Reflection as a Tool (One Worksheet)

If you follow this blog, you may know about my passion and commitment to facilitate (most of the ) monthly Reflective Group Meetings my native city. Check this page is you are (planning to be) in Dnipro, Ukraine.

In one of the earlier posts this year I shared a list of possible topics to discuss during these meetings. One of the topics that came up was ‘One Worksheet‘.

About a month later I read  Lina’s post on her blog where she shared her very first experience of attending a Reflective Group Meeting in Tokyo, Japan. In this post she wrote about the structure of the meeting, and some insights from the conversations and activities there. I was especially curious to learn that the meeting facilitator was using one reflective worksheet inviting to discuss how teachers can reflect. I was excited, because the worksheet was created by me earlier in 2017, and I was happy to see that it is being used and reflected on!

[Note: as a new RP Group facilitator I am always curious how the others are running similar meetings, and have occasional blogging/Twitter/Facebook chats with other group leaders around the globe.]

The post below has a simple goal to share the ‘adventures’ of this session and the worksheet itself (after the post) and to reflect, or think aloud, about it.

Explaining what to do with the worksheet

Something unusual I did this year was re-using the same presentation topic and even materials in my interactive sessions for teachers. I used it in February for SOVa Teacher Training Day event in Kiev, then in April for International House Poltava workshop for teachers, then for my consultancy visit to ILTC in Chisinau, Moldova. Finally, the Reflective Practice Group meeting used it as a discussion springboard in May.

The original title for the session was ‘Reflection as a Tool to Fight Burnout‘, and it transformed itself into ‘Reflection as a Professional Development Tool‘.

This was the original abstract for the session:

It is hard to be teaching full-time (and sometimes in more than one place!) and not to feel tired, or burnt out at times. This session will (re-)consider possible reflective tools you can use to re-charge and re-energize your teaching, so that you were eager to step into a classroom day by day.

In the session, I started out by defining burnout and reflection in simple ways

Burnout is …

  • … physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress (via Oxford Dictionary)
  • … exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration (via Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Reflection is…

  • … serious thought or consideration (via Oxford Dictionary)
  • … consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose (via Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
  • … conscious thinking about what we are doing and why we are doing it (Thomas S.C. Farrell)

The main questions of the session were

  • How do you reflect on your teaching?
  • How can reflective thinking prevent from burning out, or help you/your colleagues fight it?

We then looked at the worksheet and did the task at the top (evaluating how often these ideas had already been used by the audience). After taking notes individually, the session participants had some time in pairs or small groups to ask each other about the points that interested them, to clarify some items that were vague, and to find out similarities and differences in the responses.

  • If your colleagues use some ideas that you never do, ask about the benefits these activities have.
  • Think which question(s) you would like to discuss with Zhenya.

Zhenya’s Comment: the questions asked were mostly about the meaning of some of the ideas in the list. The ones that surprised the participants the most were ‘draw your student’, for example, or ‘write a letter to your student’.

To wrap up the worksheet discussion, I asked some questions (followed by my brief comments below):

How long do you think each reflective suggestion in the list might take? Hint: 5 minutes 20 minutes 1 hour 1,5 h and more

Zhenya’s Comment: The ‘trick’ of the worksheet is that the upper row describes 5-minute ideas, and the lower row contains 20-minute ideas. The each, however, could be expanded, if there is time available. The most important idea for me was to show that ‘reflection’ does not need to take another hour of teacher’s busy life.

How else can you categorize the reflective ideas?

Zhenya’s Comment: Another ‘trick’ of the worksheet is about the columns, each of which (from left to right) offers reflective ideas for teachers to do on their own (1), with a colleague (2) and about their students (3). Of course they can be combined (which was another follow-up question actually!), for example, teachers can reflect with a colleague about their student (2)+(3), etc.

Can you add an idea or two into each part of the list?

