Chuck Sandy, DFC Japan Partner Interview

Chuck Sandy, DFC Japan Partner Interview

“Life begins when you start living it” – How it feels to finally be the fly on Chuck Sandy’s wall

When I found out about the challenge from Brad Patterson (@Brad5patterson) on interviewing a fellow PLN member, I was very keen on taking the bait to get to know more about people I usually only meet during #ELTChat or in Twitterland, and as I had been interviewed by Lizzie Pinard (@Lizziepinard) it became my turn to do an interview.

There are many reasons why I decided to interview Chuck Sandy (@Chucksandy). He’s not only been a personal hero for awhile now but is also the only person on #ELTChat that I have actually met! Well, saying that I met him is probably an overstatement, as after seeing him give a great presentation during Cambridge day Jakarta, I only really interacted with him for a few minutes. Later, though, I got lucky since Chuck and I are both involved in the Design For Change (DFC) ) movement and as he’s been my mentor in DFC, I got to interact more with him as he helped me set up DFC Indonesia. Still, I wanted to know more about him ( and I’m sure many other people would too) so I asked him if I could have his time to do this interview, and he was kind enough to let me do it though he was still tired after coming home from one of his amazing presentation in Korea. So, here goes……

1. If your students were to describe you in 3 adjectives, what would they be?

“Unpredictable, funny, and easy going. I’ve become a very unplugged teacher and in my classes we do lots of projects. I never know quite how to do them, so when students ask how we should do something I ask them “I’m not sure, how do you think we should do this? and I’m famous for coming into class with a big bag full of markers and crayons and huge pieces of paper… so we can create things.

(Ok , I so wanna be his student now!)

In the Sports Fair Polo Shirts for his University Department Chuck told me that he loves the fact that his students challenge him every day and that it’s never hard to get them to participate,” Every student is different … some are quieter than others but we work in groups and all students support each other” he said

Chuck says he’s very inspired by his students and by the great educators he gets the chance to meet though his PLN and at conferences and teacher training sessions around the world, but feels quite humbled by and even a bit embarrassed by people who say they are inspired by him or want to learn from him. Chuck said, “I don’t think I’m a great teacher or anyone special. I’m just a teacher trying to do his best every day and it doesn’t always go as planned. I’m learning something new every day in the classroom. Sometimes my classes are a big mess, so … I feel a little uncomfortable when people say they want to learn from me. I’m more comfortable when people say they’d like to learn with me. I love collaboration and has my colleague in iTDi, Steven Herder says about the collaborative proces`anything I can do we can do better’ which I believe to be absolutely true.”

When I asked about Dogme, Chuck said that he’s always practiced an unplugged version of it since long before he ever heard the word. He said the key to teaching unplugged is having a good, open, and trusting relationship with students — that the most important thing is establishing and maintaining a good relationship built around trust and a fun, and having a comfortable class atmosphere in which everyone is an equal and contributing part of the classroom community. “If you have that, then anything is possible.”

( Hmmmm, sounds simple, but I think I need to be in his classroom, observing and learning from him to practice that on my own )

Chuck teaches in the Humanities Department at Chubu University in Japanand is a well known ELT author with some pretty big titles from Cambridge University Press and Cengage ELT, but he’s also a motivational speaker , a program director for iTDi (The International Teacher Development Institute ( (which he’s launching in September with Scott Thornbury, Steven Herder, Gareth Knight, Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto and others) and is a non-secret Agent for Change who is very active in the Design For Change program, HOPE International Development Agency Japan and within the TEDx community in Japan as well. That’s sure plenty for a person, but he does it all so well that it might be he has a clone somewhere!

2. What would we find in your fridge right now?

“Well, at the moment a lot of kimchee because I just got back from a trip to Korea, but usually there’s also a lot of yogurt and fruits and wheat germ and flax seeds and all kinds of things to make smoothies.”

Chuck explained that he has big smoothies every morning for energy, and learnt the recipe from Mark Kulek (@gifumark). As he loves gardening too, he puts some berries or anything fresh out of his own gardening to his blend of energy smoothies.

I then asked what we would find him doing in the kitchen first thing in the morning and late at night and he said that in the morning he’s “grinding coffee beans and making coffee, and while the coffee is brewing, I’m usually standing by the kitchen door reading email on my iPhone.” But as Chuck isn’t a snack person, he usually stays away from the kitchen after dinner.

( No wonder he has all the energy he needs, I mean with the healthy smoothies ,coffee and no snacks, you can’t go wrong)

3 . If you weren’t an educator and doing everything that you do now, what might your profession be?

