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.

A Year in the Life of a Community

If you had told me a year ago that going to the KOTESOL International Conference was going to change my life, I never would have believed you. But seeing one presentation did just that.

Following the recommendation of @michaelegriffin – then only known as Michael Griffin – I attended Chuck Sandy‘s 10am Sunday presentation. He spoke of the value of creating communities: if you don’t have one, create one. At the end of the presentation, he talked about one such community of teachers he helped create called International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi).

The talk was inspiring in so many ways, but there was a 20 second soundbite that pushed me in a very important direction.

“Who’s on Twitter? Get yourself on Twitter!

Who’s on Facebook?

Facebook works. Twitter’s better.”

So I signed up.*

Now, a year later, part of my community is linked to iTDi. This past weekend at JALT2012, I had the great pleasure of meeting some of the iTDi faces that were up on Chuck’s powerpoint. Here are a three of these inspiring teachers:

Barbara Sakamoto, Yitzha Sarwono, & Marco Brazil

They are no longer pictures on a screen. Yitzha is my Instagram buddy, a constant source of light on Twitter, and now a friend I am fortunate enough to have had dinner with. Barbara, who inspires us via her own online community, Teaching Village, is someone I have exchanged thoughts and smiles with. Meeting Marco at JALT was an infusion of joy. I am very happy to now be connected to him. If I hadn’t seen Chuck’s presentation, I doubt I would have made my journey to JALT, which this video shows was very much worth it.

A year has passed since that fateful conference day, and now it’s our turn to present about a community we created on Twitter: KELTchat. I look forward to standing with Alex Grevett, Alex Walsh, Michael Griffin and Anne Hendler as we talk about how and why we came to be.

I am incredibly grateful for the communities I am a member of thanks to that inspiring October day.

Thank you Chuck. :)

*A little known fact: I had been on Twitter for two years, apparently dropping my blog posts into the abyss before I met Chuck. Until that day, I had no idea how powerful/magical Twitter really was.

Related posts:

#JALT2012 Journey: Meeting @kevchanwow

When @michaelegriffin and I met at the Incheon International Airport, we knew we were in for an adventure. The adventure began like this…

Mr. Stein’s Pick Up Service – Hatless

@kevchanwow, with “Michael and Josette” typed in 16 point font on his iPad, greets us at Arrivals. Hugs of #gratitude and #excitement. Thoughts in my mind, “Is this really happening?” We rush off to catch the train…

where long overdue face-to-face conversations ensue over refreshing beverages @kevchanwow was so generous to bring for us. We arrive at his lovely home, stars twinkling in the Nara sky. Delicious food is waiting on the kitchen table prepared by his gracious (and very funny) partner-in-life/radio star DJ. The glee continues.

A handout from @michaelegriffin – a noted moment

@kevchanwow would not be able to join us at the JALT International Conference since the lucky people in New Zealand got to see him present only a few days before at the CLESOL conference (read his pre-conference post, A Post Before I Go, and post-conference post, Wikis and Instant Noodles: my times at CLESOL). Perhaps to celebrate the JALT experience, @michaelegriffin shares a handout he prepared for his presentation, “Common pitfalls of observation feedback.” This #TESOLgeek moment is cherished….as are many more.

Goodnight from Nara the ancient capital of Japan…

But perhaps none more than this one:

Screen shot by @michaelegriffin

Thank you so much to the @kevchanwow clan for sharing your home with us. I am still in awe of your generosity and warmth. I look forward to the day that I can return your kindness.

PS. We ended our trip to Nara with a delightful tour of the deer park before Mrs. @kevchanwow kindly drove us to the train station. Amazing people. Amazing experience.

Note: I added two new categories thanks to this part of the JALT journey: gratitude and friendship. :)

Our Reflective Community

You know that feeling when everything comes together at the right moment? I’m experiencing one of these moments right now.

A year ago I was asked if I was interested in organizing a “branch” of the KOTESOL Reflective Practice (RP) Special Interest Group (SIG) in Daegu. I said no. I just didn’t have the space in my life, so I turned down the idea.

Well, last Saturday, with the inspiring support (and nudging) of my friend and colleague KongJu (Princess) Suh, I facilitated our first Daegu RP-SIG meeting. A year after the initial request, the moment was right. There are some things that are just stronger than you, and the energy of the reflective teacher’s community here in Korea is one of these things.

Over a year ago, the RP-SIG was created by Michael Griffin (Mike), Manpal Sahota and Kevin Giddens. Since then, the Seoul RP-SIG, along with Daejeon’s group, has been very successful in raising the awareness of teachers from all professional backgrounds about the concept of reflective practice. Although I’ve supported the SIG by presenting about reflection at a few conferences, the more I heard about what was going on during the monthly meetings, the more excited I got about starting something in Daegu.

what’s the RP-SIG all about?

Seoul RP-SIG meeting (Mike facilitating)

In his article, The Reflective Practice SIG: What Is It? How
Can It Help You?, in the Spring 2012, TEC (The English Connection) News, Mike gives us a clear image of the SIG’s vision.

