The Myth of Reflection?

Think…

Do you believe that you are capable of objectivity?
Do you believe that you can answer that question objectively?

Reflection is something that is expected of the educator. Expected to the point that it may be impossible. For the most part, reflection is discussed more than it is taught. Discussed far more than it is genuinely practiced. I have to confess, I hear an awful lot of talk about being reflective but I hear very few people talking about how to reflect. And I hear even less people challenging one another on their reflection. Not to encourage impolite behavior or being impolitic, but it is necessary that we seek a common understanding of practices that will save our professional lives.

What is it? Is it a unified concept? That is to say–does it mean the same to everyone? Have we reached consensus?

If we are to develop as professionals through the use of reflection in a meaningful way,
then reflection must be a singular sensation.

Quick, what's the square root of a gross?

Think about it. If green is not green to you, but it is green to me, is that a problem? Really? You see, if you are color blind, green is still not a problem. We tend to think narrowly about that, do we not?
We think–how will you know whether to stop or go at an intersection?
But then we realize that knowing the color doesn’t affect whether we know the light on the bottom from the light on the top.
Color blindness does not make one less capable despite what fashion decisions may be made.

If we are going to engage in reflection, we have to take purposeful steps to take myth out of the process. Here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Plan ahead based on the type of activity.
You need a point of departure. Write a list of hypotheses, questions, or even opinions you have about your own approaches to teaching. Select which ones belong in each context. This will become your Inquiry Checklist. If you are introducing new material you may have different items than a session based on exploration or review for a larger project or assessment. Do you think that you are great on your feet? A whiz on the fly? What are some of the things that would support that belief? Some teachers think that they are very positive in class–do you? Are you? Maybe you’d like to know how many positive or negative statements you make in a session. Are you a great facilitator? What do you do that supports that belief?

2. Keep your scope narrow and rare.
Answer just a few questions per session. You will find that you could be overwhelmed with your actual performance. I also recommend that you do this full process, at most, four times each school year. Aside from the amount of time it will take to do this responsibly, altruism is at a premium.

3. Bring a friend.
There is no way to do this while you are teaching. However you choose to assess, recalibrate, and redirect activities in class is simply your teaching practice. It is your professional activity–do not let this become your only indicator of your success. Act natural and do your thing. Set up a camera in a hidden place with a good view of the room. Do not tell your students about it. Want to add to the excitement? Have a colleague do a walkthrough with one, two, or all of the items from your Inquiry Checklist. Invite them to stay for a set period of time or the whole period but decide that ahead of time.

4. Document before the big reveal.
As soon as you are able, debrief alone. Respond to your prompts as honestly as you can. Do this before you view the video. Do this before you schedule time to listen to your colleague. This is an important step in the process because it will allow your reflective process to calibrate–helping you to develop some inter-rater reliability with your subjective mind.

5. Prepare to be non-plussed.
When you have your own reflection completed, sit down with your colleague and listen. Let them tell you the story of what they saw in your classroom. Allow them to tell you what they think you were trying to accomplish and their impression of good, bad, and neutral activities by you and your students. Did you add to learning or confuse? Did you jump in or change gears too soon? Was it paced well? It is important that you create the type of atmosphere that allows your colleague to be honest. Some of their input may be challenging. Do not allow yourself to explain or justify. For the colleague, this is the second time through but for you it is the first. Let it sink in and settle.

6. Make decisions.
When this whole process has run its course it is time to make decisions. My advice is to limit yourself to one or two changes that you think are most important to the classroom. Some suggestions that I have made or heard from colleagues:
Let information breathe–do not jump in too soon;
Give students more time to think before you speak;
Model risk taking and mistake making;
Sit on the floor–change levels, not just placement in the room

The greatest myth of reflection is that is can happen alone.

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10 Comments

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  • Bring a friend…

    Vastly different assessment from having an admin or similar sitting in.

    I was not rehired at one college because my supervisor observed me, and, instead of telling me how I could improve, essentially ripped me a new one.

    I was not rehired yet another college because no one had observed me. My department chair could not back me up against a complaint a student had made to the dean. Of course it may not have mattered since the student’s father was contributing money to the college. Even so the feedback would have been useful.

    I was a young teacher and without feedback how was I supposed to know how to improve or if I was doing anything right at all? I know I was doing some things right, but without anyone else to notice that either there was nothing to do but leave teaching.

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  • Debbie, IMHO, feedback in education is the exception, rather than the rule. It is spoken about for students as the ‘be all and end all’, yet isn’t promoted for teachers. As a (relatively) young teacher, i struggle in this environment- Im constantly seeking feedback and asking colleagues into my class. This gets me some very odd looks. When others see the process I go through, the often comment ‘Why bother? No one is checking on you..’
    Uhm… the students?

  • Thanks for the process, and a reminder of what real reflection is. I am trying to find these spaces and processes where we can be real about ourselves, our practice, with the purpose of growing our skills.

  • Like the other blog post, in which you suggested to find a “brutal critic”, this one demystifies the process of reflection which generally tends to be somewhat volatile and not really tackled.
    I think the major benefit of this clear, processual and collaborative approach is, aside from making the reflection an authentic look at our practices, that you can actually understand a different perspective through the lens of “the other”.
    Problem is…that I don’t share the same values with many teachers in my school – I don’t assign homework, I avoid grading as much as possible, and prefer less work in favor of more thinking.
    How do you select the respective teacher? How can you avoid the inevitable bias?…

  • Dr. Timony wrote:

    Christina–Thanks for your reply. Personally, I find those individuals to sometimes be the most helpful. We need a variety of lenses on our craft and it is dangerous to surround ourselves with those who we think are “like us” as this perception is another one that may or may not be beneficial.

    The most important aspect of this is to prepare for the type of observation that will be occurring. It is a supervisory model not an evaluative model so that may require some clear explanation of the goals and expectations. The colleague is serving as a more genuine mirror for you. They are reporting what they saw. That is it.
    It looked like you were trying to get this. I think you got that.
    Based on the response, your prompt was confusing. You could have used more/less words. An example might have helped.

    The point is to get another insightful perspective on your practice who is able to keep track of the good and the not-so-good. We tend to forget the specific missteps if we get the result that we want. It’s natural to do so. We also tend to miss the positive outcomes when issues arise and compound. A second set of eyes will help to point those out.

    Also keep in mind that it starts with the propriety of inquiry.
    What do you think you do well? Prove it.
    What are the indicators of it? How can you measure or observe it?

    Peripheral outcomes of adopting this type of reflection process is that you may be asked to reciprocate with your colleagues. You have your approach for a reason. Maybe your approach and their approach will rub off a little–we could all use a little influence. I would challenge you to find that opposite person and observe each other teaching the same material using your own methods. Both do the full process with video, written reflection, debrief, and exchange.

    This is where the craft of teaching starts to become a process for developing Teacher Expertise.

    I look forward to hearing more!

  • Thank you for the detailed response.

    I am not afraid of criticism – actually, I often seek it because groupthink or flattery from alike people is quite dangerous.
    I will try to find one person in my school ready to devote time for this type of reflection.

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