The constraint of frameworks (or how the rules we live by take away our creative freedom)

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it’s a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don’t we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it's a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don't we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?
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My framework geek-out story

If you’ve been in one of my classes, if you’ve seen me present, if you’ve been in one of the self-development groups I facilitated, or if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a fan of certain learning frameworks. You might even say that I was a framework crusader. The two main frameworks I’ve preached are the “observation, feelings, needs, request” communicative framework of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) which is a reflective practice framework used for personal and professional development. The combination of these frameworks was even the central theme of a chapter I wrote for a book that was published last year.

My framework shame story

But what I couldn’t articulate for a long time was how I often felt constrained by these frameworks. It was Jadah Sellner’s interview with Elizabeth DiAlto on the Untamed the Wild Soul Podcast that helped me pinpoint the dissonance I felt. In the interview, Elizabeth gives a brilliant explanation (at 28:14) of why people might feel as I do:

There is a lot of danger with frameworks and formulas because they will work for some people. Some people are built to follow them. So many are not. And the people who aren’t rarely go, “Oh, that wasn’t the framework for me.” They’re usually like, “What’s wrong with me? I’m the worst.” They compare themselves to all the people it does work for, when it’s just (…) you’re a uniquely designed person. You’ve got to figure out your own way.

This! A version of this inner dialogue had been going on for years. I especially felt it in relation to NVC. The story was usually along the lines of me not being compassionate enough, not enough of a good listener, or that I didn’t use the framework well enough. At some points I even considered myself a fraud for writing or talking about NVC. Who was I to promote NVC when I felt challenged in using the framework in personal relationships?

When I first learned about the ELC, and during the first four years of this blog, I used it anytime I faced a challenge in my teaching. It was super helpful. But after a while, I started to doubt myself and avoided using it to reflect on my teaching. Then I judged myself for not using it, and eventually the inner dialogue was that I wasn’t a good teacher.

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it's a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don't we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?
Click image to share on Pinterest.
My NEW story

Now that I’ve stepped back from both, and took some time to follow my own creative flow, I can see how I didn’t feel free to fully express myself within these frameworks . At first, they were exactly what I needed. They helped me navigate unfamiliar territory, and helped me out of some challenging situations. But as my self-awareness grew, and as I made my own path, the frameworks felt constrictive. I felt like a snake who was choosing to remain in its old skin.

Of course this was all self-inflicted. I didn’t have to follow these frameworks. I chose to because of an older story: others know better than me. I was looking outside myself for a way to live a good life, a better life, when the truth is everything I’ve ever needed has always been inside of me (as Elizabeth always says), and the life that I have now is good as it is.

Frameworks can provide a solid foundation for those who are starting a new career or who are exploring new concepts. This is how they helped me. However, it’s important to remember that I can take what I want from these frameworks, and I can leave behind what doesn’t work. In doing this, I create my own framework: the framework of my own wildly unique life.

Do you have a similar story with frameworks, formulas, modalities, or systems? Which story are you in right now: the geek-out, the shame, or the new story?


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Reflective Practice Challenge – Analysis (as seen on Observing the Class)

The topic of this Reflective Practice Challenge is one that is near and dear to me. I often turn to an analysis of feelings and needs when I am trying to make sense of a problem or challenge in class or in life. I am also writing a article on the topic, and so I want to highlight *the post I wrote for Observing the Class on my blog as well. John, thank you for the opportunity to share, and also thank you for your very kind and generous introduction.

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Needs & Feelings Analysis

In the last Reflective Practice (RP) Challenge (link) we started at the first stage of the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) and described a moment in our classrooms or workplace. The next stage in the ELC is what some might call the Interpretation stage. However, for the purposes of this challenge, we will divide our interpretation of our moment into two separate parts: Analysis and Generalization. The Generalization will come later in the challenge. For now, I’ll explain how we can move forward into Analysis. (…)

Click the original post, rpc – analysis to read the rest of the challenge.

*My intention was to “reblog” this post so that I could meet my “Post a Week 2014” goal, but I had technical difficulties, and so now I’m just cutting and pasting.

Reflective Practice Challenge 3: Describing a Moment

It has taken me while to think of a moment that I wanted to use for the most recent RP challenge as set out by John Pfordresher

Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom. Not an entire lesson, but a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).

