teacher training

Understanding Groups: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

When I first read about Tuckman’s stages of group development at SIT, there was a lot of nodding going on in my dorm room. I recalled when I first met people who would inevitably play an important role in my life (clubs, teams, classes…). Images of those awkward moments all came back to me: trying to make sense of our roles; fighting for our ideas; comparing our strengths and weaknesses. A real ego showdown. Then, how at some point, we all managed to make it work, to the point where we dreaded the day we would part.

Learning about this group psychology made it easier for me to be a part of future groups. As if defining those definition made them okay, or at least, much less unnerving. I wanted our course participants to read about these stages for the same reason. I wanted them to understand that all those difficult moments they were going to face in their six months together were just signs they were growing together, and that if they noticed they were growing apart, they had the power to take some control over it.

Over the years, I tried different ways of introducing the reading to them, but each time this dialogue fell short. Part of the problem was I didn’t help them break down the text into digestible chunks. Well this year, I think I found the right recipe.
I separated the participants into four groups and assigned each group to read a description of one of the  stages, 1. Forming 2. Storming 3. Norming 4. Performing, from the linked website. I chose this reading because I thought they would be able to focus on the meaning and not get bogged down in the language.

Note: I won’t go into the details of each stage since you can find a wonderful explanation at Adam Simpson’s blog, Teach them English at his post Have you ever wondered why your group activities fail to inspire students?. Just scroll down a bit to find his descriptions of each stage.  He also describes the fifth stage Tuckman added to the model ten years later. I didn’t ask the participants to read this stage, but will definitely consider adding it in the future. I think there is great value in thinking about how a group comes to terms with its end.

Then I suggested they read their assigned stage individually and after discuss the meaning as a group. They collaborated to make sense of new expressions and concepts. I only intervened if I noticed they needed support. Once they felt like they grasped the concept, they had to draw a visual representation of the stage. I could already see a little “storming” going on as they decided what to put on their posters. Once the were done, each group was responsible for explaining their stage by using the visual representation they designed.

The poster below says, “I’m showing you my best side. I’m wondering about you, but I’m not ready to share too much about me. I don’t want to get too close yet. I just want to keep the peace.”

FormingThe “forming” poster flowed nicely into the “storming”. I don’t think any explanation is required here.

StormingAnd below we see all the confused emoticons at the bottom of the poster, each with their own colour which describes the “storming”. But as the conflicts occur, compromise and understanding also becomes part of the dialogue. This is represented by the multi-colored faces in the middle. Finally the result is a happy face that encompasses all the colours of the group.

NormingWith this understanding, the group is able to perform their tasks with joy and efficiency.

PerformingJust to reiterate, none of the groups were aware of what the other groups were creating.  It was wonderful to watch all the pieces come together. As each group explained their posters, they referred to what the previous group spoke about. Once the “performing” group presented their poster, all the puzzle pieces came together.

What does all this mean? I hope it means that the teachers (participants) are now aware of the shifts that might happen during their time in the program. I also hope they extend this understanding to their students. Personally, I am very excited to see how this may change the conversation that usually occurs in our program.

* I also recommend reading Adam Simpson’s The power of the poster. As you can see from this post. I am also a huge advocate of posters. Posters are a powerful tool.

A Cool Community Building Day: group created norms

I must say, I feel a bit strange not blogging about “cool things that happened today”. Facebook and Twitter are ablaze with the challenge Mike Griffin started early last week. Although my post isn’t about a cool thing that happened today, it definitely is a cool thing that happened in the last two weeks. For cool things that happened in the last 24 hours (and a bit), please check out these posts by teachers from around the globe: Ratna Ragunathan-Chandrasegaran (Malaysia), Icha Sarwono (Indonesia), Laura Phelps (Georgia), Ann Loseva (Russia), Kevin Stein (Japan),  Carol Goodey (Scotland), Gemma Lunn (Korea), Ava Fruin (USA), Tyson Seburn (Canada), and Tom Randolph (Korea)… did I miss anyone?

And now my cool little story…

The first week of March began the first week of training for our newest group of in-service teachers. Like any group of people meeting for the first time, the teachers are trying to figure out how the fit in, who they click with, and how everything comes together. Since last year, we’ve been been dedicating a day to helping them understand each other. We want them to start seeing that they are in this together. The program can be intense and it’s important they know that they are not alone.

One activity that we’ve done in the past is ask the teachers to think about what kind of support they need from each other, and also what strategies they might have to deal with possible conflicts and challenges that will come up. In the past we just asked them to discuss these points and then create a poster with their ideas. We then put this poster on the wall so they are able to refer to it throughout the semester. It’s based on the similar concept of getting students to create rules/norms for themselves. *For more ideas on this topic please check out #KELTChat summary: Classroom Rules and Implementing Them.

