Early this summer I read Dean Sharski’s post “In search of a reflective practitioner.” on the importance of blogging as a reflective practice. It caused me to reflect on that practice (or lack of) during my own career.
I would like to say that as a beginning teacher in 1985, I rarely engaged in reflective practice. I was pretty successful in my first few years of teaching and honestly was a little arrogant in that I figured I had it! Given my success as an athlete and a coach, my transition to the classroom held little challenge. I also had the benefit of teaching in high school back then where there was always a lower stream. The prevailing thought was that if a student didn’t get it, they just moved down a level. It was never my fault as a teacher; it was always the students. Unfortunately, my thought process didn’t vary much from many of the staff that I taught with that at that time.
My “perfect” world began to crumble when I taught a very small group of students in my fourth year of teaching. This group were strong academically but did not seem to respond like previous classes of mine. Even the strong relational skills that I’d had with other classes didn’t seem to assist me in my teaching. The struggle was immense in my mind because I wasn’t connecting like I was used to with the students and all of my techniques were fairly ineffective. Even with the assistance of my school administration, this class was just not “falling into line” with how I taught.
Fortunately, I began my graduate work from Gonzaga University at that time and was provided with some excellent “beyond my own paradigm” thinking. It also forced me to begin in an infancy sort of way to reflect on my own practice. I began to realize that the way I was delivering the curriculum was not the best way for the vast majority of the class to receive it. Their learning style was out of sync with my teaching style and more importantly they weren’t changing their learning style to accommodate my teaching style! Thus began my initiation into reflective practice albeit only for that class because, quite honestly it worked for every other class.
My next revelation came with my move from a middle to upper class high school to a low socioeconomic and diverse K-12 school. Many of the strategies that I had used successfully in the past for all classes were simply not enough. I dealt with a more diverse population with greater needs and there was no “lower” stream to place these students. For the first time in my teaching career, I had to attend to students with special needs and I had other adults in my classroom. Not only did I have to teach the whole class, some students required individual education plans and I, as the professional was called on to modify their work. My teaching changed enough to meet those students’ needs but not much more. It was a great learning experience for me as a teacher but looking back I’d fallen into the trap that many educators do in that I became so busy doing that I never took (not had) the time to truly reflect on my practice.
One more move back to a higher socioeconomic area and an exclusive elementary school and I was back to being very successful. The students responded to my teaching style, staff enjoyed me as a leader and the parents and community were generally content. In fact, with the results that the school was getting back then, there was little need to reflect on much of anything at all. Often success is the worse culprit to not being reflective on what you do and that was and certainly continued to be true in my life.
The next stage of my educational career led me into a position in senior administration. And as you can probably imagine, the transition was fairly smooth and success was the general outcome. With only one major blip that forced me to move to another school division, my educational life has been pretty successful. However, it is now since becoming a superintendent four years ago that I’ve truly come to appreciate the importance and necessity of reflective practice. And truthfully, it has become more consciously raised since entering into the realm of social media and my initiation to blogging.
To me blogging is one step ahead of personal journaling and two steps ahead of silent reflection. There are times that we all need to sit quietly and reflect on our experiences in our life, the classroom or as a leader. These do us well but often are not enough because they may not lead us to any action. Journaling allows us to put our thoughts on paper and signifies the next step to being reflective and invoking action. However, journaling tends to be personal and rarely is seen by others. This to me is where blogging rises above all other forms of reflective practice. It takes into account our silent thoughts and places them on “paper” but it takes the next step which puts our thoughts public!
Blogging makes you vulnerable and I believe is a requirement for our deepest reflective practice. It is personal and full of emotion. It requires you to wear your heart on your sleeve. It forces you to believe in what you are writing because you may be challenged. Your thoughts are public not only for your own self use but for others. Blogging is communal and reminds us that we are not just educating our own students but every student around the world. I may never meet some of the people whose blogs I read regularly but I learn from them because of their public presence. And my learning is not only good for my own professional growth it has the ability to enhance others too!
Blogging may be time consuming but it is certainly worth the time as a reflective practice. It forces us to reflect on where we are and more importantly where we want to go. And it is worthwhile whether we are at the top of our game or just struggling to get by. For me, one who is not a gifted writer, it forces me to work on an area of growth, rejuvenate my mind, reflect on my practice and improve my leadership. Those are pretty good reasons to make it a weekly ritual during the school year!!!