETJ as their natural home and who are most likely to attend ETJ workshops on a regular basis are teachers of children, especially teachers of elementary school children and, increasingly, teachers of very young children. To build a good-sized community of teachers, the core focus of every workshop needs to be relevant to this community.


Committed leadership
Groups need committed leadership. It is natural that over time some leaders of local groups will become busy with other things or become focused on something else, leading to a group rarely having meetings. When this happens, it is important for the leaders to step back from the group, otherwise others won’t step in. Many ETJ groups have suffered from leaders staying in positions even when there are no meetings. Fortunately, there is now a new policy in place to help deal with this – if a group has no meeting for a year, the committee is considered to have stepped down.


Use social media effectively
Over time, we have developed more and more ways of letting teachers know about ETJ events. Some tried and trusted ways of reaching teachers, such as through , are still effective, and some newer ways, especially through the Language Teaching Professionals Facebook page, have become more and more important. It is also essential to see a local community as a virtual community as well as a physical one. This means having an active local Facebook group and making full use of the local group in the Language Teaching Network site when it is relaunched later this summer.


2 Responses to Building a local community of English teachers through regional ETJ groups

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *