Reflection: Making Theory (More) Practical

In May and June I facilitated two sessions about Reflective Practice. The first one was about appreciating reflection (approaching it with the ‘right’ attitudes and open mind), and the second session focused on the practical part where the participants ‘tried on’ one specific reflective practice model. As you may notice, the ‘input’ or ‘theory’ part is missing in the previous two sessions, so I’d like to add more and fill this gap in. 

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Last week, on 15 July, I was invited by the amazing TEFL Development HUB team, Teresa Bestwick and Simon Pearlman, to facilitate one more interactive session on Reflection. This time we called it ‘Reflective Skills: Making Theory (More) Practical’, focused on several models for reflections and thought how they can be used in practice. 

webinar hub

I’d like to share my slides for the session, and the recording will be soon available in the TEFL Hub Facebook Group. If you have not already joined the group, I highly recommend doing so, as there is a variety of very useful professional development activities that can suit any taste or experience level. Also, follow the Hub on Twitter: @tefl_hub. Finally, you may enjoy reading a recent post on this blog co-written with Teresa where we talk about EFl Teacher Training, writing, and many more exciting things. 

This post is an invitation to continue the conversation about reflective practice in teaching and beyond. Sharing some questions (from the session and beyond):

Questions to Discuss (further)

  1. How do you reflect on your experience and practice?
  2. What reflection models or frameworks do you use for reflection?
  3. What are some of your favorite reflection tools, activities, formats, ways of recording?
  4. What other questions about reflection in teaching and training do you have?
  5. What other topics for online webinars/meet-ups about reflective practice would you like to attend or host?**

This slide (below) is a summary of what I wanted to highlight in the session: having a structure, or model for reflection on our experience is key, and there can be a whole variety of formats, tools, interactions and processes to make such individual learning meaningful and creative. 

Making Theory (More) Practical.013

Some more reflection thoughts:

This post closes down my mini-webinar series, and I am not planning any new ones for the time being. I think I need to reflect on my ‘webinarring skills’ and explore more formats to try out. It was interesting to see how three different formats worked out: the first session was a ‘webinar’ through Zoom with a very active chat conversation, the second one was a more interactive event with a chance for the attendees to talk and share the ideas in practice. The third session was the newest format to me, as it as a ‘live’ broadcast on Facebook, with not so many people attending at the moment of the session but with hopefully more teachers catching up in a more ‘asynchronous’ format. 

**I am thinking of a couple more sessions about Reflection. One can be about the benefits Reflective Practice Groups (sharing my own experience) and ideally, I’d like this one to be co-hosted/facilitated with the other members of the online group we all take part in. I am adding this comment in the hope they read this post, and we start planning something cool soon. No promises, only intentions shared. 

Another topic I would like to explore more is about specific reflective practice activities teachers can offer their students, or so in pairs/trios/small groups as their professional development exercise. 

Making Theory (More) Practical.002

 

I think there can be an additional session for each of the three that I have already shared, as there is much more to think/talk about. I think you will read more posts about that in the future. 

Thank you for reading!

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Practicing Reflective Practice

In May I had a chance to present about Appreciating Reflective Practice. This Sunday, 13 June, I invite you to join me on a session with the ELT Workshop team. The session title and description are below, and here are the slides to take a look if you are interested.

How to Practice Reflective Practice

This topic can be a bit tricky for a webinar, as we can’t offer a magic recipe to practice reflective skills. Learning to think reflectively takes time, and it can be hard to get started without seeing the ‘bigger picture’, or the reason for doing it.

In this session, we will think about the following questions:

  • What are some obstacles and challenges to practicing reflection on a regular basis?(and do all those challenges have some solutions?)
  • How (else) can teachers practice reflection?
  • What can teachers reflect on?
  • What are (y)our favorite reflective practice tools?
  • (and what are your questions about reflective practice?)

It may happen that you will leave the session not having the answers to all the questions. Or even with the new questions to think about.

Here is the session registration link and all the other important details. Also, if you have not yet done it, sign up for the regular newsletters and updates not to miss the other cool events being regularly organized!

To help you get started thinking in the direction of the workshop content, I would like to focus on the first question in my list. In preparation to talk about reflection in teacher training I ran a small survey among teacher trainers and experienced teachers. All of them are in my #PLN and all appreciate and actively practice reflection. What obstacles do you see for working on teachers’ reflective skills during a training course?

