Why I Blog

Five years ago I wrote a post called ‘25 Honest reasons why I started this blog‘.

I read Sandy Millin’s post earlier this year asking ‘What’s Your Why?’ and inviting to take part in a new Blogging Challenge describing one’s living and working philosophy. While this post is not exactly a response to her challenge, I made a note to write a follow-up post sharing my ‘Blogging Why-es’.

I decided to take a critical look at the 25 reasons I had listed at the early times of this blog, categorize them, and comment on some of them. You are reading what came out of it!

These objectives/action points seem to have been (mostly) achieved:

categorize the reasons above and come up with a meaningful order in this list‘: I think I am doing it now by writing this post

have a feel for social media‘ (Note: I started Facebook and Twitter at about the same time as this blog): interesting enough, blogging to me is different from using other social media tools. I think I can see a better difference now than before.

find my own professional niche‘: this blog gradually turned into my reflective exploration of the experience, mostly professional

keep my mind active and alert between my training trips and other projects’: well, I have much less time ‘between’ projects now, and when I do, I love writing and catching up on others’ posts.

find new collaborative projects and participate in them (can be as simple as co-writing with someone in my field!)’: not necessarily a writing project, but I had a couple of consulting visits to language centers based on what my colleagues read about in this blog (which can be treated as collaboration, I guess). I started a couple of Blogging Challenges that were interesting to read and follow, for example, on Blogging Habits and Livening up the process.

self-promote‘: initially, I had been new in curriculum development and course design, and was often asked to share an example of my writing. This blog seemed to be a good place to share a link to. Now I have many more samples of the actual work I had been doing, that’s why this reason seems to be less relevant.

These reasons are still true and important:

get to know more like-minded souls in my professional field‘: I am thankful to the readers who follow, comment, talk about some ideas, offer feedback, contact me, and help me to keep writing. I am, and I will!

practice my skills of writing in English‘ goes together with ‘discover my own writing voice, or style‘: both are still in the process, and I must admit I enjoy the process a lot!

give myself a new professional challenge‘: at this point I am comfortable to hit ‘publish’ when a post feels ready (not ‘perfect’, as I am learning to let go the idea of making my text spotless)

re-connect with amazing people I have already been fortunate to work with (we often lose touch after a project is over, and e-mails do not seem to be a meaningful tool in everyday busy lives)’: I am happy I now have a ‘platform’ to share ideas on, and to send people to if they would like to be in touch. In a way, sharing blog posts can start much deeper discussions or conversations than other social media channels

increase the level of depth and width in my reflective skills‘ and ‘bring a variety of new lenses into my own reflective practices‘: this blog helps me in reflecting and ‘thinking ideas through’, and the comments and conversations with the readers contribute to that even more (I think I can add ‘re-examine and re-evaluate my beliefs‘ here)

find solutions to the challenges I face both during the projects and between them’: again, a part of my reflective journey

help others find new questions‘: more than solutions to find (see that one below), I think this space is about alternatives, possible ideas, and ‘maybe-s’

be/stay connected to the great learning and reflecting teaching community (and hopefully become a part of it) and ‘find new reasons for blogging, redefine it, and continue writing in the future’.

These have (almost) never happened:

remember the experience and reflect on it during those intensive courses I run several times a year‘: I realize I tend to be more private in my training/coaching thoughts, and a lot does not go to the blog but stays in my private journals. I wonder why, especially because I find reading about the experiences of other trainers valuable and important.

learn how to balance personal and professional in myself’ (or… learn how the others can(not) do that!): no, blogging is not the ‘right’ way to balance those parts of my life. My running, hiking trips, long walks keep me at a good distance from the screen at times, and that results in writing less (often)

help others find solutions‘: I don’t think I ever helped anyone with a direct ‘how to’ post. Maybe I should have.

These have (been) transformed:

share my own experience in teaching, training and working in academic management‘ and ‘articulate my own beliefs in teaching and learning‘: at this point it is much less about ‘sharing’ and much, much more on ‘reflecting’ and asking ‘why’ (it may show how more selfish I have become, or… more honest about the purpose of this blog?)

share my passion for the ELT field‘: it is now more about my passion to reflect than about ELT (well, maybe that’s the result of being reflective about things in the industry? Hm…)

New reason(s) for writing:

At this point Wednesday Seminars is my ‘thinking space’ and ‘reflective lounge’, just as the tagline to the blog suggests. I write about sessions for teachers I plan, or about presentations I prepare or ‘play with’, or our Reflective Group meetings, or sometimes about seemingly unrelated things (to ELT, that is) but important to me for some reason. I am writing to see what I am thinking about. I am writing because I have a need to write, to be read and heard. Or… just want to share an idea with my readers and friends, and watch quietly what can come out of it.

What is your ‘Why’ for blogging? What motivates you to add a new post from time to time? How has your writing and blogging philosophy changed (if at all) compared to the times when you started your blog? If you don’t have your own blog and follow me via e-mail: what would motivate you to start writing?

As always, thank you for reading. Stay warm if you are in the winter country 🙂

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ELT Pecha Kucha Hour

Background: last month I was co-organizing Teacher Sharing Day which we called ‘Think Different’. There were five interactive sessions conducted by individual speakers, and one surprise/bonus session which is the main focus of this post. The name of that session was ‘ELT Pecha Kucha Hour‘.

A little bit of history: as you might already know, ‘Pecha Kucha’ is a Japanese word for ‘chit-chat’ and describes a presentation format with a slide show of 20 images, each being shown for 20 seconds only. In the classical version, the slide images (can) advance automatically and a presenter can talk along to the images. As you can agree, 400 seconds is not too much time for a presenter.

Initially designed in 2003 by two architects, Pecha Kucha (PK) Nights developed into a popular kind of event around the world, and have been held on various topics.

The main reason/rationale to originally create it was… architects talking to much! [Zhenya’s note: at least teachers are not the only ones known for having too much of TTT, or Teacher Talking Time]

By the way, while preparing for our event in Dnipro we were considering to register it on the official website, but then found our that our city had been already running them

So we had ‘ELT Pecha Kucha Hour’ (not ‘night’) in the title, which allowed us freer interpretation of how to handle the format. For example, we did not insist on either the number of slides (some presenters had fewer than 20), or the number of seconds (eventually it took most speakers longer than 20 seconds to talk about a slide). We didn’t insist on having only images on the slides, saying this in the call for presenters: ‘The slides are preferably images (photos, metaphors, drawings, etc.), with minimum of text’. On reflection, I feel it was fine, as the short timing of this format was already a challenge. A ‘Twitter-like’ presentation format, so to say.

We were not the pioneers in ELT who decided to try how the format would work: I personally heard of at least one conference where the format was tried, and that’s IATEFL Harrogate in 2014. Even though the recording is no longer available on the official website, you can watch it on Sandy Millin’s blog.

Our Teacher Sharing Day considered several topics for the PK Hour, for example, My Teaching Evolution, Reflecting on one’s role in the profession, My Teaching Journey, etc. The actual theme we chose was My ‘Think Different’ Moments in Teaching, formulated with the idea that presenters would have enough freedom to share what they like, and stay ‘in the topic’ of the whole event.

There were five brave and enthusiastic presenters sharing their teaching journey.

I did not create my own PK presentation and enjoyed being a listener, so can share my reflections from this point of view:

  • it was very fast: I had no chance to make notes (could only notice that some people were making a video recording);
  • I wanted to ask a question to a presenter, but some of them did not offer that opportunity (and if the others did, the time did not allow for in-depth answers);
  • I was amazed how different all the five teachers were (some beliefs shared sounded almost opposite, e.g. detailed lesson planning, or creating materials).

Some reflections from the organizer’s point of view:

Was the audience prepared for this format? In my short introduction part I mentioned the length and the idea, but I wonder if everyone had enough time to realize what’s going to happen. While planning, I had thought about ‘plan B’ idea: asking the audience this question: What would you share if you had 400 seconds and 20 slides on the topic ‘My ‘Think Different’ Moments in Teaching‘? I wonder if it is a good idea to do it (have done it?) as a way to prepare for the coming content, and especially if we aim to promote the idea that every teacher has something to share and can present at events for colleagues?

I also wonder if having 2-3 minutes of silence after each presentation could be a good idea: listeners could take notes, talk in pairs, etc., and the new presenter could open the slides and breathe another minute?

The original format does not allow to turn back a slide, for example; I wonder if we could change this rule and allow some slides to be shown longer (or… would it ‘kill’ the brevity idea?)

We have been reading feedback from the attendees and don’t have them all in at the point of writing this post. What I see now is that for a number of people the ELT PK Hour turned out to be the favorite session of the event. We will definitely keep this format as a part of our future events.

Some reflections from the presenter’s point of view:

As promised, I am sharing our presenter’s reflections about the planning and presenting process and experience.

