By Adrin Fisher
Last week, my older son and I went on a field trip to New York City. We walked Times Square. We ate pho in Chinatown. We experienced a hit musical on Broadway. We wandered into a used vinyl shop in Greenwich Village where I could touch both side walls at the same time. We stood in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and we touched the stone George Washington stood on during his inauguration in Federal Hall. My son hugged me as I cried my way through the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
That three-day-trip was the definition of authentic learning. Among many other experiences, my son got a sense of an event that happened years before he was born—an event that stands as a definite “I Remember Where I Was When” for most Americans above the age of 25—by hearing last words, seeing artifacts, standing in sacred space. As we know, experiences are key to learning. We’ve got to plug into our schemata—activate our prior knowledge—to create new knowledge, to learn, to grow, to repeat ad infinitum.
What does all this talk of authentic experience have to do with reflection—besides an excuse to post a picture of a memorial and some glass buildings?
I believe that you—teacher friend—are nearing completion of an authentic year in the classroom. Not a year to write a book about, perhaps. Not a year when your hair remained neatly in place and your students diligently competed to better themselves and the productive struggle was sincerely, astonishingly, sweepingly successful. Not a year when you arose from your bed cheerfully each morning with all the essays corrected and all the grades filled in and all the photocopies made and all the solutions lined up in rows. But rather, you’re emerging from a messy, hard, exhausting, partially successful, authentic school year.
So, knowing what we know about teaching and learning, I want to remind us of our teaching vows—to be a reflective practitioner. We learn not just by doing, but by thinking about what we’ve done. Try one or more of these techniques to help you reflect on your authentic school year.
- Read over your lesson plans or planning calendars a prep at a time. My favorite memory-jogger is the $3 monthly calendar I buy for each prep. These are invaluable to me, first as a way to organize my year, and secondly, to figure out what actually happened during the year. My previous calendars help me anticipate the next year.
- Look through notes you’ve created on various lessons. What worked? Why? Would another strategy or another selection have made a difference? If you’ve not created notes—no worries; it’s not too late. As you’re reviewing your plans or calendars, I’m sure you’ll remember the positives and the pitfalls.
- Take a warm bath—or sit out on the porch—or sunbathe—as a blank slate. Summarize your year in three words. Then, take it deeper. Let the year wash over you and seek out patterns. Did you consistently have trouble with a particular type of student? What do you know you want to change? How would a revision of order make a difference? What have you learned since then that you can incorporate?
- Read your year in positive notes and photos. I’ve mentioned before that I store up positive words from students in scrapbooks. I hope you do the same. Don’t discount it when a student says you’re the best teacher. Soak it in. Be grateful and thankful, and humbled that some kid credits you for making his life better. That’s something authentic, and you have proof.
- Ask yourself a series of questions, and respond in writing. Google a list of reflection questions (I found a great one on edunators.com) or start with the basics: What went well this year? Why did it? Writing makes it so, so write your answers.
As I start my reflection process for this year, I’ll admit that it was a mixed bag. My seniors were nice, my honors kids had some very good moments and my English 10 kids were fairly engaged. On the other hand, I felt disorganized and behind the curve all year. I planned a classroom “book club” a la Kittle and Gallagher, but I didn’t start preparing early enough with the five novels I assigned, which resulted in me prepping seven novels at once. That was just dumb.
When the final bell rings, I’ll be hanging out, hovering over my school year for a while, until I’ve seen what I can see.
Because I am my own worst critic—and you might be yours—I want to leave you with one last thought from Brene Brown: “Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.” Start your reflection by remembering that you make a difference, an authentic difference, in the lives of very important people.
All the best to you, as you reflect on this year to get ready for what’s next!
WVCTE wants you to contribute to the conversation. What reflection tools do you love? What are your highs and lows of the year? Leave us a question or comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not stressing about completing the readings she’s assigned herself, encouraging and supporting her colleagues or conferencing with budding writers, you can find her reading with her kids, ogling the peonies in her garden, or taking notes on life in her current composition book. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin