How to Broaden Perspectives Through Intentional Reflective Dialogue

Hülya Şen, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey

Şen, H. (2018). How to broaden perspectives through intentional reflective dialogue. Relay Journal, 1(2), 310-316.

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The face-to-face mentoring session described in this paper took place on 20th June, 2018 at the School of Foreign Languages of METU in Turkey, as part of my final assignment to Course 4: Advisor Education of Learning Advisor Training Program.

The primary aim of the session was to guide a learning advisor into a deeper reflection through the use of advising strategies, tools and the three principles of advising. The session was held with a colleague of mine named M who had volunteered to take part in the session, which lasted about 50 minutes. M is an experienced colleague of mine in the field of English Language Education and works at a state university in Ankara, Turkey as a director and English instructor. He has attended the same Learning Advisor Training Program with me provided by Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS) in Japan, has been conducting both face-to-face and written advising sessions for the last 6 months and has an interest in special education.

The session was held in order to practice the process of intentional reflective dialogue (Kato & Mynard, 2016) and find out the real challenges my peer experiences both as an advisor and a director. One of the most challenging parts of the session was to initiate the talk with a person who is already familiar with the practice of advising, the flow of a typical advising session as well as advising strategies we make use of to initiate the dialogue. Once failing to initiate the talk with questions like; “Is there anything you want to talk about?”,  I decided to relate to his emotions to create a relaxed atmosphere and to support further reflection, I asked him how he feels and then describe his feelings through the use of a metaphor as use of metaphors brings more clarity to our ideas and feelings. It was the introductory part of the session where I concentrated on five basic advising strategies, especially repeating, summarizing and complimenting to have my peer feel comfortable, develop rapport and let him experience the state of being listened to (Kato & Mynard, 2016).

In order to deepen M’s self-reflective processes, I mostly used powerful questions as well as metaphors, my intuition, challenged my peer and tried to link his current practices with his future visions. Please refer to Appendix A for the excerpt from the transcript of my advising session with M illustrating the use of asking powerful questions to widen his perspective.

While supporting my peer to reflect on his ideas both as an advisor and a director, I tried to observe his utterances as well as non-verbal messages and shifts in mood. For example, I focused on the repeated words which might be related to his values or concerns. He was using the word “systematic” repeatedly and I asked him to clarify what he meant by systematic. Furthermore, he showed excitement while he was talking about his team and I shared my experience with him, which caused him to highlight their positive aspects and how privileged he felt to work with them.

Throughout the session, I tried to summarize what he said briefly to help us stay focused, which also made him feel the state of being listened to. However, due to the pressure of carrying out an advising session with an experienced colleague of mine, I felt pre-occupied with the idea of asking the right question to support deeper reflection at the initial stage of the session. Once I realized that, I tried to give my full attention to my peer, including everything I could observe, what I could see and feel. This kind of listening is called as “global listening” which is also one of the key principles of advising: It’s not about you; it is all about the advisee (Kato & Mynard, 2016).

After identifying the issue which was mainly about establishing a more systematic approach to decide how to identify the students in need of advising and training the teachers in the institution, I decided to dwell on M’s issue as if it belonged to me by using the tool reflecting on your best-self (Kato & Mynard, 2016, p. 233-234). In order for my peer to have a deeper reflection and to develop professionally, I asked him to reflect on his best-self because focusing on positive emotions would be a driving force for him to solve the issue related to establishing a more systematic approach for advising in his institution accompanied by his best-self more efficiently.

There is mounting evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of positive psychology intervention. According to Fredrickson (2008), focusing on positive emotions broadens people’s perspective and opens new possibilities for them. Based on Seligman’s authentic happiness theory, participants are required to identify character strengths that define themselves and the tool is called identifying signature strengths (2005). There are other tools used in this theory such as focusing on three good things happening each day or writing about a time when the participant is at his or her best to reflect on the signature strengths. In this session with M, the best-self tool was used in which the advisee reflects on his or her “best-self” which is based on his or her actual achievements (Kato & Mynard, 2016, p. 233-234).

I asked M to reflect on his past and choose a moment when he thinks he was at his best in his life up to now. In order to help him use his five senses to bring the image closer, I asked the following questions to him. He mainly focused on positive emotions such as being motivated, persuasive and conveying his message across effectively while describing his best-self. It was the moment when he took an oral exam in his PhD program in order to be qualified before writing his dissertation. Next, when I asked him to talk about his strengths in general, he referred to the best-self moment and came up with the same qualities he adopted during the oral exam. This experience showed me that the best-self activity became a driving force for him to lift his mood that might open new possibilities for him to broaden his perspective or solve problems more efficiently.

