Get Ready For Academic IELTS in 120 hours (+free syllabus)

Happy Father's Day!

Two months ago I wrote about a crash course Preparing for Academic IELTS test. Today I want to share my reflections on a new book by Macmillan Education: Ready for IELTS 2nd edition by Sam McCarter and Louis Rogers.

Why IELTS?

I have been preparing my students for Academic IELTS for a while, and I must admit I find this test the most sensible assessment, compared to other tests and exams. In order to get a decent band, you need to prove not only your linguistic proficiency but also ability to think quickly and reasonably.

You’ll probably be surprised (my students usually are) but the latter skill is really difficult to master.

Components

The whole course contains: Student’s Book, Workbook and Teacher’s Resource Pack with Resource Centre. What’s interesting about the components is that there are no CDs or DVDs attached – all audio files are downloadable, and while some may find this annoying, I applaud this sensible and eco-friendly solution.
Teacher’s Online Resource Centre includes audio tracks (for both SB and WB), speaking videos, communication activities, tests, wordlists and exam tips. Moreover, there’s Presentation Kit, Digital SB and ebook with answers.
The online environment for Ready for IELTS is just brilliant. You can create your virtual classroom to follow your students’ progress and – this feature got me – it gives you the possibility of using the book on any IWB as it’s fully operating online. Naturally, you also have access to additional worksheets, test tips etc. which makes it the best online support for a course I have seen.

Skills

While the main focus of the course is on – surprise, surprise – IELTS test techniques, the skills covered by the book aren’t related only to the test. There are many exercises on functional language that will help to develop “real” (not test-oriented) language. Each unit contains vocabulary section, reading and listening parts, grammar exercises and writing composition (traditionally, the hardest part of IELTS prep). Moreover, there are communicative activities in Teacher’s Resources in case students are tired with test-only approach.

Compared to Direct to IELTS, Ready for IELTS is definitely more slow-paced and relaxed, leaving space for a teacher to bring in some fresh air – I really appreciate this. The description on the cover claims the course helps students advance from band 5.0 to 7.0 and while I can only smile at the statement (which is actually true, although it doesn’t really concern linguistic skills) – I must admit this course offers far greater general development. So, compared to Direct to IELTS, this book is definitely version 2.0: smarter, faster and funnier.

Recommendation

Now’s the time for my confession: I’ve decided to write this review simply because I am starting my own 120-hour course preparing for Academic IELTS soon. Having read Ready for IELTS, my choice is simple: I pick this book and I hope it’ll help me in making a great – and successful – course for both my students and me.

And if you want to see how I’ve organised the whole course, you’re more than welcome to download Ready for IELTS 2nd ed syllabus which is shared under Creative Commons Licence.

Enjoy!

I want to thank Macmillan Polska for their help in creating this review.

Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Student’s Book Pack by Sam McCarter – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-0-230-49568-5 (with answers)
Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Teacher’s Book Premium Pack by Sam McCarter – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-1-786-32867-0
Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Workbook by Louis Rogers – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-1-786-32865-6 (with answers)

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Role-Playing Teaching (Part 2: What RPGs are)

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I already wrote about games and some reasons people play them (used a lot of sophisticated vocabulary and impressive names, yeah), and, as promised, I want to elaborate the topic of Role Playing Games – as RPG, followed by other alternative materials, is something I want to focus in TEFL area.

This article is supposed to explain the phenomenon of RPG in general, so that in my future posts I am able to show you my idea of blending games into traditional lessons, creating an approach to TEFL where storytelling and adventure compensate for tedious grammar activities.

The Game

The funny thing about RPGs is that it’s way simpler to write what RPGs aren’t, but let’s give it a go.

Jerzy Szeja explains that narrative Role Playing Game in its canonical form requires a person leading the game (GM: Game Master) and at least one player who impersonates a character (PC: Player’s Character). The world in which sequences of events take place and are described by a GM is described in a particular system of a narrative RPG consisting of a main handbook detailing the rules and mechanics of the system and, optionally, supplements with additional information regarding the system.

RPG may be compared to children’s games where participants play different roles (e.g. thieves and police officers), but a GM is the person who makes all the difference with outlining the proper plot and acting out as fully interactive characters (NPC: Non-Player Character).