Coincidentally, Rachel Tsateri, a colleague from my online community, teacher trainer and blogger at #TEFLzone, wrote a post called Reflective Teaching and Training. At the end of it she asked ‘Why is [Reflection/Reflective Teaching] challenging?‘ and offered several ideas based on her experience and research. In response to her invitation to add more ideas, I am sharing some quotes from the survey below.

  • Often there is ‘I-can’t-see-the-wood-for- the-trees’ reaction. Some people perhaps don’t know what to focus on.
  • Difficulty focusing on the specifics of an experience, and this lack of specificity limits teachers’ ability to learn from their experiences.

Obstacles image 4

  • Not having a shared idea/definition of reflective skills, different teachers having different skills to work on, teachers having different opinions of the value or importance of reflective practice.
  • It takes time and practice, both teaching experience and practice reflecting, for teachers to learn to reflect productively. In teaching contexts where learning-centered inquiry is not encouraged, or where job status is at risk, teachers must be willing to consider that there may be room for personal improvement in their teaching practice.
  • Very often teachers are aware of the importance of reflection and they do try to reflect but this process is not deep enough, limited by general questions which don’t lead to any further analysis.

Obstacles image 5

  • The focus on ‘right’ ways of teaching has one of the biggest obstacles to learning-centered reflection for me.
  • Reflection requires time as it is a special type of thinking (different from impulsive reactions or groundless beliefs). 
  • Lack of experience in (personal/professional) self-reflection.
  • Resistance because of history of negative evaluation process.
  • Negative prior experiences towards reflection.
  • Teachers’ ego especially for those who have been doing things in a certain way for a long while (some teachers’ fossilized practices).
  • Reflection is all about critical thinking, and teaching critical thinking is considered one of the hardest skills to teach and it needs a very critical and skilled teacher/trainer.
  • A superficial understanding of what reflection is, how teachers can actively use it and the impact it can have in their own teaching practice.

Obstacles image 6

  • Most teachers, consciously or unconsciously, look for ‘right answers’, not open questions. And the arbiter of right answers is authority (teacher trainer, supervisor, etc.) Education is too many “answers,” not nearly enough “wondering,” and it poisons people towards reflection.

RPA close up 1

Finally, if you would like to start thinking about some ways to practice reflection, I highly recommend Rachael’s recent post called 15 ideas for reflective teaching and training where she generously shares a great list of very practical ideas and resources (Hint: some or all can solve quite a few challenges listed above). I am very excited to read more of her blog posts about reflection in teaching and teacher training. 

P.S. Mike Griffin’s post in his blog about learning Vietnamese is an illustration how a rich description (the post itself) can bring reflection depth (the post and the comments) 

** All the images above are taken by Zhenya and will be used again in the Sunday Workshop in the part where we talk about challenges and obstacles for reflection. Hope to see you there, and thank you for reading the post!

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Trainer Conversation with Hakan Cavlak

This is a new Trainer Conversations series post in which I am talking with Hakan about being an ELT trainer and an EFL teacher, and how moving into a new country brings a new perspective into both of these roles. By the way, if you have read my earlier trainer conversation posts, you may have already ‘met’ and seen Hakan (check our interview with Burak). 

Happy reading!

Z: Where are you based? What has your ELT journey been so far?

H: I am currently based at home 😊 in Kuwait. This is my third year in Kuwait; two years at university and a year at home [teaching online]! Previously I had the idea that it was going to be a great experience for me working in a different culture and context, then I got online teaching in this new context as a bonus. Well, to this end, I might call it a never-ending learning experience with full of surprises. You got to be prepared all the time. Thus, Professional Development matters!

Z: What do you do in ELT?

H: I am an instructor of English and a teacher trainer for the World Learning SIT TESOL Certificate program.

Z: Where are you teaching now?

H: I am teaching at a private American University in Kuwait.

Z: How similar or different are the educational cultures in these 2 countries: your native Turkey and Kuwait?

H: Well, when I first came, I thought it would be easy for me to adapt as I believed there would be more similarities than differences. Yet, it is just the opposite especially when you get into the classroom. First of all, I had never taught gender-segregated classes before teaching here. Now, I have huge classes of male and female sections separately, at different levels. This has been quite a challenge. Besides, the cultural attitude, perception, and behavior are totally different. Your approach in class, the material you use, even the tasks you prepare differ depending on the class. To illustrate, you can perfectly form the groups in male classes and let them work together on the carpet and this will boost the interaction among them as they feel comfortable. No one will bother as it is acceptable in their culture.

