Mine the Gap

During my recent trip to Australia, I traveled on the train quite often between Mittagong (where Byongchan is doing a three-month residency) and Sydney. This poem was inspired by my time on those platforms. I was struck by the different speeds at which people walked, the choice of winter or summer clothing people wore, and the various languages people spoke. Amidst all the differences, life seemed to flow smoothly. I feel lucky to take part in such flow.

Mittagong Station, Australia

We walk at our own pace.

We find comfort in our own climates.

We see through our own lenses.

We travel on our own tracks.

 

To join you on your track,

I must not only mind the gap,

I must mine it.

 

We mine the gap of our relations.

 

In the gap, our paces merge;

Our climates combine;

Our lenses blend.

 

When I mine the gap,

For even just a moment,

I walk at your pace;

I feel your climate;

I see through your lens.

 

We mine the gap for gems of understanding,

Crystals of clarity,

Minerals of truth.

 

With my mined treasure,

I walk at a slightly different pace;

I appreciate another climate;

I see a new tint through my lens.

 

I travel more lightly on my track.

Central Station, Sydney, Australia

 

Listening to the Inner Teacher: The (R)evolution of #RedThumbForLove

When the universe calls your name, it’s important to make sure your inner teacher (a.k.a. gut feeling, inner truth, etc.) is ready to listen. The universe speaks in mysterious ways.

This is how I’ve been feeling as of late. It first started when I got the idea to ask teachers to share how they offer themselves self-care and self-compassion, and why they do so. I really had no idea what the response would be. To my delight, 99% of the teachers I asked have said yes, and they continue to say yes. Some have even volunteered! Click here, Teachers Talking About Self-compassion, to read their stories.

Then today in the series, I share an interview of an empowering woman/teacher, Rupa Mehta, I saw speak at one of the festivals I’ve been following in YouTube for the past year, Wanderlust — highly recommended for all soul seekers. In this post, Emotional & Physical Fitness, you can read about how my inner teacher led me to asking Rupa to share her experience with self-care and self-compassion.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 9.14.19 PM

I can’t end this post about paying attention to the universe’s subtle winks to #RedThumbForLove without sharing the most inspiring detail of all. This coming weekend, I’ll be doing a workshop with Chuck Sandy at the KOTESOL International Conference where we’ll be talking about listening to the teacher within. But this, although very cool, isn’t the amazing part. The amazing part is that the #RedThumbForLove blog/movement/project/revolution was a result of me listening to my inner teacher. My inner teacher knew how important it was to pay attention to Chuck’s Facebook status on that faithful day in 2014.

It’s all lining up, coming full circle, and evolving beautifully.

And so dear Readers, thank you so much for celebrating this mystery of life with me. But more importantly, I hope this was the message your inner teacher needed to hear today.

Taking the Post a Week Challenge!

Thanks to the gentle encouragement and grand inspiration of Kevin Giddens and Mike Griffin (KOTESOL Reflective Practices SIG), I’ve decided I want to blog more about my reflective teaching practices. I will be posting on this blog once a week for all of 2011.

I know it won’t be easy, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. I’m promising to make use of The Daily Post, and the community of other bloggers with similar goals, to help me along the way.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and good will along the way.

Signed,
Josette

Learning No. 1: Confidence=Fuel for Teaching

My first year as a teacher trainer has now passed. It can undoubtedly be defined as one of the most rewarding and challenging years of my professional career up to date. Writing and researching my MA thesis throughout the year definitely compounded my workload, but the arrival of my diploma in October mitigated any memory of academic exhaustion.

Yes, last year was quite the learning load. My lesson planning creativity was flexed and stretched to multiple degrees. My understanding of teaching and learning magnified due to the “meta” nature of teacher training. My confidence as a teacher dropped a few steps, and in the end found its way back to the top of the staircase. This is where the list of my top 5 learning moments of 2010 begins.

1. Confidence = Fuel

Teachers need confidence. Confidence ignites our drive to utter the first word at the start of a lesson. It fuels our ability to keep pushing through when a student/trainee asks a question you just can’t answer. At the core, confidence is what allows teachers to stand in front of a class of individuals and be vulnerable.

I say this because I had a few memorable bouts with confidence last year. It mostly came into jeopardy at the beginning of each semester, a sensitive time for everyone. Participants (students) are trying to figure each other out, and they’re also testing the trainers (teachers), to see what they know. It was during this storming stage that I most frequently questioned my skills as an EFL teacher, and as a teacher trainer.

Why did I question myself this way? It’s dreadfully simple. Participants asked me questions I just couldn’t answer off the cuff (detailed questions about grammar and sentence structure), and I believed I should be able to answer right away. I know I put too much pressure on myself, and that it is impossible for teachers to know everything off the top of their head, but I couldn’t help hearing that little perfectionist’s voice inside my head saying,

“Come on Josette! You should know this. Can you really call yourself an English teacher if you can’t answer this question right now? What kind of example are you setting? Why would they want to keep learning from you if you can’t answer these kinds of questions?”

