40 things I learned this year

Turns out 2017 may have been just as magical as 1977. I was born in 1977, and in a way, I was reborn in 2017. This is evident from the list you’ll see below. This is also the year our first child will be born. Like I said, pretty magical.

I’d love to know which listed lesson stood out for you, so please leave me a comment. It would be fun to write a full blog post on that particular topic. These were hard to boil down to only a few sentences!

A large portion of what I’ve learned this year comes from the alchemy of the Ayurveda Yoga Teacher Training (Leadership) course; the Emerge mentorship program with Elizabeth DiAlto and 21 other women; and Terri Cole‘s Real Love Revolution course. I’ve also learned a great deal from my baby-to-be. There’s nothing like a body forming in your womb for you to gain perspective. Talk about alchemy.

In no particular order (except that the first one pretty much encompasses them all), here we go!

1. Everything I’ve ever needed has always been inside of me.

2. Being part of a community who is on the same page is necessary for me to live the abundant life I want. Without the supportive and loving women and men I’ve surrounded myself with this year, I never could have become the person I am now.

3. Asking for help is helpful! That’s why this world is full of people with their own unique strengths: to help each other.

4. Having an accountability partner who helps keep my spiritual, emotional, and professional goals in check is conducive to success. I’m so grateful for mine, April Monique. Check out the important work she’s doing with helping people live whole, brave, and loving lives.

5. When I put myself out there, I get positive results. Sure, I may get negative reactions, but it’s by expressing myself and connecting with others that life emerges. It’s exciting stuff! It’s good to dream, but I also have to do.

6. Witnessing someone’s suffering is more helpful than saying “the right thing”. Hearing “I witness your suffering,” or “I witness you during this challenging time,” does something pretty miraculous to the heart.

7. Healthy boundaries are incredibly important and necessary in order to live a calm and content life.

8. Codependency ruins relationships. It’s a common, and often accepted, way to function, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You also don’t have to be in a relationship with someone who is an alcoholic, a drug addict, or who is highly neglectful for you exhibit codependent behaviour.

9. It’s helpful to know the difference between discernment and judgment. Judgment puts power outside of me. Discernment puts power within me.

10. There are topics I can talk about with some people but not with others. Knowing the difference saves me energy.

11. Letting people have their own experience, and relinquishing control over others or outcomes, keeps me from feeling stressed and anxious.

12. Confidence comes from evidence.

13. I don’t need to be an expert. I can own what I know now and even teach from this place. A fifth grader can teach a fourth grader.

14. There’s power in the pause.

15. When I do things that don’t resonate with my heart, I end up feeling resentful. I know I’m feeling resentful when I blame others or I complain about the environment I’m in. Whenever I feel resentful about a person or project, it’s a good sign I need to get out of the situation or relationship, or at least change my approach to it.

16. Perfectionism is a sign I’m not dealing with my uncomfortable feelings.

17. I have more to learn about surrendering to and receiving the natural flow of the Universe, but it’s one of my most intriguing points of growth.

18. When I speak my truth and I don’t fear what others will say, I feel so much more energized and ready to do more work than if I have to conform to what I think others want me to do. Doesn’t that sound so convoluted? That’s because it is. Just be you.

19. If I’m worried about how much people are judging me, it usually means I’m judging others as much.

20. Being able to clearly articulate my values has helped me put in perspective concepts that have challenged me, and helps me make better decisions about my life.

21. Life is full of paradoxes and the more I accept this, the happier I am.

22. When I let go of trying to control the outcome, I allow miracles to happen.

23. It’s okay for me to change my mind if the decision I made doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t mean I’m not reliable. It means I know myself, and I’m evolving.

24. All I need to do to make a decision is listen to my intuition, but this listening takes practice.

25. Grounding myself in my body is essential to my mental health. It helps me tune into my intuition so I can make decisions I can stand by.

26. It’s important to have people in my life to honestly and openly talk about my problems, but true answers come from within.