Zhenya’s Comment: One teacher mentioned that sometimes the best way to fight burnout is not to reflect but instead to do something unrelated to teaching, something fun, etc. I agree. The scope of this session was only focusing on what reflection can do, and what reflective ways or tools we can choose from. Reflection, however, is not panacea.

Question to readers: what would YOU add to the list?

Table tennis is an “IT-field’ activity in Ukraine. Do teachers have ‘their’ kind of sport?

Finally, the session participants had to decide on 1-3 new reflective idea(s) to try out in the future, and some were shared in the ‘open class’ format.

My Reflections and Insights

  1. ‘Numbering’ as a way to evaluate the frequency was a good visual way to check which areas are less used, and it was easy to compare the responses (Share the ‘3’-s, or the ‘1’-s, etc.)
  2. ‘Numbering’ could look a bit distracting, as some participants started to sum up the results in the columns (and there was no hidden ‘test result’ in the plan!) On the other hand, this was an additional opportunity for ‘reflecting in action’ for me.
  3. Several people reported how useful and meaningful the quiet time to complete the worksheet and make notes was. This could serve me as a reminder that an interactive session could have some silent moments (just as a language lesson could!) and that sometimes it is the silence that brings the depth of thought. I know it may sound obvious…
  4. I briefly told the audience of the first session about the Experiential Learning Cycle (the participants were from different backgrounds, some being more aware about Reflective Practices, and some having less experience with it. I need to think how to incorporate it in more depth, and/or perhaps to skip this step completely. It will largely depend on the length of the session and how prepared (or interested!) the audience is.

Some final thoughts

I enjoyed the process of creating and ‘interacting’ with this worksheet, and writing this post seems to be a good ending of its journey. Or… it could be its new departing point, especially if some of the readers would like to use it with colleagues in their context(s) and then share the learning, the insights, the challenges and suggestions for improvement.

Bon voyage, and thank you for reading! 🙂


Reflection as a Tool Worksheet in MS Word and in PDF.

References and Further Reading

Reflective Teaching by Thomas S.C. Farrell (2013), TESOL International Association

Practicing What We Preach: Teacher Reflection Groups on Cooperative Learning by Thomas S.C. Farrell and George M Jacobs, February 2016 – Volume 19, Number 4

Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking, by Carol C. Rodgers (2002) Teachers College Record. Vol. 4, Number 4, pp. 842-866

Staying Healthy and Motivated (a series of blog posts on iTDI, International Teacher Development Institute)

Getting Feedback on Your Teaching by Geoffrey Jordan

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Principles and Beliefs

This is my third day in a row of posting a note written in the process of planning a professional development session for trainers (facing a PD challenge to present for trainers of different subjects). Writing some ideas out helps me get more clear of what the experience might be like, so I hope you can bear with me today adding another piece to your WP Reader 🙂

Those of you who have read the first post about this session may remember that one of the tasks/steps in the plan was ‘sharing values and principles that drive our practice‘.

I will start by giving a couple of my own examples (such as Experiential Learning, Reflective Practice, Learner-Centered-ness, etc.) and explain how they are reflected in the way I work (even in the way this session is organized) In small groups, the participants will make a list of 3-4 (maybe more?) values, principles, beliefs that determine their teaching philosophy.

The rationale for bringing this up is based on the lack of professional communication among these colleagues, so hopefully by formulating what is important for them in the training room and by sharing practical examples to illustrate how these ideas are practiced the participants will be able to (a) feel closer to each other and (b) find out how much they can learn from such conversations.

Having the word ‘our’ in it means that I would also be sharing the beliefs that shape my teaching philosophy. I first simply planned to summarize them here, so that the readers could (possibly) help me by giving feedback if such a discussion is interesting and/or important.

However, when I started to think what to put into the list, I realized it is a harder task than I thought! It seemed to me that all the ideas I had in mind were borrowed (stolen? internalized?) from certain ‘correct answers’ (as if such thing exists!) or from the organizations I used to work with or have been working lately.

