Following his popular IATEFL Webinar in August, we took the opportunity to interview Burak Aydın further into the subject of his webinar and also his personal work. IATEFL members can view the recording of his webinar, "Reflective Practice Groups: a visionary journey of professional development", in the Resources section of the IATEFL website.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
My name is Burak Aydın. I am based in İzmir, Turkey and work as an instructor of English as a part of the preparatory English program at İzmir Katip Çelebi University. What we do is basically to provide new university students with the necessary language skills for their future academic, social and professional lives through an intensive, one-year-long program. I also work as a teacher trainer, licensed by World Learning, to deliver intensive and extensive SIT TESOL certificate courses. Apart from the course, as a trainer, I also like running projects and delivering various courses and talks for language teachers. I enjoy training teachers as much as teaching students.
Could you explain the role of Reflective Practice Groups (RPGs) in ELT?
In basic terms, RPGs are regular teacher meetings to practice reflective teaching and collaborative learning. I believe RPGs play a huge role in language teachers’ professional growth as a lot of them are completely busy teaching with scarce opportunities to catch up with quality trainings or to reflect on their teaching. By bringing like-minded teachers together regularly and rigorously, RPGs actually help teachers learn from each other through socialization and reflective cycle. Given the shortcomings of one-time PD events in terms of deep insights and proactivity in trying new teaching strategies, RPGs offer a long-lasting effect for better student learning and wellbeing for teachers with its process-oriented, collaborative, reflective and teacher-centred nature.
How do RPGs differ from other teacher gatherings?
I always like discussing this. For one, RPGs are not regular school meetings. Generally, school meetings revolve around concerns about classroom issues in an effort to find quick solutions, which is surely necessary to eliminate the bumps on the road. However, RPGs are all about enhancing students’ learning with the participation of a few teachers dedicated to try new techniques in class. To that end, RPG teachers bring specific data to the table in forms
of journals, recordings, resources, surveys and observational reflections. They continuously reflect on data to create practical ideas to be taken to their future classes. They try them and bring their reflections back to the table for the next meeting. So, there is no “fix-it” approach as in school meetings but rather a process to explore new strategies.
Also, differently from other teacher gatherings, there are ground rules in RPGs set by teachers such as trust, confidentiality, equality, punctuality and so forth. These meetings are facilitated rotationally by the teachers who assume total responsibility for their collaborative learning. Finally, RPGs are not in-service training programs where learning is assessed and guided by pre-planned agendas. RPGs are totally bottom-up where topics and reflections come as emerged through the series of gatherings. In short, RPGs are different from other meetings as RPG teachers hold connected meetings, come together to grow professionally and co-build their agendas. These meetings are developmental, therapeutic and action-oriented.
Is there any limitation for RPGs in enhancing collaborative professional development?
Surely, the first one is “time”. In many studies, including the one I conducted, teachers tend to raise concerns about the challenge of finding the amount of time necessary for the endeavour. To be able to break the ice, get used to the reflective system and start to grow insights, you certainly need some time for RPGs. I see it no fewer than 10 meetings based on my experience and studies I have read. Given that a meeting generally lasts no less than 2 hours, I hear the teachers’ concerns on this one.
Also, another difficulty might be to find like-minded teachers who are open to growth and a leading coach who is capable of initiating and guiding RPGs. These groups are very special, and teachers should have a good history with each other. And, to start an RPG, you certainly need a reflective teacher or trainer who knows how to guide a group through reflective practice by preventing talks going off the track and eliminating distractions on the way. The
rotational facilitation of teachers is actually guided by how strongly the leading coach sets the tone in the very beginning.
I know that you have conducted a research on RPGs. Could you tell us about that?
Yes. It was a part of my MA dissertation, and I conducted it as an instrumental case study with five language instructors. The aim of the study was to see how teachers got engaged in RPGs and the value of the construct in terms of teachers’ professional development. I was the leading coach, and I invited the teachers to the activity. Our RPG ran for 10 meetings, and I was actively involved in the first 2 to help teachers get familiar with reflective practice,
data collection tools and the dos and don’ts of RPGs. After me, from the 3 rd meeting onwards, teachers started to facilitate the discussions rotationally and preferred to talk about motivation, use of L1 and time management. They used surveys, audio recordings, journals and research to bring data for their discussions. In this process, I only collected data and guided them when needed. Based on the results of the study, I found that teachers benefited a lot from the practice in terms of exploring their self, teaching, students and the group itself. There were certain elements leading to these explorations such as “affect” as the driving force, along with “collectivity” and “action-orientation” in interplay. We truly enjoyed being a part of that group. After the study, a couple of teachers from the group consulted me to start their own groups. It was very exciting. I am also involved in online RPGs ever since. That’s a gift that keeps on giving.
About Burak Aydın
Burak Aydın is an instructor of English and a licensed teacher trainer for SIT TESOL Certificate Course. He teaches in a tertiary level preparatory English program and is also involved in mentoring and supervising language teachers. In the field of teacher training, he has been conducting research, facilitating courses and presenting talks and workshops.
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