Mind the Gap

In a plenary delivered at a symposium in Turkey in December 2012, Lindsay Clandfield talked about education and how things have changed (especially because of technology, globalization and the how both have changed social and work relations and demands.) He talked about how experts, academics and everybody else connected to education said there had to be big changes in education, in the way people teach (because learning has changed, the demands and needs of learners have changed) and that we are on the brink of major changes.  Up to this point he had everyone in the audience – including me – nodding and agreeing to what he was saying. However, at this point he showed that we have been in the brink of change for over a decade. He asked us why we were always on the brink but never past it, what we were waiting for the big change to happen. That really hit a button in me and it got me to think about it. It stayed in the back of my mind.

Recently that has been brought back to the very core of my thinking. I’m currently taking a course (online) at Harvard Graduate School of Education about Teaching for Understanding. And in one of the (many) texts I’ve read I heard (or rather read) David Perkins echo the same question, in a broader perspective. He talks about education, not just ELT, but I believe it applies to both (and many other areas of life). He says: “But there is a skeleton in the closet of change. We might call it the gulf between ideas and actions, or for short the idea-action gap. While we are rich with ideas about a better world, very little actually happens on the ground.”(Perkins, 2006)

Teachers who are engaged in Continuous Professional Development read articles, take part in webinars, discussions and attend conferences where we hear a lot about how education has to change and the ideal classroom, how technology is going to be fully integrated into the classroom, the ideal learning etc. But when we get to the classroom very little has changed, and even to those who venture and try to change things, very little room is allowed to such changes. We know where we want to get (or at least I think we do), but how to get there? How to bridge the gap? What are real actions that we are taking to move to the next step?

Maybe it’s time we stop talking so much about ideas and how education needs to change and start proposing and doing things that actually make it change. Unfortunately this does not involve only teachers but a much bigger sphere including government, school managers, parents… But I believe that if we, teachers start taking action, little by little we can transform theory into action.



Perkins, D. (2006). From Idea to Action. Course handout of Teaching for Understanding 2 at WIDE

World program developed by Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from https://learnweb.harvard.edu/wide on February 18, 2014.



Cecilia Lemos has been working with ELT since 1993 and is an Academic Coach for Educate Bilingual Program. She has worked a teacher trainer, writer, coordinator and teacher, presenting at local, national and international language teaching events. She’s a member of IATEFL’s Teacher Development SIG committee. Her main interests are feedback, correction and lesson observation.

  • Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)
    Posted at 23:15h, 25 março Responder

    Poignant questions Lindsay posed and very relevant, still. I believe, like almost everything in life, that waiting for the change to come leads nowhere. It is up to the individual to act, as you say, or nothing happens. No big changes are necessary really. It’s experimenting and modifying practice accordingly that drive change from our end, bottom up, not top down. Top down change, as we have seen many times, is more often than not, uninformed.

    • Cecília Lemos
      Cecília Lemos
      Posted at 00:10h, 23 abril Responder

      Very true, Tyson. But why do we keep talking about it? What is missing? I know a few of us have already started experimenting and modifying our practices to embrace the changes and find our place (and balance) in the midst of all. Is it numbers we are missing? More teachers that take the leap to experiment?

  • Eduardo Santos
    Posted at 23:59h, 25 março Responder

    Very interesting post, Cecília.
    This idea of change in our field has also echoed in some conferences I’ve attended recently. It is true that there is a gap between what is presented and discussed in ELT conferences and what you actually see in the classroom. I believe that apart from all the existing barriers such as parents, schools, and materials used, we teachers can change what happens in the classroom, little by little, adapting our beliefs to existing practices. Changing the way a lesson goes and our goals as teachers of a specific group can be done without necessarily having to change broader policies and practices of an institution. Possible changes for a possible future. What do you think?
    Thanks for the food for thought!

    • Cecília Lemos
      Cecília Lemos
      Posted at 00:13h, 23 abril Responder

      I agree with you wholeheartedly, Edu. And I know teachers who have been doing exactly that. However, it’s high time at least some of the broader policies and practices change as well. Otherwise you have parents and students comparing teachers and outcomes – for better or worse.

      But I think at least we are moving in the right direction.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Lucia Bodeman
    Posted at 09:47h, 26 março Responder

    Very good thoughts to consider, Ceci. Great post. Way I see things is there are way more teachers taking part and engaging in professional development than managers, administrators and directors themselves. And this absence can be seen at school meetings, or regional events. As you said, teachers do need to continue taking action – and I have witnessed that we do make a huge effort. This is evident in the numbers of teachers present in seminars, conferences, etc. But there are others who are not aware of what is happening…sometimes information doesn’t get out as much as it should, or accommodation has taken over. In the smaller schools, very few trachers are aware of what is now available, lack the resources necessary, or – worse!- might even hold attitudes that are counter conducive to a productive learning environment.

    Another point is culture. Do parents embrace the changes we propose, or do they simply want to focus on marks? How many actually wish to to learn about the curriculum, etc? And how many directors of less prominent schools wish to hop on the wagon?

    I am totally in favor of these changes and do my utmost best to provide challenging and motivating lessons. But for everything to come together and move forward, I figure that those who still have not collaborated might not be as aware as we might expect, or are but perhaps fear the “extra amount” of effort needed to bring these changes forward. Let’s hope the winds of change blow in our favor, to spread the word and bridge this gap soon. Fingers always crossed. 🙂

    • Cecília Lemos
      Cecília Lemos
      Posted at 00:19h, 23 abril Responder

      You raise some interesting – and essential – points Lu. I agree with you when you talk about the “divide” that can happen between teachers (and the fear of the ‘extra work’). And I also believe culture and the “eye on the mark(s)” has a big impact… How can we change that? Can we believe in the story about the man walking on a beach filled withdying starfish and throwing a few of them back into the ocean?

      Can one teacher make a dfference by embracing changes and experimenting (as Tyson said) make a difference in such an enormous number of English schools and students we currently have?

      “You may say me a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.” Fingers crossed! 🙂

  • Natalina Lettieri
    Posted at 16:20h, 08 outubro Responder

    I have been teaching ESL adult learners for many years and had made major modifications to the way I teach according to who I have in my classroom. I believe at the end of the day giving your students the tools to learn and to transfer this information in their every day life is what we all want to see happen. All teachers need to really invest time in tapping into how students want to learning according to their needs and educational background.

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