The Power of Honest Reflection
Master Teacher Guest Blog Series –
Part 4: Reflect Honestly
Post 1 of 4
In today’s blog post, Master Teacher Maria Laws puts a new spin on the notion of self-reflection by involving her high school science students in the feedback process.
One of the many challenging aspects of the teaching profession is finding the time to develop best practices for reflection. Last year, I hit on one way that my students and I could participate in together with many positive results: a focus group.
That year, I was digging into a new set of teaching strategies and approaches that was uncharted territory for me. I knew in my mind that these strategies should support student learning, but I wasn’t sure how I could be certain of that without relying on my own potentially biased feelings about the value of the new work we were doing. I decided to invite in students from each class to help me assess, reflect, and improve my approach and planning.
Before each of our scheduled meetings, I would sit down and reflect upon my major goals related to my strategy shifts for that particular unit and think about specific questions I had that only students could answer: What was it like working with concept maps to plan large projects and unpack science reading? In what ways did it help you to start with sketches and conversation before moving into writing exercises?
When students came into the meeting, I shared with them a document of my specific strategies and related questions, and reviewed the purpose of the exercise — to provide me with valuable feedback about how the new strategies had affected their class experience and learning. I explained that they could discuss my prompts, choose specific ones they felt were most relevant or interesting to them, or go off from the document entirely to discuss new areas I either hadn’t realized students were strongly impacted by or ones I hadn’t specifically targeted as essential components to my practice. Once I answered any clarifying questions, I would set down a recording device and leave the room so that students could engage in a robust discussion without addressing every statement to me.
Once I listened to the depth of interest, engagement, and metacognition that my students exhibited on these recordings, it was clear to me I had hit upon a powerful tool for my own reflective process. I realized very quickly that in order to continue to have such a high level of discussion and reflection on teaching strategies by my focus group, I needed to make sure they knew I had heard their ideas and concerns. This meant that I needed to make shifts in response to their comments in real time.
By adjusting my practice based on their input, students were able to see the outcome of their focus group participation in our day-to-day classroom life, and they began to see themselves as partners in our work. This clear connection between their discussions of professional approaches to learning and teaching and what we did in class impacted each student in ways that were visible in their classroom engagement and leadership. I found that the more I engaged students with my honest questions and responded to their thoughts, the better their feedback became and the more I could trust that the shifts they asked for were ones I needed to make for the betterment of our entire class.
Honest reflection is a mix of many opposite roles and ideas:
- I had to be willing to be open to wherever the feedback took the conversation while still setting up priorities and a structure for discussion.
- I needed to be invested in my ideas while remaining open to competing ones.
- I had to balance the role of an adult classroom and curricular leader with that of a learning partner and collaborator.
- I had to trust my own wealth of classroom experience and content knowledge while allowing my students’ knowledge and experiences as learners to hold equitable space and value as we continued to meet and reflect on what it means to be a learner and a teacher.
For me, honest reflection is both of those educational roles at once, a dialogue rather than a monologue. I highly recommend that you play around with how a focus group might work in your classroom setting.
Check out my lesson link for more details and examples of the ways in which my students and I worked together to improve our course.
Maria Laws is a Biology and Chemistry teacher in Walnut Creek, California. She served on her school’s CCSS implementation team and is a member of California’s Instructional Leadership Corps of teachers developing CCSS and NGSS professional development seminars. To see all of Maria’s lessons, please click here.