My Blogging Mood

I sometimes have this idea about me being different depending on the project I am involved in, or the place where I travel, or the thoughts I have, etc. One example can be me speaking English versus L1-s, or being on a face-to-face course versus doing other non-training work (writing, reviewing, etc.) or blogging and not blogging actively. Sometimes I wish these ‘personalities’ could interact with each other, share the wisdom from the momentum, reminding that they all exist.

I am now taking notes from this ‘Blogging Time’ inspiration, where writing feels easy, ideas come naturally and page after page appears smoothly (and I want to write more and more). I know this will pass. I simply want to remember how it feels, and get back to this page when I am not in the shape to produce a post.

Tips to remind myself about:

  1. start a new post as soon as the previous one is published: you will most likely have an idea of a topic to develop, and even some starting points to make; sometimes, half a draft can come up without an effort;
  2. create a folder with the post ideas: start collecting images and add them there, which will help you take another look at the topic/title, make a note or even a paragraph, depending on the time available;
  3. decide when you want to post the next one and mark in the calendar, including its topic (a bit of commitment and some realistic planning never hurts);
  4. set a time (and again mark it in the calendar) when you will do the actual writing; usually it is about an hour for me, provided that there are some ideas drafted and the topic has been ‘brewing’ in my head for some time;
  5. re-read, edit, proofread, check links and publish (don’t delay this for too long, as the ‘spur of the moment’ might disappear!);
  6. hit ‘publish’ and repeat!

a moment to capture

Notes and thoughts:

  • yes, some topics require more serious reading/research/think time, so it may take much longer to come up with a quality post
  • well, the whole procedure could take about 15 minutes, as with this short post
  • no, you don’t always need an image

It may be a natural thing to share such tips and plan at the beginning of a new year (jotted this down in January and curious how I would feel about it in March, July and October! :))

Do you have any ‘tips to self’ to share in order to capture your productive (or any other) mood?

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Facilitator-less Sessions

The deepest dependency is not of students upon teachers, but of teachers upon students.

– Peter Elbow, Writing without Teachers

I don’t know if the adjective ‘facilitator-less‘ exists but decided to choose this title for my post.

Background: if you read this blog, you already know that I facilitate an Reflective Practice Group meetings for teachers (I know, I know: these have been too much on my blog about the ideas and topics for this group, so I am not going to write another post about it today) One challenge this year is me moving to another city in Ukraine and being roughly 800 km away from the meetings venue means I don’t always facilitate them. This is great on many levels, and I don’t want to list the reasons.

Now, one challenge with having several people potentially able to run a meeting may also mean that sometimes it is hard to find someone available (due to personal reasons, being busy at work, taking a trip, spending time with a child, getting ready to a big winter holiday celebration, etc.) One obvious solution is to cancel the meetings in such cases: extra time off never hurts, as teachers already lead busy lives. At the same time, for some people the time on vacation would be a chance to come and enjoy a reflective session. Besides, cancelled meetings is not an ideal practice if we really want to keep something going.

So… another solution to experiment with could be a session without a facilitator (I hope I am no re-inventing a wheel here) Something I took part in the past were so-called ‘Swap Shops’ where each participant is bringing an idea or an activity to share, and takes about 5-10 minutes of everyone’s time to explain or demonstrate it. Everyone else participates and asks questions, etc., then another participant takes a lead. It is almost (90%?) ‘Facilitator-less’, as the leader is usually monitors the time and sometimes asks a question to keep the session going. In our RP group we have tried this format using the topic ‘One Book’ where everyone brought a book they read this year and shared why it left lasting impressions and significant learning by answering 4 questions on a poster.

Can a session be held completely without a facilitator? My current answer ‘yes, it can’. Having a topic plus some questions brainstormed beforehand would be helpful, and then during the meeting the participants can decide how to keep the time (for example, using a timer function on a Smart Phone) and how to make transitions from one topic to the other.

A couple of possible topics I see are the following:

Magic in Class (sharing essentials/realia to bring and use in class and/or using each of them for brainstorming more potentially creative and unusual ideas). What started on my blog turned into a small blogging challenge (don’t forget to click the links at the end to enjoy other posts!)

Teaching Higher Proficiency Levels (or Beginner/Lower, if this is what seems to be more relevant). As a starter, some beliefs can be discussed (I created a possible list last year in this post, but it is obviously not an exhaustive one)

One Image‘ as a session topic was suggested in comments by Christina. Quoting her:

‘be it static or moving, canned or authentic (e.g. an original capture from group members), as something visual might prompt extremely motivating and powerful contributions.’

An alternative format could be a Written/Quiet Discussion when questions are asked and answered in writing and by the end of the session there is some tangible result, or a ‘product’, created by the meeting participants on a poster, on the board, on a piece of paper even.

Reading and Discussing session is another format to consider. In this type of sessions a book chapter or an article is read by all the members of the group beforehand. This is not new and people have been experimenting with the idea, for example, Gemma Lunn has been doing in her ELT Academic Reading group, or David Kaufher’s organized teacher get-togethers, like the one about Vocabulary described in this post (sharing questions and a research article before the meeting). Another example is Mark Makino’s Reading Circles where each member has a specific role to play (the author describes it as a possible way to organize an end-of-term feedback collecting, and it seems to be a great idea for teacher sessions, too)

trying out and reflecting on some less- or non-ELTish ideas and activities, for example, using Visible Thinking resource .

Lesson Jamming idea described in Sandy Millin’s earlier post .

What else might work in the ‘facilitator-less’ mode? What sessions for teachers by teachers have you run or attended? What potential pitfalls are there to be aware of?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Reflecting on Blogging: Part 2, Writing

I took away the part ‘in 2017’ from the title. As the title got lengthy, I did not add the second half I like so much: ‘Closing (Some) Loops‘. This post is my second round of reflective thoughts about blogging (you can read its part 1 focusing on the reading others’ blogs)

I tweeted this last month

Questions to ponder

I then tried to imagine myself being a reader of this blog: what would I want to ask the author? What reminders could I send her? Questions I would ask? Is there anything that has been promised but never followed up on? What ‘loops’ have been opened but never closed? In this post I would like to talk about some of those loops. You will see that some are easy to ‘close’ and some are less so. Some may be doomed to stay open.

50 words

It’s a page with a couple of sub-pages where I was collecting my 50-word thoughts in 2015-2016. I stopped last year and never got myself to maintain this list. Even though the process to create a 50-word note is fun, it needs to be done on a regular basis to make sense. Also, getting back to the ideas there and creating a post, conducting a small research needs more discipline (time, energy, etc.). For now, I will keep it as a page.

PD Challenge

I wrote 2 posts 2017 with this title: New and Experienced Teachers and Multi-Subject Teacher GatheringOne more post that could have had this title was on Teaching Higher Levels written in 2016.  The part that worked for me was sharing the question or a task I felt was challenging and trying to create my own (selfish!) opportunity for professional development using this blog as the reflective lounge. At the same time, as a reader of this blog I imagine would be curious how the session went.

Updates: the Multi-Subject meeting has not happened yet, but I hope it is something to look forward to in the coming year. My ‘live session planning’ and ‘thinking aloud’ exercises on this blog were helpful and resulted in a simple slide deck for the presentation, and my enhanced confidence level. I think I will keep sharing those PD Challenges with you in 2018 🙂

Connecting

Working as a freelance trainer and curriculum designer has a lot of benefits, but sometimes often could feel a bit isolated and disconnected from colleagues and community. ‘Connecting’ in its various formats became my theme in 2016-2017: apart from facilitating a reflective group for teachers, I started (and almost failed to maintain) a small local consultancy service ‘Mobile Director of Studies’, and made several attempts to create a community of teacher trainers in my country. In 2016 I shared a post about this.

