Teacher educator self-awareness: What is it? Why is it important? And how can we develop it?
Most of us seem to have a pretty strong, inbuilt sense of ‘other-awareness’! We tend to notice which of our friends is habitually late for get-togethers, which colleague always starts her explanations with, ‘Well, basically…’ and which family member tends to get riled when teased too hard. We notice these things. We register them, sometimes subliminally, sometimes much more consciously.
But what about our ‘self-awareness’, that clear perception, that conscious knowledge of our own personality or character? Do we know our own tendencies in speech and action, our own strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, assumptions, motivation, strategies and emotions? Perhaps less so!
Why could increasing our self-awareness be important in our work?
As teacher trainers, teacher educators, or mentors of school and university teachers, we work with people, either face to face, one to one, in groups, or virtually via distance learning and new technology. We try to help those we work with to learn and to develop in ways that they or their institutions think are important. So, what we do is ‘people work’. We do need our other-awareness for this sort of work, it is true. We need to be able to notice who is participating, who looks uncomfortable, who is dominating the discussion, who usually saves the day with a succinct and apt comment, who is the peacemaker in a group.
But we also need to be able to understand our own thoughts, assumptions, attitudes and actions to make sure we too are learning and that our training interventions are constructive. We need, in so far as it is possible, to have an understanding of how our training style and manner are perceived by others. Are we doing or saying things that work against our intention and our role? Does our behaviour make us seem impatient or cold, authoritarian or too laissez-faire? If we have some self-awareness, we can begin to notice these things and so create an opportunity to make changes in the types of speech and behavior that are unhelpful to us and to those we work with. With self-awareness, we can, if necessary, start to alter our preconceptions and our interpretations of the situations and work relationships we are in. Until we are aware of our own tendencies, we will have difficulty making sense of other people’s reactions to us and great difficulty in changing what we need or want to change in order to become more effective in our work and more resilient if things go wrong.
How can we get better at this?
How can we develop our self-awareness? This series of articles will comment on features of self-awareness such as openness, conscientiousness, interactivity, empathy, and resilience, features we can work on. But here I will mention two ideas to get us started.
Idea one: checking in
We can do this activity (adapted from Perry, 2012) once a day for starters, whether at the bus stop, during coffee break, while in the bath or while waiting for our rice to cook. We can do it for a full minute to start with and then gradually increase the length of time and the number of times a day we do it.
I turn my attention to myself and consider the following questions: What am I doing at the moment? What am I thinking about? What am I feeling? How am I breathing? Can I be aware of my next five in-breaths and out-breaths? And then, …what do I want for myself and for others in this next new moment?
When we have the answers to the questions above, we take them as information. We are simply learning to self-observe, to tune in and discover how we are thinking and feeling at any one moment. There is no right or wrong in this. We are simply taking our own temperature. Noticing simply what IS at the moment. When we are practiced at taking a moment to self-observe in this way, it enables us to do several things. It gives us time to rearrange our feelings and attitudes. We gain a split-second pause to think before interacting with, or reacting to, other people and events. Instead of just speaking and acting fast and perhaps unwisely, we gain a little time to consider what mood and attitude we are acting and reacting from. We gain time to consider a wiser, more constructive intervention or action than we might otherwise have come up with.
Idea two: writing things down
Giving ourselves time to write is another way of practicing self-awareness. We can write about all kinds of things including what we think our strengths and weaknesses are, what we are thinking about and feeling at the time of writing, and about challenges in our work. We can list the things we are grateful for. We can record our memories and dreams. Without bothering to correct our spelling, grammar or punctuation, without trying to achieve artistic prose, we write just for ourselves. In a private journal, we can express ourselves freely and thus process our actions and reactions. Then comes the reading back, the same day, another day, or another week. We may then note patterns of feelings or behaviour and get to know ourselves better.
We often think, ‘I haven’t got time to self-observe. I am a busy person. I have teachers to observe, reports to write, kids to pick up from school, meetings to attend.’ Yet, in any busy life, there are little moments of space, little gaps. When the computer is slow to boot up, when the traffic lights are red, when we are waiting for the kettle to boil, when a friend is late, instead of getting irritated at being made to wait, we can use that time to self-observe, calm down and learn something. And we can label it ‘Self-awareness training’. That way, we won’t feel we are wasting time.
A: Oh! Sorry I’m late! Have you been waiting long?
B: No, I haven’t been waiting at all. I was doing some self-awareness training.
A: Oh! What’s that?
‘How to Stay Sane’ by Philippa Perry (2012) Macmillan
About the author
Tessa Woodward is an ELT consultant, teacher, and teacher trainer. She has trained teachers in Japan, Switzerland, the UK, USA, and in many European countries. She is the founder editor of The Teacher Trainer journal (Pilgrims), Past President and International Ambassador of IATEFL and founded the IATEFL Special Interest Group for Teacher Trainers (now the SIG T Ed/TT). She is the author of many books and articles for language teachers and teacher trainers. Tessa is also the founder of The Fair List.
The other articles in this series discuss ways for teacher educators to develop: