Improving Personally to Improve Collectively: A Few Reflection Questions

Lately, I have been reading A LOT about social-emotional learning, alternatives to traditional discipline (i.e. restorative practices, mediation, mindfulness), physical classroom environments, and other unique ways to support the students and staff members of our school community. Not only are these subjects of personal passion, I know that effectively managing our learning space and working to meet the needs of the whole child are critical to our ability to academically challenge our students.

The reason I am participating in this professional learning is that I want the best possible outcome for our students. I want them to leave Willis Junior High School proud of the fact that they attended, with the academic and social skills they need to be successful in high school and beyond, and cognizant of their ability to be difference makers in the world. I know we still have many things to work on, so right now, I am in planning / problem-solving mode.

While I am thinking about improvements at the school level, I know that ultimately we need improvements at the classroom level in order to truly have a positive impact on all students. I believe the process is similar. Here are a few statements and questions I developed to assist in guiding improvement at the classroom level.

  • Considering what you know about effective instruction, what would your ideal classroom look like? For example, you might want students to participate in decision-making, work effectively in cooperative groups, support one another in the learning process, and apply their understanding of key concepts to real-world problems.
  • What are the barriers to seeing your vision of the ideal classroom come to fruition? Perhaps you have concerns about student behavior, or maybe you aren’t so sure about giving up control. Maybe you have doubts about the ability of your students to manage (or learn) in this environment, or you feel like you are lacking material resources necessary to create your ideal classroom atmosphere. Make a list of the things that are standing in your way.
  • Begin tackling the barriers, one at a time — a little at a time. Some things you might want to consider as you address these issues:
    • What assumptions am I making that may, or may not, be true?
    • What aspects of the improvement process are you able to control?
    • Are there routines, or procedures, you can put in place that will support improvement?
    • If some of your concerns are related to student behavior (i.e. they can’t handle working in groups), how can you go about teaching and modeling the behaviors and skills they need to be successful?
  • Consider, who can help you with the process? Making changes can be a considerable challenge and there is no sense in re-inventing the wheel. Are there colleagues, friends, administrators, or community members who are willing and able to support your efforts to mold your ideal classroom?

As I mentioned, right now I am going through this process at the school level. I have a vision for what I want our school to be, and I am working to identify the barriers and craft solutions to move us in the right direction. It’s not easy, but the challenge can be invigorating (I am really enjoying a lot of the professional reading and planning I am doing right now).

I’ll end with the idea that change is rarely easy and that effective teaching requires continual reflection, learning, and transformation on the part of the educator. If you are not willing to do those things — to grow as a professional — the road to improvement is going to be long and extremely arduous.

You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful. – Marie Curie

Let me know what you think. I welcome your comments and suggestions as colleagues and fellow life-long learners.

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