Reflective Practice: a Challenge to Describe (RP3)


Introduction and References

The idea for this post comes from John Pfordresher

Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom. Not an entire lesson, but a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).

Perhaps a student was sleeping in class, or being disruptive or inattentive. Perhaps we, the teacher, reacted to a specific stimuli in an unhelpful way. Maybe someone walked in on a lesson and caused a negative disruption to us or our students.

Our task today is to take this negative interaction and describe it. It is important that we describe and describe only.

Before I begin to share my own snapshot, I would like to invite you to read more classroom descriptions available by:  Hana Ticha (first and second descriptions of the very same moment), David HarbinsonAnne Hendler  and John Pfordresher.

I have to be honest and admit that I did not follow the instructions completely. Similarly to Josette LeBlanc I modified the task to suit my own reflective needs at this moment. Before she starts her description, Josette says: What I have decided to do instead is change the word “negative” into “challenging”

I also decided that it does not have to be a challenging classroom experience, but can be an interaction in the training room, or with the site administration, and still impact the (potential) learning. This means I also modified the initial task.

Background, or Setting

(which can be a part of the description, as I am aiming at sharing only facts, not my feelings about them, and not interpreting anything at this stage)

It is a teacher training site, which has been in the market for the last 8+ years or so, helping teachers to receive international TESOL certificate using communicative methods. Besides TESOL, there are several types of courses for teachers, and one of them is about preparing teachers to ‘help other teachers’ in the context of their own schools, to mentor their colleagues by helping in lesson planning, observing and giving feedback, sharing teaching tips and ideas during interactive workshops, etc. The specific job description after the course (or expected role) depends on the school/city the teachers work in, and the course is tailored to the needs of the specific course participants. For the purposes of this post I will refer to the course as ‘Teacher Helper Course’ (not the real course title) The part of the course on the site lasts 10 working days and consists of 90 contact hours with trainers. The trainers are hired for the course, and as in our case, don’t speak the local language.

The Actual Description

It is Monday, about 4.45 pm. We are at the training staffroom in the Center. There are five of us at a table, sitting in a semi-circle: my co-trainer, the site academic director, program manager and a secretary. My co-trainer and I have just finished a lesson planning session with our TESOL course participants, and the abovementioned Teacher Helper Course begins on Wednesday. We are asking a number of last-minute questions about the rooms, the course schedule, the details of the formal introduction on the first day, paper journals for the participants, etc. The site representatives answer. The Secretary does the actual talking in English, and the Program Manager often nods and smiles. If there is a question the Secretary is not sure about the answer, she translates and waits for her colleague to respond, and then gets back to us with the answer. If she is sure, she first answers, and then translates to him. I hold my list of questions on the table in front of me and take notes of the information we hear, and ‘check off’ the questions I received the answers for. Both my colleague and I nod in understanding and smile. I do the talking. The site academic director is listening.

After my list of questions is over, I ask if there is anything else I need to know as a lead trainer of the course before it begins. The Secretary translates the question, we wait for the reply. The she says: ‘There will be one participant on this course who is going to miss a part of the course’ I ask which part, and how long he (or she) is going to miss. She tells us the name of the person and then says that this person will attend the first three days fully, and then leave to the USA to take another course for his professional development. My next question is whether they are asking us to approve the situation, or agree with it. She says that this is something that had been decided already and that I don’t need to approve or agree but rather have to think of a possible ‘Make Up’ written assignment for this participant so that he was able to pass the course along with everyone else. I say that there is no Make Up assignment I am aware of that can help someone compensate for the 70% of the experience everyone will have had on the course, and that such absence is especially noticeable in the intensive course we are about to start, and that such participants are usually not able to catch up with the group. The Secretary translates what I say into the local language and talks to the Program Manager. He listens, then nods, and then says something. The Secretary translates his reply: yes, we understand what you are saying, but there is nothing that can be changed in this situation. I ask if he had been given a permission to leave this course. The answer is ‘yes’.