Perhaps a student was sleeping in class, or being disruptive or inattentive. Perhaps we, the teacher, reacted to a specific stimuli in an unhelpful way. Maybe someone walked in on a lesson and caused a negative disruption to us or our students.

Our task today is to take this negative interaction and describe it. It is important that we describe and describe only.

I have chosen a moment, but I will say up front, I did not follow John’s instructions. Please read David Harbinson, Anne Hendler, and Hana Ticha’s (first and second post) descriptions. They followed John’s instructions wonderfully, and I highly recommend clicking on their links. Their descriptions describe those raw moments of vulnerability that make teaching one of the scariest and most exhilarating professions out there. 

What I have decided to do instead is change the word “negative” into “challenging”, and the interaction will be less about a learner and I sharing words or actions, but more of me observing an interaction between two teacher-trainees that gave me pause. It is a moment that is significant to me and my future work with teachers, and so I need this space to learn more about what is going on and what I can do in the future. It is a moment that I face each semester.

Apologies in advance for the length. This description is reminiscent of my graduate study days. The more the better seemed to be the motto back then.

Setting up the description:

This was the second time I heard him/her share this story in 24 hours. The first time was during his/her entrance interview. And to add more depth to why I chose this moment, I heard him/her share this story two more times in the following 12 hours. I had only met him/her 24 hours before the moment I am going to share with you.

The description:

Learning my students
Learning my students

It was the first full day of classes and this moment happened during the last class of the day. The teachers had just done a gallery walk where they discussed various famous quotes about learning and teaching. After this 15 minute small group discussion, I asked the teachers to finish the following sentence on a piece of paper: I want to be a teacher who… because… After finishing their sentences, they shared with their partner.

I wanted them to do this for two reasons. One reason is that the course is about learning different strategies and approaches to teaching. I wanted to give them the space to articulate what this might look like for them. By writing this sentence, they can start thinking about why they are in our course, and also start taking the steps to become that teacher. The other reason I wanted to do this was to give them the space to share their hopes and challenges. By sharing these sentences with someone else, they may start feeling part of a community. They came to the course alone, and it is important to their development as teachers that they don’t feel alone during the course. This is a description of my thought process for the activity.

As two teachers were sharing, I heard one (Teacher A) say to the other (Teacher B), “I never wanted to be a teacher. I was forced to be a teacher by my father.” Teacher B listened attentively and asked questions. I couldn’t hear exactly what Teacher B was asking, but I could see that she/he was facing Teacher A and looking at him/her with openness. Teacher B’s arms were not crossed but at his/her side, with one arm leaning on the desk. He/she looked at Teacher B in the eyes the way a friend does when they are listening to you share something that is difficult. When Teacher A spoke, Teacher B nodded and looked at Teacher A.

At one point, I heard Teacher A say, “I am in this course because I almost quit last year. I have a family and I can’t quit.” I’m not sure when he/she said this. And I’m not sure how Teacher B responded. It was hard to hear details with 14 other teachers talking, and I also didn’t want to intrude on their personal exchange.

As I walked around, my mind went to Teacher A. I felt worried about him/her. I wondered how he/she would behave in the course. Would he/she be up for all the tasks ahead? I wondered how he/she would impact the other teachers. Would he/she bring them down? I wondered what he/she needed from me and the other trainers, and what I could give back without spending all my energy. I felt nervous because this was the second time I heard him/her say this and I thought he/she might need a lot of care and I wondered if I was ready for the possible task.

The pair discussions lasted about 15 minutes. During this time, I walked a bit in the middle of the classroom (16 teachers sitting at 16 individual desks set up in a horseshoe shape) or stayed at the front. It was hard to walk around the class because there were extra desks and the class wasn’t accommodating much more. I could hear bits and pieces of what everyone was sharing. Everyone looked engaged as I didn’t see any pair sitting silently. Everyone was sharing something, or at least listening to someone share.

Once the discussion was over, I thanked them for sharing some challenging stories as well as their hopes, and then we moved on to looking at what the course might offer them by looking at a list of course objectives.