First, I put them on in one document, then read each item critically and ‘weighed’ if it is something I genuinely believe in. I then added the examples from my practice, and where they originally came from. [Warning: some may read as cliché and/or something obvious, which I apologize for. Treat this as a my preparation ‘talk through’ time]

My Big Professional Principles

Experiential Learning and Reflective Practice

I am a big believer in creating a learning experience where a student or a teacher has a chance to be in the process, in the loop of what we are talking about, actively explore the ideas or techniques, engage with the content, make own observations and conclusions, critically reflect on their applicability and relevance for the specific local context.

Examples and evidence: I avoid ‘lecturing’ as much as I can; have at least one task in each lesson or session which illustrates the idea of the session topic. Besides, I facilitate a Reflective Practice Special Interest Group in my native city, a reflective blogger here, and a learning teacher always in search of new ways to create a learning experience. I am also explicit about this in any course or session for teachers I run.

Where the belief comes from: I am a proud World Learning – SIT Graduate Institute licensed teacher trainer and trainer of trainers, so I am completely aware that this organization helped me shape this belief. 

Objective Driven Learning

In other words, I think each task (in a lesson or a training session) needs to be meaningful or helpful for the lesson/session objective. I realize that the objectives (goals, aims, etc.) can be longer-term and shorter-term, and I think it is important to keep both in mind. For example, digressing from a specific topic of the lesson can be important for a specific learner, and serve the goal of the course overall. Well, sometimes it could be just a jellyfish moment though.

Examples and evidence: I am explicit about the objectives set for a specific meeting, session, course. I negotiate the outcomes beforehand, when it is possible, and try to find out the needs and wants of the audience in advance. If it is not possible before the session, I do it in the process. I write out the objectives and sometimes share them with the learners, and/or sometimes ask for their feedback at the end. I think even this session plan is an illustration to this idea.

Where the belief comes from: I first heard about ‘starting from the end’ in lesson planning in 1999, on a TEFL-A course (aka CELTA) as a trainee, and it struck me with its simplicity and beauty. My experience with International House DNK/Dnipro language center helped me gain confidence in applying the idea in teaching, management, teacher education and… in any aspect of life, really.

So… how do YOU like you coffee?

Do More with Less

It is a large idea that applies to a number of things: ‘lessons from nothing’ or without much photocopying, using fewer resources such as paper or energy for a projector and slides, being in the moment and hearing the audience and giving the examples thinking on my feet, reflecting in action, more listening than talking.

Examples and evidence: I think this will be noticeable from the way the session or organized. I am also explicit about this in class encouraging learners to do ‘more with less’ for the text they are working with (language students), for an activity/game they have been offered (teachers) asking questions, e.g. ‘What else can you do with it?’ or ‘Name 1-2 alternative uses for it’, etc.

I can’t say for sure where the belief comes from. It seems to be a part of my ‘life philosophy’ lately, and proved to be very helpful in my more active years of managing a school, or for my training trips now. I also try to be consistent and apply it in the curriculum design/development work I do by showing multiple used of the same activity.

Walk the Talk

In simple words, be able to do what you are asking the audience to do. Do what you preach. Ideally, stop ‘preaching’ and rely on the experiential learning and reflective practice more. Wait, did we just make a complete circle?

Examples and evidence: writing this post and ‘trying out’ the task I created in a planning meeting (as well as most of the tasks I bring to class). Planning at least one lesson from scratch during an intensive training course not to forget how it feels to be a course participant/trainee and have a limited planning time, and often resources.

Where the belief comes from: I saw the expression first in 2006, when I was completing pre-course tasks in order to become a teacher trainer with World Learning – SIT Graduate Institute. It is great to belong to the community of like-minded colleagues!

Finally, I wanted to write ‘Learning-Centered Teaching‘ but then thought it would a heading, a title for the list I already have. It seems to me each of the principles above reflects it.

