Reflective Practice Group: A Facilitator’s Guide

Last September I decided to step away from the reflective practice group I had been organizing since 2012. It was time to focus my energy elsewhere. In order to help my colleagues take over, I created this guide. I thought it might also be helpful to others as well. Enjoy!

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Below you will find helpful information for coordinating and facilitating a reflective practice group meeting. If this is your first time coordinating or facilitating, I recommend reading the listed blog posts:

When leading a session, there are few elements to be aware of:

  • Participants and prospective participants
  • Facilitating the meeting from the beginning to the end of the meeting
  • Choosing and facilitating the topic of the meeting
  • Advertising each meeting
  • Location
  • Sharing and recording what has been discussed at the meeting

You will find more details about each element below.

Participants and prospective participants

As this is an open group, new members may attend. This is why we usually start a session with an icebreaker. In order to help them feel welcome to the group, it can be helpful to explain the aim of the group, and maybe just have a brief chat about what a typical meeting looks like. Anything you can do to help newcomers feel welcome and at ease will be great. The idea is that we want to make them feel included. Since many members have been attending for quite a while, a newcomer may feel out of place. Helping ease this sense will support them in coming back.

Here are a few things to consider prior to a meeting in case a new participant attends:

  • What will you share about the group?
  • What will you say to help them familiarize themselves?
  • What will you ask from them? (why are they here, what they would like?)
  • Asking for their contact information so you can share information about future meetings
  • Helping them access the Facebook group
Facilitating from the beginning to the end of the meeting

The most important role of the facilitator is to help keep the discussion going. In order to do this, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Remember your goal, but remain open – What do you want members to leave the meeting with? A skill? Knowledge?  Stay focused on your goal. If you notice the meeting is going in another direction, try to bring it back. However, don’t be so strict that you ignore valuable learning moments. A good RP meeting is one that helps people think and grow, and sometimes that means throwing away your plan.
  • Getting the meeting started –
    • It’s easy for members to get wrapped up in small talk at the beginning of a meeting. Remember that they came to talk about the topic you planned. Be gently assertive and start the meeting. Everyone is with you. Some language to help them get started might be:
      • If everyone is here, let’s get started.  
      • Feel free to come and go to get your drink (coffee/tea) or to get settled. We will begin introductions now….
    • Ice breaker and names – a simple ice-breaker that doesn’t take much time is to ask members to share their favorite (choose a topic). For example, you may ask them to share their favorite drink or animal… Don’t spend too much time on the icebreaker because the content of the meeting is the juicy part.
    • Presenting the agenda
    • Dealing with goals – you may want members to share how they did with the goals they set during the last meeting. However, you may want to wait until the end of the meeting to discuss this as well.
  • Grouping – Depending on the size of the group, this may involve creating small groups, or pairing off people. If the group is large, you may want to opt out of joining discussion groups so you can take notes and focus on how the discussions are going.
  • Stopping discussions – It can be hard to stop a juicy discussion, but discussions have to stop at some point. Before starting discussions, it can be helpful to inform members how you will ask them to stop talking. This can be especially helpful if you have a larger group. You may want to raise your hand, clap, or remind everyone they have a minute to wrap up.
  • Asking people to share what they discussed in groups or not (you may not have time to share with the large group) – After small group discussions, you may want to get a summary of what each group discussed so ideas can be shared with the large group. This is a good way to bring everyone together, and increase insight and understanding
  • Watching the clock – make sure you have enough time to do everything you planned. This includes the icebreaker, discussions, and the wrap-up at the end.
  • Ending the meeting – Here are a few things to consider for the end of the meeting
    • Asking members to share their RP goals. This may be new goals or you may want them to share progress on old one.
    • open a request for facilitators for future meetings
    • Talk about date of the next meeting
Choosing the topic of the meeting

It can be helpful to have the topic of the next meeting already decided so that you can share it at the end of the meeting. This will help members work on and think about the topic during the weeks in between meetings.

Advertising each meeting

Send a group email (remember to BCC the list) to members at least a week before the meeting. It’s a good idea to create a Facebook group, and to create an event within the group for each meeting as this sends a direct message to group members.

Information to be included:

  • Date
  • Hours
  • Location and directions to the location
  • A brief abstract of the topic and what you expect members to do before or during the meeting
  • Your contact information in case people can’t find the location on the day of the meeting
Location

A quiet space at a central location is preferable. It can also be helpful to have a space with a white board and larger tables. Privacy is also ideal.

Sharing and recording what has been discussed at the meeting

How do we share and record what we do?

It is a good idea to share as a way of keeping the community connected throughout the month, but this is up to you.

Links I have found useful along the way

Below are links to resources that have helped me in teaching English as a second language, and in teaching teachers. I hope they are of service to you too.