Since it’s an outlined plot that is so vital, RPG may be compared to dramas (since they both include playing a role) – however, the difference remains not only in the presence of a GM, but also in discrepancies within approach. Drama is supposed to teach life using simulated situations that may happen on different occasions. RPGs, on the other hand, are a simulation of life with the characters having history and plans for the future, facing various situations of a cause-and-effect nature.

Another comparison presents RPG as similar to literature – where a player can choose a favourite character from a favourite book and impersonate them during adventures outlined by a GM. A GM is a narrator: he introduces the world of the game, describes actions undertaken by all individuals in the imaginary world, acts out the NPCs and – probably the most important difference between RPG and drama/children’s “make-believe” game – describes the consequences of actions taken by the players.

The character

I already mentioned GM, PC and NPC, but narrative RPG is more than declaring “OK, I want to play Frodo in the Middle-earth”. A character picked by a player must have its representations, physical and mental, usually given in a form of statistics that are placed on character sheets, specially designed for individual game-systems. Usually the basic subsections are attributes (in-born characteristics, e.g. strength, wisdom etc.), skills (learnt capabilities e.g. spoken language, horse-riding, computer hacking etc.) and powers (extraordinary abilities if present, e.g. telepathy, flight etc.). I will definitely write a separate post on character creation as it’s an important part of any RPG system.

The rules

Each RPG has its own set of rules, usually dice-based, called mechanics. I will need to elaborate the idea of mechanics in a separate note as, after all, that’s something that brings the word “game” to RPG, bringing the element of chance – so it deserves a proper explanation.

The story

A story is simple the adventure in which both GM and PCs take part. Ron Edwards explains that in each story

…characters will have goals they want to attain, and obstacles to overcome. The story that the narrator (GM) creates will provide the setting and the plot. In that plot the characters might stumble into adventure accidentally, or become embroiled in international espionage, or choose to seek out fame and fortune as tomb-robbers or pirates. The important point is that the players author the tale through the actions of their characters.

I will write more about stories and settings in the next part of my series.

Communication

Jerzy Szeja provides three semiotic models of communication in RPG, but in reality it looks rather simple:

  1. GM describes the setting and NPCs actions.
  2. PCs declare actions (sometimes after discussion to decide the way of behaviour).
  3. GM describes the result of the actions (often based on mechanics).
  4. GM describes the result.

And the whole cycle repeats itself.

Conclusion

That’s it – the basics of RPGs and pretty much all you need to know before you embark on the adventure. I understand, however, that for those of you who have never played a RPG session the whole article may be still confusing – I will try to clarify everything in my further articles, but if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer.

If you want to read more on the topic:

Edwards, Ron (2003): Narrativism: Story Now (you may find it here)

Szeja, Jerzy Zygmunt (2004): Gry fabularne – nowe zjawisko kultury współczesnej, Kraków: Rabid

7 free online courses in November

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Yes! My favourite month is almost here! I love November – especially when I can stay in, wrapped up in my favourite blanket, with a purring cat snuggled against me and a great book to read… or a TV series to watch. Have you already seen Stranger Things 2? If not, you should totally do, as you can actually see what Role Playing Games are and how important they may be in real life!

Apart from RPGs (currently I’m writing a nice article about the idea behind this phenomenon, give me a fortnight or so), I don’t mind spending my time learning new things – and as every month, I’d like to share my picks of the month: seven free courses you may attend online:

1 Engaging ELLs and Their Families in the School and Communities by Arizona State University

Start: 13th of November
Duration: 6 weeks

The course is focused on K-12 classroom environment in the U.S., however you will learn how to better and more successfully engage your students and their families in the school and community, how to engage a student in the classroom setting as well as in various aspects of the school including extracurricular activities and the inner workings of the school and education system. You will also be introduced to strategies for engaging the families of your students in the school community. It may be useful for those teachers who deal with parents on a regular basis.

2 ICT in Primary Education: Transforming children’s learning across the curriculum by University of London

Start: 13th of November
Duration: 6 weeks

Why and how are teachers integrating ICT (Information and Communication Technology) into primary education? Here you will compare your own ideas with other teachers around the world and will learn how to be aware of the range of reasons for using ICT and how to analyse the strengths and weakness of different decision-making mechanisms. You will also become familiar with a wider range of useful tools and resources for integrating ICT. It may be useful for those teachers who are slightly overwhelmed by technology in their classrooms.