My next question is if there anything else we need to know about the course participants. (I am not going to repeat the whole thing about asking a question, waiting for the translation, waiting for the reply, and then for the translation back) Trying to be brief: they told us about one more participant who would be combining two courses at the same time (one is ours, and the other is in another training site) and would have to miss either the morning sessions or the afternoon sessions for 8 days on our course.

A couple of notes:

I was trying to describe without any feelings. After we finished the conversation and the site representatives left I asked my colleague if I looked (or acted) nervous, or annoyed, or angry. She said that I was looking serious, but none of those emotions were visible. I am writing about those feelings now because I think I had them all, plus felt really helpless to change anything in the situation described.

Thank you for reading till this point, and hope I did not bore you too much. I will keep my interpretations and reflections (as well as the reasons for choosing this moment for the description) until the next Reflective Practice Challenge.


About Zhenya

teacher educator, evidence-based instruction trainer, PD Coach
This entry was posted in Reflective Practice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Reflective Practice: a Challenge to Describe (RP3)

  1. Hana Tichá says:

    Hi Zhenya. This is an interesting read that kept me in suspense till the end. To me it seems you acted absolutely professionally.There’s nothing to be reproached or criticized. Yet, you felt the urge to share this particular experience. I can’t wait to read more about the emotional aspect in the follow-up post and I suspect that it will be as interesting as the background. Just one more note from me: your description reminded me of how I feel when, for example, a student announces that he/she will miss one of my lessons 🙂


    • Ron Bradley says:

      I am wondering why he withheld his feelings/emotions, as I feel these are as much a part of what needs to be described as the observable behavior–in fact, body language and facial expressions as well as tone of voice are reflections of our thought processes and emotions. Describing my feeling at the time a positive or negative moment occurs, may very well play into how my response is both given and received by the students/participants, as well as why they may have responded in a way reactive, both + and – to my expression–verbally as well as non-verbally. If I am responding to or giving feedback to a participant and I am feeling judgmental, this will be difficult to hide no matter my words. Emerson: Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” is one of my favorite quotes.


      • Zhenya says:

        Hi Ron, thank you for the comment and a question. In fact I am in two minds about where the feelings come in a description: as a part of it, or separately. I personally sometimes get too emotional, so I ‘trained’ myself to describe without feelings and then look at the situation ‘from above’, so to say. I will think how to add body language and facial expression to the description though. Thank you for the tip (and great quote too!)


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Hana

      Thank you for your comment and support. When I read what you said ‘you acted absolutely professionally’ I thought about the feelings I had. Reading and thinking about what it means to be a ‘whole teacher’ this week (including your recent post) I am wondering if there is a way to find harmony between what is happening and how it feels. What is ‘on the surface’ and what is deep inside… Yes, agree with you, it is a similar feeling when a student is telling me s/he is going to miss a class, although here the ‘student’ was not even talking to me, and I was not the one to decide. Oops, I am already interpreting! Thank you for your questions! 🙂


      • Hana Tichá says:

        Dear Zhenya. I know I’ve already commented but I can’t help to add a few more words now that I’ve read your and Ron’s replies. Isn’t it a sign of professionalism to be able to hide our negative emotions? I mean, we sometimes feel we want to yell at our students but we don’t because we are professionals. I often wonder whether keeping my feelings under control is a positive or a negative step towards my better self. On the one hand, bottling up feelings may get things even worse but on the other hand, self-control is one of the aspects of being a good teacher (or anything). I know that the ideal situation would be not having those negative feelings at all. But we all walk different paths; while some do meditation to gain harmony, others have to go through all the negative to finally achieve the positive. It seems I’ve chosen the latter ….


        • haeundaelife says:

          Hi Zhenya and Hana!

          I love this discussion. It is a debate I have been having for some time.

          My emotions too, Zhenya, are strong. I appreciate your efforts to separate yourself from them so you can peer at the experience from above.

          I’d also second Ron’s thoughts on expressions and tone. I think understanding our own NVC (non-verbal comm) and how others react/don’t react to it is an important point to describe to better understand an experience.

          Personally, I believe that feelings/emotions are integral to who we are and how we experience events in our life. That being the case I believe there is a case to be made for them to be included in description. However, the key is to be able to see emotions/feelings for what they are, and through the descriptive process, acknowledge-deal-move past them.

