I have been an administrator for 8 years…8 years!!!! Time flies and there are times that I want to run back into that bald headed 30 year-old’s office 8 years ago and yell… “Really?!?!  This is how you are going to grow your staff?  Really?”  I think we all do the best we can in the moment and hope that we find growth opportunities for our staff, but I can’t help but believe that groups we started with were not given the same chance.  Reflecting on instructional practice is a clear gateway to the advancement of our staff members, yet we continuously miss the mark on teaching teachers how to reflect.

I believe reflection is one of the most important components in teacher growth.  I have not met many people who feel like we should not reflect on our practice.  However, when I ask people what true reflection means, I get as many answers as people asked.  Self-reflection should be about growth, but if we don’t teach people how to reflect I think we end up on a surface level that inhibits the learning of our staff.

For years, I spent time with teachers asking them about the logistics of their practice.  How was the behavior?  How did you feel like the lesson went?  Would you have changed anything?  The most prevalent answer from all of those meetings was… “I think the lesson was pretty good”.  When we ask teachers to reflect on a lesson, and they know that conversation is going to work its way into a year-end evaluation, we are setting them up to be guarded and cater to the administrator.  If self-reflection is about “self”, then why are we setting up our conversations to have teachers appease the audience rather than inform their practice?

The question that surrounds teacher reflection doesn't really start with the reflection process…it starts with trust.  If we are going to see people grow in their craft, there has to be a culture of trust established within the building.  First and foremost, administrators need to trust that teachers are doing the best they can and are willing to grow themselves throughout the year.  We all know that 2 observations of 30 minutes each often end up in viewing lessons that are not typical of the daily routine.  We, as school leaders, are to blame for that concept…not our teachers.  If the evaluation system lends itself to a dog and pony show for 60 of the 70,000 minutes of instruction in a year then the issue is ours.  We must get beyond teachers only reflecting on practice when we ask them to as part of an evaluation system.

The second component is teachers trusting administrators.  I often tell our staff…take a risk, do something outside of your comfort zone, make something happen.  That being said, not all do because they are afraid failure in risk taking will be noted in an evaluation.  One way to shift that paradigm is to model the environment and ensure that the opinion leaders in the building have support in taking risks.  They need to feel validated in their attempt to try something new. Most importantly, if you say risk taking and failure (if those risks don’t bear fruit) will not be looked at negatively on an evaluation…then you have to follow through.  I would much rather have a staff member take a risk and fail, than continue to teach as they have for years, in a way that they were probably taught as a student, which only worked for a small percentage of people who became teachers.  This simply continues a cycle of worksheets and compliance as opposed to engagement and innovation.

Once those pieces are established, the actual teaching of self-reflection can start.  We are taking the process slowly and using the Danielson Model as a medium for reflection in instructional practice.  We are discussing one Domain (3-Instruction) and allowing teachers to start the self-reflection process with specific practice to improve instruction.  Our walkthrough model will hopefully allow staff members to look at their own practice and reflect on specific instructional components of what they do in the classroom.  The important component is that the self-reflection is for them…not me.  They don’t need to turn anything in, answer a ton of questions that won’t help them in the future, or try to justify why something went well or not in the classroom.  They are the owners of their improvement…we help facilitate that improvement.  I am a huge Jim Knight fan (@jimknight99 on Twitter).  His perspective on self-reflection and a look back, look at, look forward practice is fantastic and one we will use with our staff over the course of the next 18 months.  Teaching the process, having the resources, and most importantly, creating a culture of trust will help us reach the goal of instructional improvement at all levels. 

Side note and shameless plug…if anyone is interested in learning more about how we are using self-reflection to teach the Danielson Model join me for a webinar on February 12th from 4:00-4:30 CST.  Link can be found at http://community.simplek12.com/scripts/student/webinars/view.asp?fb=1&id=734#.URZnUpxSMYk.twitter
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo