Saturday, February 16, 2013

Is Reflecting Valued in Education?

During my first Educon, I was lured into Jennifer Orr’s, “Reflecting on Reflection” session because I am incredibly passionate about reflection.  Personal and professional reflection.   As Jen shared the follow quote from John Dewey, I suddenly unblocked my thought process when I was first introduced to John Dewey’s work during my senior year of undergrad.  “Reflection is an active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds supporting it and future conclusions to which it tends.”

When I was twenty two years old, and not yet a teacher, I loathed studying John Dewey and reflection. My desire was to teach kids.  I did not want to reflect on something I had yet to experience. I definitely did not want to reflect on reflecting when I thought I had nothing to reflect about.   I was not yet aware of the value of reflection.  

Since I had to succumb to the teaching credential requirements in order to teach, I read the mandated books, participated in the discussions and wrote my papers adequately enough to receive an A in the course.  I was still not a reflector when I left the course.  I don’t blame John Dewey or my professor; I was not ready.

I did not consciously begin to value the art of reflection until the very next year, when I started my year long internship required for the graduate program.  I was immersed with questions after observing a masterful teacher and starting to practice teaching.  Not only did I want to reflect; I felt it essential to reflect.

This made me think of a discussion during lunch at Educon one day. David Truss mentioned how much he grew as an educator while completing his masters program while he was simultaneously teaching.  He posed a great question: should teachers attend graduate school prior to teaching?   

He made me question my five year program.  I learned a lot in grad school; but, I’ve learned a lot more valuable and applicable information through the professional development programs I’ve selected to participate while teaching, like Powerful Learning Practice.  Each year I’ve become a better teacher because of my questions and self reflection.  David’s question intrigued me because of my introductory experience with John Dewey and reflection, prior to teaching.

I am who I am because of reflection.  I attribute all of my professional and personal growth to reflection.   

During Jen’s Educon discussion, a few teachers indicated that they do not reflect because they do not have time to reflect.  I understand how precious time is and that it is impossible for teachers to adequately accomplish all of the passed down requirements.  I will never give up reflecting myself or encouraging my students to reflect.

I asked the group how they got their students to reflect.  If they didn’t reflect themselves, how could they ask their students to do so?  I was astonished to find out that many teachers feared their administrators wouldn’t allow them to spend class time on reflection because it’s not in the curriculum.

One teacher even implied that she was scared that she would get into trouble with her administrator if she had her students reflect during class time.  I loved Jen’s response, “Don’t ask.  Just do it!”  

I was outraged by the teachers fear! I tweeted:

Reflection is priceless.  Reflection has made me a better person and a better teacher.  How do teachers stay sane if they do not reflect?

How do students grow without reflecting?  It is so important for teachers to model their own reflection process to their students. If my teachers had reflected and modeled their reflections to me, perhaps when I first read Dewey, I would have found initial value in his brilliant insight.  

In order for positive growth, it is essential for administrators to encourage their teachers to reflect and for teachers to encourage their students to reflect. Reflection is part of a process we must value.


  1. Rachel, I was just having this conversation with a friend yesterday. Our daughters are both graduating from their undergraduate programs this spring and her daughter is at Tufts getting her teaching credentials and considering the 5th year program. I sent her the link to your blog, it may be very useful in her planning and hopefully reflecting on her next journey. Thanks so much for sharing - perfect timing!

    1. Thank you, Cyndi! I wish your daughter, and your friend's daughter, the best of luck.

  2. A great reflection on reflection!
    One of the best things I have ever done with respect to reflection on my professional practice is blog. Here is an example:
    Note that there is a link to an online reflection I had my students do... One way that you can 'make' time for students to reflect! :)
    It is a bit tragic to hear teachers say 'I don't have time in my schedule to have students reflect'... If we don't give them reflection time, are we really teaching them to be lifelong learners?

  3. Thank you, David! I appreciate you sharing your reflection on wikis. The world needs more administrators like you, who transparently self reflect and foster student reflection as well.