27. The opinion of others can derail me quickly, so it’s really not helpful to ask for it.

28. We project of our feelings and experiences onto other people, and it’s important to check in to see if the story we tell ourselves is actually true. Our imaginations can get us into trouble.

29. While culture brings so much beauty and diversity to the world, and it should be respected in many ways, it isn’t something we need to put on a pedestal. It can brainwash us into believing certain things about ourselves that probably aren’t true.

30. I can’t get over the ridiculous idea that’s been perpetuated in most cultures for years: that women are weak. Women’s bodies are the embodiment of strength an resiliency. We go through menstrual cycles (not to mention everything that goes along with this), pregnancy, and birth, and come back from all this kicking more ass. How is this weak?

31. I’m in awe of the female body. It’s an example of the ultimate surrender. I’m not doing anything except eating, resting, and exercising, and my body is creating a human.

32. It’s taken pregnancy to help me understand that my body is pivotal to my self-development.

33. Working with my body improves my mental health. Doing a daily breathing and movement practice makes me feel calmer, more relaxed, and more present.

34. Baby moons are a thing, and I’m glad we learned about this as a way to transition into parenthood. Life will never be the same, and it was important to honour that.

Guam – August 2017
35. The menstrual cycle is a superpower, and I’m grateful I can experience its wisdom.

36. It’s okay, and healthy, to cry. I still struggle with this — I still apologize when I cry — but I hold back less than I did. Feeling shame for crying is not helpful for anyone.

37. When I don’t allow myself to feel feelings, most importantly the “ugly” ones, they control me.

38. Looking at the dark spots in my life is the only way to make room for lighter moments. It’s worth honestly looking at mistakes I’ve made or pain I may have caused. Having this witnessed by someone I trust helps make that light come in more clearly. It removes blocks I didn’t even know existed.

39. I have a lot to learn about equality, diversity, and inclusivity.

40. Forty feels fabulous.

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Questions I ask myself before class

I’m currently working on a project that asks me to question what teachers may need to consider and do in order to confidently teach an English language class. To do this, I wrote a list of questions that have come to my mind during my years of teaching, and thought it might be of use to you as well. The list below relates to questions I try to ask myself before class, with “before” being subjective to time. I also intend to create a list of what I think about during and after class.

  • Individual learners – Who are my learners? What do they already know about English? What are their interests in life? Why are they here? How do they feel today? What’s going on in their lives that might affect their time here?
  • Group dynamics – Do the learners get along? What can I do to create a community (collaborative rather than competitive)? What are the cultural dynamics at play? How do the learners relate to me?
  • Classroom dynamics – Is the layout conducive to discussions or the tasks I have in mind? From what I know about them (how they may feel today or their personal preferences), or based on the task I have planned, will they need to move around? How can I display visuals?
  • Materials – Do they have a textbook (assigned audio)? Will I use what’s in it or will supplement it? Will I disregard parts of the chapter? Will I create my own material? Will they create their own material? If so, with what and how? Will I tell them what to create or will they decide?
  • Language – Are we starting with target language in mind? How could I visually or conceptually clarify the language that comes up? Do I have examples or visuals (audio) to help clarify the language skill (i.e.: genre; communicative purpose; register)? Do I want to be explicit (deductive approach) or implicit (inductive approach) with my clarification, or both? Is metalanguage needed (thanks to Chia Suan Chong for this inspiration)?
  • The language lesson – How can I structure my lesson in a way that the learners feel supported yet also challenged? Do they need a heavily structured lesson or do they work well with a more laid back, organic approach? Writing skills – What do they need to know in order to write a successful text? What is the genre or purpose of the text? What kind of language (register, grammar, lexis…) is needed to write in this genre or to communicate a desired message? How much time will I give for thinking, planning, outlining, revising, editing, and sharing with the audience? Will they share their text, and if so with who and how? Reading and listening skills – Is the text meaningful to the learners? Do I need to pre-teach lexis? What language may they find challenging? What skills (prediction, scanning, skimming, listening for details or gist…) will be needed to complete the task? What questions can I ask to help them catch the main idea and specific details? Speaking- What are they trying to communicate? Is it a conversation or a presentation? Is the topic meaningful to the learners? What is the context (i.e.: what is appropriate or inappropriate  language)? Do they have a reason to use the language (i.e.: is someone listening and does that person have a reason to respond)? Do they have enough time to practice the language? How will I help them clarify the pronunciation? 4skills – How will I help learners balance accuracy and fluency? How will I deal with errors? Can they self or peer correct?
  • Approach – How does what I know about how languages are learned inform how I create opportunities for learning (i.e.: input theories, output theories, affective learning theories…)? How will my past experience with learning language inform my approach? What methodologies would would work best considering the needs of my learners (audio-lingual, CLT, TBL, grammar translation…)? How can I mix these up to serve them best?
  • Teacher (self and intentions) – How am I feeling today? What do I need? How do my past experiences influence today’s class, and what am I ready to do about it?