I think I should finish off my post with the question Mike Griffin asked in his post: But what if we are all wrong? What if I am wrong? Will I hold on to the principles and beliefs for the sake of keeping them or proving then ‘right’? Will they be the same in 10 years’ time? Next year? After the session I am planning?

As usual, thank you for reading and thinking together! 🙂

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Jellyfish, Parking Lots, and Flow

This month is my de-cluttering time, so I am browsing through my physical, virtual and electronic space in order to find ‘open loops’ and review/reflect on various projects, information, ‘things’ and ‘stuff’. This blog is no exception: I noticed the only draft post saved a while ago, opened it and found the image below sitting there. The picture made me smile and I felt an urge to complete and share it.

for input sessions and feedback?

I found a file on my computer with notes on running a meeting or a training sessions. I remembered that I had saved it last year while preparing for a meeting with several school owners. The meeting had specific agenda but the attendees had to meet each other for the first time, therefore I was planning how to use (their and my) time efficiently.

I am in the planning mode now again (see my previous post about it), so I got curious where the idea came from. I then remembered reading HBR article by Bob Frisch and Cary Greene called “The Right Way to Cut People Off in Meetings

The idea to set a ‘Jellyfish Rule’ sounded simple and fun. Quote:

“If any attendee feels the conversation is heading off course or delving into an inappropriate level of detail, they simply say “jellyfish” or “I think we’re having a jellyfish moment.”

I can still see how it can be used on an input session with teachers, or during a group feedback session after a lesson taught (especially on an intensive training course when 2-3 teachers need to receive feedback in quite a limited time slot of a course day). I really like the idea of using a self-made picture on the board: it adds a playful element to otherwise ‘serious’ challenge. I must confess I have not used it in my classroom or training room yet (I simply forgot about this idea!)

Instead, I have been using the image if a parking lot for collecting ideas shared and questions asked that are ‘not right’ on the topic. A short note made in the corner of the board, or on a designated poster helped me be consistent and later follow up with the person who made that comment. I either raise that point in a coming session, or talk to the person on the break. I make sure each point on that list is addressed.

If I am really pressed for time on a feedback session I try to be explicit about it and set a timer to myself (using a cell phone or an online timer) and show it to participants in the hope to model transparency, and apologizing in advance for cutting someone off.

Question to readers: what else do you do in your lessons and sessions to manage time respectfully/creatively/gracefully?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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PD Challenge: Multi-Subject Teacher Educator Gathering

This post is written as a part of my preparation to run a new type of professional development session to my colleagues. I see the experience as a my personal ‘PD Challenge’ and would like to think about it in writing, sharing ideas and asking you questions.

Background 1:

It is a session to a new type of audience (to me). There will be 15-20 academic leaders helping teachers of different subjects grow and develop. They are all working for the same organization here in Ukraine (in translation this may sound as ‘Learning and Teaching Regional Center’) and they run sessions for teachers from the local middle and high school sector, answer their questions, recommend resources, etc. They never observe the teachers’ actual lessons, because that would be a job of a different educational unit. The ‘trick’ is that even though the trainers all know each other quite well (having worked in the center for several years), they have never (formally or informally, to best of my knowledge) discussed professional questions and/or shared their methods, approaches and techniques, or challenges of working with teachers, etc. They have never observed each other’s sessions either (each educator is in charge of a different subject, such as Math, Languages, Science, etc.) Being an ‘outsider’ may make facilitating this 60 minute session easier (this is a new city for me where I have never worked, and I have never worked in the public education sector in Ukraine) BUT…

[and here I am brainstorming a number of challenges I think about while planning]

