Over the years there has been one thing that has taken me from surviving to thriving in the land of teaching and that has been having a habit of reflection. Now, there is a fine line between reflection and nit picking perfectionism. Reflection leads to change and growth, perfectionism leaves you feeling like you’re never enough. It’s important to know the difference.
The cornerstone for any change or growth that happens in your classroom will stem from your ability to reflect both on what is working and what is not working. When I was in the classroom the only time anyone talked about my growth as an educator was in regards to our state evaluation tool. We discussed goals at the beginning of the year, during my pre and post observation and at the end of the year. Other than that no one ever asked me how my goal was going or even if I was still actually pursuing it. Anything that improved in my classroom or in my instruction came from my ability to be reflective and hone in on what needed to improve.
How it started
When I first went back to teaching I had been out of the classroom for 6 years starting my family. I knew very little about the most up to date teaching practices including having centers when students were engaged in guided reading. Let’s be honest I didn’t even know what guided reading actually was or what it entailed. I tried to ask my colleagues for help. They all tried to answer my questions but they focused more on the logistics of running folder stations in my classroom. My classroom, which was filled with at least 3 students whose behaviors I did not know how to manage. My classroom, where my guided reading table was being used by one of my students as their time out station whenever she was angry and would crawl under it. My colleagues were also busy with their own classrooms so that meant that our conversations were short. Not because they didn’t want to talk to me but because the list of things to do was endless and no one had time for long or deep conversations.
At the end of that year my students did not make the progress that they should have. I knew that many areas of my instructional practice needed attention but my first focus would be guided reading since that was the area that I was struggling in most. That summer I read a professional book about reading and came back in the fall ready to implement the practices in that book. I set my professional goal around guided reading and made sure that my supervisor observed me during a guided reading group. That year my students not only grew as readers but my instructional practices had grown as well.
The following summer I chose to focus on my direct instruction and read another professional book that focused on teaching the primary grades as I would be teaching 2nd grade. The practices in that book were different from anything I had seen or been taught in college. I was afraid to try this, new to me approach, but made a commitment to carve out time in our day to practice it with my students. I used this new approach in the space of time between recess and lunch. I had fun trying something new and the students reading comprehension deepened and improved.
At the end of that year I reflected on the flow of my classroom. I noticed that it was not really set up for primary students. I read a book about setting up your classroom in a way that shared the space with students over the summer. I came back in the fall and set up my classroom that way and it made a big difference for me and my students. That was the year that I got rid of my teacher desk and got more organized.
At the end of that year we had a meeting in which we were told who would be in our class the following year. I learned that the students I would be getting would have behavior concerns and be generally less independent than classes I had in the past. I knew that my current reading station method and approach would not work and it would not work for me to assign paper pencil tasks to these students each and everyday and expect to meet with my guided reading groups. Enter another professional book that taught me about Daily 5. I knew that it would be something different and different can be hard. I needed accountability so when I saw that my vice principal was familiar with this approach I asked her to be on the lookout for it in my classroom. I also made sure to set it as my professional goal in the fall. This ensured that I stuck with it all year long and didn’t quit when it got hard.
One thing that teachers on my campus knew about me was that I was passionate about my job and especially about teaching reading. I was always reading a new professional book, applying that knowledge and sharing that knowledge with anyone that would listen around me. I say this because that didn’t just happen, I was not naturally passionate, I was just committed to being a good teacher for my students. That one goal required that I be reflective. Being reflective required me to do something about the areas in my instruction or practice that needed to improve.
How it’s going
Now as an instructional coach I help teachers develop a reflective practice of their own. One way that I have done this in the past is by encouraging teachers to observe one another. One story that stands out to me is the time that we were launching Daily 5 as a campus we conducted walk throughs and discussed struggles with our teachers. They were not interested in watching anymore training videos with teachers and students that did not resemble our own. So we arranged for teachers to observe their own colleagues who were successfully implementing this practice. These peer observations provided an opportunity for our teachers to reflect on their practice in light of what they had seen their colleagues do and set goals that they now felt were achievable.
I have also had reflective teachers approach me for help via the use of a coaching cycle. We were just implementing the mini lesson framework at our campus and some of our teachers were not feeling super confident about their practice so they asked me to observe them and give feedback. Then they observed me, we conferenced and I observed them once more. Those teachers left the partnership feeling more confident and at ease in their practice.
Having a reflective practice allows you to :
– Keep learning about your craft
-Seek advice advice or help for your craft
-Be willing to try new things
-Stay excited about your practice
Questions to get you started:
-What in my circle of influence is going well right now?
-What in my circle of influence isn’t going well right now?
Use these as a springboard to help you dig deeper and learn more about what is going well so you can deepen your knowledge or about what is not going well so you can get better.
We are in a unique position these days in that we are recording asynchronous and synchronous lessons for our students. This is a great time to develop a reflective practice and watch your recorded lessons using the two questions from above. What is going well? And what isn’t going well or could use improvement? Not as a way of beating yourself up but as a way of developing a reflective practice that allows you to grow as a teacher and your students to grow as students.
Here is a tool that I created that can be used for you to reflect on your practice and make plans for growth, conduct a peer observation and/or a self observation using video.
Choose an area of instruction. Ask yourself the two questions with paper and pencil in hand. Make a plan for growth, ask for help and or accountability. Let me know what area you are pursuing growth in via social media, I would love to support you.