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Reflections: At the Heart of Teaching

Riley's picture

I really appreciate reading McEntee et al.'s At the Heart of Teaching--I really appreciate getting a more pragmatic point of view on teaching to coincide with the more theoretical pedagogical discussions we've had on Dewey and Freire (which I also deeply appreciate). I really like how much the writers mention the importance of dialogue among teachers (as well as with individual practice) to take the time to reflect on what happened in the classroom--to really question every action taken, even (especially?) if it was a spur-of-the-moment decision made. From personal experience as a growing educator, this reflection practice has always been invaluable to me to help me focus on specific elements of my practice that need improvement. When I have reflected on these specific things I want to work on, it's almost like I have a new toolbox in my head full of specific tactics I can draw on when I find myself falling back on habits I want to break.

I see reflected in chapters 1 and 2 many tactics I've been lucky enough to see in action during time I've spent at Friends schools in the area. One school practices in elementary classrooms a process called "feedback" in which all the students sit in a circle and listen while each individual student directs comments--either positive or constructive--to another student or group of students or the class as a whole. Students have the option to pass but I remember being struck by how most of the students took the opportunity to tell other students how happy they were to be becoming friends with each other, or how they liked how well they worked together on a project, etc. In a safe space where students know what is expected of them and that everyone will get the chance to make themselves heard, magical things can happen.

I was a little taken aback by the teacher's actions in Chapter 3 during his Socratic discussions activity with the student named Kara. I was actually a little disturbed that he let Kara struggle to lead the discussion when she was obviously not in the right mental place to be in front of the classroom. He let students taunt her and mock her discussion topic--why? So the students could "learn from their mistakes"? I completely disagree with the way he went about doing this--first of all, I think he should let himself intervene when the discussion goes completely off topic. Gently guiding students back on track is not going to interrupt a conversation that is completely going nowhere. Second of all, this teacher should be sensitive to students who are struggling during a leadership activity like this. This event could have ended up being traumatic for Kara and could have damaged her perception of herself in the classroom and her relationship with the teacher and her classmates. (Maybe I am extra sensitive to this because as a very painfully shy high school student, I have been in situations like Kara and it took me a long time to recover, and definitely made me distrust teachers who abandoned me in similar ways.)

Overall, I am happy to have the affirmation of how important reflective practice is, because I love getting the chance to pick apart and question what is normally taken for granted in the classroom.