  1. this session can’t be run in English (which is the only language I am comfortable with in the professional context) Yes, it is true: even thought I am not a native English speaker, all my teaching and training/consultancy career in the last 18 years has been solely in English, including all the documents, paperwork, presentations, communication, etc. The challenge here (and I may need to write a different blog post about this separate issue) that it needs to be my L1 or L2, Russian or Ukrainian. I use Russian with my family and friends from my native city Dnipro, and I use Ukrainian a lot here in Lviv, but this does not mean I feel totally comfortable, or ready, to run a session for colleagues at the professional level. Working on it, and wondering if I should share my challenge at the very beginning (to explain why I am making pauses sometimes!)
  2. being an outsider I can’t predict or even find out what the audience knows or is familiar with, and what can be new. I had had a wonderful planning/brainstorming session with the academic leader in the their Language Department (the person who invited me) but even putting our heads together we could not think of the exact needs or wants these people (may) have. I think a (large?) part of the session needs to give them a chance to share how they might see such meetings in the future, if they are interested.
  3. here we approach another question: would the audience be interested/motivated to come to the session of this kind? At the moment there is no clear answer to this question either: they need to be present at the center in the afternoon on specific days, so the session was scheduled to one of those ‘mandatory’ slots. I anticipate some unwillingness to participate at the beginning, and a lot of questions in terms of ‘why do I need it?’ which I have to be ready to answer.
  4. all the people in the room know each other (well) and the only new person would be me; in combination with some defensive reaction (‘why should I be taught?’) this could create some tension. 

In spite of all the anticipated challenges (and most likely, in addition to those I have not anticipated yet), I would like to give it a try. After all, it is by saying ‘Yes’ to new opportunities that we develop in our field. It has been this way to me, I think. I would like to add some more background/history information to show you why I think it may actually work out well.

Background 2: 

Last year I made simple small steps to connect like-minded colleagues working in Ukraine as ELT teacher trainers, academic managers, department leaders, senior teachers, etc. I facilitated two teacher trainer round table discussions in Kiev (in February and August). The first one was more general one introducing the idea of such meetings. The second one had a concrete topic (Workshop Sessions) where we all shared our tricks, tips, challenges, strategies, etc. on planning and running interactive sessions for teachers. The positive feedback to me was that the atmosphere created in that hour was warm and open to learning and sharing. This is how I got the invitation to prepare this session from one of its participants.

In the preparation meeting we gave the session a title: Building the Professional Community of Teacher Educators. I will share my notes below and leave my doubts and questions [in square brackets].

Step 1 Introducing myself and sharing meeting goals

  • Cross-Curricular Teacher Educator Meetings: Why, What, How, Your Ideas
  • Discussing advantages for professional communication and networking
  • Brainstorming possible topics for the future meetings

Step 2 Ice-Breaker in small groups sharing answers to (possible) questions:

  • Why do you like the role of teacher educator?
  • Why are you a good/professional teacher educator?
  • What challenges or questions are you thinking of/working on at the moment?

[Considering simple formats, such as Venn Diagram, limited short answers (6-10 words), mind map, or even simple ‘Q & A’ in groups. I don’t want the complicated format of activities in this session to hinder its simple message. Maybe I am wrong.]

Step 3 Sharing values and principles that drive our practice

I will start by giving a couple of my own examples (such as Experiential Learning, Reflective Practice, Learner-Centered-ness, etc. – see more in this post) and explain how they are reflected in the way I work (even in the way this session is organized). In small groups, the participants will make a list of 3-4 (maybe more?) values, principles, beliefs that determine their teaching philosophy.

[Could be ‘Think-Pair-Share’ or a Pyramid Discussion format, where pairs would need to agree on the three most important ‘top’ and then groups of four would need to agree on the new ‘top three’ and then groups of 8 would need to find a consensus, etc. It may be logistically harder in the small room and will depend on the exact number of people present. Thinking…]

Step 4 Follow up after the group discussion: what came up? Any surprises/disagreements? Questions?

I see this less structured piece of session important as a lot can come up if the participants feel comfortable to share. I would like to play it by ear in terms of ‘open discussion’ and intend to listen more than talk, making notes.

[I may also ask if this task is something typical in their training practice, and what similarities or differences they could comment on. I may hold this questions towards a later stage of the session though]

Step 5 Possible future meeting topics

I will share this list brainstormed beforehand asking the participants to rank the topics in the order of priority/interest/importance as they see it for their development. If time allows, they will compare their order in the new groups.

