I believe that years of teaching experience, alone, does not turn a teacher into an “accomplished” teacher. Rather, teachers need to actively seek continuous improvement and professional growth through reflection. Intentionally creating space for regular reflective practice empowers me to exhibit components of accomplished teaching. I have come to learn that reflective practice is most effective when it leads to action or change in my teaching.
Throughout the Masters in Teacher Leadership program, I have learned that in order to be a leader in reflective practice I must make it a habit myself. When reflecting with a partner or small group, I have learned to be sensitive to the challenges that can arise. In an article about questioning strategies, Jiang (2014) argues “by largely accepting student answers and being open to diverse ideas, the teacher establishe[s] a safe classroom environment where learners were more ready to articulate different opinions and risk making mistakes” (p. 301). This statement resonates with me because the same is true in a reflective practice scenario. A teacher engaging in partner reflection or small group reflection must create a safe space for her colleague(s) to share openly and honestly. The number one challenge that could impede productive collaboration is lack of trust between partners reflecting with one another. Trust takes careful effort and time to build, but can be damaged easily and quickly. Teachers need to feel heard and not judged, and they need to be able to receive ideas from others to improve their practice. The opportunity to practice reflecting with a partner in EDU 6528 Accomplished Teaching prepared me to reflect more effectively with my teammates in my building. I have implemented many of the listening and guiding question techniques that I learned in Accomplished Teaching into my work with my Professional Learning Community.
Actively engaging in reflection with colleagues can be powerful work. Lack of time often impedes this valuable work, particularly when administrators don’t prioritize this in the schedule. However, I realized that there are many existing structures in my school that are conducive to authentic collaboration and reflection, such as data teams, Professional Growth and Evaluation teams, and Professional Learning Communities.
At my school, teachers are expected to collaborate by participating in a data team. My team is comprised of four reading specialists and two EL teachers. We are a “group of individuals who share a similar vision of educational values and beliefs” and we “work toward common goals that enhance professional and personal development” (Zepeda, 2012, p. 83). As a learning community, we have a clear focus of supporting our school’s students who are below standard in reading by providing “just right” instruction, continually gathering data, analyzing student work and performance together, and tracking the impact of instructional strategies. My administrator supports data teamwork by providing scheduled time dedicated to collaboration. She also reviews data cycle notes and results and provides feedback on a regular basis.
One model of collaboration I would like to see more in my building is coaching. My principal has called on my team, Safety Net teachers and EL teachers, to become peer coaches in co-teaching with general education teachers. We have been told to collaborate with classroom teachers and help them find ways to expand their instructional strategies repertoires to meet the needs of all students in literacy. However, the challenge in creating this type of collaboration is that we have not received any professional development on coaching. According to Zepeda (2012), “adult learners are more motivated to take risks if they feel support from their administrators and colleagues” (p. 62). My team has expressed that we do not feel supported in this complex endeavor and have been put in awkward situations because of it.
Zepeda (2012) says that “effective coaches know when and how to stretch, when and how to challenge, and when and how to guide those whom they are coaching. The prerequisite coaching skills are collaboration and trust” (p. 144). A next step for my team and the general education teachers we are working with is to take a step back and build trust. Also, those of us peer coaching will do a mini book study on what effective coaching looks like. We need to have time to observe the teacher, see what is working well in her classroom, and communicate what our role will be. Having scheduled times to meet with teachers we are coaching will allow us to learn about each other’s personal philosophy, values, and intent as a teacher. Once we have established understanding and trust, we can begin to offer suggestions and feedback to help their literacy instruction become accessible to all learners.
My thinking about my school’s collaborative practices has shifted since taking EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration. At first, I thought my colleagues and I were exemplar “collaborators.” While we do have some areas of strength, I see now that we have room to grow. We do not employ a wide variety of collaborative practices at my school. We do not engage in book studies, critical friends groups, or coaching. It has also become clear to me that the comfort level around collaboration greatly varies from teacher to teacher among our staff. I feel this is due to the fact that we have received varying amounts of professional learning on collaboration. In many ways, collaboration is simply expected from day one, but isn’t always properly supported. I see a need for differentiated professional learning opportunities around collaborative practices. Teachers need to be aware of the myriad of models collaboration can look like and have the opportunity to choose models that best fit their needs. I believe there is not a “one size fits all” model. Each problem may call for a different type of collaboration. Our current system does not allow for flexibility in the way we collaborate, but rather has a “mass produced” feel.
I have learned that I can make an impact on my community by setting a strong example. This is very empowering to me, as a new teacher. Ghere, Montie, Sommers, and York-Barr (2006) say that “beginning with yourself, you become a fractal of the larger organization” (p. 245), as they promote teaching others through modeling. My plan for supporting my colleagues is to first implement reflective practice authentically in my own life. Personally, I learn about teaching strategies that are new to me from watching others. I am inspired by distinguished teachers in my building and always learn something from watching them in action. I am now aware that I, too, can be that teacher of inspiration for someone else. According to Ghere et al. (2006), “as we become more reflective, we can inspire an interest in others to become more reflective and to take the risks involved in continuously learning from and improving practice” (p. 254). Accomplished teachers invite others into their reflective practice, value others’ ideas, and share effective strategies beyond their own classroom.
My plan for continuous improvement as a teacher leader is to use a four-step reflection process when reflecting with colleagues, that includes a discussion of what happened, why it might have happened, why it is significant, and what next steps do we take? I will support my colleagues by using this four-step reflection process during data team meetings. I will model reflective practice by honoring my personal time, creating balance between home and work, and taking care of myself in health and exercise. I will offer my ideas to my colleagues and be a resource they can come to. I will meet them with an open mind, an open heart, and open ears.
Ghere, G.S., Montie, J., Sommers, W.A., & York-Barr, J. (2006). Reflective practice to improve schools: An action guide for educators (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.
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Kim, S.H. (2015). Preparing English Learners for Effective Peer Review in the Writers’ Workshop. Reading Teacher, 68(8), 599-603.
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