Harsh right? But this kind of self-talk is all too common.

When a participant asked me that type of question, luckily I mustered up enough confidence to tell them,

“I’m not sure about that. I’ll look it up and get back to you tomorrow.”

So I went home, plopped down on my office floor, and surrounded myself with reference material. I figured out the issue to the best of my ability, and I came back to the participant the next day with what I discovered. This is how I saved my confidence.

Yes, we can debate whether or not teachers should admit that they don’t know the answer to a student’s question, and I know this is debated in the teacher training world. But if this is what you need to do in order to keep a hold of your confidence, I believe it is an essential maneuver.

This belief was brought home when I was told on a few occasions during both semesters (semester 1 = 57 participants; semester 2 = 37 participants), that my honesty about not knowing all the answers was refreshing. Some participants were relieved to learn that they could respond this way to their students, and still maintain confidence from both the student and themselves. In the end, the way I responded to my drop in confidence fueled confidence in my participants.

There isn’t a magical way to create self-confidence. The way I know how to hold on to it is by reflecting on what I don’t know (what went wrong), and making sure I understand it at the end of the day. From here I can create an action plan. This involves getting up to date with teaching methodologies, studying grammar, reading books about sentence structures, listening to Grammar Girl, and collaborating with colleagues. It isn’t easy, but I know that since I need confidence to teach, I need to spend extra time building it up. Anything that kills the little perfectionist’s voice in my head is definitely worth the extra work.

 

Lesson Planning Flow – Thesaurus Poetry

Sometimes lessons create themselves; they flow on your students’ creative energy. This is what happened to the following lesson sequences.

Between the first and second sessions during the fall 2010 semester, I introduced periphery verbs for the core verb, to walk. I used the visual representations found in the book Lexicarry to elicit periphery verbs such as crawl, skip, tiptoe, march, and weave, to name a few. Most of these words were new to my trainees.

I then wanted to help them understand the importance of thesaurus and English learner’s dictionary usage. I assigned each group two of the periphery words. One of the members in the group looked up the definition in the dictionary, and another found synonyms in the thesaurus. They also wrote a sentence with the initial assigned word. The next step was to replace that word with the synonym that most closely resembled the word in the sentence. Of course not all of the synonyms they found could work in the sentence they created, so they had to use the English dictionary to find the word with the closest definition. After they were done, they wrote their sentences on the board to share their work with the other groups.

We ended the class by reflecting on the benefits and shortcomings of using the thesaurus and English learner’s dictionary. One of the benefits mentioned was that by using this method, they could find the subtle meaning of the synonyms, whereas when they use an English-Korean dictionary, the meaning is not as obvious. A shortcoming was that they were not used to this type of word search, and that reading definitions in English can be tiring. They did admit that the English learner’s dictionary was much more comprehensible than typical dictionaries.   

From one session to the next (usually 6 weeks each), trainees switch homerooms, and also have to face new course challenges. As the semester progresses, so does the curriculum’s difficulty. As a way to help trainees transition into their new homerooms and session, I asked trainees to work in groups to create diamante poems. Their task was to use Session 1 and Session 2 as different points of the diamante. I also asked them to use the walking verbs learned in the previous lesson for verb line of their diamante poem. These verbs worked as metaphors for their feelings. You can see that each group had a unique take on the transition between sessions.

Then just when I thought I had exhausted all the work we could do with these words, my trainee wrote this in her dialogue journal.

Where have you gone

Im Myung Sook

With my staggering mind,
Leaving empty vessel behind,
Where have you vanished?
With my confidence:
My self-confidence
Confidentially.
Trudging across the field,
I followed you with vanished mind,
Stumbled constantly,
Twisted an ankle and a hand,
Walked on knees and a hand
To find you
Continuously.
While you racing,
I toddled and paced.
With your confident walk
where have you gone,
Striding
Lumbering.
 
 

She was inspired by the poem below. Reading this poem was a powerful learning moment for me. It reminded me of the importance of making language your own. By playing with language in a way that you enjoy, you are more apt to internalize and use it. I am grateful to my trainee, Im Myung Sook, for allowing me to post her poem. It was a great joy to read it and share it with you.

As you can imagine I received a lot of satisfaction with the lessons around these “walking” periphery verbs. When a lesson goes beyond your expectations, it is extremely rewarding. I look forward to teaching these lessons again.

 

Where have you gone

Mari Evans

With your confident
walk with
your crooked smile
Why did you leave me
when you took your
laughter and departed
are you aware that
with you went the sun
all light
and what few stars
there were?
Where have you gone
with your confident
walk your
crooked smile the
rent money
in one pocket and
my heart in another…
 
 
 

Owning My Element

My Creative Process

Sometimes a simple question spurs on an overflow of creative thinking.  My dear friend and colleague, Tana Ebaugh, often asks me these kinds of questions. Recently she asked why I blog. This in itself was a gem that prompted curious contemplation. However, then she added to the power of this question by showing me this revolutionary video.

