In her role 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. The problem, as we have pointed out more than once, 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, though they also make teaching itself interesting and challenging.
The complications also mean that teachers need to learn from their own teaching by reflecting (or thinking about the significance of) their experiences. In the classrooms, students are not the only people who need to learn. So do teachers, though what teachers need to learn is less about curriculum and more about students’ behavior and motivation, about how to assess their learning well, and about 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 both from experience and about experience. Becoming thoughtful helps you in all the areas discussed in this text: it helps in understanding 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, in fact, that we have referred to and illustrated its value throughout this book. In addition, we devote this entire appendix to how you, like other professional teachers, can develop habits of reflective practice in yourself. First, we describe what reflective practice feels like as an experience, and offer examples of places, people, and activities that can support your own reflection on practice. Then we discuss how teachers can also learn simply by observing and reflecting on their own teaching systematically, and by sharing the results with other teachers and professionals. This is an activity we mentioned in this book previously; we call it teacher research or action research. As you will see, reflective practice not only contributes to teachers’ ability to make wise decisions, but also allows them to serve as effective, principled advocates on behalf of students.
Concluding activities (check for understanding)
- Make a list of the five most important characteristics of an excellent teacher.
- Do you possess these characteristics?
- If not, what steps can you take to add the characteristic(s) to your teaching profile?
- Write a paragraph of your teaching philosophy.
- Why content is important?
- Best way to teach?
- What will your style be?
- What are your goals as a teacher?