[Note: it was initially posted on Facebook in Russian, and was translated and shortened by me with the author’s kind permission and approval. An amateur video recording was made by the presenter’s friend, and some thoughts below are based on watching the video and reflecting on it]

Please meet Kateryna Kaminska, teacher of English and Spanish, freelance trainer.

I got excited about the idea to try out such a format in the context of ELT, and thought it would be a great chance to do something new. Well, it is my style of living anyway! I did it, and now would like to share some conclusions:

  1. The easiest part in the prep process was to collect ideas and prepare the text/speech.
  2. Thinking about, searching for and creating images/slides takes much more time than #1)
  3. (But #2 is very exciting!)
  4. As I had to learn how to record a video in Power Point, I realized how many more features it offers (and would love to try some of them in my coming presentation! Yay!)
  5. Surprisingly, I was the only PK presenter who times the slides to meet the suggested requirements. As a result, mine was the only one that followed the timing limit (all the others took more!)
  6. The conclusion from #5 is to be more relaxed [about the requirements and restrictions]
  7. Presenting almost in the original Pecha Kucha format! The organizers offered to bear the overall timing in mind (6 minutes, not 6 minutes 40 seconds) and to be more flexible about the number of slides, which was the difference from the classical version of PK.
  8. 6 minutes, 13 slides held 27 seconds each is veeeeery fast! I started a bit later as I was given a clicker while the first slide was already on, and I was explaining why I didn’t need it… I started to feel stressed, stammered at times, and didn’t have time to develop some ideas, which I thought was confusing (or so it seemed).
  9. I should have asked to start the slide show from the very beginning, but I did not think about that at the time.
  10. It was a good idea to have a couple of slides for each idea in the presentation.
  11. I noticed that when I was reading a written text, or rehearsed presenting at the peace and comfort of my place, I was talking faster, freer, and more than at the actual event. I realized I had to keep thinking, not just recall what to say. Almost anew.
  12. In the stress of the presentation I did not mention about 35% of my ideas and thoughts.
  13. Presenting is hard if you tend to stammer. In general, I take a lot of time while having conversations to analyze whether or not I can pronounce something at the moment of speaking, and for searching alternative speech patterns to ‘circumlocute’ what I am trying to say. This got harder in the presenting process and speed.
  14. [from the video] I noticed how much time my interjections take (ummm, uhm, etc.). I had been told I tend to do that, and I keep noticing it in my speech. I suddenly realized how much time I ‘lost’ for those in the short presentation format! I now feel a need to get rid of this habit (just need to understand how to do it, and then … do it)
  15. Anyway, the recording shows quite a good level of the presentation. It does not show me skipping pieces of my own text, jumping from one idea to the other making a decision what to say and what not to in order to keep an idea complete and logical. Yes, all that while speaking!
  16. One needs to write a text. Has to. Even if you eventually skip half of it. I would not have done it without a written (and rehearsed?) text in my head.
  17. 17. At the end of my presentation I couldn’t even hear applause! I had to ask a person sitting next to me if the audience had been clapping, or not. It was hard to believe until I saw the video!  
  18. If I had not been stressing out this much (about the time, about being the only one ‘auto-timing’ the slides, etc.) I would have remembered to leave time for questions at the end. If people had had questions I would have recalled the parts I skipped in my talk. I had no idea it was possible in this format, and did not plan it.
  19. I was genuinely surprised when people came over and shared which ideas from my talk were close and relevant to them. Why was I so surprised?
  20. I feel I did a great job! I did something new, and I did it in a different way from the others. And I had fun! I am notorious for saying ‘yes’ to projects and new things, and I am planning to keep doing that! 🙂

Thank you everyone who supported me on that day, and who offered their support. It was very important for me! Thank you EduHub Teacher Sharing Day organizing team for making this happen. And… looking forward to more! 🙂

[Zhenya’s note: Kateryna, thank YOU for your willingness to say ‘yes’ and experiment with something new/unusual/different! It was a pleasure to learn with you in this process, to watch the presentation, and to read these reflective notes!]

Some final thoughts:

Possibly, we could also try other short formats/variation(s)? For example, my friend and colleague who had taught in Japan for a long time, recalls another conference session format she took part in. This is what she wrote in her e-mail to me:

Another kind of presentation format she experienced] based on a Japanese storytelling technique called ‘kamishibai‘. I can’t find the exact parameters […] for it, but I think it’s shorter than a PK. It was at a Teacher Education SIG event at JALT. A number of [presenters] were set up around the room and the audience members would choose which ones to listen to. It was a kind of free rotation.’

A belief of mine to finish with (not just about Pecha Kucha!): The key to a great presentation is to present something you love.

Thank you for reading!

P.S. Update in January 2019. There is a great post by Nik Peachey on his blog about using PK with students. If you enjoyed reading about the format, you might want to see how it works in your classroom!

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Presenting Skills, or Learning with Speakers

Earlier this year I wrote a post called Reflecting on Our Presenting Skills where I described a session for experienced teachers as conference presenters I had facilitated in Kyiv. No, I can’t say that I am a guru of public speaking and/or presenting skills, but I think I have some experience of leading sessions at various events locally and internationally, and a lot of experience to start conversations with and for teachers.

This post is about an interesting follow up to that session, and is based on a phone conversation with a speaker after a conference we both attended (and presented on!)

First things first. The conference took place on 27 October and was hosted by International House Kyiv to celebrate their 25th birthday in Ukraine, and International House World Organisation (IHWO) 65th birthday as a school network. As you might know, I spent about 10 years of my teaching and training career working for and with International House school in my native Dnipro, so being invited to speak at such event was a pleasure and honor for me.

One great advantage of being a speaker at such fantastic events is… the chance to attend other sessions! The day was full of amazing workshop presentations and inspiring plenary talks, the topics varied and could satisfy different tastes, needs and preferences. It was a great day.

[Note: I hope to learn to write comprehensive summary posts immediately after the events I happen to attend, but at the moment my time/life management skills are far from this. Genuinely envy colleagues who can do it!]

One of the sessions I attended was called ‘Bullying in the Classroom? No way!‘ and I loved it at a number of levels: as a teacher, language learner, teacher educator, human, etc.

As a teacher, I picked up specific (ELT) classroom activities (e.g. Silent Discussion, or asking learners to write answers to the questions on a poster with a later follow-up discussion); was reminded about the importance to work on group dynamics day by day (e.g. this sweet ‘peer compliment’ idea to say warm words to someone next to you).

As a language learner, I was motivated to use my dictionary to check the meaning of some words we needed for an Empathy Bingo Game (specifically, ‘consoling’ and ‘one-upping’)

No, I am not checking social media updates here! 🙂

As a human (in other words, as a ‘non-teacher’ person), I keep thinking about bullying and ways to prevent it, or respond to it. I am glad there are conversations about it in our society, and that awareness is being raised among parents, teachers, and children. There is a lot of hope in this movement (to me).

As a trainer/teacher educator, I re-discovered how the Metaphorical Cards and/or Dixit storytelling cards can be used to ‘check temperature’ in the classroom and wrap up a session, or a training day.

Finally, I learned a lot as a presenter, and this is the main reason to write this post! At the end of the day, the speaker came up to me and asked for feedback to her session. I was surprised and expressed how much I enjoyed the session, but she insisted that we had a more in-depth conversation a little later. About a week after the conference we talked on the phone, and I’d like to share some highlights of this conversation. At the very beginning I repeated how much I loved the session and said that my perspective will be totally as ‘participant/attendee’ and not as a ‘trainer’ (or anyone in the ‘official’ role able to evaluate the session and coach to improvement, etc.)

A ‘listicle’ of some things I liked and learned (and shared with the presenter) follows:

  1. the logic of the presentation: it started from a brief warmer (kindness interactions with a peer) and moved to discussing some myths and facts about bullying. The True/False format of that discussion was engaging and motivated to listen to the speaker.
  2. the practical activities offered could be used in any EFL lesson and not specifically for talking about bullying (if you are like me, you also have a habit of ‘activity collecting’ no matter where you are). Besides the ones mentioned above I loved a grouping activity (with color cards on our foreheads)
  3. even through the session was well after lunch, the energy of the speaker invited me to participate and stay alert, and curious. I think you can see/feel it in the picture above. Well, to compare, let me share a picture taken in my session that same day. Do you feel (a bit of) lack of energy? Can you guess my action point after attending the session I am writing about? 🙂

  1. Experiential format and variety: within the time in this session, we talked in pairs, responded to the statements on a slide, moved around the room writing silently, played bingo game and volunteered (or observed volunteers) in the mingling activity. Related to the point above, it helped me stay focused and interested.

