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'Sticky objects' and pathways to well-being and resilience: teacher understandings of and practices in positive psychology in their classrooms


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Teaching is an emotional business. Although negative emotions have been extensively studied, issues of teacher well-being and positive emotions are under-researched. Consequently, this study investigates teacher perspectives on their working lives, using positive psychology, exploratory practice and ‘sticky objects’ (objects that attract and retain emotional resonances) as theoretical and methodological lenses for data generation, analysis and theory building. This qualitative study involved 12 participants (seven from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and five from the United Kingdom) who were asked to use Diaro (a mobile app) to photograph objects in their daily lives which conveyed emotions and write accompanying brief explanations. Follow-up interviews provided deeper insights into their choices, explaining/amplifying the emotions that ‘stick’ to the selected objects. Three overarching themes emerged: the personal and interpersonal (care of self, of colleagues and of students); the pedagogical (student progress and creating/using materials); and the environmental (institutions, the weather and the wider political situation). The data gives a rounded picture of the lived experiences of teachers teaching English for academic purposes in different contexts. Findings indicate that teachers care deeply about their professional responsibilities as educators. They are considerably affected by interpersonal relationships between colleagues, as well as teacher– student relations and the progress (or otherwise) of their students. As the field begins to recognise the need for research into teacher well-being as a contributor to resilience, the related areas of exploratory practice (with its focus on ‘quality of life’) and positive psychology afford new possibilities for theorising the daily practice of language teachers in higher education.
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ELT Research Papers 20.01
‘Sticky objects’ and pathways to well-being
and resilience: teacher understandings
of and practices in positive psychology in
their classrooms
Siân Etherington, Judith Hanks and Eman Al-Shehri
ISBN 978-0-86355-973-0
© British Council 2020 Design /K170
10 Spring Gardens
London SW1A 2BN, UK
ELT Research Papers 20.01
‘Sticky objects’ and pathways to well-being
and resilience: teacher understandings
of and practices in positive psychology in
their classrooms
Siân Etherington, Judith Hanks and Eman Al-Shehri
About the authors |
About the authors
Dr Eman Alshehri has experience of working
with and researching teachers and learners in the
Saudi Arabian higher education context. She has
published quantitative and qualitative studies of
English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher and
second language (L2) learner perceptions and
beliefs about motivational strategies, the use
of first language in the classroom, and classroom
observation for professional development. She is
interested in researching the psychology of both
L2 learners and EFL teachers.
Dr Siân Etherington works at the University of
Salford, UK, as an academic developer, having
recently moved from her role as a lecturer in
teaching English to speakers of other languages
(TESOL) in the same institution. Her research
interests are in the psychology of language teaching
and learning, and particularly the role of emotion
within these activities.
Dr Judith Hanks is Associate Professor in Language
Education, School of Education, University of Leeds,
UK. She is Programme Leader for MA TESOL and
Teacher Education and has taught in China, Italy,
Singapore and the UK. She has published extensively
on exploratory practice in language education, and
her research interests include intercultural and
ethical issues in the co-production of fully inclusive
practitioner research.
Teaching is an emotional business. Although
negative emotions have been extensively studied,
issues of teacher well-being and positive emotions
are under-researched. Consequently, this study
investigates teacher perspectives on their working
lives, using positive psychology, exploratory
practice and ‘sticky objects’ (objects that attract
and retain emotional resonances) as theoretical
and methodological lenses for data generation,
analysis and theory building.
This qualitative study involved 12 participants
(seven from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and
five from the United Kingdom) who were asked to
use Diaro (a mobile app) to photograph objects
in their daily lives which conveyed emotions and
write accompanying brief explanations. Follow-up
interviews provided deeper insights into their
choices, explaining/amplifying the emotions that
‘stick’ to the selected objects. Three overarching
themes emerged: the personal and interpersonal
(care of self, of colleagues and of students); the
pedagogical (student progress and creating/using
materials); and the environmental (institutions, the
weather and the wider political situation). The data
gives a rounded picture of the lived experiences of
teachers teaching English for academic purposes in
different contexts.
Findings indicate that teachers care deeply about
their professional responsibilities as educators.
They are considerably affected by interpersonal
relationships between colleagues, as well as teacher–
student relations and the progress (or otherwise)
of their students. As the field begins to recognise
the need for research into teacher well-being as
a contributor to resilience, the related areas of
exploratory practice (with its focus on ‘quality of life’)
and positive psychology afford new possibilities for
theorising the daily practice of language teachers in
higher education.
| 1
1 Introduction .................................................................................................................................................................. 2
2 Literature review .......................................................................................................................................................... 3
2.1 Teaching is an emotional and embodied social practice ........................................................................................... 3
2.2 Focusing on the positive .......................................................................................................................................................... 3
2.3 Sticky objects and emotions .................................................................................................................................................. 4
3 Context ............................................................................................................................................................................ 5
3.1 The research sites ....................................................................................................................................................................... 5
4 Methodology .................................................................................................................................................................. 6
4.1 Participants .................................................................................................................................................................................... 7
5 Findings ........................................................................................................................................................................... 8
5.1 Overview of the data ................................................................................................................................................................... 8
5.2 Theme 1: Personal and interpersonal relations .............................................................................................................. 9
5.2.1 Feeling close to students .......................................................................................................................................... 9
5.2.2 Teacher self-care ......................................................................................................................................................... 11
5.2.3 Relationships with colleagues ...............................................................................................................................12
5.3 Theme 2: Pedagogic aspects ...............................................................................................................................................13
5.4 Theme 3: Environment ............................................................................................................................................................ 17
5.5 Theme 4: Caveats .......................................................................................................................................................................20
6 Discussion ..................................................................................................................................................................... 21
7 Implications .................................................................................................................................................................23
References ...........................................................................................................................................................................24
| 2
Teacher emotions are central to understanding
classroom language learning, since they affect
the motivation, health and well-being of all those
involved. However, in recent years an increase in
emotional exhaustion, even burnout, of teachers
has been observed, indicating the power of teacher
emotions affecting the life of the classroom and the
persons (learners and teachers) operating within.
The study of teacher emotion is therefore of vital
importance in understanding classroom language
pedagogy, and in charting teachers navigating their
professional development through often difficult
For some years, it has been clear that classroom
language learning and teaching involves more
than cognition (Arnold, 1999; Kramsch, 2009), with
emotions contributing to the personal/pedagogical
experiences of practitioners. Until recently, the focus
has been on language learning as a site of struggle
(e.g. Ellis, 2001; Kinginger, 2004), with extensive
research into the negative aspects of affect, and
attempts to eliminate these. Yet, as Mercer and
Kostoulas (2018) note, analysis of teacher emotions,
with particular emphasis on positive psychology,
has hitherto been missing from the debate. This
interest links directly to the principle of prioritising
‘quality of life’ as conceptualised in exploratory
practice (Allwright & Hanks, 2009; Hanks, 2017,
2019). Quality of life is here viewed as not merely
general happiness, but rather a textured and
multilayered experience which encompasses
striving as well as joy. The principles of exploratory
practice emphasise working collegially to understand
classroom language learning and teaching. As
such, exploratory practice is a useful conduit for
researching the significance of positive emotions
in language teacher education and continuing
professional development (CPD).
Likewise, ‘well-being’ can be conceptualised as
living a good life and links to the notion of quality
of life outlined above. Seligman (2011) captures
this in his term ‘flourish’, indicating a perspective
on well-being that encompasses not only happiness
and pleasure, but also meaningful engagement and
moral value. The factors of well-being for Seligman
are encapsulated in the PERMA framework, which
we detail in the following section.
Resilience can be broadly defined as the capacity
to withstand and recover from stress or adverse
happenings. Earlier psychological research
conceptualised resilience as an individual trait,
but later understandings have moved beyond this
view, seeing it as dynamic and emergent from a
complex system. Within second language learning
and teaching (SLLT) research, the notion of teacher
resilience has been theorised as an ‘emergent
process of psychological growth’ arising from a
resilience system comprising inner strengths,
external support and learned strategies (Kostoulas
& Lämmerer, 2018: 251). Hiver (2018: 235) views
teacher resilience as a ‘dynamic process within a
given context. [It] encompasses teachers’ sense of
purpose, entails meaningful action and participation,
and is shaped by the interaction of personal and
social dimensions.’