So… even though I want to share the examples and photos, I can’t. Nothing about classroom practice. At the same time, all the things I value and learn here are about culture. All the things I reflect on are about my teaching in this context, not training. 

The ‘trainer side’ (of my personality) is different. I have never worked with the local teachers in Kuwait, so I will be responding from my teaching perspective. Everything is new, everything is surprising.

Kuwait 2020

Kuwait 2020 (before the world paused…)

Z: I remember when I got an SIT TESOL Cert Trainer license it was hard to understand the Culture Module in the course before I started actively training outside my native Ukraine. Was this the same for you?

H: Exactly! I believe, the SIT TESOL Certificate course distinguishes itself among the others by giving participants this important perspective apart from the teaching abilities they need to gain throughout the course. In the cultural module participants raise their awareness on the concept through Four Cultural Knowings framework and reflection. I value it more now. When I trained teachers in Turkey, I worked with international students (e.g. from Europe or the United States). At the same time, what you teach in that module can be quite generic unless you are really experienced with it. And ‘experience’ is only the first step. You really need to internalize it. Hence, I now understand that every trainer needs to know it, and to have had some cultural experience. That’s why I mentioned that I want to work with the Asian participants and students as well. Because it is about putting more bricks to your wall, unless you are reaching the top of the framework you are trying to reach.

Working with a lot of people (who come to your country) is great, but working with the local people in their culture is amazing. Before coming here, I heard stories, e.g., ‘teaching Arabic students is like XX’ or ‘This is what working with Arabs is like’, etc. Now I know: it is totally different. 

Z:  So, what have your Kuwaiti students taught you (as a teacher, and as a trainer?) 

H: My number one principle in teaching and training has always been ‘Know Your Learners’ (The 6 Principles of Teaching, TESOL). Working with my current students has proven this to me once again. You really have to adapt yourself, your teaching, your material, and your activities accordingly. You should know what you can or can’t discuss or what you can or can’t ask your learners. 

Working with students who use a different alphabet in their daily lives is also another thing that gave me a lot of ‘A-ha!‘-moments in my writing classes. Every lesson, every reflection after the lesson teaches me something new. It is always important to test what students already know or don’t know before you plan your lessons as they might easily surprise you. 

Z: How would these ideas inform or impact your training practices and beliefs?

H: I haven’t been doing any teacher training since I moved to Kuwait. However, in my future training courses, I would definitely pay more attention to the culture module and reflection. You know reflection is one of the core skills in the SIT TESOL Cert course and I love how it is applied in every part of the course. 

I am now filling my bag with more experiences and have more scenarios in my mind about the things that might occur in classes and that will be more helpful for the trainees, I presume. I hope to better guide them while helping them to reflect on their classes.

Z: What is your ‘ELT Identity’ like: are you a teacher, a trainer, or both? Why so?

H: None. I am always a learner. I love learning because who dares to teach must never cease to learn, as John Cotton Dana said. Then, I guess I am a teacher. You can’t be a trainer if you can’t teach. As a trainer, I see myself as a teacher who has things to share with a bit more experience and knowledge. My main role as a trainer is to guide participants to be more aware reflective practitioners so that they will learn from their experiences when they are all alone. I believe having this skill is the key and my responsibility is to guide them through this path.

Z: How do you keep your training skills up these days?

H: I take training courses myself. I always look for something that will improve my skills and give a different perspective. During and after the pandemic there has been a massive amount of online courses for teachers. I tried to take as much as I could. I read blogs, but mainly follow people on Twitter. I love Twitter. I get ideas from there, adapt them and try them in my classes. Then I reflect on them. 

3-HC2 2018

Co-presenting at ASLA Sweden.

Z: What question(s) about teacher training have you always wanted to ask other colleagues?

H: What is one experience or moment that changed your training approach totally? Why?

Z: I would love to answer that one [note to self: a blog post idea!] What questions about teaching or training have you always wanted to be asked about?  

H: Loved this question but I don’t have an answer😊 I have to think. Maybe: what is your teacher or trainer superpower?

Z: That’s a wonderful one! So… what’s yours?