If you have any suggestions for links to add to categories that exist, or don’t yet, please comment below.


*Topics are in alphabetical order.

Adult Learning Theory

Assessment

Body Language

Teacher burnout (2015)

Job Satisfaction

Cognates

Cognitive skills

Communication

Nonverbal

Miscommunication

Community (dynamics and rhythms)

Classroom Community

Communities of Practice

“…communities of practice are everywhere. They are a familiar experience, so familiar perhaps that it often escapes our attention. Yet when it is given a name and brought into focus, it becomes a perspective that can help us understand our world better. In particular, it allows us to see past more obvious formal structures such as organizations, classrooms, or nations, and perceive the structures defined by engagement in practice and the informal learning that comes with it.”

“The term community of practice was coined to refer to the community that acts as a living curriculum for the apprentice.”

Competence

Complexity Theory

Corpus

Critical Incidents

Critical reading and thinking

Cuisenaire Rods

Culture

Crosscultural Misunderstandings

Deductive learning (see Inductive learning)

Discussions (facilitating discussions)

Ecological Approach

Emotions

Emotional intelligence

Emotions and language

Neuroscience

Empowerment

English (lingua franca, international, dialects…)

Experiential Learning Cycle

Feedback

Writing

Fluency and Coherence (Speaking)

Focus on form

Goals

Grammar (with bonus humor because we all need to lighten up about grammar)

Adverbs

Adjectives

Complement

Function words

Object

Direct

Object Complement

Operators (do, do, do…because we always need a little back-up when being negative, inquisitive, or emphatic)

Particles (pesky little things)

Phrasal verbs (all of them…the ones that love splitting too)

Predicate (no use in denying this part of this sentence. It’s affirmed and here to stay)

Prepositional phrase (wordy adjectives or adverbs)

Sentences

Speaking

Symbols

Verbs

Ice-breakers

Inductive and deductive learning

Integrated skills

Learning-centered education

Learning Challenges (Disabilities)

Learning Modalities

Lexical Approach

Lexis

Listening

Listening (Good listeners)

Phonology and phonetics

Presentation Skills

Correlations

General

Informal and formal (politeness)

Interviews

Phrases

Questions

Surveys

Survey results

Pronunciation

Reading Skills

Receptive skills (Listening & reading)

Reflective Practice

Self and others

By telling others how we feel and other information about ourselves we reduce the hidden area, and increase the open area, which enables better understanding, cooperation, trust, team-working effectiveness and productivity. Reducing hidden areas also reduces the potential for confusion, misunderstanding, poor communication, etc, which all distract from and undermine team effectiveness.

Organizational culture and working atmosphere have a major influence on group members’ preparedness to disclose their hidden selves. Most people fear judgement or vulnerability and therefore hold back hidden information and feelings, etc, that if moved into the open area, ie known by the group as well, would enhance mutual understanding, and thereby improve group awareness, enabling better individual performance and group effectiveness.”

As with feedback, some people are more resilient than others – care needs to be taken to avoid causing emotional upset.”

*I can see this as a useful tool for trainers to use when considering the progress of a course, and the various group dynamics at play.

Social Change/Justice

 

Task-based Language Teaching (Dogme?)

Team-building

Young Learners

 

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

When Rapport Just Happens

The truth is, I was really worried about walking into this classroom. You see, I haven’t strictly taught a conversation based class in six years. More importantly, I haven’t taught a beginner class in that time either.

To top it off, I didn’t have fond memories of this particular classroom. When I taught beginner conversation classes six years ago, it’s in this classroom I recalled my biggest challenges: building rapport with quiet students whose interest in learning to speak English either didn’t exist or slowly dissipated as the semester went on. I remembered how much I had dreaded walking into this classroom back then. Looking back, perhaps my students’ motivation was a reflection of my apprehension.

Then on Friday, after all that worrying,  this happened.

IMG_4607This was my second class with this group of freshman. During the first class we did an icebreaker activity which involved finding out how old I was (age is an important factor in how relationships are built in Korea). Some students remembered that our Friday class together would be my 38th birthday. I never thought they would remember let alone go as far as buying a cake!

And just like that, my fears went out the door. We had a small celebration together which included one of the best rapport builders I know in Korea: group pictures.

During the rest of the class students shared their own birth dates. Some students discovered they were born on the same day. Then some learned the were from the same city; then the same majors.

Sometimes we can plan ways to build rapport with our students, but most of the time it’s just about being open to genuine moments of connection.

To learn more about building rapport with your language students, join #KELTchat tonight (September 9) from 8 to 9pm (Korea time) on Twitter.