3 Social Media – What No One has Told You about Privacy by Dr. Anne Kayem

Started: 23rd of October
Duration: 2 weeks

Have you ever accepted a friendship request from the guy or girl you met at the shop only to regret it the minute you clicked on “accept”?  If you have, then you probably know about the nagging feeling of discomfort that you try to ignore or comfort yourself by telling yourself that it does not matter. However,  if you feel concerned that something is not quite right, it most likely is the case. I believe privacy and social media is (or should be) a hot topic at the moment for everyone, especially teachers dealing with teenagers.

4 Applying to U.S. Universities by University of Pennsylvania 

Started: 30th of October
Duration: 5 weeks

This course will help international students (non-U.S. citizens) and non-native English speakers navigate the U.S. university admission process by offering practical information about the documents and pieces that make up a U.S. university application. More importantly, admission officers will discuss how they use those pieces to decide who is accepted and who is denied, so that you can understand the process beyond the pieces. I would recommend this course to anyone thinking about studying in the U.S. – and those teachers who work with students planning to do so.

5 Develop your knowledge of studying in the UK by the British Council

Start: 13th of November
Duration: 4 weeks

This course is designed primarily for those counselling students looking to come to the UK to study, including school counsellors, education agents and those interested in becoming education agents. Potential students and learners will also find the course informative and useful. You will learn about the UK education and training system, quality assurance systems and how they operate, student lifestyle issues, welfare and support for international students, application processes and entry requirements. It may be useful for those students – and their teachers – who think about studying in the UK.

6 Mentoring in Schools by European Schoolnet Academy and Inducas

Started: 15th of May (but materials are still available)
Duration: 6 weeks/ self-paced

This course may be a really great help for DoSes.  It is focused primarily on mentoring of colleagues within a school. Particular references are also made to the mentoring of beginner teachers, supporting them to find their place in the school and classroom.  You will learn how mentors can support and develop the work of teachers in schools. The course aims to support mentors working with teachers by offering them strategies and tools for their work with teachers as well as examples of effective mentorship approaches leading to more effective, happier, and successful teachers.

7 Coursera: Lesson Planning with the ELL in Mind by Arizona State University

Started: 30th of October
Duration: 6 weeks

This course is perfect for teachers who are just starting their adventure with EFL teaching! In this course you will learn how to design lesson plans around the needs of your students and their language level through the analysis of content language and cognitive demands. You will learn how to align language objectives to the adopted standards of your school and content area. Analysis of second language acquisition theories will be applied to lesson planning.

And, as a bonus – just for your teenage students:

World of Spies: Keeping Secrets by Purdue University

Start: 20th of November
Duration: 4 weeks

What does it take to be a spy? Strong critical thinking and communication skills, a firm grasp of logic, and a love of puzzles are all useful. This course, designed for 13-18 year old students, will help them develop those abilities while exploring the exciting world of espionage. They’ll learn about code-making and breaking, encryption, logical thinking and more as you find out whether you would make a good spy. If you have ambitious pupils – that may be a great beginning of their e-learning career!

I hope you’ll enjoy the courses I recommend – I still have to make up my mind on which course should I take. Definitely the one by the British Council, but maybe I should satisfy my inner child and have fun with espionage? So many options, so little time!

Enjoy!

7 ideas that might be used for Halloween (or any other spooky lesson)

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With the annual influx of Halloween-themed posts by my fellow bloggers I was like “meh, I don’t even like Halloween, I guess I only wrote about it once” – so I looked through my own posts and realised my memory is somewhat problematic (it probably goes with my age, ah well…). Having brushed the dust off my old ideas I found six activities more or less connected to this pleasantly grim festivity you may enjoy with your students.

1. The one with reading recommendations

If you want to include some reading in your classroom – after all we all love spooky stories, don’t we? – here’s my list of great books and stories you may enjoy with your students (regardless their age). Coraline is perfect for younger learners (only not too young), teenagers will love creepypastas and adults may appreciate Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party.

