Throwing Back Tokens’ Change of Venue

Hello dear readers,

My apologies for the confusion, but I have moved my blog over to a new address, www.throwingbacktokens.wordpress.com. Please click on the link and subscribe to read my latest posts, as well as the archives.

Thank you as always for your support.

Josette

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rpc – analysis

The topic of this Reflective Practice Challenge is one that is near and dear to me. I often turn to an analysis of feelings and needs when I am trying to make sense of a problem or challenge in class or in life. I am also writing a article on the topic and so I want to highlight the post I wrote for Observing the Class on my blog as well. Thank you for the opportunity to share John!

Observing the Class

!!!GUEST POST ALERT!!!

It is with the utmost pleasure that I post the following challenge, put together by non other than THE Josette LeBlanc. Josette regularly writes on her fabulous blog where she focuses on reflective practice and compassionate communication. She also leads a great group of teachers in monthly RP meetings from her home base in Daegu, South Korea. She has been a momentous mentor to me over the past two years and I believe the following RP challenge will add immensely to our RPPLN’s ongoing reflective mission.

In the last Reflective Practice (RP) Challenge (link) we started at the first stage of the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) and described a moment in our classrooms or workplace. The next stage in the ELC is what some might call the Interpretation stage. However, for the purposes of this challenge, we will divide our interpretation of our moment into…

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Unpacking Parker J. Palmer: Fear and Education

This is the first of what I hope becomes a series of reflections on Parker Palmer’s, book The Courage to Teach. His book really speaks to my thoughts and feelings on what it means to teach. By “unpacking” what I read, I hope to get more insight into the often unchartered territories he deals with. They aren’t easy places to navigate, but I trust that the arrival will be worth it. I hope these explorations feed your curiosity as much as they feed mine.

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Ten minutes before class. What am I supposed to teach today? Damn, I’m not ready! Who has taught this class before. Matthieu. Right. I’ll give him a call.

Damn, he isn’t answering. Oh man. Eight minutes left now.

Jon!

“Jon, can you help me out? What am I supposed to teach today?”, panicking on the phone as I scramble to find something more professional to wear. I’m still in my jeans and old t-shirt!

“No worries. It’s the end of the semester and they just need to cover this and this…”, said in the smooth, calm voice Jon always seems to have.

“Oh wow, you’re right! They only have a few classes left! Thanks Jon. I think I can handle it.”, gasping — not sighing in relief like I should be — as I think to myself, ‘How did I let this happen? Two more classes in the semester? They are going to think I’m so incompetent. I am! And man, I’m late now….’

At this point I woke up. I didn’t get a chance to see the faces of my course participants. I suppose my subconsciousness couldn’t bear seeing them.

Fear. This is what I felt when I opened my eyes. In this case, the fear of failure. At that moment, Parker Palmer’s chapter Culture of Fear I had just read a few days before, made much more sense. Even in my dreams I didn’t want to face the fear I sometimes feel. One of the points Parker Palmer makes in this chapter is how fear disconnects us from our students. Fear labels them as the lazy kid, the problem boy, the girl who can’t pay attention. When we see students like this, of course it’s hard to trust what’s inside their minds.

Fear causes this to happen:

… our assumption that students are brain-dead leads to pedagogies that deaden their brains. When we teach by dripping information into their passive forms, students who arrive in the classroom alive and well become passive consumers of knowledge and are dead on departure when they graduate. But the power of this self-fulfilling prophecy seems to elude us: we rarely consider that our students may die in the classroom because we use methods that assume they are dead.

– Parker Palmer, p.42, “The Courage to Teach

*cartoon by Yoo Ha-na (유하나)

When I first read this quote, I was inspired to write a rant blaming the Korean education system for perpetuating apathy, violence, and yes, death. This is what I first wrote:

Fear. It has a grip on us. It is all around us and so it permeates our senses and our way of being. It has become such a societal norm that we don’t even realize it’s there.

To notice fear would mean we would need to face it. To admit that fear exists would be to admit that we are doing it wrong.

And this is what I believe. I believe we are doing it wrong. When fear rules our education system, we need to set aside our pride, and look into its face. Administrators aren’t ready for this. To face their fears would also mean losing face.

