As I searched for a video online to comment on, I came across a TED talk by Bill Gates. Have you seen it? He speaks about teacher feedback, both from colleagues and students. How excellent that someone so high profile is taking an interest in the performance of teachers! Combined with professional development days, he nearly has it sewn up. The one element missing for me lies beyond installing cameras in the classroom and implementing assessments for learning. It is building value for teachers to have an internal desire to seek out feedback. When he says, “Diagnosing areas where a teacher needs to improve is only half the battle” implies to me that the diagnosing with be done externally, and so will the evaluation of the practice. Who reviews/owns the camera footage? How is that feedback delivered to the instructor? The importance of the self-reflection is missing and this helps complete the 360 degree feedback necessary for a teacher-driven, critically reflective practice.
I remember the first class I taught. I parachuted in with little teaching experience but lots of subject matter expertise and of course, enthusiasm. I knew my stuff and I was going to show the class how much I knew. I crammed tons of information into a short amount of time, and hadn’t a clue about engagement techniques. My teaching practice – if one could call it that – was entirely about me. As student feedback started to come in, it didn’t take long to discover the truth about teaching: To be effective, one needs to see oneself through the eyes of another. To be effective, one must be reflective.
Once realized, this forever changed my perspective on teaching and learning. Looking back, I can credit a more enlightened practice to the four contexts Stephen Brookfield deems necessary for a critically reflective practice. In chapter 2 of The Skillful Teacher, he cites student, colleagues, learning and self as the 360 degree feedback loop that inform a better learning experience. The evolution for me went something like this:
Through the eyes of the student: Reading feedback, I became hungry to hear more. I started to ask questions during the class to gauge understanding. Students’ started to open up about their needs in the classroom and between myself and the cohort, we worked together to fill them.
Through feedback from colleagues: I started sitting in on other instructors’ classes. Observing their practice, I took furious notes and debriefed with them afterward. I had instructors sit in on my classes and later discussed their thoughts. From these conversations, I began to understand the student-teacher dialogue that is central to a better learning experience.
Through learning and literature: I enrolled in a professional instructors’ program. Here, the living, breathing organism that is a teaching practice was born. I say living and breathing because it is alive and very human. Constantly evolving and changing as new insights are acquired, new books are read and projects completed.
Through myself: Using the above three contexts, I can reflect before, during and after a lesson as to what worked, what didn’t and where to improve. This reflective time also informs the next class, and helps to adjust curriculum to better serve the student.
Which of these four contexts do think is most important in your practice?