As you can see from the pictures above, we changed it up a little. In collaboration with my colleague Darryl Bautista, we asked the teachers to think of their time in our course as a foundation (school building metaphor), on which they can rest their hopes, fears, expectations, and ideas for resources available to them. This was the final result.

However, before they knew about this metaphor, the parts of the school (hopes, fears…) were only pieces of a puzzle. To start, all they had to do was individually write their ideas on the parts. Once the white-spaces were filled, they worked together as teams to find out what the pieces created when put together. Once the figured out it was a school, the final task was for them to sign the school’s steps and stick them to the foundation.

And voila! They created their norms for the semester.

These are the reasons I like this puzzle/metaphor activity better than the posters we used to do:

  • Collaboration is implicit in the activity. They have to work together to figure out what the pieces create.
  •  It’s focused on feelings and possibilities, and not conflicts. I think this gives space for everyone to feel heard. One strategy that used to come out of the “how-to-deal-with-conflicts” segment of the poster was “go out for drinks together.” Although I get it, I know not everyone in the group is a drinker and I always felt it excluded some. *As I write this, I think I still saw “alcohol” somewhere on the house. At least it isn’t front and center like it was before. I’m learning to let it go. :)
  • There was a lot more participation and action going on: they had to think creatively to put the pieces together; they had to negotiate with each other; everyone had to write a few times; they had to move to play with the puzzle pieces.
  • It was just a lot of fun to collaborate with Darryl on this one. :) We had a few reflection-in-action moments during the process I thought made the activity that much richer.

I look forward to tweaking this activity a bit next year. One idea that one of the teachers in relation to working with the final product was to brainstorm ways to deal with the fears they wrote. What modifications would you make? I’m also curious to know what community/team building activities do you do in your school or training programs?

Final thoughts and thanks:

  • A big thanks to Darryl who craftily designed and cut out pieces of the houses. :)
  • I’d like to thank Mary Scholl and Centro Espiral Mana SIT TESOL course for inspiring this idea. :)

Websites for community building activities:

Although the following site is geared towards businesses, I thought there was a lot of value here for educators as the site refers to learner-centeredness in many of their links. I’ll definitely be browsing this site in the future.

Week 1 at Centro Espiral Mana, SIT TESOL

Centro Espiral Mana - February 2013

Fourteen teachers from Chile, Panama, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru and Costa Rica are at the Centro Espiral Mana in El Invu, Costa Rica working to achieve their goal of receiving the SIT TESOL certificate. We’ve been here for two weeks. My journey is different from theirs. I’m here training to be an SIT TESOL trainer. Training here has been a dream of mine for a few years now, and I’m happy to say that the experience stands up to that dream (see my last iTDi blog post to read more about this dream). I’m grateful for all the learning and would like to share a bit of it with you.

Looking back on my first week at Centro Espiral Mana, there are three sessions that stand out, and that have set the tone for my time here:  Amanda Rossi’s session on ECRIF (Encounter, Clarify, Remember, Internalize, Fluently Use – a learning framework created by Mary Scholl, the founder and director of Espiral Mana, and Joshua Kurzweil); Roger Ramirez’ session on the experiential learning cycle (ELC); and Mary Scholl’s session on Compassionate Communication (see Nonviolent Communication/NVC). Not only have these sessions set the tone for me, but I now realize they are the foundation of the transformative process participants experience from day one at this center. The themes that run through all these sessions are a focus on the learner and learning, and an integration of this focus within the community of practice that is cultivated here. These themes hinge on the positive regard that each of these trainers hold for the participants and the content of this course.

“You are being ECRIFed.”

“You can ECRIF it.” – referring to other methodologies we may be familiar with.

“You’re going to ECRIF your ECRIF.”

Amanda

Experiencing Amanda’s processing/explanation of ECRIF (see chapter 2 and 3 in Understanding Teaching Through Learning) was when I realized the depth of this learning/teaching framework. It isn’t only about planning a language lesson; it’s a way to approach learning on a larger scale. As I type this, a tinge of embarrassment flows through me because it seems so obvious — but the fact is that it wasn’t. Yes, when I first studied this framework, I understood how this framework focuses on the learner, but for some reason my image of that learner was a student in a language classroom. Perhaps I just put ECRIF next to other frameworks such as PPP and PDP. These are frameworks that have long been promoted in language classrooms, but I have never made the connection between these and real life. Once Amanda said those quotes above, something clicked within me: ECRIF goes beyond the language classroom. It is a model for learning in general, and this is what we experience each day, almost each moment, at this center. We encounter new information. We try to fluently use it, and come back to a place where we have to try and consciously remember what we’re doing. We may internalize a few things, and at some we may come to a place where we can fluently use the skills we learned here. Unlike a language lesson, we won’t experience this within a 50-minute timeframe. Some of us may not even see the end of the ECRIF pattern until we have left these plush green surroundings.  But some day, with enough doing and reflecting, we will finish the cycle, and of course begin it again when we encounter another experience. The cycle never truly ends.

