Pausing to Reflect
“We teach to change the world,” says Stephen Brookfield. Such meaningful work will not be easy, he continues. It requires rigorous critical reflection on our practice, and a refusal to teach “innocently”: “teaching innocently means thinking that we’re always understanding exactly what it is that we’re doing, and what effect we’re having.” Critically reflective teachers, Brookfield explains, work actively to challenge our own assumptions, and to remind ourselves that our intentions may not match up with our students’ experiences. Critical reflection won’t permit complacency, but it helps us to recognize what we can and cannot control.
The end of the term, as you’re heading into your well-deserved break, is an important time to look back at the semester and reflect on what worked best, and what you can make even better. Brookfield advises using four lenses to examine what we do:
- Our autobiographies as learners and as teachers. Your own sense of how the semester went is the best place to start. Did your students learn what you wanted them to learn? How did they perform? How did you actually feel about the class—was it frustrating? Gratifying?
- Our students’ eyes. It’s hard to know what the class looks like from the back of the room, or how our students are experiencing our teaching, but often we’re surprised by what we learn when we seek out honest feedback.
- Our colleagues’ experiences. Since each of us is likely to have a different interpretation of a problem or situation, it’s important to solicit a variety of perspectives. It can also be remarkably valuable to visit colleagues’ classes simply to learn, rather than to evaluate. Community is essential as you do this challenging and exciting work.
- Theory and research. The last few decades have brought a wealth of research on teaching and learning—work on cognition and the neurobiology of learning, empirical studies of classroom interventions, and much more. CAT’s reading groups are a good place to start, but let us know if you’d like more recommendations for holiday reading.
When you’ve caught your breath after the marathon of Fall ’17, and you’re ready to think about spring, you can refine your goals, and your strategies, in light of your reflections. You might also want to build in future opportunities to apply the “lenses,” since you don’t have to wait until the end of the semester to examine your practice.
CAT can make the process easier. We can visit your class at any point during the semester, and conduct informal focus groups with students to gauge how the learning is going. And if you’re interested in student perspectives, next semester CAT will be training undergraduate classroom observers. Let us know if you’d like to invite them to your class. They can be especially useful if you have high enrollments and want to know what your students are actually doing during class. We’ll also be hosting a syllabus clinic on Friday, January 5, in Westcott 116; you can drop by any time between 10:00 and 2:00 if you’d like feedback before the semester starts.
Teaching well may not be easy, but it should be satisfying, and full of purpose. Congratulations on your own great work, and another successful semester. We wish you a happy and restorative break, filled with the love of family and friends.
Brookfield, Stephen D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Wiley & Sons.
Spring 2018 Faculty Reading Groups
There are only a few places left in the spring reading groups. If you’d like to join one, please check your calendar to be sure that you can attend all three meetings. To RSVP, email email@example.com and we’ll send you your complimentary copy of the book.
Mindset (registration closed)
1/18, 1/25, 2/1
1/30, 2/6, 2/13
What The Best College Teachers Do (registration closed)
2/15, 2/22, 3/1
2/21, 2/28, 3/7
3/20, 3/27, 4/3