AAAL 2023: Invited Colloquium

Positive mentoring: Thriving not merely surviving

Tammy Gregerson, Department of English, American University of Sharjah

Sarah Mercer, Department of English Language Teaching, University of Graz 

Colloquium Abstract 

Mentoring and teaching are collaborative efforts in which influential relationships are established. Lamentably, mentor/teacher feedback typically remains rooted in a deficit position emphasizing ways of fixing the mentee’s flaws; this colloquium advocates for a change in the conventional way of thinking. Positive Psychology (PP) can be defined succinctly as the scientific study of what goes right in life (Peterson, 2008). The goal of PP is to focus on thriving, concentrating on what makes people flourish. As a growing area in SLA, positive psychology is showing that conventional ways of thinking can be changed. This symposium will focus on issues related to mentoring and collaboration and how they affect teachers’ wellbeing. The opening paper by Peter MacIntyre will briefly contextualize the growth of positive psychology within applied linguistics. Studies have shown a connection between language teacher emotion and wellbeing that novice teachers experience more stress and negative emotion, and that strengths-based mentoring can enhance the success of mentor’s advice. The second paper by Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer examines mentoring among preservice teachers using appreciative inquiry as a research tool. The authors challenge mentoring based on a deficit view (what goes wrong) by creating a more a self-determined, strengths-based, positive approach (what goes right) to professional growth and change. Matilde Olivero is the author of the fourth paper and she will relate her empirical findings from her study on incorporating peacebuilding pedagogies into the practicum to enhance pre-service teachers’ inner peace. The third paper by Thomas S.C. Farrell advocates for a ‘novice-service’ approach to TESOL teacher education that addresses issues with pre-service teacher training and support during the early years of teaching. The fourth paper by Jean Marc Dewaele draws upon a metaphor of fellow travelers to link teachers and learners in shared development consistent with positive psychology theory and a holistic view of the teacher. Each presenter will speak for 20 minutes and take five minutes of questions. Our Discussant, Sarah Mercer, will wrap things up for the final 20 minutes, including audience feedback.  

Language Teachers: Strengths, Mentoring, and Wellbeing

Peter D. MacIntyre, Cape Breton University,

Abstract:  Positive psychology was established based on three pillars: studies of positive emotions, character strengths, and positive institutions (Seligman & Csíkszentmihályi, 2000). Language teacher development rests on each of these pillars, even as the profession was described pre-pandemic as being “in crisis” (Hiver & Dörnyei, 2017). This presentation highlights contributions of positive psychology to understanding language teachers and their wellbeing; supporting each of the three pillars. With respect to the first pillar, studies are showing that emotions are central to language teacher development and daily work of being a teacher (e.g., Golombek & Doran, 2014; Miller & Gkonou, 2018). Further, our own work shows that teacher wellbeing is strongly correlated with both the levels of positive emotion and the ratio of positive to negative emotions (MacIntyre et al., 2022). Further analysis shows that younger teachers experience more negative emotion and are more at risk for negative outcomes such as depression than are older teachers. Novice teachers face significant stress, but we argue that the second pillar of positive psychology, character strengths, can be used to improve the experience with teacher mentors. Using a strengths-based approach, as contrasted with remediating weakness, we have shown an enhanced fit between the mentors’ advice and the mentee’s reactions, facilitating the integration of mentor assistance into daily life as a teacher (Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2018). Finally, recent work on the third pillar, institutions. shows that interventions designed to promote teacher wellbeing are best conceptualized not simply as the outcome of individual efforts but as a collaborative outcome reflecting the fit between individual actions and the actions of the institution (Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2022). The emergence of positive psychology in applied linguistics facilitates a more holistic understanding of language teachers, showing the integrated effects of individual and institutional practice on emotions, strengths, and wellbeing.  

An appreciative-inquiry and strengths-based approach to pre-service teacher reflection

Tammy Gregersen, University of Sharjah,
Sarah Mercer, University of Graz,

Abstract:  During practicum, pre-service teachers often experience turbulence, marked by crises in identity, confidence, and sense of agency (e.g., Buchanan et al., 2013; Pietsch & Williamson, 2010; Schaefer, 2013). The mentor’s relationship and feedback define (Ambrosetti & Dekkers, 2010; Izadinia, 2015) the trust between mentors and pre-service teachers and ensures open and honest feedback. However, feedback remains typically rooted in a deficit position with emphasis squarely placed on fixing the student teacher’s flaws.

We challenged that thinking with a positive psychology informed feedback approach. Inspired by Fredricksons’s (2001) broaden-and-build theory, we focused on student teacher strengths and positive experiences during their practicum to nurture growth, be more courageous in their teaching, and feel a greater agency as empowered, confident educators. We used a reflection cycle inspired by appreciative inquiry, a self-determined, strengths-based, positive approach to professional growth and change (Hammond, 2013). First, students identified areas on which they would like feedback, thus giving them control. Second, mentor and trusted peer observed the student teacher during practicum, taking notes focusing only on the positive aspects of the student’s teaching and providing structured feedback from an appreciative perspective. Third, together (mentor, peer, student teacher), they collectively reflected on successes in co-constructive supportive dialogue and ideated on how these strengths and positive experiences could be built upon in the future. Finally, the student teacher wrote a personal reflection on the feedback discussions, their teaching experience and concrete action steps for future growth building on their strengths. 

