Researching Research & Learning via #iTDi

I was excited to blog about research for the latest iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) issue, Ongoing Research, because I knew it would kickstart my research into research. This is what iTDi does: it kickstarts your professional development. I’ve been involved with iTDi for almost two years now, and I have learned from various teachers from around the world, mostly from the comfort of my home. Each of them brings a fresh perspective to teaching, and the amount of inspiration they bring seems never-ending. For this latest issue, I had the privilege of writing alongside three of these inspiring teachers: Divya Madhavan, Kieran Dhunna Halliwell, and Nina Septina. Click here to read their insightful posts. I have a feeling you’ll learn something about research you probably hadn’t thought about, or maybe you’ll learn you aren’t alone in your worries about research. Either way, you’ll learn something new. Again, that’s what happens at iTDi: you learn and you grow.

Below is part of my post where I explore my understanding of Narrative Inquiry as an approach to research.  Follow this link to the iTDi blog to continue reading this post, and to find many posts about teaching and learning.  I also encourage you to sign up as a member of iTDi. There are no strings attached; the only strings are connections to amazing teachers.

iTDi Ongoing Research Banner

I have a craving to learn. Part of this craving is satisfied by writing about teaching and learning here on the iTDi blog as well as on my blog, and also by talking with my inspiring community of teachers, but sometimes I think I need more. I think of working towards a PhD. The idea of diving deep into my topics of interest – how reflective practice and compassionate communication intersect in teacher education – seems like it would satiate my appetite. However, my research into research methods always left a bad taste. I just couldn’t imagine myself crunching numbers. My areas of interest seem to be beyond equations (re: quantitative methods), and too big for what I understand about action research. Then finally, this part of my search was over.

After class one day, my colleague, Darryl Bautista, and I were talking about research, and I told him about my distaste. This was when he told me about his professional experience with narrative inquiry as an approach.  And just like that, the world of research opened itself to me. What follows is a description of where my ongoing research begins: in discovering narrative inquiry. (…)

Related Link

Synchronicity Visits a Teacher – This is the post I wrote while I was doing my research for the issue. I learned that Throwing Back Tokens has a story that needs to be explored.

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.


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.


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

Reflective Practice Challenge 2: Grammar, Tech, Feelings and Needs

Reflective Practice (RP) Challenge 2


strongly disagree               disagree                      agree                   strongly agree

For John Pfordresher’s 2nd RP challenge (and his response), he asks us to share our opinions on the three statements below in relation to the scale above. I’ve done my best to respond to all three, but have weighed in most heavily on number three since it is my biggest area of interest.  If you haven’t joined the challenge, feel free to jump in here, or join the latest challenge, rpc 3: description.

1) Teachers must teach grammar explicitly if learners are to acquire language effectively.

I tend to approach teaching grammar more inductively, and I think that has a lot to do with the people I teach: English teachers in Korea. They do explicit grammar very well (I’m not sure what that would look like on a sliding scale of English teachers in the world ;) ), and I just don’t think it’s my place to stay on the path when they come our course. I want to help them see there is another way to approach learning English. When there is a need for more explicit explorations, we go there. I think a balance between both is important for my learners, and how the scales tip often depends on who is in the class.

I don’t feel I can add much more to the discussion that hasn’t already been eloquently stated by my colleagues who have completed this part of the challenge. Anne Hendler offers a list of questions that I think are important to ask before jumping to any section of the scale. David Harbinson offers a great explanation of why he strongly disagrees with this statement that I also connect to. As with all absolutes though, it’s easy to see there is a lot of grey area.

2) Teachers who don’t utilize technology in class are doing a disservice to their students.

I want to dive into statement #3, so I’ll cheat a bit and defer to the questions Anne offers in her response, the thoughts David shares in his, the sci-fi inspired exploration John reflects on in, #edtech, star trek and the matrix, and Hana Ticha’s link to his thoughts in Reflective Practice Mission Statement 2.

This list was created by Mary Scholl at Centro Espiral Mana, and you can find it here
This list was created by Mary Scholl at Centro Espiral Mana, and you can find it here

3) Teachers have to understand the correlation between student feelings and student needs to be effective.

My understanding of this statement is that at any given moment, a student will behave a certain way, and this reaction is married to a need they have at that moment. For example, if a student is sleeping in class, he probably has a need for sleep. Pretty simple.

But what about a reaction that doesn’t demonstrate the need so clearly? What if a student is not participating in a mingle activity, and is just standing alone in a space that offers more privacy than is required at that moment? What need is he trying to meet by reacting this way? This requires a bit of guesswork, and it can begin at the feelings level. Maybe the student feels nervous to talk to others. Maybe he feels confused about the task. Maybe he feels cautious. Depending on the feeling, we have a clue into the need this student is trying to satisfy.

