Taking that leap

Tara Mohr meets Chuck Sandy
Tara Mohr meets Chuck Sandy

I finally took the leap. I took the leap from playing small and took some steps towards playing big. (click here to tweet) You see, since I began training teachers, I’ve dreamed of facilitating sessions on the concept of compassionate communication, where I’d ask the teachers in our program to delve more deeply into empathy for the self and others. But instead of doing this, I listened to my inner critic. My inner critic’s favourite story has been that I am not qualified enough to do such a thing, and that the teachers probably wouldn’t want to participate. And, who am I to push this concept on them anyway? Then walks in Tara Mohr. I first heard her speak with Tami Simon on the Insights at the Edge podcast about how common it is for women to stay small mostly due to the voice of this inner critic. Playing big, as Tara explains in her book, is about:

“learning how to use your voice to change those systems. It’s not about “opting in” or “opting out” according to our society’s current thinking (…) It’s about turning away from those labels, refocusing your attention and longings and dreams, and playing big in going for them.”

One way she suggests doing this is by taking a leap. What she said got my psyched, so guess what I did? Below are six criteria that Tara suggests for taking a leap. I’ll explain my leap while looking back on what happened in relation to these six.

1. It gets you playing bigger now, according to what playing bigger means to you.

Playing big for me means helping teachers deal with teacher burnout via healing strategies such as of self-compassion, and empathic listening within a community.

2. It can be finished within one to two weeks.

The discussion group ended in less than five months. But to be fair, our meetings were quite spread out. We met a total of 5 times over 5 months.

3. It’s simple: an action that you could describe in a short phrase.

My phrase was – to facilitate a bi-weekly discussion group.

4. It gets your adrenaline flowing because a leap stretches you out of your comfort zone.

Yes! Although I was comfortable with facilitating a group of this nature, I was going out of my comfort zone offering this idea to the teachers in our program. I started out by giving an introduction to everyone in the course (16 in-service teachers) about the concept of compassionate communication — basically helping them develop their literacy of feelings and needs. I also lead a session where we read the article on teacher burnout and self-compassion. With this basic foundation, I felt comfortable about telling them about my ideas of starting a discussion group. 10 teachers volunteered, and about 8 stayed until the end. My adrenaline has definitely been flowing.

5. A leap puts you in contact with the audience you want to reach or influence.

I have learned so much from these teachers: about how my approach has influenced them and could also influence them in the future. I have recorded each session and I am currently waiting for individual feedback. But that being said, I already received the best feedback I could ever ask for during our last session. On the last day our group met (December 23, 2014), I asked the teachers to share what needs were fulfilled by their final discussion. I’ll save the details for another post, but let me just say I felt incredibly touched and connected. At the end session, I gave each teacher one of these magnets below, and encouraged them to use it as a reminder to not to give up on themselves. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I feel pretty confident there’s no playing small anymore. don't give up #redthumbforlove *Cynthia Gray is the artist behind the “Don’t Give Up” magnet project. *I also want to thank Chuck Sandy who inspired me to take my first leap at the beginning of this year. Chuck inspired me in creating the #redthumbforlove Self-Compassion for Teachers project. This first leap gave me great strength to try this new leap.  This is what Chuck does. He inspires people into faith (a nod to the picture at the top of this post), and I am ever grateful to him for helping me find faith in myself. My inner critic will forever be annoyed with this little glitch in its storyline. ;)

A little something about me: tagged by Rachael Roberts, Kathy Fagan & Vicky Loras

I’m not sure who started this “11” blog challenge, but it has been a fun way to get to know a different side of my friends and colleagues. Whoever started this, thank you. And thank you to Rachael RobertsKathy Fagan and Vicky Loras for tagging me! I haven’t met any of you — yet — but I have a special place in my heart and mind for all of you. I “met” you all when I began my Twitter journey in late 2011. I’m grateful for this connection, and to learn a bit more about you. And thanks for giving me the space to talk a bit (a lot?) about myself, and to continue the connection with other bloggers.

