Reflective Practice: a Challenge to Analyze (RP4)

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!)

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
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9 Responses to Reflective Practice: a Challenge to Analyze (RP4)

  1. Dear Zhenya,
    Thank you for your wonderful analysis. I found it really interesting when you examined why you chose that moment for reflection. I guess choosing a moment is an important part of the process and I’ve never given it very much thought. No, I mean, I’ve never really tried to articulate why I’ve chosen the moments I do.
    Idle thoughts: I wonder how it feels to be the organizers of the course you described and to have to accommodate (for whatever reasons) clients who need to be in two places at once? I wonder who really had the agency in the scenario. I wonder if they spent time reflecting on the interaction as well. I wonder what needs the participants were meeting in their attempt to do two courses at the same time, and what needs the organizers were meeting in their decision not to consult (or even inform) the trainers until the last minute.
    I don’t know if any of that is helpful. Just what came up for me while reading.


    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Anne
      Thank you for reading and thinking together with me. I smiled when I read what you said about choosing a moment to reflect on: actually, I am consciously (and so closely) thinking about it for the first time, and I feel happy that it made sense to you and your reflective experiences. I think there is a lot in the reason why we pick a particular moment out of so many more big and small events during a teaching day!

      Now, I loved your questions: they made me look at this interaction from a little further distance, and answering them was a helpful exercise.

      I wonder how it feels to be the organizers of the course you described and to have to accommodate (for whatever reasons) clients who need to be in two places at once? – I think it feels rushed, hectic at times, and from time to time even confusing. A lot of stress, paper work, communication, e-mails — so many things to do.
      I wonder who really had the agency in the scenario. – I think something I had to (could have) point out is that the client, or the customer of the course are not individual participants but rather organizations. To put it simple, a kind of B2B model where the teachers are attending the course as a part of bigger program. (not sure if this makes sense?) For our situation though it perhaps explains why teachers have to be in two places simultaneously.
      I wonder if they spent time reflecting on the interaction as well. – A very good question which I am genuinely curious about. I have never asked them about it, nor did I sat down and ‘did the cycle’ with them.
      I wonder what needs the participants were meeting in their attempt to do two courses at the same time, and what needs the organizers were meeting in their decision not to consult (or even inform) the trainers until the last minute. – This one is less clear to me, and I think that perhaps not knowing this answers is (partially?) the reason for my own not-so-positive feelings in that situation.

      Thank you for pushing me to reflect a little more, and with a fresh perspective. Answering the questions felt really helpful and typing the answers seemingly made it clearer to myself. Not sure it was so for the readers — but feeling very very grateful for this interaction Anne!


  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for sharing your feelings, Zhenya. Although you published this post four days ago, it seems like ages for me. Your words have been on my mind since the day I read the post for the first time. Now I’m back, ready to comment.
    Today I’m not going to be very pragmatic but I’m going to be honest. A few days ago I watched a recording of a wonderful stage performance based on the book called The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. The book has nothing to do with ELT or teacher training, but I think it should be a compulsory read for all teachers who want to enter the profession of teaching. Here’s a short summary of the book in case you’re interested: One of the agreements is ‘don’t take anything personally, i.e. nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own dream’. I believe this is the most important thing to bear in mind before we start making any assumption and generalizations. All the participants of the incidents had their own reasons to act the way they did, including you. You certainly did your best to sort things out at that moment but you’ll never know how the others felt and what their real intentions/motives were. As far as I know, you haven’t had an opportunity to discuss the problem with them and really get things off your chest. So the only conclusion seems to be to let things go for the time being and move on. Next time you’ll be wiser; you may try to find out more about the other participants by asking explicitly, instead of bottling up your feelings. I hope I don’t sound too prescriptive; don’t take my response as advice, please. Take it as an extension of your ideas, though from a slightly different perspective.



    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Hana
      Thank you for not only reading but also thinking so deeply about your reply.

      I am now eager to read the ‘The Four Agreements’! The link you sent me summarizes the four principles that (I think?) lead to a healthy mind and happy life, so to say. Even thought you said that it has nothing to do with ELT or teacher training, I sense that there is a lot that we can learn from the simple wisdom. ‘Don’t take anything personally’ in combination with ‘don’t make assumptions’ is a great formulae for a more objective analysis, and even being much more calm in the moment itself, it seems?
      Hm, seems to me now that the book will have a lot to offer me.
      You wrote very reassuring words about moving on and making conclusions for future. I think I did move on, and learned a lesson (or more than one) after this experience. I can’t even say that I was bottling up the feelings: even though I was not sharing them during the interaction I had a chance to discuss them with the co-trainer, and the actions we took were planned together, etc.

      I really like how you worded your idea, and what you said here: I hope I don’t sound too prescriptive; don’t take my response as advice, please. Take it as an extension of your ideas, though from a slightly different perspective. – I think this is exactly how I am taking what you wrote, and this is what I am grateful for. I believe that this is the essence of the reflection using the cycle and I so much appreciate it!


  3. Hi Zhenya. Thank you for sharing your analysis. It’s most definitely a tricky stage, and I’m yet to attempt mine yet. I do have a question first of all. In your original post you mention that the secretary had to ‘translate into the local language’, and in this post you say that it was ‘Korean’. Was this intentional to leave the language out of our description in your previous post? In fact when I was reading your post the first time, I thought that it sounded like many situations that I have experienced here in Korea. As soon as I read Korean in these post, I had a bit of an ‘ah-ha’ moment.

    In fact earlier in the year I wrote a bit about some of the frustrations I have felt with Koreans You mention that you questioned how a participant was expected to be at the same level in the course even while missing 70% of the course. And this is something I encounter quite often. A lot of the times students want the reward, the end goal and then plan to work backwards, i.e. after receiving the result that they want, they will work (or at least say that they will) for it.

    I like the way that you have analyzed your description from the different angles, and looking it at from the perspective of others. After reading both yours and Anne’s post, I have a better understanding of what the descriptive phase now entails, and I hope to analyze my description soon.



    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate how attentive you were reading both description and then analysis and for asking your question about the language. Yes, you guessed (or read?) correctly, it is about Korea. You asked: Was this intentional to leave the language out of our description in your previous post? – I guess one idea I had in mind was to describe rather than to share or compare our experiences of situations in a particular context (although I now see that it is very hard not to say where the situation took place, and perhaps it was not the best idea at all!)
      In any case, I am glad it still came up in this stage, and also happy to know that you recognized similarities (please understand that I am far less happy that we both experienced them)
      Thank you for sending the link to your earlier post (coincidentally, the date you published your post and the time described in my post are almost the same!)

      Really looking forward to reading your analysis!


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