H: I was thinking about this, about myself. I’d say my rapport with people is my superpower. Teacher rapport, human rapport. I am a ‘people person’. I generally have positive feedback from my trainers, co-trainers, participants, and students. Because I really like what I am doing, either training or teaching, I give my full energy to what I do, and I really like to help (sometimes more than it is needed). I like guiding people, I like touching their lives, I like changing things in their lives. I like this Change. That’s why, it was a great opportunity for me to be a trainer, and I am missing those days.

I like working with new teachers. I like seeing where novice teachers start out, and where they arrive towards the end of the course. It is a great moment (to watch). I also love working with experienced teachers sharing their insights and saying what they used to think or do, and how they see the same things at the end of the course. I love this, and I miss the training days. So my training superpower is working with people, changing their lives, or offering a different perspective to them, or learning from them. Participants teach me a lot, too, shape me. I love learning! I can say that strong rapport and being eager to learn are my two superpowers. They keep me alive. 

Z: What about co-training? Do you like working with other trainers in a team?

H: I learned about the need and power of reflective practice at the SIT Certificate Course when I was trained up for a license. My co-trainer was Hande. We ran several courses together, and always worked in harmony, and learned a lot from each other. Working with Hande has always been a blessing for me. Those co-training experiences were amazing! I also have to mention Susan Barduhn as my TOT (Trainer of Trainers). Though I only worked once with her, she has always been a great support to me. She is a true inspiration that everyone should meet. Her knowledge and experience is incomparable. 

Z: And to me, it feels like we have co-delivered courses together (although we have not)! I first heard about you from Hande, so I can say I ‘met’ you through her eyes.

1-SIT TESOL Cert. Course 2017 Summer

Certificates!

 

1-Individual Learner Profile

Poster Presentation – SIT TESOL Cert Course

  • [Note to readers: you have already met Hande in conversation with Burak. 
  • [Note to self: hope to share a post with her later this year]  

H: Every single person has a superpower. We are all Avengers, and together, we co-create it. I miss that. Let’s hope for a new chance in the future. Collected wisdom and beauty. You only see it in co-training. About liking the job we do. I hope the days will be back. Waiting for the next chapters. The book is not over yet.

white book page on brown wooden table

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Hakan, thank you for the conversation! No, the book is not over yet: there are more pages to come, and more learning from the writing process is coming, I am sure! And… we may well run a course all together, in the future. 

About Hakan

HakanHakan Çavlak is an experienced teacher of English, a licensed teacher trainer for SIT TESOL Certificate program and a speaking examiner for Cambridge YLE, KET, PET, and FCE. He is also a proud founding member of TESOL Turkey Association. He holds an MA in ELT from Ege University, Delta Module 2 certificate from Cambridge English Language Assessment, and a management certificate from H&E. After working 15 years in Turkey, he moved to Kuwait and pursues his career as an instructor of English. He is an avid learner who continuously seeks new ideas in the profession.

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Appreciating and Practicing Reflection

On 1 May 2021, I had a chance to present at a one-day online conference organized by IATEFL Teacher Training and Education Development SIG. The theme of the event was ‘Reflection and Reconnection in the Changing World‘. You can read more about it here , and if you are an IATEFL and SIG member, the recording should be available soon.

This is the topic and description of my session:

Appreciating and Practicing Reflection with Teachers and Trainers

Reflective practice is a challenging skill for both participants and new trainers, and sometimes seems underappreciated or misunderstood. During the session we will think about the following questions:

  • Why does reflective practice need to be an integral part of a training course?
  • Can thinking reflectively be taught online? (A)synchronously? Live?
  • Why/How can teacher trainers practice reflection on and between, or outside courses?

If time allows, I will share some of my favorite tools and practices.

You can download the session slides here, and/or watch the recording. Or do both 🙂

One example of a full cycle to share.

Describe: in the summer of 2020 I took part in an online 10k run in Lviv, Ukraine.There were three of us: my husband, his colleague and myself. Before the event, after the payment was processed, I received a parcel where, among other things, was a sealed envelope with a note to open after the race. It felt heavy (could be compared to a smart phone weight) and hard. The size was small (about half the phone), so it fit into a running belt along with my keys, etc. Right after the race, the three of us decided to open the envelopes together. When we did it, there was colorful confetti all around us.

