Professional growth starts with being a reflective educator

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Schools give plenty of thought to the professional learning and development that they wish to provide for their staff. Discussions center on the learning that needed to support both the goals of the school, the changes it wishes to see and, in many cases, the individual needs of the staff. Schools have designed their own programs, bought into others through external providers and consultants or become part of more grass roots, teacher driven learning such as EdCamps.

Over the past few weeks, in thinking about how a school designs and provides its professional learning, I have come to realise that there is one crucial aspect that any professional learning program / course must have at its heart: the need for reflection.

There is no doubt, in my mind anyway, that the best growth that we can experience as educators is through being reflective. Those moments when we have the opportunity to say:

  • I used to think that… but now I think this…
  • If I had the opportunity to do this again I would…
  • One mistake I have learned from…

These are powerful learning experiences, ‘ah ha’ moments and, occasionally cringeworthy, when we say to ourselves, “Did I really do that?”

Further to this, I think every school needs to have the notion of being a ‘reflective educator’ at the core of its principles for how we behave as being part of a learning community working with students, parents and colleagues. In many ways it is an essential component of personal rigour, where we continually seek to grow and improve. There is lots that we can ponder and the following would be great starting points for inclusion in any staff professional learning program:

Reflecting on whether students are learning – As teachers, we must reflect on this using assessment data, formative opportunities to check for understanding and, critically, incorporating student feedback as data point to influence instruction and learning.

Reflecting on personal efficacy – Can we be more efficient? Can we do things just as well but in less time, giving ourselves more time to focus on important work? This is so important, as we keep pace with technological developments and different ways of doing things.

Reflecting on how we collaborate – How well do we work as part of a team? Do we contribute, share and support or colleagues? Do we put our personal differences aside in the best interests of our students? Do we take initiative and offer to lead, spreading the load a little more evenly amongst the team?

Reflecting on how we lead – It’s a fact, like it or not, every teacher is a leader: We lead children and young adults with the vision of them becoming responsible global citizens that contribute to a healthy society. What are we like as role models? Do we practice as we preach? Do we inspire our students?

Reflecting on how we respond to change – We know it is a constant, so let’s stop ignoring it. How do we move with the times? Are we open-minded to new ideas or do we constantly seek to preserve the status quo? Do we seek to support change or undermine it?

As a colleague said to me recently, “all teachers reflect, we do it constantly.” While I agree with his view, it depends if we reflect more widely than whether the last lesson went well or not so well. Teachers need support in asking the right questions of themselves and others along with the support, guidance and encouragement to make the improvements that can make a difference to their school, the people they work with and most importantly the students that they lead.

photo credit: Say Geese! via photopin (license)

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