A Time For Reflection for Teachers | Distance Learning | Steve Barkley

A Time For Reflection

Black family of three using laptop together at homeThe closure of schools and the move to distance learning has made new learners out of all of us: students, teachers, parents, instructional coaches, and school administrators. I believe that we need to reflect now concerning our day to day decisions and begin to reflect on how our current learning will influence our future practices.

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
– John Dewey

As a teacher, what are you uncovering/learning with the various approaches you have taken with the online tools, tasks, and activities that you’ve employed? What are you pondering as you look at students’ responses and engagement, their questions, compliments, and complaints? What insights are found in the surveying you have done with students and parents?

As an instructional coach and teacher leaders, what are you uncovering as you interact with your teachers? When you take part in grade level, department meetings, and PLCs online, what are you hearing? How are the thoughts, questions, and comments the same or different from before schools closed? How will you encourage teachers to take their new insights into experimentation when back in their classrooms? How do you imagine your role as a coach, facilitator, and teacher leader will be different as you return to school?

As a principal what are you learning about your staff as individuals and as members of a unit team and as a whole staff? Are people exhibiting greater collaborative and team behaviors than were present before the closure? Are staff members being more innovate and willing to struggle through a switch in instructional practices? What expectations are you thinking you want to hold carrying positive characteristics and practices into the future? How might you communicate those expectations? How have your leadership practices been modified? What new strengths have you found or gained in communication practices? Will communications with parents be different in the future? Will faculty meetings change from insights you’ve gained holding them online?

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, and the lesson after.”
– Vernon Law, Baseball Pitcher

I had the opportunity to record a podcast with Aimee Skidmore, a secondary English Teacher at an international school in Geneva, Switzerland. I follow Aimee on LinkedIn, where she posted a day-by-day reflection of her experiences as she began online instruction with her students. I was impressed with her openness as she shared her experiences for her own reflection and to encourage reflection and insights of others.

Aimee shared an insight that I believe many of us would find to be true: “I’m naturally reflective in everything I do in teaching, so this reflection process is something that is built into the way I teach. However, in the state that I was in and many of my colleagues were in at the beginning, we were kind of in a panic. We didn’t know how the technology was going to work, whether the students would have access to what we needed them to have access to. The fear of the unknown just threw me into panic. So, my normal reflective process wasn’t really engaging at that point. I wasn’t taking the time to do adequate planning. I was kind of trying a lot of things and then quickly reflecting on them. So, I didn’t follow my normal process. Let me put it this way. I was kind of reflecting on the fly.”

Instructional coaches and administrators can play an important role in assisting teachers in reflection with questions, paraphrases, and listening that encourage teacher talking. The teacher often needs to hear her voice in order to find insights. In the “normal” school setting teachers often have little time for collegial conversations. How much less is that time now with teaching from home?

I recommend coaching questions that have teachers describe what is happening or what they are feeling rather than asking them to evaluate, “How’s it going?”

Dr Rhianna Rogers, an experienced online instructor who is now training many who are new to online instruction, shared with me in a podcast  that the number one thing she tells people is, “the instructor that you are offline, you want to translate as much as you can and be that instructor online.”  As a coach I could imagine asking a teacher, “What parts of your usual teaching personality are coming through online? How do you make that happen? If you could get another piece of your usual instruction into this process, what would that be?” The teacher’s reflection would generate thoughts that wouldn’t likely have occurred without the coach’s questions. The coach can take a solution focus in exploring with the teacher how to get closer to what she is seeking.

Aimee closed our podcast sharing that James Baldwin says this about questions, “The questions which one asks oneself begin at least to illuminate the world and become one’s key to the experience of others.” Aimee added, “Through questioning, I’m hoping to understand what my students are going through and be a better teacher for them.”

You can meet Aimee on YouTube….  Here are her thoughts on day 5.

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