Tagged: reflective practice

The Wire, Twitter, and Reflective Practice

What ties the three things in the title together? Well, I love them all and I have personally found them all useful. It’s more than that, though. I have also found myself “selling” these things to others.  I am pretty much convinced that The Wire is the best television show of all time and it’s provided me with much needed distraction on numerous occasions. Reflective Practice has helped me make sense of teaching and learn from experience. Twitter has connected to me a network (ok, fine, a personal learning network) of ELT professionals all around the world and it has been incredibly useful, inspirational and fun for me.

When meeting friends and colleagues lately I’ve sometimes noticed myself going on and on about the latter 2 things. Also, I have presented on RP quite a few times and will be presenting about #KELTchat along with other #KELTchatters at the KOTESOL International Conference. Countless dinners and drinks over the last 10 months have featured me rattling on about Twitter and how great it has been for me.  I suppose that is fine as it is something that I am very excited about. I am not, however, so comfortable with the proselytizing aspect at the moment. I don’t really know the source of this discomfort but I thought sharing some thoughts here would be helpful.

I have a friend that has heard me talk about The Wire for years now and has yet to watch a single episode. I am positive he will love it. He said, “I am sure I will like it but I just don’t have  time.” I said exactly the same thing to my brother who was always talking about The Wire and telling me how much I would like it. I was full of “yeah buts” and reasons I didn’t yet get into the show. It wasn’t until I was a guest at his home and he plied me with beers after a lovely meal and insisted that we were going to watch a few episodes and if I didn’t like it we could stop after 2 episodes. He was sure I would like it. He was right. I loved it.

It seems like “I don’t have time to” is a common reason given for people not blogging or using Twitter. It also seems like this is an easily mocked or criticized comment by those that truly believe in professional development through these ways.

My friend from above who has never watched The Wire is the same person that had Understanding Teaching Through Learning  (an amazing book that I strongly suggest you get if you can…whoops here I go preaching again) untouched on his nightstand for nearly 2 years. By the way, he loved it when he finally opened it and now swears by it. On some levels, I am happy that my friend enjoyed the book. I suppose that my ego is pleased that I was right in choosing a book that would be a good fit for him. I suspect the book has helped him out and even made some sessions a bit better or at least easier to organize and was thus better for his trainee teachers which potentially makes things better for students. Ok. But, I am not really sure what benefits, if any,  I have personally received my suggestions and pestering.

Thinking back to The Wire, I can’t really see what benefits I would actually get if  my friend suddenly became a huge fan. I would be happy that he spent his free time in a fun and interesting way but maybe that is about it. I guess we could also have some laughs about the antics of McNulty and Bunk but that is about it.

I am really wondering why I care(d) so much about how other people (non-training course participant people, I mean) choose to spend their time and how they choose to develop.

I wrote above that The Wire, RP and Twitter have been extremely useful for me personally. Maybe they won’t be as useful for others and I think that is totally fine. Maybe Twitter is not so useful for everyone. Maybe they are fine with their own professional development and maybe my thoughts on how they *should be developing are not really all that important to them. Maybe I *should just chill out a bit and worry about myself and what works for me and those incredible people in my PLN.

I feel like in the next few months or so I will just talk about how great RP and Twitter (and The Wire too I suppose) have been for me and let people know that I will be keen to talk about these things if they choose to get involved. I will resist the urge to push and will just let people make up their own minds.

Questions that come to mind include:

  • Do you have any experience “selling” things like Twitter and RP? How did it go?
  • Have you ever had discomfort “selling” such things? How did you deal with it?
  • Why do you care about the professional development of others?
    (I guess this question is especially relevant if you are not paid to do so)
  • What am I missing?

Related (?) Links:

My most recent blog post on reasons for (Korean) teachers to join twitter

#ELTchat Summary on Introducing CPD to Dinosaurs

#Eltchat review on why the word “dinosaurs” isn’t helpful

A blog post by a teacher who chooses not to develop online 

Reflecting vs. complaining

I recently had the great opportunity to do a “remix” of my friend and colleague Josette LeBlanc’s great presentation on The Experiential Learning Cycle (The ELC). Click here for slides/materials and reflections and here for her pre-presentation thoughts. In the presentation that I did a few weeks later I mostly followed her format but I added in some personal stories and details. I’d like to share one of these stories below. This is sort of how I imagined saying it. 

I have been in this field for just about 12 years and more than 7 of these have been in Korea. I first started working in Jinju, which is a city in the south. It is a pretty small city and back then there weren’t many foreigners around. This was over 10 years ago, remember. Actually, for the first few weeks the only non-Koreans that I knew were the two guys that I worked with till one day I bumped into, actually literally bumped into, an American lady from California. She was nice enough. She was quite friendly and she told me that I should join her and her friends for a drink sometime. I was excited because I liked the occasional beverage.  I also thought it would be nice to meet some different people. I was excited and then she said something that I have remembered and thought about for a long time. She said, “Yeah you should come meet us at _____ bar, because we all get together and bitch about teaching every Friday night.”

Bitching or reflecting or neither?

I had only been teaching for a few weeks and this sounded just terrible to me. I mean, why would they bitch about teaching? What was there to bitch about? Why would I want to sit around and listen to people bitch? I thought I’d be happier just having drinks with happier people. This is what I thought after three weeks. Well, after three years and more it became easier and easier to bitch, but I don’t think it became any more productive. I think it is just too easy to complain but I really don’t think it helps much. Maybe we feel better for a moment but we don’t really get anywhere with it.

