by Abdul Aziz bin Arsyad
On the 8th of July, 2021, our GD-ELT editorial member Abdul Aziz bin Arsyad has published an article entitled Of Covid-19, Persevering Teachers, and the Perpetual Loop of Virtual Connectedness. In the article, he recounted his experience of conducting online teaching during the pandemic, and offered some in-depth reflections on the issues surrounding teachers, students, schools, and the state of education in Malaysia during those very trying times.
More than six months after the publication of that very well-received article, the GD-ELT editorial team decided to revisit Aziz's experience of putting his thoughts out there. In this article, Aziz shares how the journey of publishing his story publicly has contributed towards the development of his personal practical knowledge as an educator.
Motivation and Challenges
The main motivation behind the writing of my article was the sheer frustation I felt when I was made to attend an online course introducing new technology to cope with online teaching during the pandemic in 2021. I began writing immediately after the session ended. I chose the topic because I felt it perfectly encapsulated three major things I wanted to share – the pandemic, struggling teachers and the inundation of online teaching and learning that, without properly being reflected on, could suffocate everyone, particularly teachers and students.
The biggest challenge of writing the blog post was to convince myself to be as transparent as possible with my thoughts without the fear of being politically correct, if you like. As a civil servant, there are times when we are told to restrain ourselves from saying certain things for fear of offending those in power. However, for this article, I decided to lay it all bare and I could not have felt better the day the article was eventually published on the blog.
Enhancing Personal Practical Knowledge
I certainly think that writing and publishing the article enhance my personal practical knowledge (Clandinin & Connelly, 1996; Connelly & Clandinin, 1999; Connelly et al., 1997). In terms of knowledge of self, I have become more aware about the importance of being vocal as a teacher educator, one who is responsible of educating aspiring teachers. When the article was published, quite a number of fellow teacher educators and school teachers expressed their agreement but could not find their courage to write and publish what they felt. As far as knowledge of subject matter is concerned, I have realised that putting my thoughts out there comes with the responsibility of understanding my subject matter well. For that very reason, I highlighted the experience of observing my practicum students who struggled to get students to join their English lesson online for various reasons in the article and the need for us to really stop and reflect as well as understand the reality on the grounds before pushing teachers to integrate more and more applications in their teaching.
As for knowledge of instruction, I believe this is the area I improved the most when I wrote and published the article. In retrospect, my concern about the need for us to stop and reflect is heavily on understanding teaching pedagogy and how situated the knowledge of teaching pedagogy should be and that it should therefore be understood as such. Looking back, one of the major reasons of writing and publishing that article was to remind myself and everyone concerned that teaching pedagogy, even in the midst of global health pandemic, should not be understood as one-size-fits-all solution. It should be dynamic and situated.
Lastly, as a teacher educator born, raised and now serving in one of the most economically and technologically deprived states in Malaysia, writing and publishing the article was a massive testament to the enhancement of my knowledge of contexts. In one of the major subheadings of my article, I called for the need for everyone, particularly those helming education departments to understand the reality on the grounds before relentlessly asking teachers and students to immediately adjust to virtual teaching and learning. In many parts of Borneo, teachers and students do not have sufficient access to basic needs like clean water and electricity and yet they are pressured to keep online teaching and learning going during the pandemic.
...as a teacher educator born, raised and now serving in one of the most economically and technologically deprived states in Malaysia, writing and publishing the article was a massive testament to the enhancement of my knowledge of contexts.
Narrative Inquiry as a Tool for Self-Reflective Professional Development
Using the three-dimensional narrative inquiry space (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Clandinin, 2013) as a framework has helped me to analyse my reflection with tangible structure and it has provided clarity on the aspects to focus on. The framework has also given names to my experiences and thoughts, so to speak. What I mean by that is all the three dimensions of narrative inquiry space are present in the article that I wrote and published and I find it quite surreal yet reassuring and accommodating. This shows that the framework is useful in helping me analyse my reflection as I can see very clearly how my experiences and thoughts move progressively from the years in teacher education, the early days of my career as a teacher and my current position and all the theories and practice in between and the future I imagine and hope (commonplace of temporality). Meanwhile, I am also able to notice how my writing on the blog is principally driven by my personal and social conditions (commonplace of sociality). My personal feelings, hopes and desires in relation to teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic as expressed in the article are the results of my own experiences as well as those whom I personally know, as I have mentioned before.
