New ESL/EFL teachers can also be teacherpreneurs. Find out how Anthony Holt and his talented partner Alessandra Gagliano combined their creativity and ambition to see an idea come to life as Dimmideck. Read why Anthony believes that getting feedback from people will only improve your product.
Can you start off by telling us where you teach?
I moved to Palermo in Sicily, Italy in August 2016. It’s my first experience teaching outside the UK. I speak Italian quite well, so it’s been interesting seeing the issues the students have here when studying English as a lot of them are very logical when you understand both languages. It’s been really interesting so far as an insight into what it’s like to be a foreigner trying to get by in their second language in a strange city with a different culture. I think the experience will have a really positive effect on my teaching!
How long have you been teaching?
I’ve actually only been teaching English for just over a year. I worked in film and TV for a long time in business development and client management. A few years ago I visited Sardinia. I’d travelled a lot before but this was the first time I was in a country where speaking pigeon English at the locals really isn’t going to get you very far. It opened my eyes to the importance of learning languages, something, like most English people, I’d never done. I immediately began studying Italian when I returned home and fell in love with it. A year later I changed careers and was teaching ESOL in London for twelve months before moving to Sicily.
Can you describe a typical teaching day?
I’ve worked in three different schools this year but am currently teaching privately while I focus on DimmiDeck. It’s kind of liberating. My typical students are between seven and fourteen years old and I teach privately in homes in Palermo.
English ability here is seen as lacking compared to other parts of Europe, especially in Sicily. However there’s a real awareness of the importance of the language for a generation of young Italians with an unemployment rate hovering around the 50% mark. For most millennials here, moving to London, Australia or the USA to find work is almost seen as a rite of passage. Competition is fierce for jobs in Italy. Even if it’s not explicitly required for the role, speaking English can work a significantly in your favour.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
After ten years in a 60-hour a week job in London I moved to a beautiful Mediterranean island with some of the best food, beaches and culture in Europe. What do you think?!
Moving to Sicily has opened my eyes to a different way of life. I’m finding it very easy to find a good work/life balance here, although it’s certainly not easy for everyone. The culture in general is very laid back and friendly, and people support each other. There are problems like any country, but it feels a lot less stressed than the UK.
You took on the tremendous task of designing Dimmideck. Can you talk a bit about it?
I’ve always enjoyed making teaching materials but my previous schools have been so well equipped, and I was generally doing so many hours that it was much easier to make the existing materials as engaging as possible rather than make my own.
There had always been an idea in the back of my mind though which was of a flashcard set which didn’t just teach single pieces of vocabulary, but had vocabulary sets crammed into each image in a way that you would focus on the relevant word depending on the language topic that you’re teaching. If it sounds convoluted, it was. That’s why it never happened - I’m useless at explaining what’s in my head.
Fortunately when I met Alessandra and I saw her drawing style, I knew there was a way we could work together to bring the DimmiDeck to life. We’d always talked about working on something together and this seemed to be the perfect place to start. We matched my ideas about communicative teaching with her experience and knowledge of communicating visually through images, art and advertising. From this we came up with the minimalist designs you see today.
How long did it take you to complete Dimmideck?
Alessandra had already painted the ‘cyclops’ style on a few of her personal projects, so it was this that stuck. It was cute and fun, so engaging for children (without being childish), and surreal enough to make adults loosen up for a second and realise that they can have a bit of fun with learning a language.
We sat down and hammered out a list of what we needed over a couple of days and then the designs themselves took around three months. During this time I introduced ‘cut out at home’ versions of the cards slowly into my classes and private lessons and we constantly tweaked the designs as we went, for clarity and suitability and such. Eventually we had the complete deck, as well as few extra designs that we still need to decide on, and the DimmiDeck started being used in probably 50% of my lessons in some way, shape or form.
Where can teachers and students purchase Dimmideck?
At the moment we’re trying to crowd fund our first print run on Kickstarter. All going well, the DimmiDeck will be available to preorder from our website from February for March delivery, but in order for this to happen we need people to back us! By pledging they will receive a DimmiDeck as soon as the print run is completed, assuming we are successful. Plan B is… well, let’s just say if it doesn’t work we’ll go back to the drawing board and figure out why. The DimmiDeck works great for me, the question will be how do we show that to other language teachers?
Do you have any plans for another resource?
DimmiDeck is just gorgeous, Alessandra’s done such a great job of keeping the designs minimalist yet fantastic to look at and by avoiding written words completely we’re left with an incredibly versatile deck of cards which we hope is just the beginning. We’re already looking at complimentary products such as games, books and resources that make use of the cards whilst introducing new language points and learning opportunities. She’s created a whole universe in her head with DimmiDeck, and we’ve seen just a smidgen.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I am really enjoying writing my teaching blog, which is currently part of the DimmiDeck website at www.dimmideck.com/blog. I’ve finally got the time to write some of the ideas for articles that I’ve had for months but never had the time to really sit down and write. Also having the blog gives me full control over what I write and how I promote it, so it’s really exciting to be able to share my ideas with other likeminded teachers.
