Losing It at School – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication

Last week, I lost my cool. Upon reflection, I reacted in a way that does not correspond with my values as a teacher. However, instead of hiding in shame, I have decided to use this as a learning and teaching moment.

In this three-part series, I will be exploring the connection between reflective inquiry and nonviolent communication. In my opinion, these are two forms of communication with the self, which give teachers valuable insight into how to move forward, especially when events are linked to strong emotions.

Using the experiential learning cycle as one of my bases, I will be moving through these three stages of reflection: What? So What? Now What? Today I’ll begin with, What? (see Burton, Kolb and Gibbs). In my view, the What? stage corresponds to the Observation stage of my second referential model, Nonviolent Communication (NVC). What? asks us to describe an event without judgment or evaluation, as does NVC observation.

Part 1 – What? and NVC Observation

Because I knew we were going to have a heavy schedule of peer reviewing ahead of us, I wanted to start the class with a fun group-building activity. We all got in a circle and held hands with arms crossed over our own chests. At the end of this activity we are supposed to still be facing each other in the circle, but this time with arms uncrossed. But there is a trick. You can’t let go of your partners’ hands! The group-building aspect is that circle members need to work together to figure out the solution, contributing to a lot of negotiation, and trial and error.

Remember, I’m teaching English to Korean teachers of English, so I begin such activities under the assumption that they’ll be conducted in English. However, as soon as this activity begins, deliberations happen in Korean.

In a normal tone – not yelling or whispering – I express, “Please use English.”

My plea is met with continued discussions in Korean. I haven’t been heard, or understood.

I don’t protest again because at this point, I place more value on the group-building aspect of the activity than on language learning.

We get untangled, and are finally facing each other. We clap with glee, and congratulate each other for our creative problem-solving.

Fast-forward to the peer review groups. Members are reading each other’s paragraphs and giving advice to their peers. At one point, I’m helping out one of the participants, so I’m totally focused on her: kneeling down at her desk, engrossed in her questions.

Then all of a sudden I’m distracted by a disconcerting buzz from the other groups. They’re all speaking Korean! I can’t focus anymore. I apologize to the participant I was helping, and I stand up:

“Excuse me everyone! I’m noticing that you’re all speaking Korean, and that you speak Korean quite often in this class. If you speak Korean in class, what does this mean for your students when you go back to teaching? Will you let them do their English work in Korean?

You come to this program disappointed about your English skills. You say you want to improve. That is why you are here! You are here to improve your English, and you are expected to use English in class.

I feel very uncomfortable having to say this because I feel like I’m scolding you, and you are all adults. You are also English teachers!

From now on, please use English in class, and save Korean for after class if needed. Is this reasonable?”

As I was ranting, the participants — men and women, aged 27 to 57 — nodded with wide eyes, while some verbally expressed, “yes, yes…I’m so sorry.” I sensed embarrassment and possibly shame.

I went back to the participant with hands trembling. I felt upset and confused.

Next Post

Following the So What? segment of the experiential cycle, as well as the Feelings and Needs part of the NVC model, I will be exploring these questions: What was the cause for my outburst? Why were they speaking Korean and not English? Do I really believe they must speak English in class?

A few words of Gratitude

This past weekend was the 19th KOTESOL International Conference. Among the invited speakers was Thomas S.C. Farrell, well-known for his research into the concept of reflective practice as it relates to teaching. As a presenter, he never disappoints, leaving the audience in stitches while also teaching us about the seriousness of reflective inquiry, a topic clearly dear to his heart. A great deal of learning about reflective inquiry is happening in Korea thanks to him.

I am grateful that the concept of reflective practice is finally coming to the forefront of teachers’ minds because in my opinion, reflection — when clearly executed — is the most effective tool for a teacher’s growth. During the weekend, reflective teaching was on the lips of almost everyone in attendance. This buzz can also be attributed to the Reflective Practice SIG, who shared their goals of helping other teachers use reflective inquiry.

Inspired by what I experienced this weekend, I believe I have a bit more courage to share this series of posts with you.