When it came to discussing areas to work on/do differently in the future, I said that I’d prefer to discuss the questions the presenter had, and offer my as ‘participant/attendee perspective’ rather than judgement or suggestions. These were the things we talked about:

  • time to think/talk about the activities presented (with a colleague I was next to, we had a lot of ideas to share while the session was in progress; we were inspired by the presenter, reminded about some tasks that worked with our learners, etc.). Suggestion: have 2-3 minutes between activities for such ‘chit-chat’, if time allows. Or a block of time at the end of the session.
  • further reading and references: since the topic is very ‘hot’ in our country now, and the presenter had obviously done good research on the available materials and resources, sharing a couple of links could be helpful. Suggestion: add them to the slides that will be shared by the organizers.
  • a question we talked about (asked by the presenter): what are some pros and cons of having pictures of students performing the activities in class? My thought that it could potentially convince that something is working (in the case of this session, I don’t think anyone had doubts, but I don’t know for sure). Having extra slides might also mean spending more time on listening than talking in pairs/reflecting (which again depends on the goals and priorities set);
  • another question we talked about (asked by me): what are some pros and cons of running activities in the ‘I need 10 volunteers’ mode as opposed to involving everyone in them? I am still not sure I have the answer. One thing is that some sessions have a lot of people (100 and more) and in that case having everyone to mingle could be chaotic. On the other hand, the session I am talking about had variety: some activities were for everyone, and only one asked us to decide if we are acting or observing;
  • one more thing that came up was how to acknowledge others in the session (for example, if the idea was not created by the presenter but was found in a book or seen at a colleague’s class). We both thought that a nice solution could be adding something simple to the slides, e.g. ‘adapted from XX’ or ‘inspired by YY’.
  • finally, we talked about pros and cons of learning your speech/text by heart, and how it impacts the session flow.

Well, I confess that I learned a lot from attending this session, and from the conversation with the speaker.

Questions to readers:

  • Have you ever asked for a peer feedback on your presentation?
  • Have you ever given feedback to a conference/workshop presenter?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

P.S.1 I sent her a draft of this post, got the permission to publish it, and introduce her: Olga Puga, a Teacher of English, Coordinator of International Projects, Sviatoshyn Gymnasium in Kyiv, Ukraine.

P.S.2 I almost called this post ‘Learning from Speakers. Part 4’, but changed my mind. Just in case, check the series here, then click to Parts 2 and 3. 

Image Credit and Gratitude Note: as you can guess, all the great pictures in this post were taken during the International House Kyiv conference and kindly shared by the organizing team. I am grateful for the pictures and for the chance to be in touch with the school where I literally took my first teaching steps a long time ago. Maybe, a topic for another post 🙂

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Learning from Speakers. Part 3

To continue a conversation about attending a conference (or another ELT event*) started here and here

First, I’d like to share some questions I am thinking about. It would be great to hear your responses (in the comments here, on your own blogs, in other Social Media channels, or in private messages)

My main question: How great does a colleague need to be for you to learn from him/her at an ELT event?

Some thoughts and examples

  1. a first-time presenter (we all have once been in that role, and that’s a topic for a different post, or a blog challenge?)
  2. well-known star, or Big Name (no comment)
  3. a colleague whose name you have never heard about (outside of your organization/country, etc.)
  4. a colleague working in a completely different context (e.g. in a specialized school, a teacher of a different language or even subject, etc.)
  5. a colleague you have been working with for years
  6. your ‘critical friend’ and/or reflective peer
  7. [add your own idea] ________________

How does it feel to attend a session given by someone who …

  • is very new to the profession?
  • has been working with you/for you for a long time?
  • used to work with you/for you?
  • [add your own idea] ________________

Dnipro National University is 100 this year** http://www.dnu.dp.ua/en/history_of_the_university

What about my answers to the questions above? Well, I should confess I often make my choice based on the topic/theme of my curiosity, and then keep my mind open. Having been in the industry for years, I know that oftentimes a new idea can find me anywhere, and I can learn from every presentation or session I attend. Also, I can’t ‘plan’ that a great idea ‘must’ be found in this or that session. A piece of paper and curiosity are usually my ‘must have’ ingredients for learning on an event.

Examples of my learning from the Teacher Sharing Day Speakers (Dnipro earlier this month):

Session 1 was led by an experienced presenter working in a different context than me (preparing high school students to take the Ukrainian national test of English). Apart from being reminded about the importance of taking the actual test by the teacher and sharing the experience with the students, and from a couple of great activities for test-preparation lessons, I learned a new term from Psychology: eustress.

Session 2 was conducted by my dear friend and colleague, and even though I had been aware of the content of the session (Fostering Second Language Acquisition) and even took part in some pre-session conversations about structuring it, etc., I enjoyed its content a lot and learned/was reminded about the importance of ‘building in’ the SLA opportunity into the regular lessons day by day, and more importantly, encouraging students to be curious about new language and continue exploring it outside the classroom. Exploring, not ‘learning’ (the latter can happen in the classroom with full motivation to take part and search for the answers to some questions). Besides, that you can learn a lot from your students (including useful sites and resources)

Session 3 focused on the ‘target audience’ of school owners and directors mostly and was therefore, different in its format, content and purpose. A big reminder I took from the session was a definition of a Brand as ‘what other people think about us‘. By ‘others’ in this case we meant customers and employees (team). As a freelancer, I like reading about personal branding and reflect on my own strategies, etc.

Session 4 was the most ‘ELT’ presentation in its content than the others, and helped the audience focus on (Jazz) Chants. In spite of having taught lots of lessons with the help of this technique, and even though I thought I ‘knew’ everything (well, mostly) on the topic, I was surprised to discover that I have never focused on ‘word level’ chanting with beginner students. Hm… Doesn’t it prove that ELT/EFL/ESL is in fact ‘endless’ (‘bottomless’, as we say in my L1s) and there is so much to learn no matter how many years you have been in class? Or… especially if you have been teaching for a long time?

Besides, I learned/was reminded about/took note of from the presenting manner of each speaker and their public speaking skills and techniques:

  • how important some of [pre-planned] humor could be for a serious session (e.g. a joke on a slide, or a funny picture);
  • mingling is possible even if the room is full of chairs (just be brave to ask everyone to stand up, and plan to enjoy 3-5 minutes of working noise!)
  • spending time for scaffolding a difficult or new activity can be useful (even though it is a session for teachers, not a lesson for students): understanding what to do is not about understanding the language of our instructions;
  • balancing prepared and spontaneous bits in the speech is helpful (sometimes English may ‘let you down’ under stress and the language gets more simple);
  • [related to the above]: using simple English in a presentation is not a bad thing at all!
  • asking about the volume of one’s voice and deciding on the use of mike based on the answer (and remembering to ask the audience at the far rows to give feedback on that during the session).

Finally, all the speakers confirmed these beliefs of mine:

  1. Present on the topic you genuinely like or are really interested in (as this inspires the audience)
  2. Present in your own style/manner (as there are no ‘right’ way to do it!)

To finish this post, I am sharing a quote which prompted this post (from a comment by my reader). It is an idea I am fully supporting:

An additional thought about conferences. It takes humbleness of mind to learn from others, especially those with less experience.’

Thank you for reading!

* by ‘ELT event’ I mean any professional development activity you might attend (from a conference to a weekend training session, a webinar, an online course, etc.)

** These chairs were installed to celebrate 100th anniversary of the University. Each chair has a note on it with a name of a famous person who had been a student of the University. For example, one chair carries the name of Oles Honchar (1918-1995), a famous Ukrainian writer (the university is named after him).

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Learning from Speakers. Part 2

Background: this post is my second one with the same title (you can read the first one here).

In this post I am sharing five interviews written before our Teacher Sharing Day*** in Dnipro, Ukraine, as a way to prepare the audience for the coming topics, and for the event’s theme (Think Different). I am sharing the interviews without the speakers’ names and bio blurbs so that we could focus on the content of their sessions, and the interviews themselves. I am planning to share the post with our speakers, and would love to have their input.

[Note/warning: I was one of the speakers, so one of the ‘interviews’ is with me. Thought you need to know. In fact I think you will guess which one is mine.]

Questions to readers:

  1. If you were a conference participant, would you read such interviews with the speakers? Why, or why not?
  2. If you were a conference organizer, would you conduct and posts interviews with your speakers? Why, or why not?
  3. If you were an interviewer, would you ask the same questions? What other question(s) would you add?
  4. Any comments/thoughts/feedback on the idea is welcome!

Taken at Pinchuk Art Center in Kyiv**

Speaker 1

Session topic: More Than a Score

Session description: How often do we find ourselves trapped in a situation when we have to teach “to the test”? It really doesn’t matter what type of test it is: a state exam, a performance review for the employer, level completion test or any other. How often are we tempted to sacrifice authenticity and practicality for the sake of a higher score? What does it do to our learners? How does it define our teaching?