Now for the last question: what am I missing? If you notice I’ve missed an important question, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“How Do We Learn?” Isn’t This a Good Question for Teachers to Ask Themselves?

“Wow, that shirt simply screams, Josette.”

“Oh, those earrings are so you!”

Your friends may have qualified you with a certain look or style, and depending on your personality — or maybe just the time of day — you might feel annoyed by such comments as the ones above. Yet you may even feel pleased that your friends openly associate you with such good taste :P

I never thought I would receive a similar comment associated to my beliefs around teaching and learning. I’ll get to that comment soon, but first a little context.

Continue reading ““How Do We Learn?” Isn’t This a Good Question for Teachers to Ask Themselves?”

Learning No. 2: Motivation & Meaning & Vice Versa

The following is a little story of why the power of meaningful motivation is one of my top 5 learnings for 2010:

Scaffolding posterThe book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl came to me in three curious ways. Listening to a podcast on a trip home to Canada, I heard the speakers discussing Frankl’s work on the topic of living a meaningful life. As a teacher trainer, a language instructor, and an enthusiast of purposeful human connections, I often consider how meaning functions in our lives.

Then during one of my cherished trips to the used clothing and bookstore, Guy’s Frenchys, the bright blue title Man’s Search for Meaning popped up from the wooden bin of books for a loonie. Snatching it up from between the forgotten detective and romance novels, Frankl’s book followed me to South Korea where it lay on my shelf until three days ago.

During my daily walk on the mountain path behind my house, I listened to Daniel Pink‘s audio book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, which my good friend Hailey Tallman, an art therapist in the making, had recommended years ago. In addition to explaining how right-brain features such as inventiveness and empathy will direct the future, he also writes about how meaning is developing a greater presence in the lives of people today. It is at this stage of the audio book that he mentioned Viktor Frankl. Frankl had found me once again, and this is when I realized that this book, waiting for me on my shelf, connected to my experiences as a teacher.

Continue reading “Learning No. 2: Motivation & Meaning & Vice Versa”

The Teacher as the Archetypal Student

What do we expect from our teachers? Do we sometimes put them up on pedestals, expecting them to do no wrong? Or when they are faulted, do we judge them too harshly?

I know I look for a teacher to whom I can look up. Someone who is willing to be real: an honest soul. It is this honesty that begs the learner to search deeper within. The teacher archetype carries with her the promise of fresh, certain, transferable knowledge.

Yet despite this projected promise, what if the teacher thinks of herself as the archetypal student: the perpetual learner? Does she somehow disappoint her own students when she displays a learner’s naïveté? Does the student within the teacher sometimes hinder her capability to convey trust in fresh, certain, transferable knowledge?

I delicately balance these two archetypes; in spite of this, the student seems to be carrying more weight. The question then arises: will the student bring forth a greater honesty from within the teacher, or impregnate a sense of doubt in her own students?

The Writing Teacher’s Dance

I dance to balance.

I dance between teaching and letting go.

I dance between my advice and peer feedback.

