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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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School has been in session for a few weeks, and things might be finally settling down for most teachers. Days seem to pass by so quickly that it seems amazing anything was accomplished. Despite the whirlwind start of the year, it's still important to make time for reflection.

It took me some time realize that reflection is vital to my growth as an educator. I also needed to learn what real reflection looked like. It's so much more than thinking that I did a good job or changing one essay question. Here are four things that I've done over the past few years to aid in my reflection and help me grow as a learner and a teacher.

1. Feedback from Students

One always scary but very important thing is asking the students how the lesson went. This can be done in class with a quick show of hands or a Google Form emailed to students and parents. Part of reflection is taking an honest look at how things are going. To do that, it's crucial to hear from others. As valuable stakeholders in the classroom, students and parents might see something that the teacher would not.

The first time I handed students a survey, I was terrified. I didn't really want to hear how badly things were going. I remember receiving mostly positive feedback, but a couple of comments really stung me. They were honest, and it hurt. I remember thinking that the students just didn't get what I was doing and tried to ignore what they said. It took me a few years to brave another attempt -- and I was glad that I did. I needed to mature as a teacher to understand the value of student feedback. By listening to them, I was able to really think about my classroom practices from a different perspective.

2. Write It Down

Teachers often think they can remember it all, but that's rarely the case. We jump from lesson to lesson thinking we can keep the mental notepad up to date as we go. Too often, teachers cannot reflect on a lesson because they've forgotten exactly what happened in class -- and the details are important when trying to reflect and grow.

If you use a planner for your lessons, use sticky notes for initial thoughts after a lesson, and stick them in the planner. If you use a digital planner, quickly write out some thoughts in a different color so they'll stand out later. These notes are key for teachers who want to remember certain aspects of lessons that might need to be addressed later. I've used sticky notes and digital notes, and they've been great. As I bounce from class to class, it's tough for me to remember what I need to change or tweak. So in one of my literature books, I still have a sticky note reminding me to emphasize a certain passage that I used to skip sometimes. Every year when I see that note, it reminds me to add that passage to the lessons.

3. Blog It

Blogging has been one of the biggest parts of my professional growth. Once I decided to start sharing my thoughts with the world, I really started paying closer attention to the different parts of my classroom. I'm always looking to change or tweak things that have grown stale. Having a blog allows educators to share their thought process with others and get feedback from similarly passionate educators. Connecting with other great educators through blogging has made learning and growing a collaborative effort. I no longer feel alone when pondering changes for my lesson plans or trying to move away from standardized tests. The blog can be a freeing experience for teachers who are looking to share, but it doesn't have to be public if you don't want it to be.

A blog can be used as a private journal to dump ideas. Some are just for you and not ready for others to see. Setting a blog to private can be a great way to just write ideas, review them, and reflect. Seeing those ideas onscreen can aid reflection in a way that just thinking about them can't. I've written many posts that have never seen the light of day because they were just a way to get some deep reflective thoughts out of my head. They might have been about interactions with students, teachers, parents, and others, because taking a hard look at how I acted is important for me to learn and grow. Those are not the posts I'm looking to share with the public. They helped me see things in a different light. Writing and reflecting have gone hand in hand for hundreds of years. It's time for more educators to join the club.

4. Record It

Something new for me this year is that I’ve decided to vlog, recording my thoughts for the week on video and giving myself a goal for the upcoming week. Shooting these videos allows me to share what I've learned while giving me a reason to really think hard about what I’ve done the past week. I strongly believe there's always something that can be learned, and I want to figure out what that is. The videos are short (I limit my posts to four minutes), but the reflections are meaningful, and that's what makes this medium so powerful for me. I'm not sure if many other people are finding them as helpful as I am, but that doesn't matter. I grow as an educator the more I think about my practice -- and that's what is best for my students.

Most teachers will say that there's very little time in the day for reflecting, and I agree with them. But I still make sure that I find time to reflect because it's too important to put by the wayside. All educators need time in their day to reflect and think about the different ways they can be better. We ask this of our students, so why shouldn't we do the same? I hope everyone will read this post and reflect . . . on reflecting.

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TODD SENTELL's picture
TODD SENTELL
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

BUYING PROTECTION

Today is the last day of the semester before we go on Christmas break and Brainerd's mom gave me a "Teacher's Guardian Travel Angel Visor Clip" as a gift.

I pondered it for a while. I deeply reflected the last four dang months. I decided to keep it in the classroom.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I tell my students that there are really three steps to reflection:

1) Concrete recall. What did you DO? Not what did you mean to do, what actually happened. Step-by-step if you can remember. There's something powerful in just retracing your pedagogical steps.

2) Evaluation. Did you get the results you expected? The results you wanted? Did what you did actually get you what you hoped for? If not, what results did you get? How did your "moves" as a teacher set the stage for the results you got?

3) Transfer. What do you want to repeat in the future? What do you need to do differently next time? Which of your moves/ design ideas/ tools work really well? Which need tweaking- and how would you tweak them? What do you need to never, ever, ever do again?

I often find myself moving through these steps on the long car ride home. The first phase is purely internal, but by the time I get midway through #2 I'm talking to myself. By #3 I'm having a full-blown conversation with an imaginary colleague.

I drive a long way by myself. Don't judge. :-)

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Great blog Nick. In any profession, reflection is key and the minute you tell yourself that you don't have time for reflection is the minute you need to stop everything and make time for it. I know it's easier said than done but as you said, if you don't do this -- you won't grow.