In my talk I’m going to cover some of the basic must-haves of growth mindset in your classroom, how to lose performance anxiety, how to make teaching less score-obsessed and more human-focused, and how to teach an exam prep class which students leave with a smile on their faces.

Why have you chosen to present on this topic?

I teach teenagers, who are my favorite age group. Those brilliant, creative, open-minded young people are constantly being haunted by ZNO*, and are subjected to so much stress and work under so much pressure that it’s no wonder their performance declines. I discovered that by assisting their learning process with the help of Growth Mindset techniques (read ‘with love and support’ 🙂 ) we, teachers, can really make a difference. By assisting learners and providing adequate preparation their performance will improve greatly. In my workshop I am going to talk about how to make the exam prep more enjoyable AND efficient.

[Zhenya’s note: ZNO stands for ‘External Independent Evaluation’ (an acronym for the Ukrainian national test of English, literally). A description in English can be found here.]

In what way would this topic help teachers Think Different about their job/life?

We used to treat tests as some kind of an ‘evil monster’ who needs to be defeated and, preferably, pushed into the oblivion afterwards. My aim for the presentation is to change the way teachers may view ZNO and testing in general, to show that through some tiny little things we can help our learners be more confident and get better results in any exam, and, most importantly, beyond any exam whatsoever.

What question would you like to ask yourself about your topic?

Q1: What else can I do to make the exam prep more efficient?

A1: Keep a list of common pitfalls, the most challenging points in the exam and address them in class

Give learners an entry test before the course starts to see how well they can do and highlight the areas for improvement

Q2: What are some other challenges that teachers face?

A2: To name a few, I can think of ‘backwash effect’, aiming to score 200 in the exam even if the learner level is A2 or lower, and ‘over-concentration’ on the exam skills.

Speaker 2

Session Topic: Fostering Second Language Acquisition

Session Description: In this session we will look at some practical ways to create conditions for language acquisition both in class and out of class and talk about how to help students be able to communicate fluently and confidently.

Why is this topic important for you at the moment? (Why have you chosen to present on this topic?)

Learning languages is a hard and time-consuming process, especially when we are adults (or teenagers). I’m eager to help my students make progress faster and believe that awareness about Second Language Acquisition (SLA) contributes to that. What’s more, learners’ speech and writing style become more natural and authentic.

In what way would this topic help teachers Think Different about their job/life?

Teachers tend to be in control of the learning process and guide their students through a course book/syllabus. My presentation will encourage teachers to look at the learning process differently and share the responsibility for the result with their students. We will discuss what can help students get more confident and natural in speaking, and how to comprehend both written and oral texts easier.

What question would you like to ask yourself about your topic?

Q: Can you give an example of how students can develop the SLA skills on their own?

A: Sure. As a part of their homework, they can read Social Media status updates from a well-known person they follow. They can collect lexical expressions to clarify in class (or… send me a text message in English!) There will be many more examples in the session!

Speaker 3

Session topic: Three to Infinity with One Click. Manage. Analyze. Scale

Session description:

You will get useful tips and tricks on how to manage both a school of more than 2 teachers and your private teaching practice in terms of finances, marketing, relationships with clients and teachers. We will talk about a critical moment when you start gaining traction – we call it a Pitch Point as well as about a digital solution that can facilitate the complicated process of management slimming it down to fit the size of your smart phone, keeping you aware of what is happening at your organization anytime you need it.

Why is this topic important for you at the moment? 

The topic is important for me personally, and my school team at the moment. Our school has experienced different development stages: it started with just one person in the team (me!) doing everything and being a teacher, an administrator, a client manager, an accountant, etc. Later, more people joined the team. There was a moment in the life of our school when we faced a choice: to continue working ‘in the old way’, or to find a system to help us focus the resources and optimize the processes. We started thinking what we’d need for this kind of change, and created a product – a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system – for our ‘inner use’. After having been piloting it for more than 4 years in our school, we decided to share the results. The main goal is to share the idea and the tool, and to see if there is interest among other school managers or freelance teachers who face a similar challenge.

In what way would this topic help teachers Think Different about their job/life?

I hope to address several categories of the audience: first of all, the school directors/managers willing to and working on optimizing their ‘systems and processes’, trying to collect and analyze information about their students (profiles, attendance, results, feedback), finances, and other data a school has to collect and store. The second category is freelance teachers who are ‘small corporations’ and have to do a number of things mentioned above on their own. Finally, the presentation should help teachers currently working with a language school to consider alternatives and start thinking about their Personal Brand. A bigger/longer-term goal is perhaps to raise awareness about systemic approach to education and business in the city and country.

What question would you like to ask yourself about your topic?

Q: It all sounds wonderful and reminds us of a ‘magic formulae’. Where is the trick? What’s a potential challenge in starting to use the program?
A: The trick is in our heads. I believe it is generally hard to leave one’s comfort zone. Our habits limit our possibilities and dreams!. Knowing this about our human nature should help us be more open to something new, even though it seems scary at the beginning. So I hope that the session would inspire the audience to put away their hand-written notes or even Excel spreadsheets and consider experimenting with a more advanced system.

Speaker 4

Session Topic: Reflective Activities (for You, and Your Students)

Session Description: Your will experience several activities scaffolding reflective thinking skills, and discuss how they can be adapted to your context and workplace. You will be able to use these activities for yourself, your students and other teachers in your school.

Why is this topic important for you at the moment? 

I tend to think about myself as a ‘teacher helper’, not ‘teacher trainer’. You can ask me how I actually ‘help’ other teachers. Is it by delivering courses and training workshops? Online courses? Creating programs? Yes and no. I think my main goal, or even mission, is to help teachers gain confidence and skills to continue growth and development well after a course or training ends. Out of three major skills all teachers need to have (I am talking about planning lessons, delivering them, and reflecting on their effectiveness) I consider the ability to reflect as the ‘key’ for serving their students, preventing burnout, and growing professionally and personally.

The challenge I face is that reflective practice, or reflective thinking is not something ‘built in’ in teachers’ identity, and often takes time to be developed. I’d like to demonstrate a couple of practical ways how it can be done.

In what way would this topic help teachers Think Different about their job/life?

In Ukraine the idea about bringing change to the educational system is very ‘hot’ now: we are experiencing state school reform, we are talking about 21st century skills and the jobs of the future generations. I am a big believer in the idea that we teachers can’t help our students master a certain skill if we ourselves do not possess it (or feeling unsure about). By helping teachers start in-depth reflecting and turning it into a pleasant habit I hope they will bring that ‘virus’ to their colleagues and eventually students (and our society overall)

What question would you like to ask yourself about your topic?

Q: Is reflection about writing something down? (What can a teacher who does not like writing do?)

A: Writing is one of the tools to use for reflection, especially for capturing our thoughts. There are other tools, such as reflecting with a peer (in a dialogue), creating a portfolio, conducting action research, using metaphors and arts, joining a reflective practice group, etc. Yes, some of them still involve writing, but is not the purpose in itself. The main goal is to practice thinking routines and patterns.

Speaker 5

Learning to Chant

In this very practical workshop we are going to practice some existing chants and learn how to make your own ones. We will also learn some interesting facts about chants as well as their importance and influence on our brain.

Why have you chosen to present on this topic?

It’s one of the things I’m into at the moment and I’m trying to help everyone benefit from using chants with any age of language learners.

In what way would this topic help teachers Think Different about their job/life?

I hope this session will change your attitude to using chants if you were hesitating, and will inspire you to look deeper into the topic if you have already tried using them.


What question would you like to ask yourself about your topic?

Q: Is it possible to use chants with small groups / 1-2-1 classes?

A: Some teachers are afraid that students in a small group may feel awkward because of their single voice chanting. If you have a good rapport with a class or a student and you yourself believe in using chants, I’m sure your students will definitely enjoy the process as well as feel their progress.

As always, thank you for reading! 🙂

** Much better pics and info can be found here.

*** I am planning to share more about the event, and my reflections on the first independent co-organizing experience. Stay tuned!

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Learning from Speakers. Part 1

Background: next month I am co-organizing a ELT event which we called ‘Think Different’. There will be five interactive sessions conducted by individual speakers, and one more ‘special session’ which I hope to write about in a different post.

While preparing the event and inviting colleagues to attend, a lot of conversations about ELT events have been happening. One of such conversations with my old friend prompted me to write this post. Yes, ‘Part 1’ in the title suggests there may be more in the series (before the event, or as a reflection afterwards)

What’s an ELT conference? A very simplistic definition would be ‘a professional event for sharing knowledge/skills/experience/research findings and learning from what the others are doing’.

Who are ‘the others’ we are learning from? The obvious answer: speakers, presenters, lecturers, workshop leaders who are ‘leading’ the sessions and are broadcasting their ideas to the others. ‘Sending’ or ‘producing’ knowledge to the audience who is ‘receiving’ it.

