One (possible) solution for co-teacher induced hangry moments

“You’d better use CCQs” she said in an not-unfriendly manner as we walked out of class on way to lunch. Aside from it becoming obvious she doesn’t read the ELT Rants Reviews Reflections blog it also became obvious we had a communication problem. I wasn’t impressed with the timing, especially since I wasn’t expecting a feedback session. I thought we were just going to teach the class and then chill out for a bit and maybe get some damned food. I didn’t know she would be jumping right into critique mode. It’s not like I love or agree with every fucking thing she does in class, I just figured there is a time and a place for everything. I didn’t think this was either for such a conversation. She busted out the CCQ thing and I guess it was on.

Who the fuck does she think she is? It’s like she learned “The Way” of teaching last year on a training course or something and is ready to pounce on anyone who doesn’t follow it perfectly. Who the fuck does she think I am? I didn’t just unpack my backpack and start teaching. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck nor is this my first rodeo. I’ll grant that she has been teaching much longer than I have but I don’t think that means she knows all there is to know about teaching English. Sheesh. I am ready to have conversations about how to improve but I don’t need to be talked down to.

I am not happy with how that conversation went down. I think it could have been much more civil and more productive. I am not at all excusing myself for my role in the meltdown. I was wounded and I acted accordingly. Teaching is a sensitive thing and it is tough to get unexpected negative feedback particularly when you don’t even agree with it. It is rough. As teachers we often teach on our own and either gather feedback from students or not. It is a real jolt for the system when there is another set of eyes in the room, observing and maybe judging. I guess this emotion is heightened when the other teacher has completely different teaching beliefs. I can’t say for sure but I’m thinking the other teacher coming from a different culture (both educational and in general) doesn’t help either. Then we throw in different concepts of our roles and it becomes a pretty nice cocktail ready to act as a catalyst for chaos.

I don’t wish to say things were hopeless from the start, I just want to say things were set up to be challenging and if we are not aware of these challenges then disaster is a distinct possibility. I think I detailed some of the challenges above. I’m sure there are more. I think part of what bothered me so much was the way she told me. I don’t mean her tone, which was nice enough. I mean the manner in which the information she wanted to convey to me was given to me was not what I’d hope for.

On a training course I heard about the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) as a way to think about our experiences and build on them to develop ourselves and our teaching. In this training course, our trainer was adamant about organizing feedback sessions around this cycle and I think it helped me think about my lessons and to find a way into improving. I remember after our first practice teaching sessions I could see so clearly what my peers had done wrong and I was eager to offer them constructive advice and suggestions. I also felt like I knew what changes I wanted to make in my own lessons immediately after my lessons finished. The trainer insisted that I go through the cycle before eventually arriving at what I’d do differently.  I found it somewhat tedious at the time but now I can see real value in it. I wish my co-teacher had followed this way of thinking and talking. I realize I am not being completely fair to expect my co-teacher to follow training only one of us experienced. My current wonder is what would have happened if I had been more explicit about my experiences with, beliefs about, feelings about and expectations of feedback.

Above is the cycle as I learned it and it starts with an experience, which is sometimes considered a slice or a moment. It could be anything and is basically something that happened.

We want to describe this thing. In detail. Objectively. This is not the time to talk about what is right or wrong or good or bad. This is not the time for beliefs or suggestions, or “I would haves.” This is the time to share what actually happened. Phrases like “I saw” and “I heard” are good here. Specifics are good too. This is not the time (if there ever is one) to say, “Your explanations were not clear” but it might be the time to talk about what happened explained a specific grammar point at a specific time especially if there are references to what students did. It might be the time to share exact quotes. Data, not opinions, is what we are aiming for here. Objectivity over subjectivity.

At this point, one might argue that what we see is always subjective. Fine. This is true but if we do our best to paint an objective picture and leave out our judgments. This is the time for trying to see things are they are or were. This is the time for clear-headed cold-blooded objectivity. This is not the time for emotions or feelings.

I didn’t forget the feelings part on the graphic. I like to think of them as a cloud off to the side, something that we want to address but not something we want to “cloud over” all the thinking we are doing in other parts of the cycle. We can’t ignore them, especially in light of how much of an emotional business this can be. So maybe we want to start with the feelings, even before the description.  We don’t want to harp on them or allow them to dictate, control and cloud the whole process. I think of this semi-stage as a time to unload the feelings but ultimately as a time to prepare for what comes next.

After the description (and feelings) we can move onto interpreting. I have been taught to think of this as two parts. One of them is thinking about hypotheses for why the experience might have gone this way. Why might the thing that happened might have happened the way it happened? With these questions we should generate some potential explanations. I think this is extremely valuable because we often just jump to one conclusion and thus block out a range of possibilities. Hopefully a rich description will have been helpful for calming the mind and for drawing a basis from which to speculate on. I like the idea of creating hypotheses here, even if they are not likely to be true. I think this flexibility helps me step away from simply assuming the worst and at the very least it helps me see how there are often many possible hypotheses I would not otherwise consider.

The other half of interpretation is to generalize, to create statements of belief about teaching. We want to use the experience to generalize about teaching and learning. We have so many beliefs about teaching and many of these are unknown and not yet articulated or considered.  Here we play around with these beliefs and draw some conclusions. We don’t need to worry about saying things like “all students everywhere ever will respond to X in this way” but it does help to think about how certain things might go with our group(s) of students. These should be based on the previous stages of the cycle which means that generalizations without some basis in what happened are not going to work well.

