Turning Points & Right-handed Blogging with @AnnLoseva

Can you describe an important turning point in your life?

This is one of my favourite questions to ask, but it isn’t always a pleasant question to answer. It may require letting go of some barriers. It may require trusting the listener. And so, I finally sit here at my blog — the barriers were safely in position for 6 months — contemplating this trust. I want to provide a response because I want to record this moment. It was a turning point after all, and turning points are pivotal parts of one’s narrative.

6 months ago, right after I finished observing my last lesson of the semester, my body spoke loud and clear. It cramped up and it was sweaty when there was no logical reason. I felt dizzy and couldn’t breathe well. My body was asking me to do what my mind didn’t have the language to articulate: to take care of myself (body, mind, and spirit).

I don’t feel ready to write about the details of what lead to this turning point, but I am excited to share what came out of it.

I’ve been getting more sleep; I’ve been exercising more; I’ve been eating better; I’ve been meditating regularly; I’ve been turning off my computer; I’ve been letting go of the expectations I usually put on myself.

But the most exciting thing is this — I am in the midst of developing the curriculum I have always wanted to create: a curriculum based on helping teachers connect to their inner lives. I began the semester with language lessons based on helping teachers develop their emotional literacy (looking at feelings and needs vocabulary from a variety of perspectives and language skills, namely reading, and writing.) My goal here is to give them the time and space to connect to the challenges and celebrations of the teacher’s life, while also helping them develop their language skills. Six weeks into the semester, and I know I am on the right track. This feeds my soul in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

A turning point turns into another.

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I am grateful to Anna Loseva for coming to visit me this weekend, and for the right-handed blog party that ensued. Without her, I’m sure that this post would have been written much later.  This was my first time blogging with someone, and also my first time pressing publish without being totally satisfied with what I’ve written. Another turning point perhaps?

Right hands

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Researching Research & Learning via #iTDi

I was excited to blog about research for the latest iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) issue, Ongoing Research, because I knew it would kickstart my research into research. This is what iTDi does: it kickstarts your professional development. I’ve been involved with iTDi for almost two years now, and I have learned from various teachers from around the world, mostly from the comfort of my home. Each of them brings a fresh perspective to teaching, and the amount of inspiration they bring seems never-ending. For this latest issue, I had the privilege of writing alongside three of these inspiring teachers: Divya Madhavan, Kieran Dhunna Halliwell, and Nina Septina. Click here to read their insightful posts. I have a feeling you’ll learn something about research you probably hadn’t thought about, or maybe you’ll learn you aren’t alone in your worries about research. Either way, you’ll learn something new. Again, that’s what happens at iTDi: you learn and you grow.

Below is part of my post where I explore my understanding of Narrative Inquiry as an approach to research.  Follow this link to the iTDi blog to continue reading this post, and to find many posts about teaching and learning.  I also encourage you to sign up as a member of iTDi. There are no strings attached; the only strings are connections to amazing teachers.

iTDi Ongoing Research Banner

I have a craving to learn. Part of this craving is satisfied by writing about teaching and learning here on the iTDi blog as well as on my blog, and also by talking with my inspiring community of teachers, but sometimes I think I need more. I think of working towards a PhD. The idea of diving deep into my topics of interest – how reflective practice and compassionate communication intersect in teacher education – seems like it would satiate my appetite. However, my research into research methods always left a bad taste. I just couldn’t imagine myself crunching numbers. My areas of interest seem to be beyond equations (re: quantitative methods), and too big for what I understand about action research. Then finally, this part of my search was over.

After class one day, my colleague, Darryl Bautista, and I were talking about research, and I told him about my distaste. This was when he told me about his professional experience with narrative inquiry as an approach.  And just like that, the world of research opened itself to me. What follows is a description of where my ongoing research begins: in discovering narrative inquiry. (…)

Related Link

Synchronicity Visits a Teacher – This is the post I wrote while I was doing my research for the issue. I learned that Throwing Back Tokens has a story that needs to be explored.

What is a “Whole Teacher”?

There is no simple answer. It seems that one answer misses out on a lot of other factors. This may be why the International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) devoted two blog issues to the topic, The Whole Teacher and More Whole Teacher. From these experienced educators, I learned that it is a very personal topic. We all have our own perspective. For their 2014 TESOL Arabia presentation on the same topic, iTDi educators, Chuck Sandy, Tamas Lorincz, Hengameh Ghandehari and Bita Rezaei asked us to formulate our own answers to this question by responding to the following survey. Below were my thoughts, and I’d love to hear yours as well. “A whole teacher is someone who …. ” 

who can see someone else as a whole person full of imperfections and gifts and is able to hold these within the container of his/her own gifts and imperfections.

Take a moment and bring to mind the “best teacher” you’ve ever had in your life. What was it about this person that made him or her “the best” teacher?

He told stories about his life. I’m not even sure if it was connected to the content of the class – though I’m sure it was since it was social science class – but he was always willing to share the travel tales of him and his family. I really looked forward to those stories. After he told them I felt more at ease. I knew I could share almost anything with him. He was also the teacher who approached my friends and I to start a radio show. He saw something in us. He trusted us for some reason.

What was the most important thing you learned from “the best teacher” you described in your answer to the previous question?

I learned that it’s important to listen to your students. To see them as humans who want to participate in the world. I was just a teenager but he could see that we had something to share. We had so much fun with that Friday night radio show. It is a memory we still talk about. I also learned that it’s important to share my story. I connected to his stories probably because I could see the humanity in them. I saw his passion. I saw him as a whole person. If I compare him to teachers who never shared, it was much harder to connect to them and their lessons.

What three adjectives best describe the teacher you yourself hope to be for your own students?

considerate, patient, inspiring

What three things do you wish you’d learned more about before starting work as a teacher?

How to trust myself more. I don’t think this is something I could have learned at school, but I know it is something that would be very helpful in class now. I often second guess myself and I know that zaps the creative potential from my lessons. I tend to control the moment too much and I realize what effect this might have on my learners. I also wish I had learned a lot more about the finer details of grammar: think “grammar trees“. I think that would help my trust issues. :-) I know that’s just two things. ;-) I don’t have more. I think a lot could be added to the “trust” comment.

What was your biggest challenge when you first started working as a teacher? What steps did you take to overcome this challenge?

Learning how to balance what the language institute expected me to teach, and what I knew my students needed. They needed play and engagement, but I was often forced to just cover the material. With kids who had been in school all day and then back with me at night, I knew they needed more than just material. To overcome this I did my best to find ways to tuck in play/fun and when I couldn’t I tried my best to listen to the kids and be kind. It wasn’t always easy because I was frustrated and didn’t have great classroom management skills, but rapport was helpful.

Please tell about yourself. In what country do you work? How long have you been teaching? In what way are you changing as a teacher? What is driving this change? 

Korea - teaching for 10 years

I am learning to match the person I am outside class to the person I am in class. I think my outside self is a bit more easy going and values creative spontaneity.  Inside the class I tend to be more organized and in need of control. I’m trying to see why that is and learning to change that. Vital to this change is my ability to be compassionate with myself. To do this I am meditating and writing more often theses days. I am also interested in creating a community of teachers who need similar self-care. We have begun by starting a Facebook page called, Self Compassion for Teachers #redthumbforlove https://www.facebook.com/redthumbforlove
What does it mean to you to be a “Whole Teacher”?
Here are links on the topic I found interesting. They may help you formulate your answer:

Synchronicity Visits a Teacher

If you know me, you know how I excited I get about the topic of synchronicity. If you don’t know this about me, well, now you know. And now that I am blogging about synchronicity, you can imagine how doubly excited I am.

My favourite nickname for synchronicity so far is divine winks. I’m going to put a twist on this and call them divine synchs. How these synchs usually come to me are through words. For example, I’ll be contemplating something all day, and then the answer pops up coincidently on a t-shirt or bag on the street or subway.

Stay Real

subway in Hong Kong

Or maybe friends and I have been discussing a very obscure topic, and the next show on TV is about just that. There is something both comforting and uncanny about these moments. I see them as signs that I’m on the path that I’m supposed to be on. So if these synchs arrive at a higher frequency than usual, it means I need to slow down and pay attention.

This post is me slowing down and paying attention.

The word that has been popping up is, confidence. It first revealed itself while doing research for a post I’m writing for the iTDi blog. The research involved me going through all the posts I’ve written on Throwing Back Tokens since 2009 and looking for themes. This is when the synch first appeared. Below are all the posts that speak directly of or even allude to confidence.

The next time it showed up was during our post lesson observation feedback. One of the observers noted how confident the teachers who had just team-taught looked to him. The way they were able to answer questions and give directions in English made him realize how important it is to feel confident as a teacher. For him, without such confidence, it was really hard for him to teach.

Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that the next day the word came up again after team-teaching, but I’ll still call it a synch. This time it was the teacher who taught the lesson who shared how valuable confidence is when it comes to standing in front of the class.

I’m not sure what all this means exactly, but I think it has something to do with a trajectory I am supposed to take: maybe research into confidence and the teaching self; maybe help teachers explore what confidence means to them and how they can actualize it; or maybe I need more confidence myself. Whatever it means, this is a synch I’m keeping my eye on.

grammar was #onething that happened

A teacher-trainee asked me this question :

“I imagined him winning the game” vs. “I imagined his winning the game”
Which is more common or makes sense?
In the first sentence, is ‘him” an object for the verb or a subject for the gerund? In the second sentence, is ‘his’ a subject for the gerund?
As you know, Korean students tend to analyze a sentence, and some asked me the questions above. My answer was just ‘”Both may be grammatically correct.’” Was I right or wrong?

This was my answer:
I think you were correct in saying that both are grammatically correct. Of course we know that “him” is an object pronoun http://www.esldesk.com/grammar/pronouns and that “his” is a possessive adjective http://www.esldesk.com/grammar/pronouns#possessive_adjectives This means that they become the object complement. http://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/object_complement.htm
 
However, it also seems that both of these can also act as the subject of the gerund.http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/2625/when-is-a-gerund-supposed-to-be-preceded-by-a-possessive-pronoun However, it did take a lot of research for me to be able to tell you this. According to the link I shared, this can be found in Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.
 
I hope this gives you some peace of mind! :) Let me know what you think.
That was the best answer I could give, and it took me a while to formulate it. I share this with you as my response to Anne Hendler’s #OneThing blog challenge because these are the types of questions I get from Korean high school teachers of English, and I struggle to answer them. I struggle because they ask me to go to linguistic depths that I don’t usually dive into. I know my strengths as an English teacher lie more on the sociolinguistics side. However, these questions are very important reminders of the reality of my teacher-trainees. They keep me aware of the types of challenges they face.
Like the teacher, there is still a little doubt in my mind as to whether or not my answer is satisfactory. But that’s another reason why I’m posting this: it’s time to air out the doubt, and face my grammar demons. If you have any thoughts to add to this grammar question and my attempt at an answer, I’d love to hear them.

My Teacher Manifesto #30GoalsEdu

I wrote this manifesto as a result of the comments I received from these inspiring educators – Rose Bard, Kristina Eisenhower, Anna Delconte, and Hana Ticha – on my post, Questioning Teaching: An Attempt to Balance Paradox. The manifesto is also a response to a previous 30 Goals Challenge created by Shelly Sanchez Terrell. I want it to be a motivating reminder of what is possible, especially during those days when teaching isn’t so easy.

What would your teacher manifesto look like?  For inspiration, check out these creative manifestos designed by teachers from around the world.

Teacher ManifestoCreated with the Over app.

 

Questioning Teaching: An Attempt to Balance Paradox

The more I teach, the more I realize that a teacher’s job is to balance paradox. A teacher has to be comfortable with a degree of mystery and unanswered questions. At any given moment, one student might connect to what is happening in class, and another might be diametrically opposed. When this happens, what are we supposed to do? This is something I’m thinking a lot about these days.

Below are the paradoxical questions that are on my mind. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you feel inclined to tackle them. Although they are written separately, I also acknowledge the web they weave.

  • What happens when the teacher’s concept of what is fair clashes with a student’s concept of what is fair? When the concept of fairness does not relate to the outcome of one’s learning, does fairness have a position in the argument?
  • What is the teacher’s role when 80% of the class is on board with your methodology and 20% has a distinct aversion to it?
  • How can we address different degrees of ambiguity tolerance between students?
  • As a language skills teacher of in-service English teachers, I try to lead by example, but what is my role or approach when there seems to be incongruence between the teacher-trainees’ training experience, and the experience they are going to meet when they go back to class? How can I give them autonomy over their language learning, when they don’t feel they are in a position to do the same for their students?
  • How do we truly know what students need praise from the teacher, and who is motivated by their own effort?
  • What is my role when students have grown up in a culture of comparison and competition, and this clashes with my beliefs about learning? Where do I look for clarity when the answers evade me? What questions do I ask? When do I ask them?

If you have your own paradoxical questions, feel free to add them in the comment section. Maybe together we can help each other embrace the paradox.