Reflecting on Reflection

I always knew that reflection was an important part of being an excellent teacher. I teach reflection to my students when I pass back a test, essay, or other assessment. I stress the importance of it and I’m disappointed when my students don’t take it seriously. Harvard’s Business School hails the importance of reflective practice. Education gurus have written about it for decades. I always thought of myself as a reflective teacher, but last year I realized that I really don’t reflect too often. I was more of an, “I’ll do that differently next year!” type of teacher. Then next year rolled around and I forgot.

Last year I got in the habit of reflecting every day. Even if it was only for 10 minutes right after school, I made sure to reflect. I use PowerPoint almost every day during my instruction, so I decided to reflect by taking notes in the PowerPoint notes section. I would write what I would change about the lesson for next year. If I had time I would even tweak the presentation itself. Sometimes I would pull up handouts on my computer, make a few adjustments, and write a quick note in my planner. It never took me more than 10-15 minutes and was an investment that really paid off!

My 8th grade team meets as a group twice a week, giving us an opportunity to reflect on our practice with each other. If you are not given weekly collaborative time at your school, find someone in your content area to meet with regularly. Start the conversation in a safe place and reflect on the areas of your instruction that are working and areas that aren’t. For example, l was having a hard time teaching complex sentence structures to several students. After reflecting on this issue and talking with another teacher, she suggested an alternative way to approach the situation, and it worked! The experience of admitting you need help can be incredibly humbling and ultimately will help your students succeed.

There are many procedural-type of tools that teachers pick up throughout the year. Some of them are easy to implement at different types of the year, while some of them require a fresh start. I have a document titled “Do This Next Year”, where I keep a running tab of all the great things I want to try a bit differently. For example, I learned a great technique for forming student groups by giving each group a color and each desk a number of 1-4 , both noted by a sticker on the top right corner of the desk. This would allow me to group students in a variety of ways simply by saying “Get into your color groups. 1’s come up and get the papers…” This would work for an endless amount of activities. Though I adopted parts of it, the entire procedure was too much to implement in April. Into the list it went!

Reflecting is an investment that is well worth the time. It will improve your practice, professional growth, and most importantly, student achievement.


What should I expect?!

As humans we crave expectations, clarity, and common language. It feels good to go into a situation (especially a new situation) knowing what to expect and what is expected of you. People of all ages, from children to adults, feel more confident and capable when they know what to expect in different settings.

Consider being invited to a social gathering such as a dinner party. You might find yourself asking certain questions: “What is the dress attire?” “What kind of dish shall I bring?” “How many people will be in attendance?” Answers to these questions would allow you to be proactive with your behavior and appropriately organize for the upcoming event. Additionally, these answers would give you the confidence to walk through the door of the host’s house knowing that you will be socially, emotionally, and behaviorally appropriate to meet the expectations that have been established for the occasion.

It is critical to have clearly defined expectations in a school setting. Expectations allow a common language to exist and help to ensure appropriate behavior throughout the entire school-site. Students, teachers, administrators, parents, family members, and community members all want to know what is expected when they walk through the doors of a school building. They may not always express this desire, but it would be difficult to find someone who would not want to know what is to be expected. The nature of human behavior is to want to do what is expected in different settings in order to appropriately fit into the established social norm.

Here are a few suggestions I’ve learned over the years:

  • Creating clearly defined expectations for the different settings of your school-site (i.e. bus, front office, hallway, cafeteria, gymnasium, classroom, playground, etc.) can help ensure comfort and security of those entering the building and can help create a safe and supportive learning environment for students.
  • Do not assume that everyone already knows the expectations of a given setting. It is important to establish these expectations with all stakeholders and then teach the behaviors you want to see, just as we teach academics. The truth of the matter is no one wants to show up to a hundred-person black tie affair in ripped jeans and a t-shirt holding a six-layer taco dip that feeds four.
  • Be proactive! Set the stage for this school year and help everyone in your building feel part of a positive school culture.

Would love to hear your ideas on setting expectations in the comments below!