Forming and Sustaining a Reflective Practice Group

Josette LeBlancby Josette LeBlanc

Something powerful happens when teachers gather to talk about their teaching. I’m not referring to gathering at a conference or a weekend workshop, although these provide their own kind of inspiration. I’m referring to teachers who voluntarily meet on a regular basis to discuss their journeys in learning and teaching. In such a setting, a quality of confidence and community arises that provides individual members with the sustenance needed to keep teaching another day. Such gatherings have been happening all across Korea since 2011 with teachers in Seoul, Gwangju, and Daegu meeting at their respective Reflective Practice Special Interest Groups (RP SIGs) to share a better understanding of their teaching.

Since the formation of the Daegu group in 2012, I’ve often been asked what’s involved in creating and maintaining a reflective practice group. Upon the inception of our group, I wrote a post (Our Reflective Community) which partially answered this question, but its revision has been long overdue. It’s my hope that this new post will provide a useful roadmap for anyone interested in starting a group in their part of the world.

[Bryan Hale (standing), co-coordinator of the National KOTESOL RP SIG and Gwangju RP SIG, facilitates a meeting in Daegu.]
Bryan Hale (standing), co-coordinator of the National KOTESOL RP SIG and Gwangju RP SIG, facilitates a meeting in Daegu.

Why have a reflective practice group, and what is it anyway?

In the first edition of the iTDi Reflective Practice blog series, Zhenya Polosatova defines reflective practice as it relates to teaching as a way “to review one’s professional beliefs and values and, in this way, shape and develop a unique teaching style or manner.” A reflective practice group brings this practice into a community. In this community, teachers analyze teaching and learning experiences with the aim of understanding, altering, and improving their approach. Whereas teachers may only have had their own mind as a soundboard when reflecting alone, now they have the benefit of learning from the experiences of many colleagues.

Who comes to the reflective practice group meetings?

At each meeting you’ll find teachers from various contexts (i.e. private academies, universities, public schools, teacher training programs, etc.) who have a desire to develop their self-awareness and evolve their teaching. Since membership is voluntary, motivation to learn and grow seems to be quite high, especially since they gather on the weekends. We all know how precious a teacher’s weekend is!

Volunteer coordinators usually organize meetings. This can be an individual or group endeavour. The coordinators may also act as the meetings’ facilitator, though I encourage the idea of asking members to run meetings as well. This helps distribute the responsibilities more evenly, and also promotes a sense that everyone has an important role to play in the community.

How do you run a reflective practice group? 

A meeting usually starts off with an icebreaker. This is a good way to acquaint newcomers with people they may soon start divulging their most challenging experiences with.

In essence, a meeting is much like Chris Mares describes in his last iTDi post: we focus on a question or topic; we may record what we reflected on; and then we implement and review the results of the reflection.

This implementation and review may happen at the end of a meeting when each member creates a goal to work on until the next meeting. At some point during the follow-up meeting – either after the icebreaker or with ample time at the end of the meeting – members review their success or challenges with their goal.

Having a tangible model of reflection can aid this implementation and review. Referring to Zhenya’s post again, she shares an approach that can serve as a foundation for group meetings: the Experiential Learning Cycle. The cycle provides a concrete way to talk about reflection. Such a solid model can be valuable since it is easy for group discussions to get off track. The cycle helps members to come back to the intention of the group, which is to understand teaching at a deeper level.

As valuable as it is for members to discuss the content of their experiences, it is equally as important to help them find avenues to explore this content. For his post in this blog series, Stewart Gray, who is the coordinator for the Seoul RP SIG, shares a technique for reflection: reflective journaling. If this were the topic of the meeting, members might set a goal to journal during the month, and then share their experience at the following meeting.

Other approaches to these meetings may involve reading through articles or books on reflective practice, and doing personal reflections around this. The possibilities are endless. The important point is to stay open to what your community needs and go from there.   13576406_10157052003860375_892004945_n

When do you hold your reflective practice group meetings? 

Members preferably meet once a month and the duration is up to your group. The Daegu group meets for two hours every third Sunday of the month. This seems to be enough time, though we’ve been known to go over two hours when the discussion gets juicy.

Where do you meet

The location can be summed up in three Cs: centrality, comfort, and coffee (or tea, of course). It’s important to meet where it’s easy for the majority of people to travel to. Also, a private space is better than a public one, especially when discussions become a bit more personal. Finally, reflection absolutely requires refreshments.