It seems to me that professional development often amounts to one person at the front of the room telling others how and why they should do something. In the RP-SIG, we try to get away from that and have members come to their own conclusions about their own teaching practices. It was with this vision of professional development in mind that we held the first RP-SIG meeting in February, 2011. The RP-SIG’s purpose is (a) to challenge our perceptions of who we are and what we do, (b) to build strategies to become a more aware educator, and (c) to share and learn through each others’ experiences and beliefs.

Challenging perceptions? Becoming a more aware educator? Sharing and learning through experiences and beliefs? Who wouldn’t want to be part of such a rich community? Mike definitely makes a convincing case for anyone who wants to start such a community of teachers.

Princess’ Daegu KOTESOL workshop on how to teach writing to Korean high school students

This community is what my nudger, Princess, was hoping to see in Daegu. One evening in March over dinner — after we had spent a few hours working on the presentation she was going to give on how to teach writing to high school students — Princess shared her dream of starting a group where English teachers could come together and talk about teaching. At this point, I was more keen about the idea of launching the SIG. We talked and got quite excited about it. But we wanted to be sure we could give it our all, so we decided to think it over and make it happen when the time was right. Three weeks ago, Princess called me and the plans for last Saturday were set in motion.

Model of an RP-SIG meeting

Knowing about Mike’s success in facilitating the Seoul RP-SIG meetings, I wanted to follow his model. He shares the meeting’s structure in the TEC News:

A typical RP-SIG meeting consists of  four parts: (a) ice-breaker – an interactive warming up session to break the ice, (b) check-in – groups of 3 or 4 discuss personal reflective goals, (c) discussion – facilitator leads group discussion to promote reflective practice, and (d) check-out – reaffirmation of personal goals and direction. We hope that members can take the ideas, thoughts, and experiences from the meetings and transfer them to their own contexts.

Since it was our first meeting, the nine teachers in attendance checked-in by introducing themselves and explained a bit about why they wanted to be part of the SIG. A few said they felt like they were becoming lazy in their teaching practices and wanted to feel better about teaching.

We then moved into the discussion part of the meeting where I decided to follow the model I had presented about a few weeks earlier (see An Image of Reflection: learning from my RP workshop). In pairs, we each shared a teaching/learning moment and explored it via the Experiential Learning Cycle. Our partner’s role was to help keep us focused by asking questions that pertained to each stage (ie: description stage – How many students were there? How big is the class? Was it a hot day?). Between each stage we regrouped and discussed how we felt about the process. This was extremely rich in that it allowed us to get a deeper understanding of the process while also getting a deeper understanding of our teaching/learning moment.

The meeting ended with the check-out. We made reflection goals for the month, shared them with each other, and decided we would share the results of our goal regardless of whether or not we were able to accomplish it. The important point is we are here to support each other as reflective teachers no matter what the results.

The beginning for us, how about for you?

So this is the beginning of our reflective community in Daegu! I’m very excited to see where we will go, but more importantly I’m very happy to be part of the larger RP community. Throughout its first year, the RP-SIG has been incredibly supportive, inspiring, and motivating. Teachers now have a place where they can share their experiences and expand there ideas in a safe environment.

I hope this post has given you more clarity on what a reflective teaching community can look like. Maybe you are now also inspired to start your own group. The reflective vibe is quite contagious. If you do decide to start a group, let us know! We’d love to help you out.

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

Continue reading “Where Our Reflective Practice Came From: SMAT”

Preparing for Confidence

*Scroll down for presentation abstracts

There is really something to be said for feeling prepared. When I know I’m ready, I worry less. I can spend my time focusing in my lesson or the task at hand. When I don’t feel ready, I lose focus, and in the end, I lose confidence in myself.

I spent last weekend in Seoul with Tana Ebaugh and Kevin Giddens, preparing for our upcoming KOTESOL National Conference presentations at KAIST in Daejeon on Saturday, May 14.   As you can see, we were into some pretty serious stuff. As one of us stated, “we were really geeking out.”

Continue reading “Preparing for Confidence”

A Joyful Transition

“That was fun!”, sighed a participant as she sat down after presenting her group’s diamante poem.

I heard a similar exclamation from a participant in another class. What teacher doesn’t like knowing her students enjoyed a lesson, but to have that joy exclaimed without any probing from me is a pleasant bonus. My intention was simply to help them process their transition between sessions.

After seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter, I asked why they enjoyed making their diamantes. They explained that they felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. They also loved the creative factor of putting their poems on construction paper, and then reading their colleagues’ poems during a gallery walk.

I also noticed that they had very little anxiety about explaining their poems to the other participants during the gallery walk. The fact that they were feeling positive about their experience may have influenced the lowered affective filter. This helped them jump into their impromptu presentations.

T.T refers to Team-teaching, but it suspiciously also resembles the crying emoticon

I feel satisfied that my goal was met. I helped them process their transition into a new session. Now they feel a bit more connected to their new classmates, and they also know that many of these classmates share the same fears and aspirations.  The added bonus is that this transition has now been punctuated with a little fun.