January 22, 2021

Praveen's Webspace

writing, mostly, on contemporary issues of human rights, politics & social justice

Building a Community: What We Value

Praveen K Yadav, Umes Shrestha, and Uttam Gaulee
(facilitators of ELT Choutari, an English Language Teachers’
and bloggers’ network from Nepal)

praveenThe world is getting far more connected, but not all connections are the same. Nor do connections automatically achieve the social, professional, and other purposes that the Internet is often credited for by those who have full and unhindered access to it. So, building a professional community, developing resources for it, and engaging its members from the ground up takes a lot of time, courage, and collaboration by one or more members who can stick to it through ups and downs, excitement and frustration.

Here's the link of the article co-authored for & published in EdConteXts, an int'l network of educators.

umesIn this blog post, we’d like to share the story of how we, a group of English language teachers in Nepal gradually built an online professional development community by the name of ELT Choutari. In a sense, this post is a detailed answer to the question that was asked by a colleague who commented on a story that one of us (Praveen) wrote for EdConteXts in June:what do we value as measures of success of/in our network?

uttamELT Choutari is probably the first English Language Teaching (ELT) blog-zine of its kind in South Asia. It was formed in 2009 by a group of dynamic ELT professionals of Nepal who felt the dire need of scholarly and professional engagement in the virtual world. To involve teachers across the country in professional development through online conversations, the team set up a blog, which was called ‘Nelta Choutari’ until recently. NELTA is the acronym for Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association where members of this informal group belong, and Choutari is a Nepali word meaning the space under/including a tree, the traditional public square where members of the community gather to share ideas and debate issues, tell stories to pass on or generate knowledge, solve problems, and sustain community.We changed the name to ELT Choutari in order to emphasize the group’s independence and informality and to be inclusive of the international scope of our readership—even as we remain grounded in Nepal and continue to share ideas and experiences of teaching/learning in our unique context.

Blogging as perhaps the most impactful affordance of information communication technology has helped us to connect the Nepalese ELT community from within and with other ELT professionals around the world—including our own Nepalese colleagues who work or study around the world. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the meaningful, resourceful, and impactful connection that we’ve worked on for almost six years now has brought about a small revolution in our field in Nepal. Started as a humble way to share ideas with each other by Shyam Sharma, Prem Phyak, and Bal Krishna Sharma, and later joined by Sajan Kumar Karn, Kamal Poudel and Hem Raj Kafle, the group soon grew into a platform for hundreds of Nepalese English teachers to share their ideas/experiences and scholarship about teaching and teaching English. We’ve also published blog posts by scholars from around the world, including by prominent scholars from the UK, US, and Australia.

Measuring Success of Choutari from readers’ perspective
The best way to share what aspects of our success, experiences, and ambitions we value most would be to let the most active members of our community speak in their own voice.

Ashok Raj Khati, a former editor who collected the voices of our readers for our fifth anniversary issue earlier this year found that our readers “translate” knowledge, skills and resources from reading ELT Choutari to their workplaces and other venues of professional development. Overall, Ashok found out that blogging has become a powerful means by which Nepalese ELT practitioners not only meet the world but also grow while they share ideas among themselves. Our community blog and other group and individual sites are helping to promote professional conversation, building local scholarship and creating new and local resources in ELT. Here is the blog post, titledHave Your Saybased on the study.

Measuring Success of Choutari through the team’s eyes

A recent discussion that EdConteXts prompted among the current editors of Choutari also produced some interesting issues about Choutari’s success, including strengths, values, benefits, challenges, and prospects.

First, Choutari has been a successful forum for the team because members of the core group have developed strategies for collaboration and coordination of their efforts. While being very informal and flexible, they take turns and back up one another when necessary. Its feature of being interactive and bringing local ELT practices to light has made popular among the Nepalese ELT practitioners. On top of that, the intrinsic motivation, team spirit and passion to contribute to larger community within the team to learn, share and contribute are some reasons behind enabling the team to work well, publish monthly issues without fail and create a significant impact in the community at home and abroad.

Secondly, the best part of working in Choutari that the team personally values is “growing by giving.” The team’s working as editors for Choutari comes with benefits on personal, professional and community level. Behind our success, we value our rapport as a team, our commitment, and our willingness to back up one another. Another thing is regularity, which it is hard to achieve, but we’ve developed mechanisms for collaboration. The team itself is learning how to delegate all work to others but we address this issue by taking turns and asking anyone who can’t find time to step aside and asking anyone who can to lead the network or major parts of it. The most significant benefit of working for the Choutari team is the opportunity that we get to connect with great professionals and leaders, locally and from all over the globe.

Finally, on the side of running the show, the best thing is that we never give up. No doubt, there have been ups and downs, and even now, it often seems that everyone is busy and the next monthly issue won’t happen. But with some coordination and prompting, we somehow always amaze ourselves. Despite such challenges, we’ve been publishing on time. The first few years are always full of challenges for any action, but the team has overcome many of those challenges faced in early days. However, things like lack of time and losing motivation among the core group are still there as factors to fear. The team’s determination and their long-term vision for Choutari have always overcome these challenges.

The digital divide is still one of the major challenges that hinders the widening of readership of Choutari as large chunks of the Nepali community still lack proper electricity and internet access. Another key challenge for any ELT community like Choutari in the country is overcoming the lack of  ‘writing’, ‘reading’ and ‘critiquing’ culture among teachers, students and educational leaders. But we have been promoting rigorous academic reading and writing culture among teachers and students alike.

At the same time, the prospects are tremendous, both for the team and the community. Learning and networking opportunities abound as our team has come up with great new projects such as mentorship and monthly writing workshops to support and groom novice and potential writers. The social media platforms beyond the blog are growing exponentially, and there is room for growth in many ways. For sustainability, we find there are many capable people willing to join the blogging community as readers, contributors, and the facilitators.

Choutari is also a place for mentorship. We normally do not reject submissions when our colleagues want to share their ideas through Choutari; we try to provide resources/guidelines (please seejoin the conversationtab), and we try our best to help the writers on a one-to-one basis through a review process as best as we can.

To conclude, we are an excited and optimistic bunch. Despite any challenges, we believe we can and should give back our best to our profession and community. We want to bridge a generation of scholars with teachers who have built our professional community from scratch. We want to transform the existing ELT picture by sharing the ideas and experiences of our professional colleagues across the country. We are dedicated to transmit knowledge, skills and resources among scholarship and classroom, trainings and publications, and conversations offline and online; and thus make a huge impact in our field. As we have started doing more recently, we help promote professional development through training and conference presentations, workshops and conversations, and professional networking in virtual communities across the country and across the world.

With the expansion of readership, we are truly excited and eager to serve the community even better than we have done so far.

And, we are very excited to be able to read what educators from around the world share through EdConteXts. Thank you again for the opportunity to share our ideas and experiences.