June was a particularly hot month in 2006. The two of us were attending a wonderfully challenging mentors’ course and we were paired up for an activity. We just clicked. While designing the activity and sweating profusely, we discovered that we had enough common points to allow us to feel comfortable with each other and we were (and 11 years later still are) different enough to complete each other’s teaching styles.
From that moment on, we have had parallel careers: we taught in the same school for a few years, we became teacher educators and then online moderators at the same time. For the last 8 years, we have worked with thousands of teachers around the globe in online or blended projects. Some of these projects include both of us and then we receive many emails that start with ‘Dear both’ as if we were making up one entity. There are also projects in which we work alone or with other moderators and teacher educators.
Whenever we work together, either face-to-face or online, we have a quick session of reflection immediately after the work is done. One of us is quite critical while the other is rather enthusiastic so by sharing our first impressions we reach a realistic conclusion. Then we let the whole experience sink in for a while and we repeat the reflection sometimes with surprising results. We find it useful to go through a reflective cycle which includes several stages as seen below:
You might wonder where we start the reflective cycle. Sometimes we start from describing what happened in the course or workshop, other times from our feelings. There is no compulsory starting point, but we do like going through all the stages. It took us longer at first but given that reflection is a skill and it can be trained, the more you go through the cycle, the easier it becomes. We have reached a point where we are comfortable enough to rush through some stages when we both see eye to eye, and we spend a bit longer on other stages when we feel it is necessary or we have different perspectives.
Why are we telling you this? Because among our readers there might be people who feel reflection is a process you have to go through alone. A very private process. While this is true, if you find the right person to reflect with, there are great benefits from reflecting together: you can motivate each other, you gain different perspectives, you go out of your comfort zone. Most of us are too critical with ourselves and few of us are very pleased with our own work. A reflecting buddy can bring some balance and keep us realistic.
If you find it difficult to reflect with somebody you work with as you feel too vulnerable doing that, no problem. The reflective process we described above has been working so well for us that we want to reap its benefits even when we do not work together. At the beginning of this year, we decided to reflect together even when we do not work on the same projects. We explored some possible reflective tools that might come handy in this situation and we chose blind observations. The blind observation is a reflective tool similar to peer observation without the observer being present during the training or the lesson. When one of us starts a new project, we have a chat, either face-to-face or online, and the observee chooses an area of focus whilst the observer helps define it by asking questions. During the project, the observee acts as if the observer were there, present in the room or in the online course. The observee strives to be very attentive and to pick up on any relevant signs from the learners or participants, takes notes soon after the lesson or training session or keeps a reflective diary and shares recordings whenever possible. When we deliver online courses, we have live sessions in which we connect with the participants from all over the world. These live sessions are always recorded for the benefit of those who could not attend them, so we share the recordings with the observer as well. Once the project or course is over, we meet and go through the reflective cycle. The observee presents how things went from her perspective and the observer can help by guiding the reflection or by emphasizing some aspects that the observee consciously or unconsciously gives away.
It has been working well so far and writing this article helped us identify the reasons. The ones that came to our mind are: the observee becomes more aware of what is happening in the course/lesson, there is no pressure on the teacher educator or the course participants, so their behaviour is natural. It has benefits for both partners in the process because we take turns being the observee and the observer and it is still a very personal and confidential reflective process. But the reason that seems the most important to us is the fact that we found the right person to do this peer reflection with. An Estonian teacher came to us after a workshop we delivered together and put our thoughts into the right words: ‘You have really found each other!’
How to choose the right person to work and reflect with could be the topic for another article or even a book. We are decided to take advantage of our friendship and our professional collaboration, to motivate each other and to explore new ways in which we can develop as teacher educators and as people, as professional development is truly successful if it is doubled by personal development.
Teodora Naiba and Cristiana Osan-traineri, formarea profesorilor și a formatorilor
Foto credit: pixabay și arhivă personală