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15 thoughts on “Losing It at School – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication

  1. A belated response… Thank you for sharing this with many, Josette. Your moment reminded some of my outbursts in and outside the classroom. It also reminded me that it is valuable to actually write down the uncomfortable moments. I have so much respect on your blog. My writing is more private and less frequent than yours. I think you made me push myself to be more reflective. Thank you again. :)


    1. Thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to comment Bora. Also, thank you for sharing your experience with outbursts. I think part of my willingness to share is because I want to know that I am not the only one, and when I open up, I’ve noticed that many more are also willing to share. That being said, I don’t share everything :P There is also something rich and deep about private reflection. I am happy to hear that you feel inspired to reflect more. I wish you all the best my dear.


  2. I think it takes a long time for most people. And most of us are hoping to become perfect someday. Ha. It is a marvelous goal, a right goal, but if we make a sloppy touchdown, we still get the points, no matter how embarrassing the play looked, right? So we keep trying, keep polishing, and always remember the others around us are probably aiming at perfection, too, and just as wobbly as we are, on any given day.


  3. First of all, thanks so much for posting this. Thank you for your courage to share this…and also thank you for bringing up a situation that it is very similar to some I have found myself in. As I believe you already know, I really enjoy your blog and it always gives me something to think about. This particular entry really resonated with me and I was thinking about it for a few days after reading it. I pretty much felt compelled to respond…so here goes.

    (One final thanks and encouragement before I start is that I think the link you are making between RP and NVC is a really interesting one)

    In my teaching (training) career I have gone back and forth between English only and “whatever works.” I usually try for more English in “just” English classes but anything or whatever in training courses works. It seems that your situation is a bit of a mix between the two as you mention in the about section. I remember getting surprised looks when I reminded training course participants that it is more than fine to use Korean. I have heard stories about this idea being met with resistance where some lower English proficiency participants insisted on speaking English even when their groupmates and trainers might have hoped otherwise.
    I feel like it is very easy to mix up the language proficiency and teaching focuses (for everyone—teachers, participants, admin) and it seems that it requires a delicate dance. It seems like it might be particularly tricky in your context where there seems to be quite a bit of crossover.

    Among the many memories that flooded back to me during and after reading your post was a feeling of hopelessness (and rise in temperature) that came from students/participants completely ignoring what I had just said. With some distance and time it seems like a very long time ago in a distant world. I mean, I can’t imagine that it bothered me so much at the time but I know that it did.

    Another thing that came to mind was one participant in a course thanking me for keeping them on their toes throughout the course. I am not sure that he was simply referring to speaking English but I suspect that was part of it. I think there are some huge questions here! Like what is the role of the teacher? I think the teacher as “reminder of responsibilities and purpose” can be a valuable role that participants might want, feel they need, and actually need.

    There is also the issue of the roles expected from teachers and how that relates to culture and previous experiences. My thought is that perhaps your participants might be more familiar and comfortable with the teacher taking such a role (based on their learning and teaching experiences) Perhaps it is a role that you are not so comfortable with, though?

    Final thought…I think it is interesting that when I read your detailed description it doesn’t really seem to me like you lost your cool so much. Perhaps we have different definitions of this (or different temperaments!) Other questions that arise for me include, “Is it ok to be bothered?” “Is it ok to show it?”

    I am also curious about any further reaction from the participants. You said that they apologized and might have felt shamed/ashamed (and perhaps uncomfortable/embarrassed). I wonder how you think this might have impacted things going further.

    I am very interested in reading about the feelings behind this as the NVC links.

    Thanks again!


  4. Pingback: My Soul Leapt
  5. I have made comments in class that I later regretted. I believe the Scripture that says: If anyone never makes a mistake in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole self in check.
    So, I told myself, I am not perfect. I think those who refuse to admit they are not perfect have troubles. The more honest we become about ourselves, though, the more we are forced to admit it.
    It is a liberating truth: No matter how I try, I am not perfect. :-)


    1. Katharine, it took me a while to subscribe to the philosophy that you write about, but as soon as I started admitting my flaws, and really taking the time to look at them, the happier my life became. Buddhists call this process polishing the diamond. The more we meditate or reflect on ourselves, the more dust (beliefs, stories, pains..) comes up, and the more we have to face it. However, once we face the dust, the diamond becomes a little cleaner. I see this process of reflection as a way of polishing my diamond :) I admit that I am not perfect, and perhaps by me admitting this, others will find the courage to face their dust too.


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