Interpret: Before the event, I was very curious and eager to open it right away, but decided to do as instructed. Actually, the envelope helped me get up and run (on the rainy Sunday morning). I knew it would be a medal, but had not checked the design online, to keep it as a surprise (which made me even more curious!) In fact I forgot about it during the run, which made the surprise effect even stronger. And at the time of opening… all of us were totally excited! This immediately reminded of the feeling of a real race, when you are surrounded by people (who either run or support you, or wait for you at the finish line). Thinking back about that moment now (almost a year after) makes me a bit nostalgic. One thing that really surprised me was my own excitement. It got me thinking about the role of surprise in teaching (and training)…

Generalize: … and confirmed an idea I often think about that a small playful element, even when we work with adults (students or teachers) makes a huge difference. It can make one’s mood better, leaves warm memories, and gratitude. I think small playful elements support our motivation to keep going (with the skill, sport or habit we are working on).

Plan action: In my future sessions or courses for teachers I will add at least one playful element to the slide deck I will be using, or the examples I prepare. I might share this memory, too 🙂

Here is my earlier post about this experience, if you are curious.

Reflective mood. Kamianske Reservoir, Dnipro Region, Ukraine.

The School for International Training (SIT) Training of Trainers Course by Kevin Giddens and Susan Barduhn (2018) The Teacher Trainer Journal Vol 32 No 2.

More links and resources:

There are various models and methods to structure reflective thought.

Reflection is dialogic and social practice, so we all need a community where regular meetings or conversations with fellow trainers to talk about training experience can happen. We do that not only to improve our professional skills (that’s a side effect) but also to practice and deepen the skill of reflection itself. Through the active and conscious use of the reflective cycle we can make our training and living experience richer and fuller. I feel fortunate to belong to the international SIT Training Community, my source of professional inspiration, training insights, and long-lasting friendships.

Post-Session Update: it went well! I had very enthusiastic people in the audience, and managed to ‘catch’ the questions asked during/after the session. Sharing them here, and hope to add some thoughts in another post.

  • Is there a danger of reflection becoming a routine activity if it’s done out of compulsion or if it’s overdone?
  • What is an example of a ‘good’ reflection and a ‘not-so-good’ one?
  • How can we assess one’s ability to reflect?
  • How can we make the reflective practice an interesting option for the ones who are resistant to the idea?
  • How can/do student teachers reflect on their teaching practice when their knowledge and experience are limited? How much reflection can they do with their limited knowledge?

Thank you for reading!

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Trainer Conversation with Lina Gordyshevskaya

In this Trainer Conversation post (see more about the series here) I am talking with Lina about her ELT beliefs and passions, and thoughts about becoming a teacher trainer (and not leaving the teaching role!). 

Z: Where are you based now?

L: I’m based in Oslo, Norway.

Z: What do you do in ELT?

L: I am a pronunciation coach and English teacher, and a prospective neurolanguage coach. I teach General English, Business English, and IELTS preparation.

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Z: What motivates you to join (ELT) teacher training?

L: Well, to be honest, I decided to become a teacher trainer back in 2016 when I was a CELTA trainee. I was looking at my tutors (Viacheslav Kushnir and Irina Grekova) and thinking ‘wow, that’s so cool! This’s gonna be me one day’.

Z: I had a similar reason, being inspired by Antonia Clare. So happy that she is still my role model (as a respected ELT author). From Rachel Tsateri’s post on her blog I learned that you have just completed a Cambridge Train the Trainer Course. What I know is that the course was run fully online by Anatolia training Institute.

L: Yes, that’s true. To be precise, it was back in January.

Z: I would like us to talk a little more about the course. What were your biggest ‘A-Has’ about TT?

L: Loop input and how elegant it is! I was mesmerized, honestly. It was also really interesting to learn more about different feedback styles and when to use which of them to make sure your trainee benefits from it. I mean I have experienced different feedback styles myself as a teacher-in-training but even if you practice first and then learn the theory, there’re still those a-ha moments, and it’s awesome. I was reading about all these different styles and thinking ‘oh wow, now I understand why my trainer gave me feedback this way and not any other way!’

