Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
What is a Reflective Educator?
For the past five years or so, Ms. Bailey has been doing a pretty solid job as a third grade teacher. Her students like her and seem to learn a lot. Her classroom is well-organized and her management style works. Still, lately, Ms. Bailey has started to feel as though something is missing. She rarely takes the time to improve on her practice, and sometimes, she feels kind of lonely.
Then, Ms. Bailey hears the phrase 'reflective educator'. She learns that a reflective educator is one who thinks about her work deeply and considers strengths and weaknesses of her practice. Reflective educators are constantly learning about their students, themselves, and the art of teaching. Ms. Bailey resolves to take some steps toward becoming a reflective educator.
Set Aside Time and Space
One of the first things Ms. Bailey becomes determined to do is set aside time and space each week for thinking about how the week went in her classroom. She decides that she will do this during her prep time on Fridays, while the week is still fresh in her mind.
Rather than work in the classroom, Ms. Bailey decides to go to the school library during this time. Setting aside devoted time and space for thinking through the week helps Ms. Bailey stay committed to her goal of becoming more reflective. She finds that knowing that this time is taken for reflective work prevents her from frittering it away with other tasks. During this time, Ms. Bailey might:
- write in a journal about something that went well last week
- look over one or two students' work from the week, reflecting on what they have learned
- rework a lesson plan that seemed to go awry
- write a set of goals for herself for the upcoming week
Find Like-Minded Colleagues
Though she is very happy to have the time set aside, Ms. Bailey starts to feel like becoming a reflective educator is lonely, isolating work. She realizes that she needs to find a few like-minded colleagues, other teachers who are interested in reflecting on their practice.
Ms. Bailey approaches her principal with this question, and she points Ms. Bailey in the direction of two particularly reflective teachers in her school. The three colleagues don't have much time to spare, but they set up a system where they can talk occasionally and e-mail each other reflective thoughts. Ms. Bailey finds that these colleagues help her feel less isolated and also hold her accountable for maintaining a reflective stance.
Define Strengths and Struggles
With her colleagues, Ms. Bailey starts to realize that an important part of being a reflective educator is defining her strengths and struggles. In this context, strengths are aspects of teaching that you are really good at and might even come naturally to you. Struggles are areas where you feel you need some improvement.
By pinpointing her strengths and struggles, Ms. Bailey is able to celebrate her accomplishments and set goals for improvement. She knows she is good with classroom management, for instance, but she really struggles with math instruction and decides to spend some time focusing on her math curriculum and pedagogy as a result. Every teacher has strengths and struggles, and part of reflective work is simply knowing this about yourself.
Finally, Ms. Bailey learns that part of being a reflective educator is soliciting and accepting feedback. She and her colleagues begin visiting one another's classrooms and then meeting to talk over their observations. Ms. Bailey and her colleagues decide to focus on being very honest in their feedback; though it can be hard for them to accept constructive criticism, they know that this is the best path toward reflecting and improving on their work.
They agree to balance positive feedback with negative. Ms. Bailey also invites parents and administrators into her classroom from time to time and asks them to provide feedback on what they see. She even starts soliciting feedback from her students, to get their perspectives on what is and isn't working in the classroom.
Becoming a reflective educator takes time and space and involves thinking deeply about your practice over time. It can be very helpful to find a group of like-minded colleagues. You can begin your reflective journey by defining your strengths and struggles as a teacher, pinpointing what comes easily to you and what areas you want to improve. Soliciting and gracefully accepting feedback will also help you reap the rewards of reflective educational practice.
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