Feelings and Reflective Practice

If you have been reading posts on this blog you may know my passion towards reflective practices  and using the Experiential Learning Cycle as a tool to reflect on the lessons or sessions or presentations (or any life experience, actually) and to give and receive feedback. This post is about feelings and emotions and their (possible) place in the reflective cycle. I have been meaning to write about this for a long time and now have a collection of notes and ideas for it. It may grow longer than one post, but for now, I would like to get started.

Brief background: on the courses for teachers and trainers I run the experiential learning cycle (or reflective cycle) is used to help teachers think back about the lessons taught or observed and make purposeful changes for the future teaching or training. The five stages of the cycle can be briefly summarized in the image below.

As you see from the title of this post, I’d like to add Feelings/Emotions into the picture.

Before answering the ‘Where?’ and ‘How?’ questions let’s turn to ‘What?’. Not going deep into defining feelings and emotions from the psychological point of view, I will simply say that the word ‘feelings’ in this post will be used in the meaning of ‘an emotional state or reaction’. You can read more about it here.

Where would we acknowledge our feelings or emotional reactions to what was happening in the lesson? Would we at all? I see more than one option of working with the Cycle.

Option 1: Separating the Feelings from the Cycle

In many courses I have run we had a simple form for a teacher to complete before the feedback session. It always started with a question: ‘How did you feel?’ and sometimes added a ‘sub-question’: How were you feelings before the lesson? When it already started? During the lesson? Afterwards (at the moment of completing the form?’)

The reflective cycle questions that followed offered the teacher to decide on the ‘key moments’ to reflect on and do so as objectively as possible putting the feelings aside and focusing on facts (supporting ideas by examples of student behavior, reactions, questions, etc.) Asking teachers to stay objective I compare the description with a snapshot of a camera or a video clip, where we can see the objects and people but not the ‘feelings’.

Advantage of option 1: teachers become aware of the feelings that they have (had), at the same time stick to a descriptive/objective/analytical tone of reflecting. They learn to separate ‘facts’ (data, evidence) from ‘opinion’. It is especially important for experienced teachers on a course, whose expectations and personal standards are very high, and whose feelings about ‘not meeting’ those standards are sometimes stronger than the awareness of how the lesson objective was or was not achieved by students. Newer teachers, on the other hand, may get very preoccupied about their ‘performance’ in the classroom and can’t even notice students’ reactions or questions (e.g. ‘I don’t know what the students were saying/doing, as I was too nervous about my next activity in the lesson plan’)

Besides, some educational cultures are stricter/more critical to ‘making mistakes’ for language learners and teachers, so the fear of ‘doing something wrong’ may be on the way to noticing what was actually going on in the lesson. Helping such teachers ‘switch’ from their own feelings and thoughts into observing what the students were doing and how they are learning makes a huge difference in their teaching and planning.

Option 2: Adding Feelings to the Description part

Here the teacher reflecting on his/her lesson taught is asked to describe a key moment’ and while describing it, name the feelings s/he was experiencing. Some of my colleagues divide this part into two: describing what happened outside (in the real world, in class) and inside (in one’s mind, or heart).

In the Analysis (Interpretation) part that follows teachers would ask themselves about the possible reasons for feeling that way, and offering multiple solutions to the challenges faced.

Option 3: Adding Needs and Feelings stage to the Cycle

This stage can be added between the Description an Analysis stages, and feelings and needs of the teacher and students can be reflected on. This way, the feelings are closer to the Analysis stage to me, as we can only describe our own feelings (if we can!) and we can only guess how the others were feeling from the observable clues in the classroom. This, in turn, brings us back to the Description stage of the cycle.

Advantage of options 2 and 3: feelings are invited ‘into play’ and are taken into consideration with attention and care. Can be especially important if a course for teachers also focuses on such practices as self-compassion, mindfulness, self-care, fighting burnout, etc.

I can see something in common about all the three options above: they help teachers become aware of the feelings/emotions, to notice and acknowledge them. As Daniel J. Siegel wrote in ‘Midnight’, ‘inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them‘.

Our choice of which option to go for may depend on several factors, such as the nature of the course we are applying the cycle on (intensive or extended? for new or experienced teachers?), teachers’ personality and confidence in reflection, the group of students (and how strong the feelings were about the lesson taught), the reason for observation and feedback, the relationship and trust between the observer and the teacher being observed (and the degree of openness they have to each other on a personal level), and even the time available for a feedback session.

How do you feel about the clouds in the sky? So much depends on the context: summer or fall? Hot or cold? Longing for a rain, or for some sunshine?


Final Thoughts and Notes (and questions to self and reader)

Seems like feelings/emotions/needs themselves can become a lens for reflective analysis? For example, teacher’s feelings towards specific student (or a group of students?) or his/her attitude to a specific type of task, to the course book s/he is using, or even to the process of being observed?

Emotions (in the meaning of ‘strong feelings deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others’) may be (discovered as) the result of reflective process, and in this case, become a part of Generalizations a teacher comes up with. 

Emotions and feelings referred to in this post were mostly negative (self-criticism, anxiety, self-judgement, etc.) I wonder about the positive ones and their role in choosing the key moment to reflect on? For example, feeling proud and happy for the student(s) achievement? Being excited about a new idea or experiment? 

As always, thank you for reading! 🙂

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/.
This entry was posted in Reflective Practice and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Feelings and Reflective Practice

  1. Pingback: Reflective Metaphors: Water | Wednesday Seminars

  2. Pingback: Reflective cycle: stop and feel | Kate's Crate

  3. Pingback: ELC: Questions and Answers | Wednesday Seminars

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