Resilience has been criticised anecdotally as a
means for unscrupulous employers to further
exploit exhausted workers. This misapplication
is rejected here. Instead the study explores the
potential for renewal and resistance that deep
resilience affords teachers struggling with heavy
workloads and conflicting institutional/educational
demands, often under precarious contractual
The project aims to develop understanding of the
role positive emotions play in supporting well-being
and resilience of language teachers in the stressful
environment of higher education institutions (HEIs).
It spans two apparently disparate cultures in two
settings teaching English for academic purposes
(EAP), encompassing commonalities as well as
differences across the field. The use of Ahmed’s
(2004) notion of ‘sticky objects’, i.e. objects that
attract and convey emotions attributed by individual
and collective experience, enables a detailed
analysis of what helps teachers to draw on their own
resources to survive and thrive in their work, and
provides insights into what institutions, managers
and teachers can do to promote well-being.
Literature review | 3
Literature review
2.1 Teaching is an emotional and
embodied social practice
The literature on the nature of emotions makes a
distinction between emotions and mood or general
affect. Emotions are a subset of affect and are
‘multicomponent response tendencies that unfold
over a relatively short space of time’ (Fredrickson,
2001), differing to affect in what they are about,
timeframe and dimensions of operation. Emotions
relate to specific objects and circumstances (Schutz
et al., 2006); they are more transitory than mood
and relate to more discrete categories of feeling
(e.g. pride, anger, joy, disgust). Emotions are also
theorised as ‘embodied’, emerging from language
and interaction and dynamic in nature (Zembylas,
2005). In Benesch’s words, emotions ‘are not static,
but move and stick’ (2012: 34). This relates directly
to Ahmed’s (2004) notion of sticky objects, as
elucidated below.
Despite the role of teacher emotions in educational
processes being well-documented (e.g. Hargreaves,
1998; Sutton & Wheatley, 2003), specific research
focus on teacher emotion has only recently come
to the fore. There is evidence for the impact of
teacher emotion on learner outcomes, teacher
identity development, classroom management, and
the implementation of change (Chen, 2016). Teacher
emotion inventories have shown joy as the most
frequently experienced emotion in primary teachers,
with positive emotions arising from classroom and
social interaction. Meanwhile, negative emotions
from institutional policies and changes and work–life
imbalances are often reported (Chen, 2016). Despite
this intriguing work, there is as yet scant information
on emotions of teachers working in universities,
particularly those teaching EAP and preparing
students for their academic studies.
Teacher education is crucial for successful
language learning and teaching, but as Wright
(2005) notes, research in this area is frequently
reduced to surface-level observations and ‘quick-fix’
solutions which do not solve the problem. In contrast,
exploratory practice (Allwright & Hanks, 2009;
Hanks, 2015, 2017) aims for deep understanding
of the complexities of the language classroom,
the kind of ‘deeply contextual’ work that Zeichner
and Noffke (2001: 315) advocate. Exploratory
practice’s philosophical framework of principles
includes attention to quality of life, working for
understanding, working collegially and working for
mutual development. This challenges the prevalent
deficit model (Breen, 2006) in education, and links
to the ideas underpinning positive psychology.
2.2 Focusing on the positive
Gkonou and Mercer (2017) investigated the role of
social and emotional intelligence within teachers’
actual classroom practices, finding that English as
a foreign language (EFL) teachers score highly for
both. They argue for the necessity of an added
interpersonal dimension to teacher training and
education curricula, stressing that these are skills
which teachers can improve at any point in their
Although emotion has figured in second language
acquisition (SLA) research as part of the individual
differences research agenda (Dörnyei & Ryan,
2015), the emphasis has until recently been on the
influence of negative emotions on student learning.
A more positive focus has arisen in recent years,
particularly with work on positive psychology in SLA
(MacIntyre et al., 2016), taking its cue from Seligman
and Csikszentmihalyi (2000). One of the major
concerns of this movement is how a more positive
life can be achieved (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Literature review | 4
Frameworks have been used both as impetus to
practical action and methods for investigation.
For example, Seligman’s (2011) PERMA framework
encompasses Positive emotions, Engagement,
Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments.
Meanwhile, Oxford (2016) argues that her EMPATHICS
framework extends Seligman’s work, making it more
appropriate for investigating SLLT contexts. Oxford
recognises the nature of emotion as a dynamic,
complex system, and posits the components of
Empathy, Motivation, Perseverance and resilience,
Agency and autonomy, notions of change over
Time, Habits of mind, varied Intelligences, Character
strengths, and Self factors.
The positive psychology movement also promotes
the benefits of positive emotions in learning.
Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson,
2001) contends that experience of positive emotions
broadens out the ‘thought–action repertoires’ of
learners, enables them to build enduring personal
resources and leads to the increase of resilience
and transformation of self. Such work has been
developed within SLA (e.g. MacIntyre et al., 2016;
Dewaele et al., 2019) with similar arguments made
for the benefits bestowed. A key piece of research
(Dewaele & MacIntyre, 2016) investigating learner
anxiety and enjoyment of second language learning
indicates that these are separate constructs, not
two sides of the same coin. We need to consider
the positive as more than simply the absence of
the negative, and consciously work towards this
in classrooms. Teacher actions and their framings
of emotion are central to this process.
2.3 Sticky objects and emotions
Drawing on the work of Ahmed (2004; 2010),
Benesch (2012) introduces into the realm of
TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other
languages) research the notion of sticky objects.
Both researchers argue that there are objects to
which emotions particularly adhere, and which in
turn attract other sets of emotions, thus providing a
particularly tangible way to highlight and explore
the role of emotions in teaching. Although Ahmed’s
work includes linguistic items, names, phrases
and concepts as sticky objects, Benesch chooses
concrete objects (cell phone and dictionary) as
the focus of her research. These aspects are of
particular interest, since they bring new dimensions
to the study of the lived experience of teachers.
In looking more closely at how teachers describe
their emotional experiences, we can understand
more fully the complexity of these sticky objects and
their impact on teachers’ well-being and emotional
lives. Additionally, analysis of the teachers’ choices
of object and their discourses about their teaching
experiences allows us to access understandings
of the ‘feeling rules’ (Hochschild, 1979) within
their workplaces: what teachers are allowed to or
expected to value in their teaching. Teachers provide
a sense of their underlying values, priorities and
‘taken-for-granted’ understandings in relation to
their emotional teaching lives.
In sum, the field is experiencing an ‘emotional
turn’, as the importance of emotions in language
pedagogy becomes clear. Yet little is known about
what teachers themselves think of their everyday
classroom lives, and less is known about how
teachers use sticky objects to positively connote
their way through the difficulties of their daily
experiences. Consequently, this current research
project aims to probe teacher conceptions of the
emotional life of their profession, with particular
emphasis on the positive as a way of understanding
what contributes to teacher well-being and resilience
in the face of considerable daily challenges.
| 5
We were particularly interested in examining how
these issues manifested in two distinctive HEIs:
one in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the
other in the UK. These two settings represent the
two ‘arms’ of EAP: the former where teachers and
learners largely share the same language and
(institutional/national/educational) culture, and the
latter where students are ‘international incomers’
needing to access the invisible rules of the new
(academic/national/local) culture. Teaching EAP
is a large, influential and growing field (Hyland, 2006;
Wingate, 2015), but stressful and conflicted. It is a
high-stakes endeavour for students themselves
and for the governments that fund them, with large
numbers of teachers employed to teach academic
skills as well as language. It is crucial, therefore, to
understand the factors affecting teacher well-being
and resilience in this field.
In the UK, the precarious nature of many teaching
contracts in EAP settings means that these may be
contexts where greater focus on the positive is
needed. Teachers work with international students
who are dealing with multiple transitions (cultural,
educational, linguistic) and enduring distance from
usual support networks such as family and friends.
Consequently, teachers often perform the ‘emotion
labour’ (Hochschild, 1979) of supporting students
as an integral part of their jobs. Meanwhile, in KSA,
the classroom is often por trayed as a hierarchical
space, with authoritarian teacher behaviours and
consequent poor teacher–student relationships
(Alrabai, 2016; Elyas & Picard, 2010, 2012). Lack of
adequate teacher training and development has
resulted in demotivated and disengaged learners,
despite the teachers’ acknowledged desires for
improvement (see Al-Seghayer, 2014). Although
there are many dif ferences between the two
settings, there are commonalities in the emotional
and psychological strains reported by teachers
anecdotally. This begs for a detailed analysis of
the possible contributions of positive psychology
to EAP teachers’ lives.