Since I have never followed up on how the developed, let me do it now. In 2017, I ran two sessions for teacher trainers in the format of ‘Round Table’: the first one was more of an introduction of the idea, pretty much as the post describes. The second one was focusing on Planning and Running a Workshop Session, and its abstract said the following:

‘Even if you are not yet formally a ‘trainer’ or a ‘teacher mentor’ (but definitely if you are!) you may be asked to deliver an input session to your colleagues, and/or run a seminar to the newer teachers at your organization, and/or deliver a workshop or a training to a group of teachers. Some of us have taken certain training on how to do this, and many of us have developed an intuitive approach to creating and delivering such sessions. The session will be an invitation to share ‘tips and tricks’ for successful training sessions for teachers.’

During the session, we were discussing these questions:

1) Where do we start when preparing a workshop session for other teachers?
2) What kind of session formats do you know (have you used or attended as a participant)?
3) What criteria of a ‘successful’ workshop session can we use? (and what makes a session ‘effective’ and ‘helpful’ for teachers?)
4) What tricks and tips for developing and delivering a workshop session can you share with fellow trainers?

We also created a (semi-active) Closed Facebook Group, which I hope to contribute to more in the coming year. If the group gets more interactive in 2018, I would like to share an update about it. If you don’t hear anything about it in the coming 12 months, it would simply mean I said goodbye to the idea.

RP Reading Club

Since it was created in 2015, only one article was read and blogged about in the ‘club’ format, and there is a post about it hereThe reason I stopped was not having a ‘peer’ to read together. Without a need (or a push?) for conducting formal research it is hard to keep reading, and even harder to reflect on the reading in writing. In 2017 my colleague and I almost started creating a new course featuring reflective practice skills for teachers, but we put it on a pause for a number of reasons (lack of time, other work commitments, etc.) The might get its ‘second wind’ in our reflective practice group, and if it does, I will keep sharing.

< < Not writing > >

This is not a ‘theme’ as such, but a part of my freelance living and writing reality: sometimes I make a pause and you don’t hear from me for quite a while. In 2017, this was the time between March and August: not a single post for 6 months!

The reasons this year were often about lack of time (which I don’t like as an excuse, but still) and having to spend lots of time at my screen doing various types of writing for work, e.g. developing a series of workshops for parents in an Asian country helping their young children to read in English extensively (March), putting together a module on listening and speaking for an online course for teachers in a Central American country (May-June), and running global online courses (throughout the year). There were smaller projects and events: consultancy trips, moving to another city, becoming an aunt, more trips between the two homes now, etc. 

A lot of simple life events needed my full presence, energy and time, leaving none of those for blogging. Sometimes, in the midst of everything I simply forgot the magic effect of writing and sharing with my supportive PLN: the clarity it brings, the ideas it invites, the breeze and energy from the experience… In the darker days, I even started to doubt the effect of blogging as a professional development tools, and almost gave myself in to an impostor feeling

I then found this early post of mine written in 2014 and sharing (25!) reasons to start this blog. I could also think of one more reason blog: use writing as a way of clarifying my own thinking process, as a tool to calm down, to ‘silence’ the inner critic. This insight was helpful to re-start!

Final thoughts

Having read the post above I can see a couple of new promises made, a couple of ‘loops’ closed (or explained). I am also wondering if there is anything else that you, my reader, remember me promising to write about and never doing so (could have happened in comments, on Twitter, in other conversations). I would like to have a ‘loop-less’ 2018! (does that count for a new year resolution?)

Overall, I feel lighter, and motivated to keep writing.