I hope this roadmap was helpful. If I missed anything, please leave a message in the comments below. I also recommend exploring Linda-Marie Koza’s group in San Francisco, USA, and Anna Loseva’s group in Tokyo, Japan, for different examples of how reflective practice groups are run.

An Outside Influence from Within My Family

Josette LeBlancIn fourth grade (I was about 9 years old), we were assigned the task of interviewing someone about their job. I interviewed my father’s friend and colleague who was a member of parliament. My friend interviewed my father, Guy J. LeBlanc. At the time, my father was a newly appointed member of the legislative assembly of Nova Scotia and represented Clare, the community we grew up in. Not too long after, someone asked me why I hadn’t interviewed my father. I had honestly never considered it. I guess I thought that the interviewee had to be someone outside my family. I remember feeling guilty about not having had this foresight. I felt like I had let my father down by taking him for granted.

About 28 years later, during my last winter vacation, I finally took the chance to interview him. But this time it wasn’t to just to learn about his work; it was to learn about how we are connected. I wanted to ask him about his experience in education since he seems to have worked in all possible parts of this field: swimming instructor; high school teacher; elementary school physical education (PE) teacher; minister of education for the Nova Scotia provincial government; principal at my old high school; high school principal in the neighbouring community; and superintendent for the francophone school board in Nova Scotia. This doesn’t begin to name all the other leadership roles he’s taken in our small community as well as the educational community at large. I thought his life experience might shed light on my own perspective of this field.

So lounging on the sandy white St. Pete Beach, with the warm sun shining down on us, I pressed record and asked him about his most significant moments.


Translating from French for this blog post, with the pleasant sound of waves, wind, and seagulls in the background, I transcribed *the first of our five interviews. Three themes stand out from this first interview: my father’s desire to create positive change in his community and how this relates to the well-being of the individual person, and his ability to take risks for causes he believes in.

One of the first positive changes he brought to our community happened at the beginning of his teaching career when he was an elementary school PE teacher. Hearing him describe this moment was significant to me because he was talking about something I had been very fond of as elementary student: taking swimming classes.

Me: What was one of your most memorable moments teaching PE?

Guy: One of my greatest accomplishments was convincing the school board to teach swimming to all elementary students for 10 weeks instead of the regular PE classes. There were many drownings at that time. Every summer there was a young person who drowned. The predominant industry in Clare was fishing. Everyone spent time around wharves and boats, so for me it was important for kids to learn how to swim. So I was able to convince the school board on the basis that if the kids could take the basics, they would be safer citizens.

Some kids could swim, but some kids had never seen a pool and would never see one because their parents couldn’t afford to bring them to the pool at St. Anne University. Like this, transportation was provided for the students, the “foyer ecole” (home and school association) raised money to pay for the buses, and the school board approved. This way everyone learned artificial respiration and other basic life saving skills, as well as basic swimming skills. If they fell in the water, they learned how to put on a life jacket and save themselves.

Looking back, that was probably one my best achievements at the elementary level.


His desire to create positive change within the realm of education was not limited to his adult years, or even to his experience as an educator.

Guy: When I was a student at St. Anne, I had seen a bit of what happened in politics because we had started the strike at the university. The Eudistes (a congregation of French-Catholic priests) were in charge of the university at that time, and they were talking about moving the campus to Yarmouth (an English speaking community about 40km west of Clare). It had come out in the newspaper, so me and my friend John O’Brien — maybe it wasn’t only to save St. Anne; maybe it was so we wouldn’t have to go to class — we regrouped the students to protest the move to assure that the university would stay in Church Point (Clare). We organized a strike, as they called it. Every student didn’t go to class. We emptied the high school (Clare District High School)… all the students left school for a day or two.

Me: How old were you?

Guy: 18 or 19.

Me: How did you get the students out of the high school?

Guy: Someone passed all the houses and asked the parents if it was okay if their kids stayed away from school to protest. And everyone signed. There was a big volunteer organization of students who handled that, and we went to see the high school principal. As we said the name of the students (on the loudspeaker), they left school.

Although our community is francophone, at that time St. Anne was the only school in the area where the content and instructions were in French. Moving the school to Yarmouth meant putting our language and identity in jeopardy.

