12 2.6 The reflective practicitioner
As the Director of the Sofia Center for Professional Development at Bosque School, Sheryl Chard hosts workshops, seminars, and retreats for Bosque School faculty and other educators in the community that are heavily informed by feedback from countless educators. These innovative professional development opportunities allow teachers to connect with local experts and other educators, explore their roles in education through art and personal expression, and provide teachers with opportunities to grow in a professional environment that recognizes the indispensable role they hold in our society.
The experience in reflective teaching is that you must plunge into the doing, and try to educate yourself before you know what it is you’re trying to learn.
Donald Schön (1987), a philosopher and educational researcher, makes an important observation: learning to teach often means making choices and taking actions without knowing in advance quite what you need to learn or what the consequences will be. As we have pointed out more than once, the problem is that classroom events are often ambiguous and ambivalent, in that they usually serve more than one purpose. A teacher compliments a student’s contribution to a discussion: at that moment, she may be motivating the student but also focusing classmates’ thinking on key ideas. Her comment functions simultaneously as behavioral reinforcement, information, and expression of caring. At that moment, complementing the student may be exactly the right thing to do. Or not: perhaps the praise causes the teacher to neglect the contributions of others or focuses attention on factors that students cannot control, like their ability instead of their effort. In teaching, it seems, everything cuts more than one way, signifies more than one thing. The complications can make it difficult to prepare for teaching in advance, making teaching itself interesting and challenging.
The complications also mean that teachers need to learn from their teaching by reflecting (or thinking about the significance of) their experiences. Students are not the only people who need to learn in the classrooms. So do teachers, though what teachers need to learn is less about curriculum and more about students’ behavior and motivation, how to assess their learning well, and how to shape the class into a mutually supportive community.
Thinking about these matters begins to make a teacher a reflective practitioner, a professional who learns from experience and the experience. Becoming thoughtful helps you in all the areas discussed in this text: it helps understand better how students’ learning occurs, what motivates students, how you might differentiate your instruction more fully, and how you can make assessments of learning more valid and fair.
Learning to reflect on practice is so important that we have referred to and illustrated its value throughout this book. We also devote this entire appendix to how you, like other professional teachers, can develop reflective practice habits in yourself. First, we describe what reflective practice feels like as an experience and offer examples of places, people, and activities to support your practice reflection. Then we discuss how teachers can learn by observing and reflecting on their teaching systematically and sharing the results with other teachers and professionals. As you will see, a reflective practice contributes to teachers’ ability to make wise decisions and allows them to serve as effective advocates on behalf of students.
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