3.1 The research sites
The Saudi university in the study is the main
campus of a large HEI (18,000 students) in the
west of Saudi Arabia. English language institute
staff supervise teaching the preparatory year
students (9,000 female students), with a staff of
about 200 Saudi and international teachers in the
female section. It is typical of many such institutes
in HEIs in non-anglophone settings.
The UK university is a medium-sized British HEI
(20,000 students, of whom around 3,000 are
international). The EFL section provides pre-sessional
and in-sessional EAP, as well as English and study
skills teaching for the International Foundation Year.
The unit employs approximately 20 members of
part-time and full-time teaching and management
staff. It is typical of many such units in HEIs in
English-speaking countries.
| 6
The project adopted a case study approach (Stake,
2005), collecting a range of qualitative data from 12
participants in the two HEIs outlined above. Sticky
objects (Ahmed, 2004; Benesch, 2012) were used
as a heuristic device for emotion diaries (Sutton &
Wheatley, 2003: 335), in combination with follow-up
interviews, to explore teachers’ understandings of
positive emotions and well-being in their classroom
practices. Probing teachers’ personally selected
examples of sticky objects allowed a focus on
concrete aspects of teachers’ lived experience,
drawing together actual practice, thinking and
feeling. The aim was to capture the specificity
of emotional engagement by teachers in their
classroom lives. The use of emotion diaries allowed
for an immediate and day-to-day study of emotional
experience and emotional effort, rather than
teachers’ retrospective recall of the emotionally
Following a pilot study to refine data collection
procedures, the main study involved seven Saudi
teachers and five UK teachers keeping positive
emotion diaries over a month. The instructions
for the diaries asked participants to make a daily
entry on the online diary app Diaro (Benson, 2018)
including a photograph of a positively connoted
sticky object representing their daily emotion
experiences, and some commentary about that
object. This multimodal approach to data generation
afforded a richer and more nuanced understanding
of the emotional impact of the selected objects.
Teachers were recruited through email, text
messages, word-of-mouth and, in the UK, a
CPD workshop. Full ethical approval from the
universities involved was gained before the start
of data collection. Participation was voluntary,
pseudonyms were used, and data was carefully
protected. Participants were specifically asked not to
photograph other people as objects. Data collection
was conducted in English: participants in KSA were
given a choice of using English or Arabic, with all
voluntarily choosing English, with occasional Arabic,
for diary entries and interviews. Although this was
not the Saudi teachers’ first language, it seems they
felt that writing and talking about their teaching lives
in English allowed sufficient freedom of expression,
and may have offered the additional benefit of
affording further practice in the language.
After the diary stage, follow-up interviews with
each participant provided greater exploration of
the emotions and objects recorded. The interviews
lasted 40 to 60 minutes and were audio-recorded,
then transcribed. Diary entries, photographs and
interview data were coded and analysed for key
themes using the qualitative data analysis programme
NVivo. The coding and analysis of each dataset were
completed separately by individual researchers
in-country, with regular comparison of codes arising
and interpretations. External checking of coding and
analysis was provided by a third researcher to aid
consistency of analysis across the datasets. Analysis
aimed to reach a balance between aspects of data
which were unique and idiosyncratic as well as
searching for commonalities (Stake, 2005), thus
creating a detailed, nuanced picture of teacher
emotional practice within the two contexts.
| 7
4.1 Participants
The seven Saudi participants were women teaching
in a female-only university. Only Saudi nationals were
considered to provide consistency of background,
previous educational experiences and teacher
training. UK participants were of mixed gender and
nationality, with roughly similar years of teaching
experience, reflecting the situations of many teachers
in this context.
Tab le 1: Participants
Teacher Gender Teaching
Qualification Full-time/part-time Nationality
Amal Female 15 MA TESOL Full-time Saudi
Noura Female 11 MA TESOL Full-time Saudi
Sara Female 4MA TESOL Full-time Saudi
Mona Female 11 MA Linguistics Full-time Saudi
Nada Female 5MA Applied
Full-time Saudi
Wafa Female 5MA TESOL Full-time Saudi
Lina Female 1. 5 BA English;
TESOL certificate
Full-time Saudi
Karen Female 20+ DELTA; MA TESOL Part-time but long-term
member of staff
George Male 20+ DELTA Full-time; long-term member
of staf f
Martin Male 20+ DELTA; MA TESOL Part-time then full-time;
returning staff member
Kira Female 20+ MA TESOL Full-time on summer school;
returning staff member
Sandra Female 3 MA TESOL Full-time on summer school;
new to the institution
UK (with bilingual
Arabic heritage)
| 8
This section provides an overview of the data,
showing the emotions most frequently mentioned
and the range of objects recorded. We then present
findings in four thematic areas, identified through
the data analysis process. These are:
personal and interpersonal relations
pedagogic elements
For each theme, key sticky objects are presented
alongside teacher diary entries and interview data to
explain further the meanings and values associated
with these objects. Diary entries are presented
unedited to preserve participants’ voices. Text in
bold shows emphasis added by the researchers.
5.1 Overview of the data
There are 43 positive emotions identified by Saudi
teachers and 26 by UK teachers, as shown in Table 2.
The Saudi teachers recorded 65 objects (including
some repetitions), of which the most frequently
mentioned were teaching materials, coffee, objects
denoting social interaction with friends and students,
and students’ academic progress.
The UK teachers recorded 62 diary entries, 50
of which included objects. The most frequently
mentioned items were teaching materials, technology
resources, student work and university buildings.
Comparing the data between the two contexts
indicates that the main emotions expressed are
similar. Teachers frequently experience happiness,
pride and enjoyment in their professional lives. There
is also a sense of energy, job satisfaction and reward.
The addition of humour in the UK data comes from
one participant’s entries and can be seen to serve a
particular purpose. Teaching materials and student
work feature highly in both lists. Coffee cups are
regularly recorded by Saudi teachers, acting as a
particular signifier of positive emotion. UK teachers
use pictures of university buildings and offices as a
cypher for relations with colleagues and students,
highlighting certain causes of positive emotion.
The next stage of the findings considers these
objects and their emotional meanings for teachers
within thematic groupings.
Tab le 2 : Emotions and sticky objects
Emotion UK data (no. of objects) KSA data (no. of objects)
Happiness 14 27
Pride 15 13
Job satisfaction/feeling useful/rewarding/worthiness 13 4
Humour 8 1
Surprise 2 8
Relaxing 5 3
Enjoyment 5 9
Positive energy 4 6
Lucky/blessed 3 6
Perseverance and achievement 3 -
Relief 3 -
| 9
5.2 Theme 1: Personal and
interpersonal relations
Personal and interpersonal relationships are
clearly evidenced as central to teachers’ emotional
well-being. Caring for others and experiencing
care-of-self are prominent in the positive emotional
experiences recorded. Examples include how
teachers look after themselves, their relationships
with colleagues, how they work to look after their
students, and the psychological benefits they
receive from relationships formed in the classroom.
5.2.1 Feeling close to students
The majority of sticky objects concern the positive
emotions teachers experience from teacher–student
relationships. Building strong relationships, sometimes
a friendship, with students energises teachers and
helps them enjoy teaching. Objects representing
these close relationships include texts and emails
from students and past students, meeting spaces
for students and staff outside class, and shared
social occasions (e.g. breakfast, pizza and an
end-of-exams party).
Several teachers seemed unaware of how important
good relations with their students were to their
well-being, only discovering this through the process
of diary-keeping. For example:
George: I reflected on my teaching a bit, my
relationship with students, most of it I think I
realise that I, I … so both professionally and
personally you realise that, well actually I’m a
person that cares a lot about relationships.
Most of my entries were on relationships,
so that’s what I discovered.
The impact of students on teacher emotions
was sometimes a revelation:
Sandra: It’s funny because I noticed that a lot of
[content in the diary entries] was student related …
yeah and funnily enough it all related to being liked.