So here is the tagging mission:

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4. List 11 bloggers.
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 random facts about me

(PS. I’ve been working on this post for a few days):

  1. My favorite new podcast is Welcome to Night Vale. I can’t listen to an episode without busting a gut (which will give you insight into my humor). My longstanding favorite podcast is CBC Radio’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi. The perfect blend of music, politics, culture, and thoughtful discussions about the current  media landscape.
  2. I played varsity volleyball. In high school, our team almost never lost a match. We had amazing coaches. They shared great defensive strategies. However, when I moved to university varsity, it was a different story. I can’t remember if we ever won. But we had fun. :)
  3. 11 was my jersey number. 11 is a good number. :)
  4. I have lived in four Canadian provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta.
  5. After graduating from university, I spent the summer planting trees.  For more details on what this might look like: Tree planting: hard way to make a fast buck. I didn’t make a fast buck. I barely broke even.
  6. I have meditated 206 days this year (not in a row and not all day of course). And yes, I have an app for that: Insight Timer.
  7. In 5th grade, I had my first run-in with linguistic rebellion. For French class we had to write a diary and hand it in to our teacher. In French, diary (journal) carries the masculine form and so you should address it, “Dear diary” with its rightful masculine greeting, “Cher journal.” This made no sense to me. There was no way I would share my deep thoughts with a male journal, and so I addressed it as, “Chère journal.” When my teacher approached me about the grammatical error, I had my theory to back it up. He didn’t buy it.
  8. I’ve worn glasses since I was seven. I started wearing contacts at 13 or 14. The deciding factor was when a volleyball hit me in the face (glasses) during our finals match.
  9. I’m worried that this all sounds like I’m showing off somehow, and find myself wanting to delete everything I just wrote. :P
  10. I’m taking Korean classes with other teacher-trainers in the area. Actually our teacher is a teacher-trainer, so after each class we help her reflect on the lesson. One of the best Korean language classes I’ve had. I had almost given up learning.
  11. I just finished watching The Borgias and enjoyed the insight into history I got.

Rachael_Roberts_headshot_square11 questions  from Rachael:

1 Why did you start blogging and how has differed from your expectations? I started blogging because I wanted a place to reflect about my teaching, and also hopefully share with others. I hoped to have a reflective community that I had at SIT. I did that for a few years, and I think the only people who read my blog were people I had physically met, or knew someone I knew. It wasn’t until I met Chuck Sandy, that I realized there was a whole world out there doing the same thing as I was doing. Back when I started in 2009, this kind of tag game would have been an incredible surprise.

2 What’s your earliest childhood memory?  Hmmm… being pulled in a sled in the snow by my pet Siberian husky. I loved that dog.

3 Tell us about someone you admire, and say why. I admire my mom. I think I was a tough teenager. She never gave up on me. The same for my dad. They supported me through some hard times in my 20s. I’m not sure I have that kind of love in me. I admire that kind of love.

4 What was the last book you read and what did you think of it? I read many books at the same time and never really finish them. The last book I read and finished was Cloud Atlas. READ IT! David Mitchell is an artistic and linguistic genius.

5 Do you prefer walking or running? Why? Walking. Something about running gets me down. I try, but always end up walking. So a while ago, I decided I would just walk, so I walk. I walk in the mountains and around the track at my university. I walk while listening to Q.

6 What was your first paid job? Part-time grocery clerk/check out person/shelf stocker when I was 16 years old. Good ol’ Comeauville IGA.

7 What five famous people would you invite to a dinner party, and why? Tough one. Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, Ken Robinson, Brene Brown, and Sugata Mitra. I think if I put all these people together in a room, we could really make amazing things happen for education in this world.

8 What’s the first website you check/go on each day? Why? Facebook. Why? Perhaps a good mix of addiction and curiosity. :) I like seeing the world through the eyes of my Facebook friends and colleagues. Much more interesting than picking up a newspaper. Healthier too.

9 What can you remember about the first class you ever taught? I can’t really remember details. Maybe it was substitute teaching for 5th grade in a small school in my hometown. I just remember feeling strangely calm about teaching math (I really have bad memories of my own math classes ). I got a sweet class card from the students telling me they didm’t want me to leave. I still have it.

10 Flowers or chocolates? I really enjoy flowers. I love how the colours and fragrance just bring a magical quality to a normal room. But of course, I have to choose chocolate. I could have chocolate every day.

11 How do you feel about reality TV shows? They’re fascinating. Like Carol Goodey, I like watching how people interact and communicate. I especially enjoy reality shows that encourage people to create. I don’t watch any these days, but I used to love Project Runway…. and dare I say, America’s Next Top Model. :P

eslkathy111 Questions from Kathy

1. What is one book, blog post, article, presentation, or research paper that really changed how you think about teaching?  How? It’s really hard to choose. I think the books that had the greatest impact on my concept of education was Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and Life-Enriching Education: Nonviolent Communication Helps Schools Improve Performance, Reduce Conflict, and Enhance Relationships. These books helped me see that we don’t have to teach using the old violent paradigms. There is another way. A compassionate way to educate.