After watching this video, I knew I had to read more about Ken Robinson. I had already watched his previous two TED talks (one that you can find in my previous post and one you can find by clicking here), and knew I had to go deeper into his ideas. The next morning I downloaded his audiobook The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Having listened to it for three hours, I can now answer Tana’s question of why I blog.

* Above is an example of how my creative process relies on human connection and multimedia. Ken Robinson discusses how the creative process is unique to everyone, and extremely valuable to cultivate. It is this process that leads one to living out their element.

My Element

In his book, Ken Robinson talks about what it means to be in your element. You are in your element when you do what you love doing. This is only a basic definition though. It goes much deeper than that. You are in your element when time seems to stand still while you are doing the thing you’ve discovered defines your core self. When you do what you were meant to do, you are in your element. Everyone has this element, and I am grateful to have found mine. Although I knew I loved teaching teachers, it is only after having listened to his audiobook that I am able to tell you why I do, and why I think this is my element.

My desire to connect and to be heard makes me love teacher training. In this zone, I am in my element because I know that what I am saying is being absorbed and processed by my audience. If I feel that I am not understood, or that there is no desire to hear what I have to say, I immediately switch off. Whether at a party, or in a classroom, if I don’t think I’m making a clear connection with someone, I shut down. Knowing this, I am constantly looking for better ways to be heard and understood. Sometimes this means simplifying my message, or following the flow of my trainees’ needs. If they don’t need to hear what I have to say, there is no need for me to say it. I discover this need by gauging their reactions to my intellectual poking and prodding. They often tease me by saying that I am “slowly squeezing their brains”, or that “I poke them” gently through the learning process. If they are curious about the way I “squeeze” them, then I continue. If I see their eyes glazing over, it’s time for me to change my tune.

Being among a group of people who share my love of teaching also fuels my element. With my trainees, we are on a similar level. Even though we teach in different contexts and are from different backgrounds, ultimately we are in the business of sharing and guiding individuals through the process of learning. This common plain creates a willingness for reciprocal listening: I want to listen to them as much as they want to listen to me. In a sense, we feed off each others’ experiences. Without this kind of shared community, be it with my trainees, or my colleagues/friends, my light doesn’t shine so brightly. It is through their light that I can see my own.

This is why I blog. I blog because teachers who share my passion will read what I have to say. It is the perfect blend of community and communication. My blog is a multimedia reflection of my element.

A quote from The Element: In the 19th century, William James became one of the founding thinkers of modern psychology. By then it was becoming more widely understood that our ideas and ways of thinking could imprison or liberate us. James put it this way,  ‘The greatest discovery of my generation is that humans being can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind. If you change your mind, you can change your life.’ This is the real power of creativity and the true promise of being in your element. – Ken Robinson

Thank you for the light :)

Let Creativity Flow

“When teachers’ knowledge of themselves, their students and their professional skills do not align with the contexts in which they work there is little energy or psychic space left for being present to the learner and his learning. Both teacher and students are then deprived of creative exchange and connection between themselves, subject matter and context. (Carol R. Rodgers* and Miriam Raider-Roth)”

My dear friend and colleague Kevin Giddens posted this quote to his Facebook status a few weeks ago. It resonated with me on many levels. When my beliefs are not supported by the system I teach in, then I feel blocked; I feel frustrated. On this level of emotion I recognize that my needs for freedom and creativity are stunted because I do not feel heard by my educational community. If I am not heard, if my teaching beliefs are not valued or seen, then my creative energy cannot flow. When creativity does not flow, both teaching and learning are in jeopardy.

As a teacher trainer in Korea, I hear a version of this sentiment on a regular basis: “We don’t have the time to be creative and make new material because we have so much to do beyond teaching our classes. Not only do we have to teach, but we also have to take care of after school study classes, as well as tonnes of bureaucratic paperwork. Sometimes we’re at school until 11pm! How can we be expected to be creative?”

These teachers crave creativity.  They want to connect. They want to help their students learn. They want to be passionate teachers, but where does the “energy or psychic space left for being present to the learner and his learning” come into play in such a reality?

The energy and space comes from knowing that they are not alone in their quest for creativity and connection. It comes from knowing that there are teachers out there who have the same aspirations. As teachers, “we are our best resources”, but this does not have to be a solitary affair. “We” includes our community. This is a community of like-minded colleagues. It is a community in search of a better way. You can create this community.

We find these community members by speaking out, and sharing our fears and desires. These members may be at your schools, at training courses, and in professional organizations such as KOTESOL or TESOL. Once you speak out, you can be heard. You have taken the risk, and you realize that you are not alone. You invent your own personal peer support network. This is where creativity is possible. When your aspirations align with those of others, creativity can flow.

Creativity = Change

You make that change happen.