And I never thought I was that kind of person. I
was like, you know, you don’t care if people like you
and you hear [inaudible] all the time, but then when
I was reflecting, a lot of the things that made me
feel good are, like, positive comments.
Teachers worked hard to build personal relationships
with their classes, talking about their interests and
sharing social time inside and outside class. For
example, Wafa records a picture of pizzas,
representing herself and her students socialising.
Wafa (diary): After finishing the Mid Module Exam
I brought pizza and surprised my students. They
were so excited and grateful for me. I told them
that you study and worked hard, so you need now
to take a break and reward yourself. Of course, I
joined them and we talked about our life and some
of their interests. I felt so great because I was able
to know more about my students and what they are
interested in.
| 10
Similarly, Sandra records moments where her
positive emotion derives from being closer to
her students:
Object: Pavement in the rain
Sandra (diary): Today it rained heavily as I
approached the end of my class. I waited in the
building to wait for the rain to stop & a few students
decided to wait with me too. We had a lovely,
informal chat about life! I enjoyed getting to know
them better & also felt great to know that they are
happy to spend more time with me even after our
class had finished.
Mona continues her friendly relationships with some
of her previous students who have graduated from
the university. She explains her understanding of the
place of close relationships within the teacher’s role:
Mona: Like I have students who, I, I know their kids
now [laughing], you know … My, my relationship
with my students is more important than my
relationship with my co-workers. I’m there for
them. I’m not there for my co-worker [laughing].
My job is to serve the students.
However, there are some risks in taking this
approach. Noticeably, it is the two less-experienced
teachers in each situation who spend more time
socialising with their students. They both appear
to feel some additional pressure from these
relationships to support their students:
Sandra: We had a variety of workshops/mini-
lessons on for students and mine got full first
which made my day! I felt confident and reassured
to know that students are continuing to sign up
for my sessions and filling my list first every time.
I believe that I feel it more strongly as a new
teacher! It’s motivating to know that students like
to learn different skills with me. Now, I’m eager
to stay and work till later to try and make my
future sessions just as useful and up to their
Lina is beginning to realise these difficulties:
Lina: If I see a girl crying in class or if she doesn’t
feel well, my whole day is affected. I feel then ya
haram (what a shame), how will she manage now
or something.
For this reason, she is setting some boundaries,
explaining that having good relations with her
students is a double-edged sword:
Lina: It’s good and bad. It’s good because until
now I receive messages from the students and I
sometimes hear comments. Sometimes they pass
by my office and they’re, like, thanks you and we
miss you and everything. Err, this is the good part.
The bad part is that, if for example I know that girl
has a problem, I can’t stop myself from thinking
about later. Oh will she do fine in the exam? I’ll be
worried and stressed out. I can’t sleep wa Allah (by
God) before their writings because I know they’ll
be stressed.
It appears that more-experienced teachers sense
that some distance is needed. Karen reports finding
the end of a course somewhat difficult, due to the
students’ emotional involvement with her:
Karen: I mean today was the last teaching day for
my group. You know, they all say, ‘Oh, this is the
last lecture you are going to give us,’ I say ‘yes, I
won’t be lecturing to you anymore’ you know … and
they were like ‘Ah.’ You know and it was a bit of an
awkward, wanting hugs and photos and things and
I said ‘No, I’ll see you …’
The balance between being liked as a teacher and
building a strong, but professional, relationship which
supports learning is a difficult one. Negotiating the
most effective teacher–student relationship is a
major piece of emotional work.
| 11
5.2.2 Teacher self-care
Protecting one’s sense of self within the complex,
highly charged setting of HEIs is a key part of the
positive emotional work EAP teachers do. Many
teachers do this by carving out time and space for
themselves within the working day. A cup of coffee
is a sticky object representing a moment of reward
and self-care for many:
Amal (diary): I feel that this is luxury for me to
pass [a particular shop] and get a cup of coffee
I mean that I feel this is a luxury so it makes me
really happy.
Sara explains that the happiness she felt when she
had her coffee after checking the students’ writing
papers came from her feeling of achievement:
Interviewer: What did you feel about this coffee
cup? What does it mean for you?
Sara: It means like, I have accomplished … what I
planned for the day. I have achieved my plan and
now I have time to pamper myself with a cup of
coffee, yes.
Similarly, Wafa writes of the treat she gives herself at
the end of a tiring day:
Wafa (diary): Rewarding my self after a long
day class is part of my success. I felt so great
when I went to a restaurant and ordered something
I really love. I ate Biryani and I enjoyed my time.
I always like to reward my self especially after a
hectic day. Of course it makes feel that “ I DID IT”.
Finding time for oneself outside the demands of
the university is another aspect of self-care. Karen
indicates how she is careful to make this separation:
Karen: My teaching life and my personal
mindfulness, are separate … Because when I
finish work I go to walk the dogs. My niece’s dogs.
And I forget, then, what’s been going on during
the day. Every teacher has problems with admin
or miscommunication or whatever it is. So, I might
have the good time in the classroom and then
come out and have a bad time in some way.
But then when I go home, I don’t. I put aside
the bad times and use that time for me.
| 12
The aspect of teacher agency in making this careful
separation is apparent, as it is in other entries where
teachers show how they take control of negative
emotional situations. For example, Kira makes
changes in her approach:
Object: Corner of office
Kira (diary): I had too many problems to cope with
last week. Today, I talked to the coordinator and
shared my feelings, experiences in the last week.
I also made suggestions as to how to change things
which felt much better – a sense of achievement
and progress.
This relates to the self-aspect of well-being, but also
overlaps with the relationship aspects in that the
teacher was able to talk openly to her co-ordinator
and improve her work situation.
One noticeable aspect of self-care concerns the use
of humour. One teacher in particular (George) utilises
humour as a way of protecting himself from some of
the stresses of teaching and maintaining his sense of
self within the institution. For example, George uses
the image of Professor Wallofski (a clown character
created by the British comedian and actor Max Wall,
popular in the 1970s) as a folder illustration on virtual
learning environment materials to help students
to find materials more easily, but also to signify a
deliberate counter-corporate stance by this teacher:
George (diary): Corporate brand ... max wall’s
dr wallofski character ... I hate corporatism really.
No not totally ... but image in HE is out of control.
Not sure where I fit in in the new image toolkits …
Hmmm So max wall. Dr something was the
character lm googling it. Dr wallofski. Yup. Not
sure he is the hard hitting academic sensitive
to todays white heat industrehhh academic
recruitment needs. But he helps my studrnts
find stuff on blackboard. A little bit of quirkiness
in the white heat of marketised HE. HA HA.
George later expands on his reasons for using this
image. Humour is there to engage the students,
but also to allow him space to resist what he sees
as negative aspects of higher education:
George: And I think the point about the ‘Max Wall
thing was also trying to make the leaners have a
laugh, so it ’s back to ‘affect’ again. It doesn’t have
to be all grim and corporate at this point. So it’s a
little bit of rebellion … it adds a certain double hit
to it. So that’s why I included that … Humour kind of
exposes the vacuousness of that which you are up
against and the lack of intellectual clout behind it,
whilst at the same time I’m not just putting the
images on for some bizarre joke, it genuinely is to
allow people to find it quickly … and to create this
feeling of effect that not everything at university
has to be grim and awful.
Humour is an outlet for stress and a way of asserting
identity for this teacher. In later feedback George
indicated that he feels his sense of humour represents
a peculiarly British way of dealing with stress.
5.2.3 Relationships with colleagues
Teachers’ relationships with colleagues are a source
of positive emotion in their daily professional lives.
Very often this is captured in photographs of food
and drink, indicating it is through this kind of social
interaction that teachers recharge their well-being.
As with self-care, cups of coffee are often recorded
as representative of this aspect.
Nada notes the positive feeling when a colleague
brings her a cup of coffee. Here, the sticky object
of the coffee cup signifies much more than the hot
drink; attached are feelings of care, generosity
and pleasure:
Nada (diary): Today I have a long day ahead of
me. I’m working on Mid-module schedules and i
have a deadline by the end of the week. A coffee
break with my colleagues made me a bit more
energetic and less stressed about the deadline.
| 13
She highlighted the importance of the company
she had when drinking her coffee:
Nada: It’s a mood stabiliser [laughing] … so, it’s not
the coffee itself it’s the company that I have around
me. So, when I have my colleagues, which I’m in
good relationship with, it kind of makes me feel
safe at work, So that’s what the cup of coffee
represents because I can’t take their pictures, so
it was safer to take a picture of the cup of coffee.