Though I taught for nearly 8 years till I got into reflection I don’t think I really developed much till then.  I always liked teaching. I enjoyed it. I liked seeing students’ progress. I liked interacting with students. My students seemed to like my class and they seemed to improve. I got rehired. I got better jobs. I got good evaluations. But again, I don’t think that I really improved much until I started reflecting and thinking about what was really going on in class and how the choices that I make might impact this. I’ve found using the ELC is one of the best ways for me to do this.

(End of story) 

To be honest, I can’t really say that I have totally quit bitching! I can say that when I get started on a solid roll of complaints I am much more aware of it. I can unload my feelings and I can push myself into the description zone and try to recall and think about what really happened. I find that going through the ELC and creating action plans pushes me behind simply complaining and being bothered. I find it to be much more productive and also easier to handle the real difficulties that might arise in teaching. 

I find myself wondering if teachers complain more than those in other jobs. I feel like it is all too easy to get caught in the circle of complaining. I find that the ELC is a good way for me to avoid this. I wonder what strategies other teachers employ. 

Considerations for reflection

Reflection is something that I’ve been thinking and talking about a lot these days. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am presenting (tomorrow!!) on reflection. As co-facilitator of KOTESOL’s Reflective Practice Special Interest Group I have the wonderful opportunity to talk about and practice reflection in our monthly meetings in Seoul. If you would like to read more about the group, what we do and what we are planning to do you can click here and go to pages 3-4 for a short article on that. I find all the meetings helpful, inspiring,  and enlightening and in this post I’d like to share some ideas that came up in the February (2012) meeting that was facilitated by my friend and colleague Manpal Sahota. In the meeting we mostly focused on different ways of reflecting and tried to think about the decisions we might want to make if we decided to try reflecting in these particular ways. The different ways that we mostly focused on were group discussions, journals, class observations, and teaching portfolios.

The question we were asked for each of the different ways was, “What do you think a teacher would have to do/consider when planning to use these ways of reflecting?” 

The following are the questions/considerations that the group came up with (along with my own thoughts and additions): 

Journals

  • Is there a format/structure? What is it?
  • Do you want to follow a rubric? What type? Why?
  • Is there a specific topic/focus? Or just what comes to mind on the day?
  • How often do you write in the journal?
  • How long is each entry?
  • How much time do you spend on each entry?
  • Where do you write it?
  • When do you write it? (Examples include during class, right after class, another day)
  • Do you want to get feedback on the journal? From whom? How? On what?
  • Do you want to choose the journal topic before teaching the lesson?
  • When/how do you revisit the journal? What do you do
  • Do you include some degree of accountability for yourself? How? What is it?

A quick note about journaling: It seems to me that many people equate journaling with reflection. From my view, journaling is just one of the many ways that we can reflect. I think it is helpful to think of journaling as a useful way of reflecting but not the only way. Journaling is surely not the only way and is not the best way for everyone. Some people just don’t like writing. Some people don’t want more time on the computer. Some people feel better with charts or pictures. Some people think better when they are talking (with or without someone else). Some people are self conscious about their writing skills. So, let’s take a look at some other ways.

Group Discussions

  • What are the expectations? Are they the same for everyone? Are they clearly stated?
  • Are there agreed upon norms/code of conduct?
  • What are the goals and objectives of the discussions?
  • Where are the discussions held? How comfortable is the room? What equipment is there?
  • Is there a seating plan? What purposes does it serve?
  • When are the discussions? Day? Time? (Duration?)
  • What about refreshments? What? Who organizes? Who pays?
    Is booze ok?
  • Is there equal participation? Is this a concern? How can we create a situation where some  people don’t dominate and so everyone speaks? How can we create space for some people not to speak if they don’t wish to?
  • Is an agenda set before the discussion? Is an agenda set at the beginning of the discussion? (So that people know what is coming and what they can get out of it)
  • Is there a leader/facilitator? What are his/her roles? How is the leader determined (volunteer, nominated, rotating etc.)?

Class Observations

  • What are the goals of the observation? Is it for development of the teacher that is teaching? Is it for observers to learn new skills? Is it for teachers to practice new skills? Is it to show off? Is it for continued/future employment?
  • Are there guidelines? What are the guidelines? Where do the guidelines come from? What purpose do they serve?
  • Are there SMART objectives for the observation?
  • How will the observation be conducted (live/videotape/audiotape)?
  • Who will observe? A critical friend? Peer? Supervisor? Education professional? Other?
  • Which class will be observed? Some considerations include students’ level/ability, Student-teacher rapport, the time of day and the type of lesson.
  • Will the teacher do anything different/special for the observed class? Why/Why not?

Teaching Portfolios

  • What goes in them?
    Some possibilities: awards, philosophy, curricula, teaching material, lesson plans, conference information, student work, teaching demos, reflections)
  • What is the medium? Dead trees? Digital? Is it interactive (like an app or something?)
  • How long/big is it?
  • What is the format? How will we organize it (chronologically, by class type/student level)?
  • How often do we update it?
  • How can we make this more for reflection than for job hunting?
    (Some wisdom from the group: It is the curating that matters.

Of course this is just a short list of different ways of reflecting and some considerations for these ways as there are many more ways (and considerations). What other ways of reflecting would you add? What other considerations would you add? As always, any comments are greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading and happy reflecting!