Stimulating Reflection

Stimulating Reflection

 
We often refer to the 3R’s of school improvement as rigor, relevance, and relationships. These are very important and powerful in improving teaching and learning. However, a fourth R that is crucial for professionals raising their expertise is Reflection. I like the quote from John Dewey, “we do not learn from experience: we learn from reflecting on experience.”
 
One of the key elements of instructional leadership is to have a clear focused target on which instruction needs to be directed. This is important but the process of getting staff to move toward that target requires reflection. Reflection does not result from a memo or a mandate, it is initiated by the individual. However, there are conditions leaders can address to stimulate reflection.
 
The several conditions  on which leaders must focus in order to create an environment that stimulates reflection are; emotional engagement, quiet time, recognized gaps, thoughtful prompts, and experience.
 
Emotional Engagement
 
Individuals will not reflect on something that they do not feel an emotional connection with. We think about the things that we care about. In order to create a higher level of reflection in education, it is important for teachers and administrators to feel a personal, emotional connection to the issue at hand. For example, when discussing school performance data, this often leaves a very distant emotional connection. Translating data into student faces and names regarding achievement can help to build an emotional connection. iConsequently teachers feel an emotional connection and a greater sense of urgency to reflect around the issues of poor student achievement.
 
Quiet Time
 
Reflection is about thinking on the work. It is very difficult to think on the work when we are engaged in the work. It is important to have quiet time away from the demands of the job in order to truly reflect. This does not have to be extended periods of time, however it needs to be free of distractions. Leaders need to provide opportunities for quiet time and personally we need to provide our own quiet time in order to increase reflection.
 
Visible Gaps
 
The usefulness of data-driven instruction is that it provides a quantifiable gap between our present performance and our desired performance. Reflection usually doesn’t occur unless we see and can visualize a gap between where we currently are where we want to be. Visible gaps can be  between past performance and current performance. It is those visual gaps that lead to reflection. We reflect about things that were not satisfied with and the more that we can visualize and quantify gaps, the more we can stimulate reflection.
 
Thoughtful Prompt
 
Events trigger reflection! We spend most of our day putting the observations around us into the categories and patterns of normal conditions. When we see something out of the ordinary we think about it. When we see a student with a remarkable achievement or on the other end a student with very poor achievement we tend to analyze and reflect why that situation occurred. In order to stimulate more reflection, it is often useful to create these unique events. This might be in the form of a story. It might be in the form of a video, or it might be in the form of an unusual or provocative question. When we go about our normal routines we rarely take time to redirect our brain to thinking and reflecting. We concentrate on doing and handling the events around us that require our attention. By identifying and creating some thoughtful prompt we can stimulate more reflection. 
 
Experience
 
The process of reflection is analyzing prior experiences in order to determine a new course of action. When our previous experiences are very limited, we have very limited ideas upon which to reflect. Even if we are excited about the opportunity to reflect, if our experiences are limited, we will not be very successful. Sometimes in order to improve reflection we need to provide more experiences. More experienced teachers have greater opportunity to reflect and likewise creating new experiences such as having teachers observe other classrooms or other schools gives them a richer set of experiences upon which to reflect.
 
Summary 
 
Reflection is not an accidental event. Leaders and facilitators can increase the level of reflection by paying attention to these necessary conditions in order to enrich reflective experiences.  Reflection is that essential ingredient that enhances personal development and ultimately improvement in teaching and learning.