Harbuz Cafe in Lviv

Questions:

  1. What loops (on your blog, or in your professional development) are you planning to close in the coming year?
  2. Do you generally feel comfortable with having some loops open?
  3. How would you answer the questions about blogging (as in the image at the top of this post)

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Reflecting on Blogging in 2017: Part 1, Reading

Confession: I really wanted to call this post ’17 things I learned from reading blogs in 2017′ using Sandy Millin’s fantastic idea in this post about her learning in the past year. It appears to be really hard to ‘fit’ into the specific figure, so I might eventually quit the ’17’ idea. Still, you can see where I am getting at: December is the last month of the year and this by itself is an encouragement to look back at the previous 12 months and share the learning that happened. It is also a chance to feel the moment of the leaving year and to wholeheartedly welcome the new calendar page.

Since this part is the ‘reading’ part of the reflective process, let me share the posts that helped me grow and develop this year.

In July Hana Ticha wrote her post called Burnout Syndrome of the TEFL community and shared her concern about the silence of the bloggers she was/is following. My initial thoughts after reading her post went along the lines of ‘sure, this must be summer!’ I then checked the date of my latest post and saw that it had been about four months since I posted. Summer, really? That post by Hana made me start checking my WP Reader more often. This, in turn, let me read several great responses shared by the bloggers I respect and eagerly follow: Vedrana, Anna, Matthew, Mike and Pete, blogged about their reasons for (not) writing. Wise, open, deep reflections. They reminded me how much I love the reading part of blogging, and connecting to the people some (most!) of whom I have never even met in person (I still secretly believe we may meet one day, but that’s not the point now… 🙂 )

Anna Loseva’s Happy ELT Story (or to me, Live Blogging Party) idea showed the art to use the situation (only two people showing up for a reflective group meeting)flexibly and creatively, with maximum learning outcome to those who did show up. It prompted a new concept of ‘facilitator-less sessions’ for teachers (the post is still brewing) and an idea of a different blogging genre to try in the future. 

Vedrana Estatiev’s post on arranging Anonymous Peer Reviewing/feedback giving on an online course shared a cool example of how students could do some work instead of the teacher (well, at least a part of it) and benefit as learners. It was also a reminder to be more learner-centered no matter what kind of environment, or platform we are using.

Svetlana Kandybovich’s post A Penny for Your Thoughts offered a great speaking activity idea, and as she often does through her writing, made me feel inspired and motivated to experiment.

Matthew Noble’s post In Praise of Papyrus was (1) a good example how ideas can be seen as creative genius that come and leave us, and (2) showed that we have so much in common, even though we have never worked together on a course. [Note: Well, we almost did, but ‘almost’ is a key word. Another time!]

Josette LeBlanc’s post Links I Have Found Useful Along the Way offered a great reference point, and serves an additional way to communicate with her through the books, articles and sites she recommends.

Christina C.’s post Just Being There was a description of one of the Teacher Hub sessions she prepared and facilitated, and this by itself was a reason to keep it in my records. Besides, she kindly allowed me to use the idea in one of our RP Group meetings, for which I am grateful! Also, her later post about learning The Bravery of Seeded Apples was not only beautifully authentic and warm but also demonstrated a new genre of writing to me.

Ljiljana Havran’s post on Librarians as Teacher Leaders spoke to me for the same reason: an idea how Professional Development can be done in alternative formats and how important it is to ‘think and look outside the box’ (or get rid of the box completely!)

Michael Griffin’s post and presentation slides ask a good question: ‘But what if we are wrong?‘ came out about ten days after I gave a short plenary talk at a Teacher Training Day in Kiev called ‘The Why of Learning-Centered Teaching’, where several beliefs were discussed and questioned. 

Kamila Linkova’s post on Course Admin for Freelancers is a great read to me, as someone who is constantly learning and reading about life management in general and work flow management in particular.

Marc Jones wrote a post about his views on Job Interview, and this was something that caught my eye as a shared (and confirmed!) freelancer belief. In fact, this is just one example of many showing that the ‘free’ part in the word ‘freelancer’ is important.

Finally, iTDI’s issue A Day in the Life of… shared four posts on the topic, offers four meetings with great teachers, invites to think/talk/write about our daily routines, thoughts, teaching and learning beliefs (and is actually an idea for a new blogging challenge some time in 2018?) 