That’s as far as I got. I was just about to go into tirade (Yes, trust me, it is possible.) against Korea’s old boys’ club when I started thinking of the English teachers in this system. I imagined the fear some of them have told me about: the dread of going to class and meeting students that talk back to them; the anxiety they have about the kid who is “better” at speaking English than they are; or the administrative stress of paperwork and the need to follow the demands of the system they’re in (ie: teaching the same lesson as all the other English teachers, not leaving any room for creative lesson planning; listening to parents who aren’t satisfied with the way they are teaching their kid.)

I realized I couldn’t point fingers. Not many of us want to meet fear: not administrators, not teachers… not me. Looking into fear would mean that we’d have to admit our vulnerability. And let’s face it, not many education systems out there create a safety net for vulnerability.

But here’s the twist: it’s only by facing our fears that real change is able to happen. This relates as much to a fear of heights as it does to a “fear of diversity”, “fear of conflict”, or a “fear of losing identity”: the diversity of our students’ experiences, interests and motivations; the conflict that could happen by paying attention to this diversity; and the loss of our ways of being, our ideas, and our traditions in the face of all this (The Courage to Teach, p. 38). If we want students who are happy to come to class, we will need to look at what we are doing that prevents this from happening. If teachers want to be happy when they come to class, they will need to take some time with fear.

When we remain outside our fear, we remain trapped within it.

When we, however, consciously get inside our fear, it’s as if it turns inside out. Getting inside our fear with wakeful attention and compassion actually expands our fear beyond itself. Once the contractedness at the center of fear ceases to be fueled, fear unravels, dissipates, and terminates its occupancy of us.

In entering our fear, we end our fear of it.

Through attending closely, caringly, and carefully to the particulars of our fear, we decentralize it, so that its intentions and viewpoint can no longer govern us. When the light goes on in the grottos of dread, then fear is little more than our case of mistaken identity having a bad day.

Robert Augustus Masters, Cutting Through Personal & Collective Fear

As I ponder my own fears, I wonder if teachers and administrators will ever find a safe, communal space to attend to theirs. The idea of “decentralizing” fear in order to make room for real connections with each other is one I find incredibly appealing.

When I consider the magnitude of this healing, sitting with my own fears sounds a little less scary.

*A big thank you to Yoo Ha-na (유하나) for drawing this cartoon, and to Michael Free for asking her. And thanks to Tim Thompson, Joseph Bengivenni, James Taylor, and Arjana Blazic for helping me locate the cartoon Ha-na’s cartoon was inspired by.

Related links:

Introducing Tana Ebaugh and the Pioneer Training and Education Consortium

Tana Ebaugh and I met when we both began our journey at The SIT Graduate Institute in 2007. Since then, our lives have had the good fortune of intersecting in terms of ambition and location: teacher education in Daegu, South Korea.  Over many coffees, Tana and I would dream of a space where teachers from around the globe could come together to share a common understanding of teaching and learning. Now, Tana, and her colleague  Zhenya Polosatova (please see Mike Griffin’s excellent interview with Zhenya on his blog, ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections), have created this space in the Pioneer Training and Education Consortium (ptec).

And so it is with great honor and joy that I share with you this interview where Tana tells us a bit about herself, gives us a glimpse into ptec, and shares with us her hopes for teacher education. 

Tana, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Tana in actionI came to teacher education via a diverse collection of fields: electronics, microbiology, photography and graphic design. Each of these areas contribute to who I am as a teacher and a teacher educator. I have taught mostly adults in Thailand, the US, and in Korea. I believe that the learner is as important as the learning, and that as an educator in the classroom I need to involve them in the both the content and the process of their learning. Sometimes I am the holder of knowledge, but most often I see myself as a guide, a facilitator of learning.

How was ptec born? 

