Susan Barduhn IATEFL 2013: exploring what moves expat language teachers

I first met *Susan Barduhn at the 2006 KOTESOL International Conference. When I saw her presentation, What Keeps Teachers Going? What Keeps Teachers Developing?, I was already saving up for my MA TESOL at The SIT Graduate Institute. Observing how she engaged the audience, I realized once again why I had to go to Vermont, USA.  Finally, in 2007, I sat in my first classroom with her. We sat in a circle, and she asked us questions. Once again, I was engaged.

This is what Susan does. She asks questions and engages learners to explore their beliefs and come to their own conclusions. And this is what she did for her plenary audience at IATEFL Liverpool. In her talk, Language Dealing, she helped us ponder the statement, ” ‘If English were a drug, expatriate teachers would be the dealers…’ Via metaphors of drugs, drug dealers, postmodern dance and medieval knights errant, she explores the identity and intentions of EFL teachers. Through her metaphorical speculations she suggests that the “phenomenon of expatriate English teachers could be considered a historical, cultural movement.”

Susan brought many interesting points and examples to the surface, including one where she compares expat EFL teachers to expat teachers of Mandarin. I found myself nodding in relief throughout her talk: relief in knowing that someone was speaking for the itinerant teacher; that someone was bringing more clarity to our story. But it was one point that really made an impact on me, and I’ll only focus on this discovery. I highly recommend watching her talk to get all the juicy details.

The Question

Is English really the drug, or is it something else? Is it pedagogy? Is it culture? Is it values?

This is what Susan wanted to find out when she interviewed 200 native and non-native speakers of English (must have lived in at least two countries outside their country of origin for  a total of 6 years). One of the questions she asked was, “What motivated you to live in each country?” This is what she discovered about why these teachers progressed through each country:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development
Expat English teachers delving into professional development: KELT-chat and KOTESOL

Then she asked us to look at the same answers like this:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development 

And so at the end of the talk, she posed a new question:

Could the drug actually be professional and personal development?

To this, a resounding “yes!” rang in my mind. It connected to one of my favorite posts by one of my favorite ELT bloggers, Laura Phelps: TEFLing at 35: a life gone right. In this post she expresses many reasons why she hopes she will still be teaching in different parts of the world by the time she’s 35, but this is the one I think speaks true for many teachers out there:

I want to be a 35 year-old who feels confident in the work I’ve chosen to pursue and who learns for the love of learning, not studies for the extra pound an hour. I want not to be freaked out by the prospect of no computers, no photocopier, no board, no books, no desks and no chairs. I want to keep those students in my life who make me cry with laughter, cry with despair, and open my eyes. I want to mentor and be mentored.

Over the past year — or maybe 18 months (see Things that may not have happened if I didn’t use twitter for an exploration of personal and professional development by expat in Korea, Alex Walsh) — I have observed and been involved in amazing organizations and loose collectives of professional development: iTDi, KELTchat, AusELT, KOTESOL and ELTchat to only name a few. I have been reading incredible blogs by teachers who are diving deep into their teaching world. Choose any of the blogs on the write-hand side of this page find and you’ll find their stories.

Who are these teachers? Most of them are exactly who Susan describes.

I am extremely grateful to Susan for doing this research and for presenting it to us in this way. I very much look forward to learning what else she finds out about this identity group.

-For a summary of Susan Bardhun’s IATEFL plenary please visit Chia Suan Chong’s post written live from the talk.

* Susan is a Professor and the Academic Chair of the MA TESOL Low Residency Program at The SIT Graduate Institute. Watch her IATEFL  interview to learn more about the program.

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The Vulnerability of Failing: IATEFL 2013 Failure Fest

IATEFL Failure Fest: how is failure a better teacher than success?

