When I was a classroom teacher I tended to reflect “on the fly.” I’d take a quick assessment and make adjustments on teaching materials, strategies, and temperature of the class. I’d either reteach or make notes for changes for the following year. When I attended professional development opportunities, I’d often reflect through the conversations I had with colleagues at the event and/or after I returned to school. I rarely spent any lengthy time during the reflection process.
When I moved into the role of curriculum director, I recognized a need to make this process more intentional. The role was brand new and I was forging it as I went. I decided that the easiest way for me to make intentional time for reflection would be to schedule it every Monday morning (when no other meetings were on my calendar) and to reflect through writing. This worked for me since it only involved me and I wasn’t dependent on another person having the same time free to talk. In those early days, my reflection often centered around new knowledge or practices I was learning to be better in my new role. Later, it morphed into including reflecting on the programs I was developing, initiatives I was implementing, or strategies I was introducing to the teachers and administrators in my district.
Now as consultant, I am constantly telling other educators about the importance of intentional reflection. If we want our student reflecting on their learning (and we do!), then we need to be doing it, as well. One of the most recent occasions for this talk was in Gary, Indiana.
I’ve worked in a variety of districts. Most, however, are typically large districts with abundant resources. I’ll agree that having a computer for each child would be ideal, but I’ve seen excellent teaching and learning occur when only a handful are available per classroom. Some teachers in those districts might complain about the lack of technology, but they really don’t know how good they have it. They typically have a large technology department that includes IT people and instructional technology specialists with multiple opportunities for professional learning.
Recently, I was contracted to spend several days in Gary, however, where such resources are mostly unheard of. All but a couple of their IT department were recently let go. Many only had access to a few outdated desktop computers in their classrooms. I even had to teach a couple teachers how to copy and paste! It’s not because they are poor teachers, it’s because they lack resources. Here’s the most significant part of my experience there; I worked in six different schools. I only heard one (ONE!) teacher complaining. These teachers were some of the most fun I’ve ever worked with. They had great attitudes and mindsets ready for growth. The principals shared their demeanor, which speaks volumes for the culture of the schools and district.
I only got to spend a few hours at each school. Most of the time was spent on Office 365 and how to leverage the applications for enhancing student engagement. I always build in time for teachers to explore/research and create. I want them to leave with something ready to use. I do this because I remember being a teacher sitting in workshops excited about what I was learning (sometimes) but leaving with no time for actual application or reflection. Our time together was packed, but strategically planned. Time and again as the teachers were leaving, they had smiles on their faces and thanked me for the “best pd they had ever attended”. I’m not saying that to brag, but to give you another look at their learning perspectives. In my mind, this wasn’t innovative professional learning. I was hired to teach some basics and to show them how to impact instruction using these tools and strategies. I think ongoing job-embedded professional learning is actually the “best pd”. These teachers haven’t experienced that and their gratefulness for what they did receive was extremely endearing.
Just like I gave them time to explore and create, but I gave them time to process what they were learning about and reflect on how they could use it to enhance the teaching and learning in their classrooms. And just like every good teacher, not only did I teach, but I learned. As I mentioned earlier, I frequently share with educators about the importance of intentional reflection. We want students to reflect on their learning, so we need to do the same. Here are my biggest takeaways from my time in Gary:
- Mindset matters – This sounds basic, and people in education have been hearing about growth mindset for years. We want our students to have a growth mindset, but how often do we experience it with our teachers…especially two weeks before school starts, when being asked to learn a lot of new things? These educators, however, walked the talk. We went through an abundance of material in four hours. They may have been frustrated and overwhelmed at times, but they all kept working and learning because of the mindsets they showed up with.
- Learning can be both challenging and fun – Again, nothing new, but a notion that is important for me to revisit and reflect on occasionally. These teachers were definitely challenged several times throughout the workshop. But we laughed and we joked through it all. I even had some of them dancing! In such a short workshop, it’s important to build rapport quickly. I do that through listening as they introduce themselves, paying attention to how they interact with one another, and then joking with them as the opportunity arises (which is a lot in a group full of fun teachers!). The laughter is what builds the rapport. The rapport is what gains the trust. The trust is what allows learning to occur despite the challenges. They all left with my email and cell number, and the knowledge that they could reach out at any time if they need help in the future.
- Limitation is a state of mind – The teachers I worked with in this district would have loved to have six new laptops in each classroom, or a cart to share among a department. I overheard several talking about where to go to buy the composition notebooks at the lowest price. They shared with me that they have to purchase their own toner for the printers and copy machines. Many of the guidance counselors and IT department positions have been eliminated. The A/C wasn’t working in half the buildings I was in, and there were holes in some of the bathroom doors. These teachers didn’t complain about any of it. They just sat down and got to work learning how to make the most out of what they do have to best benefit the students that would be walking through their doors. They don’t see limitations, they see opportunities for learning.
How do you make time for intentional reflection? And what do you learn from it? I’d love to hear about it (since I also enjoy reflecting with others!).