Wednesday Seminars

Zhenya Polosatova's reflective lounge: learning, teaching, teacher training.

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…

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! 🙂

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! 🙂

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.

BirdHouses

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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