As I reread the description, I’m curious to know how the rest of the challenge will go. It doesn’t feel like a juicy description where I can dig in deep. No one was behaving badly or in a way that brings up thoughts of classroom management or lesson design in the classical sense. However, I know I have a lot to learn from this. Perhaps it isn’t the moment itself, but the symbolism of the moment that means more to me. But I shouldn’t go to this place yet. I’ll save that for challenge No. 4.

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Previous posts I’ve written on the topic of description:

Week 1 at Centro Espiral Mana, SIT TESOL

Centro Espiral Mana - February 2013

Fourteen teachers from Chile, Panama, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru and Costa Rica are at the Centro Espiral Mana in El Invu, Costa Rica working to achieve their goal of receiving the SIT TESOL certificate. We’ve been here for two weeks. My journey is different from theirs. I’m here training to be an SIT TESOL trainer. Training here has been a dream of mine for a few years now, and I’m happy to say that the experience stands up to that dream (see my last iTDi blog post to read more about this dream). I’m grateful for all the learning and would like to share a bit of it with you.

Looking back on my first week at Centro Espiral Mana, there are three sessions that stand out, and that have set the tone for my time here:  Amanda Rossi’s session on ECRIF (Encounter, Clarify, Remember, Internalize, Fluently Use – a learning framework created by Mary Scholl, the founder and director of Espiral Mana, and Joshua Kurzweil); Roger Ramirez’ session on the experiential learning cycle (ELC); and Mary Scholl’s session on Compassionate Communication (see Nonviolent Communication/NVC). Not only have these sessions set the tone for me, but I now realize they are the foundation of the transformative process participants experience from day one at this center. The themes that run through all these sessions are a focus on the learner and learning, and an integration of this focus within the community of practice that is cultivated here. These themes hinge on the positive regard that each of these trainers hold for the participants and the content of this course.

“You are being ECRIFed.”

“You can ECRIF it.” – referring to other methodologies we may be familiar with.

“You’re going to ECRIF your ECRIF.”

Amanda

Experiencing Amanda’s processing/explanation of ECRIF (see chapter 2 and 3 in Understanding Teaching Through Learning) was when I realized the depth of this learning/teaching framework. It isn’t only about planning a language lesson; it’s a way to approach learning on a larger scale. As I type this, a tinge of embarrassment flows through me because it seems so obvious — but the fact is that it wasn’t. Yes, when I first studied this framework, I understood how this framework focuses on the learner, but for some reason my image of that learner was a student in a language classroom. Perhaps I just put ECRIF next to other frameworks such as PPP and PDP. These are frameworks that have long been promoted in language classrooms, but I have never made the connection between these and real life. Once Amanda said those quotes above, something clicked within me: ECRIF goes beyond the language classroom. It is a model for learning in general, and this is what we experience each day, almost each moment, at this center. We encounter new information. We try to fluently use it, and come back to a place where we have to try and consciously remember what we’re doing. We may internalize a few things, and at some we may come to a place where we can fluently use the skills we learned here. Unlike a language lesson, we won’t experience this within a 50-minute timeframe. Some of us may not even see the end of the ECRIF pattern until we have left these plush green surroundings.  But some day, with enough doing and reflecting, we will finish the cycle, and of course begin it again when we encounter another experience. The cycle never truly ends.

“You’re becoming Deweys. You’ll become your own theorists.”

“You decide where you’re going. We just provide the container.”

“We try to create an environment where feedback is a gift.”

Roger

Roger’s ELC session was the missing link that I had been looking for quite some time. Hearing such confidence and wisdom behind these beliefs helped me understand what I had been so curious to see in action for the past five years. Coming out of my MA studies, and having done the online section of this training up process, I created my own ideas around reflection and the ELC. I tried my best to implement this into our teacher-training course back in Korea, but I always felt I fell short. Making the connection between what Roger was saying and the session on ECRIF, was eye-opening. The ELC gives us the tools to look at the learning process from a bird’s eye view: we hover above an experience, get a clear picture, and from here experiment with ways to swoop in. In this TESOL course, participants experience ECRIF from many different perspectives, and by taking these experiences through the ELC, they are able to create their own theories of learning and teaching. By combining these two frameworks, a transformative process of learning begins.

