Learning from Failure: Session Rejected

Earlier this year I  submitted a proposal for the TESOL 2020 International Convention  “An Alternative Way to Develop Professionally: Reflective Practice Groups“. Yes, it is the same session you might have already read about (in this post). No, the proposal was not accepted: I received an e-mail a couple of days ago at the end of which there was a line: ‘Please do not reply to this message.’ Yes, I really wanted to continue the conversation in some form, and that’s how the idea for this post was born.

As someone who deeply believes in learning from reflecting, I would like to share the original proposal and the feedback I received. By doing so I hope to learn what I can improve in writing proposals (not my strength, I think!) I also hope this post may be helpful for someone who is planning to apply in the future. 


Abstract: This session will share the presenter’s three year experience of organizing, facilitating and coordinating monthly meetings for teachers from different educational contexts in Ukraine. Ideas for facilitating similar groups, specific topics and techniques will be shared. Possible challenges and solutions for starting a group will be discussed.


‘Professional Development’ and ‘Reflective Practice’ can be called ‘buzz words’ in ELT. The presentation will share an experience of monthly Reflective Practice meetings in a group of like-minded colleagues from various educational institutions, for free, with the aim to serve their learners more.

The presentation will start with a brief story of how the presenter encountered the idea of such a group in South Korea, learned about and connected with the group leaders in several more countries, and eventually launched it in her native Ukraine in 2016.

Then, some theoretical background for making the reflective process structured and systematic with the help of the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) will be considered, and several ways of building it into the meetings will be described.

The participants will listen to (or experience) several reflective practice activities to sample what happened in the meetings, and discuss which topics may be interesting for the colleagues in their specific teaching context(s). Some topic examples are:

  • Motivating Unmotivated
  • Learning from Failure
  • A Bigger Picture (on the professional development)
  • ELT Events (attended, presented at, etc.)
  • Lesson Planning beliefs, etc.

Potential challenges for starting a similar group in their workplace (city, country, etc.) will be brainstormed and analyzed. For example:

  • explaining the group idea and its benefits
  • helping teachers get comfortable with the use of the ELC
  • engaging new-comers into the process
  • building long-lasting teacher community, etc.

A brief ‘Question and Answer’ session will wrap up the presentation.

Everyone who comes will be inspired to look at the(ir) teacher development process differently, and more groups around the world may be born.


The Reviewers’ Comments:
Reviewer 1 – It will be interesting to see how participants will take and adapt the session’s tips on ELC to their own practices.  I believe that the session can have tangible outcomes for the audience given the international scope of the idea.
Reviewer 2 – Professional development groups that are bottom-up organized and administered are important for a variety of professional development topics and attendees could use this model to building professional writing groups, and so on.
Reviewer 3 – This deceptively simple approach to informal yet valuable PD is something that some of us in the field need to hear–or at least be reminded of.  The session outline is clear and logical, but the proposal might be enhanced by including more specific (potential) outcomes for participants.

What would you recommend improving/strengthening in the proposal? I may want to apply in the future, at the same time I am not sure it will be exactly the same topic/focus of the session. 

Note: the detailed writing guide encouraged to ‘consider having an outside reader to see if it is easy to find all the [required] elements’, and this was something I did not do this year. This post is an attempt to make up for that (and a note to self to follow this piece of advice in the future!)

Thank you for reading!

About Zhenya

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

2 Responses to Learning from Failure: Session Rejected

  1. ven_vve says:

    Hi Zhenya,

    The “Please don’t respond to this message” sounds pretty awful; I’m sure they have loads of proposals which they’ve had to turn down and probably don’t have the resources to get involved in debates with the authors over whether the fact that their proposal was turned down was justified, but it still sounds like a door slamming in your face.
    Anyway, these are the reviewers’ comments in their entirety, I’m puzzled as to why the proposal was turned down because two of the comments are completely positive and one has a single suggestion on how it might be improved – maybe all three needed to be completely positive?
    I think sometimes proposals are turned down not because they lack something specific but perhaps because they don’t fit as well as some of the other proposals with the overall topic of the conference or because another subtopic is trendier that year or some other reason like that.
    Having said that, maybe tying it in somehow with something that *does* seem to be featuring more prominently on the conference circuit that year – if you can figure out a way of making it sound as if it’s an integral part of your topic – maybe this could improve your chances of getting accepted. Just an idea.
    Better luck next time! I hope I get a chance to go to this session sometime. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for the comment and support, Vedrana! I would love you to attend this session, so that we could chat about it (and about everything ELT, actually!)
      Some thoughts in reply:
      First of all, I should note that the point about not replying to the given e-mail was at the end, and this was the complete sentence: ‘Please do not reply to this message. It was generated from an account that is not monitored, so replies to this email will not be read.
      You are welcome to get in touch with us at (e-mail address provided). The overall tone and content of the message sounded positive, or neutral. No doors slammed! I should not have started my post with that note, as I realize now.

      I also see that 2/3 of the comments seemed to have said ‘yes’, and the third person was making this suggestion. I wonder, if there are a lot of proposals, if they only accepted three strong Yes-es? I think someone on Twitter mentioned that she would have preferred to see the rubrics filled in, with each criteria addressed. Perhaps this is too hard to organize (especially if there are many applications submitted). Just in case, I am referring to the ‘Proposal Rating Rubrics’ on p. 4 here https://www.tesol.org/docs/default-source/tesol-convention/2020-title-abstract-description.pdf?sfvrsn=2)

      What really made me think about is your idea about being close to the overall theme of the event. Have just checked that the convention theme 2020 is Where the World Comes Together. Adding a quote from you to remember: ‘if you can figure out a way of making it sound as if it’s an integral part of your topic’. This time my proposal clearly did not have any indication of addressing this. Clearly, an action point for the future attempts!

      Thank you once again for the conversation. Amazing to have this magic #PLN colleagues!


      Liked by 1 person

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