**[A big note: all the blogs where I am referring to one specific post are worth following and reading on a regular basis!]

Happy Winter Holidays to everyone reading this post: love, peace, kindness, warmth to you and yours! I (secretly) assume that the authors mentioned above will be reading this post, so it is my chance to express gratitude for the learning process we are sharing, to wish inspiration and creative sparkle for the coming year.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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How I Plan (and Run!) a Reflective Practice Group Session

2017 is ending, and December is a good month to reflect on how the year has been. Since I call this blog my ‘reflective lounge’, it is okay to have a post about the aspect of my Professional (and personal) development I feel happy about: our monthly Reflective Group meetings in Dnipro, Ukraine.

In simple words, the meetings are a place and space for teachers to talk about their students, challenges, questions, insights and beliefs. They are not ‘seminars’ or ‘input sessions with new practice activities’; they are not about learning a new fancy term (although it can also happen during the group discussions!). The meetings have a new venue and a discussion topic every month, last about two hours, and the members may choose to attend every session, or some of them. These meetings are free for everyone, but we often bring some snacks to share.

[Note: some more information and resources, as well as links to other groups are on this page.]

Last academic year (2016/17) I facilitated all the meetings. This year we are experimenting and engaging volunteer facilitators to step in. I am excited about this, as the group needs to develop and grow, and not just in size. Having more people running the sessions make the meetings more memorable, varied, meaningful and unique. I am grateful that this is possible. At the same time, I am excited to co-plan a session and to brainstorm ideas for a meeting, if needed. The post below is a part of such ‘preparation conversations’ we have recently had.

First of all, let me share my meeting planning process (works for me in this order but I am sure it can be used creatively and flexibly):

  1. Choose a topic close to your heart (something you are curious or passionate about at the moment): together, we created a list of possible topics to choose from  but there are also additional ones that come up. For example, one session was focusing on something the facilitator was thinking to bring up as a conference session (so the group’s reflections were centered around that topic); sometimes, it is a question that repeatedly comes up in a teacher’s practice (How can beginner adult language learners be more autonomous?’, for example) and could become a meeting’s focus.
  1. Create a small description for the session (it needs to be very small, usually 2-3 questions that the meeting will be asking, and/or some questions to think about before the session, and/or a task to complete (e.g., bring a book you recently read and would like to reflect on, etc.) It helps the facilitator to have a ‘starting point’ for the meeting and the participants to feel more prepared. Activating schema, if you like!
  1. Optional: create a small and simple handout for the session. When I facilitate a session, I usually put the same questions as the initial description had, leaving enough spaces for note-taking; sometimes (if there is some time!) I add a reminder of what the Experiential Learning Cycle is and a couple of reflective questions to prompt/promote its use during the meeting.
  1. If the earlier prep steps are made 2-3 weeks before the meeting, there could be some resources to share with the group on the topic. Those can either go to the handout, or be shared in the group on Facebook (and/or other social media channels you are using for group communication); I find this helpful if the discussion is less lively, or if there are very few members participating and the discussion is getting quieter; or as pleasant extras to talk about.
  1. Think about an ice-breaking activity for 5-10 minutes: this is helpful if there is a new member in a meeting, who needs a bit of time to get to know the group, and/or when some people are coming late (traffic jams, weather, etc.)
  1. Plan a feedback question, and/or ‘exit ticket’ kind of activity to wrap up the meeting and get feedback on what was useful, what the learning was, etc. This is more of a reminder to myself as I often have no time left for this important stage. An area to work on! 🙂

Some more preparation tips are below. They come in no particular order and were ‘tried and tested’ in our group in Ukraine:

  • be flexible about the meeting’s order, or ‘activities’: it is not a lesson, and the participants are not expecting you to be an ‘expert’ in the topic. If a discussion takes more time, let it continue.
  • if there seems to be a difficult question, it is okay to start sharing your own example or answer (oftentimes we refer to the ‘teaching’ part of self where letting the learners share first is ‘recommended’; in these meetings, everyone is a ‘learner’ or is wearing a ‘reflective hat’ and so there are no ‘teaching rules’ as such; or… any rules?);
  • allow the questions to touch two perspectives (at least): of yourself as a learner (in the past or at the moment) and of yourself as a teacher. By ‘yourself’ here I mean the facilitator and meeting participants;
  • remember not to have lots of input or theory as a part of the meeting; the more reflective and personal the questions are, the better. Remind yourself that it is not a ‘training session’ or ‘seminar’ or a talk;
  • don’t overplan the details, such as precise timing, group work or pairwork (this will largely depend on the number of people, the venue (is there a large table, or some smaller ones), on everyone’s mood, etc. Not planning these would leave space for being spontaneous.
  • if you can, don’t plan the meeting steps at all: have a set of questions and an open mind. Make sure you yourself are eager to take part (as a participant!) and are excited to hear what the others will be saying. It will make it more fun, more engaging and memorable.
  • feel comfortable to let the discussion digress from ‘teaching issues’ only (in the meeting feedback I collected last month several group members wrote that they enjoyed the ‘non-ELT’ topics and discussions that took place). We are talking about ‘alternative PD formats’ here and about finding inspiration, and those do not always ‘hide’ in talking about new activities and tasks for students;
  • listen to the questions asked in the process of the meeting (incorporate those questions in the discussion, giving them the priority over the ones you prepared); remember that there are no ‘teachers’ or ‘trainers’ in the room, only reflective professionals, and the meeting is running itself, oftentimes; sometimes these new questions bring new meeting topics!

I value this experience of professional development, especially now that I moved to Lviv and the group keeps meeting in Dnipro. My (secret) dream is to ‘spread’ this idea to more cities in Ukraine.

Questions to the readers:

  1. If you have ever run a reflective meeting: what have you done (do you do) differently, and why?
  2. If you have never run a reflective meeting (but might in the future): what else would you need to know in order to prepare?
  3. What questions and comments do you have?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Livening Up the Process

This morning I saw this post by Marianne Petty in my Twitter feed called Ideas to Liven Up Your Class where the author is sharing several simple ideas to use a soft ball in the classroom to make a lesson livelier, more engaging and tech-free.

Reading this post reminded me of an idea I have had for a long time: ask my colleagues, other teacher educators, what objects they bring to their sessions working with teachers to make them more exciting (and excited!) and to model real classroom interaction. In my plans dreams I thought I would ‘interview’ those trainers and ask them to share a picture of those objects. Now it seems to me that this idea might not ever happen, so I decided to ‘paragraph blog’ it here and to invite others to do the same.

To get us started, I’d like to tell you a little about the set of objects I like to use. I happened to take this picture in a session on Classroom Management for International House Dnipro teachers last year:

 

 

 

As you see, a soft ball is here, too. In my training sessions (besides learning names, just as Marianne described) I often use it as a turn-taking tool (throw the ball to the next speaker, or nominate the next speaker by throwing the ball to him/her). I also use those dice as soft balls if I need several groups playing at the same time.

Speaking of dice: they can be obviously used for a board game. Having these big ones work for a large class where the instructions for a task need to be demonstrated before students (or teachers!) play in their groups. I also like to create a ‘mock/fake’ board game by putting cards with words or pictures in a circle and have the players throw the dice to determine the number of steps to make and either make a sentence or give a definition, or… (well, I guess you see the point now!)

Post-it notes deserve their own post, I think. Just to say that having a pile at hand helps a lot when I want to collect some group work results (write one idea you heard from a partner, etc.) and/or collect feedback (put a note on a poster, on the board, etc.) and/or to have a review activity. With teachers it works when there are extra questions to be kept in a parking lot. As I said, this could actually be a new post. [Note: I hope to write it soon!]