Roger also helped me see is that the ELC is part of everything that happens at this center – and this center is its community. When we integrate the ELC with community, this is when experience is celebrated and instigates real change. Participants explore their experiences by bouncing observations, theories and objectives off each other. Through meaningful and compassionate feedback, they learn to see themselves in new ways. The community helps them see things they couldn’t see before.

~ Seeing through the lens of compassionate communication ~

Mary

Mary’s session on compassionate communication was a sweet gift. My biggest reason for coming here was because I was curious to learn how she managed to integrate compassionate communication into teacher education. I saw glimpses of it in the first three days of this course: in the way Roger approached the education of this center; in the way Amanda helped me see the community of Espiral Mana; and in the way Mary spoke to participants. But when I saw how she connected the ELC to compassionate communication another light bulb went off. Because the participants had three days implicitly experiencing the ELC, I think connecting it to compassionate communication created a space for the participants to feel open to the concept. Having already experienced feedback on their teaching, and the empathy and positive regard with which trainers here facilitate the process, participants may have started seeing how compassion is part of the program at this center. As teachers, they also have a sense that being present to their students’ feelings and needs is an important part of teaching. However, they may not have had many opportunities to purposefully see through these lenses. They may not have been given these glasses. Mary gave them these glasses and has set up the space for compassion to come through all they experience here.

I’m excited about getting to the “F” of the learning that Amanda, Roger and Mary have scaffolded for me in these three moments and in all that they do. I am incredibly grateful for their guidance and support.

Related articles:

Carol Rodgers – Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking 

Carol Rodgers – Seeing Student Learning

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?

KOTESOL Workshop – Reflective Practice: Formulating Your Experience

Reflection. It’s a hot word in the ELT world. What I find interesting is that in all my Twitter curating, Google Alerts, and blogosphere explorations, I’ve discovered that educators seem to attach different meanings to the term. For some it’s about mulling over something that happened in class; for others it’s an in depth exploration of a teaching/learning experience. I find myself connecting more to the perspective of the second camp.

When I think of reflective practice, I immediately refer to the experiential learning cycle. I believe that when teachers reflect on an experience using this model, they are better equipped to address their future teaching/learning needs. My own experience with this cycle has helped me develop into a more confident teacher who sees successes and faults as simple launching points for self-improvement.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to share my perspective on this reflective cycle at the KOTESOL Busan Reflective Practice Symposium next Saturday, April 21. Among a group of other reflective practitioners, including my good friend Michael Griffin, I’ll be conducting a workshop that hopes to shed light on this form of reflection. Below is the workshop’s abstract:

Reflective Practice: Formulating Your Experience

Reflective practice can be a magic formula for better teaching, but the trick is that you are the only one who possesses the knowledge to make it work. Luckily, this formula – based on the Experiential Learning Cycle (see Dewey, Kolb, and Rodgers) – is not out of reach. During the workshop, attendees will reflect on a classroom experience by taking it through each step of the cycle: description, interpretation/analysis, and action planning. With the guidance of the facilitator, attendees will gain clarity into each step, as well as insight into the value of pausing and taking a good look at each of these points. Attendees can expect to leave the workshop with a solid understanding of how to use the Experiential Learning Cycle to deepen their reflective practice and their awareness of what goes on in their classroom. With this awareness, it is the facilitator’s hope that attendees will realize how the Experiential Learning Cycle can make a positive difference in their teaching and learning.

Even if you can’t make it to the symposium, I am grateful for your support. Thank you!

Linking Experiences: How We Learn to Teach

What do Penny Ur, Willy Cardoso, and James E. Zull have in common? They all presented at the 2012 IATEFL Conference, and they all referenced the connection between reflecting on experience and learning.

If you know me, or my blog, you know that I’m quite passionate about the subject of reflective teaching. I’ve done a few presentations/workshops on the subject, and will soon be doing another at the KOTESOL Reflective Practice Symposium in Busan on April 21. I’m very excited about this, especially since I’ll be in the good company of friend and reflective practitioner, Michael Griffin.

This shameless plug is simply to say that when I saw these three speakers on Glasgow IATEFL Online, my mind quickly made links to how their individual takes on teaching and learning connected to my understanding of the experiential learning cycle and reflective practice. Here are the links I noticed.

Continue reading “Linking Experiences: How We Learn to Teach”