5 Myths about being an independent language or literacy professional (and secrets of the trade you need to know)

June 18, 2014

Sometimes when I talk with contract language teachers, sessionals, adjuncts, freelance writers, editors and others who dedicate themselves to the language and literacy profession, I’ve learned that there are some myths about the profession that we need to debunk. Here are a few of them:

Myth #1 – The work is about the language

You absolutely need to understand the mechanics of language and the foundations of effective learning to succeed as an independent language professional, the real work is about the people you work with. Helping others to learn, grow and develop as human beings is at the heart of what we do. If you think the job is about being “the spelling police” or a “grammar guru”, you’ve missed the point.

Myth #2 – Being a professional means someone else does the admin work

Language teachers love being in the classroom, but that’s only part of the job. Submitting grades, writing reports and tending to administrative duties comes with the territory. In today’s world, being a professional means paying as much attention to the quality of your administrative work as you do to your teaching. Program and institutional staff are not your personal secretaries. They are professionals in their own right and deserve to be treated as such.

Myth #3 – Being an independent professional means you have no boss

Sometimes people say to me, “You are so lucky!  You have no boss!” Nothing could be further from the truth. You get a minimum of one new boss with every contract you take one. Sometimes you have more than one person you report to. If you’re very lucky, those people will like each other and see eye to eye. If they don’t, you are the one who will get pulled in different directions. Learning to figure out, understand and navigate the reporting requirements of each job is likely to require an immense amount of energy. You invest time and effort at the beginning of every new job. But make no mistake, you will always report to someone, even if it’s not always clear who it is. The trick is to clarify who you report to and understand that your job implicitly involves making that person’s life easier in whatever way you reasonably can.

Myth #4 – The last day of the contract is the end of the job

In many contract situations, there is follow up work to be done after the contract end date. This work is often administrative. Some examples include written reports, expense claims and grade submission. Even though your contract may have officially ended on a particular date, the obligations and expectations of the job may extend past that. Be amenable to reasonable wrap-up duties and ensure you comply with deadlines set by your employer or client. This is important to preserve your positive relationships as you are wrapping up your work. Remember that the end date of a contract may signify the end of a particular job, but your relationships and reputation can outlive any contract.

Myth #5 – It is important to leave with a letter of reference

This is a partial myth. Getting letters of reference can be important, but they can also be formulaic and written according to a template. What’s more important than getting with a generic letter of reference on the last day of the job, is leaving the job with a reputation for excellence and sincere relationships that can last a lifetime. Recommendations that matter are likely to happen over the phone or during informal personal conversations that are more honest and open than a templated letter ever could be. The reality is that we’ll never know about most of the conversations that happen between our prospective employers and our previous employers who are more than likely connected in some collegial way we were never even aware of. Real recommendations don’t come from generic letter we tuck into our portfolios. They come from informal conversations that “never happened”.

There are more myths about the profession that need busting, but these are a few of the most common ones that I see over and over again, especially from folks who are new to the world of working independently either as contractors, freelancers or consultants. The most important thing to remember is that we are only as good as our last contract, our last course or our last project. Our love of language or dedication to literacy is what we do. The reputations we build along the way is how we do it. We need to pay as much attention to the how as we do to the what.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


3 Reasons you’ll find me on Facebook when I’ve called in sick

December 9, 2013

Recently I received an e-mail from a co-worker that basically said, “Sorry you missed the meeting because you were not feeling well. I see from your Facebook page that you were not too sick to be using social media.”

While the Internet is rife with news articles and cases about people who post photos of themselves partying after having called in sick, there is a counter-side to this argument that employers, colleagues and others might take into consideration:

Status updates can be scheduled.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people use services such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck to pre-schedule status updates, Tweets and so forth. Often the update will be posted with a note such as “via Hootsuite”. The savvy reader will look to see if an update was posted using an automated service.

Earlier this year, I found myself in hospital for a few days, suddenly and without warning. All the while, my Facebook status and Tweets were auto-updating. No one but a few family members and close friends knew I was hooked up to an IV line in a Calgary hospital.

Social media is a mindless activity.

When I’m home sick (legitimately), I sleep, watch TV and yes, I sometimes go to my computer. In today’s digital world, that seems pretty normal, no? You’ll notice that reading wasn’t even on that list. Why? Because for me, social media takes less mental energy than reading a book. That is probably because the kind of books I read tend to have a hefty dose of educational leadership or management theory in them. Reading means I have to turn my brain on. Social media lets me unplug my brain for a while. Clicking “Like” can hardly be correlated to reading (much less writing) a strategic plan, in terms of intellectual activity.