[I am thinking to have these on a worksheet leaving enough space for adding more topics that are more relevant than the suggested list. I am also considering to include 1-2 feedback questions about the format/style of the session, to analyze later]

Step 6 Reflective time with questions and comments about the session

This is it for now. Putting the above ‘on paper’ was a useful clarification process for myself, and I am now feeling more prepared and focused. I am looking forward to your comments and suggestions. If someone has had a similar facilitation experience, I would be grateful for a piece of advice.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Back to the Beginning

This blog has been around since December 2013. It started with a challenge I called ’21’ with an intention to write a blog post every single day. I wrote and published 17 out of 21 intended posts, which is 80% of the goal, and it made me happy. Please check my December 2013 archive for evidence!

I was reminded about the idea of writing (almost) every day by Hana Ticha’s post. She blogged 15 times in one month! By the way, this now became #hanachallenge on Twitter. There are bloggers I read and respect who committed themselves to frequent posting now, and some who have even posted 15 times! [Note: I highly strongly recommend following Hana’s blog, if you are not doing this already]

Even though I am not ready to take up the challenge myself, I would like to share what I learned about the habit/style of blogging from Hana. Quote:

Based on what I’ve read, many bloggers like to save random blog-worthy ideas in the form of many separate drafts which give them great content ideas to come back to. Some say they even have up to fifty drafts. This is amazing given that I’ve never had more than one draft at the same time. Once I turn an idea into a draft, I need to finish it. Starting another draft usually means abandoning the previous one. It’s no longer worthy of attention and it will never be because it wasn’t finished. Having so many drafts would feel somehow cluttered for me anyway. It sounds strange now that I read it back but this is the way I write (and live?) – I need to focus on one thing. Once it’s completed, I let go of it and move on.

Zhenya’s thoughts: I should say I am guilty of having lots of drafts (on my computer, in a notebook, on pieces of paper, etc.) I often wait until an idea ‘shapes itself’ but oftentimes, this does not happen. The original thought is forgotten, and when I come back to it, sometimes months or even years later, I don’t feel the same urge to write about the subject. I am going to try to de-clutter those multiple drafts in the coming month, so you might hear from me more often, and the posts may be about different, sometimes less predictable things!

I would also like to thank Hana for sharing the link to Jonas Ellison’s post How one year of daily blogging changed my life.

The author reminded me about Seth Godin’s blog I used to follow (where the author is posting every single day, for years!), and his own reflections on the benefits of daily writing are very inspirational. A quote I am taking with me is this one:

If you grow an audience, awesome. But even if you don’t, you’ll have built an incredible body of work. A digital trail that chronicles your evolution.

Zhenya’s thoughts: I agree. My first posts did not have any audience. Literally, sometimes 0 visits for a day or more. That was not the point. The idea was to begin, to start shaping what I now call ‘my reflective lounge’. Still in the process of experimenting though!


**** Now I am sharing my original, un-edited post describing how it all started (was hiding as a ‘private page’ on my blog)

Coffee as a part of the writing process.

This is my very first independent blog, and also an attempt to learn how to write blogs, how to be clear and concise and easy to read, and (hopefully!) how to engage my reader and not to make you bored! My very first Blog Challenge Project is called  ’21 day blog habit’ and was inspired by my colleague and friend Wilma Luth (if you visit her website you will see in what way she helped me!)

Why 21? As you might know, there is a firm belief in psychology that it takes us about 21 day to have a new habit of doing something. I do believe this is true, and I often try this trick with my habits (for example, running, or exercising, or cutting down on sugar, or…) Another funny thing is that 21 is my favorite number, and it is also my husband’s birthday 🙂 So much to say about the Why behind this choice!

