Reflection is an important aspect of being an effective educator.
Wow. That statement probably isn’t going to raise many eyebrows or create much discussion. In fact, many of you are probably making comments about this post not being rocket science, or the author being “master of the obvious.” Of course reflection is an important part of the educational process. We all know that. Duh.
My issue isn’t so much about raising an awareness of the importance of reflection in the teaching process (I believe that already exists), but ensuring that our methods of reflection involve meaningful peer discussion and result in appropriate instructional improvements.
Too often reflection has been a relatively isolated process. Either a single educator reviewing classroom data and student work, or at best, small group discussions within the confines of the school walls. In many cases, the process is well intentioned, but lacks rigor. There is a lot of positive feedback and affirmation, with relatively little dialogue to challenge and stretch our thinking. Educators live in a world of nice. We teach respect and tolerance. We mediate situations of conflict. We search for common ground. So, it is only natural that when it comes to critiquing a colleagues work, we often have a difficult time expressing disagreement or suggesting alternative approaches.
I was recently referred to an article in the June 2011 issue of Learning Forward’s journal, entitled When Nice Won’t Suffice: Honest discourse is key to shifting school culture. In the article, the author, Elisa MacDonald states that in order for meaningful reflection to take place,
Teachers must be willing to expose their struggles and failures with their colleagues, and colleagues must be willing to tell the truth, or teams will go through the motions of collaborative inquiry but never see results.
School leaders must work very hard to ensure that an environment is established in which teachers are comfortable sharing challenges. This is necessary in order to move beyond the “culture of nice” and encourage reflective practice that truly results in meaningful instructional improvement. True reflection is not an easy process. Sometimes we don’t like what we see. But, as soon as we are satisfied with where we are, we begin to fall behind, and our students suffer.
In her article, MacDonald goes on to suggest that establishing “living” norms is a critical process in the development of a safe environment. She lists several examples:
- Invite others to question your assumptions, beliefs and actions;
- Go beyond the surface;
- Respectfully challenge viewpoints;
- Agree to disagree without being disagreeable; or
- Zoom into the real issue.
School leaders must be open and upfront about the purpose of reflection and they must allow time for teachers to establish protocol and have meaningful discussions related to student instruction. MacDonald writes that “effective instructional teacher leadership depends on facilitating norms that open classroom doors, deprivatize practice and foster instructional improvement.”
Technology has opened new doors to the art of instructional reflection. There is no need for collaboration to be confined within school walls. In fact, regular interaction with educators in other schools, and even other parts of the world, exposes us to a wide-variety of perspectives–something that is healthy for any educational environment. Tools such as blogs and social media give us a much wider audience and allow us to exposure to new ideas that would never come to light if reflection remains an isolated practice.
- Ongoing and thoughtful reflection–in combination with appropriate instructional modification–is absolutely essential to student learning.
- Reflective practice is not easy. We have to move beyond the “culture of nice” and be willing to share our failures and seek the advice of colleagues if our efforts at reflection are going to be effective.
- Reflective practices should be embedded in daily routines and educators should have regular opportunities for meaningful dialogue related to student work and classroom instruction.
- We need to take advantage of a much broader audience (i.e. PLN, blogging, Twitter, #edchat) to maximize opportunities to stretch our thinking with regard to educational practices and look at things from a different perspective.
Reflective thinking turns experience into insight. ~ John Maxwell