These are only two stories from the many stories he shared with me on the beach this winter. What did I learn from them? I learned that perhaps it’s normal for children take their parents for granted. Most of what we learn from our parents, doesn’t come from interviews, or even from words. My father’s actions spoke louder than words, and through this, I learned to have the outlook I have on life today. The outlook that positive change is possible, and that most of the profound changes we can make in our communities happen at the level of education. Schools may be the most powerful institutions in our communities. With good intentions and integrity on our side, we have the power to make education a legacy we can look back on with high regard. I am very grateful for my father’s legacy, and look forward to seeing what else it can teach me.



*I have posted the first part if this interview on my blog, Throwing Back Tokens. I intend to post the full interview, as well as the other interviews during the next few months.


Ongoing Research – Josette

Discovering Narrative Inquiry
Josette LeBlanc

Josette LeBlanc
I have a craving to learn. Part of this craving is satisfied by writing about teaching and learning here on the iTDi blog as well as on my blog, and also by talking with my inspiring community of teachers, but sometimes I think I need more. I think of working towards a PhD. The idea of diving deep into my topics of interest – how reflective practice and compassionate communication intersect in teacher education – seems like it would satiate my appetite. However, my research into research methods always left a bad taste. I just couldn’t imagine myself crunching numbers. My areas of interest seem to be beyond equations (re: quantitative methods), and too big for what I understand about action research. Then finally, this part of my search was over.

After class one day, my colleague, Darryl Bautista, and I were talking about research, and I told him about my distaste. This was when he told me about his professional experience with narrative inquiry as an approach.  And just like that, the world of research opened itself to me. What follows is a description of where my ongoing research begins: in discovering narrative inquiry.

Discovering narrative inquiry was a big deal. Maybe like many of you, I have a math phobia. Perhaps part of the reason why I never connected to math was that it was never introduced to me as something that connected to the juiciness of life: the things that make life worth living like love, joy, and all the complexities of being human. Now that I am older, and thanks to the storytelling skills of scientists such as Carl Sagan, Brian Greene, and Leonard Mlodinow, I can see how equations and life are one in the same. And this is the point; I needed to hear a story in order to connect to their research. The language they use – numbers — and the language that I use – words that describe experiences — although interconnected, paint very different pictures. Via the language of a lived experience, numbers turned into stars, nature, and human relationships.

This is what narrative inquiry does: it uses the story process to make sense of an experience. As professors of education, and the authors of Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research, D. Jean Clandinin and F. Michael Connelly explain it:

Narrative inquiry is a way of understanding experience. It is a collaboration between the researcher and participants, over time, in a place or series of places, and in social interaction within milieus. An inquirer enters this matrix in the midst and progresses in this same spirit, concluding the inquiry still in the midst of living and telling, reliving and retelling, the stories of the experiences that make up people’s lives, both individual and social. Simply stated, (…) narrative inquiry is stories lived and told. (p.20)

 Another point that piqued my interest about narrative inquiry was this concept of collaboration between the researcher and participants. As a strong proponent of reflective inquiry as a way to develop myself personally and professionally, I knew that any research worth doing would have to begin from my experiences. Although narrative inquiry values a balanced account of what happens for the researcher and the participants during the research process, the researcher’s voice is not diminished. In fact, this may be where it begins.

Such inquiry is driven by teachers’ inner desire to understand that experience, to reconcile what is known with that which is hidden, to confirm and affirm, and to construct and reconstruct understandings of themselves as teachers and of their own teaching.  What teachers choose to inquire about emerges from their personalities, their emotions, their ethics, the contexts, and the overwhelming concern for their students. (Johnson & Golombek, p.6)

And so this is where my research begins. I will look back at the themes I discover in my teaching story (via my blog posts, emails, and journals) as a way of looking forward into possible research: into understanding my experience and how it relates to teaching at large.  What I have already found are themes that speak to the juicy craving I mentioned.  Narrative inquiry is my first step into ongoing research which has yet to reveal itself to me.


Clandinin, D.J., & Connelly, F.M. (1999). Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research. San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Johnson, K.E. & Golombek, P.R. (2002).  Teachers’ Narrative Inquiry as Professional Development.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


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13 for 2014 – Josette LeBlanc

A Needs Assessment of 2013 – Josette LeBlanc

Josette LeBlanc

As language teachers, when you see the term “needs assessment” you might think of taking the time to learn more about your learners’ language needs. Kathleen Graves (2000) defines needs assessment as,

“…a systematic and ongoing process of gathering information about students’ needs and preferences, interpreting the information, and then making course decisions based on the interpretation in order to meet the needs.”