When I first heard that Ken Wilson was going to lead a session on failure at IATEFL Liverpool, I was intrigued, but mostly I was grateful. I imagined the Failure Fest as a space for reality checks, healing, and great learning for ELT professionals. Sophia Khan wrote about this beautifully in her debut blog post, Why We Should Celebrate Failure Fest,

what I like about Failure Fest is that it says: “I am human, just like you”. It focuses on our similarities rather than our differences. Finding a shared emotional experience creates a sense of solidarity, mutuality and possibility. Because we are alike – human – I can learn from your mistakes – and your achievements – as if they were my own. What is possible for you is also possible for me. No matter how qualified or experienced you are, we are more alike than different. Think about it: have you ever had a worry, feelings of self-doubt, anxiety about what the right thing to do is – then you find that someone has gone through, or is going through, the same thing as you? It is such a blessed, wonderful relief to know that you are not alone, even if you still don’t have all the answers.

And this sense of relief is what we all felt during the fest. The relief was expressed through having a bit of fun (Caroline Moore‘s punctual cow bell and Ken’s witty introductions), and through the presenters’ ability to show their vulnerability.

What struck me about each of these engaging storytellers (Ken Wilson, Bethany Cagnol, Chia Suan Chong, Andy Cowle, Herbert Puchta, Jeremy Harmer, Rakesh Bhanot, Valeria Franca, Willy Cardoso) was the fact that they were all able to laugh at their failures. However, among the laughter, each presenter also expressed a sense of discomfort that came along with the initial moment of failure — or as Kathryn Schulz described during her TED Talk, On Being Wrong, how it feels to realize that moment of failure. Jeremy Harmer embarrassingly admitted that the first thing he had ever taught a student was to describe his “big, red, bushy beard.” Chia Suan Chong talked about how she cried after the miscommunication with a German bus driver. Valeria Franca described the dread of seeing little Luciana come up to her after her revamped English lesson on clothing. Bethany Cagnol shared the devastation she felt after being fired for having fun with her students.

“embracing our fallibility”

For many of us, the laughter doesn’t usually come immediately after these moments. It may come years after and for some people it may never come. There is something safe about hiding in the belief that we shouldn’t make mistakes:

“We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” – Brené Brown

I think one of my biggest failures has been holding on to this idea of perfection. I used to work late hours planning the “perfect” lesson, and on a few occasions I even broke down crying after class, realizing I had answered a question “wrong”. “I’m a trainer dammit! I *should know these things!” Although I may not be in a space where I can laugh at this failure, I feel a great sense of lightness at being able to admit it. And I know I am able to express this thanks the Failure Fest and also thanks to what teachers have been writing about failure over the past few weeks (Kevin Stein, As many flavors of failure…; Chris Wilson, Failing at Modal verbs).

The Journey of Failure

An old post of mine, The Teacher as the Archetypal Student, came to my attention the night of the Failure Fest when a new reader left a comment. I hadn’t read this post in years (written on September 11, 2010). Although my post doesn’t directly express my concern about failing, this reader saw it clearly:

I think it is the responsibility of the teacher to show her students that it is okay to make mistakes. Students can learn more from a teacher who allows herself to be vulnerable in front of her students, rather than an obviously flawed person who pretends to be perfect. Students will respect a teacher who openly admits her faults or knowledge gaps. When a teacher does this, learning can become a journey that the teacher and student go on together.

And so I thank Ken Wilson and Caroline Moore for providing a space to the world of ELT to embark on this journey of seeing the light between the cracks of failure. I also have great gratitude for all the presenters for sharing their light.

Willy Cardoso left us a wonderful quote to keep us pondering along this journey of embracing failure:

It is this great struggle, to choose between having a lot of freedom and having a lot of stability that makes us people. (…) And when you believe you can achieve both, it’s probably the beginning of a failure story…which is inevitable. You have to choose one when you know you won’t have much of the other. (…) I’m not likely to go about cycling on busy roads ever again because I don’t want to run the risk of falling, although I know it would give me a great sense of freedom. So in this regard I choose stability over freedom. In love, on the other hand, I will always be willing to fall.

In teaching and in learning, what is this love you are willing to fall for?

 

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. :)

An Image of Reflection: learning from my RP workshop

Reflection is deeply personal. When I talk about reflection, you may have a completely different image of the concept floating around in your mind. This feeling is comparable to when you find yourself in a discussion about the meaning of life or spirituality. We may be using the same words, but our image of what these mean is probably quite different.

