The constraint of frameworks (or how the rules we live by take away our creative freedom)

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it’s a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don’t we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it's a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don't we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?
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My framework geek-out story

If you’ve been in one of my classes, if you’ve seen me present, if you’ve been in one of the self-development groups I facilitated, or if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a fan of certain learning frameworks. You might even say that I was a framework crusader. The two main frameworks I’ve preached are the “observation, feelings, needs, request” communicative framework of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) which is a reflective practice framework used for personal and professional development. The combination of these frameworks was even the central theme of a chapter I wrote for a book that was published last year.

My framework shame story

But what I couldn’t articulate for a long time was how I often felt constrained by these frameworks. It was Jadah Sellner’s interview with Elizabeth DiAlto on the Untamed the Wild Soul Podcast that helped me pinpoint the dissonance I felt. In the interview, Elizabeth gives a brilliant explanation (at 28:14) of why people might feel as I do:

There is a lot of danger with frameworks and formulas because they will work for some people. Some people are built to follow them. So many are not. And the people who aren’t rarely go, “Oh, that wasn’t the framework for me.” They’re usually like, “What’s wrong with me? I’m the worst.” They compare themselves to all the people it does work for, when it’s just (…) you’re a uniquely designed person. You’ve got to figure out your own way.

This! A version of this inner dialogue had been going on for years. I especially felt it in relation to NVC. The story was usually along the lines of me not being compassionate enough, not enough of a good listener, or that I didn’t use the framework well enough. At some points I even considered myself a fraud for writing or talking about NVC. Who was I to promote NVC when I felt challenged in using the framework in personal relationships?

When I first learned about the ELC, and during the first four years of this blog, I used it anytime I faced a challenge in my teaching. It was super helpful. But after a while, I started to doubt myself and avoided using it to reflect on my teaching. Then I judged myself for not using it, and eventually the inner dialogue was that I wasn’t a good teacher.

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it's a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don't we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?
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My NEW story

Now that I’ve stepped back from both, and took some time to follow my own creative flow, I can see how I didn’t feel free to fully express myself within these frameworks . At first, they were exactly what I needed. They helped me navigate unfamiliar territory, and helped me out of some challenging situations. But as my self-awareness grew, and as I made my own path, the frameworks felt constrictive. I felt like a snake who was choosing to remain in its old skin.

Of course this was all self-inflicted. I didn’t have to follow these frameworks. I chose to because of an older story: others know better than me. I was looking outside myself for a way to live a good life, a better life, when the truth is everything I’ve ever needed has always been inside of me (as Elizabeth always says), and the life that I have now is good as it is.

Frameworks can provide a solid foundation for those who are starting a new career or who are exploring new concepts. This is how they helped me. However, it’s important to remember that I can take what I want from these frameworks, and I can leave behind what doesn’t work. In doing this, I create my own framework: the framework of my own wildly unique life.

Do you have a similar story with frameworks, formulas, modalities, or systems? Which story are you in right now: the geek-out, the shame, or the new story?


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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

Susan Barduhn IATEFL 2013: exploring what moves expat language teachers

I first met *Susan Barduhn at the 2006 KOTESOL International Conference. When I saw her presentation, What Keeps Teachers Going? What Keeps Teachers Developing?, I was already saving up for my MA TESOL at The SIT Graduate Institute. Observing how she engaged the audience, I realized once again why I had to go to Vermont, USA.  Finally, in 2007, I sat in my first classroom with her. We sat in a circle, and she asked us questions. Once again, I was engaged.

This is what Susan does. She asks questions and engages learners to explore their beliefs and come to their own conclusions. And this is what she did for her plenary audience at IATEFL Liverpool. In her talk, Language Dealing, she helped us ponder the statement, ” ‘If English were a drug, expatriate teachers would be the dealers…’ Via metaphors of drugs, drug dealers, postmodern dance and medieval knights errant, she explores the identity and intentions of EFL teachers. Through her metaphorical speculations she suggests that the “phenomenon of expatriate English teachers could be considered a historical, cultural movement.”

Susan brought many interesting points and examples to the surface, including one where she compares expat EFL teachers to expat teachers of Mandarin. I found myself nodding in relief throughout her talk: relief in knowing that someone was speaking for the itinerant teacher; that someone was bringing more clarity to our story. But it was one point that really made an impact on me, and I’ll only focus on this discovery. I highly recommend watching her talk to get all the juicy details.

The Question

Is English really the drug, or is it something else? Is it pedagogy? Is it culture? Is it values?

This is what Susan wanted to find out when she interviewed 200 native and non-native speakers of English (must have lived in at least two countries outside their country of origin for  a total of 6 years). One of the questions she asked was, “What motivated you to live in each country?” This is what she discovered about why these teachers progressed through each country:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development
Expat English teachers delving into professional development: KELT-chat and KOTESOL

Then she asked us to look at the same answers like this:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development 

And so at the end of the talk, she posed a new question:

Could the drug actually be professional and personal development?

To this, a resounding “yes!” rang in my mind. It connected to one of my favorite posts by one of my favorite ELT bloggers, Laura Phelps: TEFLing at 35: a life gone right. In this post she expresses many reasons why she hopes she will still be teaching in different parts of the world by the time she’s 35, but this is the one I think speaks true for many teachers out there:

I want to be a 35 year-old who feels confident in the work I’ve chosen to pursue and who learns for the love of learning, not studies for the extra pound an hour. I want not to be freaked out by the prospect of no computers, no photocopier, no board, no books, no desks and no chairs. I want to keep those students in my life who make me cry with laughter, cry with despair, and open my eyes. I want to mentor and be mentored.

Over the past year — or maybe 18 months (see Things that may not have happened if I didn’t use twitter for an exploration of personal and professional development by expat in Korea, Alex Walsh) — I have observed and been involved in amazing organizations and loose collectives of professional development: iTDi, KELTchat, AusELT, KOTESOL and ELTchat to only name a few. I have been reading incredible blogs by teachers who are diving deep into their teaching world. Choose any of the blogs on the write-hand side of this page find and you’ll find their stories.

Who are these teachers? Most of them are exactly who Susan describes.

I am extremely grateful to Susan for doing this research and for presenting it to us in this way. I very much look forward to learning what else she finds out about this identity group.

-For a summary of Susan Bardhun’s IATEFL plenary please visit Chia Suan Chong’s post written live from the talk.

* Susan is a Professor and the Academic Chair of the MA TESOL Low Residency Program at The SIT Graduate Institute. Watch her IATEFL  interview to learn more about the program.