Winter break reading: on reflection as an educator

“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey

Meredith Swallow, Tarrant Institute for Innovative EducationGrowing up, I participated in a lot of team sports. It didn’t matter the sport, my age, or if we won or lost; after every game we talked about what went well, and what didn’t. We celebrated what we achieved, and made plans for what we needed to practice. We reflected. It seemed so natural and necessary as part of our process to improve as individual players and as a team.

One of my biggest regrets as a classroom teacher was not spending enough time reflecting on my practice. I am certainly guilty of blaming time, or committing to that infamous hour of later. But as Dewey stated, I firmly believe that reflection is a necessary part of the learning process, and by not reflecting we are missing out on opportunities to acknowledge successes and address challenges.

Why was it so easy as an athlete but so difficult as an educator?

Perhaps it was the immediacy of results. I remember watching a replay of a field hockey match and noticed I ran with my stick in the air. Needless to say, that same game I let three balls pass. I fixed my form, and the next game – no passed balls. Do we get that same satisfaction of immediate results when we change our instructional practices?

One big difference between my athletic and educational experiences was the element of change.

As a player, rarely was new equipment introduced. As a teacher, there was always a new tool, program, or something to explore and use. And if I didn’t try it, I was probably missing out. Too often I got wrapped up in the cutting-edge and didn’t spend enough time capitalizing on something that was going great. Of course I realize this now, reflecting, many years later.

Often, deep reflection and planning are saved for the summer. As we nearly approach the mid-school-year, I think this is an opportune time to engage in professional reflection. We routinely ask students to reflect, and it only makes sense to model our expectations.

One question I often get asked is, “how?” Personally, I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to reflect on your own practice. But if you are having trouble getting started, here are two readings that have helped me plan and organize my thoughts.

Fostering Reflection

Reflect or Refract: Top 3 Tips for the Reflective Educator

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Meredith Swallow is in her fourth year as a doctoral student at UVM, and is working with the Tarrant Institute as a Research Associate and Professional Development Coordinator. As a former middle- and high-school math teacher, Meredith facilitated environments of engaged, active learning, by supporting the connection of knowledge through interaction, understanding, and meaning. Her research focuses on the intersection of educational technology, content knowledge, and pedagogy, and how that supports twenty-first century educational goals and outcomes. She strives to model effective technology integration across multiple disciplines by recognizing diverse learning needs and specific school and teacher contexts. When not studying or engaging in research, Meredith enjoys her time in the outdoors hiking with her trusted sidekick Jack the Dog.

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