Reflective Practice: a Challenge to Analyze (RP4)

by Zhenya

In this post I am getting back to writing about the Experiential Learning Cycle

It has been a while since I joined the Reflective Practice Challenge and posted my description of a professional interaction I wanted to think about in more depth.

Josette LeBlanc in her guest post for John Pfordresher’s blog presented a new RP Challenge, which is to analyze the experience we described. I am quoting her below: 

The basic question that you want to ask during the analysis stage is “Why?” Here are some examples of such questions:

  • why does/did it matter (why was it important) in that lesson/interaction?
  • why was it helpful (or not helpful) for the people involved? for yourself?
  • why was it helpful (or not helpful) for the goals of the group/course/lesson?

For this post’s organization I am using Anne Hendler’s idea where she  first copied her own description and then started to analyze it (and the other reason for adding this link is to invite you to read how she approached the same RP Challenge!) 


My Description

It is Monday, about 4.45 pm, training staffroom of the Center. There are five of us at a table, in a semi-circle: my co-trainer, 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 above mentioned Teacher Helper Course begins on Wednesday. We are asking a number of last-minute questions about the rooms, the course schedule, the name tags, 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. I hold my list of questions 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.

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. 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 says the name of the person and then says that he 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 me to approve the situation, or agree with it. She says that this is something that had been decided and that I don’t need to approve or agree but rather need to think of a possible Make Up 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 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 Korean and talks to the program manager. He listens, then nods, and then says something. The Secretary translates his reply: yes, we understand, but there is nothing that can be changed in this situation. I ask if he was given a permission to leave from 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.


My Analysis

There are several perspectives I would like to analyze in the described interaction.

I would like to start with thinking about… Myself. Why did that episode matter? Why did I choose to describe it? First of all, being seemingly calm and even behaving professionally (as some readers commented) I did not feel good about what was happening. I felt helpless, and even angry at the situation. I think I was also analyzing what I was listening to ‘in the moment’ and could not come up with a good argument or a reason to change the situation. (not that the people I was talking to change anything, and I will write about it below) My choice was to listen and acknowledge the information I heard as a trainer for that course, and to stay polite with the people I was communicating. I think this happened.

Let’s now turn to the people I interacted with: neither of them could change the decision, nor did we have time to do that (two days before the course starts) I was not feeling happy about not having been informed by the course organizers about the people who are going to miss so much, and I had a mixture of anger and sadness about the fact that the trainers’ perspective or even opinion on this had not been needed.

Why were they giving us that information so late? Probably because they had not had it earlier; probably because not being trainers or educators themselves and they did not know how important it was for us trainers to have as much info as possible about the course participants numbers, etc. Maybe the main reason was language proficiency (and therefore the person who could speak English could only talk to us that day and time)

How did I feel about the participants we were talking about (those who are/were to miss some parts of that portion of the course)? I am not sure: I did not know them at that point (well, I learned their names and found out that one was male and the other was female and that both were from the same city where the course was happening. – Yes, I think in the last sentence I got back to the Description stage!) Anyway, I did not know the people and can’t say that I was thinking, or feeling anything special towards them. Perhaps I was curious about such things as why they had to agree to do two courses at the same time (using the same vacation period) and what goals they had for their own development, and if they needed to be on the course, if they had any choice at all, and how ready they were for this challenge, etc.

Now, let me share what I was thinking about the other participants on the same course (who were not planning to miss and had to do all the hard work during the two intensive weeks literally spending ‘9am-9pm’ time in class/on campus working on this course: I sensed that the whole situation simply did not look fair to them. To get back to my own feelings earlier in this post, I can say that the very thought that some people are allowed (officially!) to break the course requirements from their own training center by the center made me feel frustrated.

So I think it is time to write about the overall educational context (and the decision-makers’ party) of this situation… I almost started a sentence about what I believe it *needs to be like, and then caught myself that it will already be the next stage of the Cycle, i.e. sharing my Generalizations, or beliefs. As a pre-view to that (which I think will be coming in very soon) I can say that my beliefs have become clearer to me while I was typing this post.


Questions to the readers: Is there anything else that comes to your mind when reading about that experience? Is there anything that you feel could be another possible reason, or explanation? What lens would you add to what I am analyzing already?


Final note: I am going through this ‘divided’ reflective cycle for the first time in my life actually (plus the whole sharing and getting feedback experience on the blog brings a new perspective into the process) so I find it enjoyable. I think I ended up writing a little more than I expected (so thank you for staying with me for so long!)