[Zhenya’s note: you may enjoy reading Tessa Woodward’s article on Loop Input in ELT Journal, Volume 57, Issue 3, July 2003, Pages 301–304 https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/57.3.301]

Z: In what way did the course help you see your role/mission in TT? (if it did)

L: Before the course, I had a somewhat limited understanding of what TTs do, i.e. I only knew about being a tutor on a CELTA/TEFL course. However, the course showed me that there are many more ways in which you can contribute to other teachers’ CPD, e.g. by providing in-service training, giving webinars or simply observing your fellow teachers if they ask for it.

Z: As someone interested in reflective practice skills, I would like to see what you think about this aspect of the course: ‘there were plenty of opportunities to reflect in each unit’. In what way(s) did you and other participants have a chance to practice/develop reflection?

L: At the end of each unit, we had some questions to reflect on to summarize what we had learnt. We could do it in any format we liked, which was great. We also had to leave comments where we shared our insights and asked questions if we felt like it. Some of us chose to write reflective blogposts, some were tweeting about their experience, and some turned to good old journaling.

Z: Have you had a chance to apply some of the ideas after you completed the course?

L: Oh yes! Tim Hampson from the ELT Workshop was kind enough to give me a chance to deliver a very interactive online workshop on Foreign Language Anxiety. It was a wonderful experience! I enjoyed every single second of it. It took two hours to cover everything – can you imagine? As far as I know, the webinar received positive feedback from the participants, and I am very happy about it.

Z: Foreign Language Anxiety was a term I learned from you just a couple of months ago. If I am not mistaken, you got interested in this topic while teaching in Japan. Can you say a little more about it?

L: Sure. Actually, even though you might have never heard of it, you have definitely observed it at some point in your career. Basically, foreign language anxiety, or for short, FLA, is extreme fear and nervousness provoked by some tasks that the learner thinks are too difficult for them. Usually, these are speaking tasks – communicating in a foreign language is a rather stress-provoking activity, especially in those countries where people have fewer chances to practice outside the classroom, for example, Japan and Russia. My teaching career started in Japan where people tend to stress out about a lot of things, and social pressure to perform well is quite high. To be honest, I did notice that my students were nervous but had no idea how nervous they were until I introduced the dialogical feedback activity. Students had a chance to write about their impressions at the end of each lesson, and I was shocked by their responses, how bad they felt about their English skills and how anxious they were when they had to speak. So I started researching this topic and thinking of different ways I could use to help them cope with this anxiety.

Z: Is there a new training step planned?

L: Yes! There’s gonna be a live chat about teaching pronunciation with Teresa Bestwick from the TEFL Development Hub. There might be other things coming, too. [Zhenya’s note: the webinar took place on 8 April].

Z: What do you want to be doing as a teacher trainer in the longer-time future? Who are you planning/hoping to work with? Do you see yourself as a ‘full-time teacher trainer’, and why (not)?

L: Well, it would be nice to become a CELTA tutor and I am planning to work on it. However, my primary goal is to deliver online workshops for experienced teachers – this is the format I really enjoy. I would definitely not want to become a full-time teacher trainer because I love teaching students and see this as my main mission.

Z: Do you see yourself training 100% online in the future? Why, or why not?

L: To be honest, I don’t. I do love sharing my expertise with fellow teachers but I love sharing it with students more 😀 I want to be involved in teacher training more in the future, but teaching English will always remain my primary activity.

Z: A bonus question: what is one training activity you would recommend trying in an online training setting? It can be a synchronous one, or a task set for discussion/reflection, etc.

L: This is the activity I used at the end of my online workshop on FLA. Reflection is a very important part of any training session, and this activity will help you do it in a more structured way. You’ll need a Padlet account and board for this. Divide it into three sections, for example, one thing I learnt about today’s topic, one thing I want to use in my next lesson, and one question I have about today’s topic. Participants post their reflections under each category and can then compare and discuss them. As for the questions they have, you can either answer them on the spot or send a follow-up email.

Thank you for the chance to talk about teacher training with you, Lina, and good luck in exploring this professional activity more in the future. Hope we have another chance to talk about it.

Lina is a freelance pronunciation coach, English teacher, and blogger. She holds a Master’s degree, as well as Delta Modules 1 and 3, and a CELTA. Throughout her career, she has taught teenagers and adults of various levels at language schools, universities, and an international IT company. She regularly writes for her blog Side Notes on ELT and frequently delivers webinars and presentations at various conferences.

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Truly Engaging?