I am definitely going to spend my Halloween with Hellboy by Mike Mignola – one of the best graphic novels ever.

2. The one with zombies and survival tactics

Zombies are quite popular during Halloween (something I find quite adorable), so you may work with a proper coursebook English for the Zombie Apocalypse. It is a real coursebook you may use according to the authors, but you may also pick the role-plays scenarios and make your students survive (or die trying) the zombie outbreak.

3. The one with false friends turning out to be murderous aliens

Similarly to the previous idea, English for the Alien Invasion is a proper book you may use according to instructions (a very communicative course) or come up with your own project (including a life lesson on how not to befriend aliens too soon as they may prove to be murderous and treacherous creatures).

4. The one for those who prefer serious political issues

Not everyone likes Halloween – I’m not a fan myself, as I’ve got Halloween every Monday when I wake up and look in the mirror, huh. Instead I prefer including some facts about the 5th of November which we should remember indeed… and I believe no one tells us the story more frightening than Alan Moore and his V for Vendetta, the graphic novel that no longer is perceived as dystopian.

5. The one for boardgame geeks 

Halloween may be a good excuse to introduce one of the best games you can bring in to your classroom – Mystery of the Abbey, a great whudunit game with a twist. There’s a murder in a medieval abbey and players have to find the perpetrator by identifying all the monks. It’s a surprisingly communicative game for all ages and all levels of English proficiency.

6. The one for the children

I can’t help it – this is probably my absolutely favourite activity for Halloween. I love Scaredy Cat and each time I admire this cute story I adore it even more! A short story about a tiny kitten lost in a Halloween night has no speech bubbles, so it can be used by various groups on various levels… in various languages!

 

Ah, so there are six activities I used to enjoy in the past – but this year I’m only bringing in a story to my Advanced classes, a story by HP Lovecraft, of course, about cats and things that are more ominous than the Elder Gods with their blasphemous tentacles. I’ll ask my students to interpret the story in a more contemporary way which will definitely show them how important descriptive language is – especially the one by HPL. Ready? So listen:

7 …It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat…

7 YouTube channels to spice up your lessons

 

International Picnic Day! (1)

One of the funniest and weirdest activities you can enjoy with your friends is a so-called YouTube party. Basically, you meet your mates and have regular fun until someone says “I totally have to show you something on YouTube…” And boom, the YT party begins because everyone has seen something to share with friends.

And, oh, the depths of the Internet you may visit…

If you teach teenagers or digitally aware adults you may enjoy a little YT party as well, just try to moderate the videos presented by students as some of the videos may turn out to be somewhat inappropriate.

If you want to avoid potential embarrassment, try to show some EFL-friendly channels. Don’t know which ones are worth recommendation? Well, I’ve shortlisted some nice channels and hope you’ll find them enjoyable.

1 Anglophenia

I really love this culture-oriented channel focused on British and American celebrations, festivals and customs. You’ll find here a lot of short, funny and witty videos on various topics – from British houses (the great mystery of double taps explained) to the practical guide on how to insult like a Brit.

2 English Like A Native

I came across this channel when I was looking for good videos with various accents – I heard Anna’s short film on Scouse and it was more than enough for me to spend the whole evening watching her videos. Funny and smart, discussing the wide range of topics from accents to the ways people shouldn’t pay compliments – I’m sure you’ll love it!

3 English with Lucy

Lucy is a very popular British English teacher who focuses on more “traditional” approach to learning English, talking not only about cultural aspects, but also improving skills, remembering vocabulary etc. I’d recommend lessons with Lucy as a great homework for my students.

4 Learn English with Papa Teach Me

Want to speak like John Snow (and still know something)? Or maybe you’d like to sound like Jason Statham? Just watch Papa Teach Me channel and enjoy the “how to” films full of funny examples, but also really useful information you may find valuable from teacher’s point of view (I do!) – cockney, RP, or real tutorial how to speak like the Lannister.

That would be easy, just send your regards on the tip of the knife…

5 Learn English Kids by British Council

In case the name of the channel isn’t clear enough, let me clarify: this is a great channel for the youngest learners of English. Songs, nursery rhymes, games, stories, lessons – everything you’ll ever need to satisfy the demands of even the laziest child (and his parents). You should also try British Council: Learn English Teens channel as it’s full of useful videos for teenagers.