Alessandra has been working throughout on her graphic design work, which includes her fine art and custom products online stores. She has always had a minimalist style, and in no place does it come across as beautifully as in her art. She has been building her private portfolio at www.virtualemptymind.com for a few months now and it’s looking great!
How do you promote or market Dimmideck?
I’ve had to embrace some unfamiliar social media platforms in order to reach as many people as possible, and in doing so we’ve learnt a lot. Generally we are just working hard every day to spread the word, posting daily, sharing our blog posts in teaching groups and forums, paying for very targeted social media advertising, even contacting EFL teachers directly. One of the most successful methods we’ve used for gaining followers and contacts is giving away prizes for teaching resources or websites such as One Stop English and English Teaching Professional.
Where can people find you on social media?
Our Facebook is our main page www.facebook.com/dimmideck where people can get all the latest news, updates, blog posts and activity ideas. We try to post something new every day.
Our twitter www.twitter.com/dimmideck is for quick updates on the blog, new information, just snippets of what’s important really.
Our Instagram page www.instagram.com/dimmideck is where you’ll find all of Alessandras artwork for the blog and social media posts as well as video and animation that we’ve made for promotion.
What have you had to do outside of your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?
‘Sell’ things and promote ourselves. I left sales because at the end of the day, I’m too modest and quite anti-capitalist, which might sound like an oxymoron for a business owner. When ‘cash is king’ you can’t afford to be modest, because modest promotion doesn’t excite people.
So even with DimmiDeck, which I’ve been using for months and I really believe in, it’s difficult for me to ‘sell’ it to people. I’d rather just invite a load of teachers into a room with a pile of them and go ‘there you go, jump in!’. As the positive feedback has come in though, it’s getting easier. I know we’re onto something really nice here.
I’ve had to learn that if you obsess over what you ‘could’ have done, or worse what you ‘should’ have done you’ll spend your life constantly redesigning products that never see the light of day.
What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?
The whole idea of the DimmiDeck came about as something I wished I had as a teacher that didn’t exist. Most of our marketing and social networking skills came from our previous jobs, and the rest we learnt as we went along.
I guess in terms of skills, patience is the key in both language teaching and business. Nothing happens overnight. We hear lots of stories, especially in the crowdfunding world, for example, of products hitting 10, 20 times their goal in a couple of days. The reality is that most Kickstarter projects fail, and those that do succeed almost overwhelmingly reach their goal ‘just about’.
What advice would you give to teachers who are considering becoming teacherpreneurs?
It’s a real cliché but ‘just do it’. Starting a business doesn’t meant quitting your job and downsizing your home to pay for it. Start small and make sure that every extra hour you’re putting into it is like a passionate new hobby. You have to start a business with the right mentality - ‘I’m doing this because I think it’s a good idea and I enjoy it’, not ‘I’m doing this because I want to make more money’. If you choose the latter you’ll stress yourself out and, in all likelihood, fail.
In Italian they say ‘piano, piano’. Slowly, slowly. One step at a time. Before you go dropping everything to focus on your idea, make sure it’s one worth focusing on.
I talk to many teachers about their fear or doubt in trying something new or "putting themselves out there". What advice would you give to these teachers?
Listen to your doubts and use them to improve your idea. Great ideas take time and repeated tweaks and improvements. What we’ve learnt to accept from DimmiDeck so far is that if people don’t understand your idea, find a way to explain it more clearly. If people aren’t engaging with your product, perhaps you haven’t marketed it properly. If people tell you the product isn’t good enough, go back and make it better.
Thank you so much for your time. All the best with Dimmideck. Let us know when you have more resources.
Interested in learning more about transitioning from a teacher to teacherpreneur but don’t know how to get started? Here are some ways:
1. Read more teacherpreneur interviews at www.teacherpreneur.ca/blog
2. If you are a TESL Ontario member, watch a recording of my webinar Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://tutela.ca/GroupFiles?organicgroup=8594&cat=518
3. Check out my Teacher to Teacherpreneur Toolkit at http://www.teacherpreneur.ca
4. Sign up for my 4 week online course with iTDi.pro - Teacher to Teacherpreneur http://itdi.pro/itdihome/teacherpreneur.php
5. Download 10 Tips to Transition from Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/p/10-tips-to-transition-from-teacher-to-teachepreneur
6. Connect with other teacherpreneurs by joining my LinkedIn group https://www.linkedin.com/groups/7060976
7. Set up a private coaching call with me https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/pages/book-a-coaching-session-with-me
8. Connect with me on social media. Teacherpreneurs must be on social media.
My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL and I reside in Canada. I have 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Writer including 7 amazing years in Hong Kong. I have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada. I'm now a teacherpreneur doing the things that I love such as writing courses, blogging, sharing teaching materials, instructional coaching for new teachers and coaching teacherpreneurs. Having a flexible schedule allows me to conduct short-term training around the world at any time of the year.
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