Looking at Your Practice in the Mirror #1

Wow! October was an extremely busy month for iTeachMathEducators. Lots of PD sessions and workshop presentations. After each opportunity, I came away greatly pleased with the number of educators who told me I inspired them to change their thinking or helped them to think differently about their classroom practice. Of course, I love teaching teachers and teaching math. However, that “What a great presentation!” feeling lasts hours if not a day,  and if lucky a week. Once you return to your classroom before you know it, the time set aside to be innovative and try that new stuff becomes lost. Not lost in like forgotten but lost to the every Monday staff meetings, the grading of papers, assessment giving, lesson planning, PLC meetings, and all that extra compliance stuff that now clouds the role of teaching and instructional practice. So, I understand that you will think about that professional learning session, hear the speaker’s voice in your head and even have mental images of being there. What I desire for you to retain, from my presentations and any other presentations, is that feeling of empowerment you felt when you began to think about your practice.

You must recognize that you have the ability to change the face of your professional learning. I guess of sorts; I would call it “Looking at Your Practice in the Mirror.” Why the mirror analogy? Mirrors reflect, of course. Possibly you haven’t been able to implement every single thing you learned but how are your students doing with, performing based on, or responding to what you have implemented? Has the change in your teaching practice assisted them in learning? Don’t end up like Tiger.

Does your practice promote learning?

The questions above require you to think about and reflect on your practice. There’s the secret, “Reflection.”  However, I want you to move beyond just thinking about it. I want you to write about it. Correct, I want you to begin keeping a reflective journal. Call this strategy #1 because this is a three-part series.

Journal writing has become a powerful tool in the field of education. Why? Writing forces you to think in ways to clarify ideas and modify others. When you reflect on your practice and collect information about the teaching going on in your classroom, you begin to analyze and evaluate the information you’ve collected. It’s through this exploration of your practice that you begin to change and challenge your teaching. So, reflective teaching is really a means of professional development that starts with you, in your classroom.

Well, how do you begin? You just start writing, but you have to follow some framework. Let me share the four question framework I use to get teachers started thinking about their teaching:

  1. Can you give me a DESCRIPTION of what occurred in class, in your lesson, or in the class discussion in detail? A possible journal entry might look like… I did a lesson on slope today. Instead of using the textbook, I supplemented the lesson with an activity that required the students to experiment with… They were required to identify… After holding a discussion, I then used the text to…
  2. Can you ANALYZE your responses and your students’ response? How did you feel? How did you respond? Possible Response: “I was excited that most students were engaged in the lesson. One group was not as attentive. I had to remind them of the group work rules several times. They told me that they did not get the slope concept. I asked them the meaning of slope, they said, ‘rise over run’ but couldn’t give me a visual picture of what that meant or explain that it was the change in the y-intercept over the change in the x-intercept when I gave them two points. I felt anxious because I if I didn’t help them to connect the mathematics of slope with explaining it as ‘rise over run’ maybe others don’t understand slope either. 
  3. What NEW KNOWLEDGE/STRATEGIES do you have? Here I’m asking teachers to draw some conclusions (in writing) that confirm or disprove what they know, believe, or think to be true. Possibly they are trying to implement a strategy based on an article they read or a PD session. Then possibly, they just did what they have always done, and it doesn’t seem to be effective anymore.  Based on the information in question 2, the teacher thought providing more visual representations would have helped students make a connection to the meaning of “rise over run.” Question 3 gives me the opportunity to invite teachers to do some research. What learning theories relate to the situation? To what degree is theory or research confirmed or disproved based on your experience? What conclusion can you draw from your experience? In other words, what are the research-based best practices out there right now as it relates to your experience? 
  4. What are your FUTURE ACTIONS? Now that the teachers know what they know, they can discuss how the experience will influence their future actions/practice. What will you do in similar situations? How will you use this information to influence other decisions you make about teaching and learning? 

It may seem like a daunting task; however, once you get started it becomes an embedded practice. You just find yourself doing it without thinking. Don’t believe me, give it a try and let me know how it is going for you! All you have to do is pick up the pen.

Additional Readings:

The first edition
The second edition available 3/17






A practical guide to the essential practice that builds better teachers.