This post has been sitting in my drafts for quite some time now. Thinking about online training formats and choices, I came across my notes from 2019, and… they asked me to share them 🙂

In general, I am a believer and supporter of the idea that teaching needs to be learner- and learning-centered, and that the students (or teachers in the sessions) need to be engaged in what is going on in the classroom (by ‘classroom’ here I mean lesson space, discussion board, etc.)

At the same time, as a learner (audience, participant, conference attendee, etc.) I sometimes have different thoughts and reactions. Let me share two examples here.

2019

I went to see a show in the theater in Lviv Les Kurbas Theatre. It was my first time in this theatre. My assumptions and expectations from being a show spectator is that you are sitting and watching the show. I thought about it as a ‘passive’ activity (verbally and kinesthetically) which provokes thought process and mental engagement. Actually, that idea generation and thought process was my primary goal for that night. I was very excited to get there.

What felt very different, and completely unexpected for me was how actors engaged the audience into the show (by asking questions, sometimes ‘appointing’ someone to respond, sometimes repeating the same question multiple times, if the person in the audience was not ready with an answer.) Well, it was a comedy show, so the expectation was that your response would be witty, and, in the style of the show, provoking some laughter from the audience (and actors). I was in the second row, grateful for not being at the very front. 

Well, I must confess, this did not feel comfortable to me. Quite the opposite happened: instead of ‘just’ watching the show and letting my thoughts wander freely, I felt a bit of pressure and was checking if there was someone approaching me with a mike. I realized I was not making an eye contact with the actors. I was actually checking my watch and thinking about the break. I was not ‘in the momentum’ of the experience.

While wondering if it was just me feeling this way (and blamed myself for not having read more about the theater beforehand), I heard a woman’s loud comment that the actors were too close to the audience. She repeated this twice, which to me was a sign that I was not the only one not at ease.

Why was that happening? Maybe, I was older than the typical/expected watcher (the theater is aiming at young people, I guess). Maybe, it was not the right day/mood. Maybe, and most likely, being informed about the nature of the show would have helped me to what to expect.

2021

I was attending a teaching webinar. The speakers were new to me, and I was very curious about the topic. At the beginning I was asked to turn the camera off and to say hello. Then, the presenters showed the slides and started sharing their story/activity. From time to time (every 5-7 minutes), they paused slide sharing and asked us to turn the cameras on and respond, write in the chat, ask questions, etc. If someone’s camera was off (like mine), they referred to me by name and asked to turn it on. As a result, I could not make notes the way I wanted, and at this point can’t recall the exact ideas or activities from that session. I wish there was a chance to chat with the presenters (they were both amazing, had lots of cool ideas to share, and are clearly both wonderful teachers!)

Again, I must confess I was not comfortable. I take full responsibility for feeling that way: I think I was assuming that a ‘webinar’ is a less interactive genre, and that it is more about watching, typing in the chat, asking questions in the Q/A section. Maybe, it was based on my assumption that there are ‘Zoom meetings’ (where I had spent several hours on that day) and ‘Webinar rooms’, so when there is a webinar, it is a different format. Maybe, I am a less interactive person (and at this point the reader may be wondering how I got to be a teacher, right?) Or maybe I am still defining the ‘genres’ of the online interactive sessions: Webinar? Workshop? Discussion? (if you have good resources or links about these descriptions and differences, I would like to learn more!)

Thoughts, reflections, and questions

Getting back to the title of the post: does being ‘truly engaged’ always lead to being responsive in the process? Being on camera? Saying something? Do/Can my sessions offer choices for people not to start off a conversation immediately? What could some pros and cons of asking an open-ended question to the whole group? How can I inform my audience of ‘what’s coming’ to make them more comfortable and clear? And… how could feeling/being uncomfortable be useful, from time to time?

Thank you for reading!

P.S. Susan Cain’s books and TED talk were helpful to me to get more comfortable with the introverted part of my personality 🙂

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Social Media in/as My Ongoing PD

I’d like to share a link to the article I wrote for ETAS (English Teachers Association Switzerland) Magazine written in 2019. I must say it is interesting to re-read my pre-pandemic notes and reflect on ‘then’ and ‘now’. The following are still true: 

‘If you ask me what the most significant element of quality ELT professional development is (for teachers, trainers, writers), I would say it is meaningful reflective conversations about the process and result of teaching and learning’.

‘Social media has become an organic part of how I am learning about teaching, learning and living.’

‘My online learning and developing has brought several amazing projects into my working universe’. 