Anyway, the challenge I set to myself is writing for 21 day, and making sure I have a finished piece of writing about 300-500 words in size/length and an image to go with it. The pieces need to be thematically meaningful (i.e about teaching and training ELT ideas that are possible to become Wednesday seminar topics) but can vary in content and subject.

Note added on February 3, 2014: I think the major aim of that 21 day challenge was achieved, which was simply ‘to start blogging’ 🙂

Note added on September 23, 2017: Thank you for being with me on the blogging journey – and for reading this one! More soon…

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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.


  • 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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PD Challenge: New and Experienced Teachers

Earlier this month two Directors of Studies working in different language centers asked me a similar question: how can we ensure that both new and experienced teachers at the school are happy** with the professional development opportunities they have? One big concern for both schools was running regular workshop sessions where everyone is present (either because the center policy requires this, or because it is their own choice)

** Notes about happiness:

  1. this is a very subjective concept, and happiness is so different form person to person.
  2. for a language center, it is important to keep the students happy (thus the PD sessions are aiming at the ‘average’ and are aiming to ensure that the colleagues are sharing experience (and oftentimes, that the more experienced colleagues are helping the newer teachers meet customer expectations, etc.) – I am aware that this is perhaps a broad generalization, but it is based on my own experience of working with the above-mentioned language centers.
  3. based on 1 and 2, we often find that the more experienced teachers become, the less ‘happy’ they are about the PD system at their school, especially when it comes to workshops ‘for everyone’. There are a lot of complaints that ‘there is nothing new’ and ‘this is 10th time we are talking about […]’, etc.

I am sharing some thoughts on this challenge below, and then of course invite you to comment and… share more.

How can we find topics that interest the experienced teachers?

  • ask them directly (during a coffee break, at lunch, while choosing a course book, etc.)
  • listen to what they are talking about (an interesting activity? a question their student asked, etc.)
  • ask what they are reading (and read it too)
  • ask about their students and lessons (oftentimes, it is the new teachers who get all the attention, and there is simply no time to listen to the more experienced colleagues)

Formats of sessions: how can I ‘keep surprising’ the experienced teachers?

  • Question and Answer format (‘Something I would have liked to know about the topic at the beginning of my career’ can be a good starter)
  • Watch a video with a different ‘watching’ task (for example, new teachers could take notes about the ideas and think about their students/levels, etc. whereas experienced teachers could be reflecting which of the ideas shared they have already tried, whether it worked or not, why, etc. You can show them a short activity shared by Macmillan Education ELT, for example, this one on Dictogloss.
  • Watch a session from an international conference, e.g. the well-known IATEFL online Silvana Richardson’s session from 2016 is still available (you only need to register for free)
  • read some ‘tips from the expert‘, e.g. by Jim Scrivener or Scott Thornbury and discuss what works or does not work and/or needs modifications, etc.


Facilitator’s** Concerns: What if… 

…they already know what I am bringing to the session? 

  • sometimes they only heard the term (the words) and would love to learn more about the ideas and application
  • you can see how confident they are about the topic, and perhaps offer them to be ‘guru’ during the session, answer the questions from the others, etc. (which might be a new format of the session!)
  • you might decide to find out what exactly they read on the topic, and/or have tried out in class; if possible, think where in the session you can let them share
  • it never hurts to acknowledge that there are 1-2 people in the room who will also be contributing to the session ideas (and invite them to share resources, ideas, etc. in the group/social media)

… someone is giving an answer too far away from the topic, and/or if the belief is too different from mine?

  • you can ask what the others think about the point (sometimes this means the teacher who asked the question needs to say it again)
  • you might give an example from a recent shared experience, then ask about pros and cons of this idea
  • you could also share your own point as a belief based on your experience (which they hopefully respect)

** Note: by ‘presenter’ or ‘facilitator’ here I mean the new Director of Studies of an academic leader who is making her first steps in the managing role, so such sessions for the whole teaching team often become a challenge.


Further reading 

my earlier posts about session formats…

… and great posts about some alternatives:


What do you think? 

Thank you for reading! 🙂


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