I dance between homework and in-class writing.

I dance between reading and writing.

I dance between correction and silence.

I dance to balance.

Fall Feedback in Words

Keimyung University

Over the course of the last two weeks, I conducted interviews with my students as their midterm evaluation. I could definitely dedicate a reflective entry to this interview process, but I’ve decided to focus on the student feedback that I requested from each student after his or her interviews were over. This was the first time I requested feedback this semester.  In this post I’m interested in exploring how the students perceived the feedback and also what purpose it served for me.

After their individual interview, I gave each student a slip of paper with these two questions: What do you like about this Communication English (this is the name of the class as chosen by the Department of Liberal Education) class? What would you change/improve about this Communication English class? When I gave them the slip I gave them the choice to either include or omit their names. I gave them this choice because I felt it gave the chance to be open and honest.  I feared that if they felt they had to write their name they would not be critical. They might feel that being critical would negatively affect their grade.  I reminded them that their feedback wouldn’t be graded, and that I appreciated honest answers. I asked students to write their answers outside of class, and leave the paper on the desk at the back of the class when done.  While they were outside writing their answers, I continued interviewing other students.

Out of approximately two hundred students, the majority of answers to the first question resembled these; “I like communication with friends and professor and enjoy the class.” “Free talking.” “Game is interesting to study English.” “Every week change partner good!! because meet many friends.” “This English Communication class very interested. I’m English speak no good. But this class many speak chance very good. Thank you.”

Answers to the second question mostly looked like this, “Nothing. Thank you teacher.” however some provided insights such as, “detail explanation please.” “more communication with partner”, and two of my most advanced students were able to go even deeper, “You make teams when we have a class every week. I suggested you separate fixed group. Our class is big. I think you can save the time.” “I don’t know what to say…Ah! The more opportunities to participate in the class, the more confidence students can get.”

Some students seemed to interpret the second question as if I was asking how they could improve or change. For example, they answered, “speaking, listening and full of confidence.” “English communication ability improve.” “English. My bravery? Thank you LeBlanc.” Since I hadn’t given students prior indication that I would ask for feedback, this reaction was expected.

Keimyung University

If anything, I felt more confident about my teaching practice after reading their feedback. I realized that I was on the right track with group and partner activities.  I also learned that I need to make sure that I balance these activities with clear explanations of the language point. Some students may not be able to perform as well in groups and with partners because they don’t feel confident with the language point we are studying in class. I need to brush up on techniques that reinforce language, but don’t require students to go through a typical grammar lesson where they only do activities in their workbooks. Their feedback has helped me realize that they want to speak, but they also need more reinforcement with detailed explanations of the language point.

How can I create lessons provide explicit (deductive) and implicit (inductive) learning? I believe I have a tendency towards creating lessons that focus on implicit learning of the language, when the students might need more explicit language instructions. I’m not always spelling out the grammar rules, because I believe they have had enough exclusivly grammar-based lessons in their lives. However, now I realize that this may be part of their comfort zone, and could help them connect to the group/partner activities more confidently.  In future lessons I will work towards providing explicit instructions and activities at the beginning of lesson, and focus the rest of the time on partner or group activities. This will give them the chance to reflect on what they previously learned, and therefore they might feel more confident to use the language.  This is the scaffolding that is necessary for a successful speaking class.  Following this method, I hope students will increase their fluency.

I regret that I didn’t ask for feedback earlier in the semester. We only have four more lessons to go before the final exams. I believe that next time I will ask for feedback during week 4 or 5.  This would give me more time to tweak my lessons in order to meet their needs. Since our time is very limited, meeting their needs is crucial to their learning and could also increase motivation. The feedback also helps me enormously when deciding what to add to my lessons.

I’m left with one question: Was this the best way to ask for feedback? For some students they may have found it too difficult to put their feelings into words, and therefore opted for the easy, “Nothing”. For lower level students a scale from 1 to 10 might be more effective for receiving honest feedback. This is something I can experiment with in the future.

Keimyung University