Reflective Practice Group: A Facilitator’s Guide

Last September I decided to step away from the reflective practice group I had been organizing since 2012. It was time to focus my energy elsewhere. In order to help my colleagues take over, I created this guide. I thought it might also be helpful to others as well. Enjoy!

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Below you will find helpful information for coordinating and facilitating a reflective practice group meeting. If this is your first time coordinating or facilitating, I recommend reading the listed blog posts:

When leading a session, there are few elements to be aware of:

  • Participants and prospective participants
  • Facilitating the meeting from the beginning to the end of the meeting
  • Choosing and facilitating the topic of the meeting
  • Advertising each meeting
  • Location
  • Sharing and recording what has been discussed at the meeting

You will find more details about each element below.

Participants and prospective participants

As this is an open group, new members may attend. This is why we usually start a session with an icebreaker. In order to help them feel welcome to the group, it can be helpful to explain the aim of the group, and maybe just have a brief chat about what a typical meeting looks like. Anything you can do to help newcomers feel welcome and at ease will be great. The idea is that we want to make them feel included. Since many members have been attending for quite a while, a newcomer may feel out of place. Helping ease this sense will support them in coming back.

Here are a few things to consider prior to a meeting in case a new participant attends:

  • What will you share about the group?
  • What will you say to help them familiarize themselves?
  • What will you ask from them? (why are they here, what they would like?)
  • Asking for their contact information so you can share information about future meetings
  • Helping them access the Facebook group
Facilitating from the beginning to the end of the meeting

The most important role of the facilitator is to help keep the discussion going. In order to do this, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Remember your goal, but remain open – What do you want members to leave the meeting with? A skill? Knowledge?  Stay focused on your goal. If you notice the meeting is going in another direction, try to bring it back. However, don’t be so strict that you ignore valuable learning moments. A good RP meeting is one that helps people think and grow, and sometimes that means throwing away your plan.
  • Getting the meeting started –
    • It’s easy for members to get wrapped up in small talk at the beginning of a meeting. Remember that they came to talk about the topic you planned. Be gently assertive and start the meeting. Everyone is with you. Some language to help them get started might be:
      • If everyone is here, let’s get started.  
      • Feel free to come and go to get your drink (coffee/tea) or to get settled. We will begin introductions now….
    • Ice breaker and names – a simple ice-breaker that doesn’t take much time is to ask members to share their favorite (choose a topic). For example, you may ask them to share their favorite drink or animal… Don’t spend too much time on the icebreaker because the content of the meeting is the juicy part.
    • Presenting the agenda
    • Dealing with goals – you may want members to share how they did with the goals they set during the last meeting. However, you may want to wait until the end of the meeting to discuss this as well.
  • Grouping – Depending on the size of the group, this may involve creating small groups, or pairing off people. If the group is large, you may want to opt out of joining discussion groups so you can take notes and focus on how the discussions are going.
  • Stopping discussions – It can be hard to stop a juicy discussion, but discussions have to stop at some point. Before starting discussions, it can be helpful to inform members how you will ask them to stop talking. This can be especially helpful if you have a larger group. You may want to raise your hand, clap, or remind everyone they have a minute to wrap up.
  • Asking people to share what they discussed in groups or not (you may not have time to share with the large group) – After small group discussions, you may want to get a summary of what each group discussed so ideas can be shared with the large group. This is a good way to bring everyone together, and increase insight and understanding
  • Watching the clock – make sure you have enough time to do everything you planned. This includes the icebreaker, discussions, and the wrap-up at the end.
  • Ending the meeting – Here are a few things to consider for the end of the meeting
    • Asking members to share their RP goals. This may be new goals or you may want them to share progress on old one.
    • open a request for facilitators for future meetings
    • Talk about date of the next meeting
Choosing the topic of the meeting

It can be helpful to have the topic of the next meeting already decided so that you can share it at the end of the meeting. This will help members work on and think about the topic during the weeks in between meetings.

Advertising each meeting

Send a group email (remember to BCC the list) to members at least a week before the meeting. It’s a good idea to create a Facebook group, and to create an event within the group for each meeting as this sends a direct message to group members.

Information to be included:

  • Date
  • Hours
  • Location and directions to the location
  • A brief abstract of the topic and what you expect members to do before or during the meeting
  • Your contact information in case people can’t find the location on the day of the meeting
Location

A quiet space at a central location is preferable. It can also be helpful to have a space with a white board and larger tables. Privacy is also ideal.

Sharing and recording what has been discussed at the meeting

How do we share and record what we do?

It is a good idea to share as a way of keeping the community connected throughout the month, but this is up to you.

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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.

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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:

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

Reflective Practice (RP) Challenge 2

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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 http://www.espiralmana.org/resources.html
This list was created by Mary Scholl at Centro Espiral Mana, and you can find it here http://www.espiralmana.org/resources.html

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.