Engaging in social media activities certainly takes less concentration and mental acuity than doing my work. My professional activity usually means my brain is in overdrive, solving problems and processing complex information, including academic, policy and research materials. Saying, “Thanks for the ReTweet” does not.

Social media helps us to feel connected.

Much of my work is online. I teach using e-learning technologies. I consult virtually. I conduct research mostly online. I can go for a week without seeing anyone outside my home.

Let’s face it, when you are sick and feeling miserable, loneliness and feelings of isolation can set in more quickly than most of us would like to admit. Signing in to Facebook or Twitter allows you to connect virtually with friends, family and others you care about — and who care about you. Loneliness subsides and feelings of being disconnected from the outside world diminish. You might even see something that makes you laugh.

Not all employees or colleagues who engage in online activities while taking a sick day are fraudulent, lazy or lying. There is a phenomenon in human resources known as “absence management” that aims to measure and track absenteeism. In some organizations, monitoring employees’ social media channels is increasingly being seen as a valid and reliable manner of assessing genuine illness. Personally, I think it’s hogwash; that is, if the person’s job involves them needing to use critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities or higher levels of cognition. (Wait, isn’t that most jobs in the 21st century?)

When I work, I go full tilt. I usually have three or more projects on the go at any given time, working with clients in at least two different cites and possibly different countries. I’m consulting, teaching, researching, strategizing, writing or speaking. But when I get sick, I pretty much hit a full stop. I hate downtime and even more, I hate not being there for my students or clients.

There will always be employees who try to abuse the goodwill of their employers, but as we move more and more into the digital world, we still need to put caring for one another as human beings first.

When you see some one online engaging in social media activities when they have called in sick, take a deep breath before assuming they are simply skipping out of work, shirking their commitments or otherwise “crying wolf”. You might even offer a supportive comment, ask if there is anything they need or just say hello and let them know that you are thinking about them.

Consider this: Being hooked up to an IV doesn’t prevent you from hitting the “Like” button on your iPad.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Have yourself a financially stress-free Christmas

December 2, 2013

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I have fond memories of mince pies, decorating the tree and home-made gifts. Every year, my Mum would start in the summer to plan and create our gifts. She could knit, crochet, sew and do just about every other kind of craft. She didn’t have sewing machine, but she had a full set of knitting needles, a collection she took years to build.

609-Knitting-on-the-trainBack in those days, yarn was not nearly so spendy as it is today. Making sweaters, mittens and gloves was inexpensive and so, it was one of the only ways she could afford to put gifts under the tree. I remember her sending me off to bed as early as possible to give herself more time to work on creating our Christmas presents by hand.

I am ashamed to say that I was sometimes disappointed that I did not receive the gift I wanted. I remember being devastated that I was the only girl in my class who did not receive a Cabbage Patch Kid one year. When I reflect on this, I am ashamed that I pined for these products so selfishly and felt so empty and worthless when I did not receive them.

All this made Mum terribly anxious. Without fail, she would buy a few small things and put them under the tree, but every year the trendiest gifts got more and more expensive and always seemed to be just out of her financial reach. Whatever the most fashionable gift of the year was, the prices always inched up so that a single mom of the working-poor could never have those gifts within reach. Pride and dignity prevailed at all times of the year and accepting hand-outs from friends or charity groups was out of the question. Sleep deprivation was a small price to pay to ensure there was something under the tree on Christmas morning.

As I look back, I can not remember any of the consumer products that I received as Christmas gifts, but I remember every single handmade gift she made me. The effort and love she put into those gifts are what have left me with warm and special memories. She died at Christmas time and my tolerance for consumerism has waned every year since. What I wouldn’t do for one of her hand-made sweaters today!

Here are seven things I have learned about Christmas gifts:

  1.  The amount of money spent on a gift is not equal or proportionate to the amount of love in the giver’s heart.
  2. Store-bought gifts take less time than hand-made gifts.
  3. A gesture of kindness, a hand-written card or sincere forgiveness for something that went wrong in the past, are better gifts than anything money can buy.
  4. When the giving comes from your heart, it is more likely to be cherished in the long run.
  5. The best gifts are those that leave us with warm memories.
  6. Spending time to build, create or prepare a gift is often more valuable than spending cash to buy one.
  7. Thoughtfulness and intentionality count. Thinking of what the recipient would deeply enjoy takes effort and a deep focus on the person on the receiving end. Think twice before buying gourmet coffee for the person who does not care for caffeinated beverages.