It starts with the professional relationship that I developed with my colleague, Zhenya Polosatova, in the winter of 2011—a meeting of education beliefs, of joy in learning, and in working with others. In the summer of 2012 we were contracted to write a TESOL certificate program for UCC Center, a teacher training organization in South Korea. Once our project was complete we realized that we had a valuable training tool that could reach beyond its original mandate. Putting that together with other trainers we know and respect, and developing a network to reach out to teaching organizations/institutions and education ministries seemed a next logical progression. This means that ptec is a space for trainers/educators and organizations/institutions to meet. It is a starting point for delivering and developing learning-centered, contextualized training and education for teachers.

If you could choose three words to describe ptec, what would they be and why?

Evolving. We are still building the concept, modifying it to more effectively connect trainers/educators with organizations. We are still clarifying what ptec is and what it is not. To borrow from the design field, you could say we are a boutique style consortium. We are a niche of trainers and organizations that cares deeply about learning, that is interested in context sensitive trainings and workshops, that realizes the preeminence of culture in all that we do vs. being a job site with everyone in mind. Consortium. We choose to be a consortium because we want to build community between organizations and trainers and learners, not just be providers. Focus. As with our Consortium at large, our blog is focused on training and education issues vs ESL/EFL teaching per se. We focus on student learning through teacher education and development.

One of ptec’s offerings is a TESOL Certificate course. What would you say makes your TESOL curriculum stand out from all the other teacher training programs?

Tana

Our TESOL curriculum is based on core principles that are carried through to the level of trainer plans. Our major accomplishments are that the course is competency based and has built-in needs self-assessment sessions so that it can be modified during the training itself to meet each particular group’s needs, e.g. Korean teachers of English, new teachers, administrators. Through the use of these needs assessments and the ongoing use of the learning log (a documentwhich details the competencies that may be covered during the course), the course participants develop an awareness of their knowledge and skills and actively engage in reflective practice. The course is geared for both native and non-native speakers, with materials with which A2 level (*see below for links)  language learners can actively engage.

If someone is interested in getting involved in ptec, what can they do?

As a potential Member, you need to be: 1) a certified trainer, e.g. CELTA and SIT’s licensure programs, or 2) in the process of being trained up, or 3) be recommended by at least two ptec members who you have trained with on a course. You must be an active reflective practitioner that is comfortable working in community and enjoy modifying courses/sessions/workshops to meet the needs of individual groups of participants. As a potential Alliance, you are an organization that partners with ptec Members to deliver and/or develop courses/workshops, or purchases ptec courses from individual ptec Members. It is easy to get in touch with ptechttp://pioneerconsortium.com/contact-us/

What are your hopes and dreams for ptec and teacher education in general?

For ptec I wish for Alliances with institutions and organizations that value the learner and the learning process. I wish for members that want to develop in community with other trainers/educators to find a space to meet. I hope that the blog entries to add to the KASA (Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, Awareness) of those involved with learning and teaching through provocative yet sensitive discussion.

For teacher education I think two of the most progressive things we can do are: 1) facilitate a personal relationship to reflective practice. A process that cannot be dictated and all must follow and 2) facilitate a teacher’s KASA: Knowledge, of their content areas and of the teaching process; Attitude, honoring themselves, their students, their colleagues, and other stakeholders; Skills, their practice—actions taken, how they deliver their content, how they interact with students, etc.; and Awareness, of their impact on others, the interconnectedness between teacher-student-content-environment, and their own needs.

With such a vision for teacher education, I am very excited to see ptec out there in the world. If you feel the same way, why not let Tana and Zhenya know? Leave a comment below, or on their website.

* A2 language level links:

Throwing Back Tokens TED Talks Playlist (curated by Josette LeBlanc)

This afternoon a few course participants asked me if I could email them some of my favorite TED Talks. As I started going through the list in my head, I started visualizing a playlist. Then I imagined what I would call that playlist. And now my imagination has taken me to this post instead of a private email. I guess you could call this a modern day mixtape for educators. 🙂 I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it!

The first target of inspiration came from the playlists the wonderful folks at TED started putting together. Below are my favorites so far.

I have pulled out my favorite talks from these playlists, and from the memories etched in my mind. Instead of telling you why each of these talks inspired me, I’ll simply tell you how they made me feel. I’ll unashamedly admit that about 90% of these talks brought tears to my eyes: tears of inspiration, tears of disbelief, tears of joy, and tears of hope. I have watched each of these talks at least twice. These presenters are making an incredible impact on the world, and I have no doubt they will have the same affect on you. I am sure I have missed a few, so please feel free to add your favorites in the comments.

