Play Big: The #SMILEgoal Challenge

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of teaching my first webinar thanks to the encouraging support of International Teacher Development Institute and Gallery Languages Ltd. The enthusiastic interaction and input from the participants, as well as the fabulous dance party, made this is an experience I look forward to reliving very soon.

(Note to self: always include a dance party in future webinars.)

I presented the idea of teachers dreaming big, and accomplishing big goals, by first taking small steps. To encourage this path, I offered the acronym: SMILE. We make our goals SMILE so that we can play big, and playing big means transforming lives: the lives of teachers and learners.

Now it’s time for you to SMILE! Share your SMILE goals via your blogs, Facebook, or Twitter by using the hashtag #SMILEgoal. Follow the prompts below for support or watch a recording of the talk, as well as inspiring talks from amazing educators from around the world, by signing up at the iTDi website.

SMILE Goals

Here are mine:

  1. Before I eat lunch today, I will give written feedback on the Reading Skills lesson plans the course participants wrote so that they have a chance to review and edit their lessons before they teach tomorrow.
  2. Before dinner today, I will have written a sample listening skills lesson plan so the participants have a model they can refer to when they plan their listening lesson next week.
    • EDIT #1 for a smaller SMILE: I will scan John Fields’ “Listening in the Language Classroom” for inspiration for about 20 minutes.
    • EDIT #2 for a smaller SMILE: I will edit the lesson plan I already have to match the needs of the course and use this plan for the sample lesson.
  3. I will publish a new story for the “Teachers Talking About Self-Compassion” series before I settled down for the night.

The first two SMILE goals will help me meet my larger goal of developing a positive learning and growing experience for our KMU-SIT Professional TESOL Course participants. The third one helps me meet my goal of developing a database of healing stories and strategies for teachers.

My ‘E’ for “Enjoy” will involve taking a moment to pause… ahhh…smile, and let the satisfaction sink in.

Are you ready to SMILE?

SMILEgoal

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Teaching Teachers to Write from the Heart

I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. This is the theme of this post, and it is inspired by The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators or #30GoalsEdu, which was created by Shelly Sanchez Terrell. Over 10,000 teachers have joined the challenge since it started and I am grateful to now be among them.

What convinced me to take part in this challenge was this excerpt from the 2013 30 Goals cycle:

“Each goal will focus on getting educators to believe their plans of action now will lead to positive change in their environments and inspire their learners to be the kind of people who try to make every moment of their lives meaningful and inspirational. Too many individuals are not seizing the moments in their lives to inspire or live their passions. (…) As educators, we have the ability to influence students and we start by being the example of individuals who make meaningful moments.”

The teachers I met on the 30 Goals Facebook page were right: this has me written all over it.

And so I begin my adventure with this challenge:

There comes a time when each of us has an idea or opportunity that challenges our comfort zone and differs so much from the rituals we develop. We need to be able to seize those opportunities and go forth with new ideas. We need to be able to take risks so we grow as educators and also help our learners grow.

Here is my risk: I am going to ask the teachers in our program to write for at least 10 minutes once a week without any structure. The aim is to help them enjoy the writing process and also to help them connect to their inner lives. I want them to express themselves without a sense of consequence.

In order for you to understand how I’m stepping out of my comfort zone, I need to admit something: I have been a rigid writing teacher. I rely on structured composition patterns (paragraph, essays), and common codes of conduct (formal letters, informal emails…) as the content of my classroom. I teach the rules and help the teacher-trainees stick to them. Sure once in a while I introduce simple poetry (diamantes, acrostic poems), or creative writing (storybooks for kids, writing based on images). But most of the time writing was about topic sentences, thesis statements, and creating cohesion.  Of course there is a creative element here as well, but there just wasn’t the free flow writing that I personally enjoy on almost a daily basis.

I wanted to bring the same joy of writing to my teacher-trainees, and see what changes might occur in their approach to writing. Most of these teachers have never taken a writing class and feel very apprehensive about their writing abilities. They come to the course feeling nervous, but also eager to see what they can do. Although my approach has yielded positive results, I have often felt I was letting them down in a way. I found my solution to this when I started reading Natalie Goldberg’s, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language (a must read for all people curious about the power of writing).

To begin this journey, I asked the teachers to think of one or two words that came to mind when they thought about the word Writing. The answers within the heart are some of these words.

Beginning Writer's Heart
Beginning Writers’ Heart

Then I asked them to respond to the quote below. I asked them why they thought Natalie had written this. The answers outside the heart are some of their answers.

Natalie Goldberg

With all this in mind, the following day, I introduced Natalie’s writing practice.

Natalie Goldberg's Writing Practice

We discussed these ideas and once everyone felt satisfied and had their pen and paper ready, I set up my timer (see i-Qi app) for 10 minutes.

I wrote along with them. I wrote about how worried I was about how they might react to this. I wrote about how I thought they thought this might be silly. I watched the timer and was worried the time was too long. I had a hard time keeping my pen on the paper. How could ask them to do the same?

And then the chimes rang.

A few teachers looked up and said, “Already?”

A little sigh of relief went off in my head.

We talked about how they felt. They said they liked it. Some were amazed at how much they had written. They couldn’t believe they could do it, and there it was.

And so we did it again the next week. This time some of the teachers said they would like to do the writing practice everyday. I am going to try my best to provide that space. But since I am stepping out of my comfort zone, I’ll aim for at least once a week.

Some of the teachers have started doing this practice during their own time. I am so thrilled that this risk is turning out to be the type of change that I was hoping for. Now my goal is to stick with it.