If you are going to buy gifts this year, here’s a way to lead by example when to comes to putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the spending:

Set a budget

One of the basics of financial literacy is budgeting. Decide how much you can spend on gifts. Then, figure out who you want to buy gifts for. Allocate a maximum amount of money for each person. Remember to factor in taxes and if you are buying online, remember the shipping costs, too. The amount you spend on all of your recipients combined can not exceed your total.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade has an excellent online worksheet to help you plan your holiday spending: http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources/holiday_spending_plan.html

Buy local

Look at where the product is made. If it’s made in your country, or better yet, your province or state, it is more likely that it was made under fair working conditions. Why not support your own local economy?

Support independent businesses and solo-preneurs

Farmers markets, craft fairs and independently owned shops and businesses are just a few of the placed you can find locally-made products.

I was recently told that 70% of all small businesses in Canada are service-based businesses. How about a gift certificate for a house-cleaning or a massage? There are plenty of options for a gift that allows the recipient to feel pampered without adding more to the landfill.

Remember that Christmas is not about how much money you spend on others, but offering letting the love in your heart shine towards those whom you hold dearest to your soul. A gift can come in many forms, but best are those that leave you with warm memories to hold on to long after the gift itself has gone from your life.

For those of us who work in the literacy field and are advocates of literacy, it is up to us to lead by example when it comes to responsible spending during the holidays. So have yourself a financially literate Christmas and focus on sharing laughter and love this holiday season.

Related posts:

 5 Festive ways to say Happy Holidays! to your favorite teacher http://wp.me/pNAh3-151

 Top 10 affordable and unique Christmas gift ideas for teachers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1xD

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Share or Tweet this: Have yourself a financially stress-free Christmas http://wp.me/pNAh3-1FL

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


In Quebec, kippahs are out, but swastikas are OK

September 11, 2013

There have been very few times I have been ashamed to be Canadian, but today is one of them.

The provincial government of Quebec is institutionalized its vision of a secular society and “state neutrality”. It has produced its own “Charter of Values” that prohibits all public servants from wearing religious symbols or dress while at work. For example, female Muslim teachers can no longer a hijab to work. Jewish men who work as public servants may no longer wear a kippah. This poster shows what is and is not acceptable in Quebec workplaces:

Valeurs_depliant_version_longue-7.jpg

On the top row you can see the approved “non-ostentatious” symbols that recognize “Quebec heritage”, including a small cross or a discreet Star of David. So, Christian and Jewish symbols are OK, as long as they are not too obvious.

But clothing is out. Turbans, hijabs and kipphas all have to go.

Note the distinct lack of the swastika in the poster. The Quebec government might say those are OK, because they are not a religious symbol. The message seems pretty clear: Fanaticism might be tolerated, but showing that you believe in a non-human supreme being is not. Of course, the Quebec government has not explicitly said, “Yes, please wear a swastika to work”, but by not adding it to its list of “unacceptable symbols” the permission seems implicit, no?

This new “Charter of Values” has made international news and has Canadians up in arms. This CBC news article says that support for the Quebec government’s new policy is growing, however.

Journalists such as Steve Murray have parodied the new policy, suggesting that perhaps hockey jerseys should also be outlawed. After all, we would not want fans of the Montreal Canadiens offending those who believe strongly in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Can you imagine the riots that might break out at the local Tim Hortons if people went after one another for wearing a jersey from the wrong team? You might spill your double-double. (For my non-Canadian readers, that is Canadian-speak for a cup of coffee with two lumps of sugar and two helpings of cream).

Another, Canadian-born journalist, Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed offers a brilliant response to the Parti Quebecois in her Huffington Post Op/Ed.

What gets me is that this dress code does not seem to have been thought through. We have a national Charter of Rights and Freedoms that trumps (or should trump) what happens on a provincial level.

It’s not that I don’t think there should be a dress code at work. Safety and social decorum are two sensible reasons to have a dress code. People who work in an environment where the risk of injury might increase if your hair gets in the way, well, they should have to tie it back or tuck it under a cap, for example. That’s just  common sense.  Likewise, there’s no need for public servants to wear bathing suits, hot pants or pasties to work.  That sort of attire is more suited for work outside the public sector. That’s also common sense.

But banning religious symbols and particular pieces of clothing in the hopes of creating a secular society? Really? Didn’t the former Soviet Union try that and fail? Miserably?

