“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” ~ John Dewey
A couple of weeks ago, a teacher with which I am acquainted expressed disappointment with the fact that she (as well as each of her colleagues) was being asked to reflect on her practice. The purpose of the reflection was to identify 1) what had gone well in the past year (with a specific focus on the inquiry-based practices we recently implemented school-wide), 2) what challenges folks continue to face as we work to integrate these practices in the daily lives of our students, and 3) what kinds of support are needed to keep us moving forward. It was this teacher’s belief that reflection was a negative term, that it was akin to being “slapped on the wrist” by our principal–who, as it turns out, is an enormously reflective practitioner herself.
Knowing how quickly I can rush to judge these sorts of sentiments–sentiments with which I philosophically disagree–I attempted, ever briefly, to try to see things from my colleague’s point of view. Can reflection, I wondered, be a negative thing?
One of the points she had made is that, for a time, our school had instituted something called a “reflection room” where students were asked to stay inside during their lunch recess in order to talk through negative behavior. Although the intention of this practice was good, over time it had amounted to nothing more than a glorified detention hall, where the same handful of students “reflected” on the same kinds of behaviors over and over again–while missing an important opportunity to reset their system with a healthy dose of fresh air and physical activity. Upon–ahem–reflection, we had decided as a staff to examine other ways to help our students make better choices about their behavior. The reflection room was officially dismantled.
While I could imagine one of our students having a negative reaction to the word reflection, I knew that my very intelligent colleague understood the original intention of the reflection room and was possibly–I’m stretching here–confusing reflection with accountability.
That, or she was being a bit of a nudge*.
Because truly, how is one supposed to improve without reflection? How does one grow, both professionally and personally?
In education especially, reflection is critical, as no two lessons, no two students, no two moments are ever the same. We educators must constantly reflect on our practice in order to build upon our strengths, trim from our repertoires that which has proven to be ineffective, and inspire future action. Reflection has made me a better educator than I was yesterday, last month, ten years ago. (Not only that, but a better mother, a better wife, and a better friend as well).
In the spirit of proving this to be true, I thought I would take it upon myself to share with you how important reflection can be. Had I not made it a habit to reflect on my practice as an educator over the past fifteen years, my students would still currently be subjected to the following kinds of…well, crap:
And these weren’t even the worst of it. I spent literally dozens of minutes carefully culling musty binders full of lesson plans and hand-typed artifacts from my first seven years of teaching that were self-deprecating enough to include here, but not so mortifying that you would all unfollow me on Twitter. To think that the students with which I work would still be the hapless victims of such terrible teaching practice today without a healthy reflection habit is at best, horrifying and at worst, immoral.
If my colleague truly felt that asking her to reflect on her practice was a “slap on the wrist,” then I worry for her students. I worry that this perception of reflection will trickle down into the classroom, and that her students’ learning will rarely move beyond superficial understanding.
I worry that, although I know she can do better as a teacher, chances are…she won’t.
*Note to my readers: I have reflected on this unnecessary characterization of my colleague, and am duly contrite. Rest assured, I won’t let it happen again.**
**In this particular post.