2. Which season of the year do you like the best?  Why? I think it has to be spring. See all those colours pop after having bare winter is a wonderful treat from nature.

3. How many languages (other than English) can you use at high beginning or higher?  If any, what are they? Acadian French – fluent. Korean – beginner (Not your question, but I had to put it there. I need to motivate myself!)

4. The bartender says “What’ll it be?”  What is it? Red wine or pina colada.

5. What is the most recent musical performance you have attended? Wow, you got me digging here. Since I moved to Korea, I haven’t made an effort to watch many concerts. I guess it was the mariachi band that played on the last day of the SIT TESOL course in Costa Rica last February.

6. Which age group do you like teaching best: youngsters, teens, adults? Adults. It’s easier for me to connect.

7. Have you ever been the recipient of a surprise party or gift?  How did that go? Yes! For my first visit home to Nova Scotia after living in Korea. It was so sweet. My parents picked me up at the airport and when we got closer to our house, my dad called someone. I could hear my friend, Natalie, on the other end, but he was addressing her as his friend, Guy. I immediately knew what was up, but I didn’t say anything. When we rolled up to our house, there were cars everywhere! Friends and family were in the kitchen enjoying conversation and food. It was an amazing feeling.

8. What’s one time where you really had to think on your feet during a lesson? Hmm… I often do this because I over plan. I can’t think of a specific moment, but my over planning allows me to discard or move activities around if I notice the vibe of the class is going a certain way. Over planning is stressful though. It often means I’m trying to put too much in a lesson.

9. Tell about a pet — past, present or future. I’ll tell you about my first pet, the husky I mentioned above. Her name was Bossu. I guess my dad had her before I was born. She was precious but also wild. She always ran away, and it wasn’t uncommon for my dad to find dad cats or birds around the house. I think he had to give her away after she almost pushed me down the stairs.

10. Have you ever been on TV? Yeah, I was randomly interviewed by a provincial news reporter in Canada a few times. Does that count? ;)

11. Hot sauce: yes or no? Not really a choice in Korea, so yes. I never used to crave it, but now I need it with certain meals. Bibimbap and pizza are a must. :)

Vicky11 questions from Vicky

1. If you were not an educator, what line of work would you imagine yourself in? I’d love to work in film editing. I don’t have any experience, but I’d love to learn. It’s on my bucket list. :)

2. Which person in ELT would you like to meet in person and why? Hard to choose. There is not just one such person. I’m just going to have to  choose a community:  ELT community in Brazil and Turkey. ;)

3. What new activity / hobby would you like to start? I really want to learn how to use Photoshop and film editing software. I have visions but I can’t put them together yet. I need time.

4. Which is the best book you have recently read? Why? See my answer Rachael’s question. Cloud Atlas! :)

5. If you could change one thing in the world, what would that be? I loved Anne Hendler’s answer. I would also change the way education seems to be approached all over the world. I would add Anne’s idea of tolerance, and I would make sure that foundation of education is based on empathy and compassion. Before learning how to multiply, students would learn how to identify all the emotions they feel and relate them to something they are needing at the moment. That is the beginning. :) Thanks for asking this Vicky. :)

6. Which is the nicest destination you have visited so far and why? Tough. I’m going to have to say the jungles of La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Seeing all that nature and wildlife first hand and not in a book was an incredible gift. I feel grateful to be able to see so much of this amazing world.

7. If you decided to write a book, what would it be about? Maybe something in relation to question 5. :)

8. What is your favourite song this period? I’m really enjoying this song. It’s the last one I bought on iTunes.

9. What is your favourite and least favourite food? Favourite – Rapure; least favourite – Sea Squirt – (멍게)

10. Which is the next conference you plan to attend? Maybe the same Anne. We’ll see. :)

11. With whom from the PLN was your first meeting in person? What was it like? In Korea, I think it was Anne, or Alex Grevett. And internationally, Kevin Stein. It was amazing!Like old friends. I’m still in awe of the phenomena of being so close to people I have never met.

Here are my 11!

Like Anne — she really inspired me in this post :) — I am trying to tag people who may not have been tagged… and that I also want to know more about. :)

  1. @ChopEDU
  2. @BarryJamesonELT
  3. @bucharesttutor
  4. @wilma_luth
  5. @_divyamadhavan
  6. @GemL1
  7. @AlexSWalsh
  8. @dawn_wink
  9. @datEnglish
  10. @yitzha_sarwono
  11. @LauraSoracco

My 11 questions – if you don’t have time, don’t worry about answering. Only do this if it’s fun for you.