The little counting sticks replace Cuisenaire rods to some extent (but weigh much less!): serve as a categorization tool (use the blue ones for pros and the red ones for cons; ask someone with a different color stick), or as a grouping tool (sit next to someone with the same color stick). They are good for story-telling, vocabulary practice, and many more ideas. I really love their size (did I mention they are very light?)

My voice is not very loud (people who have worked with me can confirm it) so when it comes to an engaging speaking activity, especially mingling (cocktail) where everyone is speaking loudly and happily, it may take a while to stop/re-direct the participants into a new task. If this seems less important in a real classroom with language learners, a training course for teachers uses the ‘compress button’ sometimes, when an activity needs to be stopped as soon as the group members see its point. I know, I know: people complain that they are interrupted in the most interesting place… At the same time, sometimes, this needs to be done. This was a long introduction to the drum in the picture: it makes a nice rhythmical sound and catches everyone’s attention immediately. And… it is very light, too (so it can travel with me if needed!)

Finally, the magic wand (sorry, a pencil and an eraser that can look like a magic wand, if used ‘properly’ with a confident gesture and a spell) Sometimes is good for modeling an activity for a Young Learner classroom, and sometimes as a metaphorical reminder that there is no ‘magic recipe’ in teaching (or training!) and that a bit of creativity and imagination can make miracles.

What do you have in your teaching or training bag? What do you like to use in class? What do you the same, and (most interestingly!) what do you use differently? Let’s keep talking in the comments.

As always, thank you for reading! 🙂

 

My older post on a close topic may be relevant here: Life into Lessons 

More inspiration can be found in an older post on realia by Rachael Roberts: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/rachael-roberts/rachael-roberts-realia

Updates: it looks like we are enjoying a new Blogging Challenge #LivenigUpTheProcess. See great posts by Lina here, by Hana Ticha here and by Svetlana here. Are you joining the  ? 🙂

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Possible Topics for Reflective Group Meetings

I will continue writing about our Reflective Group Meetings, and this post will share the topics from the previous year, and some ideas for the new school year meetings in an attempt to make a ‘calendar’.

2016-2017: ELC**

Introductory meeting (we discussed the idea of starting the group, ELC as a model for reflection, etc.)

One Student (this blog post describes the meeting)

Motivating Unmotivated (this post gives the idea of the meeting)

Exploring Teacher Beliefs (we looked at some ‘teaching areas’ where beliefs could be challenged or changed with time, wrote out those beliefs, analyzed where they might be coming from, shared and compared, etc.)

How to Break a Routine and Do Something New (we defined ‘routine’ in our lives and in the classroom, looked at some pros and cons of having them, and shared those that could be ‘broken’)

Learning from Failure (we shared our big and small failures and the learning from it; this session was somewhat ‘further’ from the classroom but helped us re-confirm the point of learning and reflecting as a daily practice)

Reflection as a Professional Development Tool (this was the last session in the school year before a summer break, so we looked at possible ways to reflect and talked about our plans for the coming year, including the topics shared below)

**the first five meetings had an explicit focus on the Experiential Learning Cycle: the first meeting was the first overview and a short ‘practice’ time by making Halloween bats (yes, crafts!). We then focused on each stage of the cycle in more detail in the following four meetings: describing one student, analyzing possible reasons for being unmotivated, exploring the roots for the beliefs/generalizations we have about teaching, planning SMART actions on how to break a routine. The final two meetings had a cycle ‘in mind’ and were using it to talk about the topics I mentioned.

 

2017-18: ONE

A New School Year (a draft of the meeting plan is in this post)

This year my idea is to try having a ‘theme’ for the meetings. To highlight the importance of learning from our own experience, I suggested that ‘One’ can be that connecting element. Similarly to the meeting ‘One Student’, each new session will invite the group members to think about and share/reflect on ONE specific moment, experience, interaction in their teaching lives. Some examples are below.