This is something I realized about the concept of reflective practice two weeks ago at the Busan KOTESOL’s Reflective Practice Symposium.

Note: Please read Anne Hendler’s summary of the day’s presentations, Meta-Reflection, at her new blog, LivingLearning: Life and Learning in South Korea. The title of her post touches on the complexity of such a discussion. Talking about how you think about thinking? Very meta. Very personal.

After listening to all the presenters, and after doing my own workshop (see my last post KOTESOL Workshop – Reflective Practice: Formulating Your Experience for the abstract), I got a better look at the mental images I hold about the concept of reflection. I realized that maybe the word “reflection” triggered a different picture in my mind.  This picture is the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC), and the one I shared with symposium attendees.

Now I’d like to share this image with you. To do this, I’ll post parts of the script (in italics) I prepared for my workshop, comment on this, and refer to the slides and worksheet I used.

My ELC Workshop

Before learning about the concept of reflective practice, I was just a teacher trying to do the best I could. If I felt unsatisfied with something that happened in class, I’d mull things over, make a few modifications, and do it all over again. (see slide 2)

However, I noticed nothing really changed. I still had a sense that I wasn’t improving. I was still dissatisfied with the way my lessons were going. (still on slide 2)

While working on my summer MA TESOL at SIT, I realized where this dissatisfaction came from: it came from not reflecting on my lessons as deeply as I could.

The MA is based on experiential learning, so teachers who were accepted had to have at least two years experience. The program puts as much importance on our experiences with teaching and learning as it does on pedagogical and linguistic theories. The framework we used to reflect on these experiences was the ELC, which stems from John Dewey and David Kolb‘s research.

Slide 4The Experiential Learning Cycle: First, everything begins with an experience. Then you can see that “feelings” are off to the side. Some teachers/reflectors believe that before we can get through the rest of the cycle, whether it be during a post-observation feedback session or in your reflective journal, it is helpful to discharge the feelings are created by the experience. Then we have description, interpretation and an action plan, which brings us to our next experience. I’ll be explaining these in more depth below.

By looking at my teaching through the framework of this cycle, I finally noticed a change. I saw teaching as a place of exploration and experimentation. I started to understand why I did the things I did. I saw new possibilities and I wasn’t scared to try them out. “Mistakes” weren’t mistakes anymore; they were gifts. (This last statement may be a good topic for another blog post.) I became a more confident teacher, and if I ever felt my confidence waning, I knew that the ELC could get me out of that rut.

At this point in the workshop, I presented a classroom moment, and our task was to take it through the cycle. For the first task (see the worksheet below), attendees differentiated between an observation and an interpretation. Can you make the distinction?

The idea is that when we describe something in the ELC, we want to make the description as detailed as possible. It is something we are able to observe. This part of the workshop was intended to help attendees make a distinction between description and interpretation because we are so used to mixing them. The idea is that by simply describing, we are able to get the distance we need to make constructive judgments about what happened, which leads us into the next stage of the cycle: interpretation.

From the handout you can see that groups were asked to generate as many possible reasons as to why they thought that moment occurred, and also guess what that means for teaching and learning in general. An experience contains many dimensions, and this stage allows us to look at it from this perspective. It is not enough to guess one reason and move on the action plan. The interpretation stage asks you to exhaust all possibilities (time, linguistic challenges, culture, teacher behavior, student’s life…) so that your action plan has a stronger foundation. It was on this foundation that attendees then created their own SMART action plans (see slides 7 through 10) for future encounters with a similar experience.

What did I learn about my image?

I like my image of reflective practice. It works for me, and I know it works for some of my colleagues (one of these being Michael Griffin who did a “remix” of my presentation today). I got positive feedback from symposium attendees, but I’m still not sure that my vision of reflection stuck with them. I’m okay with this.

In my mind, if teachers are thinking and talking about teaching in constructive ways, then I’m happy. For me reflection is about raising one’s awareness. If you’re deepening your awareness about teaching and learning, I’d welcome a closer look at your image.

So what’s your image of reflective practice?