If he is feeling nervous, then maybe he needs companionship. He could do the task with much more ease if he knew at least one person in class. In relation to confusion, maybe he needs clarity about what it means to mingle. The concept of mingling might not be something he knows how to do. And if he feels cautious, maybe he just needs space or a bit more time to get started. Maybe he needs a bit of consideration for his process. These are the needs that Anne pointed to in her post and that list of these needs can be found here. I am also reposting the quote Anne found because I think it really helps formulate what I am trying to get to (thank you Anne!):

“Needs are more than the things we can’t live without.  They represent our values, wants, desires and preferences for a happier and/or more meaningful experience as a human.  Although we have different needs in differing amounts at different times, they are universal in all of us.  When they are unmet, we experience feelings… when they are met, we experience feelings.”

Now back to the original statement. Do teachers need to be able to make these connections to be effective teachers? It depends on your beliefs about effectiveness. In a classroom environment, I believe we learn better when we feel a sense of safety and community. Depending on the composition of your class (amount of students, scheduling, age group…) this will be more or less challenging to foster. If effectiveness comes from this perspective, I think when it comes to building a sense community (trying to develop rapport between the students as well as between the teacher and students), having the awareness of the feeling/need relationship can be quite beneficial. I’m not sure teachers need to be able to make it as a explicit as I did above, but I have a sense that a teacher who is able to tune in to what students are feeling and needing will be able to provide a more fruitful learning environment.  When I read Juan Uribe’s blog, and especially his recent post on the iTDi blog, I imagine he is a teacher who is aware of this relationship. I have a feeling that many teachers out there already are but may not describe it this way.

I’m curious to know what you think about my take on no. 3. Does it resonate with your understanding of the statement? How would you describe your understanding of the statement?

*I’m currently writing an article on the subject of learning English via compassionate communication, and feelings and needs recognition is one of the tasks, so the process of writing this post has been very helpful. Thank you for giving me the space to dig in and to motivate myself to keep writing.

Reflective Practice Mission Statement: Self and Community

Before sharing my reflective practice (RP) mission statements (yes, there are two), a bit of gratitude and history. I want to thank John Pfodresher for putting the RP challenge out there. It has been inspiring to see all the responses (Ann LosevaAnne HendlerHana TichaDavid Harbinson and Rose Bard), and it was just the reflective boost I needed to get ready for the new semester. Also, a big thank you to Anne H. for laying out what exactly entails a mission statement. As I wrote the statements below, I kept going back to her research. I’m not sure my statements meet the criteria, but I feel pretty happy with what came out. Finally, gratitude to a fantastic reflective blogger and friend, Zhenya Polosatova (I recommend reading her “25 Honest Reasons Why I Started this Blog” post. You might find another motivating challenge there.). Because of her comment on my last blog post, Compassion Training: Trying Not to Fall in the Hole, I realized that my “Self” mission statement was pretty much already done.

And now, my mission statements!

RP Mission Statement: Self

I reflect because I want to create moments that bring optimal growth for everyone, including me. The word reflect, for me, is synonymous with “write”, “meditate”, or “discuss with friends and colleagues.” Sometimes it is a rigorous analysis of a moment, and sometimes it is a playful, more organic, exploration. I reflect to get a better understanding of how I affect people (teachers, learners, colleagues, friends…), to understand how they impact others (teachers, learners, colleagues, friends…), and how that impact might impact others (teachers, learners, colleagues, friends…). This is the cycle I reflect on. The impact (affect) could be in connection to relationships, communication, language acquisition and all the other complex dynamics that go into living (teaching).  In order to do this circular dance in a healthy way, I must be kind and compassionate with myself. For this reason my reflection includes meditation and mindfulness practice. I do this because my larger RP mission is be compassionate with others so that the dance keeps going at this life-giving pace.

That all being said, I’d like to clarify that I am not a missionary of any sort. :) I honour and support all RP perspectives.

RP mission statement brainstorm

RP Mission Statement: Community

Background, brainstorm, warmup

A reflective teaching community is not something that is easy to define. It is a dynamic organism. It’s dynamic because of all the unique experiences, the creative ways of looking at a moment, the intriguing perspectives, and most importantly, the honest questions that everyone brings. A reflective community is a place where you can throw hard (scary) questions and feel confident they will find a soft landing in a space with a few answers, and most likely, more questions. At least that has been my experience with the Daegu RP Special Interest Group (RPSIG). Almost everyone who comes to an RP meeting is interested in developing their sense of understanding what is going on in the classroom. For that matter, the same could be said of my other RP community: RP online (#RPPLN?).  What I have felt within my community is what I want to bring.

Now the statement:

My desire as a member of these RP communities is to not only bring in what I wrote in my “RP Self” statement, but I would also like to facilitate a safe, open, playful, creative, and fluid space where people can bring their thoughts, fears, questions, passions, and experiences. I’ve noticed that the most valuable skill I could bring to an RP group is supporting discussions as they unfold. We all agree that we are at the meeting, or having an online conversation, because we want to talk and learn about teaching and learning. I sense that we are all on equal footing: I am not here to teach you; I am here to listen to you and to share with you. We want to grow and learn together. This will happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes it will be rigorously systematic, and sometimes it will be colourful and creative. It all depends on who is having the conversation. I want to keep the lines of communication open and clear so everyone can take something valuable with them.

