Where Our Reflective Practice Came From: SMAT

Two weeks ago, I learned that the MA TESOL grad program I love dearly will see its last summer. In honor of this program and all its alumni, I wanted to write this post. My hope is to bring the alumni together so that we understand the program lives on in all of us. At the end of this post, I’ve posed questions and would be grateful for your comments and participation. There is also a sweet video treat waiting for you :)

Experiential Learning

We first learned about experiential learning and reflective practice during the summer of 2007. The learning continued throughout the fall and winter, and culminated during the summer of 2008. Of course, the learning continues.

We didn’t learn about the concept of experiential learning from a textbook. We experienced it. That’s what was so special about our masters in teaching program: the Summer M.A. in TESOL, Class 26 (SMAT26) at the School for International Training (SIT), a program of World Learning.

Learning through experience - fishbowl teaching of Smattie Cakes

During that fall and winter, each of us went back to our teaching jobs (Japan, Korea, Mexico, Thailand, USA…), and waited eagerly for our MA supervisors to come observe us. We had no idea what was in store. What we quickly realized was that we were experiencing the true meaning of reflective practice.

"You'll need these for all the reflection you're going to do this summer."

With the value of experience at the forefront of our supervisors awareness, classroom observations were held in the highest regard. Instead of offering advice — which could have come easily — they asked probing questions such as:

Why did you chose to talk instead of write on the board?

How could you have recasted that question?

How could learning have been be maximized?

Questions all meant to lead us to our own conclusions, because by arriving to our own conclusions, our supervisors knew this is where real change happens. By examining our experience from a rigorous reflective practice, we gain confidence in our teaching, and we become better teachers, always mindful that we are only as good as our reflective practice.

The end of SMAT

But somehow the value of this program, and what it means for the future of international education, has been lost on the program’s president and board of executives. Two weeks ago, we received this letter from our resilient and supportive academic chair:

Dear Josette,

I would like you to be the first to know the SMAT program is in the process of transforming itself.

World Learning is expanding the MAT degree program to respond to the growing global interest in this field. As part of this process, the SIT Graduate Institute will no longer accept new students into the current model of the SMAT program while we explore new program ideas. Some options include partnership programs with universities in Africa and Asia, as well as opportunities to further our existing partnership with the Peace Corps.

This change will not affect the academic-year Master of Arts degree in TESOL, which has seen a significant increase in the past two years. The SMAT 30s will complete their program on campus next summer. This may be a great time for you to come back to campus for their Sandanona!

Please spread the word that the SMAT concept is evolving, not ending. Our goal is to expand our programs to attract committed international teachers interested in pursuing education and teaching careers around the world.


Susan Barduhn, PhD
Professor, MA TESOL Dept.
Academic Chair, SMAT Program
SIT Graduate Institute
Brattleboro, Vermont

It is clear that the powers that be have no idea about the transformational power of the SMAT program, of the power of experiential learning. No one with clarity and awareness would take away a program that creates such passionate teachers.

Experiential learning - capoeira or yoga?
Experiential learning - teachers trying

But I have not written this post to bash SIT’s president or World Learning. I am here to elevate and to celebrate.

Share your Story

The SMAT program as we know it may be done, but the SMAT spirit will never dissipate. I believe this because I know the power of experience and reflection. I know that by looking back on what has happened, I can effect change. This is what my experience in the SMAT program has taught me.

To celebrate our SMAT experiences, I would love to hear from other SMAT / MAT grads. Share your story. Look back on your experience at SIT, and on the time since then, and reflect on how you’ve changed. What did you learn from your experience? What did the SMAT program mean to you? How have you changed, or created change?

Feel free to comment below, send me an email (josette.leblanc@gmail.com), message me on Facebook or Twitter, or write on your own blog. I’ll then keep track of your stories, or links, by posting them on a special page on this blog.

To inspire you, I’d like to share a very dear story with you. Below is a video of the last six minutes of Pat Moran’s plenary speech for the SMAT26 grad class. In this video, Pat takes us through a sensory and emotional experience of being and teaching in SIT’s well-known Auditorium. All the pictures in this post were taken in the Auditorium. Also, this speech was prepared with the looming possibility that the SMAT program would be coming to a close. Hard to believe that it really happened.

I hope Pat inspires you share your own story.

8 thoughts on “Where Our Reflective Practice Came From: SMAT

  1. Hi Josette,
    We were just talking about Pat the other day, and other wonderful teachers we were able to share and learn from, and I am glad to hear Pat again. I will pass this on, thanks for keeping us connected.


  2. Like what Confucius said: “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”

    As an educator myself, I firmly believe that experiential learning makes the difference.


    1. That is absolutely one of my favorite all time quotes. Thank you Sony for bringing it to this post for all of us to share. I love hearing from other experiential educators.


    1. Thank you so much Angela! It’s my pleasure to write about such wonderful teachers. I hope you share your story with us :) Hope all is well in Saudi! Korea misses you :)


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