Starting a Reflective Practice Group: Obstacles

I wrote a post recently defining what a Reflective Practice Group is aboutIt ended with these questions:

  • Would you like to start a group like this in your city/country?
  • What would be some obstacles on the way to launching such a group?
  • What other questions about our Reflective Practice Group do you have?

This post will focus on one of the questions, namely, the obstacles on the way to a new group. The same question was asked at our IATEFL co-presentation earlier this year (check this post)

I will organize today’s post stating an idea my colleagues have shared, adding a response from my own perspective and experience (> >). I numbered them for easier commenting (in the hope to continue this conversation).

1. I need an expert/guru/authority to help me develop and grow as a teacher.

> > I would say the idea of attending or facilitating such a group does not deny other ways of ‘input’ sessions. To me, these meeting are an additional tool to contextualize what teachers learn. I would even say it is an ideal situation, when new knowledge is gained from a book, a conference session or a course, and then reflected and analyzed to be applied to the local context. 

> > In terms of session formats, reading books can be quite helpful. A colleague on Twitter recommended a book called Keeping the Essence in Sight: From Teaching Practice to Reflection and Back Again by Sharon Hartle with discussion questions at the end of each chapter for example. Planning to check it out.

2. Choosing a time and a location that suits people can be a challenge.

> > True, especially because teachers are working long days, and often weekends. Our choice of a Saturday afternoon appears to be impossible for at least one teacher I know. As with any PD event, we can’t please everyone in terms of scheduling.

3. I don’t have time for ‘just talking’ about teaching.

> > Teachers are very busy everywhere I know. I firmly believe that ‘time’ is a very subjective substance that can be shorter or longer, depending on what’s truly important to us. When we see some value in an event or action, we make the time for it. And if we don’t, we don’t.

4. I can only learn from someone dealing with the same challenges as I do (e.g. also teaches kids, not adults)

> > I agree that someone who is working in exactly the same conditions as you do may offer a great tip or piece of advice. At the same time, our group members realized that someone from a different context may ask you a question allowing you to see a new perspective, or come up with a solution. Being open to that, along with a bit of curiosity, can do real magic for your awareness.

5. I need a certificate to prove/validate that I have done something for my professional development

> > In this statement, I see the need to be accountable for the hours of Professional Development a teacher attends. It may be relevant to the state school system specifically in Ukraine, where teachers need to attend/take part in certain number of hours for their PD. If the certificate is crucial, I would recommend opting for a more ‘traditional’ kind of event, e.g. a webinar, workshop, or a training course.

6. Lack of recognition from authorities can be an obstacle.

> > Indeed, we want to do something ‘cool’ or ‘prestigious’, and it actually adds ‘weight’ to an event if a certificate mentions a name of a famous European University or publisher, for example.

7. Joining this kind of group means admitting that you have teaching challenges and/or questions. Teachers have their own crowns and might not be ready to part with them

> > This was a question from our session at IATEFL Ukraine. I continued the metaphor saying that your crown will be next to you, and no-one would doubt that you have a right to wear it. These meetings are not about being right or wrong, queens or kings of teaching, etc. They are more about a time to talk about the small things in our teaching to facilitate our students learning even more.

Picture taken in Beirut, Lebanon (2014): crowns were created for an activity with students.

7. It can be hard when your group is not homogeneous (age, experience, level, teaching philosophy, expectations, why they do it, personal qualities, ownership.) This adds value only if each participant is able to benefit from the experience.

> > In a way, the last sentence above already hints at a possible solution: creating space of openness and mutual respect.

8. No everyone wants to reflect.

> > True. As my Twitter colleague put it nicely, ‘teachers’ mindsets play an important role, there are teachers who prefer being told what others have discovered instead of finding out themselves’.

9. Attendance: people tend to come one time, then skip the next time, then maybe come again the time after that.

> > In our group, we are using Facebook (to create an event and indicate if people are coming) and Messenger for any last-minute changes, lateness, etc. I realize we don’t expect everyone to attend every time but if a topic is interesting and relevant, more people try to come. Also, not knowing how many people are going to be there can be a nice planning challenge (and ‘testing’ how flexible a facilitator can be!)

10. Newcomers may join a meeting (their understanding of what is going on)

> > We use this blog for references and information about the Experiential Learning Cycle, for example, or the past meeting topics. Normally a new attendee knows someone from the group so receives some kind of ‘informal induction’. A new person may be more silent during the first meeting trying to get to know the format, and then takes a more active part in the future meetings. Just as in a regular group lesson, right?

11. Coming up with meeting topics.

> > I find we have more ideas for meetings that there are months in the year. I keep a list that constantly grows, and the group members come up with their own ideas. There are three posts on this blog with the topics we had discussed. Please check ‘Reflective Group’ page on this blog for links.

12. Sustaining the group over time.

> > While you may have a lot of enthusiasm as an organizer at the beginning, your life plans and circumstances may change. For example, at the end of our first year I moved to a different city in Ukraine (approximately 800 km away from Dnipro), and we decided to rotate facilitators of each meeting. I think this decision was one of the best ones so far, and possibly, one of the main reasons why the group is operating.

I would love to continue the conversation (hopefully, some more questions will be asked based on this post) What else would you add? If you were/have been an RP group member or facilitator, how would you respond? Is it (would it be) similar in your context or culture?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

About Zhenya

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

4 Responses to Starting a Reflective Practice Group: Obstacles

  1. Mariangel Carreño says:

    Thanks for sharing the summary!


  2. Zhenya says:

    Thank you Mariangel for reading, and adding ideas! Are you planning to start a group in your country (or do you already have one)?


  3. Pingback: Reflective Practice Group: Join Our Open Meeting in August | Wednesday Seminars

  4. Pingback: Community of Practice, or Reflective Group: Questions | Wednesday Seminars

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