When not watching turtles, lizards, and birds in her garden, Featured Fellow Brittany Gnau (2022-2023) trains pre-service teachers at Pasdunrata National College of Education, one of the largest teacher training institutes in Kalutara, Sri Lanka. Gnau teaches communication skills for pre-service English language teachers, pre-service primary teachers, and Information & Communication Technology students. She is also part of a teaching team for an ELT methodology course at the institute. Gnau has had the chance to visit and lead workshops at all of the National College of Education campuses where English is offered as a degree, giving her the chance to interact with many of the future English teachers of Sri Lanka. As a secondary project, Gnau designs and delivers teacher training sessions throughout the region and helps with the English Access Microscholarship Program.
The most impactful experience for Gnau has been visiting Jaffna, an area that has been greatly affected by a long civil war in Sri Lanka. Between the war ending in 2009, a series of bombings in 2019, and the pandemic in 2020, this area is rarely visited. Over a week, Gnau met with instructors and students at the University of Jaffna, the American Corner, and the Jaffna National College of Education. Workshops and events included topics on innovative TESOL methodology, improving reading and writing literacy, and building and maintaining growth mindsets. One highlight of Gnau’s project at Jaffna National College of Education was being able to join her students moving and learning during interactive activities like chants, songs, role-plays, and games.
“The students and teachers alike in Jaffna were eager to participate, and it is rare to find such willing and receptive audiences in a classroom. Each participant threw themselves fully into the lesson, and as a teacher trainer, there is nothing more you can ask for when you are envisioning and designing a workshop.” Visiting Jaffna wasn’t just an opportunity for Gnau to go to train in a new area; it also solidified the sense of impact that English education can have and her role as a Fellow during 10 months of service.
Gnau joined her students and teachers in moving and learning during interactive activities like chants, songs, role-plays, and games.
Gnau views cultural exchange as “connecting with individuals”. Those connections include creating shared experiences, pushing back misconceptions in each other’s cultures, sharing one’s music and dances, trying to string together a few phrases in Sri Lanka’s native languages, and learning how to cook new dishes. Gnau’s favorite local recipe is a savory side dish, pol sambol, and coconut chutney. “Cultural exchange keeps me sharp, fills me with wonder, plants a garden of new questions in my mind, and constantly brings me new things to appreciate about the world,” Gnau shared.
In the spirit of trying new things and jumping into shared experiences, Gnau and her partner, Corey, have had two adventures that involved caves and mud. They signed up for an excursion called “Ravana’s Cave” and quickly realized they had some misunderstandings of what they had signed up for, finding themselves hiking deeply underground through large caverns and squeezing through tight spaces. Gnau admits wanting to turn back at times, but the clean, cool pool of water at the bottom of the cave proved worth the hike!
On another day, things got a little muddy on their second adventure when their car got stuck twice on a full-day elephant safari. Waiting around for a tow had unexpected benefits, with time to witness literally hundreds of elephants passing by!
After Gnau wakes with the jungle right outside her garden, she prepares for school. “The single most chaotic aspect of living in Sri Lanka is getting around”, so Gnau is thankful for her trusted driver, Asanka. They have become personal friends through their many trips to and from school. Other wonderful relationships have grown at the institute. “At school I have a great relationship with my students and colleagues,… they often help me dress in a saree much to the delight of myself and the rest of the staff.” Gnau often participates in outings with colleagues like singing karaoke and has even taken dance lessons with teachers on campus. She feels grateful that her partner is able to be in Sri Lanka with her during the fellowship. They like to visit new sights of the island, hike, snorkel, and have become surfers.
Throughout her fellowship, Gnau has actively looked for ways to teach and train that go beyond traditional classroom methods. Right now, she is working on a virtual speaking conference that she designed and coordinated with the network she has created through her time in Sri Lanka. After her fellowship ends, she plans to continue work in the fields related to her experience as a Fellow: intercultural competence, humanitarian assistance, public affairs, and teacher training. “My professional growth has really been bolstered by my engagement with the English Language Fellow Program.”
Originally from Texas, Brittany Gnau has served the field of TESOL for over ten years and across six countries: South Korea, France, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Tunisia, and now Sri Lanka. She holds multiple graduate degrees, a Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language, a Master’s in Comparative Literature, as well as a Master’s of Philosophy. She is a certified English and drama teacher in the United States. Currently she is training pre-service teachers at Pasdunrata National College of Education in Kalutara.
Gnau has delivered original professional development sessions in the areas of student-centered language learning, growth-mindset aimed feedback, arts-based pedagogy, effective classroom management, extracurricular development, humanism and critical thinking, and using drama in the classroom. Alongside rigorous instruction, Gnau demonstrates the benefits of providing students ample opportunities to play with the language. Her teaching style revolves around building critical thinking capacity, lowering the affective barrier, creating opportunities for student collaboration, providing dynamic comprehensible input, and facilitating opportunities for Total Physical Response in an interactive environment.