How Education Can/Must Change

Powerful storytellers

The Creative Mind

Mind, Body and Soul

Risking It All for Freedom

Perspectives on Success, Motivation and Leadership

Language

Susan Barduhn IATEFL 2013: exploring what moves expat language teachers

I first met *Susan Barduhn at the 2006 KOTESOL International Conference. When I saw her presentation, What Keeps Teachers Going? What Keeps Teachers Developing?, I was already saving up for my MA TESOL at The SIT Graduate Institute. Observing how she engaged the audience, I realized once again why I had to go to Vermont, USA.  Finally, in 2007, I sat in my first classroom with her. We sat in a circle, and she asked us questions. Once again, I was engaged.

This is what Susan does. She asks questions and engages learners to explore their beliefs and come to their own conclusions. And this is what she did for her plenary audience at IATEFL Liverpool. In her talk, Language Dealing, she helped us ponder the statement, ” ‘If English were a drug, expatriate teachers would be the dealers…’ Via metaphors of drugs, drug dealers, postmodern dance and medieval knights errant, she explores the identity and intentions of EFL teachers. Through her metaphorical speculations she suggests that the “phenomenon of expatriate English teachers could be considered a historical, cultural movement.”

Susan brought many interesting points and examples to the surface, including one where she compares expat EFL teachers to expat teachers of Mandarin. I found myself nodding in relief throughout her talk: relief in knowing that someone was speaking for the itinerant teacher; that someone was bringing more clarity to our story. But it was one point that really made an impact on me, and I’ll only focus on this discovery. I highly recommend watching her talk to get all the juicy details.

The Question

Is English really the drug, or is it something else? Is it pedagogy? Is it culture? Is it values?

This is what Susan wanted to find out when she interviewed 200 native and non-native speakers of English (must have lived in at least two countries outside their country of origin for  a total of 6 years). One of the questions she asked was, “What motivated you to live in each country?” This is what she discovered about why these teachers progressed through each country:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development

Expat English teachers delving into professional development: KELT-chat and KOTESOL

Then she asked us to look at the same answers like this:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development 

And so at the end of the talk, she posed a new question:

Could the drug actually be professional and personal development?

To this, a resounding “yes!” rang in my mind. It connected to one of my favorite posts by one of my favorite ELT bloggers, Laura Phelps: TEFLing at 35: a life gone right. In this post she expresses many reasons why she hopes she will still be teaching in different parts of the world by the time she’s 35, but this is the one I think speaks true for many teachers out there:

I want to be a 35 year-old who feels confident in the work I’ve chosen to pursue and who learns for the love of learning, not studies for the extra pound an hour. I want not to be freaked out by the prospect of no computers, no photocopier, no board, no books, no desks and no chairs. I want to keep those students in my life who make me cry with laughter, cry with despair, and open my eyes. I want to mentor and be mentored.

Over the past year — or maybe 18 months (see Things that may not have happened if I didn’t use twitter for an exploration of personal and professional development by expat in Korea, Alex Walsh) — I have observed and been involved in amazing organizations and loose collectives of professional development: iTDi, KELTchat, AusELT, KOTESOL and ELTchat to only name a few. I have been reading incredible blogs by teachers who are diving deep into their teaching world. Choose any of the blogs on the write-hand side of this page find and you’ll find their stories.

Who are these teachers? Most of them are exactly who Susan describes.

I am extremely grateful to Susan for doing this research and for presenting it to us in this way. I very much look forward to learning what else she finds out about this identity group.

-For a summary of Susan Bardhun’s IATEFL plenary please visit Chia Suan Chong’s post written live from the talk.

* Susan is a Professor and the Academic Chair of the MA TESOL Low Residency Program at The SIT Graduate Institute. Watch her IATEFL  interview to learn more about the program.

The Vulnerability of Failing: IATEFL 2013 Failure Fest

IATEFL Failure Fest: how is failure a better teacher than success?

