Connecting, Reconnecting, and Disconnecting in 2015

2015 was the year I learned that the path I have taken so far is leading me in a new direction. The fog is still too thick to see where it leads, but I’m directed by the voice I hear beyond it all. I’m working on trusting this voice, and I realize that to trust it, I need to understand its language. It is a language I once knew but set aside to make room for languages that offered safer passages. This voice is my Soul, my Inner Teacher, my True Self.

My desire to follow this path is very strong, and so I’ll use Throwing Back Tokens to light the way. This means I’ll write about topics that may seem unrelated to teaching. But as a wise friend told me recently, everything that is important to a teacher influences her teaching. If something feeds your heart and mind, it feeds what you do.

But before I start moving forward, my first entry of 2016 will be about looking back on the first part of 2015 to see where the path began to veer.

Connecting in the Beginning

The beginning of 2015 was all about connection, reconnection, and disconnection: connection and reconnection with friends and family, and disconnection with the work I had done for the previous 5 years.

After 6 years of being married, and never having had a wedding, Byongchan and I decided it was time to celebrate our connection by taking wedding pictures. It was fun to be glamorous for a day, and to share this joy with Byongchan and our family.


Another significant moment included reconnecting with Kristina Eisenhower (a.k.a. the fabulous Krisellaneous), which now looking back, was probably when the path started appearing. This is bound to happen when you spend the night dreaming about what lights you up. Kristina is the queen of manifesting such dreams. Have you checked out her Experience Expedition yet? If not, please do.

This was also when I finally met Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe and Buddy the Frog for the first time. Juan’s enthusiasm for teaching from his heart to the heart of his students is contagious. He sparked within me a desire to keep teaching with meaning and love at the forefront.

What I didn’t know then was that the group of teachers Juan and Buddy met would be the last group in our teacher-training program. A few weeks later, during my visit home to Nova Scotia, I found out the Department of Education pulled funding, and that on my return, I’d have to create a new program. But before all this, it was time to play.


The first stop during my visit back to Nova Scotia for the first in three years involved a Vanity Fair Hollywood cover shoot of the Thériault ladies. Ahh, it felt good to be back to the familiar silliness. We missed my sister, Louisette, but she was off accomplishing the exciting task of becoming a West Jet flight attendant. Go Lou!

IMG_1639I reconnected with dear old friends and and met their new additions (new to me at least). There’s no way I could have prepared for the heart jolt I’d get when their little faces greeted me at the door. Love is a wonderful mystery.

IMG_1790My visit home offered many types of soul food, one being pape’s famous seafood chowder. Yum! What was most fun about this was that pape could enjoy it with us without worrying about an allergic reaction. Lobster for everyone!

IMG_1714The other type of soul food of course was rappie pie. This picture recalls the last one I shared with n’oncle Gilles, my father’s brother. I feel very grateful this was the year I went home as we never could have predicted that a few months later he would pass away.


And finally a road trip to Florida with my parents marked the end of my visit before my return to a new unknown in Korea. Seeing my parents’ youthful side come out as we danced the night away, traveled to manatee reserves, and relaxed on the beach is a memory I’ll always cherish.

Back to Korea

Once back to Korea, my colleague and I brainstormed ways we could develop a teacher-training program for pre-service teachers at Keimyung. After a few weeks of negotiating with the awesome folks at SIT Graduate Institute and World Learning (thank you Kevin and Lois!), we had the beginnings of what we’d call the KMU-SIT Professional TESOL Certificate.

From March until July, I worked on developing the program. While I learned a lot about what goes into creating such a course, I look back and see this as the time my soul started to speak up. My interests started to shift, or perhaps, amplify. Not being in the classroom during these months, I had the space to explore other avenues that light me up while listening to the podcasts of entrepreneurs I admire, reading the work of inspiring spiritual teachers, as well as engaging in soulful contemplation and creative expression. The series “Teachers Talking About Self-compassion” was born out of this space.

This time was also a sweet opportunity to reconnect with Byongchan and my home life.

So when we ran our the first TESOL certificate course from July to August, I sensed something was different. I wasn’t the same person who had started the creative process back in March.

