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Reflective Practice

I like to think I reflect, although fester might be the more appropriate term.  There are times I will go over and over a problem until I’ve  stretched its shape beyond recognition.   But I have to ask myself, is this reflection?  I can only answer yes if I am using this process in a way that is described by Lana Danielson in her article, “Fostering Reflection”.   According to her, the reflective process only occurs when one suspends all decision making and opens their mind to possible solutions by studying the situation and exploring various solutions (Danielson, 2009).  With that as the working definition I have to admit the truth to myself, I don’t often practice this form of reflecting.  Rather I engage in problem solving, seeking out a solution based on what I believe to be the problem. Danielson calls this “situational thinking”, basing a decision on the situation as it is perceived without taking in all the possibilities.

There are other forms of thinking that Danielson identifies, and these types of thinking processes steer the depth of the reflection being done.  Perhaps the most limiting form of thinking is formulaic thinking, which is based on established processes.  This kind of thinking doesn’t generally lead to reflection because it does provide opportunity for considering why something is done.  Formulaic thinking is great for selecting routines and processes that can be used in the classroom, but in order to choose the best routines, one must move away from formulaic thinking to thinking about how the decisions being made will inform practice.

So, how often do I vacillate between using my knowledge to direct my teaching and using my knowledge to inform it?   I know there are times I make decisions about what I am going to teach without considering the best approach or other methods I could use.  Is that the nature of the beast, to become less reflective as time progresses?  When I take the time to listen to other people’s opinions and step back from a problem to look at all the angles I have a clearer understanding of my role in a situation.  This helps me to best determine what to do to improve the outcome.   Danielson calls this deliberate thinking, to purposefully seek out  feedback from others before making a decision.  As a middle school teacher working with five other teachers, I have the luxury of being able to do this with minimal effort.  Using this process of deliberate thinking helps me gain perspective and consider the situation based on the input of my colleagues.

I had a conversation recently with my student teacher where we were discussing reflection journals.  I explained to her that I wrote nearly every single day for the first three years of teaching to reflect on my practice.  Now I write occasionally, and even then I’m pretty sure of the conclusion I am going to reach before I get too deep into the process.  But having a student teacher has refreshed me and I have begun to do more reflection, at least in my head.  Of course the next step, the really important step, is to do this in writing.  This again is based on Danielson’s work. In the document “Keeping a Reflective Journal”  she explains how the journal assists in the reflective process.  It is a tool that is used to document our thinking and give us a place to make meaning of our thoughts. It also allows us to state our opinions in an explicit manner, and perhaps most importantly, look back on our thoughts to see change and growth.

Using deliberate thinking to suspend judgment about a situation will be one of the hardest tasks I face as I actively re-engage in reflection. I’m used to looking at situations and brainstorming solutions, but  in order to be as effective as possible I need to be able to step back and think, to open my mind to new possibilities and new solutions to situations I am exploring.  I want to try this; I just know it will take practice to let go of my old way of working.

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