ONE …

  • interaction (with a student, a parent, a colleague, etc.)
  • group (of students you are working with)
  • course book (you have taught, or like, or dislike, etc.)
  • lesson (especially successful, a disaster lesson, an unplanned lesson, etc.)
  • lesson plan (the longest one, the shortest one, the strangest one, etc.)
  • observation (observing or being observed)
  • feedback (giving or receiving)
  • colleague (a critical friend, a buddy, someone who always disagrees, a difficult colleague, etc.)
  • boss
  • mentor
  • workplace
  • way to reflect
  • activity
  • minute (in my lesson this week)
  • piece of advice
  • day

That’s it for now. If you have any thoughts, questions, doubts or suggestions about any of the topics above, let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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RP Meeting Plan: A New School Year

A new school year started in this part of the world, and we are going to have our first Reflective Group Meeting at the end of the month. Exciting!

The topic for the meeting says ‘A new academic year’ and looks quite ‘open’, leaving us space for discussion and reflection. In this post I am going to share some ideas on how the session plan might look, and ask for your input and feedback on this. [Note: if you want to read more about the idea of Reflective (Practice) Groups, please visit this page with a description and links to other groups around the globe]

I got the idea for this meeting by following Anna Loseva’s blog where she shared how a meeting on a similar topic went in Tokyo, in April (yes, that’s how we learn that a new school year does not have to start in September only!)

She describes a simple session format where the question: ‘What’s important in the beginning of a term?’ generated a lot of ideas from the teachers who participated (check the post for the full list!)

I like the question very much and would like to start a session with it. I am wondering how similar or different the responses would be (and if this ‘comparing/contrasting’ could make a potential task for the group members?)

I was reading and re-reading the list several times and noticed that the ideas shared by teachers could form several categories: Life, Professional Development (PD), Teaching, Learning (Process), Learners. I am wondering if ‘categorizing’ could make another possible task for the session participants, and in what way it could help them come up with more ideas, if needed?)

Looking at these categories again, I started looking for a word describing the process and ‘fitting’ all of them: Managing (learners, learning, PD, etc.)? Reflecting? Noticing? Thinking about? I was almost ready to use it as a session activity, too, but realize it is going aside from the session topic. Or is it not? Sometimes, one word means a lot.

After having our own list(s) and comparing them as a group I think it would be time to get back to the Experiential Learning Cycle review. This would be especially important if we have new members of the group attending the session for the first time. [Note: there is a great IH Journal article about Reflection and Reflective Practice by Jamie King]

A simple way to do it could be choosing an aspect of my own list for the new year and ‘taking it through the cycle’ by describing an experience that made me select it as ‘important’, analyzing several possible reasons (of choosing it, of it being ‘ important’ for me right now, of its possible impact to the learners I am working with, etc.), forming conclusions/beliefs based on this and setting an action plan for the coming year. The group members would then do the same in small groups. Action plans and questions could be shared with everyone as a follow-up.

Navigli, Milan, Italy. August 2017.

Towards the end of the session, if we still have time, I would like to show these questions from Harvard Business Review article by Elizabeth Grace Sounders. The title of the article is ‘Stop Setting Goals You Actually Don’t Care About‘ and it was written in the context of writing New Year resolutions (seems relevant for us teachers at this time of the school year!)

To begin thinking of your own professional development goals, start by asking yourself three questions:

1) If I could accomplish just ONE major professional development goal in [2017/18], what would it be?
2) When I think about working on this goal, do I get excited about the process as well as the outcome?
3) Is my motivation to pursue this goal intrinsic, something coming from within because it is personally interesting and important, or extrinsic, something that I feel would please other people?

 

At this point (do we still have time?) it would be great to share which ONE goal the group members would like to keep for the year, and what steps they could be making towards its achievement.

What would you suggest changing or adding? Developing or clarifying? I am still ‘playing with ideas’ for this session, so yours are more than welcome!

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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