Another tool I use for reflection that I LOVE is Voxer. I'm in an edcamp group and all we do is reflect about the movement of edcamps and how we can improve them. I can see them being used for many more reflective purposes as well. Check Voxer out - it's a free app you download on your phone. Here's a list of educators on Voxer: https://docs.google.com/a/edutopia.org/spreadsheet/lv?key=0AnkxWdOwdD2_d... and here's a helpful post to get started with it: http://www.leadlearner.com/create-personalized-podcast-using-voxer/.

Roxann Evans's picture

Nick, great suggestions. I agree that reflection should be a part of a teacher's daily routine. Regardless of when and how it is done, it should reflect the teacher and the students learning and growth. I have recently taken steps to improve my reflection as I found out that i needed more meaningful ways of reflecting. Thanks for the suggestion/ideas. Great blog.

Fatima Alawi's picture

I totally agree that reflection is a priority for teachers and schools. Being reflective is essential to be an effective teacher. Teachers need to combine their knowledge and experience to solve different problems. However, reflection encourages critical and creative thinking by encouraging us to think and create new ideas. "Personal reflection enriches professional reflection" (Kottler, Zehm, and Kottler 2005). Reflective practice gives me the ability to develop my skills and reflect on my mission.
I agree with you that engaging students and peers in the learning process is a successful reflective practice. In addition, writing down notes and recording things that happen in the class will support a lot in evaluating the effectiveness of our work and outcomes.
It is true that sharing thoughts and insights in blogs and discussions enormously empower professional development. We learn from others and improve our strategies.
Thank you for the efficient suggestions and insights about reflection.

Reg Baker's picture

Great reflection Nicholas,
This was clear and concise. Gave me the opportunity to feel what actual reflection is all about. I enjoyed the four steps that you shared.
Instead of just asking students do they understand, I will start using some form of formal feedback and as you are practicing, contacting all stakeholders.
And yes, I am guilty of trying to remember everything without actually writing them down. I even say often, "I have a great memory." But, even with a great memory, I am noticing many times I am asking students "where did we stop on yesterday." Therefore, the tons of sticky notes I have, I will start utilizing them during my next class.
Finally, I may do the blogging, but it will take a little more persuading for me to do the vlog (video) although I have a camera on my pc and cell phone, just not a big fan, but I know it is not about me, but the students.
Again, thanks for the insight.

teachlivelove's picture

I truly enjoyed your thoughts and helpful ideas that are practical and can be implemented with ease. It is very true that often times we as teachers feel that we don't have that extra minute to reflect, but if we are to grow in our craft &/lesson it is essential. I truly admire your courage to submit parent and student surveys! I can only imagine the anxiousness that might overwhelm any educator, but the opportunity to improve for the next time has to be phenomenal. You have inspired me to implement this into my classroom this year. It shall be an interesting experience. Keep up the great writing Nicholas. Looking forward to your next blog!

Kelly Ficker's picture

One of the first times that I was truly introduced to designated reflection time was during my service-learning experiences at college. I will admit, at first, I was one of the students turning up their nose when it came time to reflect. I didn't understand the purpose of reflection after we put in long hours of work for our communities. I quickly learned that service is not complete without reflection. It is one thing to do the work, but it is another to reflect on your experiences and how to improve your efforts for those you are working with. I have carried these ideas with me into my first year of teaching, but as you mention it is hard, yet necessary to take the time to reflect. Often times, I find out what I could do better with a lesson, just by seeing how the students handle the work and discussions that occur, but I am working on actually tracking these experiences and using what I have learned to improve the next lessons. Sometimes I put so much pressure on myself that it is even hard to see when a lesson actually went well but I was too amped up to see it. One thing I would like to continue to improve upon is taking notes on what students are doing and saying in the moment. I feel like students have so many "a-ha" moments and I am too busy working with them that I don't take time to record specific nuggets that they gathered or charming statements that they relayed. With the constant chugging of each day, I lose some of these valuable moments and opportunities to reflect on a student's social and academic growth, beyond just broad brush-stroke gatherings. Any suggestions would be appreciated! While I am working towards finding opportunities to gather feedback from my students, I am gathering feedback from my peers. I am lucky to be in an environment where I can freely share ideas with peers and they can give constructive criticism to me as I work. Additionally, while I don't know if I will enter into vlogging quite yet, I have started to blog for our school website http://www.ucds.org/spark/blog/. Just as blogging helped you with your reflection process, blogging has allowed me to think about the work I am doing and its' impact in a more organized and purposeful fashion. While blogging, I am able to consider the moments that I have found to be most valuable for my students and myself as a teacher and learner. I enjoyed your reflections and having some of my own through this post, thank you for your thoughts.

Kelly Ficker
UCDS
Seattle, WA

CathieC's picture

I really found your article helpful- thank you.
I understand the importance of reflection, the need for it...but I really struggle with the discipline to do it. I'm not sure I could keep with or want to video myself but your other ideas are easy enough for me to achieve. As part of our professional practice, all teachers have to keep an online journal at my place of employment. This is a great idea until it comes o Friday afternoon (when I realise I haven't written a weekly reflection yet) and I am trying to recall the week that's been -on a slightly 'fried' brain. I love your post-it idea. I already use post-its for a variety of tasks but a colour reserved for reflection posts in my planner would make the weekly reflection so much easier.
I also love your idea of a student survey. I have a line in the students 'self-evaluation' sheets about what the teacher could have done differently that may have helped their achievement...but I really like the idea of them evaluating and assessing my teaching practice. This could be eye-opening, scary and practice changing.
Thank you.

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