Friday 11 May 2012

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Just Say Yes

About a year ago, I made a decision. It was the kind of decision that people have made careers out of, especially the writer Danny Wallace who coincidentally was at my university at the same time as me. Since he studied Journalism and became a writer and I studied Media, specifically television, and became a teacher of English as a foreign language, I’m going to assume that his days at the University of Westminster were rather more productive than mine.

He went to write a book called Yes Man, which was Hollywoodified (that's my word but you can use it...) into a movie staring Jim Carrey, who I definitely did not go to university with. Anyway, back to me. My decision, which was in no way at all influenced by either the book or the film (I regret mentioning them now, to be honest) was to say yes. To everything. Within reason.

Taken from

I'm talking professionally here. You see, I don't believe in luck. I'm a rationalist, I believe that science is our ticket to a golden future and that our destiny lies in our own hands. Sure, sometimes circumstance and coincidence can wreck our plans, but it's not luck, because it doesn't exist.

If you've read this blog in the past or know me personally, you know that I became an EFL teacher because I moved to Brazil and didn't really have any other alternative job options. So I guess you would think that I was lucky because I only had one option and I loved it? I politely disagree. It's a coincidence that the one job I could do is also one I love. And how did this coincidence come about? Because I moved from London to Brasilia. I made the coincidence possible because I took a risk and went for it.

Once I realised how this sequence of events had occurred, it changed how I see the world and I made my decision to say yes to everything that I reasonably could (you have to know your limitations). And what has happened since then? Let me give you an example...

At the IATEFL conference in March, ELTchat hosted a symposium. I, me, James Taylor, theteacherjames, was featured in the first three talks. I don't tell you this to show off, really, but because it illustrates my point. Marisa Constantinides mentioned me because I am the producer and presenter of the ELTchat podcast, something I volunteered for after seeing a request on Twitter, despite having never made a podcast before. With my media background, I was confident I could learn what was required of me in order to put a podcast together, so I said yes and it's been great fun so far.

In the second talk, Shaun Wilden showed a video that I made for him on his subject hashtagging. I don't consider myself to be particularly knowledgeable on the topic, but I racked my brains and come up with something I hoped would be useful. Why? Because he needed a hand and why not? It took 5 minutes of my time and was helpful to him.

Finally, Sharon Hartle used my summary of an ELTchat from last year as an example in her talk. Coincidentally (not luckily!), this was Sharon's first ever ELTchat and included her first ever tweet. My summary was used because I volunteered to do it after what had been a feisty and fascinating chat. This was my first ever ELTchat summary, and I volunteered because it was a subject I'm passionate about and I wanted to contribute to the community that was giving me a lot. Somebody asked, and I said yes.

I could go into more details, but what it comes down to is that as well as the above, I have been to conferences in Switzerland and France, my writing has been featured in an ELT journal for the first time, I have reviewed books, I have spoken to Petra Pointner and her class via Skype, I've met two great Belgian teachers, I've given my first presentation, I’ve been featured on blogs, and more. All through saying yes.

Am I richer as a result? Well that depends on how you define richer. In monetary terms, no, categorically no (those conferences are expensive!). However, I prefer to look at it in non-monetary terms. I've met great people, been involved with fun projects, improved my skills and I hope become a better person. In that sense, I'm the richest man in ELT.

So can you do the same? Of course you can! To kick you off, I'm going to ask you some questions and you can begin by saying yes to a few...
1) Will you start blogging about teaching? 
2) Will you get involved in ELTchat whenever you can? 
3) When someone asks for help on Twitter or Facebook, will you help them? 
4) Will you help your colleagues, even though they might not help you back? 
5) Will you start using Twitter and Facebook for your professional development? 
6) If someone asks you specifically to help them, will you say yes even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone? 
7) Will you start to read more ELT blogs? 
8) Will you tackle that pile of methodology books you've been meaning to read? 

9) Will you ask for help from your PLN and not feel discouraged if you don’t get the result you were hoping for?
10) Will you start to say yes more often?
That should get you going! Be sure to let me know how it goes.