The course, although small with only 6 participants, was a success. Everyone, trainers (thank you Robb and Jon!) and participants alike, learned a great deal about what it means to teach and learn and grow.  We were all intellectually, experientially, and skillfully stretched that summer.

But then things changed once again.

I’ll end my reflection for now. I’m way over my preferred word limit, and my inner critic is starting to make fun of my self-involvement.

As I write, I also notice many new insights arising. I need a little space to digest it all. I am grateful for this chance to throw back a few tokens once again. I forget how blogging offers refuge.

I want to tell them

I want to tell them that this semester is about me finding my footing.

I want to tell them I’m sorry for all the experiments.

I want to tell them this all feels so unfamiliar.

I want to tell them thank you for trusting me.

I want to tell them I’m starting to trust myself more everyday.

I want to tell them, but I can’t.

And so I tell myself. And you.

*this was a light night experiment of impromptu poetry/blogging. Thank you for reading

10 years – a brief story

Just before leaving classes for the day, a teacher-trainee earnestly asks me, “This is kind of private question, but do you think you are going to stay in Korea forever?”

This is a common question. I get it at least once a year. For the first time in a long time, I felt comfortable saying, “I don’t know.”

I came here ten years ago, and at that time one year was all I knew. I never could have imagined 10 years and the stories that came along with that timestamp. But here I am. 10 years. And why do I still say, “I don’t know?” Because what do we ever know? I think we all look back with awe: awe at the joy, the sorrow, the celebration, the gratitude, the compassion… the magic.

I often felt unease with my answer, but now I realize it is the most realistic answer I could give. Although Korea and I have deep karmic currents, my heart longs for Canada and familiarity. And although it has this longing, my heart also realizes this wonderful Korean connection.

So what do I do? I just do, and I try to be. It’s all I can do. And for the first time, I’m ok with that.

Let’s see what the next 10 years bring. In the meantime, this is just a touch of what the last 10 years have brought.

Christmas 2004
Christmas 2004 – le chemin du moulin

Picture it. New year’s eve 2004. Halifax, Nova Scotia. Fireworks, my parents, and dear old friends. Korean visa gratefully (FINALLY) in hand.

Flight to Incheon. January 1, 2005.

The magical and mysterious land of Daegu, South Korea.

Bulguksa > Byongchan. 나는 청말조와해요.

at the end of 2005...hehe
proud, but wow… that picture!

Meditation. Contemplation.

Moonkkang/Youngmoon English Institute.

to the core
to the core

MA TESOL at SIT. Heaven.



Marriage. Transition.

Keimyung University.

NVC practice group at FIN English, Daegu.


Teacher training – KIETT.

Reflective Practice Special Interest Group.




Centro Espiral Mana.






Coming home.



2015 :)

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

Reflective Practice (RP) Challenge 2


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
This list was created by Mary Scholl at Centro Espiral Mana, and you can find it here

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.

Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand.

A past teacher-trainee (participant) of mine wrote this Chinese proverb (see title) as her Facebook status yesterday. I am grateful to Youkyung for posting this — not only because she gave me a title for this entry — but also because she reminded me that many other teachers share this teaching belief: we learn from our experiences. Why did I need this reminder? Well, it has to do with a question a participant asked me during yesterday’s class focused on reflective learning: he questioned the purpose behind reflective writing. I realized two points from his simple question, and I’ll begin my reflective quest from the observation stage of the experiential learning cycle.

(click here to see a fun flash depiction of the cycle)

Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. Graphic by Clara Davies/Tony Lowe, Leeds University LDU/SSDU.

Reflective Observation – What?

A significant moment always begins as a concrete experience. My significant moment has a background story. Here it is:

Yesterday was the fourth writing lesson of the semester. During the first class of the week (lesson plan 2), I asked the participants to do the 2 Truths & 1 Lie ice-breaker activity. The catch was that in order to make their truths and lies, they would have to use either of the conjunctions or, so, but or and. They then wrote their sentences on a sheet of paper, and posted them all over the classroom for a gallery walk. During the gallery walk they circled the sentence they thought was a lie for each participant. Once this was done, they each presented their truths and lies, and in this way, we got a little glimpse of their lives.


