Currently I’m in the process of building our new CPD/Professional Learning model for the new academic year (I’ll be blogging more about that as it nears completion). However, there’s one crucial element that I’ve been pondering for a while, and that’s building an engrained culture where we foster true teacher reflection, where it’s part of our DNA and not something which is there to be paid ‘lip service’ to. Personally I believe that to be truly embedded, deep and meaningful, reflection has to be personally fulfilling for teachers who in turn are intrinsically motivated to be the best they can be and as a result, leading to an increase in the quality of learning and outcomes for all students. However, this is easily said but as we all know, once the new school year is in full flow we all too easily become swept up in the day-to-day goings on. What may start out as good intentions could soon get consumed by the pressures of school life.
“The ability to think about what one does and why – assessing past actions, current situations, and intended outcomes – is vital to intelligent practice, practice that is reflective rather than routine. As the time in the teaching process when teachers stop to think about their work and make sense of it, reflection influences how one grows as a professional by influencing how successfully one is able to learn from one’s experiences.”
True self-reflection is a deep process, one that can take many forms, largely dependant upon the individual and the issue(s)/topic(s) of which one wishes to explore. A lot depends upon the culture and ethos that exists within a school, and whether this promotes an open door, risk taking culture, one where both success and failure are celebrated as part of the professional learning journey for all staff. If an open, honest and supportive collegiate culture is strong in a school, then I would argue that informal reflection/learning isn’t solely limited to subject ‘silos’, but instead shared through collaboration across the teaching staff body. I’ve personally experienced both of these extremes during my 12 years in education.
Every year I have the pleasure of working with our ITT/NQT coordinator (@wellsportsphil on twitter) and supporting trainee teachers, NQT’s and RQT’s, during this time I have seen elements of prescribed reflection, particularly with trainee teachers, but I often wonder why this gradually subsides over time when QTS has been awarded. The only conclusion I have arrived at, one that I have experienced personally too, is the over-burden of administrative and to some extent menial tasks that consume a large percentage of our working lives. And so, with this in mind, should reflection become a formal requirement of a schools’ CPD vision or remain an informal and very much personal strand of professional development?
Marsick and Volpe (1999) suggest that informal learning will occur in the workplace where there is a need, motivation, and opportunities for learning and where the control of learning is primarily the responsibility of the learner or in this case, the teacher. In a workplace context informal learning/reflection can be characterised by the following situations:
- Where it is an inductive process of reflection and action
- Where it is not a highly conscious activity
- Where it is linked to learning of others through social interactions (which may occur in formal learning environments)
Like our students, we all learn in different ways (and no, I’m not going to open the learning styles can of worms) But how to reflect, and on what to reflect sometimes escapes us as we hurry through the school day, from one lesson to the next, break duty, various meetings, planning lessons, marking work etc, etc. So when do teachers have time to reflect? and when they do so, they may not necessarily have all the observational tools to dissect their experiences that they really need. The Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) was developed by David Kolb who expanded upon John Dewey`s extensive work and created the ELC as a model to capture experiences and aid reflection. Klob argued that everyone goes through a similar process in learning. He suggests four stages that represent the ELC; first hand experience, reflection, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation. Logical, common sense steps in my opinion, and therefore it’s clear to see that without meaningful reflection the ELC model becomes incomplete, meaning the cycle of reflection and improvement is compromised.
Research also suggests the role of reflection in teachers’ aids professional growth. (Constantino, P. M., & De Lorenzo, M. N. (2001). Developing a professional teaching portfolio: A guide for success) Propose that a reflective frame of mind and a good sense of when to step back and think deeply needs to be integral to all teachers’ repertoires. I’m not going to disagree or argue with this in any way, but for me the question is; How can we nurture this approach in schools?
One of the most obvious strategies to promote reflection, either individually or collaboratively is observing teaching and learning. To read more about our approach to this, whereby we look to empower staff in driving their own development through observation, please take the time to read ‘Sharing Is Caring’ Building on this ethos of collaboration and coaching, the introduction of IRIS has been influential and I expect this to underpin reflection and professional development during the new academic year. We have two approaches to using IRIS; the first is a traditional approach encompassing a coaching model, where teachers can book the camera and record a particular aspect of their practice they wish to improve, creating a real time piece of footage they can review and reflect upon, also, the use of an earpiece to deploy real time coaching is available.
The second element to this strategy, is to use our Innovation Centre as base to model various aspects of teaching and learning, either as pre-recorded episodes saved online as a bank of footage for review, or live real time coaching, but instead of the coach ‘coaching’ by watching the lesson, have the teacher or trainee watching them, asking for different approaches to be modelled by their colleague who is delivering a lesson. Building or offering the capacity to reflect is essential to nurture a reflective culture in teaching. Although relatively easy on the face of it, the obvious way to build capacity is time, time to accommodate the level of reflection a situation calls for, so then, is a protected non-contact slot on a timetable of all teachers sufficient to achieve this? earlier this week I turned to the twitterverse by posing two questions, I would like to thank everybody for their input, here they are along with the responses:
I think it’s pretty clear to see from this flurry of responses, reflection is a fundamental element of teaching and one that cannot be prescribed or expected to be undertaken in a specific way at a specific time, moreover, should the impact of reflection be measured or evaluated? and if so, should it be recorded in a certain way? Or do we need to measure it? perhaps as a means to justify its importance from a time allowance perspective? All questions I will be considering and consulting with staff over during the start of a new academic year, one that I want to become that of ‘true’ reflection. I would welcome your views and thoughts.Follow @gary_s_king