I think these were more of a conversation with myself than mission statements. It leaves room for growth and adaptation. Isn’t that RP anyway? :)

Happy reflecting!

Our Reflective Community

You know that feeling when everything comes together at the right moment? I’m experiencing one of these moments right now.

A year ago I was asked if I was interested in organizing a “branch” of the KOTESOL Reflective Practice (RP) Special Interest Group (SIG) in Daegu. I said no. I just didn’t have the space in my life, so I turned down the idea.

Well, last Saturday, with the inspiring support (and nudging) of my friend and colleague KongJu (Princess) Suh, I facilitated our first Daegu RP-SIG meeting. A year after the initial request, the moment was right. There are some things that are just stronger than you, and the energy of the reflective teacher’s community here in Korea is one of these things.

Over a year ago, the RP-SIG was created by Michael Griffin (Mike), Manpal Sahota and Kevin Giddens. Since then, the Seoul RP-SIG, along with Daejeon’s group, has been very successful in raising the awareness of teachers from all professional backgrounds about the concept of reflective practice. Although I’ve supported the SIG by presenting about reflection at a few conferences, the more I heard about what was going on during the monthly meetings, the more excited I got about starting something in Daegu.

what’s the RP-SIG all about?

Seoul RP-SIG meeting (Mike facilitating)

In his article, The Reflective Practice SIG: What Is It? How
Can It Help You?, in the Spring 2012, TEC (The English Connection) News, Mike gives us a clear image of the SIG’s vision.

It seems to me that professional development often amounts to one person at the front of the room telling others how and why they should do something. In the RP-SIG, we try to get away from that and have members come to their own conclusions about their own teaching practices. It was with this vision of professional development in mind that we held the first RP-SIG meeting in February, 2011. The RP-SIG’s purpose is (a) to challenge our perceptions of who we are and what we do, (b) to build strategies to become a more aware educator, and (c) to share and learn through each others’ experiences and beliefs.

Challenging perceptions? Becoming a more aware educator? Sharing and learning through experiences and beliefs? Who wouldn’t want to be part of such a rich community? Mike definitely makes a convincing case for anyone who wants to start such a community of teachers.

Princess’ Daegu KOTESOL workshop on how to teach writing to Korean high school students

This community is what my nudger, Princess, was hoping to see in Daegu. One evening in March over dinner — after we had spent a few hours working on the presentation she was going to give on how to teach writing to high school students — Princess shared her dream of starting a group where English teachers could come together and talk about teaching. At this point, I was more keen about the idea of launching the SIG. We talked and got quite excited about it. But we wanted to be sure we could give it our all, so we decided to think it over and make it happen when the time was right. Three weeks ago, Princess called me and the plans for last Saturday were set in motion.

Model of an RP-SIG meeting

Knowing about Mike’s success in facilitating the Seoul RP-SIG meetings, I wanted to follow his model. He shares the meeting’s structure in the TEC News:

A typical RP-SIG meeting consists of  four parts: (a) ice-breaker – an interactive warming up session to break the ice, (b) check-in – groups of 3 or 4 discuss personal reflective goals, (c) discussion – facilitator leads group discussion to promote reflective practice, and (d) check-out – reaffirmation of personal goals and direction. We hope that members can take the ideas, thoughts, and experiences from the meetings and transfer them to their own contexts.

Since it was our first meeting, the nine teachers in attendance checked-in by introducing themselves and explained a bit about why they wanted to be part of the SIG. A few said they felt like they were becoming lazy in their teaching practices and wanted to feel better about teaching.

We then moved into the discussion part of the meeting where I decided to follow the model I had presented about a few weeks earlier (see An Image of Reflection: learning from my RP workshop). In pairs, we each shared a teaching/learning moment and explored it via the Experiential Learning Cycle. Our partner’s role was to help keep us focused by asking questions that pertained to each stage (ie: description stage – How many students were there? How big is the class? Was it a hot day?). Between each stage we regrouped and discussed how we felt about the process. This was extremely rich in that it allowed us to get a deeper understanding of the process while also getting a deeper understanding of our teaching/learning moment.

The meeting ended with the check-out. We made reflection goals for the month, shared them with each other, and decided we would share the results of our goal regardless of whether or not we were able to accomplish it. The important point is we are here to support each other as reflective teachers no matter what the results.

The beginning for us, how about for you?

So this is the beginning of our reflective community in Daegu! I’m very excited to see where we will go, but more importantly I’m very happy to be part of the larger RP community. Throughout its first year, the RP-SIG has been incredibly supportive, inspiring, and motivating. Teachers now have a place where they can share their experiences and expand there ideas in a safe environment.

I hope this post has given you more clarity on what a reflective teaching community can look like. Maybe you are now also inspired to start your own group. The reflective vibe is quite contagious. If you do decide to start a group, let us know! We’d love to help you out.

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?