I’d like to propose a different type of needs assessment. It is more celebratory and reflective, than it is systematic and ongoing. This assessment involves looking back on your year and considering what universal needs you and your learners have fulfilled. My thought is that by doing this needs assessment, you might step into 2014’s classrooms with a bit more joy and gratitude in your heart. After having written this list of 13 met needs in 2013, I know that’s how I’m moving into the new year.

1. Rejuvenation

At the beginning of each semester of our teacher-training program, we always ask the teachers why they signed up for our course. The majority of them say it’s because they need a break. They need time away from all the demands of being an English teacher in Korea. They need time to remember what it means to be a teacher. They also need time to work on their English skills. In some cases, they just need time to remember who the are. As you read on, I think you’ll see how these teachers had their need for rejuvenation fulfilled.

2. Joy

In relation to remembering who they are, one of the teachers this semester shared her thoughts in one of her course reflections:

“I think, through this course, I can find different “myself” instead of “teacher myself.” (…) It may sound a little too much, but I think I am getting to know who I am and what I am capable of. Without this course and various activities, I could never know I can make the fancy storybook (see below). (…) Once again, I feel very lucky to have an opportunity to join this teachers’ training course.”

As you can imagine, reading this brought me great joy.

3. Accomplishment

This picture represents the culmination of 6 weeks of collaborative work done to create the storybook you see the teacher holding up on the right. This is a picture of them telling their story during the book release party. In addition to this group, five other teams not only shared their own storybooks, but also their sense of accomplishment.


4. Play!

Most teachers start off feeling worried about having to do practice teaching in front of their peers. They have to plan and teach lessons where their colleagues become their students. However, once the lesson is finally underway, it seems like all those worries melt away: it’s time to play! Let’s learn how to cook! What fun!

5. Autonomy

I usually give the teachers homework: read an article of your choosing, and report back by giving me your thoughts on parts of the reading that struck you. After a few weeks of this, one brave teacher told me she didn’t understand why she had to do homework she wasn’t interested in. I completely understood. I’ve always questioned homework, but kept up with it probably mostly due to old held beliefs. The next week I asked them to tell me what type of after class studies they would like to do. They had the choice to do what they wanted, or do nothing at all. I was impressed. Everyone chose tasks that met their unique needs and that also fit their schedule. I’ll definitely be trying this again.

6. Support

An important part of the writing curriculum that I’ve created for this program is the peer review component. When I first introduced it four years ago, I was apprehensive because I wasn’t sure how the teachers would feel about me taking a backseat. Anyone who grew up in the Korean education system is used to the teacher being front and center. However, each semester I ask the teachers how they feel about the peer review process. This year, the answer was the same: they said they got the support they needed to write the story/essay they really wanted. This is why peer reviews are still in the curriculum. My apprehension is subsiding.

7. Growth

It’s no secret that most Korean teachers of English use a form of the grammar translation method to teach their students. There are many reasons for this. However, these teachers also know it’s not the best way to help their students learn how to use the language. During our course they experience being learners and teachers. They get to feel what their students must feel, and they also have the chance to teach lessons based on methods beyond grammar translation. Our program is a place for experimentation and as a result, a lot of growth happens.

8. Collaboration

Can you see how this need has been fulfilled so far? J

9. Confidence

Confidence is one of the most important needs that I aim to fulfill during this course. Teachers often come with very low-self confidence and with deep-rooted beliefs that their English isn’t good enough. I can only imagine how hard it is to feel this way when you have to stand in front of class of 35 students everyday. Although they may not leave the course feeling 100%, through all the experiences I described above, I know the teachers who have left and are leaving this program are little more confident about their language and teaching skills.

10 & 11 Grieving and celebration

Before the end of last semester, my colleague had a fabulous idea to help the teachers look back the course and also look forward on how it would influence them. Thinking of what we had learned and experienced, we wrote a hope we had for ourselves, and attached it to a balloon filled with helium. Then we all headed outdoors. On the count of three, we let go of our balloons, letting our hopes find their own destination. Although we were celebrating our time together, and all the learning that we had done, there definitely was some grief. During this time we balanced our honor for grief and celebration.