As I mentioned earlier, people holds lots of beliefs that have nothing to do with religion… Those are still OK, though? You can believe in aliens or racial supremacy or child labor and that’s all OK?

Mind you… Quebec is the same  province that was able to pass a law banning businesses from posting any signage in English, in order to promote the French language. (Equally silly, in my humble opinion.) They seem to have carte blanche to do whatever they please and we’ll let them do it because, well… they’re Quebec.

Hopefully, Quebecers will remember that we still live in a democracy and they get to elect their leaders.

Practice tolerance

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


How I finally cleaned up my Inbox — and how you can, too

July 16, 2013

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional developmentI just deleted 5000 messages from my e-mail box without reading any of them. I admit it: I am an e-mail hoarder. I save all kinds of messages that I don’t need to.

This year, my business has grown and I find myself busier than ever before. My messy inbox was killing my productivity and adding to my stress levels. I have missed important messages from clients and colleagues.

So, I went to war with my Inbox. Over the past 24 hours I have been relentlessly and ruthlessly deleting unnecessary e-mails. Here are some of the messages I have deleted:

  • Newsletters
  • Event invitations
  • Thank you notes
  • Updates from friends, colleagues and organizations that I support
  • News alerts
  • Social media messages (e.g. “You have a new Twitter follower!)
  • Meeting confirmations for events that have passed
  • Photos

In addition to deleting unnecessary messages, I filed another 3000 or so. Now every message that I need to keep has been neatly filed and organized into a folder.

How long did all this take? Less time than you might think. Once I put my mind to it, I was focused and diligent. The entire process took less than two days.

The trick is not to open every single e-mail and read though it. I looked at the subject line and made an instantaneous decision: Delete or File.

I have been an e-mail user since the late 1980s — the dawn of e-mail. I have never been able to figure out how to keep my Inbox clean. It has taken me about 25 years to figure out that most messages can be deleted or filed.

It feels great to see, for the first time ever, an Inbox that is manageable.

As I get busier and my business grows, I can not afford to miss messages or have the stress of cyber clutter. For me, cleaning out my inbox has been an important step in developing personal leadership and self-management skills.

Is it your turn to clean out your inbox?

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


21st Century Leadership: How Collaboration is Transforming Business Leadership (Webinar)

May 27, 2013

Chinook learning LogoI’m gearing up for a brand new webinar this week that will be offered through Chinook Learning Services.

Although the core principles of leadership are timeless, the skills needed in today’s fast-paced world are different than in decades past. This webinar looks at what it means to be a leader in the 21st century. Reconsider traditional paradigms of leadership and learn why they don’t work today. Find out why collaboration is the hot new trend in leadership and how to use collaboration to mobilize others to take responsibility and take action.

Participant Outcomes

  • Understand emerging trends in 21st century leadership.
  • Understand how collaboration is an effective motivator.
  • Learn key strategies for integrating collaboration into your leadership practice.

Course Content

  1. Trends in 21st century leadership.
  2. Why traditional models of leadership are becoming ineffective.
  3. The role of collaboration in leadership.
  4. Key strategies for collaborative leadership practice.

Find out more about the webinar here.

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Share or Tweet this: 21st Century Leadership: How Collaboration is Transforming Business Leadership (Webinar) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1C5

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


What Happened to the “Public” in Public Education?

March 12, 2013

Today I received an e-mail about this event. Since it is a public event and they have asked folks to help them get the word out, I am sharing it with you:

Invitation to Participate

Public Education Focus Groups – What Happened to the “Public” in Public Education?

The Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership invites you to contribute to our research on the state of public education in Alberta.

The Foundation is conducting focus groups in Alberta cities and towns to gather information about the opinions, experiences and values of Albertans regarding public education as a public institution in the province. Discussion topics will include the purpose of public education and the type of community and democracy public education should encourage.

The Foundation is holding a focus group in Calgary on March 19, 2013 from 5:00-7:00 pm. Participants will receive a $20 honorarium and dinner will be served.

They welcome input from all Albertans, with and without connections to the public education system.

Please pass this invitation along to any friends or family you think may be interested in participating in a focus group about public education.

To attend this focus group, please RSVP to Jasmine Ing at

jing @ chumir.ca or 403-244-6666 by March 15, 2013.

When you RSVP, please include your name, phone number, and city or town.

The Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership is a non-profit organization based in Calgary which conducts activities across Canada.

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I am not personally involved in this event or the Foundation, but I do think it sounds like a pretty interesting conversation to be part of.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or leave a comment. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: What Happened to the “Public” in Public Education? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1zK

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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