A good conference has wonderful speakers/presenters, and people come to ‘see them’, learn from them, become better teachers with their help. A great conference has super speakers, famous around the world, etc.

A good speaker then is someone who has been in the profession long enough to be ‘teaching’ the others something, and/or ‘surprise’ the audience.

Does the above sound familiar?

I’d like to share my own ‘Think Different’ insight about this: it’s not just the speakers we are learning from at an event like conference or workshop.

A lot of ideas and ‘A-ha!’ moments come from the conversations with colleagues. Some of these conversations are a part of the conference sessions (‘please-work-in-pairs-and-answer-the-questions’-types of tasks), but many happen on the coffee breaks, at lunch, in the hallway, on the train home… A funny example from the recent conference in Kyiv: we had a great conversation with another speaker who had attended my session (including some feedback on the content of what I presented, discussing the project she was working on, discovering that we are both into mindfulness philosophy, and remembering people we might know). All of this was… in the line to the ladies room 🙂 (We were even asked if we are in the line, or were just chatting 🙂 )

Besides learning from the speakers and colleagues, a lot of insights may come from… yourself! Have you ever had moments when great ideas ‘visit’ you while you are listening to a speaker or are taking notes (pictures) of the slides? Sometimes the ideas are connected to the session theme, but sometimes they don’t seem relevant at all (and/or they may be helping you with a very different project you have been working on)

An example from the recent conference: I took a picture of the metaphor cards which were not the main focus of the session, and in the chat with the presenter after her session we both agreed that these cards can turn into their own session with a tremendous variety of activities and techniques to bring to students and teachers.

 

 

My beliefs about ELT events

  1. speakers are important, because they are courageous/enthusiastic/confident enough to share what they have been doing or thinking about within the chosen topic. These are teachers who have spent some time thinking about the topic, reading on it, experimenting with the ideas in their classes, and putting that together for a presentation.
  2. non-speakers/non-presenters are important: a lot depends on how you spend the time during the event, who you talk to, how open you are to the ideas and questions.
  3. You yourself/yourselves is/are important: a lot of learning from an event is in your own hands. Just like self-help books don’t ‘do the help’ but only offer ideas to the readers, a conference can only offer a thinking/learning space for the people who came.
  4. Based on the 1-3 above, knowing Why you are attending an event is crucial. Having a goal (or a set of them?) can be helpful

A slide from my latest session

5. Cultivating reflective attitudes may be useful (this article by Carol Rodgers is a #mustread)

Some final thoughts

  • According to Wikipedia, a conference is ‘a meeting of people who “confer” about a topic’. They are people presenting and attending. Taking active part in the sessions, responding to questions.
  • A good speaker then is someone who has been in the profession long enough to inspire the others to try something new or to think differently about a familiar idea.
  • An ELT conference/event needs to be/feel safe and comfortable for you to let yourself learn.
  • An ELT event does not need to be big and involve hundreds of teachers. I am personally inspired by
  • Innovate ELT (Barcelona) and Excite ELT (Tokyo and Seoul) are great examples of ‘Think Different’ approach to conferences with their 10-min plenary sessions, long breaks, and networking time and space allocated during the day.
  • An ELT event does not need to be a conference in its traditional meaning: think ‘un-conferencing‘, as this post by Cult of Pedagogy team invites. 

Our EduHub team is organizing an ELT event for teachers next month. Not to promote a specific language school or a training center. Not to promise regular conferences in the future. We do hope to try a new(er) type of ELT events in our city, and hopefully, to inspire our colleagues from other schools and centers to organize other type(s) of ELT events. (that’s how ‘Think Different‘ theme was created). Most importantly, we want teachers to get inspired and realize that each of them has something to share and offer to colleagues. That there is a lot to learn from each other. (that’s why it is a Teacher Sharing Training Day)

Thank you for reading (and… wish us luck in this first-time organizing adventure!)

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Monitoring Technique

Have just read Hana’s post on her blog and felt an urge to respond with a comment. After drafting my reply I realized that I have written too much for a comment and decided to post it on my blog.

Hana writes: ‘Monitoring the class while the students work in pairs or groups is one of the classroom management techniques every teacher is expected to do‘.

A true story to illustrate this, especially the part ‘expected’: when I completed my initial training course for teachers almost 20 years ago, I was confident that ‘monitoring’ meant walking around the room while the students were doing their task. Could I explain the reason(s) or rationale for doing that? No. I knew that monitoring closely might interfere into a conversation and that ideally I ‘should’ be doing it discretely, or from behind (so that students could not see me)

Fast-forward to five or six years later: I am training to receive my training license and together with my coach (ToT) we are delivering a listening lesson to language learners (and are observed by all the teachers on the course). I am setting a listening task, the recording is playing, and I am walking around quietly (yes, monitoring). My co-teacher asks me in whisper how the students are doing with the current task, and whether or not I think we need to re-play the recording. Guess what? I have no idea about that!

  • Zhenya, weren’t you monitoring them?
  • I was, of course! But I was not reading what they were writing in their notes…

So… it was a big learning moment to me to find out that ‘monitoring’ was not about me moving around the room, but that it was about observing student learning, their insights, challenges, mistakes, etc. Yes, it could be done quietly, and without ‘stepping into’ the conversation. Since that day, I have a piece of paper or a small notebook in my classroom or training room, for notes to make while I am really monitoring (or listening).

Which tasks need to be monitored? To me, these are the new ones (if students have never done them before, they might have questions in the process, and those can be addressed immediately and not distracting everyone else); if the tasks are ‘anticipated challenge’ for various reasons (new language, new exam skill, games with complicated rules, etc.); if the tasks are ‘key’ for the teacher to make a decision whether or not to move on or to stay on the point longer.

Also, large classes to me is a place where I would be moving more, just in case I missed something during the time the instructions were set, or if someone is not comfortable to ask a question to the whole group.

Hana writes: ‘I know there needs to be a certain amount of trust between the teacher and the students. If you believe your students will go on Facebook instead of doing the assigned work, you’ll probably need to monitor them every minute of every practice activity‘, and I agree. It is sad to realize that teacher standing close by could be the only motivation to do a task, but if it works for some groups of learners, it is a possible solution.

Something that made me think about my presenting style was this sentence from Hana: ‘I’ve recently realized that when I am in the role of a student/trainee/attendant of a workshop, a close physical presence of the teacher (or the presenter) is not pleasant to me.’ – I would like to reflect more on the way I behave (stand or move) in a presentation I give. I do move around for a task set in pairs, and oftentimes the reason is to see if everyone is ‘on’ and if the task is manageable or needs extra clarification. My next presentation is at the end of October, so it is good to have a small action point now.

While writing the above, I realized that my ‘monitoring activity’ is often done without moving around. One example is when students are listening to a recording, or watching something, I sit or stand at the ‘far’ side of the room, or in the corner, so that I could see everyone and no-one would be looking at me. This way I can see who is struggling with the task (for possible meaningful grouping later).

Another idea is about the time while students are talking in pairs or small groups, I sit down in the middle (taking someone’s chair) and ‘disappear among students, listening to various pairs in turns and not distracting them with my comments and questions.

A colleague of mine taught me to ‘zoom in‘ by focusing on one specific pair of students while they are doing the task. It can be done from a good distance, or even from the ‘default’ position near the board. I found this especially useful in a class with beginners, who are very sensitive and aware of their mistakes and sometimes teacher’s close presence may shut them down.

Also, there are times when I am explicit about NOT monitoring the task (with students or teachers) asking them to go in the ‘far corners’ of the classroom, and even playing loud background music with a device in the middle of the room. This way a real Information Gap is created and every group (and me as a teacher!) have a genuine reason to listen to each other.

How do you monitor student (or teacher) learning) in your classroom? And in the online courses you run? (I often feel that ‘stepping into’ a discussion where a group is working may feel the same way as coming too close to students in class)

Thank you for reading!

Posted in Teacher Reflections | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Why didn’t the ‘Why Cards’ work?

In my earlier post I described an idea of using so-called ‘Why Cards‘ during a course for trainers. In this post I’d like to reflect on trying this idea out.

Briefly, the initial idea was that each participant receives a small post-it note with a question ‘Why?’ on it, just as the image below shows.

Facilitator explains that during the course sessions, participant can ‘activate’ the card any time by raising it and asking a question to about the purpose of the current activity.

I had been hoping that (quote) ‘using the ‘Why’ card during our training sessions could make a difference to the participants’ and that ‘they may find it motivating/engaging to be able to ‘pause’ a session and ask why we are doing a certain activity‘. In fact, I can’t offer any objective ‘data’ on this, as the question about using the cards had not been added to our feedback form. The reflections and conclusions below are my own.

When the idea to use the card was introduced, the participants clarified who the question should be addressed to: the facilitators, and/or peers. This was not something I had thought about, so my co-trainer and I let them make a choice (and if needed, ask the questions to peers). This resulted in questions peers like ‘Why are you making this comment now?’ or ‘Why do you think that what you are saying now is important/relevant, etc.?’ At the moment (in-action), I feared that we would end up digressing** a lot, but it seemed to stimulate the participants to be more attentive to what the others are saying.

[Note while writing this: ‘digressing’ on a pilot course may be quite a good idea (would simply show that the course facilitator is responding to what the group needs at the moment. Another opportunity for ‘reflection-in-action?’]

One participant was actively using the card on a regular basis (almost in every session) and directed her questions to the facilitator. She was asking about the purpose of certain activities (a filler/warmer we were repeatedly using during the course, for example) and that stimulated great discussions and everyone sharing points of view.

In the second half of the course (we met on two consecutive weekends), I realized that the cards were almost forgotten: none of the participants had them on their desks on the second Saturday. I reminded about the cards, and some new ones were created immediately. I wonder if one of the reasons for not keeping them (in their ‘physical’ form, or as an idea/tool) was that the cards looked like simple post-it notes, not being memorable or important (or well-designed, funny, cute, etc.) More importantly, by the time we met for the second part of the course, the ‘ice’ (whatever form of it had existed at the beginning) was melted and all the participants were comfortable to ask questions when they had them (and being adult learners, did not need a color card to do so) I am thinking to share my reflections with the group and hope to hear a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response to this conclusion 🙂

As a course facilitator, I started pausing a session from time to time and ask ‘Would you like to see why this could be so?’ or ‘Could anyone answer a ‘Why?’ question here?’ I wonder if I was doing it in order to ‘save’ my little creative idea?

Deciding to use this idea prompted me to ‘start with Why’ in each session, adding a slide with a brief explanation/rationale for having it in the course (example below)

Generally, my co-trainer and I were asking the ‘Why?’ question to ourselves more often while planning the daily agenda and/or deciding on our priorities for the day. I guess that by making the questioning strategy explicit to the participants we did so for ourselves, too. Crucial for any course planning, in my opinion, but is especially important for a pilot project (reflection for action, so to say)

Why were these cards avoided by the participants? (some possible reasons):

  1. Did they feel they were interrupting the session by this question? (Would it be relevant to the others? Should I wait and ask later?)
  2. Did they not want to make the facilitator feel ‘questioned’ about the activities and sessions during the course? (Politeness as the main reason?)
  3. Did they think raising the cards was a bit childish/silly/strange?
  4. Did the other two posters (Parking Lot and Burning Questions) interfere? Too many routines and regulations might have prevented from clarity…
  5. … [do you see any other possible reasons]?

The most obvious step would have been to ask the participants for their feedback on this (which I will certainly do, if I ever re-use this idea, or create something new for the second round of the course this Fall

Final (Semi-Related)?) Thoughts

I’d like to share a piece of conversation with a teacher on a TESOL course I ran in South Korea some years ago. Background: teachers prepare and submit a written lesson plan where they describe the lesson objective and steps of the lesson to the students attending the vacation classes. This lesson would be taught the following morning. The conversation is happening in private, with a trainer (me) reading the plan.

Activity I saw in the plan: in pairs, students read the dialogue aloud, line by line, one by one.

  • Trainer: What’s the reason for Ss to do this activity?
  • Teacher: To practice the dialogue.
  • Trainer: Well, this is the teacher’s objective. Why might the student need to do this task?
  • Teacher: As I said, to practice the dialogue and improve their English.

I wonder if adding an explicit ‘Why?’ element to our input sessions on that course would/could help teachers question themselves in lesson design and while making in-class decisions?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Time Off, Away, and Unplugged

This is a post about my time off. I don’t usually write blog posts or even social media status updates about my free time or vacations (just share snapshots to keep friends and family in the know about my trips and important events). I use this blogging space for sharing session ideas, reflecting on my professional experience or simply asking questions. A ‘Why?’ question, for example 🙂

I recently asked myself why I am not posting/sharing much about my vacation and free time and realized that… well… I don’t have completely ‘free’ time. Being a freelancer, I have been usually working (in different meanings of ‘work’ of course) and used to see the idea of time off’ as a time to switch from one professional activity to another. If I am not writing something new, I am editing. If not working on a course (online or face-to-face), I am applying to projects. Or updating a profile. Or writing a blog post… Or reading (no, not fiction, something serious). Or… The list can be longer, and it can get boring.

Well, I do other ‘activities’ as described in this post, but oftentimes I have to ‘budget’ the time for them, and make sure I get back to ‘work mode’ not to miss a deadline, etc. I think for many teachers reading this post ‘free time’ is even bigger luxury than I can imagine.

No, this post is not about how tired I was: I love the job I have, and feel lucky for the chance to choose the projects I am working on and grow professionally as I meet fantastic teams and colleagues.It is about my personal discovery of what ‘time off’ can mean, and why I now know it is important. It is my attempt to ‘document’ this feeling and to re-read what it means next time I consider leaving my computer at home for several days in a row, stay off Facebook and only occasionally check e-mails (as you see, it was not completely ‘offline’ time)

To me, taking 6 days off work and leaving my computer at home was something I could actually ‘allow myself’ this summer. In my L1-s the same word means ‘allow’ and ‘afford’: дозволити (doz-vo-ly-ty, Ukrainian), позволить (poz-vo-lit’, Russian). In a way, I could have afforded a vacation earlier, but could only allowed it to myself this year. I did have trips before, but they combined work and pleasure (I would be still running Skype meetings with people, facilitate online course discussions, do some writing, e-mail, etc.) As you notice, I repeatedly state that I love my job, and can’t live without it. All I am saying now that I see how ‘loving my job’ and ‘having time off and away’ do not contradict each other.

This time my husband and I went to a small town in the Ukrainian Carpathian mountains and did a lot of walking, talking and hiking, coffee and wine drinking, reading and dreaming. We were noticing small things around us: the speed with which the clouds moved, the beauty of the flowers, the sounds of birds, the smell of the grass… I took more pictures than usual and was able to catch much more moments of stillness (most likely because I was able to pause, focus and wait for the right time to take a picture?)

 

 

Conclusions, lessons learned and reminders? Very simple: allow myself to have free time. Time for thinking, breathing, living. Time off, away and unplugged!

What are/were your important lessons this summer? 

Thank you for reading! 🙂

P.S. This post was inspired by Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness and Erling Kagge’s ‘Silence in the Age of Noise‘.

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Reflective Group Meeting Topics 2017-18

Using the summer break to get organized and ready for the coming academic year includes reflecting on the monthly RPG meetings we had in 2017-18. Last year I shared a post describing our topics from 2016-17 which you can read here.

The plan for the last year had been to stay within one theme, and we came up with ONE‘ as such a connecting idea. To highlight the importance of learning from our own experience, from a single moment, experience, interaction, etc. In reality, not all the meetings had a clear focus on ‘ONE’. I am sharing all the topics below, with a brief summary or questions we discussed.

Literally reflective picture 🙂

A New School Year

We talked about the important aspects of a new academic year for each member, the areas of professional interest and possible learning goals for the whole year. You can read more about that meeting in the post here.

One Colleague

We talked about the people we (had) worked with or were still working with; people from whom we learned a lot, or a little; people who had left a mark on our hearts as teachers or humans. People we mentioned were: a critical friend, a buddy, someone who always disagrees, a difficult colleague, etc.

The meeting’s important result was expressing gratitude to the teaching community we were a part of, and to the specific people our teaching path had/has brought us to.

One Book

The session description said the following:

We are all reading: ELT and beyond, fiction and non-fiction, any language. Which book was important for you this year? Which one would you like to re-read, and why? If you can, bring the book or its picture.

Possible reflection before the session:
Quotes from the book I chose
What I realized after reading the book
How I can apply it
Who I will/might/could give the book to

The discussion was wonderful: none of the books members brought were from or on ELT (among many, I remember two books about parenting, one on Time Management, one on mindfulness, and a couple of fiction stories). At the same time, each book brought something new to the teaching parts of our identities. I wonder if this session can be repeated yearly and still be interesting?

Language Learning and Acquisition

The main pre-session questions were ‘What is the difference between learning a language and acquiring it?’ and ‘What are some ways to promote language acquisition [in the classroom]?’

One Context, Culture, Working Space

These were the pre-meeting questions for the attendees:

  • How do these shape your teaching style?
  • When/If they change, how does (would) your teaching change?
  • How might being aware of them impact your teaching?

You can read more about that meeting in the post here

Livening up the Process

It started with this blog post and turned into #liveninguptheprocesschallenge on Twitter and on my presentation on Teacher Training Day in Kyiv which I later reflected on here.