12. Love

13. Community

Each teacher comes to the program from different schools in the area, alone and perhaps unsure. But when the program ends, they leave connected to a group that holds great friendship and knowledge.  They leave with memories of negotiations, compromise, reconciliations, experimentations, listening, laughter, and sharing. They leave with a community of learning.

I had to stop myself at 13. The needs assessment produced more results, but I’ll just have to save those for 2014. What about you? How long is your list? No matter how long it is, may it bring you joy. And may the new year bring you and your students great fulfillment.

Graves, Kathleen. Designing Language Courses: A Guide for Teachers. Boston: Thomson Heinle, 2000.


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The Observation Issue – Josette LeBlanc

A Safe Space for Post-observation Feedback –  Josette LeBlanc

Josette LeBlanc
It is safe to say that if you are an English language teacher someone is going to observe your class at one point in your career. In Korea, most English teachers are required to plan demonstration lessons at least once a year for supervisors, principals and fellow teachers, and maybe even twice a year for parents. Knowing this fate, when I ask teachers how they feel about being observed and receiving the feedback that follows, they often have two reactions:

  1. I don’t like being observed. It makes me nervous.
  2. I learn a lot from both being observed and getting feedback, and also from observing other teachers. It’s really valuable to my development.

The funny thing is that it’s usually the same teacher making both these statements. Why such extremes? I’d like to share my observation experience in the hopes of shedding some light on this paradox. Then, I’d like to look at some ways we could prevent a moment like mine from happening, and the implications these suggestions could have on how we not only give feedback to teachers, but also to students.

One experience with observation

The first time my colleagues (only two of them. We were in the same graduate program, and they were also my friends.) observed my teaching, I cried uncontrollably. It was embarrassing. I even had to leave the room because I couldn’t stop! Truthfully, I hadn’t even taught the lesson. I was pretty much just telling them about the speaking lesson I had planned a few nights before.

The crying began when one of my colleagues started asking what felt like were too many Why? questions.  During the questioning, I felt overwhelmed because I was having a very hard time answering clearly and confidently. And that’s when the waterworks started. I think we were all shocked. What had happened to create such an uncomfortable moment? Needless to say, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this experience to find out what triggered me.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that I didn’t feel safe. Even though I trusted my colleagues, I felt like I was being interrogated and judged. I was already feeling insecure about my lesson, and so I interpreted these questions as a confirmation of my inadequacy.

Puzzles can shed a positive light when shared in a safe space (puzzle from Centro Espiral Mana)

How to create a safe space for post-observation feedback

Knowing this was part of the reason I had my mini breakdown, when I started training teachers, it was very important that I try to create a safe observation space. I feel so grateful to be surrounded by educators/friends who could help me do just that. When I first started teacher training, Tana Ebaugh (SIT TESOL trainer and co-founder of the Pioneer Training and Education Consortium) was my guide. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege of training under SIT TESOL trainer, Mary Scholl, at her amazing school, Centro Espiral Mana in Costa Rica, and she has also given me invaluable guidance. The suggestions I offer below on how to begin the process of giving post-observation feedback are a combination of what I learned from them.

  1. Before anything, ask how the teacher/student feels about what just happened. If you are dealing with students, you may imagine a scenario where they just did a presentation or wrote an essay. By asking them how they feel, you give them a chance to vent, and most often, a chance to tell you what you were already thinking. If I put my experience next to this, if I had had the chance to share my feelings first, I may not have felt overwhelmed by the questions and suggestions I was receiving.
  2. Once they have shared their feelings, ask them if they are ready for feedback. The power of choice here is incredible. By giving the feedback receiver the choice, you give them a sense of security and control over a situation that doesn’t feel so secure. If I could have answered this question after the experience I shared above, I probably would have said no. I just wasn’t ready. Perhaps after a few minutes, I would have been ready to move on to the suggestion I offer below.
  3. If the teacher or student is ready or feedback, you can give them the choice to listen to positives (things that went well) or puzzles (things that didn’t go so well). Again, this choice gives the feedback receiver a bit of control. By being able to choose what they want to listen to, they are more prepared for what is coming, and as a result, they may feel less defensive.

Maybe I over-reacted. Maybe I’m too sensitive. But just maybe I represent students in your classroom or teachers you will observe someday. I hope these suggestions help you create a space where observation doesn’t have to be such an overwhelming experience.



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