Learning No. 5: Community for Sustainable Learning

This entry comes at the perfect time. Next week begins a new teaching year for many of us in South Korea. As I look back on 2010, I realize that my final learning moment will help define some of my teaching goals for next semester. I sit here having finished writing up goals for my writing skills class, wondering how I will articulate the community goals I have for my trainees. I know I would like them to leave our program knowing what it means to learn among peers. I’d also like them to know how to learn among peers. I would hope that their experience as learners would inform how they perceive their students’ learning experience. Reflecting on my own learning communities, as well as the 2010 KIETT trainee learning communities, may help me get these goals finalized.

What does it mean to learn in a community? From my experience as a teacher and as a learner, learning in a group is like looking in a mirror and seeing something you had never noticed about yourself before. It may be this type of honest reflection that moves me to be part of a few different groups. Through these groups I get a clearer sense of myself.

With my NVC community, I learn that I can trust my peers to help me see a new side of life; it is a side that aims to bring people together in a zone of mutual understanding and connection. When our practice group meets twice a month, we practice being our authentic selves, empathizing with ourselves, so that we may also be able to connect to the feelings and needs of others. Through my peers’ active listening and fearless sharing, I understand that as humans, we have huge reserves of emotional knowledge. My NVC community has taught me that empathy has a large place in my life, especially in my teaching.

Because of this community, I understand that much learning comes from the attentive listening, and meaningful sharing between individuals. When I look back on my teacher training classes, I am flooded with memories of active pair and group discussions. I think of trainees debating over the benefits and shortcomings of only using English in the classroom, or of using CLT. I think of when they engaged in peer response activities. Sharing essays and paragraphs with peers became a delicate balance of knowing how to give and receive constructive feedback. There is no doubt that most of their learning came from these pair and group moments of sharing.

With my KOTESOL community, I understand that as a teacher the learning never stops. Being among a group of teachers who thrive to develop themselves professionally has been a strong motivator for improving myself as a teacher. By listening to and engaging in presentations, volunteering with my chapter, and by simply having conversations with members during our monthly workshops, I have learned innovative ways to implement teaching practices, to understand language acquisition and to view the learner. In a sense, through this shared knowledge I have learned how to sustain myself as a teacher.

Being in a community that shares your passion for your profession creates an environment ripe for learning. In 2010, I remember one trainee coming to me at the beginning of the semester, so worried that she wouldn’t learn enough new teaching techniques from me or other trainers. I told her not to worry, that in time she would learn many new ways to teach her students. What she didn’t realize then was that most of that learning would come from watching her peers teach during team-teaching and microteaching. At the end of the semester, she was amazed at how much she learned from her community of teachers. After this experience, I even saw her at a few KOTESOL workshops. She also had realized the sustainability of a professional community.

With my SIT community, I have learned that learning is a creative and reflective process that never ends, no matter the distance between members. My dear friend and colleague Oscar Cruz reminded me of this last week. We may not be sharing the same campus anymore – he’s in Oaxaca, Mexico and I’m here in South Korea – but we still share the same passion. And we also have Facebook :) Staying connected to these members has really helped me get out of some dark teacher moments. Whether it was a Skype conversation with Kulsoom in Doha, a two-day whirlwind visit from Rashmi in British Columbia, or a grateful brainstorming session over coffee with Tana and Kevin downtown Daegu, I know that I have people to turn to when I just don’t know what to do anymore. Through their shared wisdom and awareness of what it means to teach and learn, I find the energy to get back to the drawing board. However, I think the most important point I have learned from them, is that together, we can do just about anything we set our minds to. Together we are not limited by the constraints of society, culture or ourselves. We know that we can make a difference and change lives if we want to, but this will be much easier, and a lot more fun, if we do it together.

So how will I help my future trainees learn all this about learning in a community? All I have to do is look back. In 2010 I remember trainees who grew together and who stayed connected to each other via Facebook or their own social networks. I remember one trainee who looked over to his neighbor, saw how she organized her handouts, and how from that moment on he organized his notes the same way. I remember me having to ring my bell a few times before the discussion groups stopped their chatter. I remember seeing trainees at weddings or KOTESOL workshops who told me how they longed to be back in our training program. They experienced what it meant to be in a learning community, and I noticed it too, the only thing is that it wasn’t an explicit goal of mine.

Now my goal is to help them learn what it means to be in a sustainable learning community. This means that I have to help increase their knowledge of such a community. The trainees will be able to explain the different dynamics and ways of learning in a group.  Then I have to help them become aware of these dynamics and ways. This will involve reflection on the group experiences faced in the program. Next trainees will have to learn important skills necessary for working and learning with others. Some skills involve the ability to discern between observation and evaluation, active listening and being able to give and receive feedback. Finally, I would like trainees to develop a positive attitude about learning in a community.

The new teaching year is now beginning. Thanks to my past teaching and learning experiences I can move forward feeling a little lighter and a little surer of myself.  My vision is clearer. I am extremely grateful to all my communities for the clarity they bring, and I look forward to bringing such clarity to my next community of KIETT trainees.