Some people have posted relevant links in the comments which I thought I’d share with you here above the line:

Cecilia Lemos shared the fascinating story of Profeta Gentileza (Prophet Kindness), who has painted the phrase “Kindness generates kindness” around Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Adam Simpson shared the following TED talk on the power of yes:

Phil Pethybridge was “peeved” by this post and responded here, including my reply.

And here's a quote I saw on the Facebook page of the School of Life that seemed relevant:


  1. Very much agree with the point here, James. I try, as often as I can (and to the bewilderment of colleagues who think I'm on the road to burnout), to say yes to requests to help, to share and to do workshops and talks. As you imply, you never know what will come from it in the future and what it will lead to. Evidence has shown, in both our cases but in many, many others, that opportunity arises.

    1. Absolutely Tyson, you are one of many examples I could point to as evidence. Keep going, we love what you do!

  2. You might like this...

    1. Thanks Adam, I've seen a few TED talks on this subject but not this one. I'll be watching this really soon...

  3. James,

    That's the kind of positive feeling I've been having for a few months now and especially during and post-IATEFL conference. While others more experienced at these things were ruminating on what were the main themes and what directions were going in, I was more concerned with building a personal learning network and simply attending as many interesting and stimulating presentations as I could.

    Like you, I don't believe in luck, but I do believe in putting yourself into the right place at the right time. Fate, too, is against my increasingly developing autonomous beliefs as I set out to improve my professional development by myself.

    In answer to the above list of 10 possibly actions, I can respond immediately:

    1. Already doing it. Have added another blog to my existing one.
    2. Have joined a few double sessions already, and have started using Tweetdeck as a result.
    3. I generally try to help when I can - and I would like the 'favour' to be returned in the future. Especially when it comes to my dissertation research (on ICT use by EFL teachers).
    4. I like to teach/train and I don't mind if there is an imbalance... 'what goes around, comes around' - doesn't mean I believe in 'fate'; more 'cause' and 'effect'.
    5. Already doing it. Now more than ever.
    6. I would certainly try.
    7. Already doing it. Blogroll increasing almost daily. So many to read, however.
    8. Er, did that last term... let's move on please.
    9. I certainly hope so when I send out my first questionnaire next month. ;-))
    10. Er, OK, then.

    Later this year, I will be seriously looking for employment again, having taken time out to study a Masters for one year. I can't afford (financially) to do it again. So I trying to make the most of this year and, as well as learning stuff and writing essays, building up my PLN, which includes yourself, has been very much the unexpected bonus. Long may it continue. Thanks for the positivity. Let's all say 'YES' !

    1. Thanks Phil for your fantastic comment! From the looks of things you've already started saying yes and the benefits are obvious. I guess all I have to say to you is that it's been great adding you to my PLN and keep on going!!

  4. Absolutely, positively marvellous, James. Thank you for writing this and you will be featured again and again because of this, rest assured.

    Sticking your neck out is one of the best things you have done, over and over again and I'm with you all the way and beyond.

    We may end up headless, but we will have had a life we have enjoyed and riches beyond money.

    It has been a pleasure working with you.


    1. A big thank you Marisa, especially as you are one of the people that gives the rest of us opportunities to try new things. You are an example for all of us, and the pleasure is all mine.

  5. What an inpsiring post! Good for you!
    I just said "yes" you style to something new for me, but I won't elaborate just yet. I will keep your inspirational post in mind!
    Thank you!

    1. Thank you Naomi and good luck with your new secret, whatever that may be!

  6. Yes yes yes to all James!
    Thanks for this and for being one of my PLN!
    Aza aza positivity!

    Icha sarwono

    1. Thanks Icha, I know I can always rely on you for positivity!

  7. Fantastic post and just the attitude we need around, James. There's a well known saying in Brazil that is "Gentileza gera gentileza" (Kindness generates kindness), originally painted all over pillars of a flyover in Rio de Janeiro by a man known as profeta gentileza (or Prophet Kindness). You can learn more about him and his work here: I have always been a firm believer in that, and I try my best to follow that. If more people tried to be more kind and good to others we would have a much better world.