Educational Influences: My father, Guy J. LeBlanc

This past winter, I interviewed my father on five different occasions, with each interview taking place at St. Pete Beach, Florida. My intention was to learn more about the moments he felt were significant to him in his work in education.  I also wanted to share his work with others, and of course learn more about my father — or “pape” as my sister (view and purchase her captivating photography here) and I call him.

For the most recent iTDi blog issue, Outside Influences, I shared part of an interview I did with my father in, An Outside Influence from Within My Family. However, here on Throwing Back Tokens, I will share shorter sections from those interviews throughout the next few months.

I want to thank my father for being so open with me, and for allowing me to share his story here. It is a sweet privilege.

And here is where the timeline begins.

Morning seashell hunting misson
Morning seashell hunting at St. Pete Beach, Florida

Me: Why did you enter the field of education, and when was that?

Guy: I started teaching a swimming course when I was 16 years old. That was really my first experience in education. And then when I finished college* I had an offer to work in a bank, but it didn’t pay my student loans, so at the last minute (August 15 and the university semester started in September), I decided to get my Bachelor of Education at Acadia.

*This is what we would consider as the final year in high school now. During his teenage years, my father studied at what is now known as Universite St. Anne. Although the community was francophone Acadian, this was the only school in the area where the content and instructions were in French.

Then I taught for two years at the Clare District High School. The formal classroom was never my style. I had always wanted to teach Physical Education (PE). My parents discouraged me because I had a bad back — two slipped discs at 16 or 17 years old. The discs came back into place, but I had a weak back. And so if I took a major in PE, I wouldn’t be able to teach in a regular classroom.

Then after two years at the high school, I decided to go to Acadia to take a Bachelor of Recreation.

Me: Let’s back up here. So you you had been in a regular class, and you taught…?

Guy: …Social Studies, History (what they called back then, History and Geography). We taught Health with a book from 1948, and I was teaching in the 70s. Not one of the profs felt it was right, but because we were in a school that was predominantly Catholic, there were certain things about sexuality you couldn’t talk about with students. There was little about health like we know about it today — like how to eat; how to exercise; how to strengthen yourself and be in better health.

Me: Was that one of the reasons you didn’t want to keep going in the classroom?

Guy: That was one of the reasons. When I was a student in school, I didn’t really like going to school, so teaching in the classroom didn’t interest me greatly.  But I loved working with people: with young people. I had always worked with kids in my swimming courses and in clubs for kids.

Me: So you wanted to work in PE because it was more in line with your beliefs; it was more active and more of what you had already done in your life. Then you went to Acadia to take your Bachelor of Recreation…

Guy: …and Physical Education at that time. It was a new program that started. At that time it was strange because they were talking about a “4 day work week”. Everyone was going to have a lot of free time for recreation so it was going to be a growing field. 35 years later, it’s not a 4 day work week but more of a 7 day week.

They wanted to focus on activities for the community, while now it’s about health and staying fit: to keep the mind fit and the body fit. Recreation is an integral part of almost every community. I was the first recreation director in Clare. It was a newly created position, but I only stayed a year (My father describes a controversial moment that occurs that leads to him being let go. The community was upset with this decision because they wanted the position to remain in the community and wanted my father to keep the position. Terms weren’t met and so…)

… I returned to teaching. There was position that opened up to teach PE from grade 3 to grade 7 (8 to 12 years old). I taught PE for 5 to 6 years in elementary school.

Me: I remember because I was really hoping that you would be my teacher. (I was a huge PE fanatic as a kid, and the idea of my dad being my PE teacher was big dream. When I got to grade 3, however, he began his career as an elected member of the Nova Scotia legislature.)

What was one of your most memorable moments teaching PE?

Guy: One of my greatest accomplishments was convincing the school board to teach swimming to all elementary students for 10 weeks instead of the regular PE classes. There were many drownings at that time. Every summer there was a young person who drowned. The predominant industry in Clare was fishing. Everyone spent time around wharves and boats, so for me it was important for kids to learn how to swim. So I was able to convince the school board on the basis that if the kids could take the basics, they would be safer citizens.

Me: What were the basics?

Guy: Some kids could swim, but some kids had never seen a pool and would never see one because their parents couldn’t afford to bring them to the pool at Universite St. Anne. Like this, transportation was provided for the students and the “foyer ecole” (home and school association) raised money to pay for the buses and the school board approved. This way everyone learned artificial respiration and other basic life saving skills, basic swimming skills…if they fell in the water, they learned how to put on a life jacket and save themselves.

Looking back, that was probably one my best achievements at the elementary level.

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Part 2 of this interview will come out next weekend. Thank you for reading!

Questions I ask myself before class

I’m currently working on a project that asks me to question what teachers may need to consider and do in order to confidently teach an English language class. To do this, I wrote a list of questions that have come to my mind during my years of teaching, and thought it might be of use to you as well. The list below relates to questions I try to ask myself before class, with “before” being subjective to time. I also intend to create a list of what I think about during and after class.

