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?

KOTESOL Workshop – Reflective Practice: Formulating Your Experience

Reflection. It’s a hot word in the ELT world. What I find interesting is that in all my Twitter curating, Google Alerts, and blogosphere explorations, I’ve discovered that educators seem to attach different meanings to the term. For some it’s about mulling over something that happened in class; for others it’s an in depth exploration of a teaching/learning experience. I find myself connecting more to the perspective of the second camp.

When I think of reflective practice, I immediately refer to the experiential learning cycle. I believe that when teachers reflect on an experience using this model, they are better equipped to address their future teaching/learning needs. My own experience with this cycle has helped me develop into a more confident teacher who sees successes and faults as simple launching points for self-improvement.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to share my perspective on this reflective cycle at the KOTESOL Busan Reflective Practice Symposium next Saturday, April 21. Among a group of other reflective practitioners, including my good friend Michael Griffin, I’ll be conducting a workshop that hopes to shed light on this form of reflection. Below is the workshop’s abstract:

Reflective Practice: Formulating Your Experience

Reflective practice can be a magic formula for better teaching, but the trick is that you are the only one who possesses the knowledge to make it work. Luckily, this formula – based on the Experiential Learning Cycle (see Dewey, Kolb, and Rodgers) – is not out of reach. During the workshop, attendees will reflect on a classroom experience by taking it through each step of the cycle: description, interpretation/analysis, and action planning. With the guidance of the facilitator, attendees will gain clarity into each step, as well as insight into the value of pausing and taking a good look at each of these points. Attendees can expect to leave the workshop with a solid understanding of how to use the Experiential Learning Cycle to deepen their reflective practice and their awareness of what goes on in their classroom. With this awareness, it is the facilitator’s hope that attendees will realize how the Experiential Learning Cycle can make a positive difference in their teaching and learning.

Even if you can’t make it to the symposium, I am grateful for your support. Thank you!

Presenting the Experiential Learning Cycle

Next Saturday, at the 8th Annual Daejeon-Chungcheong KOTESOL Chapter Symposium, Michael Griffin and I will conduct back-to-back workshops on the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC), and its relationship to reflective practice. We are quite excited about giving our audiences a close-up view of the respective ELC stages we have chosen to present on.

And because I am busy preparing for my presentation, this week’s post is dedicated to sharing our vision for next weekend with you! I’ve posted our abstracts, and I’ve also added Mike’s bio just to sweeten the deal.

Michael, moi & Tana (another ELC enthusiast)

Without further ado, here is a taste of what is to come.

Everyone please welcome, Michael Griffin!

Continue reading “Presenting the Experiential Learning Cycle”

Have You Reflected on Your Feedback Lately?

How do you respond to your students, and how do you connect what you say to what your students need? This is what Tana Ebaugh and I were exploring on Saturday during our workshop for Daegu-Gyeongbuk KOTESOL. The title is, What Teachers Say: What Students Hear: What We Can Change (click title for the abstract).

Having done this workshop last May at the National KOTESOL Conference, and having responded to the feedback we received from those participants, we were able to fine tune our workshop to create an even richer experience. And from this new experience our participants helped us learn how to make it even better the next time around.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me...or could they?

Continue reading “Have You Reflected on Your Feedback Lately?”

Finding My Voice via Reflective Blogging

When I think back on when I started blogging, I am amazed at the changes I’ve gone through. It’s hard to pinpoint if I changed because of my blog, or if I changed along my blog. No matter what the case may be, I’ve changed.

Blogging helped me create my own voice. When I started teaching, like many teachers, I had low self-confidence. I wasn’t satisfied with my teaching, and I knew I could be a better teacher. As soon as I was introduced to the process of reflective teaching, I knew this was a remedy for my low self-esteem.

When I reflected, I gained courage. I realized that if an activity didn’t go well, I could try it out another time, and at that time it probably would get better. I knew this because I learned from experience. If I reflected, made an action plan, and tried that new plan, it was almost always a success.

I transposed this reflective process from private Word documents on my computer, into a public blog. The benefit of reflective blogging is that I had an audience to share my ideas and questions with. I could bounce around ideas with other teachers, whereas if I simply saved files on my MacBook, I would have been my only resource. Although I believe that the self is the most crucial resource in the reflective process, I also know the strength of reflecting in community.

Via reflection, I went from being a teacher concerned with low self-confidence to a teacher firm in her beliefs – not too firm to inhibit the natural process of change. If you look at my blog’s trajectory, to the amount of posts I wrote, and the content of those posts, you see a clear picture of that change. But the change didn’t come with ease.

At first, I was a fresh and excited reflective teacher eager to improve at her new job as a conversation teacher at Keimyung University. During this time, I wrote rigorous, in depth reflections. I couldn’t simply look at a small, significant episode that happened during a lesson. I had to examine the whole lesson.

Then when I moved into teacher training, the frequency of my posts dropped dramatically. My confidence wavered, and I wasn’t willing to let my vulnerability shine through. I was having huge doubts about my position as a teacher educator and couldn’t bear the idea of people seeing my weaknesses. Instead of writing, I just posted pictures, or my participants’ work.

This was where the blog as a medium for reflection fell short. Blogging is public,and I was in a bind. I wanted to blog because I needed a reflective community, but I also was afraid of being seen and judged.

Then something shifted. I realized I probably wasn’t the only teacher who felt weak and vulnerable. I also realized that if I wrote from a place of authenticity, intention and responsibility (professionalism), then no matter what anyone would say to me, I wouldn’t break. I knew that from this space I could take any comment that came my way.

Tonight I am still planning what I’ll say during my presentation, Blogging: Creative Interaction (scroll down to see my abstract), next Saturday. I’ve been feeling concerned about what I might say and how I might say it. Luckily my blog has saved me again. This entry just helped me find my voice. This voice has seen a lot of change, and realizes she is not alone. It’s time to share my voice.

Blogging: Creative Interaction

We all know the benefits of reflective inquiry: it brings clarity to our teaching practice and helps us define our professional goals. But how many of us really practice reflective teaching? At the end of a long week, the thought of writing a lesson analysis onto a stark white piece of paper, or a blank Word document can seem like an uninspiring task.

This is why the presenter began blogging. In the blogosphere, the canvas for reflection is colorful. The possibilities for creative interaction range from meaningful play with photography and video, to passionate personal dialogues with readers. It is through this multimedia, and through peer sharing that the presenter has been able to increase her teaching confidence, as well as develop a clearer vision of her pedagogical ambitions.

The speaker will present the evolution of her blog (throwingbacktokens.com), and how blogging can impact the audience’s reflective practice. The presenter would love to see her audience leaving her presentation with the idea that the reflective blogging community may be also be a circle they would like to join.

Preparing for Confidence

*Scroll down for presentation abstracts

There is really something to be said for feeling prepared. When I know I’m ready, I worry less. I can spend my time focusing in my lesson or the task at hand. When I don’t feel ready, I lose focus, and in the end, I lose confidence in myself.

I spent last weekend in Seoul with Tana Ebaugh and Kevin Giddens, preparing for our upcoming KOTESOL National Conference presentations at KAIST in Daejeon on Saturday, May 14.   As you can see, we were into some pretty serious stuff. As one of us stated, “we were really geeking out.”

Continue reading “Preparing for Confidence”