This sense of safety and care is echoed by Karen,
who cites strong relationships with colleagues as
her motivation to remain within the institution:
Karen: I’ve been to 12 different universities and
I’ve come back here. Why have I come back here? …
Because, I like it here and I like the people here.
That’s the key. The work is the [inaudible] work, I
mean after 35 years of doing … teaching English,
you can adapt to whatever work they want you to
do, but you can’t change the colleagues you work
with … Yeah, they’re like family.
The shared sense of experience and purpose
provides fur ther positive benefits, as Wafa elucidates:
Wafa: For me it’s very important to sit with my
colleagues after classes, because … they are
working at the same field and we know what kind
of problems may occur. So, we can discuss that
because they are, I think, the only people that
they can understand what I’m talking about.
So I can say, I have a problem in the class … and
they start to, ‘OK, we will give you solution, you
have to do this, and this and this.’ especially if they
are … experts and they have been teaching for
many years, so they know what’s going on.
Others write of experiencing support and positive
reinforcement from colleagues over shared lunch
Object: Empty plates in a café
Kira (diary): I had a nice relaxing lunch with my
colleagues at work today. During lunch, my
coordinator told me not to worry about teaching
or not teaching on the summer programme …
To grow professionally sometimes all we need is
to be surrounded by colleagues who make you
believe in yourself. I feel lucky to be working in
such supportive work environment.
A shared social space helps in facilitating such
meetings, as do shared break times, as Sara
points out:
Sara: Yes, at the teacher lounge … we meet up
about something, we, we learn from each other
and we, like, lift each other. We motivate each
other … so it was a good thing to start the
morning chatting with her.
Without the opportunity to meet and talk out of
class or official meeting times, the building of
collegial support and care can be missed.
5.3 Theme 2: Pedagogic aspects
The objects teachers record as positive emotions
indicate which aspects of their pedagogies they
value, and in turn what is more generally valued in
the profession at large. Themes highlighted teachers’
enjoyment in student progress, the nature of the
teacher role in the classroom, student-centredness in
materials creation and building effective classroom
A large group of objects and diary entries indicate
the pleasure and pride teachers take in seeing their
students’ achievements and progress in learning.
Student progress is seen in exams, handwriting,
blackboard assignments and making contributions
in class. For example, Amal records a picture of her
students writing their own names in English, saying
she felt proud when seeing an improvement in their
Latin alphabet handwriting:
Amal: I think any teacher would feel the same if you
teach them the simplest thing and you feel that they
picked up that they understood or started doing
and improving that’s an amazing feeling.
| 14
The progress of even one student can make an
impact, as Karen indicates in her first diary entry:
Karen (diary): This was the only student who
combined info together in her homework task.
I felt positive as I realised she had not only
understood the source she’d read but that she
had taken responsibility for, and had advanced
her own learning.
Karen also records her pleasure in seeing individual
students’ growing independence:
Karen (diary): A reticent student answered a
question in class. After the class I asked her how
she’d felt about it – she said she felt happy so I
did too!
Lightbulb moments are one of the drivers of positive
emotion for teachers. Seeing learning in action is
very powerful:
Kira (diary): We played kahoot spelling game and
I told them the rule i before e except c. They all
looked amazed. One student told me he had always
struggle spelling was quite happy to find out about
the rule. His eyes were showing. I couldnt believe
how such small detail could make a change in the
learning process.
She notes that it is the experience of shared learning
which fuels the building of trust and stronger
relationships between teachers and students:
Kira (diary): When students start to learn, they start
to trust the teacher. Trust makes learning easier!
This element of trust denotes a strong connection
between teacher and students, qualitatively different
from the more social, friend-like relationships
detailed in the previous section.
Some teachers feel positive when they work in a
more equal relationship to their students. Karen
frequently records entries relating to this aspect
of her relationship with students:
Object: Quotation from student written up on the
Karen (diary): I elicited a sentence from a student
and put it on whiteboard (see photo) … it took the
onus off me as all-knowing teacher to one of guide
– which I enjoy.
When asked to elaborate, Karen explained her
pleasure in this aspect of her teaching as something
Karen: You’re not like family, but you know, I try to,
to be on the same level as they are rather than
being above them because I’m not above them
and nobody is above anybody, a very socialist
One teacher (George) explicitly avoids
authoritarianism. One key entry in this regard relates
to his approach to delivering a mandatory lesson
about bullying:
| 15
George (diary): Ilt session... on ‘bullying’. 3 line
whip ... ‘do this ...’ teacher gets down as a student.
Equal playing field ... English teachers ... ‘learn this ...
it will help’. So here I am … as the student. Teach
ME foundation studes. Seems to work ... they are
arguing about the Arabic version. Now all I have
to do is pronounce this stuff. Serious point ... how
else to cover ‘heavy stuff’ on bullying ... and very
humbling. Wanna talk to lang students??? Try
being one ...
He seems to feel that the only way to teach this
lesson is to deliberately become a student and get
the students to teach him the vocabulary around
bullying in Arabic. This is one of several instances
in which George showed his active rejection of
more authoritarian approaches to a traditional
teacher role.
The sense of a more equal relationship with students
arises too in several entries recording materials.
These are often connected with the notion of
student-centred teaching: materials which are
made by teachers for particular groups of students
bring positive emotion, since teachers feel they are
fulfilling a ‘good teacher’ role and working for their
students, as both Martin and George indicate:
Object: Hat with laminated cards of presentation
Martin (diary): Activity prepared for my advanced
level group – they picked a topic from the hat
and talked for two minutes. This worked and it
challenged them – … self-made materials are so
much better …
Object: Laminated cards with song words created
from what the students were singing in class
George (diary): Ad hoc Kahoots: Made a drag drop
kahoot on Bohemian Rhapsody linking to you tube
sound after class sang it back to me on thursday.
1 worksheet was about Galileo.. …….... . I think 1
thing teachers need to do is play to the gallery
from time to time to make the learner realise their
centrality to the lessons.
George elaborated his reasons for creating this set
of materials and his feelings about them:
George: I put that one in there to symbolise
spontaneity. Because I didn’t know they were
going to start singing Bohemian Rhapsody. I
couldn’t believe it when they did … And then I
thought: ‘Oh, I’m going to do something about
that, that’s funny, that will seize on what they’ve
done.’ And that’s what I like about the job. Because
you’ve got your syllabus, you’ve got your scheme
of work. You’ve got your this that, this that. It is
nice sometimes to just do stuff ‘because’. Not,
and make that, because’ help them. So it’s not
just tomfoolery. But you, you then can link …
do your job, have a laugh, link to something
they’ve done, that they’re interested in and link
to an event that happened that was quite funny.
Creating materials allows this teacher to show a
particular kind of care for his students; their interests
are noticed, and shared humour is invoked and
used in the service of learning. George conforms to
‘feeling rules’ in that the work he carries out shows
his effort to be ‘student-centred’ and to build his
relationship with students.
For Saudi teachers, who do not have the same
opportunity to develop substantive classroom
materials, other forms of creative pedagogy are
apparent. They prioritise developing strong group
dynamics and classroom cultures which assist
learning, through the use of motivational materials
and the building of shared group experiences.
Nada, for example, records an icebreaker activity
as her first sticky object.
| 16
Nada (diary): Today was my first day teaching.
I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if my students
will come. 30/35 students came and they were
all willing to participate and follow instructions
clearly even though some of them are above level.
I adapted an icebreaker to suit students’ interests.
I was glad that they were fully engaged with
the material.
Sara jokes about common cultural events to create
an enjoyable and involving classroom environment:
Sara: Sometimes I switch to Arabic to talk about
like, funny stuff, I will bring something from the
social media I can impersonate, like other people.
I change my voice. I took, like, some storytelling
classes. So, they will get surprised and then they’ll
say ‘OK, the teacher is doing this so why don’t
we’. So I try to make positive and fun experience
for them.
Building positive group dynamics means the
classroom becomes a place of shared enjoyment
and laughter, but also aids learning, as these
teachers indicate:
Wafa: I try to be very close friend for them, showing
them that teaching is not something scary … we can
be friends. We can talk, communicate … to enhance
their language as well.
Mona: I have to, like, relate – make them relate so
they can let loose in the class and be comfortable
so they can actually absorb what I am saying.
For Sara a particular incident illustrates her
Sara: So, there was a problem with projector.
It kept turning the screen off and on, and I tried
to recognise the problem but didn’t know where
exactly it was. After checking the cable over and
over again, with no clue if it really was from the
cable. I started a spooky story that there is a
ghost who is bored with class and he is teasing
me by doing this and I was talking to him every
time the screen was off, so he turn it on again.
It was very cute seeing all those faces burst in
laughter every time they hear me talking to the
unseen ghost. It made me happy and a class full
of laughers means a successful class for me.
This is a good example of a teacher working
positively to turn a classroom problem into a shared
class story, which she can return to in the future,
building group identity and positive class dynamics.
| 17
5.4 Theme 3: Environment
This theme considers the environmental aspects
of positive emotions in teachers’ lives. Many of the
objects and entries here relate to the institutional
setting, coming partly from the physical facilities,
but also from the institutional culture.
Teachers record resources and facilities provided
by the institution as positively connoted objects.
These are specific to particular tasks (for example,
George writes about microphones for students,
audio-equipment for producing listening materials)
and infrastructure (e.g. quiet teacher offices, clean
toilets, well-equipped classrooms, sports facilities
and subsidised canteens).
For example, Amal discusses her happiness in
having a spacious classroom with big windows:
Amal: It’s a clean classroom with a nice scene
what could a teacher ask more. This is perfect
for any teacher I think – a clean classroom and
a lovely scenery, I mean that is perfect.
Mona recorded a photograph of her office:
Mona (diary): Today was a very long day. We had to
stay extra hours for the students who missed the
writing exam. It is a blessing to have a quiet office
to think and work.
Martin valued the sports facilities at the university:
Martin (diary, no object): It’s a sunny day, my
afternoon class has been replaced by a student
party as it’s Kuwaiti national day, and i’ve just had
a really good session in the University gym – a
gym that is subsidised for me as a staff member.
Teachers record that they feel positive when
institutions take actions to show that they are valued.
Mona’s story shows the strong positive impact that
such active valuing can have. The sticky object is a
door – mysterious to the casual observer, but ‘gold’
for the teacher:
Mona (diary): sometimes it’s nice to use perks. I
always was daunted by the long lines for coffee.
I would satisfy my hunger by packing a lunch or
grabbing something from the vending machine.
Today I told a teacher, I’m really starving and the
lines are a mile long. She said don’t you know you
can use the side door? I went very timidly and
asked the students not wanting to really cut in.
But they said Miss go through there. You have a
class. With their blessing I went and it’s like I
discovered gold. Funny how small things have
an impact.
A further element of the institutional context is the
relationship between management and the teachers.
Lina writes of sharing personal family moments with
her co-ordinator:
Lina (diary, no object): Today I went to sign my
evaluation with my coordinator. My previous
coordinator shares the office with her and she
was extra happy to see me that day more than
usual. She gave me chocolate in celebration of her
daughter giving birth to a new born. I like her a lot
as she is one of the best people I worked with and
met here, so I was glad that she shared that happy
moment with me.
| 18
There seems to be a genuine personal connection
between co-ordinator and teachers, going beyond
managerial roles.
Objects concerning personal relationships with
co-ordinators and local management seemed
more prevalent in the UK data, where there are
expressions of a strong sense of belonging and
of collegiality. Teachers recorded objects showing
a culture of value of their efforts and supportive
management. For example, Sandra recorded a
closed diary as her sticky object after attending
a meeting in which she wasn’t required to take
any notes.
Sandra (diary): I attended our weekly staff meeting
as usual today but to my surprise it was significantly
shorter than the usual (which would make anyone’s
day). The point I wanted to write about is the
content of that meeting, we were literally only
invited to be thanked! I felt extremely appreciated
as it is always good to know you’re on the right
track. The manager only took a couple of minutes
to utter the words of appreciation but the effects
seem to be long-lasting.
In the UK context having flexibility and autonomy
in ways of working is of great importance to the
Kira (diary, no object): Flexibility and Acceptance:
Here, there is a different work environment
compared to other places I worked in and in a way
I remembered the benefits of it again today. There
is more flexibility with regards to what you do in
class and you are not expected to strictly follow the
program which initially I found hard as I had gotten
used to working in places where almost everything
was prescribed for you. It feels good to have been
given some freedom!
This is echoed by Martin, who cites the value he
places on having a voice in the institution and feeling
part of a team:
Martin: I’ve got much more of a sense of belonging
back at [name of university] and input and being
part of the process. When you do pre-sessionals,
it’s great, you work for prestigious places like
[university name] or [university name], but you’re
aware and they’re aware that in three months’ time
you’re going to go ... Whereas, you know [here] I
feel that, you know, I, my voice would be listened
to if I had a strong opinion about something.
Both sets of teachers write about the impact of
resources and facilities. This is possibly more
prevalent in the Saudi context, while the UK data
seems to indicate that local institutional culture at
the level of the department (rather than university)
has the greatest impact on teachers. Local actions
and ways of working are what teachers record: being
appreciated on a personal level, shared social time,
being thanked in person and having flexibility and
autonomy in their practice are key for teachers. The
benefits of good infrastructure are acknowledged,
but do not feature as highly or with such impact as
the more social and relational elements.
| 19
Broader elements of the environment which
influence teacher emotions are natural spaces and
the weather. Views from classrooms and calm spaces
to relax in are recorded by teachers as positive.
The weather is also a sticky object, promoting
relaxation, energy and refreshment. In the UK it
is sunny weather:
Object: Evening sky
Sandra (diary): There were no classes today which
meant a more relaxed day at work. I managed to
leave much earlier than usual which meant that I
enjoyed the sun and waited for the sun to set with
a friend. It felt great to end the week on a high, I
felt relaxed and rewarded after a stressful week.
In contrast, several Saudi teachers mentioned rain as
a positive object. Sara wrote that rain ‘lif ted up my
soul and filled me with joy’, while Noura’s entry reads:
Noura (diary): Today on the way to class it was a
rainy day that gave me positive energy to start
the day fresh just like the smell of the rain drops.
So in love with this weather, boost of energy and
inner peace.
The environment goes beyond the immediate/
physical, to encompass the political context. Saudi
teachers recorded their pleasure at the political
changes they perceive happening in the country; the
lifting of the ban on female driving and the widening
of educational opportunities. Mona writes that she
thought it was ‘amazing’ to see teachers using their
own cars. Amal felt happy when she saw teachers
and students park their own cars:
Amal (diary): As I was getting out of my car this
morning, I noticed some teachers and students
parking their cars and walking towards the
University gates. It was such a happy moment
because there was a point where I thought this
would never happen and women would not be
able to drive.
Amal photographed a banner for a college event
including female engineering students. She was
Amal: Because I remember when I first started
working at [name of institution] there wasn’t an
engineering faculty for girls, so also this to have
them actually participate in such event, we moved
from having an engineering faculty for girls to the
participating in activities and events – it, that also
makes me happy like also resembles baby steps
towards modern world.
In contrast, some UK teachers’ positive emotions
arise from their resistance to their perceptions of
wider political, societal and institutional cultures
which position international students as deficient and
problematic. Teachers explicitly championed their
causes and corrected perceptions of their abilities:
George: And then the reason I get a buzz is
because you’re, from my point of view righting a
wrong, because people say, ‘oh it’s this thing it’s
incredibly difficult, or there is a lot made of it so you
can’t do that. Therefore, if you can’t do that there is
something wrong with you.’ …. Then you get over
this hurdle and they [students] do it and you think,
great because this false wall that has been laying
against them ‘you can’t do this therefore you are
deficient’ has been removed.
In both these settings there is a sense of teachers
connecting to something meaningful beyond
themselves in their everyday reactions.
| 20
5.5 Theme 4: Caveats
Quality of life and well-being encompass the rich
variety of life, including ups and downs. Thus,
inevitably, there were several entries recognising
that there was nothing positive to record. Notably,
Kira captures a blurred picture of her hand,
explaining the image thus:
Kira (diary): I can’t find anything positive to write.