Please read the full article here .

Have you started using social media differently in the last year? What are your recent ‘A-Ha-s’ and insights?

 

Al Shaheed Park in Kuwait

Taken by Zhenya in Al Shaheed Park, Kuwait.

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Talking Shop

You are reading the shortest post I have ever written on this blog. 

Today, Wednesday, 24 February, at noon UTC (2 pm in Ukraine) I participate in the teacher meet up organized by Tim Hampson and Mike Griffin’s The ELT Workshop

If you are planning to attend, we will meet very soon today. If you have not registered but would like to join, here is the link to do that. By the way, if you register, you will receive their monthly updates with the upcoming webinars, news in the field, recommended resources and other exciting ideas. My favorite thing about the events organized by the team is the informal and fun feel, interactive format and the people who join. 

To spark your curiosity, let me share what we are going to talk about. Hopefully, it will look/sound vague and unclear enough to motivate you to join us! 🙂 

Update: It was fun! Thank you for this chance to hang out with cool ELT people, Mike and Tim, and for everyone who joined. 

Here is the link to the recording. First, it is a Workshop Game on the topic of ‘What would we like teachers/trainers/publishers/schools give up for Lent?’. My part begins at around 23′. 

These were the questions I had prepared, but I don’t think we needed them.

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Trainer Conversations: Introduction

I like to think that COVID-19 brought physical distancing to our world, but did not take our (ELT) social connectedness away. In the past weeks of lockdown I have been in touch with fellow teacher trainers/educators in different parts of the world. As you can imagine, these people are normally very busy running intensive courses for teachers, presenting at conferences, observing lessons, etc. The non-traveling months of spring (and summer?) 2020 ‘edited’ our plans, and one side effect of these changes was the time to talk and reflect about our beliefs and practices.

Having had some conversations with colleagues, I had an idea for a series of posts with a working title ‘Trainer Conversations‘. These conversations excite me, I feel I am learning from them, and perhaps it would be interesting for someone new in the training/education management role, or for someone who misses a chance to chat with other trainers.

The main motivator to actually get me started with these posts was/is the postponed course for teacher trainers in Ukraine. You can read more about the course here. The course was created in partnership with World Learning SIT (School for International Training) Graduate Institute and supported by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. The course was supposed to be my ‘central’ professional development project for 2019/20 school year, and I enjoyed preparing it with my colleague and fellow trainer Liliia. We worked hard for the project: prepared an outline, advertised the course, responded to candidates (115 applications for the 24 places), carried out rigorous selection process in collaboration with 2 more fellow trainers based abroad, had a group of 24 teachers who started preparing for the summer meeting, started planning our course session in detail having the audience needs in mind. Then on 12 March 2020 pandemic was declared, and… you know the story. The good news is that the course was not cancelled: it is scheduled to happen in the summer of 2021.

Photo by NastyaSensei on Pexels.com

I see these coming ‘Trainer Conversations’ as a chance to keep myself in ‘trainer mindset’ by speaking/being in touch with the cool people working with ELT teachers.

At first, I imagined these conversations as very structured interviews, with questions asked and answered. Then, when I started these chats, I realized I can’t bring a neat framework to all of them, as each trainer I talk with is very unique. Two posts are currently in the making, and they are already very different. 

I keep reaching out to fellow trainers who have a bit of time on their hands and a desire to talk about teacher training. [Note to readers: if you know someone you’d like to read about, please get in touch]

I start with the questions the answers to which I am (selfishly!) very interested in:

  • Why do you like teaching?
  • What are your (2-3) most important teaching beliefs? What shaped them?
  • How did you become a trainer?
  • What are your (2-3) most important (core) training beliefs? What shaped them?
  • What kind of courses or sessions for teachers do you usually run?
  • How do you keep your training skills up between the courses?
  • How do you manage the stress(es) of managing an intensive course? What helps you stay sane?
  • What question(s) about teacher training have you always wanted to ask other colleagues?
  • What questions about teaching or training have you always wanted to be asked about?

I really like thinking about these ideas, and as I said, really enjoy talking to my colleagues. I don’t know how long these series would be, and how regularly I will be able to post them, but I hope it will be an interesting experience. I might also write my answers to those questions, as one of the colleagues suggested.

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned!

[Updated later in 2020/21] Please follow the links below to the specific posts:

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