Principles and Beliefs

This is my third day in a row of posting a note written in the process of planning a professional development session for trainers (facing a PD challenge to present for trainers of different subjects). Writing some ideas out helps me get more clear of what the experience might be like, so I hope you can bear with me today adding another piece to your WP Reader 🙂

Those of you who have read the first post about this session may remember that one of the tasks/steps in the plan was ‘sharing values and principles that drive our practice‘.

I will start by giving a couple of my own examples (such as Experiential Learning, Reflective Practice, Learner-Centered-ness, etc.) and explain how they are reflected in the way I work (even in the way this session is organized) In small groups, the participants will make a list of 3-4 (maybe more?) values, principles, beliefs that determine their teaching philosophy.

The rationale for bringing this up is based on the lack of professional communication among these colleagues, so hopefully by formulating what is important for them in the training room and by sharing practical examples to illustrate how these ideas are practiced the participants will be able to (a) feel closer to each other and (b) find out how much they can learn from such conversations.

Having the word ‘our’ in it means that I would also be sharing the beliefs that shape my teaching philosophy. I first simply planned to summarize them here, so that the readers could (possibly) help me by giving feedback if such a discussion is interesting and/or important.

However, when I started to think what to put into the list, I realized it is a harder task than I thought! It seemed to me that all the ideas I had in mind were borrowed (stolen? internalized?) from certain ‘correct answers’ (as if such thing exists!) or from the organizations I used to work with or have been working lately.

First, I put them on in one document, then read each item critically and ‘weighed’ if it is something I genuinely believe in. I then added the examples from my practice, and where they originally came from. [Warning: some may read as cliché and/or something obvious, which I apologize for. Treat this as a my preparation ‘talk through’ time]

My Big Professional Principles

Experiential Learning and Reflective Practice

I am a big believer in creating a learning experience where a student or a teacher has a chance to be in the process, in the loop of what we are talking about, actively explore the ideas or techniques, engage with the content, make own observations and conclusions, critically reflect on their applicability and relevance for the specific local context.

Examples and evidence: I avoid ‘lecturing’ as much as I can; have at least one task in each lesson or session which illustrates the idea of the session topic. Besides, I facilitate a Reflective Practice Special Interest Group in my native city, a reflective blogger here, and a learning teacher always in search of new ways to create a learning experience. I am also explicit about this in any course or session for teachers I run.

Where the belief comes from: I am a proud World Learning – SIT Graduate Institute licensed teacher trainer and trainer of trainers, so I am completely aware that this organization helped me shape this belief. 

Objective Driven Learning

In other words, I think each task (in a lesson or a training session) needs to be meaningful or helpful for the lesson/session objective. I realize that the objectives (goals, aims, etc.) can be longer-term and shorter-term, and I think it is important to keep both in mind. For example, digressing from a specific topic of the lesson can be important for a specific learner, and serve the goal of the course overall. Well, sometimes it could be just a jellyfish moment though.

Examples and evidence: I am explicit about the objectives set for a specific meeting, session, course. I negotiate the outcomes beforehand, when it is possible, and try to find out the needs and wants of the audience in advance. If it is not possible before the session, I do it in the process. I write out the objectives and sometimes share them with the learners, and/or sometimes ask for their feedback at the end. I think even this session plan is an illustration to this idea.

Where the belief comes from: I first heard about ‘starting from the end’ in lesson planning in 1999, on a TEFL-A course (aka CELTA) as a trainee, and it struck me with its simplicity and beauty. My experience with International House DNK/Dnipro language center helped me gain confidence in applying the idea in teaching, management, teacher education and… in any aspect of life, really.

So… how do YOU like you coffee?

Do More with Less

It is a large idea that applies to a number of things: ‘lessons from nothing’ or without much photocopying, using fewer resources such as paper or energy for a projector and slides, being in the moment and hearing the audience and giving the examples thinking on my feet, reflecting in action, more listening than talking.

Examples and evidence: I think this will be noticeable from the way the session or organized. I am also explicit about this in class encouraging learners to do ‘more with less’ for the text they are working with (language students), for an activity/game they have been offered (teachers) asking questions, e.g. ‘What else can you do with it?’ or ‘Name 1-2 alternative uses for it’, etc.

I can’t say for sure where the belief comes from. It seems to be a part of my ‘life philosophy’ lately, and proved to be very helpful in my more active years of managing a school, or for my training trips now. I also try to be consistent and apply it in the curriculum design/development work I do by showing multiple used of the same activity.

Walk the Talk

In simple words, be able to do what you are asking the audience to do. Do what you preach. Ideally, stop ‘preaching’ and rely on the experiential learning and reflective practice more. Wait, did we just make a complete circle?

Examples and evidence: writing this post and ‘trying out’ the task I created in a planning meeting (as well as most of the tasks I bring to class). Planning at least one lesson from scratch during an intensive training course not to forget how it feels to be a course participant/trainee and have a limited planning time, and often resources.

Where the belief comes from: I saw the expression first in 2006, when I was completing pre-course tasks in order to become a teacher trainer with World Learning – SIT Graduate Institute. It is great to belong to the community of like-minded colleagues!

Finally, I wanted to write ‘Learning-Centered Teaching‘ but then thought it would a heading, a title for the list I already have. It seems to me each of the principles above reflects it.

I think I should finish off my post with the question Mike Griffin asked in his post: But what if we are all wrong? What if I am wrong? Will I hold on to the principles and beliefs for the sake of keeping them or proving then ‘right’? Will they be the same in 10 years’ time? Next year? After the session I am planning?

As usual, thank you for reading and thinking together! 🙂

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