Discover more from The Educationalist
Time to reflect...
The Educationalist. By Alexandra Mihai
Welcome to a new issue of “The Educationalist”. 2020 has been a roller coaster. Plans cancelled, routines turned upside-down, our ability to adapt put to the test over and over again. We are spending our days in an endless series of zoom sessions, eyes glued to the screen for (too) many hours a day. It’s easy to see why many of us would be tempted to see reflection as a luxury right now. After all, it requires time and focus. Two things we are painfully lacking currently. A recent discussion on Twitter turned into a collective (meta)reflection exercise and I am happy to be able to share some great suggestions for reflection tools and spaces, both at personal level and from the faculty development perspective. I wish you a good start into November!
Reflection, I would argue, is exactly what we need the most right now. For teachers, the sudden switch to teaching online has prompted a reboot in terms of teaching methods and course design. When trying something new, the best way to evaluate the outcome before moving forward is to reflect: think about what you enjoyed, what surprised you, what enraged you, what went better or worse than expected. Equally important, when facing information overload, carried away by hectic schedules, reflection can provide a means to figure out what is important and prioritise accordingly. All in all, I see reflection as a valuable self-care instrument, useful both in terms of professional development and personal well-being.
Even if in essence it sounds simple enough (“stop and think”), meaningful reflection does need a bit of work: ideally we need to create a reflection routine and embed it in our day-to-day practice. While this can be difficult at the best of times, finding the right time and space for reflection is even a bigger challenge in times of pandemic.
Self-reflection: between social and individual approaches
As a personal pursuit, reflection comes in different shapes. Some of us prefer to do it alone, the act of articulating one’s thoughts being rewarding in itself. Others are more motivated to reflect in a social context, sharing their thoughts being an important part of the exercise. Finding the right time and space for reflection can be challenging. For example, for me walking represents a very good way to focus while being away from my desk and it often results in meaningful reflection on whatever topic is on my mind at that moment.
Individual reflection spaces:
Journal: a very versatile tool allowing us to reflect in a personalised way; length of entries and frequency are variable, can be “freestyle” or following specific prompts; can use various media: text, pictures, audio, video, etc; the key is to keep reflecting and to regularly go over older entries, making it an iterative process with the aim of enhancing our practice.
Blog: essentially a journal that we share with the wider world; beside the benefits of writing down our thoughts, blog posts can spur discussions with peers and, in turn, create prompts for more self-reflection.
Social reflection spaces:
Personal Learning Networks(PLNs)/ Twitter: these can be very inspiring reflection environements. Interacting with people that share the same interests can help us put our own thoughts and practices into perspective, resulting in a fruitful reflection exercise.
Study circles, peer groups, critical friends: finding the right people to reflect with can be hard but it is extremely rewarding. Beside adding an element of accountability, sharing and discussing our reflections can give our self-confidence a boost and often provides us with a few actionable points to implement in our practice.
Faculty development: building a learning community
Reflection also represent an important part of faculty development. Teachers learn the best from each other and with each other. And the first step in this process is reflection. The key is to ensure a balance between providing structure and scaffolding for this process and allowing faculty to freely reflect on their practice.
How do we encourage this process in a kind, supportive way? Here are a few ideas:
Bringing people together in various settings (flexibility and accessibility are important) on a regular -or at least loosely regular- basis to discuss teaching related topics; the aim is to build faculty learning communities. This takes time and patience but the result is undoubtedly worth it. One positive effect of the pandemic was the increase in frequency of such events; the next step is to turn this into a sustainable reflection practice.
Supporting co-creation and peer learning: creating opportunities for faculty to collaborate and learn from each other. This can take the form of co-teaching or mentoring and “buddy systems”, wherby instructors connect and share with like-minded peers. This is the more institutionalised equivalent of the study circles and critical friends I mentioned for self-reflection.
Providing prompts for reflection: we need to be very careful what questions we ask, to make sure we don’t inhibit or influence the reflection process. Asking what they enjoyed or what surprised them can be a good starting point. Drawing on the discussions taking place in the contexts mentioned above is often a good idea, as this gives us important clues on the type of support faculty needs in this exercise.
I feel extremely lucky to be able to regularly reflect with and get inspiration from my Twitter network. Special thanks for contributing to this post to: Jo Stroud, Jenae Cohn, Colin Hickie, Maha Bali, Jessamyn Neuhaus, Leo Havemann, Sanna Eronen, Simon Usherwood, Jesper Hansen, Jenny Griffiths, Tracey Bailey, Helen South, Natasha Taylor and Karen Costa. If you are building your personal learning network on education topics, visiting their profiles and following them is a really great starting point.