Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reflective practices to change your teaching

I've been very fortunate over the course of my teaching career to have several seasons in which I was challenged to be reflective about my teaching practices.  The most notable one was the year long process toward national board certification.

When I started teaching I thought reflection was a part of all educators.  I spent hours wondering what tool was going to reach different students and improve their performance.

Here's the thing.  It never left me.  I actually internalized the fact that teachers are supposed to reflect on what we do and how it impacts individuals and the collective.  This reflection is part of what has really honed me in the last few years as a master educator.

I also understand why many teachers don't participate in it.  Just like looking in the mirror, our personal and professional flaws seem to have a spotlight beamed directly on them.  It's hard.  It's work.  It takes time.  And it is sometimes painful.

But it's so worth it!  If you want to incorporate a personal practice that yields huge benefits to your students, make it reflection.  

NOTE:  This has nothing to do with the sort of teacher evaluations that are being mandated and forced on teachers that in reality have nothing to do with authentic and empowering change.  This is the real deal.  It has nothing to do with standardized test scores and everything to do with the real impact you have on your students.  It's the sort of stuff that lets you sleep better at night rather than haunting you.

How to begin a reflective practice to change your teaching:

1.  Begin with the positive.
We are often our own worst critics, so don't let the negative overwhelm you.  Start with these:  What worked well today?  What do I want to do again?  When did I notice my students most engaged? Who was engaged?

2.  Start with just one piece of what you do.
It's easy to take on too much and give up.  Start with just one part of your week--reading groups or math stations or your weekly introductory lesson for reading or just vocabulary.  When choosing ask this:  What is one little area that can make a big difference?

3.  Track your progress over time.
Jot a few notes in a journal or notes on your phone or someplace so that you can see progress over time.  First ask--how will I record this?  What can I do to keep it super simple for me.  Then as you look back on your notes ask this:  Do I notice trends?  Does anything happen repeatedly?  What is working well for me and my students?  Is there anything obvious I can change to make this better?

4.  Find someone to share this.
It doesn't have to be formal or official, but having a trusted colleague or friend who know nothing about education can make a big difference in keeping you going.  Lots of research shows us that this accountability even informally is powerful and important.  Something to ask the other person:  Do you hear me mentioning something repeatedly?  Is there something that seems oddly absent?

5.  Honor your practice with something that brings you joy
Each week or as often as possible do something that brings you joy to honor your reflective practice.  Take a walk in the woods, get coffee with friends, create time for a hobby you enjoy, or whatever it is for you.  Honor your willingness to practice reflection, and you will continue.

I can't wait for you to discover the benefits for you and your students!

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