Teaching, Reflecting, Learning

Last year was a whirlwind year for me- teaching two preps, one of which I hadn’t thought about since student teaching, working with different colleagues, getting the chance to implement some of the strategies and techniques that I’d thought about for chemistry but not yet had the chance to do. And honestly, it kind of wore me out. I’m thankful for summer, thankful for the chance to recharge and regroup.

This summer, I went to two different types of professional development. One was the annual summer meeting for the Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship (KSTF), the other was ChemEd 2015. And while both were valuable in different ways, I’ve come to realize how important it is to have the space and the resources to reflect and learn as a teacher, particularly as a new teacher.  This summer, as part of my work with KSTF, I read Jose Vilson‘s book “This is Not a Test“, and he writes

Individually, the way teachers remember their years in school is often indicative of how they view “good” education, even if it didn’t really work for everyone. It always starts off the same: “When I was a student, teachers used to ______, and we’d learn because ______, and that’s why I do it that way.”

I think the key here is “even if it didn’t work for everyone”. Just because it worked for me (and a traditional instructional method of lecture/notes/practice worked for me) doesn’t mean that it works for most of my students. I don’t really think that I’ll ever find a single method that works for all of my students. But I think it’s important to reflect on how I teach and how my students did or didn’t learn, and then improve my practice. I was impressed by all the teachers at ChemEd 2015, regardless of where they are in their teaching careers, giving up four days or more of their summer to talk Chemistry instruction. And I was encouraged by my colleagues at KSTF and the thoughtful discussions they pushed me towards about my teaching and the learning going on in my classroom (for both myself and my students). But the most valuable part of either of these experiences for me is where they forced me to reflect on my practice and what worked and what didn’t (and I use “forced” in the nicest way possible). 

There’s a lot of educational literature out there about the importance of reflecting on our students’ learning- metacognition and all that jazz (just google “reflection and learning”). I do believe that metacognition helps learning, and I’m looking forward to putting some structures into my classroom this fall that will help my students think about their own learning. But I’m wondering if, as teachers, we need more time and space to really reflect on our own practice, to improve it. The New Teacher Project (TNTP) came out with a report on teacher PD and its hit-or-miss tendency. My summary: it’s hard to tell just from PD if the teacher will improve or not, there’s no “magic bullet” type of PD that leads to improvement. (Side note: I’m not sure that I wholly agree with everything put out by TNTP, but they certainly provide food for thought.) More PD is not necessarily the answer. “Better” PD is something that might be different for everyone.

I’m thankful that, going into my third year of teaching, I’ve had many supports (among my colleagues at school, through KSTF, through other PD experiences) to reflect upon and improve my teaching. I think that I’ve been improving, at any rate (although the TNTP report would suggest that most teachers, even those whose ratings have declined, will say they’ve improved). I’m heading into a new school year in a few weeks, and feeling both excited and apprehensive. There’s a lot of changes at my school, in my department, and figuring out how to navigate some of those changes is likely to be somewhat stressful. But I’m hoping to be reflective during this coming year, even though it might be another whirlwind. And hopefully, despite what’s said about the hit-or-miss nature of teacher PD, this reflection will improve my teaching, will improve my own learning, and will ultimately help my students to learn.

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