The questions and task before the session:

What do you bring to class (in your bag/pocket/tray/box)? Bring these items in, or take a picture
How do you use those objects during the lesson?
How do they help your students’ learning?
How do they help you?

Teacher’s Personality and Heated Discussions

Pre-session questions were the following:
What personal qualities help you be an effective teacher? 
What would you like to develop or improve? 
When you’re having some controversial discussion with your students, how much of your personality should there be in it? (or should you just stay a facilitator/moderator/observer?)
What has your experience been?

One activity I tried this year

A classical swap-shop format of the session allowed everyone to participate and contribute. Everyone said ‘yes’ to the questions asked before the meeting (see below) and came prepared to share!
Have you tried any new (classroom) activity that you’re going to keep on using?
Do you use any digital tools in your teaching? Have you tried any new technology trick(s) this year?

One ELT event

In this final meeting of the year we made a list of all ELT events attended (including webinars, conferences, training courses, etc.) and reflected on the learning from them. The cards in the image below show the structure of the meeting and what we focused on.

We were also brainstorming ideas on which events to attend in the coming year, and… possibly organizing a mini-conference in our city. Let’s see what we are up to after the summer break! 🙂

Final thoughts and notes

  1. It is amazing to know that we have already had sixteen (!) meetings as a Reflective Practice Group
  2. In the past school year, I personally ran only 4 meetings , 4 were prepared and delivered by the other members, and 1 was ‘facilitator-less‘. 
  3. On August 23 we are co-presenting in Kyiv and sharing our passion and commitment to reflection. The topic is ‘Alternative Ways to Develop as a Teacher’. Hopefully, there will be more similar groups in the other cities in Ukraine. Wish us good luck! 🙂
  4. My endless gratitude and appreciation goes to the colleagues and friends who are either running similar groups at the moment, or initiated them in the past. You responded to my numerous questions, helped with topics and ideas, and simply encouraged to try and keep going. I feel great celebrating the reflective practice bonds and professional friendships we have.
  5. And… thank you, the readers, for listening, commenting and simply being there, on the other side of my public reflective journey on this blog. 
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Reflective Metaphors: Water

Reflective Metaphors are on my mind again. I wrote a couple of posts about them (please check here and here) It is summer, and it is hot. Water helps to cool down and feel the flow of new ideas.

Water reflects images and light, but you can only see the reflection if the water is still.

If the water is still, you can see the reflection.

Can the water be still but the clouds get so thick that visibility and reflection get close to zero? Could be. That’s when I recommend ‘separating’ the feelings/emotions from the description of facts (data collection) as a part of the reflective thinking process.

 

 

Now, the water can be still but it could too hard to get closer to the point where you can see clearly. Well, that’s why you may need to learn how to choose the key moment to reflect on (and/or choose the ‘lens’ of your reflection, the angle from which you will be looking at what happened)

Choose the lens for reflecting.

You can also scaffold yourself towards easier reflective process (by answering specific questions in writing, and/or talking to a colleague willing to listen,and/or journaling your initial thoughts, etc.)

 

 

 

With time and practice, you will learn to ‘zoom in’ towards specific moment/task/activity in the lesson you are looking back to, and the details of it will be vivid in your memory allowing to be ‘in action’ again and to ‘play back’ what was happening.

 

 

 

And then… the River of Experience will bring you to new places. The flow is rarely smooth and easy, as the wind, the stones, and many more unpredictable factors get in the way. There will be another calm moment for thinking and reflecting some time in the future. You will know when it finds you…

The river of experience…

What would you add to the Water Metaphors of Reflection?

Thank you for reading, and Bon Voyage!

 

All the images above were taken last summer in Daegu, South Korea, during my morning runs (Suseong Lake and Sincheon River)

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50 words (2015-2018)

If you have been following this blog for some time you may remember my idea to share some teacher-training and learning-related ideas in 50-word chunks. I used to have a page of those thoughts to catch. I am now making changes on the blog and decide to remove the page. All its content, however, will be kept here as a single (and very long!) post.


Bonus: this is another 50-word piece about the process of writing I found on my computer. It is not related to teaching or training, just describes some feelings I had on a specific night.

1:55 a.m.

Clicking and checking social media accounts.

Mindless? Furious? Hopeful? Desperate?

Lonely, perhaps.

Breathe…

2:57 a.m.

Writing time: hopes, dreams, goals, plans, action, flow, joy, result, reflection. Start all over again.

Loneliness, perhaps.

Breathe…

3:59 a.m.

Reading, word counting, spell checking, formatting, re-reading, deleting.

Publishing!

Breathe… go to bed!

What’s the time? Coffee time 🙂


50 Words: Introducing the Idea

Have you ever heard of ’50-word stories’ (or mini-sagas)? Do you like the genre of ‘micro’-writing? Well, I do. To me personally, it started a long time ago, when I first saw the lesson on this topic in English Files Upper-Intermediate course book (old edition). My students created their own sagas, and they were even published in the school newspaper at that time – but that’s not the point now.

The authors used the idea from The Telegraph’s competition (you can follow this link for some examples) and it made me start my search. I was surprised to find out that this is a popular idea even in the world outside an ELT classroom: you can enter an on-going competition and even win a prize, you can try it as a creative writing exercise, or can simply enjoy reading them (and even buy a book of those stories!)

I also found out that this genre of writing can have a lot of titles: flash-fiction, micro-fiction, ‘smoke long’ story, ‘palm-sized’ story, micro narrative, micro-story, and even sudden fiction.

You might be wondering why I am writing all this on my blog. Well, did I already say that I really like the idea? I would like to ‘play’ with it for some time and add a ‘Teacher Training’ twist to the 50-word writing.

50-word writing…

… is longer than a Tweet (but fits into a Facebook status update), requires less structure than Haiku or Tanka, is (much?) shorter than a blog post, takes no time to read, leaves a lot of space to share an idea…

The big attractive part to me is that I can use this (safe and comfortable) learning space as my ‘idea catching’ tool, and this might eventually grow into longer posts, and hopefully, many more conversations and comments (keeping them to 50 words is not a must — but I promise to reply in at least about 50 words)

Why 50 words? Recently I have been involved in various writing projects and found it hard to be writing more for pleasure. Thoughts come and go, they need to be ‘caught’. Even as short as 50 words, such pieces should still allow me reflect and develop.

What would ‘my fifty’ include? Thoughts and notes related to observation, feedback, planning and running input sessions, assessment, people skills, time management, scheduling, and many other sides from the life of a teacher trainer/educator. These will be my own beliefs, examples, theories, questions (and more questions!), some answers, some doubts and a lot of reflection.

I started collecting my 50-word-notes in December 2015. I sometimes get back to the idea, but less and less often, so let them all sit peacefully in this post.


Attitude to [peer] observation? I like the ‘Blind Men and an Elephant‘ story/metaphor: the 3-6 men touch a part of the elephant, and to each it seems to be a different animal. To have a complete picture, they need each other’s input. Just like teachers need each other in class.

(Cheating with a quote today) ‘Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time’. – Betty Smith. Very true for a training course and observing new teachers: need to appreciate their ideas and style, their first steps and discoveries. Pass this to them!

Belief: A good teacher- and trainer-trainer needs to be caring and sensitive on a personal level, but demanding professionally. This preserves rapport and trust, encourages mutual feedback, supports growth. The hardest part is balance: how do you know that neither side is ‘overweighing’? By applying the same principle to yourself!

Advice to teachers? Pause to look back at the lesson you have just taught, or are teaching right now: ‘Did your students learn anything? Have they been engaged? Motivated? How do you know? How can you help them more?’ Write down the answers. Repeat daily. Magic is on the way!

Understanding a participant, or student, on a personal level – and then responding to their professional or learning needs will be easier. To understand, listen. To listen, stop talking or planning. Wear ‘Positive Regard’ hat and open your heart to this person. Obvious, but is not (always) easy to do.

KASA: Knowledge, Awareness, Skill and Attitude. Only Awareness is educable part, whereas knowledge and skills can be ‘taught’, if awareness is there. Attitude? Can we teach it? Can we only self-learn it? Gain it? Discover? Can Attitude ‘spoil’ our KAS? Or influence it, turn the learning process into enjoyable journey?

Silence in class: good, bad, desired, avoided? As a trainer, how much time do I give to the participants to think and listen (to themselves, each other, me?) How do I feel when they are quiet? How do they feel when there is a pause? Some answers are coming soon-ish…

Activity on silence: for five minutes, stop talking to think about something that has been in the center of your attention. No talking, or writing, just thinking about these questions: What do you think about this topic? What can you do about it? (Can also be a language learning activity!)