The study, conducted with an intact group of 10 pre-service teachers and their mentor in the United Arab Emirates, lasted 10 weeks. Data consisted of the mentor’s field notes, peer observation notes, debriefing recordings, student teacher reflective journals, and three focus group interviews. Findings revealed the growth a positive reflective approach engenders in student teachers’ agency, confidence, and wellbeing.  

Emotion Regulation, Wellbeing, and Inner Peace in the Foreign Language Practicum

María Matilde Olivero, Universidad Nacional de Río Cuarto, Argentina,

Abstract:  Learning to teach a foreign language is a highly emotional and often stressful experience (Mercer & Gregersen, 2020). Aspects that can trigger unpleasant emotions and threaten pre-service teachers’ wellbeing include differences between what pre-service teachers envision and reality, insecurities related to language ability, and difficulties associated with the intercultural dimension of teaching, among others (MacIntyre, Gregersen, & Mercer, 2020). In this light, integrating peacebuilding pedagogies into the practicum to enhance inner peace seems paramount (Gkonou, Olivero, & Oxford, 2021). Inner peace refers to a state of psychological calm and contentment despite the presence of disruptors (Oxford, 2013), and can be practiced and improved. One way to build inner peace among pre-service teachers is through pedagogical interventions in the practicum (Olivero & Barbeito, 2022). Inner peace activities can help pre-service teachers increase positivity, manage unpleasant emotions, and enhance their wellbeing, thereby leading them to thrive in their practicum journey. Framed within positive psychology (Seligman & Csíkszentmihályi, 2000) and a multidimensional peace model (Oxford, 2013), this presentation reports on a study that explored a group of Argentine EFL pre-service teachers’ experiences with an intervention in the practicum aimed at helping participants self-regulate their emotions and enhance their wellbeing. The teacher educator integrated inner peace activities experientially into the practicum sessions during one semester. Data were collected before, during, and after the practicum through interviews, journal entries, and coursework activities and were subjected to thematic analysis. Major findings indicate that participants believed that the intervention a) facilitated emotion self-regulation, b) helped establish positive relationships with their peers, mentors, and students, and (c) led to having a meaningful practicum experience. The presenter addresses research and pedagogical implications for second language teacher education by highlighting the value of embracing peacebuilding approaches when mentoring, collaborating, and teaching in the practicum for promoting emotion self-regulation and wellbeing.

TESOL Teacher Education: Collaboration and Mentorship through A Novice-Service Approach  

Thomas S.C. Farrell, Applied Linguistics, Brock University,

Abstract:  ‘I love teaching, but . . .’ is a comment made some by many experienced teachers, but not necessarily out of despair with their profession, because they are still at it. However, when this statement is made by many early career TESOL teachers (1st to 5th year of teaching), the descriptions that follow the conjunction are worth a closer look, and many reveal complaints about issues such as having ‘plateaued’ and ‘stagnating’, and an overall feeling of disillusionment with teaching as a career/profession. What invariably happens is that many early career teachers have been abandoned by their teacher educators on graduation and are left to cope on their own to survive these years in a ‘sink-or-swim’ process. Indeed, even for those who do survive their first years of teaching, the ‘transition traumas’ the experience can lead to increased levels of stress and burnout that can have lasting and serious repercussions for their future commitment to the TESOL profession. In this talk I address two reasons for early career TESOL teachers experiencing difficulties transitioning for their teacher education programs to their first years of teaching (some call these ‘inconvenient truths’ e.g., Farrell, 2021): (1) courses that do not fully prepare learner TESOL teachers for a smooth transition to real classrooms, and (2) early career teachers near complete abandonment to cope these transition traumas during these important developmental years. I argue that a ‘novice-service’ approach to TESOL teacher education should overtake the sole focus on the traditional pre-service approach and teaching practice and include the first five early career years of teaching. This can be achieved when teacher educators continue to mentor and collaborate with their graduate teachers in their early career years along with school appointed mentors and colleagues so that they can not only survive these early years but thrive throughout their careers. 

A fellow traveller: How Positive Psychology can foster a holistic view of foreign language teachers

Jean-Marc Dewaele, Department of Languages, Cultures and Applied Linguistics, Birkbeck, University of London,

Abstract:  I argue that Positive Psychology (PP) allows the development of a more holistic and realistic perspective of foreign language teachers and their students.  PP originated as a reaction against the traditional negative focus of psychology. PP focusses on how “normal” people live with the goal of helping them to thrive and flourish (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).  PP researchers acknowledge the existence of difficulties, but they want to complement them with “positive” concepts. In a foreign language (FL) classroom context, it implies that learners are not just viewed as people suffering from a linguistic deficit but that they are seen as individuals developing exciting new skills and acquiring fresh knowledge at different rates and to different degrees of success.  Teachers are not all-knowing experts preaching from the height of the pulpit but language professionals with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, who are themselves developing personally and professionally, and may experience strong emotions (Gkonou, Dewaele & King, 2020).  Recent research on FL learner emotions has revealed that the teacher plays a central role in boosting enjoyment and keeping boredom at bay (Dewaele & Li, 2020; Dewaele et al., 2019). Moreover, the teacher’s less than maximal proficiency in the target language does not impede enjoyment of the class. By rejecting static categories, a healthier, more positive view emerges: teachers are also learners, and learners can be teachers. Nobody is omniscient and this humility is the foundation for progress. In such a view, the teacher is a fellow traveller, guiding the group through a process of respectful and warm collaboration and mentoring.

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