“You’re becoming Deweys. You’ll become your own theorists.”

“You decide where you’re going. We just provide the container.”

“We try to create an environment where feedback is a gift.”

Roger

Roger’s ELC session was the missing link that I had been looking for quite some time. Hearing such confidence and wisdom behind these beliefs helped me understand what I had been so curious to see in action for the past five years. Coming out of my MA studies, and having done the online section of this training up process, I created my own ideas around reflection and the ELC. I tried my best to implement this into our teacher-training course back in Korea, but I always felt I fell short. Making the connection between what Roger was saying and the session on ECRIF, was eye-opening. The ELC gives us the tools to look at the learning process from a bird’s eye view: we hover above an experience, get a clear picture, and from here experiment with ways to swoop in. In this TESOL course, participants experience ECRIF from many different perspectives, and by taking these experiences through the ELC, they are able to create their own theories of learning and teaching. By combining these two frameworks, a transformative process of learning begins.

Roger also helped me see is that the ELC is part of everything that happens at this center – and this center is its community. When we integrate the ELC with community, this is when experience is celebrated and instigates real change. Participants explore their experiences by bouncing observations, theories and objectives off each other. Through meaningful and compassionate feedback, they learn to see themselves in new ways. The community helps them see things they couldn’t see before.

~ Seeing through the lens of compassionate communication ~

Mary

Mary’s session on compassionate communication was a sweet gift. My biggest reason for coming here was because I was curious to learn how she managed to integrate compassionate communication into teacher education. I saw glimpses of it in the first three days of this course: in the way Roger approached the education of this center; in the way Amanda helped me see the community of Espiral Mana; and in the way Mary spoke to participants. But when I saw how she connected the ELC to compassionate communication another light bulb went off. Because the participants had three days implicitly experiencing the ELC, I think connecting it to compassionate communication created a space for the participants to feel open to the concept. Having already experienced feedback on their teaching, and the empathy and positive regard with which trainers here facilitate the process, participants may have started seeing how compassion is part of the program at this center. As teachers, they also have a sense that being present to their students’ feelings and needs is an important part of teaching. However, they may not have had many opportunities to purposefully see through these lenses. They may not have been given these glasses. Mary gave them these glasses and has set up the space for compassion to come through all they experience here.

I’m excited about getting to the “F” of the learning that Amanda, Roger and Mary have scaffolded for me in these three moments and in all that they do. I am incredibly grateful for their guidance and support.

Related articles:

Carol Rodgers - Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking 

Carol Rodgers - Seeing Student Learning

Stop Blaming: Develop Emotional Literacy

In last week’s post, Taking Responsibility for My Emotions, I asked:

When blame is seen as the only way to deal with feelings, as teachers what can we do? What is our role? How can we help our students understand that they are responsible for their feelings?

Interesting comments ensued via Facebook and email. Within these comments, questions were raised. To recognize my readers’ willingness and interest in keeping the discussion going, I am dedicating this post to them and to their questions.

Two readers wondered how I would answer my own questions:

- What can we do to help students/participants not blame others?” Are there strategies teachers can take? I know you opened it up to the readers but… what do you do? What might you do? Are there specific things you have tried? Would like to try?

- so what was your answer to your own question: what is the teacher’s role and responsibility?

The third reader questions another facet of this concept of taking responsibility:

Thanks for posting this. It seems healthy to build a kind of immunity to memes which can otherwise disturb a peaceful emotional state. I like the comparison to people able to create a zen-like tattoo experience. Still, it seems a focus on the one with the disturbed peace of mind lets the one who “threw the rock” off the hook. It seems to me that the bullied need emotional armor while the bullies need….what? Besides, sometimes people just don’t have a strong immunity system against what are harmful memes to them–maybe because they have an immature ego–and the triggering of emotions can cut like a knife. Do we really want to blame the person who correspondingly cries in pain for not controlling his emotions?

I will attempt to address these questions.

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Taking Responsibility for My Emotions

Have you ever blamed someone for making you feel the way you do? Maybe your student swore in class, so you blame her for the frustration you feel the rest of the day. Maybe your colleague vehemently disagrees with your teaching beliefs, and so you make a direct link between his response and your encroaching rage.

can you take responsibility for how you feel?

Some of you may have read the above paragraph and thought,

“Well, aren’t they responsible? If they hadn’t done that or reacted in such a manner, I never would have felt that way. “

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