Saturday, March 12, 2005

E + R = G

Experience plus reflection equals growth – John Dewey

Throughout my teacher education I remember hearing about becoming a “reflective practitioner.” I also had many assignments which asked me to “reflect” on the process of completing the project or after an observation in the classroom. Usually these assignments added up being a lot of “I” statements – I think . . . I saw. . . I believe etc. Once the professor read the assignment, it was either filed or tossed. This process didn't seem very reflective. There were few comments returned and almost no conversation. So did I learn how to be a “reflective practitioner” - not really.

I struggled with this idea once I become a teacher. As a first year teacher, I knew I had a lot to learn, but where was I going to learn it? The principal did the required two observations in my classroom, but otherwise, for 178 days, I was alone in the room trying to figure out how to teach middle schoolers. Obviously, being teenagers, I was getting constant feedback from them.“This sucks!” or “Why can't we go on more field trips?” or “When are we ever gonna use this?” However, I was just happy to have lesson plans and grading done, much less have the time to “observe” myself and learn from my own mistakes and successes. No master teacher was there to guide the apprentice and help me assess my strength and weaknesses and grow.

Now – ten years later, I'm still struggling with the idea of being a “reflective practitioner.” The school day is not designed to give time to a teacher to stop and think, ponder and communicate about their practices. Every moment is filled with prepping, teaching, supervising, meetings, after school activities etc. Carving out time to observe others and discuss ideas is almost sacrilege – there isn't a visible result, so how can we devote time or money to it? If a teacher isn't directly involved with students, isn't that a waste of taxpayer/tuition-payer money?

Even though most schools give lip service to the idea of having students “become more reflective learners” few forge strong reflective practices in their teachers. If teachers don't use these skills, they are less likely to teach and expect their students to use them.

Next week I am starting a study group using the information from Harvard's Project Zero and Disney Leaning Partnership. It is entitled “Teaching in the Creative Classroom.” My goal is to give teachers a forum to discuss teaching practices and have the time to really think about what goes on in their classroom. To be honest, this was a selfish endeavor, as I wanted a place and time to do that. As the old adage says, “Actions speak louder than words.” Hopefully these actions will carry over into the classroom.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

TGI-March: On a personal note

TGIM!!! Thank God it's March. February is such a difficult month for teachers and students' I didn't think the February blues would hit Aruba. It is still warm – high of 88 and low of 75 every day. Most days are sunny with a slight to strong breeze. The ocean is a beautiful turquoise blue. That's not a snowflake in sight or a scarf or sweater. Yet, most teachers and students act like it is blistery, depressing winter.

Teachers snap at students and each other. Students are not working hard and irritate each other and the teachers. Work piles up – lesson planning, grading, report writing, curriculum writing, scheduling, and ordering supplies. Everyone looks around and wonders, why am I doing this . . . does it really matter.

This blue funk has been a major discussion point on the MiddleWeb listserv. It seems to be a universal occurrence. So, how do teachers get through it? On the listserv, we've been sharing “Points of Joy” - those little moments that bring a smile to your face. Other teachers are “Standing for...” and telling the story of a student whose life was significantly impacted by their teachers.

I'm trying to leave school at school. This is such a hard thing for me to do. I always feel like I should be doing more. With six completely different classes to plan for, grade etc I'm always feeling behind. Yet if I take it home, then the homework doesn't get done – cooking, cleaning, washing etc. Then I feel guilty for not doing that. And what about fun? Should that be reserved for the weekends? I don't think so. As the old adage says, “All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.”

I'm using a little more time to work on myself. I've joined WeightWatchers online and have been spending time learning about nutrition and health. This has been very eye-opening. I'm getting up early and trying to do yoga most mornings. With mid-quarter coming up, I have, unfortunately, skipped a few days. It feels good to have a gentle workout in the morning. I've never been into running, the closest gym is 30 minutes away, and definitely NOT open that early. I'm also reading two different books – and not professional ones. The first “A Women's Checklist for Life” is a short devotional book with reminders and checklists of what truly is important in life. The other book is “Peak Learning.” I heard the author speak at a conference and wanted to know more about his ideas. I'm about halfway through the book and have not learned much new about brain theory and research, but it is a good reminder of things I've forgotten.

My goals for the near future is to yoga at least three times a week. I'd like to pick up a few different videos of routines. I would also like to spend more time writing. I had thought that Aruba would be a slower pace of life and I could focus more on writing. However, that hasn't happened often. I need to plan more time for this. Finally, I need to be a little better balanced with the teacher vs civilian parts of me.