6 BBC Learning English

Apart from the casual news, BBC has a variety of films on its Learning English channel. “Go the Distance” is a series of videos focused on learning online, the “We Say – You Say” section provides a detailed explanation on proverbs and sayings, 6-minute English sections on Thursdays are just great with interesting topics and great vocabulary chunks… Just try not to lose your head over all those inspiring videos!

7 Learn English by British Council

Short videos, proper lessons, useful tips and interesting people – you can find it all on this channel. You may bring it to your classroom when you feel a bit lazy – or you may ask your students to watch a video as their homework, which is always a better idea than telling them to find the channel and browse it by themselves. I really recommend the series “How to improve your skills”, especially for the beginning of a course.

If you know of YouTube channels that I haven’t shortlisted please let me know, I’ll be happy to watch them – and learn – more.

Enjoy!

 

Bored in the classroom? Let’s visit England!

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I love visiting England and frankly speaking, it always feels like home, be it greyish Yorkshire or sunny Somerset. I’m not overly sentimental, but I try to convince my students that England isn’t always rain and fog (unfortunately, huh), English food can be delicious (oh, Sunday roast or sticky toffee pudding, how I miss you!) and English people aren’t even half as snobbish as in Downton Abbey.

Not all of them, at least.

What I lacked was a nice book focused not only on culture itself, but using cultural topics as an element of a proper, language-oriented lesson. I used to prepare such classes by myself (with a little help of the Internet), but when at IATEFL conference I saw a book, titled Let’s Visit England by Polonsky, I knew I had to buy it.

So I did – and it’s become one of my favourite books for B1/B2 students.

First impressions

I really like the layout as the book’s subtitle is Photocopiable Resource Book for Teachers and it’s clearly designed to be as copier-friendly as possible (including coil binding).

When I opened the book I saw the table of content and – boom, immediately Unit 1, “The Geography of the British Isles”. Wait, where’s the foreword? Actually, nowhere, as the authors – Roman Ociepa and Mateusz Kołodziejczyk – apparently didn’t feel like wasting space; and indeed: at the very end of the book we have… a map! A great table of units and all you can find there: general topics, collocations, highlights and fun corners – that’s really helpful when picking a topic, especially when you want to match it with a coursebook lesson. You can also find a short and simple note on how to use the book.

Having satisfied myself with technicalities (reading “how to use the book” section is quite important and saves you troubles, seriously) I got back to Unit 1… and almost immediately decided to use for my first classes with a group of B1+ teens.

What is it about?

There are 15 units in the book and each lesson is planned for 90-minute classes and contains exercises on reading, listening, speaking, writing and vocabulary. So we’re travelling through geography of the Isles, the history of the UK and specifically England, education, games, science, literature, films, popculture, cars and famous landmarks.

What I like about the book is the variety of exercises – starting with warm-ups, we have vocabulary exercises, a bit of word-building, some collocations, fill-in-the-blanks etc. You don’t have to use them all, mind, but they’re varied enough not to get bored easily. And even though word-formation exercise is something you may skip, I’d suggest you spend some time on the Fun Corner – really engaging tasks, being educational and funny – frankly, my favourite part of the unit.

Best things in the book

There are so many delicious morsels in this book! Music – not only about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but Black Sabbath, David Bowie and Kate Bush also got recognised. “How to read numbers” – an adorable section in each lesson, great thing. There’s Agatha Christie mentioned as a best-selling novelist which is just lovely. But the thing that touched my heart was a simple mention in the fill-in-the-blank exercise about Invictus by Henley that it was used in Mass Effect 3 (along with Casablanca and Star Trek, but still – it’s pure gold when someone in an EFL book refers to a game).

Any problems?

Well, it’s a bit too short (15 units only) and the structure is quite repetitive (text-vocab-questions-word-building-collocations-project-retelling the story-highlight-fun corner) and while I perceive such a plan as nothing more than a suggestion, I know many teachers would go exactly, well, by the book – which may simply kill the potential of the exercises. So if you’re an inexperienced teacher, remember to add something from yourself – change some instructions and the whole lesson will be more enjoyable.

