I am not sure how many of you knew this, but I love the Jesuits. I spent ten years of my college education studying at two different Jesuit universities. (I studied at both Saint Louis University and Regis University…I also teach online in Regis’s education programs). I have always been an advocate for Ignatian pedagogy, particularly because of its emphasis on reflection. (This is probably where my teaching and campus ministry backgrounds really merge!) Much of Jesuit education is founded on a model of see-reflect-act. In many ways, this is in alignment with Bloom’s taxonomy and shows that transition from lower-order thinking skills to higher-order thinking skills.
I used this model in many of my retreat programs. When I used to direct Urban Plunge retreats, we specifically started off the retreat with a driving tour (so students could see impoverished and affluent areas and everything in between), we would then go to a shelter where they would get to interact with the homeless (again so they could see and learn what their lives were like), and then we’d head back to the school or retreat center for a reflection. After processing what they saw, what they learned, and how it makes them feel, they were challenged to do something about it. Of course, part of day two of the retreat was volunteering in neighborhoods across the city, but we also encouraged them to do more AFTER the retreat. We wanted them to act and become DOERS.
We all know that reflection is an important tool in learning, and we encourage our students to do it. In reflection, we are given the opportunity to step back and see our strengths and weaknesses in how we handled a given situation—educational or otherwise. Reflection is where students show how they have become masters those content lessons and how they own that content. It is where they let us know how our teaching and the content affected them on a very individual level.
The Jesuits are not the only people in education who advocate for reflection in education. John Dewey is another important educator and researcher who strongly encouraged reflection, as well. Dewey actually believed three attitudes were integral to active reflection: open-mindedness, responsibility, and wholeheartedness, and he believed that reflection was just as important for teachers. According to Dewey, open-mindedness is an active desire to listen to more sides than one, to give full attention to all of the possibilities, and to recognize error even in beliefs that are important to us. For us teachers, this quality emphasizes asking an important question: Why are we doing what we are doing? Dewey also believed that responsible teachers ask that question in a way that goes beyond answering the obvious. He wouldn’t want you to say that you teach a specific lesson that way because “it works”. He’d challenge you to figure out which ways in which it is working, why it is working, and for whom in your class it is working. Dewey’s third attitude, wholeheartedness, is is what makes a school and its teachers unique. Teachers who are wholehearted regularly examine their own ideals and beliefs and the results of what they are doing in the classroom. They examine these areas of their teaching to learn something new. They continually strive to understand their own teaching and its impact on their students, and they try to look at situations from different perspectives.
This year, I am going to be encouraging you to be reflectors. If you have time this year, I highly recommend reading Reflective Teaching: An Introduction by Kenneth M. Zeichner and Daniel P. Liston. I’ve included the first chapter of it here for your reading. In the book’s preface, Zeichner and Liston state that it is their “belief that many educational issues engage and affect our heads and our hearts. Teaching is work that entails both thinking and feeling, and those who can reflectively think and feel will find their work more rewarding and their efforts more successful. Good teachers find ways to listen to and integrate their passions, beliefs, and judgments. And so we encourage not only the type of group deliberation […], but also an approach to reading that is attentive to an individual’s felt sense or what some might call ‘gut’ level reactions.”
I know that it is hard to be reflective teachers. It’s hard to build in that time during our school day…and our work is so immediate. When we are home, we may just want to forget about work and spend time with our families or doing those hobbies we love that keep us sane. In part of your professional development time, though, I’ll be asking you to make time to reflect. We know reflection helps our students, and we know it helps us become better teachers. We just have to make time to do it. Your blog will be your place to reflect on your teaching, share your insights about education, brag about your lessons where everything cliques, and vent on those days where you question why you are in this profession. (Of course, I want to see you trying new things, too, by adding technology into your classes.)
Teaching can be isolating. We are stuck in our classrooms with a room full of teenage girls most of the day. While I know that some of you will dread coming to our PD sessions in 207, I hope that you will see it as a chance to connect with your colleagues and touch base. For most of these sessions, I will be presenting a new tech tool for about 15 minutes. After that, the time is yours to work on your lesson planning and try to find ways to integrate technology into your lessons. I’ll be there if you need 1:1 help or want to work on mastering a new tool. Your colleagues will be there to brainstorm with and collaborate with. Or you can use that time to reflect and blog about the insights you have on your teaching. In Reflective Teaching: An Introduction, Zeichner and Liston write, “Reflective teachers are simply and unabashedly committed to the education of all their students and to their own education as teachers.” It is my hope that during the 2014-15 school year Seton teachers see their professional development time as a way to re-commit themselves to their own education as teachers. I hope that in sharing our reflections on our blogs that we are able to not only better ourselves as teachers, but that we can also create a stronger and more creative community that has a renewed energy for educating our students.