2017 is ending, and December is a good month to reflect on how the year has been. Since I call this blog my ‘reflective lounge’, it is okay to have a post about the aspect of my Professional (and personal) development I feel happy about: our monthly Reflective Group meetings in Dnipro, Ukraine.
In simple words, the meetings are a place and space for teachers to talk about their students, challenges, questions, insights and beliefs. They are not ‘seminars’ or ‘input sessions with new practice activities’; they are not about learning a new fancy term (although it can also happen during the group discussions!). The meetings have a new venue and a discussion topic every month, last about two hours, and the members may choose to attend every session, or some of them. These meetings are free for everyone, but we often bring some snacks to share.
[Note: some more information and resources, as well as links to other groups are on this page.]
Last academic year (2016/17) I facilitated all the meetings. This year we are experimenting and engaging volunteer facilitators to step in. I am excited about this, as the group needs to develop and grow, and not just in size. Having more people running the sessions make the meetings more memorable, varied, meaningful and unique. I am grateful that this is possible. At the same time, I am excited to co-plan a session and to brainstorm ideas for a meeting, if needed. The post below is a part of such ‘preparation conversations’ we have recently had.
First of all, let me share my meeting planning process (works for me in this order but I am sure it can be used creatively and flexibly):
- Choose a topic close to your heart (something you are curious or passionate about at the moment): together, we created a list of possible topics to choose from but there are also additional ones that come up. For example, one session was focusing on something the facilitator was thinking to bring up as a conference session (so the group’s reflections were centered around that topic); sometimes, it is a question that repeatedly comes up in a teacher’s practice (How can beginner adult language learners be more autonomous?’, for example) and could become a meeting’s focus.
- Create a small description for the session (it needs to be very small, usually 2-3 questions that the meeting will be asking, and/or some questions to think about before the session, and/or a task to complete (e.g., bring a book you recently read and would like to reflect on, etc.) It helps the facilitator to have a ‘starting point’ for the meeting and the participants to feel more prepared. Activating schema, if you like!
- Optional: create a small and simple handout for the session. When I facilitate a session, I usually put the same questions as the initial description had, leaving enough spaces for note-taking; sometimes (if there is some time!) I add a reminder of what the Experiential Learning Cycle is and a couple of reflective questions to prompt/promote its use during the meeting.
- If the earlier prep steps are made 2-3 weeks before the meeting, there could be some resources to share with the group on the topic. Those can either go to the handout, or be shared in the group on Facebook (and/or other social media channels you are using for group communication); I find this helpful if the discussion is less lively, or if there are very few members participating and the discussion is getting quieter; or as pleasant extras to talk about.
- Think about an ice-breaking activity for 5-10 minutes: this is helpful if there is a new member in a meeting, who needs a bit of time to get to know the group, and/or when some people are coming late (traffic jams, weather, etc.)
- Plan a feedback question, and/or ‘exit ticket’ kind of activity to wrap up the meeting and get feedback on what was useful, what the learning was, etc. This is more of a reminder to myself as I often have no time left for this important stage. An area to work on! 🙂
Some more preparation tips are below. They come in no particular order and were ‘tried and tested’ in our group in Ukraine:
- be flexible about the meeting’s order, or ‘activities’: it is not a lesson, and the participants are not expecting you to be an ‘expert’ in the topic. If a discussion takes more time, let it continue.
- if there seems to be a difficult question, it is okay to start sharing your own example or answer (oftentimes we refer to the ‘teaching’ part of self where letting the learners share first is ‘recommended’; in these meetings, everyone is a ‘learner’ or is wearing a ‘reflective hat’ and so there are no ‘teaching rules’ as such; or… any rules?);
- allow the questions to touch two perspectives (at least): of yourself as a learner (in the past or at the moment) and of yourself as a teacher. By ‘yourself’ here I mean the facilitator and meeting participants;
- remember not to have lots of input or theory as a part of the meeting; the more reflective and personal the questions are, the better. Remind yourself that it is not a ‘training session’ or ‘seminar’ or a talk;
- don’t overplan the details, such as precise timing, group work or pairwork (this will largely depend on the number of people, the venue (is there a large table, or some smaller ones), on everyone’s mood, etc. Not planning these would leave space for being spontaneous.
- if you can, don’t plan the meeting steps at all: have a set of questions and an open mind. Make sure you yourself are eager to take part (as a participant!) and are excited to hear what the others will be saying. It will make it more fun, more engaging and memorable.
- feel comfortable to let the discussion digress from ‘teaching issues’ only (in the meeting feedback I collected last month several group members wrote that they enjoyed the ‘non-ELT’ topics and discussions that took place). We are talking about ‘alternative PD formats’ here and about finding inspiration, and those do not always ‘hide’ in talking about new activities and tasks for students;
- listen to the questions asked in the process of the meeting (incorporate those questions in the discussion, giving them the priority over the ones you prepared); remember that there are no ‘teachers’ or ‘trainers’ in the room, only reflective professionals, and the meeting is running itself, oftentimes; sometimes these new questions bring new meeting topics!
I value this experience of professional development, especially now that I moved to Lviv and the group keeps meeting in Dnipro. My (secret) dream is to ‘spread’ this idea to more cities in Ukraine.
Questions to the readers:
- If you have ever run a reflective meeting: what have you done (do you do) differently, and why?
- If you have never run a reflective meeting (but might in the future): what else would you need to know in order to prepare?
- What questions and comments do you have?
Thank you for reading! 🙂