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January 20010
This Month: Reflection

With the New Year upon us, what better time is there to reflect on what we've accomplished in the past year. This month we celebrate the art of reflection. Before making your resolutions for the New Year, take time to reflect on your good work.

From the Field: An Interview with Dennis Shirley

The Mindful TeacherThe practice of reflection—reappraising our experiences so we can learn from them—is widely recognized as a key to improving teaching and learning. But if reflection is truly valued by educators and researchers, then why does reflective practice seem so rare in schools? The Mindful Teacher, co-written by Elizabeth MacDonald, a teacher in the Boston Public Schools, and Dennis Shirley, a professor of education at Boston College, offers a practical vision of how teachers can utilize reflection to improve their practice.

Co-author Shirley's connection to Houston schools reaches back two decades to when he was on the faculty of Rice University. To gain more insight into Shirley's ideas, Houston A+ Challenge's Donna Reid sat down with him to discuss the new book, teacher professionalism, and university/school partnerships.

Shirley began with the idea that mindful teaching takes hold when "teachers struggle to attain congruence, integrity, and efficacy in their practice." It is integrative, reflective and deep. Shirley believes that allowing teachers to engage with that deeper dimension of their identity is an unbelievably rich model for nurturing teachers and keeping them in the profession. Read more

From the A+ Office

Reflective practice isn't just a catch phrase, a sound bite or one in a long line of trends. Instead, it calls on teachers to pause and look at the work they are doing, reflect on it and improve. Since its inception, Houston A+ Challenge has held reflective practice as a key piece in improving schools.

Over the last year, A+ has conducted a series of focus groups in local schools to gather data on what teachers in the Houston metro area would like out of professional development. Overwhelmingly, teachers have voiced one singular need: time to reflect and collaborate with other teachers.

The process of reflective practice takes on many forms:

  • Teams of teachers giving and receiving feedback on their own work and that of their students
  • Peer observations where both the observed and the observer reciprocate learning
  • Reflective journaling about daily or weekly classroom instruction
  • Action research projects where risk taking and experimentation in the classroom or school are encouraged and where documentation and reflection about the learning from this research takes place
  • Coaching sessions in which central questions about teaching and learning are posed to facilitate the teacher's growth in understanding and practice
  • Utilizing technology to network with teachers engaged in continuous improvement in and beyond the school

Schools that seek to develop strong instructional teams engage in these types of reflective activities. They allow teachers to come together around meaningful topics -- relevant, homegrown issues from inside the classroom. School leaders establish schedules that allow multiple opportunities for teachers to collaborate, both in and beyond their own disciplines; they also provide resources and professional development on the reflective practice and model such activities as above for their staff to see. By establishing school-based structures like these to promote reflective practice, ongoing development, long term learning, and continuous improvement become the expectations for all on the campus.

Houston A+ Challenge continues to offer programming that seeks to create reflective practitioners. In all of our opportunities for central office personnel, principals, teacher leaders and master teachers, Houston A+ Challenge facilitates learning through reflection. Educators engage in the activities above by bringing their own work to the table, receiving feedback, reflecting and moving forward. Houston A+ Challenge will continue to steward effective improvement in education by ensuring reflective practice does not fade away into some educator lexicon, but instead remains vibrant, meaningful and transformative.

Spend Seven Minutes with A+ National Speakers
To share our learning with the wider community, Houston A+ Challenge has begun compiling a video library featuring brief interviews with national speakers who have recently spent time with our principal and teacher networks.

Let us know what you think about these video clips:

  • Anthony Muhammed, Founder of New Frontier 21, on how teachers and school leaders can build real Professional Learning Communities and momentum for student-focused school change.
  • Lorraine Monroe, author and founding principal of Harlem's Frederick Douglass Academy, on instructional leadership.
  • Kent Peterson, Professor of Education Leadership & Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin, on building positive school culture.
  • David Conley, University of Oregon professor, on how public schools can prepare more students for college and career.
From the Headlines

Be Mindful: Want more on mindful teaching? Check out McDonald and Shirley's website at www.mindfulteacher.com. Here you'll find background, resources and information on the book.

Get Started in Cambridge: If you want a great way to start engaging in reflective practice, join the School Reform Initiative at their winter conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this January. Conference participants share their own work, give and receive feedback, reflect on the art of teaching, and learn new ways to facilitate meaningful collaboration. For more information, visit the School Reform Initiative website.

Professional Development = Reflection and Relationship-Building: 21st Century Collaborative blogger Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach argues that technology only makes collaboration and reflection easier. In a recent Education Week essay, she writes: "The more I use web tools to connect and collaborate with colleagues, the more convinced I am that reflection and relationship-building are the keys for teachers striving to develop their practice and adapt to changing learning needs. Increasingly, other educators are having this realization as well." Check out the entire piece here.



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Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607


Contact Mike Webster,
Teacher Leadership Coach

Houston A+ Challenge's support for teacher leaders is made possible through grants from:

The Brown Foundation

ExxonMobil Foundation

and other supporters