When I first heard that Ken Wilson was going to lead a session on failure at IATEFL Liverpool, I was intrigued, but mostly I was grateful. I imagined the Failure Fest as a space for reality checks, healing, and great learning for ELT professionals. Sophia Khan wrote about this beautifully in her debut blog post, Why We Should Celebrate Failure Fest,

what I like about Failure Fest is that it says: “I am human, just like you”. It focuses on our similarities rather than our differences. Finding a shared emotional experience creates a sense of solidarity, mutuality and possibility. Because we are alike – human – I can learn from your mistakes – and your achievements – as if they were my own. What is possible for you is also possible for me. No matter how qualified or experienced you are, we are more alike than different. Think about it: have you ever had a worry, feelings of self-doubt, anxiety about what the right thing to do is – then you find that someone has gone through, or is going through, the same thing as you? It is such a blessed, wonderful relief to know that you are not alone, even if you still don’t have all the answers.

And this sense of relief is what we all felt during the fest. The relief was expressed through having a bit of fun (Caroline Moore‘s punctual cow bell and Ken’s witty introductions), and through the presenters’ ability to show their vulnerability.

What struck me about each of these engaging storytellers (Ken Wilson, Bethany Cagnol, Chia Suan Chong, Andy Cowle, Herbert Puchta, Jeremy Harmer, Rakesh Bhanot, Valeria Franca, Willy Cardoso) was the fact that they were all able to laugh at their failures. However, among the laughter, each presenter also expressed a sense of discomfort that came along with the initial moment of failure — or as Kathryn Schulz described during her TED Talk, On Being Wrong, how it feels to realize that moment of failure. Jeremy Harmer embarrassingly admitted that the first thing he had ever taught a student was to describe his “big, red, bushy beard.” Chia Suan Chong talked about how she cried after the miscommunication with a German bus driver. Valeria Franca described the dread of seeing little Luciana come up to her after her revamped English lesson on clothing. Bethany Cagnol shared the devastation she felt after being fired for having fun with her students.

“embracing our fallibility”

For many of us, the laughter doesn’t usually come immediately after these moments. It may come years after and for some people it may never come. There is something safe about hiding in the belief that we shouldn’t make mistakes:

“We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” – Brené Brown

I think one of my biggest failures has been holding on to this idea of perfection. I used to work late hours planning the “perfect” lesson, and on a few occasions I even broke down crying after class, realizing I had answered a question “wrong”. “I’m a trainer dammit! I *should know these things!” Although I may not be in a space where I can laugh at this failure, I feel a great sense of lightness at being able to admit it. And I know I am able to express this thanks the Failure Fest and also thanks to what teachers have been writing about failure over the past few weeks (Kevin Stein, As many flavors of failure…; Chris Wilson, Failing at Modal verbs).

The Journey of Failure

An old post of mine, The Teacher as the Archetypal Student, came to my attention the night of the Failure Fest when a new reader left a comment. I hadn’t read this post in years (written on September 11, 2010). Although my post doesn’t directly express my concern about failing, this reader saw it clearly:

I think it is the responsibility of the teacher to show her students that it is okay to make mistakes. Students can learn more from a teacher who allows herself to be vulnerable in front of her students, rather than an obviously flawed person who pretends to be perfect. Students will respect a teacher who openly admits her faults or knowledge gaps. When a teacher does this, learning can become a journey that the teacher and student go on together.

And so I thank Ken Wilson and Caroline Moore for providing a space to the world of ELT to embark on this journey of seeing the light between the cracks of failure. I also have great gratitude for all the presenters for sharing their light.

Willy Cardoso left us a wonderful quote to keep us pondering along this journey of embracing failure:

It is this great struggle, to choose between having a lot of freedom and having a lot of stability that makes us people. (…) And when you believe you can achieve both, it’s probably the beginning of a failure story…which is inevitable. You have to choose one when you know you won’t have much of the other. (…) I’m not likely to go about cycling on busy roads ever again because I don’t want to run the risk of falling, although I know it would give me a great sense of freedom. So in this regard I choose stability over freedom. In love, on the other hand, I will always be willing to fall.

In teaching and in learning, what is this love you are willing to fall for?