As a novice teacher there will be days when it seems the world is working against you at every turn. Indeed, I believe that feeling is a constant throughout a teaching career, just that it happens with less and less frequency as experience is gained. At these times we are presented with a choice. We can choose to make accusations or learn from the experience.
As an avid believer in reflective practice I believe the former is not only an unhelpful option in terms of development, but it’s also self defeating and a negative way to go through your day to day. Keep it up long enough and burnout is not too far on the horizon.
The Experiential Learning Cycle:
Reflective practice centers around the idea of learning through experience. The ELC (experiential learning cycle*) focuses on four distinct categories of reflection. First, experience. Second, description. Third, Interpretation. Fourth, action plan.
For the purposes of this blog post I will focus on the area between experience and description. That area is taken up with emotions, and unless we are able to find a way to cleanse emotion from our description, teachers will find reflective practice far less useful, and possibly even counter-productive.
A few months ago, while at a reflective practice meeting in Daegu, South Korea, we focused on the description aspect of the ELC. How do we describe what we see. Are we being subjective or objective? Our group facilitator for the day, Josette LeBlanc ( http://tokenteach.wordpress.com/), had us break into pairs and work on objectively describing photos from books and magazines. It sounds easy, but in practice, we found that it takes real and concerted effort to separate emotions from our descriptions.
The classroom is an incredibly personal space and when things don’t go well a whole gambit of negative emotions can take hold. How much harder it is when dealing with emotions from our own classrooms and not dispassionately describing magazine pictures!?!
(I would like to note, that it is just as important to separate positive emotions from our description as it is with the negative kind.)
The Coffee Filter
During that meeting in Daegu we discussed how emotion enters into our reflection and where exactly it goes once it’s recognized. I suggested that we conduct the ELC in order to send to emotions out of the cycle, kind of like an emotional off ramp. However, as we discussed it further we decided that one cannot simply shed their emotions and send them on their merry way. What was important was that we recognize the emotions exist, acknowledge them, and then to make sure we set them aside (like a coffee filter filters the coffee grinds so that the coffee can pass through unadulterated). Only after doing so could we hope to be successful in describing our experience effectively and moving on to the following steps of the cycle.
My final point rests on the idea of space. Before we can begin reflecting effectively we need to give ourselves the appropriate amount of space. How much space? There is no set answer. Some need to reflect immediately, some need to wait. Every person, experience, and situation will dictate its own needs and only you, the teacher, can appropriately judge how much space is needed before reflection can be conducted effectively.
It is on those days, when nothing seems to work, that reflection can save us from the negativity failure in the classroom can create. Find your coffee filter. Take the time that is required to give you the space needed to reflect effectively. Then get on with the ELC. In doing so you will go back to class with an action plan in hand and the confidence of better understanding what exactly is happening in your classroom.
Interested in learning more about the ELC and how to reflect more productively?
*Check out Josette LeBlanc’s excellent blog post on the subject of ELC at http://tokenteach.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/an-image-of-reflection-learning-from-my-rp-workshop/