As a next step, I asked him to label his strengths by choosing a word or a phrase. He defined his strengths as sincerity and communicating his message effectively. At that moment, I told him that we would switch roles in which I would talk about a problem of mine and M would bring some suggestions to solve it. The purpose of this technique was to enable him to see the issue from a different perspective. When he looked at the issue from a different angle, he would see things differently, and notice things he did not identify before and come up with better solutions. In fact, M was supposed to solve his own problem he stated at the beginning of the session, with his best-self as a driving power. Since the strength vocabulary he chose was very relevant to the context, I used them as a transition to the next step. Please refer to Appendix B for the excerpt from the transcript of my mentoring session with M illustrating the use of best-self activity to widen his perspective.

At the end of the session, I asked M to reflect on the session by referring to his feelings and thoughts about this activity. He stated that the ideas he came up with as a solution to my problem were not completely new ideas as he had been considering similar steps in his context for some time but constructing strength vocabulary after thinking about his best-self enabled him to have a deeper reflection. He also added that this experience gave him a fresh perspective. One of the reasons why we had a thought-provoking session must be due to our balance in terms of experience and age. Kassau and King (2015) state that partnering mentors and mentees of similar experience prevents imbalances in power and promotes professional development.

Conclusion

For the session I conducted with M in order to research how to broaden his perspective through deeper reflection, I needed to have intensive preparation prior to the session and the session itself was so intense for me that I also experienced a kind of transformation and by playing the role of an advisor educator, I experienced  mutual growth as well as inspiration and self-confidence. I believe that I managed to take my advising skills and strategies one step forward.

This mentoring session was nothing like the knowledge transfer I mostly did in my previous sessions with learners where I simply provided learning tips, but more like helping my peer to reflect on himself as an educator. I have been transformed into an advisor who can support her peer to reflect critically and have a higher awareness through intentional reflective dialogue.

Notes on the Contributor

Hülya ŞEN, holding an M.A. in English Language Teaching on Language Learning Strategies from the Middle East Technical University, Turkey, works as an English instructor and a learning advisor at Middle East Technical University School of Foreign Languages in Ankara, Turkey. Her interests include language learning strategies, learner autonomy and advising in language learning. husen@metu.edu.tr

References

Fredrickson, B. (2008). Promoting positive affect. M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.),The science of subjective well-being (pp. 449-468). New York, NY

Kassau, S.P. & King, E.T. (2014). Peer mentoring second language teachers: A mutually beneficial experience? Foreign Language Annals, 48(1), 143-160

Kato, S. & Mynard, J. (2016). Reflective dialogue: Advising in language learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Seligman, M. A., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Emprical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.60.5.410

Seligman, M. E. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Appendices

Appendix A

Mentor: Are you happy with what you are doing now both as an advisor and a director? (Powerful question)

M: Yes, I am happy. I am trying to learn leadership and my way of doing this is letting other people become leaders, realize their dreams and giving them opportunities to do that. There are already some people who step up and they want to take responsibility.

Mentor: What value do you see in what you are doing right now? (Powerful Questions)

M: Err, what will make people satisfied maybe by serving the others, helping create a system in which they will have pride. They will say I was a part of the creation of this system and it benefits everyone, not only a few people or myself only.

Mentor: Why is this important to you? (Powerful Question)

M: I question my purpose in life, which is being a person who knows his limits, who is in balance within himself maybe reaching an equilibrium in his mind but in order to do that one should try new things which will benefit the others so we as people have a responsibility to create a better society and everybody in this position should try to do his or her best, I believe as a language teacher, I should try to be a member of such teams who are willing to do so. If I am given the opportunity, I can try to inspire myself and get inspiration from others. This is the way I believe makes me satisfied.

Mentor: You said you need inspiration too to benefit the others.  (Restating) Do you have a specific idea about what to do benefit others? (Powerful question)

M: Yes, it is advising program what we are doing, The main question in advising is how we can help the ones who are left behind, who are below the standards, who were disadvantaged in terms of getting the opportunities for education. Mainly the starting point for the ones who are disadvantaged is related to not having qualified teachers to teach them English, to teach them how to become autonomous learners, so what we need to do now is to establish a very good system of advising and develop tools to develop our advising program. We have more than a thousand of students in our school. Advising program needs more analytical thinking right now.  We need a systematic approach to decide how to identify the students in need of advising in the first place. We need to train our teachers, too.

Appendix B

Mentor: As you defined your strengths as being sincere and conveying your message across effectively, I want to hear about your idea about an issue. I am facing a problem as an advisor. I am supposed to introduce advising as a concept at my institution at the beginning of the next academic year and I have the full responsibility to start an advising program for the first time at METU and I have some concerns about this. Do you have any suggestions? (I made the issue similar to M’s problem he stated during the IRD process but adapted it to my own setting in order not to make it too obvious.) Restating & Metaview)

M: First of all, you should definitely decide on the steps of the things you want to apply at school: Step 1, step 2, step 3, step 4 but before that you need to clearly specify your goal to the instructors and you should try to make them believe that this will relieve the burden on the shoulder of every instructors and try to help them all.

