The teacher as learner and reflector is a magical and fulfilling role. It involves a scientific perspective with respect to problem solving and an artistic sense of creativity and sensitivity. It has been difficult for many teachers because:
It presumes a certain humility - the ability to admit that current practice can be improved -which comes from a sense of security, personal peace and a desire to grow and change
Learning and reflecting are individualized skills which are not easily quantified or taught
Many bright people think intuitively and have not been taught to question their insights nor given skills to reflect in different ways
There is a great deal of complexity involved in teaching and it is difficult to separate variables for intense study
Deliberating on current practice occurs best when time is intentionally set aside for that purpose, something which harried teachers may not choose Reflection works best when tied to a basic philosophy about human nature and the purpose of education, something which many teachers have not formalized
There is a subtle undercurrent which whispers that novice teachers cannot be expected to review the nuances of their teaching performances and that more experienced teachers donât want to if it will require change
Teacher as Learner and Reflector
When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." "The question is, said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." ---- Lewis Carroll
Linda chuckled to herself as she read the old journal entry from her first year of teaching. "I have finally arrived. No wonder I like teaching so much. Iâm good at it. Why today I've only had one student go to the office and Iâm writing in this journal now because every student is seated and doing their assignments."
"How did I even survive those days," she thought. "There I was writing in my journal and I hadn't even talked with half the students in the class. Not only that, but I was so naive I thought they were working productively because they were quiet. It must have been my third year of teaching before I began to succeed enough to begin looking at my students as individuals and realizing that teaching was more than "telling a lesson" giving tests and keeping the peace.
Linda completed the last essay on her "teacher of the Year" packet. She was delighted that she had been nominated, and she was certainly putting in plenty of time getting the materials prepared for the competition. As she sealed the envelope she asked herself about the teachers around her. Were any of them worthy to be nominated for the honor? As her thought went from classroom to classroom she began to tally up the strengths of the other teachers in the building. Yes, she still had a lot to learn. Nearly every teacher had strengths she admired and hoped to include in her classroom in the future. "Well, Iâve come a long way in five yearsâ" she thought. "Who knows how I will be reviewing my teaching journal as I look back five years from now?"
A commitment to reflection should include a consistent time and place
Reflection will be more effective if it is viewed as an active role, a prerogative for dynamic change rather than as a passive experience
Good teaching is a continuous process rather than a static happening, so even the best practice of today can be exulted about - and then improved
Lessons can be thought about with respect to effectiveness, personal performance and overall competence
Reflection demands a second person perspective, so observation of teacher behaviors is only one component; student reaction, interaction and performance are crucial factors as well
Viewing self-as-teacher is the doing component in reflection and must be balanced with the being component, personhood which includes needs, goals, and feeling of confidence and control
Reflection is not identical with judging; tolerance and avenues for improvement are the watchword rather than a tendency to "telling off" or "fixing up"
Reflection ultimately enhances effectiveness and improves sense of self; when the reverse is occurring, reflection is not the process being used
Typical areas for reflection might include:
scripts of teaching
need for creativity communications
need for flexibility observations
need for support
Steps to enhance a practice of reflective teaching
Assess commitment to reflect and the desire to participate in genuine reflection, and then implement
Frame reflection as a needs assessment and self-monitoring process which addresses both satisfaction and effectiveness
Work to explicate and consider belief systems, current practice with best practice, best ways to compliment current knowledge about teaching
Choose a specific time for reflection when energy is at a high level
Find a trustworthy cohort or mentor as a sounding board and share insights
Set up specific rules or practices for sharing, for exchanging potentially painful insights, for maintaining confidentiality, for energizing, for learning new methods
Recording progress is helpful for most teachers - such as a journal
Develop insights with protocols or observation sheets - - the creation of those recording devises may be as meaningful as utilization
Use student comments as a source of feed-back about the learning environment
Sample of Reflection Questions:
Is there a perfect teaching personality?
Did learning take place? What was actually learned?
Did the teaching role I chose enhance material presentation?
What promoted learning and what got in the way?
How much of the time did the teacher talk? the students? to whom?
Were my behaviors consonant with my belief system?
Would students say I was equitable, that I like them, that I value what I present?
What do I do that increases both learner satisfaction and achievement?
Does a student learn by reinventing the concepts for self or by accumulating facts?
What characteristics do master teachers seem to have in common?
Sample of guidelines when reflection is a group process:
Reflection is directed toward self
When requested, criticism, no matter how constructive, is to be offered only about initiated points of concern
Criticism is be directed toward illuminating principles rather than focusing on a specific behavior or a specific personality
Each member p participates fully and actively in practice and in discussion
Membership in groups should be rotated during the year
Reflection sessions are not to be led by administrators or used in any way to determine tenure or worthiness to teach
Sample of ethical guidelines for reflection as a group process:
Reflections are private and that privacy is to be honored by group members
Teacher reflections may not be used as weapons to fire or remove teachers from the district
Group meetings are confidential and may not be shared outside of the group without written permission
Video materials are to be held in confidence and may not be viewed by others without written permission
Teachers may not be required to participate in reflective sessions
When teaching practices are seen as a potential damage to others the teacher must be given that information by group process.
No teacher may be required to continue with the reflective practices against personal wishes
General steps in helping students become reflective
Give students time to meditate and reflect
Study nature with an eye to interconnections
Ask questions which go beyond yes or no answers and which call for depth of thinking beyond knowledge or comprehension
Allow time when questioning, to get students to think beyond superficial answers
Use drama and role playing to involve students in reflection and second person perspectives
Pair students to allow comments about information as it is being shared, and format the day in such a way that there are many opportunities through the lesson when students share ideas or answers with each other, with a group, and then with the class as a whole
Use the fine arts, music, art, theater, to involve students in introspective and reflective time and to establish the habit and methods for fully utilizing the fine arts for this purpose
Encourage, honor and validate use of journaling and story writing
Read and study excerpts of great literature and age appropriate writing to enhance reflection
A hallmark of this approach to teaching is a recognition of the importance of empowering students to become deeply involved in learn, to take personal responsibility for the role of learner, of thinker.
A New Educational Imperative
If there were one way of describing the paradigm of the past, it would be easiest to see it as a mechanism for training humanity, for training students.
It is neither easy to see it as an education nor as the passing on of a discipline. It is imperative that the first days of education begin the process of putting the child in the middle of the action, in the forefront of responsibility along with training the child to learn. Education is the setting up of a systemic approach which keeps moving more and more of the responsibility, the thinking, the planning, to the realm of student. The more powerful the model, the more self sufficient the students; the greater the distance from decision making, evaluating, taking responsibility, the more the model is a replica of training rather than educating. Learner / reflector belongs to the role of teacher, and to the role of student - student who is participating in education.
The role of reflection in teaching is pervasive. However, it is most closely aligned with connection power. Connection power is built through loyalty to the educational system and role as well as to peers and administrators who work within the system. A part of connection power is inherent in seeing teaching as a profession rather than viewing oneself as an employee. The following chart describes the distinctions in professional or employee perception, (Adapted from Corwin, 1965).