    When someone asks me for a favor or needs help I always make an effort to help, even if it means more work to me. And this can be anything: substituting, revising a text, sitting down to explain how to use an online resource, preparing an activity... It's such a nice feeling, the one you get after knowing you helped someone! And like you said, sometimes it doesn't take more than 5 minutes! However, we live in very individualistic times and, as Tyson pointed out many people think we are crazy for being like this and adding on to an already heavy load we as teachers, have. I don't care. Thanks for such a great post.... Let's spread the idea around! (though I have the distinctive feeling there are many of us in the PLN :-))

    Keep saying YES, James :-)



    1. Thanks Ceci for that wonderful comment. "Gentileza gera gentileza", wow, that guy is incredible. I haven't heard of him before but his story is fascinating, thanks for sharing it with me.

      Knowing you, it doesn't surprise me to see that you're an active user of the word "yes". I just hope this post can reach some people who are close to the tipping point, where they can go from hanging back into taking chances and trying new things. And like me, they'll have you as one of their inspirations.

  8. Thanks for this thoughtful post. Your message is simple but a vitally important one to share, as are the specific details of how you reached the point of being a 'knowledge leader'. Without the 'say yes' mindset you've just exemplified, we would have no leaders to speak of at all. One of the things true leaders do is of course to recognise those who have opportunities but aren't yet 'saying yes' to them and give them the support/guidance/encouragement they need to do so.

    1. Thank you Elky for your fascinating comment. I find it very interesting that you have looked at this from a leadership position. It's true that the 'leaders' of this online community of teachers, some of whom have commented above, have given many of us opportunities, big or small, to try new things and become better teachers. It's through their actions that a new generation of leaders will then do the same and perpetuate the system. As you point out, this support system is vital and necessary.

  9. I'm a yes man, too, but, I hate to be the party pooper, I believe it can work both ways. Call it luck, coincidence, karma, whatever, it exists, and you're not the one who makes it. Not always. It may be a greater force. It may be the way the cookie crumbles. C'est la vie. Que serĂ¡ serĂ¡.

    It could be that intelligence, logic, and other personal qualities come into the equation when saying yes or no. Maybe.

    Some people "make" it; some don't.

    As I've always said, life is a complex system of rivers with many streams, each of which leads to more complex turnings. You may end up in the sea... or you may not.

    1. Thanks Chiew, it's always good to have someone prepared to question what you're saying and I welcome it.

      I don't think you are disagreeing with me though. Of course, I acknowledge that there are external influences which might stop you from reaching whatever objectives you've set for yourself (and I would argue there's a big difference between karma and luck on one hand, and coincidence on the other). Normally, in my experience, it's other people. Or it could be your own shortcomings whether that's ability or more likely a lack of confidence. I wouldn't dare to suggest that just by saying yes your every dream will come true.

      However, and this is really the point of the post, is that without saying yes, nothing will happen to you. To use your metaphor, life is indeed a set of complex streams and rivers, but if you just sit on the side watching the current, life and its possibilities will pass you by. You've got to jump in, get wet and see what happens. You might end up in the sea or somewhere else, but I'd rather take the risk and enjoy the journey than do nothing.

  10. James,

    What a great and very personal post. Reading it I thought: this is indeed what sums up the teacher James.
    And do you see that your attitude of saying yes has inspired and involved others who, in turn, find the courage to say yes...
    The first presentation, starting a kind of blog, writing a guest post for your blog, saying yes to be interviewed ... and you know there are still one or two things on my to do list;-)

    For my students and colleagues I think I have always been a yes person but I often lack the confidence to step out of the comfort zone when it comes to personal development. Blame it maybe on the respect and admiration I feel for many of my PLN people. There are some awesome teachers/educators/bloggers out there ;-)

    It is just great I met you on Twitter and it's wonderful that you live just round the corner so to speak. It is a privilege to have you in my PLN and to work with you.
    Thank you for your kind words, for inspiration, for your help and for believing in me.

    See you soon I hope. Yes?:-)


    1. Thanks Mieke for your kind words. As with many people in our PLN, whenever you say yes, I can't help but be impressed by the results. I just hope you can keep saying yes so we can all benefit from what you do.

      See you soon :-)

  11. i like ur writing James
    hmm...i think i'll try and start to say yes to all those 10 questions u asked.

    keep saying yes then James :)


    1. Thanks for your comment and good luck with saying yes!

  12. It looks like I'm not the only person that this post struck a chord with. I’d read Yes Man and occasionally wondered what it would be like to say yes to (almost) everything. Not saying that I’m going to say yes to everything, but will or do say yes to the following:

    1. I already do this. Sort of. I don’t write about teaching per se, but use the blog to share activities for class. Can’t see myself starting another one, but yes to one day writing about what happens in class rather than just uploading teacher’s notes.

    2. After saying for ages that I was going to take part in ELTchat, I finally took the plunge at the end of March, and finished the chat by volunteering to write the summary. Have taken part a few times since then, in the loosest sense of take part - I still find myself two steps behind the conversation, staring at the screen and ending up as a lurker. So, yes to less lurking and more participating.

    3. Whenever I can, I do.

    4. What Ceci said.

    5.Apart from following Stephen Fry, I use Twitter almost exclusively for professional development. As for Facebook, I may take Nick Robinson’s advice in this post, So probably yes to setting up a FB account for everything ELT so as not to swamp the non-ELTers with stuff about teaching.

    6. Yes (but not a blind, unthinking yes......)

    7. I read lots of ELT blogs, and yes to reading more. Bit rubbish at commenting, though, but if I’ve retweeted someone’s blog post on Twitter, I’ve read it and enjoyed it for one reason or another.

    8. I recently went on a methodology book spree, and with a 45-minute train journey to and from work, I have no excuse not to read. So yes to organizing my travel time more productively.... ie spending less time watching TV series and YouTube videos while convincing myself that I’m looking for material for class.

    9. Yes.

    10. Ask me this time next year, and if I haven’t, feel free to call me shifty! That said, there’s also a lot to be said for knowing when to say no without going on a guilt trip.

    Thanks for an inspiring post, James, and congratulations on everything you’ve achieved from saying yes.

    1. Thanks Steve, I really appreciate your honest comment. Like I said, you don't have to say yes to all of the list and there are probably things specific to you that you could add. The point is that it's all about attitude and embracing opportunity when it comes your way. As we can see from your list, you're are already doing that to a large extent, so great job and keep it up!

  13. James, your attitude of Just Say Yes is one that we ELT old-timers can really relate to. When the industry as we know it was young, and particularly when International House founder John Haycraft had one of his brilliant but batty brilliant ideas, someone was always saying: 'Fancy doing X? What have you go to lose?' It was this way that John persuaded us to get a touring theatre group together for a tour to Germany. 'Three months preparation, two weeks on tour, what have you got to lose?'

    Twenty-nine years later, we stopped touring.

    This is the only possible downside of saying 'yes' - whatever the project is just may take over your life.

    But I think your attitude is even more pertinent and essential these days, when everyone seems to ask about money first and think about the work second.

    So if a someone asks you if you want to do something completely batty, just say 'YES!'

    What have you go to lose?

    1. Thanks Ken, that's a wonderful example of the power of yes. I know from reading your blog just what an important part of your life the theatre group was, so if people reading this could experience only ten percent of that, it'll be more than worth it.

      You mention two really important issues - time and money. I'm not advocating blindly saying yes to absolutely everything - that wouldn't be very rational of me! It's important that people find a balance that suits their lifestyles. And as for money, well we all need it, but in doing these kind of community activities we receive a reward far greater than cold hard cash.

      So as you say "What have you go to lose?" :-)

  14. Thank you for this post:) And yes to every point. Glad to say I have been doing many of them for a while :)

    1. I'm glad to hear it Tania, and good luck with them in the future!

  15. Dear James,

    You have no idea how much this post has influenced my thoughts and actions in the past few days. I've said yes to two things, and am so happy I did. I never knew that I could do it. But I did, and it has helped me reaffirm my beliefs about my capabilities.:) Thank you very much!

  16. Dear Ratna,

    Many thanks for your comment. I'm really happy to hear that I was able to help you and congratulations on saying yes.

    All the best, James



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