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.