Make better Mirrors.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
― Albert Einstein

How can we better teach students to understand their own learning?

Earlier in the month, I put together this post on reflection and refraction: or my thoughts on the need to make sure our networks are part of the reflective practice.  Incidentally, just this week, a group of teachers and I tapped into the collective wisdom of Madeleine Brookes as she toured us through her thoughts on connectivism and blogging (do read her post here). Then, just this morning I listened to one of my favorite pop-culture podcasts (The Slate Spoiler Series), as they ran through the various theories and reactions to the film Mother!, if you have seen the film, I think you’ll enjoy it too (click here).  I mention all of this, because I think mixed together, they speak to a need to diversify perspective when reflecting. In order to make reflection serve the dual purpose of engaging learners with their own learning AND developing networks that foster critical thinking, reflective activities have to hook our imaginations.

Protocols for reflection should be adaptive.

One thing that I love doing as an educator is crafting questions.  It is something I have invested a lot of time in, and it is the reason I am obsessed with podcasts.  Listening to interviews, eavesdropping on professional critics has much to teach us about question-design.  Anyone who listens to Desert Island Discs knows there is a craft to drawing out better answers. Dana Stevens, film critic, and podcaster is my yoda when it comes to provoking her co-hosts to dig deeper into their responses, you can hear her here. Perhaps the #1 take away I have from years of listening to Stevens is this: don’t let opinions float, and don’t let people ‘off easy,’ great conversations are often the result of great challenges.

How can we ‘be more Dana’ in the classroom?

  1. If your students are blogging about a learning experience, partner them up with a reader who will ask five why’s in response—engender provocation within the portfolios.
  2. Use metaphors. Ask your students to rethink their course, that lesson, a project, an experience as a sport. Huh?  I walk through that in detail here.
  3. Use the WOOP method to encourage students to take ownership within their own learning structures.  You can enjoy a long-listen about the theory here (see another podcast!), or take the WOOP challenge and watch this 5-minute tutorial, or check out the WOOP app. The process of identifying and acknowledging the internal obstacle is huge.
  4. Remember that a small change can have a big payoff: Ask this question: If you had just 30 more minutes to revise/plan for that project/event before it launched, what should you have done with those 30 minutes and why?
  5. In small teams, take turns building journey and empathy maps.
  6. Hit the whiteboards and draft out your force field analysis.
  7. Encourage students to be flexible in their reflection–when they are thinking critically about what happened and why, encourage them to return to earlier posts/statements with this question: “Why might the exact opposite also be true?”
  8. Get out the timer, and quickly offer up snapshots of your learning, Nicki Hambleton explains the process here.

What’s your favorite way to engage with reflection?

mirror flickr photo by sharing user info with oath is wrong shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


Reflection and Refraction in The Classroom

If reflection can only happen in learning ecologies where learners are given time and direction, refraction can only happen in environments where we believe in transparency, networks and perspective. Schools and societies need both.

I believe that portfolios/blogs are a wonderful way to bring refraction and reflection together.  In a recent post about the power of reading for thought leaders, I came across the following:

I’ve long been a fan of Goodreads as a tool to make our reading habits more transparent and our love of learning more visible (I reflected on this years ago),  and I continue to follow #IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) on Twitter with delight.  One of my favorite mentor texts for both reflecting and refracting learning comes from our acting Head of School, Nick Alchin, because he often updates his learning community on his reading (see here for just one example).  What makes his example even more relevant for me,  is that I’m able to make connections between his reading reflection and refract it with another member of our leadership team’s reflection, Stuart MacAlpine (see an example here).

experiment flickr photo by uberculture shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

School culture is built both intentionally and incidentally.

When members of the community share their learning processes, make connections amongst their inquiry, and collectively consider resources we see another opportunity to enhance our culture.

Could we do more to intentionally synergize our reflective practice? Yes.

The philosophy behind our use of digital portfolios speaks to this, but we need to build and seek out opportunities to bring it to life. In part, I believe it starts with carefully crafting questions which will be creative catalysts for conversation (I tried to do that here). But we also need to schedule sharing.  Where can we make time not just to record and reflect, but to respond to the reflection of others, thus refracting a network of inquiry?  Much has been said about blogging to develop voice, but I think we need to stop underestimating blogging as a tool for better listening, George Couros has commented on this here:


Is your school culture the product of reflection and refraction?


Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr


Your True Teacher Self

This post is inspired by Invisibilia’s podcast episode available here:

“You think that there is some essence of who you are that will endure regardless of the situation or the context but the fact is this is actually not the case.” 

The longer I’ve worked in schools, the more I’ve come to believe in our ability to transform, our capacity to construct our very own chrysalis.  But, time after time, I do hear people question whether or not people change and debate the power of personality.

Educators, perhaps more than any other profession, should advocate for a definition of self that is adaptable.

Transformation flickr photo by Marie-Pierre et Nathalie shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Like most opportunities to advocate, the learning needs to start from within.

How can we start to allow our ‘teacher-selves’ to see ourselves as adaptable?

Here are three approaches towards a self-reflection rethink for teachers:

  1. What mythology of your practice have you told yourself? 

When you think of your teaching style, how have you come to define it? Which anecdotes about educating have you most-shared about yourself, and why have they been ‘share-worthy’ in your mind?  Why is it important for you to match that definition? Where and when did you learn to be ‘that teacher’?

Then think: what would change if you abandoned that definition for a month? If you were to redefine the portrait of you, the educator, what ONE WORD would you want to introduce to the new definition and why?

      2.  Host office mix and match up week.

If you sit in an office with colleagues, pick one week to mix up departments.  If your classroom is in a corridor/section of similar subjects, relocate for a week.  If you aren’t in a classroom, but are in an office–move your office to a different location for a week, ie relocate into the library, or a public space.

Then think: how much of my definition of self comes from my routine surroundings?  What is one thing that changed as the direct result of the fresh perspective? 

        3. Rethink your next staff meeting.

Instead of zigging, zag.  When is the last time your meeting’s objective was to get to understand the way your colleagues think? The way you think? Here is my map for hosting a meeting as an open discussion, complete with prompts, questions, and sign ups–feel free to copy and remix. Here is the question guide for that meeting structure:

Then think: what about staff meetings limit our understanding of one another as educators? How can we maximize meeting time to rethink what we want our definitions of educators as educators to be?

Feature Image:
“Tent Caterpillar – Mother Natures Finest Weaver” flickr photo by docentjoyce shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license