Starting with the (Wo)man in the Mirror

AP testing begins next week.  This time of year my mind is sent backwards as I reflect on my teaching.  Was I as effective as I could have been?  Are these students where I want them to be?  What would I go back and change if I could?  These are the questions I mull over as I review my notes throughout the year.  You see, I never do the same exact lessons one school year to the next.  I cannot imagine anything more boring or mind numbing than pulling out the same old lesson every year.  Creativity is what keeps me engaged with the art of teaching.  As Edward de Bono said, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”  Keeping my classroom current in terms of technology, content, approaches, and student interest is important to me.   And the first step to keeping current?  Like Micheal Jackson, I’m starting with the (wo)man in the mirror.  Self-reflection allows me to recognize where change needs to happen. Reflection is vital for teacher effectiveness, essential to initiate change, and allows for innovation.  Here are some ways I build reflection into my teaching life:

  1.  Take Notes!  I take notes as I teach about what worked and didn’t work.  I admit that I currently do not have one streamlined system for doing so.  Ideas come when they come and I just have to catch them in the moment and get them down as fast as possible.  For instance, I put post-it notes on texts I have used that will remind me of changes for the following year. These texts are filed into folders and categorized by type. I also add comments to my semester-long calendar on Google Docs so I can refer to them as I create new calendars. In addition, I maintain Google Docs with names like “Changes for Next Year” and even one that read “Brilliant Ideas.” Finally, I keep a notepad on my desk and jot thoughts and revisions down as they come to me.  I review these in the spring as I think ahead to the next year and I review them again right before the fall semester begins.  If I didn’t actually write these ideas down, they would be lost forever!
  2. Class Surveys… I know this seems a bit daunting.  Do you remember those end of the course surveys we had to fill out in college?  I am sure we all have had a few nutty professors and didn’t hold back about how much we loathed their classes. But I learn a great deal with end-of-the-year surveys and I find the feedback from my students to be valuable.  Yes, I have had a few students discuss their disdain, but I also have very honest students who discuss their challenges and their successes with the way the class was run.  These surveys force me to view the course from the student perspective and they allow me to see myself as the students see me. I have cringed as I read some of the comments, but more importantly, I have learned and grown. One year a student wrote that I didn’t give enough positive feedback on writing.  It hurt to read that, but when I looked back I realized it was true.  I spent a great deal of time on what they did wrong and did not reward or even acknowledge what they did well.  The following year I adjusted and now I am much more aware of the ways in which I give feedback, finding a balance between praise and suggestions for improvements. I have always done paper surveys, but this year I will be putting the survey on Google Classroom.  A sample from last year is below:Capture1Capture2
  3. PD- I know that to some professional development carries a negative connotation. However, I can honestly say that I gain something from every PD I attend because I set that as a goal for myself.  It is all a matter of perspective.  If I walk into a PD session with the attitude that it will be a waste of time, it will be. (Isn’t this also true of our students and the way they enter our own classrooms?) Developing as a professional should be a career goal for each and every one of us. This is why even in the summer I stay current. Attending the WSHUSD Teacher Summer Institute the last couple of years, for example, has taught me about different technologies to use in the classroom. (Sign up for TSI if you haven’t! It will be 3 half days, June 6-8).  I also continue to listen to podcasts, watch TED talks, and read the news to look for any connections I can make to my content area. I then save these for possible new lessons.  Even though I read a lot for pleasure over the summer, I also factor in a few professional books that spark new approaches for the coming year.  When I talk (or tweet!) with other educators or read their experiences, I find myself reflecting the most and then the magic happens…my mind begins to swirl with innovative ideas.  What do you do to stay current in your content area and with the skills (aka anchor standards!) our students need to succeed?

Reflection:  Means for Creativity and Innovation

We all know that change is inevitable—especially in education.  We will have new textbooks, new students, new technologies, new pacing guides, new courses, new state mandates, new colleagues, new classrooms, new content.  We can resist that change and make ourselves miserable, or we can become part of the change.  Reflection allows us to look in the mirror and to realize where we may be lacking.  Yes, this moment of self-reflection can be painful, but it can also be freeing.  It will make you a better teacher and it may even preserve your sanity.

“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.”
-William Pollard

Consider: How can you use reflection as a tool to initiate change?

Building more reflection into the teaching practice is a topic that I will be exploring in a workshop for next year’s after school professional development.  I would love to work with you and do some one-on-one coaching in the area of reflection if you are interested! I would also love to hear the ways in which you reflect on an ongoing basis.  Email, call, or stop by any time so we can chat!



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