Reflective, Processing or Debriefing question for a training session: How do the skills required in this [game/activity/task] apply to our [class/training/course]? What would you like to remember and possibly try in your own courses? What would you need to change so that it worked for your learners? And then repeat.

Heard about but have not tried on a course myself: a group learning journal. Low-tech version: one notebook for the group, participants take turns and write important insights, a-ha!s, questions. Higher-tech: a blog or wiki space with the same idea. Wondering how anonymity can be kept if done online. Thinking…

Thinking about (portable) IWBs/Smart Boards/Interactive Boards. What makes them interactive? Attractive? Advertised? What can they do that a projector with a laptop/tablet can’t? Do they help learning, teaching, training? Are we using them for educational reasons, or for ‘business’ reasons? Are we being honest with the students and their parents?

What deadlines do you set to the course participants on an intensive course? I am thinking to try these: hard ones (those we can’t change, e.g. Practice Teaching slots); firm ones (important for a certain reason, e.g. Written reflective Papers); floating ones (flexible, such as reading for portfolio). ‘Non-deadline’ tasks?

Reminder to self: keep a record of individual participant performance on a course. Can be handwritten, or a soft copy, or shared document online. Written daily, or weekly, or for mid-point assessment, these notes are priceless. Even more so at the end of the course for the final evaluations/ reports.

These notes can be on the main course competencies, for example, on Planning, Teaching and Reflecting/Self-Assessment skills, on abilities to work in groups. Have tried this on Google Docs/Drive in the past. Pro: easy access for all. Con: need Internet to access (can you believe that it is not everywhere?)

What role do questions play in your training classroom? Who asks them? Who are they addressing? How do you treat the ‘right answer’ idea? What do you do if you have a different, or even opposite opinion, attitude, belief? Is asking (critical) questions a skill, a gift, a necessity? Thoughts?

Co-teaching, co-training, co-planning, co-creating… Seems like this prefix ‘co-‘ has a potential to save us from the notorious ‘teacher burnout‘. Have you ever co-trained or co-taught? How did it feel? In fact, training ‘solo’ might be much more challenging experience than the ‘co-‘ time. What are your favorite co-training tips?

Guided lesson planning versus Assisted lesson planning: how can a trainer help a participant to become really independent within the limits of an intensive course? How can a mentor promote teacher independence without risking the students’ potential learning too much? Possibly by gradual reduce of scaffolding and maintaining positive regard.

In addition to Assisted lesson planning there could also be a term describing being there to answer questions and brainstorm ideas on a future lesson but at the same time being one step away from making the major lesson decisions for a teacher. Learning how to think independently while planning…

If D. Eisenhower was a teacher, he might have agreed that in preparing for a lesson ‘plans are useless, but planning is indispensable’. Focus on the process of planning, not the plan/form. Shift thinking into the students and their learning, and how the time can be used to help more.

Teacher post-lesson self-talk: Is what you are telling yourself true? Are you being helpful by saying these things to yourself? Are you being fair to say these things? Would anyone else give you this feedback? Are you your harshest critic? How many yes-es do you have? Thoughts? Conclusions? Great read.

My professional mission ‘pyramid’ is something like this: help to bring out the best in teacher trainers/educators, so that they could bring out the best in teachers and so that teachers could keep doing the same for their students. The shorter version would be: ‘inspired teachers inspire learners and learning’.

This image finds me in such a nice time! I am wondering about the 4 areas (passion, mission, profession and vocation) and how teacher training for me is reflected in all. Answers all the questions about the reasons to wake up in the morning. Is it only on a course?

This post is about brainstorming meetings, but the tips seem to be working well for a group lesson planning session on a TT course, especially the idea of keeping a record of lesson ideas and activities for later. My favorite quote says: ‘unstructured brainstorming meeting is an offense to creativity’.

Learning of this morning: the SAMR model as a framework for mobile learning by Ruben Puentedura (2006). Technology use falling into the four classes: substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition. The final part is about tasks that could not have been done without the use of the technology. Application in training?

Read this small post by Seth Godin on ‘I, We and You’ and noticed a good formulae for a teacher trainer (for me!): ‘we’ is for receiving positive feedback as a team, ‘I’ is for taking in critical feedback, and ‘You’ for giving feedback (to participants or peers) Simple, powerful!

A possible logical routine on a course for setting assignments to write. Monday homework: an assignment description to read. Tuesday in class: explain the assignment, answer participants’ questions. Friday evening: deadline for assignments (with possible extension for Sat morning). Saturday and Sunday is trainer reading/grading/responding time. I like the idea.

Have realized how important public speaking skills are for a (new) trainer. Oftentimes entering a room with other teachers (not students) makes a huge difference. These little things matter: making (and keeping) a pause, maintaining eye contact, varying the pace and volume of speaking, handing difficult questions with confidence, etc.

‘What should I do if I want to become a teacher trainer?’ is a question I hear from time to time. My answer in one word? ‘Experience’ (refers to do something in order to help other teachers). Do you feel how patronizing ‘train’ teachers sound? I prefer ‘serve’ or ‘educate’.

‘What can I read about trainer knowledge and skills?’ I think this blog post by Tony Gurr is a good starting point: offers resources and ideas on various trainer skills. I think to me being a trainer is much more than knowing how to teach well. People skills come first.

Lesson plan as a form, or lesson planning as a process? I really believe that it is a process: of thinking, or anticipating (and catering for) potential challenges, of ‘what if-s’ and questions. It is much more than a (final?) form or a piece of paper. Planning weighs (means) more.

Thinking about successful co-training partnerships in my experience: working with someone, not for, not around, not against, is very important, and exciting, and full of learning. I am wondering how the same co-working strategies can be transferred to the life outside a training course. Looking for a like-minded partner. Connect.

I am not sure who the author of these words is: ‘How you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you’. What I am sure about is that SIT TESOL Certificate course for teachers I have run in many places around the world will definitely uplift you. Watch.

Teacher and Trainer learning/thinking/reflecting cycle starts from choosing a significant moment. Giving background, or context. Description in detail (or telling a story). Analyzing the reasons, and the Learning from the experience, form ‘meaning making’ part. Action points and future decisions, or intentions to act, finish the cycle. Experiential Learning Cycle.

Inspiring iTDI Blog’s The Newbie Issue  motivated me to accept a professional challenge, and run my first ever training session in my L1. It is for teachers of languages other than English, and we all share the same mother tongue (Russian). Might write about my preparation, doubts and questions soon.

The session will include two of my L1s (yes, this exists!): Russian as the main communication language, and Ukrainian as an example/demo lesson for all the group. Culture note: Dnipro is one of mostly Russian-speaking cities in our country, and Ukrainian language skills are somewhat behind (especially speaking and writing)

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Freelancer Thoughts about Writing ‘Something’

I was asked if I have a ‘formulae’ to my writing days. Having thought about it for some time, here is my list of routines. I don’t do them all in one day (in theory, it may be possible). ‘Writing Days’ are the days when I am not actively training on a course or consulting. Such days include…

  • something challenging (e.g. producing a new piece of writing, an activity, etc.)
  • something focused (e.g. editing a piece of writing)
  • something familiar where it is clear what needs to be done (e.g. responding to online course forum discussions, marking written assignments, etc.)
  • something new/creative (e.g. outlining a new course or session outline)
  • something administrative (business e-mails, file organizing, paperwork, etc.)
  • something promo/marketing-related (e.g. getting in touch with a client, updating a profile, searching for new projects, etc.)
  • something receptive (e.g. reading/research/listening/watching to gain new ideas)
  • something for professional development (e.g. a webinar, blogging, social media)
  • something social (e.g. a Skype meeting with a colleague, a message to friends, lunch with a (potential) client, etc.)
  • something physical (e.g. running, working out, walking)
  • coffee (should have been number 1)

 

I added and then deleted ‘something for myself’ and ‘something for my family’ (and did not include any chores into the list above), trying to focus on the professional side of things. You may wonder why ‘working out’ got to the list above… Well, the whole categorizing idea is very subjective. Also, I now see that some categories overlap, e.g. ‘receptive’ often become the ‘PD’ time I have, etc.

Another ingredient is preparing for, or actually doing something ‘active‘: piloting that creative session I was working on, presenting (online or face-to-face), facilitating a reflective group meeting, etc.

When it is more of one and less of the other I get tired and feel a huge productivity decrease. Having the idea of ‘activity switch’ in mind is helpful and works for me. Sometimes the same project transforms itself into another category: starting as something challenging turns into a creative and exciting activity. Sometimes, however, it is the other way round, and that could a topic of a new post about choosing my projects wisely 🙂

Sometimes I am on an intensive course and none of the above is relevant. Sometimes, however, there are times off (or quiet times between projects)so that I can find the time for writing posts like this one!

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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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’)

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. Centro Espiral Mana resource can illustrate what I am talking about.

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! 🙂

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