Reflective Practice

turn your face to the sun

The following is a rather lengthy quote, but I feel compelled to include it here. It is so revealing of the influence that teachers have on the students and the cultures of their classrooms. The quote describes a reflective period in a mini-action research cycle of one teacher – go to the article to see how he uses this reflection as a basis for change.

Before school had even started I knew that I would have to work especially hard to make sure Matthew had a respected place in the room. I called on him for answers when I knew he had them. I partnered him with students who could be counted on to work patiently with him. In the first few months things seemed to go pretty well. Matthew was at least tolerated and well-treated, if not yet a cherished class member. Not so today. When did the students’ treatment of Matthew erode? What brought it on? And why had I not noticed?

Turning my observer’s eye upon myself

My inner voice said that if I wanted the answers, I had to first look at myself. Over the years I’ve learned that good teaching involves having a willingness to look at your own behavior and ask what part you might be playing in what’s going on in your classroom—the good and the not-so-good. So the next day I turned my observer’s eye upon myself and began to note my own behavior. Before Morning Meeting started Matthew was butting his head into Tyler’s shoulder. “Matthew! Stop!” I snapped. As students moved from Morning Meeting into math groups, I heard myself barking, “Matthew! Sit down now!” I seemed unable to speak the child’s name without an exclamation point behind it.

I reflected. In September I would have redirected Matthew with a gentle hand on his shoulder or a quiet “Matt, move over here now.” In September I made sure to welcome him warmly at the beginning of each day. Today I did not check in with him before Morning Meeting. In September I made it a point to use Matthew’s name in positive comments. Today I was loudly and frequently calling attention to his awkwardness.

I realized how very tired I was. Tired from the intense energy that the first phase of the school year requires and hungry for the late December week off that marked the first substantial break of the year. In addition to this predictable energy dip, the effort required to help the intensely needy Matt navigate daily classroom life added to my fatigue. As my exhaustion grew, my alertness to our classroom interactions diminished. I managed to overlook the rough tones and edgy words creeping into the children’s—and my—interactions with Matthew until they had escalated to an undeniably attention-grabbing level.

But now I was noticing. Moreover, as I continued to notice, it became clear that I was contributing to Matthew’s mistreatment. But wait, let me be more precise: I wasn’t just contributing to his mistreatment. I was teaching it. When I snapped at him, I gave permission to twenty-three others to snap at him too. I was using a surefire teaching strategy: modeling. I knew well the power of modeling and used it often and intentionally: “Watch how I lift Matilda out of her cage.” “Watch while I dribble the soccer ball around Jen.” “What did you notice? Now you try it this way.”

I realized that my interactions with Matthew were a powerful, unintentional modeling. When I stopped seeking Matthew out to say a friendly hello in the morning, the students stopped too. When I snapped commands at him, they snapped too. I was treated to a painful refresher lesson about the strength of modeling.

This was taken from What Teaching Matthew Taught Me: When a fourth-grade teacher tries to figure out why his class behaves poorly toward one particular student, he first has to consider his own behavior.

Please go read the rest of that article, for it outlines how Matthew’s teacher used an appreciative inquiry process to create change in his classroom. Very powerful.



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