The Lifelong Learning UK Standards make clear, reflection is a core component of effective continuing professional development (CPD) and key to becoming a skilled teacher. (Benefits of Encouraging Teacher Self Reflection)
In recent sessions that I’ve facilitated for teachers’ peer coaching and administrators’ peer coaching, I have stressed coaching behaviors that increase reflection on the part of the coachee. It means slowing down the coach who is often in a hurry to “have a decision made or an action taken” as an indication of their effective coaching. In the pre-conference its often a rush to have an observation focus. In the post conference, it is often a rush to problem solving.
One skill for a coach’s conscious practice is to use open rather than closed questions.
In a pre-conference instead of asking:
- “Will you be modeling an example or two before having the pairs start work?” an open question might be “What are you considering having students experience before, during, and after their paired work activity?
- “What did you cover in the preceding lessons?” an open question might be, “How does this learning activity fit into your plan with this current standard?”
- “Is this concept usually difficult for students?” an open question might be “What are you imagining students’ success and struggle to be?”
Sometimes coaches will ask an open question and being uncomfortable with the coachee’s pause, will tack on closed options. “How might you explore students’ previous experiences? Maybe with a pre-assessment or a general class discussion?
As I was debriefing coaching pairs, a teacher shared a realization that when she was the coach the week before, she felt uncomfortable when there was a pause in the coaching conversation but this week as the teacher she felt comfortable taking the time to consider the coach’s question. When encouraging reflection consider the silence as a way of showing respect for the important work and thinking in which the teacher is engaged.
Vivian Giang in Listen Up: The One Skill You Need to Be a Better Leader, states that listening is one of the toughest skills to master. She offered five ways to improve your listening.
- Don’t interrupt – “Turn off the voice in your head that constantly makes assumptions, judges the speaker and contemplates what you will say next. Don’t finish the other person’s sentences or interrupt their train of thought,”
- Listen for feelings – “People do not always express their feelings or concerns directly, especially to their bosses. Pay attention to words that express feelings or needs and to nonverbal behaviors that may reflect how someone feels,”
- Repeat what you heard back to the person – “Paraphrasing helps you check for accuracy and understanding. Clarify any emotion you think you saw the person express in their verbal expressions or body language.”
- Acknowledge what was said – Do not criticize what was said but be genuinely honest about your opinions. “This is how you build a relationship.”
- Look for nonverbal clues – “Acknowledge anything you have noticed and check for accuracy.”
Paraphrasing is another conscious skill for coaches to use to encourage teacher reflection. It provides for slowing down and following the teacher rather than leading. The paraphrase is a statement rather than a question. It invites the responder to extend his/her comment and reinforces the coach’s understanding of what has been shared.
- Teacher: I wish students would put more effort into the quality of their work rather than hurrying to finish. Coach Paraphrase: You sense that hurrying is decreasing students’ learning.
- Teacher: I am unsure whether to spend more time on this standard or move on to the next unit? Coach Paraphrase: You see value in both options.
- Teacher: The low number of students engaging in the discussion really surprised me. Coach Paraphrase: You’d like to figure out why.
“If you look at the research it says that about 80% of what happens in a class a teacher does not see or hear. How can we get more eyes into the class? How do you get other teachers going in there, looking at the impact and feeding back to help the teacher see what it’s like being a student in their classroom?” (John Hattie)
Most school administrators are provided even fewer opportunities than teachers are given for collegial reflection.
Eric Kail an instructor at West Point writes about the role of reflection in leadership. I find reflection often comes best through the help of a mentor who will ask seemingly simple questions. Encouraging reflection in your organization starts by being a good mentor yourself. Be aware of those conversations in which others ask for your advice or want to run something by you. That’s how mentorship begins. If you are fortunate enough to have someone seek out your mentorship, listen and challenge. No pithy advice will engage them in reflection as well as a simple, probing question can. Help them explore and assign meaning to their experiences. And remember, they came to see you about them, not you.
Bonus: Assisting others in their reflection almost always extends your personal reflection and learning!