Recommendation

I can recommend this book to every teacher for all B1/B2 students – teenagers and adults alike. I’m sure it’ll bring a lot of fun, provoke a lot of discussions and will be a nice way of introducing Cross Cultural Communication.

The thing is, Polonsky encourages to visit not only England, but also Scotland, Ireland, the United States… and even Poland! So I’m sure even if you’re not into this publication, you’ll find something to your liking.

Enjoy!

Let’s Visit England, Photocopiable Resource Book for Teachers by Roman Ociepa, Mateusz Kołodziejczyk; Polonsky 2016; EAN/ISBN: 9788363630010

7 free online courses in October

7 Free OnlineCoursesin October

September is over, and October brings long evenings when you can drink tea or hot chocolate and read books… or learn, of course! With leaves falling in many beautiful colours, let me shower you with lovely online courses, that are free to participate and open for everyone. And if autumn cosiness makes you slightly lazy, the courses I want to show you will wake you up and inspire for a nice change!

1 Storytelling for Change by the Ariel Group

Storytelling is an extremely popular topic nowadays – teaching, coaching, even sales reps operate on using stories, as they make your message memorable, give your audience something to relate to, and above all capture their attention. You will get familiar with important storytelling tools, and create a rehearsed presentation that can help you connect with your audience and inspire change.

The course starts on the 10th of October and takes 8 weeks.

2 Teaching Flipped by University of Utah

Flipped Classroom in one of the most popular ways of introducing Blended Learning. This course is taught flipped/MOOC-style by veteran flippers and MOOCers to give you experience with the tools and learning methods. By the end of the course you should have a good idea of how to flip your own course plus you’ll have the tools to do it well.

The course starts on the 2nd of October and takes 8 weeks.

3 Coaching Learning, Leadership and Change by Case Western Reserve University

Coaching can inspire and motivate people to learn, change, and be effective leaders, among other roles in life. The course focuses on “coaching with compassion” (coaching someone to their dreams and desires) as the most effective form of the process. You will learn about psychology and neuroscience behind coaching which may be very useful not only for a teacher, but also for a DoS.

The course starts on the 9th of October and takes 5 weeks.

4 Launching Innovation in School by MITx Microsoft in Education

Innovation in school is a very popular topic nowadays – each school wants to be unusual, and sometimes a teacher is simply asked to introduce and innovative change – and left alone. Now, this course is for school leaders of all kinds (from teacher-leaders to principals to superintendents) who are launching innovation in schools – starting new efforts to work together to improve teaching and learning. It’s a great way to exchange ideas and share experiences!

The course started on the 28th of September and takes 7 weeks.

5 Growth Mindset: How to Help Your Child Learn, Grow, Thrive by The Institute for Wellness Education

Carol Dweck introduced growth mindset and introduced a new approach to education as a lifelong process. In this mini-course, you’ll learn the psychology and science of how mindset works to shape child’s future, and the life-altering power that a growth mindset offers. You’ll learn powerful skills to help develop a growth mindset that will set the stage for children to develop and thrive throughout life. Perfect not only for teachers, but also parents.

The course is self-paced, which means you can take it anytime you wish.

6 Supporting Children with Difficulties in Reading and Writing by University of London, UCL Institute of Education and Dyslexia International

This course is perfect for those teachers who want to learn why some children have so much difficulty with reading and writing (an issue often called “dyslexia”), and to learn more about best practice in teaching literacy to all in light of recent scientific discoveries. You will study not only theory, but also practical approach.

The course starts on the 2nd of October and takes 6 weeks.

7 Teaching Literacy Through Film by the British Film Institute and Into Film

Almost every student likes watching films in the classroom, but teachers (and parents) aren’t so sure that this is the best educational help. Recent research, however, has shown that film can be a powerful tool to help improve children’s reading and writing. In this course, you’ll find out how you can help your students learn with film using various approaches and activities.

The course starts on the 16th of October and takes 4 weeks.

 

I hope you’ll find something interesting – I personally pick Coaching Learning, as being a DoS means constant changes and challenges, especially when it comes to relationships with people. If you choose the same course, let me know and let’s meet online with a cup of hot chocolate!

Enjoy!