So You Want to Use Your L1? – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication

Before you start reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything you read below. You may want to comment on some of these questions: Does the concept of reflective inquiry I offer resonate with you? What was your reaction to the interaction that happened? How would you have handled the situation? Have you had a similar experience?

Thank you for reading on!

Previous post

Last week, in Losing It at School – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication, I looked at the What? of the experiential learning cycle (ELC), and I made a connection between it and the Observation stage of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process. Today I am going to examine the So What? stage (ELC), and the link I make to Feelings and Needs (NVC).

So What? as part of the reflective cycle, asks us to hypothesize reasons why an event occurred. When I am at this stage, I like to take a closer look at the feelings I felt, and guess at the feelings others may have felt during that moment. Although this may seem like an observation to some — and as such, should be in the What? stage — feelings give us insight into what people need and value. I believe that the exploration of needs and values is a theoretical venture since needs are not always apparent. It may be easy to see that a person is upset, but the need behind that feeling can be quite elusive. When we search for a need, especially in others, we make guesses. A theory is a glorified guess.

Ok, enough with the conceptual mumbo jumbo; let’s get to the juicy stuff!

Part 2 – So what? + NVC Feeling and Needs

Here’s a bit of a back story to put my previous post into perspective. On the first day of the semester, participants write an entrance essay. They are asked to describe why they want to be part of our program. The most common explanation is that they believe they have poor English skills, and so they want to work at becoming competent English users so that they can become better English teachers. They repeat this declaration during the entrance interview.

Although I don’t completely agree with the amount of focus on this sentiment, it is what our program is founded on: participants come to work on their English skills so that they can leave with a stronger sense of confidence when they go back to their schools. As trainers we promise to do our best to increase their confidence in their English ability, and as participants, they promise to do the work necessary to achieve their goal. Of course at times I question the sincerity of their promise, but nonetheless, this is the understanding on which we base our curriculum.

So What? Theory No. 1

When I heard the participants chatting in Korean, I felt upset. Following the basic NVC cycle, I would express myself like this:

Observation: When I noticed they were talking in Korean, …

Feeling: I felt annoyed and upset…

Need: because my need for honoring agreements was not being met.

Because I was trying to fulfill my need, my strategy was to speak firmly with them.

My first So What? theory is that I held a belief that they should honor their agreement of using English only. When I noticed they weren’t fulfilling this belief, I spoke up.

Perhaps I need to get a better idea of what this agreement really means to them now that they have been in the program for a month and a half. Maybe they have a different narrative now; maybe some of them want to speak Korean while others want to speak English. This relates to Michael Griffin’s comment in my previous post:

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.

I need to get a clear idea of what they really want and what they expect from me.

So What? Theory No. 2

After I gave them my little speech, I still felt upset, and I also felt confused. I felt confused because I hadn’t honored a value I hold dear, choice. By talking to them the way I did, I was basically telling them they had no choice. They had to speak English. My confusion was a result of me not acting in a way that corresponds with me need to facilitate choice.

So What? Well, choice is important to me, so this means that the more I can create a classroom conducive to choice, the happier I’ll be. By looking more closely at what they really want in terms of using their L1 or using English, then I’ll be better equipped to encourage language choice. End of theory #2.

So What? Theory No. 3

Perhaps they were speaking Korean because they needed relief. At that moment most of them were wrapping up an intense peer review session. They had just spent the last hour reading in English, and giving feedback in English. Not only were they dealing with a second language, but they were also dealing with the social uncertainties a peer review group inevitably  brings out. Making things plain in Korean may have been their way of smoothing over any confusions. They were feeling uncomfortable/embarrassed, perhaps they felt they were losing face, and they needed relief. Speaking Korean gave them a release.

This point relates to what Tom Topham, shared with me via Facebook:

As a point of analogy, if I am trying to calm my nerves with a smoke, or trying to keep my edge on before giving a session by drinking a coffee, I don’t really see the efficacy of my doctor coming and criticising my health choices :)

By speaking Korean, they were letting go of some steam, and by me asking them to speak English, I was only adding to their stress. Since stress got them there in the first place, I doubt me scolding them was going to help.

Theory 3: Perhaps I need to give them time to speak Korean after they complete intensive activities.

So What? Theory No. 4

Michael also comments:

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.