“I can’t imagine not being a teacher really but if I were to do something different I would be a farmer. I’d love to be able to grow enough for my needs and be self-sufficient. But I think I would do that half time the other half of the time I would concentrate on writing and maybe book-binding. I love the idea of making hand-made books and printing them myself”

(Wow! What a contrast: from a constant traveler to a home based kind of person ^^)

1 of 2Chuck’s lovely garden (and he’s showing us his photographic skills too ^^)

But Chuck also added that as he is a poet himself, he’d like to have more time to concentrate on his poetry and create his own books for friends. Chuck also gives us a glimpse on why he’s in Japan now by saying “I started out in Japan as someone very attracted to Japanese poetry and literature — it was my love of poetry that brought me here first”

But then Chuck also said that he wants to do so many other things too: be a photographer, a chef, and a travel writer, for example, and that he’s never bored because there is always something he wants to do or learn. The problem for him is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do every things he wants to do.

(Okay, I Hope he would never intend to learn to teach babies and toddlers or I’ll be out of job soon! Lol. But seeing his many pictures in his FB, I can tell he has talent as a photographer and travel writer but I don’t know about the cooking though ;) )

When I asked whether he believes that life begins at 40, he said that he isn’t someone who ever thought that way. Instead he believes that Life begins when we start living it, and that’s what he has always been doing: living it full throttle.

( What a saying! But then again, I truly believe that he is that kind of person with all that he does)

4. What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession and what has been your most difficult class as a teacher?

I don’t like having to deal with university politics at all and I generally don’t like having to attend meetings and deal with departmental issues, so that’s the most difficult thing for me – but I’m trying to get better at it and working to play a positive role somehow in all that, too. Teaching itself, though, is a joy and if I could do that all the time without having to deal with department issues and problems, then it would be the perfect job. It’s pretty perfect as it is though. ^^”

( Oh well, I think we all could relate to that one J )

About difficult classes Chuck explains, “All my classes are challenging but I’ve never had one that was difficult. The thing is: I am no different in class than I am out of class, and I always treat my students with respect. They understand that I am a person trying to do something good with them and because of that, I think, I don’t really have any classroom management issues. I don’t have a lot of rules in my classroom. Just two: Let me know if you have some problem in your life that prevents you from coming to class or working up to your potential, and be nice to everyone and treat them the way you want to be treated. Since almost everyone follows those rules in all of my classes almost all of the time, none of my classes are particularly difficult. On the contrary: they’re fun. I sometimes can’t believe I actually get paid for teaching.”

And as I know how this man has done and does so many different things, I asked him how hard it is for him to change hats as he moves from one role to another and his answer to that is…

“It’s really all the same thing — teaching, writing, presenting – and the more I do it the more I see it this way. Here’s how that happened: a few years ago I realized that somehow I’d become a person with a platform to speak from and that people listen to what I say. Therefore, I thought that I’d better make sure to use that for a good purpose. That’s one of the reasons I initially contacted Kiran Bir Sethi after seeing her TED talk a couple of years ago ( and began working to spread Design For Change ( around the world – because it exemplifies everything I believe to be true about education. That’s also why I began working on setting up The International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) ( which is essentially professional development for teachers by teachers and is all about building and empowering a community of educators. Essentially, once I realized that I could use whatever position it is I have in education to be a force for good and an agent for change great things started to happen. Everything came together: the teaching, the writing, the presenting … it all became the same thing. So it’s not a matter of changing hats, it’s just a matter of me being Chuck and using the platform I’ve been given to try to make a difference in the world.”

Remarkable people: Chuck with Curtis Kelly,Mick Stout, Barbara Sakamoto and Kiran Bir Sethi In the past 18 months, Chuck has started or inspired DFC movements in more than 12 countries. The latest now are small DFC movements starting up in Iran and Iraq and with teachers he met at TESOL Arabia he is working on Brunei and Syria, now.

“My mission — and I truly believe in this mission — is to change education for the better: one teacher, one classroom, one school at a time, and the only way to do that is to get people working and learning together in a community – a community that works to empower everyone. That’s why I love my PLN, because it’s just such a community, and that’s why I’m so excited about iTDi. What matters most to me is being in a community of teachers who all believe that we can learn from each other and change the world be being better teachers. I’m hoping that a lot of teachers around the world will get involved in this community we’re building — as writers, investors, and supporters”

( Well Mr.Sandy. I’m sure many of us would love to get involved with it)

5 . What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

“The last books I read were Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and The Smart Swarm by Peter Miller. My most recent favorite movie is called ‘Happy’ ( as these days I’m really interested in happiness. The movie has a fantastic message that I’d like to spread and have people think about. It sounds a little corny, but I really think that our most important job in life is to be happy and to make other people happy, and helping other people be happy is a great way to make yourself happy, too.”

Chuck also added that he likes reading, gardening and taking long walks with his little dog. He has lots of books he’s read often including One Hundred Years of Solitude and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but doesn’t have too much time for movies unless he’s flying somewhere.

1 of 2 As for my last question for this agitator for good, I asked what would he want people to remember him by if they hear his name and his answer was simply”A good listener ”.

Well, I’ve learnt a lot thanks to Chuck Sandy and thanks to Brad Patterson too, for giving me a reason to finally pop some of the questions I’ve been meaning to ask to this inspiring man!

On Twitter: @chucksandy

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