I'm a trainer of teachers for World Learning/SIT Graduate Institute, and an ESL teacher.

Taking that leap.

Josette LeBlanc recently blogged about “Taking the Leap” and “Playing Big,” Josette inspired me to try to start a Reflective Practice group here in Marin County, north of San Francisco. And I took the leap!  I invited all of the alumni of SIT courses in the “north bay” and all of the volunteer teachers at the Canal Alliance in San Rafael, where I teach.  Nearly 30 people signed up for the first meeting on June 14th.  So here’s how the “Playing Big” framework looks for me right now:

1. It gets you playing bigger now, according to what playing bigger means to you.

The chance for ESL teachers, who are often quite isolated here, to share ideas, grow and support one another. 

2. It can be finished within one to two weeks.

Well no.  My hope is that the group will become self-sufficient and that others will want to join me as coordinators and facilitators.  There is a lot of talent and experience to draw on!

3. It’s simple: an action that you could describe in a short phrase.

My phrase is – to facilitate a monthly reflective practice group for ESL teachers.

4. It gets your adrenaline flowing because a leap stretches you out of your comfort zone.  

At first it was scary, but then I started to get so excited and inspired by the possibilities.  In fact the planning and research I did put me in closer touch with Josette (a huge blessing!) and with Zhenya Polosatova and Wilma Luth, and even got me to start my own blog, which I never, ever even contemplated until the day it seemed like the next logical step! 

5. A leap puts you in contact with the audience you want to reach or influence.

I wanted to do start this RPG for two reasons: The first is the same reason that I became a trainer:  there are so many generous, hardworking ESL teachers who really want to make a difference in their students’ lives.  I want to help them become really effective teachers, so that they can fully realize their goals.  And the other reason is that I deeply believe that reflective practice is the most valuable tool teachers can have in their tool box.

Recently, Robert Reich interviewed David Brooks, for City Arts and Lectures, about Brook’s recent book, The Road to Character. (It’s about how we’re focused on developing “resume values” and have lost track of “eulogy values.”)  Reich asked Brooks why he wrote the book.  This is how David Brooks answered:

“I was in Frederick, Maryland, and I ran into some ladies, age fifty to eighty, who teach immigrants English and how to read. And it can take up to several years to learn this. It’s a very slow process.  And I walked into a room with them and they just radiated goodness, and they’re patient and they’re calm, and they make you feel valued & important, and they listen to you, and they’re not thinking about what great work they’re doing, they’re just not even thinking about themselves.  And so I remember thinking, I’ve achieved more career success than I ever imagined, but I haven’t achieved that inner beauty.”

This is my first post, ever.  I wanted to participate in the RP Reading Club started by my colleague Zhenya Polosatova, which is how I came to read the article I’m about to comment on.  Another reflective colleague, Wilma Luth, has already posted about her response to the article.  How wonderful to see the many dimensions through others’ eyes! 

Here is my take on the same article: Teacher Training, Development, and Decision Making: A Model of Teaching and Related Strategies for Language Teacher Education, by Donald Freeman  TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 1 (27-45)

In 1989, Donald Freeman observed that language teacher education programs were focused on transmission of knowledge about applied linguistics, language acquisition, and methodology. He bemoaned the lack of focus on becoming an effective teacher.  Sadly, twenty-six years later, most of the ESL/EFL teacher training programs in my sphere of awareness are still, as Freeman wrote, “overlooking the core – teaching itself.”

Freeman proposed a framework for language teacher education consisting of two strategies for evolving the individual teacher’s craft:  Training and Development. (Freeman used both of these terms in the context of educating preservice teachers.)  Training and Development, both essential, are two different modes of collaboration between the teacher-trainer and the teacher-in-preparation.

Training, in Freeman’s model, is the transmission of knowledge and skills.  Knowledge is the subject matter (English, or another language), knowledge of the students, the context, and so on.  Skills are such things as presenting material, giving instructions, correcting errors, etc.  Training, as a strategy, is initiated by the teacher-trainer and focuses on discrete knowledge and skills.  The teacher-trainer knows both the questions and the answers.   These components of Training are what was being taught when Freeman put forward his model, and they are still, as far as I can see, the essence of what is taught in most MA-TESOL programs as well as some TESOL certificate programs.  Based on Freeman’s description, I see the Training strategy being applied in a trainer-fronted classroom, with teachers-in-preparation as the students. 

It’s Freeman’s exposition of the partner strategy, Development, that interests me today.   His concept of Development hinges on Awareness and Attention: the capacity to recognize, monitor and engage in some aspect of what is happening in the classroom.  Awareness scans the classroom and allows the teacher to focus Attention on something specific.

In the Development strategy, the role of the teacher-trainer is to draw teachers’ Awareness towards some aspect of what is happening, to focus their Attention in order to help them begin to reflect critically on their classroom practice.   This is usually done by asking questions, such as What do you think was going on with that student who didn’t participate? or How do you think the student felt when X happened?  Unlike Training, Development is a dialogue initiated by the trainer in a classroom fronted by the teacher-in-training, with language learners as students.  In Development, the trainer is helping teachers expand Awareness of what they do, and the impact of their behavior in the classroom.  The trainer must recognize the issues, but the solutions are the teacher’s alone.  Freeman says this is the critical difference between Training and Development.   Wilma Luth, in her response to Freeman’s article, discusses the value of a “shift in awareness.”

What stands out for me is that Development, viewed as a partner strategy to Training, is where a teacher learns to be effective.  And clearly Development must take place in an actual classroom with real students.  But this incredibly important and obvious aspect of language teacher education is missing from most MA-TESOL programs and some TESOL certificate programs.  There may be a practicum or internship, but it’s often casually arranged, and the teacher-trainer isn’t present.  It may be just a few, or even just a single teaching session, observed by someone who isn’t necessarily part of the dialogue between the teacher-trainer and the teacher-in-development.  The observation culminates in a checklist of knowledge and skills demonstrated by the teacher (aspects of Training, not Development).  As Freeman says, “Practicums and internships are often seen as the panaceas that will provide the missing link between knowledge and implementation.”  But they serve little purpose if the trainer isn’t present in the classroom, and if there isn’t a sustained development dialogue.

I am grateful to be able to train teachers in contexts where the Development dialogue — raising the teachers’ Awareness of what happens in the classroom — is at the center of their education.  And I’m sad for the teachers who aren’t in such programs, who don’t get the Development half of their teacher training, and who, when they finish their degree or certificate, still don’t feel prepared to teach.