          In the end a description needs to be divorced from our feelings/emotions of the moment. But until we fully recognise them and the power they had “in the moment” I believe my ELC is missing something.

          Thanks for the great debate! Much learning going on. #RPPLN



        • Zhenya says:

          Dear Hana
          Thank you for reading and adding more thoughts about describing and sharing feelings, and their inter-relationship (both here and on your own blog in the comments!).
          I really like the question you raise about professionalism (Isn’t it a sign of professionalism to be able to hide our negative emotions?) and I am asking myself if this is true (a) about only negative emotions, or any emotions and (b) can the same rule or belief be applied to more than one teaching context/culture? A really interesting question to me. You are wondering whether ‘ keeping your feelings under control is a positive or a negative step towards my better self’ – I think that I agree with this, however, ‘under control’ to me would be controlling what I feel, not just controlling how I behave, if it makes sense? I like the step where I wait and postpone my reaction, and in that case I at least don’t let my feelings ‘lead’ the way I respond.
          At this point my conclusion, or decision would be to keep reflecting by describing the events and feelings and then matching them and … reflecting more?


  2. Hello Zhenya and thank you for your wonderful description and well-chosen images. I don’t think you broke “the rules” much at all. In fact, although John wrote “classroom,” I think he meant “in your role as an educator.” I like your redefining the task to include any interaction at all. It reminds me that reflection needn’t be limited.
    You kept your emotions out, but I still found myself super-imposing my own emotions as I read. So now I’m curious to read the next part and find out if they match! (I found it interesting when commenters to my own post suggested feelings that didn’t actually match mine.)
    Another thing I noticed is the role language choice plays in description. You wrote your description in the present tense, placing the reader in the room with you. You chose words that are not “loaded” so as to give no hint to your feelings. So I connect to the description but I experience it in my own way.


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Anne

      Thank you for reading, commenting, encouraging! What you wrote made me think: if each listener/reader is comparing, or ‘trying out’ the story to themselves and thinking which feelings they would have had, it basically means that everyone feels something different (the obvious perhaps) This might be another reason to keep the feelings out of the description so that the listener/reader could connect but experience it in their own way, using your words.

      Before you actually mentioned it, I did not realize I was using the present tense! I have always believed that putting the description in the past tense would make it more accurate. Now I think that if it was a while ago (several weeks passed for me since that moment), the present grammar helps to make it vivid again. Thank you for the great input – a lot of learning for me!


  3. Hi Zhenya,

    As with many of the other posts for this challenge, I found that I was easily able to relate to the situation and have experienced similar myself. Often comments/requests from the administrative staff that I have felt are at odds with my own beliefs/what I am trying to do.

    Like, Anne, I found myself imposing my own feelings on to your situation, and perhaps would not have (and indeed have not in my own situations) acted so professionally.

    I shall reserve any further comments until the next challenge, where we will all have the opportunity to further analyse and discuss each other’s descriptions.



    • Zhenya says:

      Hi David

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting, and ‘living through’ the moment with me. When you referred to my behavior as ‘professional’ it made me think how it might look professional, and at the same time did not ‘feel’ professional, if you see what I mean? And another question I am asking myself (also based on what Hana was saying in her comments) is whether ‘professional’ in our job actually involves feelings?

      I am looking forward to analyzing and sharing with our RPPLN, and to the discussions that follow our sharing! Thank you for reading and supporting!


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  6. Zhenya says:

    Hi John

    Thank you for reading and sharing. One of the supportive and helpful outcomes of our #RPPLN is finding out that I am not alone in feeling something, or in making my decisions. What you wrote (and what Hana mentioned) about feeling strong emotions is definitely true about me, and as you said, I have been training myself to ‘look at the experience from above’ for years, I think. Being aware of my own non-verbal communication can add more detail and description for the coming reflection. Being aware of the feelings is again a helpful perspective in reflecting through the ELC.

    One thought crossed my mind just now: perhaps our feelings are already interpretations of what is going on? We have them ‘in the moment’ but they are our reaction to what is happening in that moment? Looks like I am ready to interpret my moment 🙂


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