Mentor: Specifying my goals, deciding on each step and convincing the instructors that advising will help them in the long term. You are right. I think this is what I should start with. What about student orientation and deciding on which students need advising more? (Summarizing)

M: Students can receive advising orientation in their native language and then classroom instructors may be provided with a kind of guideline to identify such students who may need advising and teachers can guide such students to advising. You need to think about the details of the instructor booklet or guidelines.

Mentor: These are to the point, effective solutions. I really appreciate your help. Do you think they are also relevant to your context? You mentioned a more analytical thinking and a systematic approach to decide how to identify the students in need of advising. You also talked about training the teachers, too. (Complimenting & Restating)

M: You’re right. Our problems are more or less similar. I have been thinking about these things for some time…

2 thoughts on “How to Broaden Perspectives Through Intentional Reflective Dialogue”

  1. Hello Hülya,

    As an advisor at Kanda University where you received your training, I would like to thank you for exploring your advising session in this paper. It is very helpful to share such stories and learn from each other. It has made me think of my own advising, something we should constantly be doing.

    In this paper, you reflect on an advising session with your peer who experienced the same training as you. There is certainly more pressure with a colleague than a session with a student, and it shows with the failed initial question and being pre-occupied with asking the “right” questions. You were able to move beyond this by using the tools and techniques you had learned, and proved you have learned to be a knowledgeable, resourceful, and observant advisor.

    The paper moves from stage to stage, like a real advising session. You found discussing emotion as the first step towards discovering your colleague’s concerns, and quickly used advising strategies like repeating and powerful questions, and then the tool to reflect on his best-self. By focusing on positive emotions, you could use a time he felt his best to approach his current issue.

    You used this to define himself, and then asked to switch roles for him to discuss his issues through you. I had never done this before. I have read of changing perspectives, but not quite like this. Had you read this somewhere or experienced it yourself? I would like to know more about this transition and would like to possibly use it in a future session myself.

    FInally, you point out that this experience has made you a better advisor. By pushing your peer to reflect deeper, you in turn also reflected deeper. While it is, as you state, useful for supporting peers, I wonder if this experience has altered your perceptions for advising sessions with students. While at times it can be knowledge transfer to students, I would imagine that by using these same techniques and tools with them, they may similarly reflect deeper and create their own solutions.

    Also to add, it may be a website issue, but the appendixes are not included here. I would like to read the exchanges to better understand your powerful questions and the perspective switching.

    Thank you again for sharing.

  2. Dear Robert,
    Thank you very much for taking the time to read and respond to my paper. It has helped me a lot to look at the issue from another perspective . Your comments and questions have been very helpful for getting me to think about how to improve the paper in terms of transformation in advising.
    In terms of changing perspectives during the actual advising session, the book, “Reflective Dialogue” by Satoko Kato and Jo Mynard inspired me to complement the best-self activity with a follow-up task in which the interviewer takes the role of an advisee and explains that he or she has a problem as an advisor and asks the peer advisor to comment on the issue. While doing that, it is necessary to make the problem similar to what the peer advisor has identified as a problem in the first place without making it too obvious. When you shift the roles, the advisee solves his or her problem with a different and wider perspective. For further details, you can refer to Training and Development exercises, part 7: Reflecting on your Best-self, page. 233-234.
    Thank you for bringing up the point of how effective has this particular session been in terms of alteration in perspective in advising sessions with students. To be honest, that is an issue that I have been concerned about for some time. As a novice advisor in language learning, I have been doing about 15 advising sessions per week for the last 6 weeks with the new academic year and the focus of most of the sessions is mainly about giving advice to learners as a problem-solving strategy in training. Although I try hard to challenge learners’existing beliefs and encourage deeper critical reflection, it is hard to promote transformation in the nature of learning and it requires a a number of subsequent sessions to talk about a fundamental change. However, when it comes to the session that has become the content of this paper, we, the advisor and the advisee, managed to experience the shift in our mindset in a single session, which is mainly about the level of readiness and competence I believe. We discussed ideas instead of strategies during the session and it led to mutual depth of reflection for both parties. The degree of change depends on the level of the learner and I really hope to achieve such a transformation with my students as well but the depth of the awareness will increase as the students move along the advising sessions.
    When it comes to the appendices of the actual session, I will ask the editors whether it would be possible to add the related section to the paper or I can send the appendices part directly to you.
    Thanks again for reviewing my paper. I am so glad that you found it helpful for making you think of your own advising sessions. I really believe that sharing such experiences really empowers us and enables us to review our approaches as advisors in language teaching.
    Kindest regards,
    Hülya ŞEN

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