When I asserted my point of view, and I noticed shame and embarrassment in their eyes, I think what they really needed was to be seen as competent teachers. They want to be the best teachers they can be, and by me telling them they aren’t matching up to their ideal, I am giving them uncomfortable feedback.

My final theory is that it may be helpful for them to take a closer look at their belief that becoming native-like English speakers equates to being good English teachers. Maybe their beliefs don’t match their reality. The closer they get to reality, the closer we all get to reality, the easier it will be to work towards attainable goals.

Next post

How does this impact things going further? I’ll leave that for the final post of this series (next Monday) where I’ll be look at Now What? (ELC) and  Making Requests (NVC).


I want to address a few comments from my kind readers. Some of you were surprised to read that I considered last week’s event as an example of me “losing it.” Well, I must reluctantly admit, I don’t usually raise my voice or give ultimatums, at home or at work. Call me passive aggressive, but I prefer to handle conflicts with a focused dialogue. I think the last time I raised my voice to lay down the law was two years ago when my freshmen students kept coming in late for their 8am conversation class. I even felt bad for doing that.

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of 1300 words! Phiew, theorizing takes a lot of energy.

Happy reflecting!

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7 thoughts on “So You Want to Use Your L1? – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication

  1. Hi, Josette. First, I loved this post (and its predecessor). I love the way that you posed your “What?” and “So What?” I also loved Tana’s suggestion about asking the students. And I wanted to suggest a “So What?” for them that I am finding for myself. When we meet our Korean friends, I try not to speak English for two reasons: first it helps them see me as more human, and secondly, they’re more comfortable in Korean. But lately I have been in touchy situations, and I find myself resorting back to English, even though I would like to stay in Korean, because I cannot fully express the full subtleties of my emotions in Korean and I am afraid of hurting their feelings. I wonder if something similar might be happening here. You are asking the students to be constructively critical, but it is still more critical than their culture often allows openly, and you are asking them to do it in a language in which they lack sophistication of expression. Perhaps the comments after are to either tone down their critiques or an attempt to express or repair camaraderie? I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. It’s just something I have noticed in myself.


    1. Hello Elizabeth! I appreciate the suggestion, and I also resonate with it. This was the comment that really struck me, “You are asking the students to be constructively critical, but it is still more critical than their culture often allows openly, and you are asking them to do it in a language in which they lack sophistication of expression. Perhaps the comments after are to either tone down their critiques or an attempt to express or repair camaraderie?” I completely understand this cultural position, and I am grateful that you brought it up so clearly because it gives me more insight into my feelings. Part of my confusion was actually me feeling guilty for not giving them the space to connect, and also for asking them to go beyond their cultural boundaries. After I stopped my little lecture, all the research about EFL peer groups came back to me. Reviewing can be such a delicate matter, but it’s even worse when you are a 30 year old woman having to give feedback to a 50 year old man! Thanks again for reading!

      Oh, and I’ve been perusing through your blog ummteacher and I’m really enjoying your reflective approach. I plan to share it with other EFL/ESL colleagues on Twitter. I just discovered this venue for teacher bloggers, and so far the possibilities are pretty amazing. If you are interested in increasing your readership, I highly recommend it.

      One more thing, I appreciate you linking my blog on yours, but could you edit the title from “Tossing” to “Throwing”? Thank you :P


  2. Josette, you are digging deep here. Four possibilities so far. Have you asked the students their ‘What, So What’ yet? They may have a different description. I ask because it is so easy for me to forget that my description is still, underneath it all, my interpretation via my perception affected by all of my past experiences up to that point. I try to be objective but simply by the fact of living life, I am not.


    1. Tana, thank you for your quick feedback. No, I haven’t asked them these questions. I think it is a great idea, and it would help all of us get a better understanding of what is really going on. And as you mentioned, I can only see part of the picture without getting their perspective. I know that giving them the time to really look at their beliefs around speaking Korean vs. English could give them the awareness they need to change or to remain the same.

      However, as I mentioned to you briefly, I feel apprehensive to do this alone. At this point, I feel like I need the support of my colleagues to ask these questions, but due to the nature of our program, we never get the chance to see each other teach. We can’t sit on each others classes. I’m not sure where the belief that I need them comes from. Maybe I’m worried that I’ll get too emotional. Maybe I don’t want to look like the only trainer who thinks this is something to notice. All good things to ask. Thank you for helping me deepen my “So what?”.


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