Reflecting on Reflection
This year has been one of tremendous reflection for our administration and faculty. We adopted the Core Common and created a integrated curriculum comprised of these standards, the 21st Century Skills Framework, and mission-specific objectives from our mapping data and focus group feedback. We examined every dusty binder to weed out the obsolete while replanting the seeds of excellent pedagogy in our revised, live curriculum guides. We migrated to the cloud and Google Apps, taking the leaps necessary to not just dip our toes into the waters of a live, collaborative environment, but to make a very messy, shocking, and ultimately rewarding cannon-ball splash. We underwent our accreditation renewal and applied for new regional accreditation, completing our collaborative writing of the 130-page self-study document to prepare for our visit. This process forced all of us to take a good look at what we have done, what we are doing, and what we want to do. Then, the visit came and went, and we could all breathe again. We won’t have to do that for five more years! Right?
Now in the sunset of the year, when only the last chapters of awards ceremonies and graduations are left to be written, I can start to appreciate the story we will have told. Having had the opportunity to work with Dr. Roger Schank and study some of his work on the importance of story telling in learning, and being a literature teacher at heart, I have an appreciation for the authorship of such stories as we travel through our experiences in life. But as I reflected on this year and its story, I wondered how often our students are given the chance to do the same or how often we would choose to do so if we weren’t forced to.
The critical role of reflective practice to learning has been well documented from Dewey to Zull, and has been applied dually to teachers as learners and as providers of reflective opportunities to students. Though few would argue with the rationale behind the theories (which point to a cycle of planning/anticipation, action, observation, and reflection to gain true learning from experience), the rapid pace of content-based learning more often precludes true reflection in the classroom. Time for reflection, and coaching on how to meaningfully reflect, are prerequisites to the completion of the learning cycle, yet when taken along side breadth of content, we often choose to cover more stuff rather than taking that time. Students also need coaching on how to tie past experiences to new ones, yet the proper path to integration of this skill is not clearly aligned to a specific curricular domain and therefore is not often taught. Thankfully, natural consequences to action do some of this teaching, the best of it in fact...that is, when the natural consequences of a student’s actions are not thwarted by well-intentioned parents or teachers so that children are conditioned only to relate positive action to positive consequence and negative action to adult interference. In the absence of a consistent, healthy connection between action and consequence, it is all that much more important for teachers to require reflective practice of their students.
As a teacher and administrator, I have also gained insight into adult tendencies within our community, and what I’ve observed parallels what I’ve seen in students. On any given day within the school year, it is far too busy to expect large-scale reflection. Dynamic environments mandate a structured approach to reflection so that the proper prioritization of the process can take place and it does not get lost in the buzz. Even within strong learning communities, there is usually a systematic means of reflection...and even within strong learning communities, not all teachers are fans of the task. Sometimes when completing the required semester teacher reflection survey, our teachers seem understandably frustrated by the competing demands on their time, and some would likely place this activity further down on the priority list of things to do. However, having experienced by far the most reflective year to date at our school, I have renewed belief in the absolute necessity of the process.
It’s nothing new, merely a “sharpening of the saw” reaffirmation, but it is strong. My hope is that as we head into next year, when systematic self-reflection will replace the forced reflection of the accreditation process, we will continue our commitment to it and find new ways of bringing this practice to students so that they too may enjoy the meaningful experience of recounting and learning from their stories, not simply travelling through them.