Things are not going well… It is very demotivating
[…]… Nothing positive today!
This is to be expected in recording the day-to-day
realities of working life. Permanent positivity could
lead to a Pollyanna-like unreality; acknowledging the
fluctuations of life signifies sanity. Nevertheless, Kira
later explained that the writing of this diary entry
became itself a positive action with a positive
emotional outcome:
Kira: Because I started to benefit from writing day
and I thought, OK, why am I going to skip today?
Because it ’s part of my day and I’m not feeling
good. I’m trying to think about something that’s
gone positive and I don’t … even if there was
something I can’t find it because I’m not feeling
good, why don’t I be realistic and just carry
on with my habit … I felt good about it. I was like,
OK, so I can still express myself. I can still express
myself, so maybe that was the good thing about it.
It is important to acknowledge that positive emotions
are not always easy to find in teaching contexts.
There are undeniable difficulties, struggles and
tensions which exist within educational institutions.
However, the ability to reframe even the act of
recording this negativity indicates a particular spirit
of resilience in this teacher.
| 21
The themes detailed above show the multilayered
nature of the EAP teachers’ emotional lives within
complex, challenging professional situations. There
are shared aspects of positive emotion across both
contexts in the study. Caring relationships, where
people are recognised as individuals, are vital.
Well-being and energy arise from these relationships
emanating from a sense of mutual development
(Allwright & Hanks, 2009; Hanks, 2017). Student
progress provokes pride and joy for teachers
and helps learners to build trust in their teachers.
Developing effective materials and learning
environments for students allows for pleasure in
creativity and job satisfaction in caring for students.
Beyond the classroom, the institution, often at a
local level, has a strong role in supporting teachers’
valuing of self. Additionally, teachers’ own self-care
and protection of self-concept is foundational in
their well-being.
There are nuanced differences in how these
elements are enacted in the two HEIs. In both
there is a sense of warm regard and concern for
students. The monolingual, monocultural setting
of KSA perhaps generates more protective feelings
from teachers towards students; the relationships
predicated on ‘close service’ to learners. The nature
of the UK EAP context means that as teachers work
to support students’ transitions into a new linguistic
and cultural setting, they are concerned to promote
equal relationships and student independence.
They also act as champions for international students
in the face of what may be perceived to be deficit
institutional and societal positioning. A particular
kind of student-centred approach here positions the
teachers as less authoritarian, and as developers of
materials acknowledging student needs and interests
as key to learning.
Across the findings certain issues prompt further
consideration in relation to the role of positive
emotion in teaching.
The centrality of teacherstudent relationships to
teacher positive emotion raises questions about
the nature of ‘emotion labour’ (Hochschild, 1979)
in EAP settings. For other professions (e.g. service
industries) emotion labour is seen as a negative
burden, requiring employees to perform particular
emotions in interaction with customers. The data
indicates, however, the strongly positive benefits
which teachers gain from shared enjoyment and
good relationships with their students. This contrasts
with work by King and Ng (2018), whose consideration
of teacher–student interaction showed only negative
teacher emotions arising. Here the emotional
engagement by teachers is not one-way, and,
although teachers understand something of the
potential dangers, they enter willingly into this
An added layer in emotional positivity comes from
seeing the benefit of these relationships in the
service of learning. Shared stories, humour from
personalised materials or class jokes, and positive
class experiences in general are prized for the
positive emotion, and also for how these elements
support students’ motivation, trust and engagement.
Teachers feel good about building this sort of
environment and recognising consequent student
progress. Yet, it is not easy to determine how to
maintain the most beneficial teacher–student
relationships. The shifting sands of classroom
emotions are tricky to navigate for the best learning
outcomes, and this represents a major part of
emotion labour for teachers.
Interestingly, the two less-experienced teachers
frequently reported positive emotion through direct
social engagement with students. Avoiding unhealthy
dependency, both began to adjust this approach.
More experienced teachers describe their positive
relationships with students as professional and
boundaried. Consequently, the developments and
shifts over time of positive emotional classroom
connections require greater investigation.
Social relationships with colleagues are key in
maintaining well-being. How institutions can work
to support and develop these aspects is an important
question. HEIs wishing to become more positive
institutions (Seldon & Martin, 2017) need to facilitate
these relationships through the provision of time
(shared breaks) and space (teacher lounges, kitchens,
workstations). Institutions also need to work explicitly
to show teachers how they are valued. Recognising
teachers as individuals, praising their skills, thanking
them for service, and providing facilities and signals
| 22
of value are important. The data indicates that
recognition of teachers tends to be at a local,
impromptu, departmental level, rather than across
the institution, suggesting there is a need for more
far-reaching and systematic reward/appreciation of
teachers. In many UK universities the emphasis on
and recognition of research (rather than teaching),
and the emphasis on academic subject groupings
(rather than centralised language teaching centres),
mean that EAP teachers’ skills are often overlooked
at higher levels. As Seligman (2011) suggests,
working in an area where accomplishment is
recognised is essential for ‘good life’.
The solitary nature of much university teaching
(solo teaching, closed classroom doors, little
discussion of pedagogy) means that often success
goes unnoticed. Thus, other means are sought
to build and reinforce a sense of self as a good
teacher. Students’ favourable reactions and
emotional connections are one source of feedback
for teachers and one that is strongly felt. Similarly,
the rewards of the ‘luxury’ of coffee breaks, time for
oneself and other self-care acts are significant for
teachers in this position. The rewards signify not so
much a ‘well done’, but a strengthening of self-image
as a good teacher, building resilience in the absence
of other input.
Self-image is also implicated in other types of
self-care seen in the data. Teaching involves
performance of identity/ies. Where there is
incongruence of classroom self and authentic self,
teachers need to perform more emotional work to
feel safe and flourish (Zembylas, 2003). Finding ways
to explicitly signal personal values (e.g. challenging
corporatisation of institutions, or promoting social
justice) produces positive emotion because of
teachers’ ability to assert authentic identity in a
complex professional context.
Teachers also self-care in the ways they choose to
think about their teaching experiences. Sara, who
reframed her bad experience with a faulty projector
cable (above), models ‘learned optimism’ (Seligman,
2006), producing a positive for herself and the class
as a whole. Taking part in the project itself provided
teachers with the opportunity to notice the positive
in their teaching on a regular basis. Several teachers
mentioned how diary keeping allowed them to
stay more positive, echoing ‘gratitude diaries’
recommended within positive psychology as part
of good living (Petersen, 2006). For example:
Karen: And I think looking back over the entries,
I sort of realised the, you know, there were high
spots in the academic year, because, you know it’s
so stressful and lots of stress around you, it can
overwhelm you but, looking back at it I thought
‘yeah, you know, that was good, that was good.’
Small things that you get back each day are what
you should be looking for … you should be looking
for things … the reward that you get back from
each day, from little things that you do.
It is noteworthy that several of the teachers
mentioned they have continued with the Diaro app,
keeping up their positive focus on a daily basis.
Teacher emotions are influenced by more than the
immediate happenings within classes or institutions.
Events beyond these walls have an effect too. At one
prosaic, but often undocumented, level, the weather
is important. Positive emotional reactions to wider
societal and political concerns (feeling good about
increasing female independence and value in
resistance to anti-foreigner feeling) indicate an
important connection to meaning beyond oneself,
one of the key factors in the PERMA framework
(Seligman, 2011).
When working to understand well-being in
classrooms, it is important not to sideline these
elements. Benesch sees emotions as ‘tools of
resistance’ (2018: 2), and Hanks (2017) sees
classrooms as sites of struggle, while Breen
challenges the notion that ‘systems of bureaucratic
surveillance will improve their students’ performance’
(2006: 207). Such matters are part of quality of life
(Gieve & Miller, 2006; Hanks, 2019) and can generate
the kind of agentive puzzled investigation that
exploratory practice recommends, transcending
older transmission models of education.