The article also came about as I was well aware of the social condition of my state and the deprivation that many teachers and students experience, among other things. I have also been approached by students who expressed anxiety and depression as they attempted to adjust to online learning. Lastly, the framework has also allowed me to clearly identify the places and community that situated my writing (commonplace of place). Indeed, one of the main intentions of writing and publishing my article was to highlight both the geographical and economical challenges of online teaching and learning that many Bornean students experienced on daily basis pre Covid-19 which was then later compounded by the pandemic. A place like suspension bridge that replaces classroom as students struggle to get stable connectivity as well as time and space violation brought about by online learning, if the line is not properly drawn. I have also used metaphorical places in my article including ‘unfamiliar territories’ that refers to new technologies and ‘virtual sanctuary’ that refers to social media. All these places situated the main arguments I made in my article about the importance of stopping and reflecting on the reality on the grounds, the well-being of teachers and students and the future of teacher professional development due to the pandemic.
Private versus Public Reflections
In my opinion, there are two salient differences between private reflection and public reflection. Firstly, the intended audience. Writing a private reflection such as a journal means the writer does not wish his or her piece of writing to be read by others and that the thoughts expressed in such writing are meant to be kept to himself or herself. Meanwhile, public reflection has a certain kind of audience in mind out there when the writer decides to write a piece and publish it. So publishing is a huge part of a public reflection, regardless of the medium of publication chosen by the writer. By getting it published, the writer hopes that the messages in his or her writing will reach the intended audience. Secondly is the intention. I believe that a private reflection has more intimate intentions in mind such as expressing his or her feelings and thoughts to unload and gain self-clarity. Meanwhile, a public reflection has the intention to raise consciousness over a particular issue, disrupt status quo and to initiate changes. For these to happen, publishing is a huge part of public reflection, hoping that the piece will reach and get the attention of the intended audience. Having said that, I cannot truly say which one I favour over the other as each has its own purpose. Ultimately, it depends on the intention.
Writing and publishing on the blog has been quite a powerful and liberating experience. Again, since it is a public reflection, a lot has to be taken into account while writing it so that the piece has valid, grounded arguments and the messages are clear and convincing. In order to achieve this, I need to fall on both the theories I have learnt as well as the years of experience in the field. That way, I truly believe a piece of writing can be substantial and therefore will resonate with the intended audience. By doing my part in seeking better changes (both in terms of mentality and facility in my last writing), writing on a public blog is both powerful and liberating. As for the comments and feedback I received on my last published piece, I read each of them. The fact that these people took their time to leave feedback on my writing was truly heart-warming for me so it was only right for me to see what they had to say, regardless whether the writing struck a chord with them or otherwise. In general, I believe that the comments do enhance my personal practical knowledge as an educator. I will reiterate what I have previously stated that teaching is dynamic and situated. Therefore, the comment section of public blog will allow me to see how others may experience things similarly or differently and therefore what may work and may not work in their respective contexts.
The fact that these people took their time to leave feedback on my writing was truly heart-warming for me so it was only right for me to see what they had to say, regardless whether the writing struck a chord with them or otherwise.
Suggestions for Improvement
I have two suggestions in mind in order to improve the implementation of this type of professional development. Firstly, any blog out there that has certain capacity to reach to wider audience should allow the freedom for writers to keep their thoughts and words without parts being left out in the final publication with no prior consensus. The fact that these teachers take their time to write down and share their experiences is already a cause for admiration and celebration so the owner of such a blog should as best as possible honour their words and messages the way they wish them to be read and understood. I personally was so glad when my last piece of writing was published by the Going Digital ELT Blog the way I originally intended it to be and that has motivated me to contribute more to the virtual platform. Secondly, the publication of the piece of writing should be done as soon as possible so that the issues and messages in that writing are still relevant and timely by the time it reaches the intended audience. Oftentimes writers who submit their pieces for publication even on blogs find themselves waiting for months on ends before they see their articles published, and this can be quite discouraging for them to contribute.
Published on 24 April 2022
Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey Bass.
Clandinin, D. J. (2013). Engaging in Narrative Inquiry. New York: Routledge.
Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (1996). Teachers’ Professional Knowledge Landscapes:
Teacher Stories––Stories of Teachers––School Stories––Stories of Schools. 7.
Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1999). Shaping a Professional Identity: Stories of
Educational Practice (1st edition). New York: Teachers College Press.
Connelly, F. M., Clandinin, D. J., & Ming Fang He. (1997). Teachers’ personal practical knowledge on the professional knowledge landscape. Teaching and Teacher Education, 13(7), 665–674. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0742-051X(97)00014-0
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Abdul Aziz bin Arsyad has served in the field of ELT and education in general for close to ten years. He graduated from Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) as a KPM Scholar with First Class Honours in B. Ed TESL in 2011. In 2019, he became the recipient of Chevening Scholarship, a prestigious British government scholarship co-funded by Yayasan Khazanah to further his studies in MSc in TESOL at Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom. He graduated with Distinction in 2020. He is currently the Head of English Language Unit, Language Studies Department at the Institute of Teacher Education, Tawau Campus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.