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Buzzwords: Mindfulness & Reflexivity

In the midst of writing my dissertation and preparing myself for the job market, I have become acutely aware of certain buzzwords in the field of English language teaching, or perhaps in the field education generally.  Mindfulness and reflexivity are characteristics that teacher educators would like other teachers to develop if they haven't already.  I decided to blog about these terms for a couple of reasons.  First, I'd like to share these institutional buzzwords with newcomers to the field.  Second, I think the meaning of these buzzwords can help bridge the research and practice gap.

I have encountered the term mindfulness in and outside the field of education.  In education, I've seen it applied to situations in which a teacher must adapt to a new teaching context (such as in my dissertation) or when a teacher needs to resolve a conflict.  Slightly outside the field of education, mindfulness is used in psychology for stress reduction.  In both cases, to be mindful means to be keenly aware of the present and taking into account the perceptions of others involved in the present moment.  In short, mindfulness is a remedy to "freaking out," which is (but should not be?) part of the dissertation process.  A quick glance into the online literature reveals that this word started in Buddhist circles and has buzzed its way into teacher education.

I have encountered the term reflexivity more than mindfulness in second language teacher education.  Borrowed from anthropology, this term refers to the teacher being aware of his or her place in relationship to students, parents, and the school, specifically on power relationships.  When I learned of this term, I thought, "Isn't this what some introverts do?"  Perhaps reflexivity is a more informed way of being self-conscious in the classroom.  In this way, reflexive practice shouldn't be confused with "anxious practice" or with the extreme "paranoid practice."

Let's not confuse reflexive practice with reflective practice, the latter of which is well documented in teacher education about reflecting on one's teaching in order to continually develop as a teacher.  If you're interested in this concept, then read The Reflective Practitioner by Donald Schon.  That said, mindfulness and reflexivity can play a huge part in reflective practice.

Reflecting right now, I realize that I may be too pedantic for some teachers.  Another reason I decided to post this blog is to help me keep in touch with my practitioner side.  Looking back at my posts, it seems that my blogs may becoming less practical.  (I write this while trying to wear my researcher hat and my practitioner hat at the same time.)  When transitioning from teacher to researcher, I remember hearing about mindfulness and reflexivity for the first time and thinking, "easier said than done."  So, in the following paragraphs, I'd like to do a little reflective practice by putting myself in the shoes of in-service teachers, pre-service teachers, and other people invested in English language teaching.  In fact, I want to make it a priority as a teacher educator to be able to communicate these terms and other pedagogical concepts without being condescending.

What I have found useful, and perhaps to some teachers as obvious, is to start with the oversimplification of a concept and working towards nuance.  On this path to nuance, I should be able to detect my audience's level of understand, and that's where I would slow down, elaborate, and make "input comprehensible."

Oversimplification (of all terms)
Awareness - English language teachers should be aware of what they are teaching, who they are teaching, and why they are teaching in the manner they are.

Simplification (through questions)
Mindfulness - How is your teaching affecting you emotionally?  Why?
Reflexivity - What is your purpose of teaching English at your school?  Do your students understand this purpose?  Should they?  Why or why not?  How does your purpose differ from your school's purpose?  Who should have the final say in what and how your students learn--you, your supervisors, or your students?  How much responsibility can you claim for your students' success and struggles?

It is my philosophy that the meaning of mindfulness and reflexivity come through discussion between teacher and learner to a point where the teacher and learner agree that their understanding is relatively the same.  If you like this philosophy, you may call it constructivism.  However, I place faith in that the teacher's meanings are backed by research (a little bit of empiricism for you positivists).

Understanding nuances
I do not claim to be an expert in the philosophies behind mindfulness, reflexivity, or reflective practice (although I claim to be well experienced in putting these terms to work).  Some experts may point out where I had missed the mark in nuances.  And this type of debate is reserved for the graduate classroom as many practicing teachers do not have the time to really get at the core of these buzzwords.  It is my understanding that the core of buzzwords is composed of the popularity that put the buzz in the words.  Discussing the rise and fall of buzzwords sounds fun to me, but I digress.

Practice-Theory Gap
This is where I'd like to address the (wide?) gap between practice and theory in education, specifically in second language teacher education.  Perhaps it is my naivete as a burgeoning researcher that I feel that teachers get lost in the researchers' debates over the nuances.  I'm aware that this may be an oversimplification of one contributor to the gap.

I argue that mindfulness and reflexivity should be practiced among all stakeholders in education.  The research informs us that teachers should.  Although I'm not in education leadership studies, I assume the same is for principals and administrators.  I would like to apply this to teacher educators, specifically myself when I become one.  In order to do this, I need to always keep in mind the practical outcomes of my research and the accessibility of these practical outcomes to the teachers.

My reflective practice as a teacher, learner, and researcher have shown me that accessibility is the key to resolving issues in the practice-theory gap.  In my early years as a teacher, I had limited access to research or experts that could help answer my inquiries.  As a researcher, I have limited access to classrooms mainly for ethical reasons.  At the moment, I am more concerned with the accessibility of experts or mentors to all practicing teachers.  We must offer them something more convenient than professional development seminars and workshops and something more reliable than generalized textbooks.  I think online professional development is just a part of the solution.  Just brainstorming, I think we must reconceptualize the network or system of pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, teacher educators, and researchers to improve accessibility, mindfulness, and reflexivity.  Thinking about and discussing these issues energize me.


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