  • Individual learners – Who are my learners? What do they already know about English? What are their interests in life? Why are they here? How do they feel today? What’s going on in their lives that might affect their time here?
  • Group dynamics – Do the learners get along? What can I do to create a community (collaborative rather than competitive)? What are the cultural dynamics at play? How do the learners relate to me?
  • Classroom dynamics – Is the layout conducive to discussions or the tasks I have in mind? From what I know about them (how they may feel today or their personal preferences), or based on the task I have planned, will they need to move around? How can I display visuals?
  • Materials – Do they have a textbook (assigned audio)? Will I use what’s in it or will supplement it? Will I disregard parts of the chapter? Will I create my own material? Will they create their own material? If so, with what and how? Will I tell them what to create or will they decide?
  • Language – Are we starting with target language in mind? How could I visually or conceptually clarify the language that comes up? Do I have examples or visuals (audio) to help clarify the language skill (i.e.: genre; communicative purpose; register)? Do I want to be explicit (deductive approach) or implicit (inductive approach) with my clarification, or both? Is metalanguage needed (thanks to Chia Suan Chong for this inspiration)?
  • The language lesson – How can I structure my lesson in a way that the learners feel supported yet also challenged? Do they need a heavily structured lesson or do they work well with a more laid back, organic approach? Writing skills – What do they need to know in order to write a successful text? What is the genre or purpose of the text? What kind of language (register, grammar, lexis…) is needed to write in this genre or to communicate a desired message? How much time will I give for thinking, planning, outlining, revising, editing, and sharing with the audience? Will they share their text, and if so with who and how? Reading and listening skills – Is the text meaningful to the learners? Do I need to pre-teach lexis? What language may they find challenging? What skills (prediction, scanning, skimming, listening for details or gist…) will be needed to complete the task? What questions can I ask to help them catch the main idea and specific details? Speaking- What are they trying to communicate? Is it a conversation or a presentation? Is the topic meaningful to the learners? What is the context (i.e.: what is appropriate or inappropriate  language)? Do they have a reason to use the language (i.e.: is someone listening and does that person have a reason to respond)? Do they have enough time to practice the language? How will I help them clarify the pronunciation? 4skills – How will I help learners balance accuracy and fluency? How will I deal with errors? Can they self or peer correct?
  • Approach – How does what I know about how languages are learned inform how I create opportunities for learning (i.e.: input theories, output theories, affective learning theories…)? How will my past experience with learning language inform my approach? What methodologies would would work best considering the needs of my learners (audio-lingual, CLT, TBL, grammar translation…)? How can I mix these up to serve them best?
  • Teacher (self and intentions) – How am I feeling today? What do I need? How do my past experiences influence today’s class, and what am I ready to do about it?

Now for the last question: what am I missing? If you notice I’ve missed an important question, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Synchronicity Visits a Teacher

If you know me, you know how I excited I get about the topic of synchronicity. If you don’t know this about me, well, now you know. And now that I am blogging about synchronicity, you can imagine how doubly excited I am.

My favourite nickname for synchronicity so far is divine winks. I’m going to put a twist on this and call them divine synchs. How these synchs usually come to me are through words. For example, I’ll be contemplating something all day, and then the answer pops up coincidently on a t-shirt or bag on the street or subway.

Stay Real
subway in Hong Kong

Or maybe friends and I have been discussing a very obscure topic, and the next show on TV is about just that. There is something both comforting and uncanny about these moments. I see them as signs that I’m on the path that I’m supposed to be on. So if these synchs arrive at a higher frequency than usual, it means I need to slow down and pay attention.

This post is me slowing down and paying attention.

The word that has been popping up is, confidence. It first revealed itself while doing research for a post I’m writing for the iTDi blog. The research involved me going through all the posts I’ve written on Throwing Back Tokens since 2009 and looking for themes. This is when the synch first appeared. Below are all the posts that speak directly of or even allude to confidence.

The next time it showed up was during our post lesson observation feedback. One of the observers noted how confident the teachers who had just team-taught looked to him. The way they were able to answer questions and give directions in English made him realize how important it is to feel confident as a teacher. For him, without such confidence, it was really hard for him to teach.

Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that the next day the word came up again after team-teaching, but I’ll still call it a synch. This time it was the teacher who taught the lesson who shared how valuable confidence is when it comes to standing in front of the class.

I’m not sure what all this means exactly, but I think it has something to do with a trajectory I am supposed to take: maybe research into confidence and the teaching self; maybe help teachers explore what confidence means to them and how they can actualize it; or maybe I need more confidence myself. Whatever it means, this is a synch I’m keeping my eye on.