I was so blessed to spend this past week with administrators and teachers in the Chicago area who truly care about teaching and learning. As most of you know, I don't complain much about the work I do. Okay, maybe I get a little frustrated when there is a flight delay. Maybe I even get a little sad when I am away from home and don't get to see Dave, Rudy, and Kirby for awhile, But passion for the most important work of improving teaching and learning never wanes. In fact, to be quite honest, I feel even stronger about helping teachers and administrators grow in their practice than ever before.
I'm about to enter my mid-50s, and I suppose that is making me reflect on my own life and what I have done in my own career. After being a special education teacher for several years, a school counselor for many years, a principal for 7 years, then now an educational consultant and professor for loads of classes and students, my professional life could not have been better. I am so very grateful for the trajectory I have been blessed to take over these years and for all the people I have met and worked with!
What is it about reflection that is so vital? Below are my reflections on reflection.
I have had students in the courses I teach reflect on their learning, and I am always so satisfied when I hear them say things like, "I never realized before......but now I truly believe...." The same holds true with workshop participants. When I hear, "I always thought I was good at working with my teachers before, but now I see so many ways to improve my practice", I feel like dancing on air. We watched eight teachers this week. In a couple of classes, we heard students say things like, "Oh! I get it now!" or "Thanks. That makes sense" (the last one was a student to student ah-ah). We also heard a teacher say, "I want the students to summarize their learning at the end of every lesson, but running out of time is the story of my life." We brainstormed ways to NOT run out time, as we agreed that reflection ties up the learning with a nice bow.
Getting constructive feedback can be hard, but is it worthwhile? Most teachers say it is an incredibly worthwhile process if they, themselves, can be the ones to come to the ah-ha moment versus being TOLD what to do. Consider the following scenario:
Supervisor: Did you notice the three students at the back of the room texting?
Teacher: No, but I have been working with them on not doing that and they don't seem to care.
Supervisor: You need to have a basket at the front of the room where they all put their cell phones when they come in the classroom
Teacher: Okay. I'll do that.
Who did all the work and the thinking? The supervisor, of course. Now consider this scenario:
Supervisor: As you reflected on the beginning of the lesson, what patterns did you notice?
Teacher: Well, first of all, I noticed that I do most of the talking for students. I relay the content for the day, and I continue to reiterate the expectations for them about what they are going to do during the lesson.
Supervisor: What might be some ways students could play a role in that?
Teacher: Well, seeing the notes you took really made me think about how much thinking I do for the students. Even sometimes when I ask questions, if I don't immediately get a response, I just answer the question for them. I want to get better at ensuring they "get" the purpose of the lesson.
Supervisor: Some ways that students can take ownership might be to jot down on a post-it note their own personal summary of what they think the lesson will be about. Another might be to have the students turn to each other and tell their partners what they heard you say about the directions. Another idea is to randomly call on a few students to ensure you have a sampling of what they think they will be learning. Which of those might work with your style?
Teacher (writes down on a pad two of the ideas): I definitely want to use post-it notes more. The Stop and Jot idea I've heard my teammates use but I always forget to put out post-it notes. I'm going to be more purposeful about that. Also, the random sampling is good. If I "cold call" on a few students, I'll get a better sense of their understanding of what they will be learning, and it won't take up too much time from my lesson plan.
Who did the bulk of the work and the thinking above? The teacher, right? And that meshes well with what we know about learning, as it is an active intellectual process that ensures the learner does the learning. I would love for everyone to listen to Kimiko Broome, one of the coolest teachers I met last week, talk about her own learning after our reflection conference.
It is one of my favorite things to have administrators watch a model reflection conference then, when asked, to reflect on the conference, they say things like, "I need to work on my questioning skills" or "I do WAY too much telling and talking at the teachers." It is one of the most satisfying and rewarding events in my own career when I have seen administrators or supervisors have ah-ha moments like that. But it doesn't happen by accident or casually. It happens when they are given time to learn new skills, practice them, see them modeled, then get coached on them. Most every principal or administrator with whom I have worked with on this skill says the same thing I felt at one time: "This is going to transform the learning for my teachers."
Finally, I can't forget or negate my own reflection every time I work with adult learners. I either go back to my hotel, head to the airport, or drive to my next venue and think about what I can do to increase the learning of all those with whom I work. What protocols can I use that will assist them in helping those with whom THEY work? What impact am I making and how am I making a difference? How did I challenge people's thinking to perhaps consider a new way of doing things? And finally, and perhaps (selfishly) most importantly, how am I helping educators and parents who are currently raising kids who will be the best productive citizens possible when they finish their schooling? Why is this so important? Quite honestly, since Dave and I only have canine children, I am counting on the educators of today to raise and grow young people who will someday push my wheelchair and wipe our hind ends as needed. I like what I am seeing in this regard around the country and around the world, and I thank each one of you who is taking part in education!