During my first Educon in late January, I was lured into Jennifer Orr’s “Reflecting on Reflection” session because I am incredibly passionate about reflection. Personal and professional reflection. As Jen shared the following quote from John Dewey, I suddenly cleared a long-blocked channel of thought that became congested upon my first introduction to John Dewey’s work during my senior year of undergrad.
“Reflection is an active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds supporting it and future conclusions to which it tends.”
I loathed studying John Dewey and reflection. I was 22 years old and not yet a teacher. I didn’t care about John Dewey or reflection. My desire was to teach kids. I did not want to reflect on something I had yet to experience. I definitely did not want to reflect on reflecting when I thought I had nothing to reflect about. I was not yet aware of the value of reflection. How could I be?
Since I had to succumb to the credentialing requirements in order to teach, I read the mandated books, participated in the discussions, and wrote my papers adequately enough to receive an A. But I was still not a reflector when I left the course. I don’t blame John Dewey or my professor; I was not ready.
I did not consciously begin to grasp the value of reflection until the very next year, when I started a year-long internship required for the graduate program. I was immersed with questions after observing a masterful teacher and starting to practice teach. Not only did I want to reflect; I felt it essential to reflect.
This made me think of a discussion during lunch at Educon one day. David Truss mentioned how much he grew as an educator during the time he was completing his masters program and simultaneously teaching. He posed a great question: should teachers attend graduate school prior to teaching?
He made me question my five year program. I learned a lot in grad school, but, I’ve learned a lot more that’s been valuable and applicable through the professional development programs I’ve selected to participate in while teaching, like Powerful Learning Practice.
Reflection is essential for teachers & for students
Each year in the classroom I’ve become a better teacher because of my wonderings. I am who I am because of reflection. I attribute all of my professional and personal growth to the self-reflective process.
During Jen’s Educon discussion, a few teachers indicated that they do not reflect because they do not have time to reflect. I understand how precious time is and that it is impossible for teachers to adequately accomplish all of the passed down requirements. But I will never give up reflecting myself or encouraging my students to reflect.
I asked the group how they got their students to reflect. I was astonished to find out that many teachers feared their administrators wouldn’t allow them to spend class time on reflection because it’s not in the curriculum. One teacher even implied that she was scared that she would get into trouble with her administrator if she had her students reflect during class time. I loved Jen’s response, “Don’t ask. Just do it!”
I was outraged by the teacher’s fear! I tweeted:
Teachers here don't think their administration will support student reflection. "Don't ask. Just do it!" –@jenorr #educon25 #educon
— Rachel V. Small (@RachelVSmall) January 26, 2013
Reflection is priceless. Reflection has made me a better person and a better teacher. How do teachers stay sane if they do not reflect?
And how do students learn anything deeply without reflecting? I think it’s so important for teachers to model their own reflection process to their students. I wish my teachers had modeled their reflections to me. I wonder how many of my teachers reflected on their practice? If they had reflected, and modeled their reflection process, perhaps when I first read Dewey I would have found initial value in his brilliant insight.
Positive professional growth and positive student growth will not happen without learning and practicing the art of reflection. It’s a process we must trust. It’s time we must invest.
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Great Post. I think it takes awhile for my students to buy into writing reflections. We require them after every major and some minor demonstrations of learning. Recently, I had my students compare the comments they received on their past two essays. They were asked to consider how they had improved, where they needed to focus and what they hoped to achieve in our next research essay assignment. My students reflections ran the gamut from a few vague sentences (did they even read the comments) to very specific detailed plans for future growth. Like anything, reflection takes practice. For my students, some of whom have had lots of practice and others for whom this is a first they had to accept on faith that I thought this was a valuable use of their time. One way to clear the way for this is to make clear how much I do value their time and never assign work just for the sake of having an assignment. In my experience, by the spring, many of my students will have come to value this opportunity to look back on process (and sometimes forward to when we do mid-project check-ins) as an important tool in owning their own learning. Other students are and always will be works in progress. Maybe when they are thirty something, something will click into place and taking time out for reflection will make sense.
I think for adults its hugely important to take time to reflect. I have a colleague who had a particularly knotty problem. She went on vacation for a few days and came back with a truly innovative solution. Had she not taken time off from the day to day and given herself space to think creatively this elegant solution might not have presented itself to her.
For my US History planning team, we almost always take time to debrief and reflect even as we are working to plan out the next few weeks.