After creating a rich description and interpreting the event we are ready for the action plan. What (exactly) will we do next time? How will we approach things differently? The answers to these questions should be rooted in the answers and ideas from the previous stages. If the action plan does not speak to the previous stages we need to keep working and thinking. When we have a plan we are happy with we can go about trying it out with some active experimentation.

The new experience that comes out this experimentation can form a new start of the cycle. From that new experience we can cycle through once again. So we don’t need to think of this as a once-off but rather more a continual spiral of many small spirals. The process can continue like this and we can continue developing our thoughts and experiences about teaching.

Returning to the experience with my co-teacher, I think part of the problem for me is how she jumped right to the action plan, to the suggestion. She didn’t even give me a chance to see where this thought came from. I’d be happy to participate in a discussion. But instead she imposed her beliefs and prescriptions on me, and I was not mature enough to simply listen politely and later make my own decisions. I think if she had painted the moment for me (especially if she provided examples related to student learning or the hindrance of it) I would have been much more receptive. But instead, all she did was hit me with a belief (CCQs are needed!) masquerading as an action plan and sounding like a threat. Not ideal. Perhaps if she started with a thing that happened and showed the students’ response to it and helped me see how and why it was important I might have been more swayed by her points. She didn’t even really give me a chance to think about what happened and why it might have or what that means for my teaching and what I might do differently next time. That could have potentially saved us from a useless and stressful conversation. Instead I was just tired and hungry!

Notes in the form of Q/A: 

Why was it obvious she doesn’t read this blog? 
Post related to CCQs
Post related to “You’d better”
Post related to feedback on lessons
Column on how to make team teaching work
Something about something about reflection and feedback or something

Can you share Moar links?
This one by Carol Rogers (on reflection) can be seen as related.
This one where Josette LeBlanc provides a lot of insights. As does her blog in general and the experiential learning tag, specifically.

 Did you make this cycle up?
 Not at all. It something based on Dewey and Kolb and adapted further. 

Is this a true story? 
This is not a story that happened to me.
This is not a story that happened to anyone I know.
It might be seen as an amalgamation of many stories I have heard, read and experienced.
I honestly just made it up.
If you don’t believe me or think I doth protest too much, I can say I have never worked in a public school or had this type of co-teaching arrangement.
I’d also like to add that I, successfully or not, tried to play around with a different voice here.

Do you have another purpose for this post? What is this for?
I had some hopes that this, or part of it, could be used in training situations, maybe as soon as this weekend!
I also thought I might be able to adapt some of the ideas for something else I was working on so this post was something of a brainstorming session.
Feedback and comments are very welcome.

Is there anything you wanted to include but cut because it was already 2,000 words?
Yes! Many things. The biggest three were the following, which I just rescued from the cutting room floor.

“One of the attacks I have seen levied against reflection is that it is very insular and doesn’t lead to action. In this case it clearly does if the action plan is followed.”

“Another aspect I like of this cycle is that it puts the teacher in the driver’s seat. I could have listened to my co-teacher and suddenly employed CCQs whenever she was around but I might never know why I was doing so. Making the decision based on my own through her help and guidance would probably be much more long lasting and helpful for my development.”

“One thing I always remember about the action plan is that it doesn’t need to be some dramatic change, or any change at all. Often, however, after walking through this reflection process we will want to make some changes.”

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8 comments

  1. Chewie (Gangwon Dispatches)

    Well said. It doesn’t matter if you made it up or not, for I’ve lived this kind of episode on many occasions. And on the way to or at lunch is among the worst times to talk about teaching for me. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about teaching. On the contrary, it’s just that by lunch, I’m starving and don’t feel like talking to anyone. The schedule usually has a class just before lunch, so I’m slightly hoarse and thirsty as well. The teachers eat in the cafeteria with several hundred other loud middle and high school students, so hearing anyone is difficult, too.

    But anyway, yes. Time and place. Context. Set the line up with something. “I noticed that…” is usually a good beginning—not “You’d better.”

    • mikecorea

      Thanks Ben. I hoped i was somewhat accurate in my depiction. I thank you for reading and commenting. I hoped that the story might be useful for something, or someone, somewhere. 🙂

      On Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 6:38 PM, ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections wrote:

      >

      • mikecorea

        It could very well be a thing. Even thinking about vaguely similar experiences make me think I got suckerpunched, not ready for what was coming at all. wow. yeah. It could be a thing.

        I really think being ready for feedback is a key part of the process.

  2. geoffjordan

    “You’d better use the BBQ sauce on this bacon sandwich” would surely have been a better way to start the feedback session.

  3. alexcase

    My advice is “When giving feedback to EFL teachers, think of them as theatre-acting lovies”, starting with five minutes of “You were absolutely wonderful, darling” before launching into a “Have you maybe thought about possibly…?” or two. They will probably take offence anyway, but you might be able to get out of the room before they do.

    • mikecorea

      There is fantastic advice as well as a nice simile here. I can imagine the role play on a training course, “Your partner is a theatre-acting lovie, praise her profusely, mention on thing and then escape.”

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