Last week, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Silvia Tolisano. She delivered a half day workshop for a small group of teachers at our school. While I do have some critiques of the format of the workshop – all lecture, with no “doing” component- I still found the message and the ideas she shared immensely valuable, and certainly worth my time in the workshop. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure all of my colleagues did.
While many of my colleagues agreed with me, too often, I heard feedback such as, “All she talked about was blogs for 4 hours,” with a running joke now being, “going to blog about it?” This, despite Silvia expressing at the start of her workshop, “I’m not selling you anything, or telling you this is the only way to do this.” Given that I’m the Director of Technology, and it is my role to help teachers understand how technology can help their practice, I must take the blame for their misunderstanding.
So, for the sake of my colleagues that missed the mark, and for the sake of my own understanding, what will follow is a reflection on my experience of the workshop and the ideas Silvia expressed.
It starts with reflection.
“To make meaning means to make sense of an experience; we make an interpretation of it. When we subsequently use this interpretation to guide decision making or action, then making meaning becomes learning… Reflection enables us to correct distortions in our beliefs and errors in problem solving. Critical reflection involves a critique of the presuppositions on which our beliefs have been built.”
This is how Jack Mezirow describes the value of reflection for transformative learning in Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood Of course we don’t have to take his word for it, as there are many others who point to the importance and value of reflection in learning, for adults and children. Helen Barrett and Jonathan Ricther from the University of Oregon put together this site where they’ve compiled lots of the thinking and research on reflection for learning, if you’re skeptical and need more to dig into.
As teachers we probably take the time to reflect much less often than we should. We feel pressured by other work; grading papers, writing reports, documenting our unit planning, understanding new initiatives and expectations from admin, etc. Yet, it is reflection that could help us better meet and exceed these expectations. Through reflection, we can better understand the Marzano domains, or the ISTE Standards. Through reflection, we could better understand the successes and failures of our taught units.
There are even some times where your reflection as a teacher is certainly part of a professional expectation. As professionals, we are expected to document our unit planning. Atlas Rubicon, the curriculum mapping and documentation tool you know and love, has a place for reflection on each unit plan. It’s not there on accident, and it’s not simply another box to fill. It is meant for teachers to critically reflect on their unit to find opportunities for improvement, for differentiation, for teaching digital citizenship, for providing more student agency, for your professional growth and learning. If you are not already doing this, you should be.
Sharing is Caring
While a private, or at least a not-very-public, reflection is certainly valuable to us individually, the reflection’s value multiplies the more we share. By sharing our reflection we can get feedback on our thinking. We engage in a conversation about our experience and gain more understanding of that experience through the shared perspective of a colleague. The saying goes, two heads are better than one.
This is where it starts to get really interesting. With the tools available to us on our computers, on our smartphones, the one you have in your hand right now, we can easily share to a vast community of professionals that are just dying to engage in a conversation with you. They can’t wait for you to share because they recognize the value in seeing your reflection and how it contributes to their understanding and growth, too.
Silvia Tolisano calls this amplification. Through social media we can amplify our sharing so that it doesn’t just reach the colleagues in your grade level, or department, or school, but all of your colleagues, or “friends,” all over the world. In turn, we amplify the feedback we could potentially receive. We crowd-source our reflection, putting the network to work for us. If two heads are better than one, what about 100? 1,000? 100,000? 1,000,000?
Snowball at the top of Mt. Everest
So you’ve reflected and shared that reflection with the world. You’ve even received some feedback that lead to some new ideas about how to teach a particular unit. Great! This is just the beginning. Because along with those important first steps come many more benefits. By sharing, we enrich the entire community of educators. Your experience has been documented, so anyone can access it at anytime, anywhere for their own professional learning and growth. Even your contributions that are “wrong,” or perhaps better stated as, early, incomplete understandings, are valuable. Other teachers may stumble upon those, see your growth, and feel inspired to continue learning, reminding themselves that this is a part of the learning process.
As Silvia puts it, this becomes the glue for everything else. All the professional learning we must undergo for all the initiatives at our school, Writers Workshop, BYOD, student ePortfolios, Marzano Evaluation Model, etc, etc, all of this becomes activated, super charged, through shared reflection. It becomes the evidence and repository of our collective learning.
How about some more immediate benefits for you, the teacher? By sharing your’re creating an online presence that will be valuable for you as you move through the community of international schools. This recruitment season, I’ve Googled the name of every candidate that I’ve come across. You can imagine that most recruiters are doing this, as I’m sure my colleagues, Dan Kerr, Garth Wyncoll, Paola Pereira and Madeleine Heide have as well. We’re looking for evidence of the candidate’s work, documentation of their previous success, anything that might help us understand who they are. When a candidate has zero results, it’s doesn’t mean I’m not interested, but I’m certainly more interested in candidates I know more about. The more you share, the more likely it is recruiters will find your work and get to know you.
This sharing is also valuable for your school. As more of the larger community begins to hear more contributions from your school, the school begins to become a beacon for professional growth. It becomes recognized as a place where learning is happening. This, again benefits individual teachers as recruiters are interested in what schools you’ve taught in. If you’ve taught at a well known and respected school, you’re more likely to catch their attention.
So how do I share?
To reflect and share, we need a tool that will give us the ability to write in a somewhat longer format than a Facebook comment. It should be easy to use, too. That tool should also let us collect feedback on our reflection, and even engage in a conversation. All of this should be easily accessible by anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Ideally, it will also let me sort and categorize my reflections so that I, and anyone else that is interested, can find my reflections easily. This is where the blog idea comes in. The blog is simply a tool that lets us reflect and share easily. However, the blog alone won’t let us amplify. Here is where we can use tools like Twitter, and Facebook to amplify.
Ultimately, what we’re talking about is a professional portfolio. A place where you not only showcase your work, but also showcase your growth. A place where you tell the story of your professional development.
Who has time for this?
A teacher is always pressed for time. Yet a minimum amount of reflection is actually a professional expectation. Teachers are expected to document their units. Part of that documentation is a reflection on the unit’s successes and challenges. If we don’t have time for this, we need to be able to make time for it. If writing a unit reflection is already part of your routine, then there is do additional time required.
What if you invested another minute? What if, after writing that refection in Atlas, you also copied it to a Facebook comment, or better yet, to a blog post? What if you added a few lines asking for feedback, then shared that post via Twitter. How much longer would it take? It might take 5-10 minutes longer the first few times you do it. However, soon, quite soon actually, it would probably take 1-2 minutes longer. Is one minute worth creating huge potential for your professional growth? Don’t your students deserve the best you you can be? Don’t you deserve it?
Wrap it up, B!
If reflection is key to learning, then, as we encourage our students to reflect on their learning, so too should we make time to reflect on our professional growth and learning. By sharing that reflection, we benefit from the perspective of other professionals. By amplifying that sharing we benefit from an entire network of professionals, thereby contributing to the entire community and creating an online presence of our work which provides benefits for our professional careers. By making the most of our professional growth, we become the best teacher we can be, and are able to give our students the best that we can be.
Silvia talked about this not just in reference to us, but to our students as well. Yes, she thinks a blog is an obvious tool to help accomplish this, but she is NOT encouraging all teachers to blog. She’s begging you to reflect and share that reflection, so that we can all grow together because our students need us to. It’s 2016. Are you ready for the 21st century? I hope so, because most of our students never saw the 20th century.
So now what? Stay tuned for plans, following many of Silvia’s suggestions, on next steps.
What do you think? Are you ready to start sharing your reflections? How would you begin to encourage colleagues at your school to do this?