Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reflective Practice

During the 1999-2001school years, I was a member of a state of Missouri Performance Based Teacher Evaluation pilot program.   The program was designed to improve the process of teacher evaluation by requiring teachers to develop a professional portfolio documenting their best practices in the classroom in a variety of categories.  I participated in the program only because the administration at the school where I taught was distributing extra-curricular activities assignments, and I really did not want to be the freshman girl’s cheerleading coach.  The only other option presented to me was participation in a new evaluation program.  I silently accepted option “B,” and immediately tossed the portfolio on a shelf for three months, blowing off the dust and completing the project only when I saw the deadline approaching.  I kept secret my disdain for the program and my real reason for participating from the assistant principal conducting my review until she pulled me out of the audience at a state teacher’s convention break-out session at a resort in the Lake of the Ozarks and placed me on a panel with several superintendants, principals, and assistant principals fielding questions about the new program.  I had attended the convention at her invitation without realizing that she wanted me there to sit on the panel.  I was quickly flooded with questions from the audience for two reasons.   I was one of only two teachers on the panel with real-life classroom experience completing the new portfolio, and I was the only person speaking about the program with both blunt honesty and humor.   It was in front of the crowd where I admitted to the audience why I started the program, how I completed the portfolio, and what I learned throughout the process.  I discovered two things while answering those questions.  The large amount of reflective practice that I put into developing that portfolio showed me that I was a better teacher than I ever gave myself credit for being.  That was an important lesson for me to learn.  It translated into improved performance in the classroom.  The second thing I learned is that my assistant principal had a great sense of humor.
The purpose of reflective practice is to encourage people to think about and learn from experiences in order to improve performance in a given task.  In theory, reflective practice is not supposed to be a solitary event.  It is most effective when engaged in with another person, preferably a person with more experience.  In a mentoring relationship, we engage in discussion with a trusted friend who can listen to our ideas, offer insights into our practices, and share their successes and failures to help us improve our performance.   Reflective practice is the ideal behind a homeschooling support group, a time of meeting where home educating parents can seek friendship, assistance, and advice from other homeschooling parents.   A homeschool support group is a teacher’s professional development time for the homeschooling community. 
In reality, I believe most stay-at-home homeschooling parents operate in a solitary environment.  We spend time alone in our thoughts, wondering whether or not the decisions we made were good, effective choices.  We wonder if we made the right curriculum choices.  We wonder whether or not our children are learning everything that they need to know.  We ask ourselves if we are being too harsh, too lenient, or too demanding on our children.   Sometimes we wonder if we should be homeschooling at all.  The first four of those five questions are good questions to ask of ourselves, but they produce better answers if they are addressed with another person. 
Homeschooling can be a busy lifestyle, leaving parents little quiet time to remember our own names, let alone gather and process our thoughts.   The little free time that we have gets split between a spouse, friends, pursuing hobbies, and tending to our own spiritual needs.  How much time do you invest in analyzing the effects of both your educational and parental decisions?  Often the two are inseparable.  How often do you ask yourself, “What worked well today?   What went wrong today?  What can be done differently in the future?”   More importantly, with whom do you ask these questions?
What is your level of reflective practice?  


  1. You know, this is a GREAT post. I'm afraid that we as parents/homeschoolers DON'T reflect often enough on our practices and methods and think through whether we have adopted the most effective methods for our children. We can get stuck in terrible ruts. (I've DEFINITELY been in some VERY large ruts over my last 23 1/2 years of parenting and homeschooling!!) I needed this reminder that my effectiveness is not a given. Unfortunately, in this game, practice does not necessarily make perfect. Reflection, flexibility, humility, accountability, and openness to change DOES make perfect more possible!!

    Thanks. Great post.

  2. Accountability is important in every area of life. When we aren't accountable to someone, we are more likely to develop unhealthy habits. When it comes to homeschooling, I am very much aware of this issue. I talk to my husband regularly about what we are doing in the schooling and what challenges we are having or what may be coming up next in the future. I communicate with extended family (none of which homeschool, some are helpful and some are hostile), yet the discussions are helpful to maintain some perspective. None of our homeschooling friends do their homeschooling the way we do, so we get variety of perspectives there. I have been more concerned with joining a homeschool group where the expectation is that everybody thinks about homeschooling the same way. I have never done well, following the crowd. I don't want to recreate the insularity of thought that tends to plague those that follow the mainstream educational choices. That may not be the reality, but everytime I talk to someone who is encouraging me to join one of these groups. I get the hair standing up on the back of my neck. I do not want to pool resources to recreate class evironments. I do not want to over-schedule my kids with activities. I do not want to follow the latest fads in homeschooliing. I want to do what is best for my kids, within our resources, in a healthful environment, without group politics, without pressure to conform to someone else's ideas. So I seek accountability from other sources. And most of those sources care about my kids as much as I do. They are called family.