From this point we went into a lesson on the use of conjunctions and their relationship with commas. Wanting to avoid a lecture on these punctuation rules (see inductive approach), I asked the participants to scan an article for FANBOYS, and then in pairs they compared sentences that combined comma with conjunctions, and those that didn’t. They came up with their own hypothesis for these rules, and then I gave them an explanation


The next day (lesson plan 3), after asking them for some basic feedback on their interests and concerns for my writing course, we reviewed the comma/conjunction rules. I then asked them to take out their Truth & Lie sentences to edit them according to what they learned. They also added 3-5 sentences to one of the sentences they wrote, elaborating their story, and practiced the new rules. After peer checking their work, I did my best to offer one-to-one feedback.

Now back to yesterday. My plan was for the participants to reflect on the week’s previous two lessons in a reflective writing activity. To help them remember what they did, we reviewed the week’s lessons. I then I wrote this on the board:

Choose one significant moment/event that happened this week in writing class. Describe this event. The event could be related to learning or teaching.

We had a whole class discussion about the definition of the word significant. We concluded that it can be something important and meaningful, and that it is neither good nor bad; it is simply something that strikes us as a point of exploration.

In pairs they discussed their significant moment. Once they were done they described their significant moment (reflective observation) in writing. After that they answered:

Why was this moment significant for you? (abstract conceptualization).

I explained that at this point they could explore their feelings and ideas behind the event.

The final point of reflection focused on this:

Explain how this will impact your studies in this program, your future role as a language learner, or your future role as a language teacher. (Active experimentation)

While they wrote I saw some eyes roll and heard some hesitant sighs. One of my participants asked me what this activity was helping them practice: fluency or accuracy? I told him that this isn’t a writing activity focused on fluency or accuracy. It is an activity focused on helping them learn. I saw confusion in his eyes. This was my significant moment.

Abstract Conceptualization – So what?

Why did I ask them to do all this reflection? I wanted them to do this because I believe learning happens once it is reflected upon. This is such a strong teaching belief for me. Without reflection, a learning moment risks getting lost in the content of the day or week. While we reflect on a moment, we unlock realizations that we may not have been able to make conscious otherwise. Reflection brings the learner back to understanding his/her involvement in an experience. This is what the Chinese proverb reminds me of. So by looking back on their week, and by writing about one moment that impacted them, I believed that their writing would help them integrate this learning.

But what the participant helped me realize was that there is another purpose to reflective writing that I had not made explicit.  What was this reflective writing helping them practice? From a skills perspective, this is an activity that asks them to work with their thinking skills.  Via his simple inquiry, and through my own reflection, I realized that reflective writing will do more than help them learn from their experience. From their writing they will learn to develop their ability to be critical and creative thinkers. These are essential skills for all writers. These are skills that help the writer create content and meaning.

Active Experimentation – Now what?

I began this entry thinking I was going to write about the importance of reflective writing. I thought I was going to validate my belief that reflection is essential for learning, and that by asking them to reflect I was increasing their learning. After yesterday’s class I had a small doubt that the participants would also be able to understand this value. I was worried that they would somehow rebel against the idea of reflective writing because they wouldn’t be able to see a clear link to the traditional 4 skills. I wondered how I would help them understand that learning is the ultimate goal, and that how we learn isn’t only via tests, but also via experience and reflection on experience. I thought that by writing this entry, and by reflecting on my week’s lessons, I would justify my belief that teachers need to understand that learning is the most important outcome for their students.

I still believe this, and will also teach my participants from this point of view when I ask them to write reflectively. However, now I realize that I can also come to reflective writing from a different perspective.  I can help participants understand that reflective writing will also help them be better writers thanks to their developed thinking skills. At a time when the content of the Korean standardized achievement tests will be asking their students to be more critical, these are essential skills for their teachers to develop and understand. So in the end, I learned that reflective writing is a way to develop language skills, as well as to help increase their learning.

I’ve learned a lot from my participant’s question, and without reflection I may not have come to this realization. His question helped me realize that even our most fundamental beliefs should be questioned. From this realization, I believe we can add another element to the ancient proverb:

Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand; question me and I become aware.