The study found that teachers do not have
difficulty in recording positive elements in their
lives. Keeping a diary helps them to focus on small
things, building up memories over time, which
combats the weariness of everyday stress. The
project also enabled teachers to re-engage with
their teaching: the focus on positively connoted
sticky objects led to virtuous feedback loops, where
students and teachers engaged in mutually beneficial
activities. Teachers who felt good also helped their
learners to learn, and this helped the teachers feel
even better. Keeping the diaries helped the teachers
to identify what they valued and thus increased their
positive emotions. Taking part in the project also
helped the teachers see how rewarding they found
their (professional and boundaried) relationships
with students, colleagues and managers. All this
encouraged them to feel valued and part of a group
with shared ideals and values. Finally, the project
enabled teachers to focus on their accomplishments,
recognise what they do well, and develop their
strengths as professionals and as people.
| 23
The implications of this study concern individual
teachers, institutions, and teacher education and
CPD programmes. Surprisingly, they do not demand
heavy financial burdens or complex systems of
management: remembering to say a genuine ‘thank
you’ for work completed, providing dedicated space
for teachers to work and socialise, and providing
dedicated time for professional relationship building
may be sufficient to support well-being and resilience.
The study indicates areas in which teachers can
work to build and maintain their positive emotions
within their professional environment. Taking care
of oneself through reward and time-out is important.
Similarly, working to actively protect/promote one’s
authentic sense of self is equally vital in maintaining
well-being. Noticing the positives in daily life seems
to sustain teachers over longer periods and can
be encouraged through the keeping of these types
of emotion diaries using Diaro, which is quick and
convenient. Thinking positively about one’s teaching
and reframing difficulties as positive are habits of
mind that can be modelled and cultivated with
Institutions need to enable positive relationships to
flourish, by providing time, space and encouragement
for teachers to work collegially. Therefore, institutions
should recognise teacher strengths and show
explicitly how they value teacher contributions and
roles, with systematic rewards demonstrating how
much teachers’ work is genuinely valued.
Teacher education and development programmes
have perhaps neglected teacher emotion. Teachers
need to be supported to understand the complex
emotional elements of their classroom, rather than
seeking constantly to ‘improve’. CPD programmes
need to raise questions about the complexities
of teacher emotion and its sources, and consider
how teachers can manage these. Innovative forms
of CPD, such as exploratory practice and positive
psychology, which encourage practitioners to
flourish within their classrooms are required. The
development of understanding of teacher–student
emotional connections over time should be
supported via CPD, thus providing a structure of
examining, understanding and progressing. Teachers
need to be challenged to discuss critically the nature
of relationships with students and how these can
become the most beneficial for learning. Teacher
education programmes could provide frameworks
for consideration of emotional working and support
teachers to investigate their own realities through
exploratory practice and classroom research.
| 24
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... A One-Way ANOVA revealed no statistically significant differences between the three groups (i.e., teaching classes with fewer than 10 students, between 10 and 20 students and 21 or more students) in terms of psychology (e.g., Seligman, 2011). Resilience is also a construct which has been related to positive psychology and wellbeing in several studies (e.g., Etherington, Hanks, & Alshehri, 2020). Teachers' wellbeing is critically important in education not only because of the connection between teacher wellbeing and student performance (Bajorek, Gulliford, & Taskila, 2014) but also because "the well-being of both teachers and learners are intricately connected" (Mercer et al., 2016, p. 224). ...
... Building communities of practice in the form of small informal peer discussion groups (Karagianni, 2014;Karagianni & Papaefthymiou-Lytra, 2018) or in larger more formal ones (Karavas & Papadopoulou, 2014), in which EFL teachers can communicate their experiences, thoughts, and feelings either synchronously or asynchronously, could strengthen teacher resilience and contribute to their personal and professional wellbeing (Etherington et al., 2020). ...
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Engagement in research is recognised as a transformative force for professional development in EAP. Consequently, for many EAP practitioners research and/or scholarship have been added as contractual requirements. However, many EAP professionals desist from engaging in this, as they wonder how to fit it into their workload. In this paper I consider a form of practitioner research, Exploratory Practice, which integrates research and pedagogy in sustainable investigations into practice. I discuss ways in which different EAP practitioners, in a range of international contexts, explore puzzles relevant to their professional development, and disseminate their understandings. Drawing on published studies and vignettes from EAP practitioners enacting Exploratory Practice, I examine the ways in which these activities dispel the nimbus surrounding traditional views of research. This includes conducting robust investigations, and providing multimodal presentations in the supportive atmosphere of BALEAP PIMs and Conferences. In doing so, practitioners enhance their understandings of pedagogy and contribute to the field as equally-valued theorisers, and meaning-makers in EAP.
In recent decades, three forms of practitioner research have emerged: Reflective Practice, Action Research, and Exploratory Practice. While Reflective Practice and Action Research focus on teachers-as-researchers, Exploratory Practice positions learners as co-researchers, alongside teachers, teacher educators, and others. This article adds to those which examine the notion of learners co-producing research by exploring the potential of multimodal methods for data generation and analysis; it does this by critically analysing posters produced by learners as they puzzled, explored, collaborated, and disseminated their developing understandings on a pre-sessional English for Academic Purposes course in the UK. Focusing particularly on these ‘sticky objects’, to which emotions and beliefs attach, I argue that learners, like teachers, can ask robust questions, engage in creative investigative practices, integrating research and pedagogy. I posit that learners can develop profound insights into their practice which contribute to theory-building more broadly. This ‘fully inclusive’ notion of co-produced research challenges traditional assumptions about who does what in research and pedagogy, indicating an ethical imperative for learners to be included as co-investigators contributing their understandings to developments in theory and practice.
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Practitioner research is a flourishing area with a significant body of theoretical and empirical research, but often researchers remain isolated, unaware of impactful work by colleagues in related fields. Exploratory Practice (EP) is one innovative form, uniting creative pedagogy and research methods. The potential contributions have hitherto been neglected. EP's emphasis on puzzling and understanding is a means of demystifying occluded practices which place learners, teachers and researchers as co-investigators at the heart of the research-practice nexus. EP's radical positioning of learners as co-researchers, alongside teachers, teacher educators and others, means crossing boundaries – (re-)negotiating identities, in language learning/teaching/researching – thus raising epistemological challenges for the field. The contribution of this state-of-the-art article is to provide a meta-analysis of these themes and challenges, critically analysing the complexities involved as the paradigms of research, practice and practitioner research shift from research-as-practice towards practice-as-research.
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The present contribution offers an overview of a new area of research in the field of foreign language acquisition, which was triggered by the introduction of Positive Psychology (PP) (MacIntyre and Gregersen, 2012). For many years, a cognitive perspective had dominated research in applied linguistics. Around the turn of the millennium researchers became increasingly interested in the role of emotions in foreign language learning and teaching, beyond established concepts like foreign language anxiety and constructs like motivation and attitudes toward the foreign language. As a result, a more nuanced understanding of the role of positive and negative learner and teacher emotions emerged, underpinned by solid empirical research using a wide range of epistemological and methodological approaches. PP interventions have been carried out in schools and universities to strengthen learners and teachers' experiences of flow, hope, courage, well-being, optimism, creativity, happiness, grit, resilience, strengths, and laughter with the aim of enhancing learners' linguistic progress. This paper distinguishes the early period in the field that started with MacIntyre and Gregersen (2012), like a snowdrop after winter, and that was followed by a number of early studies in relatively peripheral journals. We argue that 2016 is the starting point of the current period, characterized by gradual recognition in applied linguistics, growing popularity of PP, and an exponential increase in publications in more mainstream journals. This second period could be compared to a luxuriant English garden in full bloom.
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As language teachers, we have to pay attention to many things in our work but cognitive aspects of foreign or second language learning cannot provide all the information we need. If we also give attention to the affective domain, this can make our teaching more effective. In this article we will be considering some of the affective factors and exploring how they influence the process of language learning. Special emphasis will be placed on implications for teachers in the classroom.
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This article discusses English language teachers' emotions from a critical perspective, meaning that emotions are considered sociopolitically rather than psychologically. Feeling rules and emotion labor are introduced as tools for exploring the relationship between institutional power and emotions. To illustrate these concepts, I discuss data from interviews with English language teachers at a U.S. university about noticing and addressing plagiarism in their students' writing. Findings suggest that teachers may resist the feeling rules of their institution's plagiarism policy while experiencing emotion labor about how to address plagiarism with students, despite the policy's clarity about sanctions. The positive implications of this resistance to feeling rules and experience of emotion labor are discussed. The article ends with recommendations for further research on emotion labor as a tool of teacher engagement and activism.