  1. Why did you start blogging (stealing this from Rachael)?
  2. What keeps you teaching every year?
  3. Do you have a pet peeve? If so, what is it? If not, have you ever had one, and how did you get over it? Tell me something about pet peeves. ;)
  4. Do you prefer planes, trains, or automobiles when traveling?
  5. What’s your favourite movie?
  6. Has a complete stranger ever showed you kindness? What happened?
  7. Tea or coffee?
  8. What was one of the sweetest moments that ever happened in class – between you and the students, or between the students?
  9. You have the whole day to yourself. What are you going to do?
  10. If you could spend a year focusing on research, what would you research? Why?
  11. What’s your favourite word? :)

A Year in the Life of a Community

If you had told me a year ago that going to the KOTESOL International Conference was going to change my life, I never would have believed you. But seeing one presentation did just that.

Following the recommendation of @michaelegriffin – then only known as Michael Griffin – I attended Chuck Sandy‘s 10am Sunday presentation. He spoke of the value of creating communities: if you don’t have one, create one. At the end of the presentation, he talked about one such community of teachers he helped create called International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi).

The talk was inspiring in so many ways, but there was a 20 second soundbite that pushed me in a very important direction.

“Who’s on Twitter? Get yourself on Twitter!

Who’s on Facebook?

Facebook works. Twitter’s better.”

So I signed up.*

Now, a year later, part of my community is linked to iTDi. This past weekend at JALT2012, I had the great pleasure of meeting some of the iTDi faces that were up on Chuck’s powerpoint. Here are a three of these inspiring teachers:

Barbara Sakamoto, Yitzha Sarwono, & Marco Brazil

They are no longer pictures on a screen. Yitzha is my Instagram buddy, a constant source of light on Twitter, and now a friend I am fortunate enough to have had dinner with. Barbara, who inspires us via her own online community, Teaching Village, is someone I have exchanged thoughts and smiles with. Meeting Marco at JALT was an infusion of joy. I am very happy to now be connected to him. If I hadn’t seen Chuck’s presentation, I doubt I would have made my journey to JALT, which this video shows was very much worth it.

A year has passed since that fateful conference day, and now it’s our turn to present about a community we created on Twitter: KELTchat. I look forward to standing with Alex Grevett, Alex Walsh, Michael Griffin and Anne Hendler as we talk about how and why we came to be.

I am incredibly grateful for the communities I am a member of thanks to that inspiring October day.

Thank you Chuck. :)

*A little known fact: I had been on Twitter for two years, apparently dropping my blog posts into the abyss before I met Chuck. Until that day, I had no idea how powerful/magical Twitter really was.

Related posts:

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.

How Do You Create Smoother Transitions?

Transitions can create cohesive compositions, but transitions can also create cohesive groups. If teachers provide the right context, transitions into new situations or environments can be smooth, and can even help create strong connections between new group members (classmates).

One of my goals for the first session (total of 5 weeks) of our three session program is to help participants understand the basic construction of a paragraph. One of the elements we look at is how to create cohesion. However, what the participants may not notice is that through the process of learning how to write a cohesive paragraph, they are also becoming a cohesive group of learners. Through collaboration and shared understanding, a natural camaraderie develops during that first session.

So how does such a close-knit group feel when they find out that for the second session they will need to separate into new groups? As I discovered during this first session’s closure class, the participants felt scared, worried, apprehensive, and sad. I witnessed more tears than I expected on that last day. They didn’t want to leave the comfort and familiarity.

To support a transition from tears to smiles, the context I provide includes creating metaphors and diamante poetry. In the photo gallery below, you’ll see this context in process. Just click on each picture to get a closer view.

The transition process begins with groups searching for new walking, running and jumping synonyms. Then, using these words, they write individual metaphors, and share them with their partners, explaining why they chose the words they did. It’s at this point that they begin to notice others share similar feelings about both sessions. The whole process finally ends with them writing a group diamante. By this point, they realize that they may just get along with these folks too. With all this, the transition process has taken a softer step forward.

I’d love to know what you do to help your students or course participants transition. How do you support them in their transition from not being a student to now being one? What do you do to help them transition between semesters? Do you have a special routine to help students reconnect after Christmas, Thanksgiving, or spring breaks?

Now please enjoy the gallery walk!

* Previous posts about transitioning: In the post Lesson Planning Flow – Thesaurus Poetry, I write about the language (walking, running, jumping periphery verbs) participants generate in order to create both their metaphors, and their diamantes. In A Joyful Transition, I share the positive experience that past participants felt after they collaborated in writing group diamantes.