Connecting, Reconnecting, and Disconnecting in 2015

2015 was the year I learned that the path I have taken so far is leading me in a new direction. The fog is still too thick to see where it leads, but I’m directed by the voice I hear beyond it all. I’m working on trusting this voice, and I realize that to trust it, I need to understand its language. It is a language I once knew but set aside to make room for languages that offered safer passages. This voice is my Soul, my Inner Teacher, my True Self.

My desire to follow this path is very strong, and so I’ll use Throwing Back Tokens to light the way. This means I’ll write about topics that may seem unrelated to teaching. But as a wise friend told me recently, everything that is important to a teacher influences her teaching. If something feeds your heart and mind, it feeds what you do.

But before I start moving forward, my first entry of 2016 will be about looking back on the first part of 2015 to see where the path began to veer.

Connecting in the Beginning

The beginning of 2015 was all about connection, reconnection, and disconnection: connection and reconnection with friends and family, and disconnection with the work I had done for the previous 5 years.

After 6 years of being married, and never having had a wedding, Byongchan and I decided it was time to celebrate our connection by taking wedding pictures. It was fun to be glamorous for a day, and to share this joy with Byongchan and our family.

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Another significant moment included reconnecting with Kristina Eisenhower (a.k.a. the fabulous Krisellaneous), which now looking back, was probably when the path started appearing. This is bound to happen when you spend the night dreaming about what lights you up. Kristina is the queen of manifesting such dreams. Have you checked out her Experience Expedition yet? If not, please do.

This was also when I finally met Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe and Buddy the Frog for the first time. Juan’s enthusiasm for teaching from his heart to the heart of his students is contagious. He sparked within me a desire to keep teaching with meaning and love at the forefront.

What I didn’t know then was that the group of teachers Juan and Buddy met would be the last group in our teacher-training program. A few weeks later, during my visit home to Nova Scotia, I found out the Department of Education pulled funding, and that on my return, I’d have to create a new program. But before all this, it was time to play.

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The first stop during my visit back to Nova Scotia for the first in three years involved a Vanity Fair Hollywood cover shoot of the Thériault ladies. Ahh, it felt good to be back to the familiar silliness. We missed my sister, Louisette, but she was off accomplishing the exciting task of becoming a West Jet flight attendant. Go Lou!

IMG_1639I reconnected with dear old friends and and met their new additions (new to me at least). There’s no way I could have prepared for the heart jolt I’d get when their little faces greeted me at the door. Love is a wonderful mystery.

IMG_1790My visit home offered many types of soul food, one being pape’s famous seafood chowder. Yum! What was most fun about this was that pape could enjoy it with us without worrying about an allergic reaction. Lobster for everyone!

IMG_1714The other type of soul food of course was rappie pie. This picture recalls the last one I shared with n’oncle Gilles, my father’s brother. I feel very grateful this was the year I went home as we never could have predicted that a few months later he would pass away.

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And finally a road trip to Florida with my parents marked the end of my visit before my return to a new unknown in Korea. Seeing my parents’ youthful side come out as we danced the night away, traveled to manatee reserves, and relaxed on the beach is a memory I’ll always cherish.

Back to Korea

Once back to Korea, my colleague and I brainstormed ways we could develop a teacher-training program for pre-service teachers at Keimyung. After a few weeks of negotiating with the awesome folks at SIT Graduate Institute and World Learning (thank you Kevin and Lois!), we had the beginnings of what we’d call the KMU-SIT Professional TESOL Certificate.

From March until July, I worked on developing the program. While I learned a lot about what goes into creating such a course, I look back and see this as the time my soul started to speak up. My interests started to shift, or perhaps, amplify. Not being in the classroom during these months, I had the space to explore other avenues that light me up while listening to the podcasts of entrepreneurs I admire, reading the work of inspiring spiritual teachers, as well as engaging in soulful contemplation and creative expression. The series “Teachers Talking About Self-compassion” was born out of this space.

This time was also a sweet opportunity to reconnect with Byongchan and my home life.

So when we ran our the first TESOL certificate course from July to August, I sensed something was different. I wasn’t the same person who had started the creative process back in March.

The course, although small with only 6 participants, was a success. Everyone, trainers (thank you Robb and Jon!) and participants alike, learned a great deal about what it means to teach and learn and grow.  We were all intellectually, experientially, and skillfully stretched that summer.

But then things changed once again.

I’ll end my reflection for now. I’m way over my preferred word limit, and my inner critic is starting to make fun of my self-involvement.

As I write, I also notice many new insights arising. I need a little space to digest it all. I am grateful for this chance to throw back a few tokens once again. I forget how blogging offers refuge.

I want to tell them

I want to tell them that this semester is about me finding my footing.

I want to tell them I’m sorry for all the experiments.

I want to tell them this all feels so unfamiliar.

I want to tell them thank you for trusting me.

I want to tell them I’m starting to trust myself more everyday.

I want to tell them, but I can’t.

And so I tell myself. And you.

*this was a light night experiment of impromptu poetry/blogging. Thank you for reading

Listening to the Inner Teacher: The (R)evolution of #RedThumbForLove

When the universe calls your name, it’s important to make sure your inner teacher (a.k.a. gut feeling, inner truth, etc.) is ready to listen. The universe speaks in mysterious ways.

This is how I’ve been feeling as of late. It first started when I got the idea to ask teachers to share how they offer themselves self-care and self-compassion, and why they do so. I really had no idea what the response would be. To my delight, 99% of the teachers I asked have said yes, and they continue to say yes. Some have even volunteered! Click here, Teachers Talking About Self-compassion, to read their stories.

Then today in the series, I share an interview of an empowering woman/teacher, Rupa Mehta, I saw speak at one of the festivals I’ve been following in YouTube for the past year, Wanderlust — highly recommended for all soul seekers. In this post, Emotional & Physical Fitness, you can read about how my inner teacher led me to asking Rupa to share her experience with self-care and self-compassion.

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I can’t end this post about paying attention to the universe’s subtle winks to #RedThumbForLove without sharing the most inspiring detail of all. This coming weekend, I’ll be doing a workshop with Chuck Sandy at the KOTESOL International Conference where we’ll be talking about listening to the teacher within. But this, although very cool, isn’t the amazing part. The amazing part is that the #RedThumbForLove blog/movement/project/revolution was a result of me listening to my inner teacher. My inner teacher knew how important it was to pay attention to Chuck’s Facebook status on that faithful day in 2014.

It’s all lining up, coming full circle, and evolving beautifully.

And so dear Readers, thank you so much for celebrating this mystery of life with me. But more importantly, I hope this was the message your inner teacher needed to hear today.

When Rapport Just Happens

The truth is, I was really worried about walking into this classroom. You see, I haven’t strictly taught a conversation based class in six years. More importantly, I haven’t taught a beginner class in that time either.

To top it off, I didn’t have fond memories of this particular classroom. When I taught beginner conversation classes six years ago, it’s in this classroom I recalled my biggest challenges: building rapport with quiet students whose interest in learning to speak English either didn’t exist or slowly dissipated as the semester went on. I remembered how much I had dreaded walking into this classroom back then. Looking back, perhaps my students’ motivation was a reflection of my apprehension.

Then on Friday, after all that worrying,  this happened.

IMG_4607This was my second class with this group of freshman. During the first class we did an icebreaker activity which involved finding out how old I was (age is an important factor in how relationships are built in Korea). Some students remembered that our Friday class together would be my 38th birthday. I never thought they would remember let alone go as far as buying a cake!

And just like that, my fears went out the door. We had a small celebration together which included one of the best rapport builders I know in Korea: group pictures.

During the rest of the class students shared their own birth dates. Some students discovered they were born on the same day. Then some learned the were from the same city; then the same majors.

Sometimes we can plan ways to build rapport with our students, but most of the time it’s just about being open to genuine moments of connection.

To learn more about building rapport with your language students, join #KELTchat tonight (September 9) from 8 to 9pm (Korea time) on Twitter.

Play Big: The #SMILEgoal Challenge

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of teaching my first webinar thanks to the encouraging support of International Teacher Development Institute and Gallery Languages Ltd. The enthusiastic interaction and input from the participants, as well as the fabulous dance party, made this is an experience I look forward to reliving very soon.

(Note to self: always include a dance party in future webinars.)

I presented the idea of teachers dreaming big, and accomplishing big goals, by first taking small steps. To encourage this path, I offered the acronym: SMILE. We make our goals SMILE so that we can play big, and playing big means transforming lives: the lives of teachers and learners.

Now it’s time for you to SMILE! Share your SMILE goals via your blogs, Facebook, or Twitter by using the hashtag #SMILEgoal. Follow the prompts below for support or watch a recording of the talk, as well as inspiring talks from amazing educators from around the world, by signing up at the iTDi website.

SMILE Goals

Here are mine:

  1. Before I eat lunch today, I will give written feedback on the Reading Skills lesson plans the course participants wrote so that they have a chance to review and edit their lessons before they teach tomorrow.
  2. Before dinner today, I will have written a sample listening skills lesson plan so the participants have a model they can refer to when they plan their listening lesson next week.
    • EDIT #1 for a smaller SMILE: I will scan John Fields’ “Listening in the Language Classroom” for inspiration for about 20 minutes.
    • EDIT #2 for a smaller SMILE: I will edit the lesson plan I already have to match the needs of the course and use this plan for the sample lesson.
  3. I will publish a new story for the “Teachers Talking About Self-Compassion” series before I settled down for the night.

The first two SMILE goals will help me meet my larger goal of developing a positive learning and growing experience for our KMU-SIT Professional TESOL Course participants. The third one helps me meet my goal of developing a database of healing stories and strategies for teachers.

My ‘E’ for “Enjoy” will involve taking a moment to pause… ahhh…smile, and let the satisfaction sink in.

Are you ready to SMILE?

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#iTDi Summer Intensive for Teachers

When teachers find a space where they can shine, something amazing happens: they find their voice. This voice resonates passion, curiosity, and love. It is a powerful voice with the potential to transform lives.

The space that fosters this is found in a community where each teacher is honored and celebrated. This is the space the International Teacher Development Institute creates, and for the next 10 days, 22 voices will shine via the iTDi Summer Intensive for Teachers. To let your voice shine through, click here to sign up for any or all the free webinars your heart desires.

iTDi Summer Intensive 2015

iTDi Summer Intensive 2015

I am very grateful to iTDi for this opportunity to learn and to grow. If you have the time, I’d love to see you at my inaugural webinar. We’ll be exploring something new I’m working with and I would love to hear your thoughts.

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August 6th, 12 pm GMT (Check your local time here)

You may have heard of S.M.A.R.T. action plans when it comes to creating lesson objectives or teaching goals. Although “smart” in theory, these action plans may leave teachers feeling dissatisfied to the point of inaction. One way to change this is to turn S.M.A.R.T. into a S.M.I.L.E. Based on research in neuropsychology and personal development, S.M.I.L.E. is an approach to action planning that can relieve the weight of overwhelm or perfectionism, and enhances our sense of satisfaction. During the session, we will examine this approach in order to develop the type of teaching practice we desire.

Possible to Make Assessment Culturally Inclusive?

A dear friend and colleague of mine, Amy Puett, posed a very interesting question about culturally inclusive language assessments a while back. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very helpful in answering. What I could offer, however, was a space to share this question with the larger world of ELT. If you have any insight into what Amy offers below, we’d be very grateful.  

 

I’m currently working on an MA in TESOL, and I’m doing a research project on biases in spoken assessments. In my experience, there hasn’t been a lot to account for in differences in cultures, ages or purpose when it comes to assessing students in their level of spoken English. The standard guidelines for assessing one’s level of spoken English are generally the CEFR and ACTFL guidelines; however, these don’t account for shy, uncommunicative Korean students who might be under a lot of pressure with their studies or a socially astute Pakistani student who knows when and where to pull out stock phrases to impress others with their English skills. Also, there is little room in these guidelines to accurately describe young learners. I’ve taught many Korean elementary students who are at a B1 level of reading, and I can’t see the students acknowledging their level by saying “I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).”

Even the guide to using the CEFR guidelines states in the introduction that ‘The Framework aims to be not only comprehensive, transparent and coherent, but also open, dynamic and non-dogmatic. -Council of Europe (2001a:18)’[1] It also mentions that it’s not expansive in describing young learners. [2] However, I have still witnessed that many students are nonetheless labeled with these terms, which I feel can affect how some teachers teach them. The ACTFL has similar issues. For example, the following is said about a student with ‘low intermediate’ speaking skills:

“At the Intermediate Low sublevel, speakers are primarily reactive and struggle to answer direct questions or requests for information. They are also able to ask a few appropriate questions. Intermediate Low speakers manage to sustain the functions of the Intermediate level, although just barely.”[3]

It would be beyond many people’s conscience to behave in such a manner in some of the countries I’ve taught in, and they would learn how to fake responses or gloss over any gaps in their understanding. I also know language students of higher speaking levels who would act in the same manner due to their naturally shy nature in dealing with foreigners.

I feel there must be more TESOL instructors can do to incorporate a more inclusive set of terminology that would allow either more room for interpretation or include a more sets of guidelines to adequately assess students and describe their levels of spoken English language skills.

My question is can any share their experiences with this issue or recommend relevant research? Any help would be appreciated.