A lesson in reflection

I made a reflective goal last month to reflect on the reflective meetings I’ve had with my new team of teachers. This is the result.

Last month my school presented me with five teachers and asked me to train them on the job for a three-week camp. I got a couple hours to go over the schedule with them and show them the facilities. The working hours were 9am to 8:30pm. They were asked to arrive the night before work started. To make matters worse, I had to teach those hours as well, so observations and on the spot suggestions and help were not options. I had no experience with training teachers. I wrote the syllabus and prepared the materials myself, but never had classes to test it on and we wouldn’t know the levels of the students until they arrived each week. It could turn out completely irrelevant. Luckily we had a lenient director, flexible teachers, and helpful staff. Another benefit: the camp was actually one week, repeated three times – plenty of opportunities to improve!

 

There was no way to solve the problem of training, so I decided that “on the job training” was really a euphemism for “throw them to the wolves”.

Of course, this isn’t me at all. I couldn’t drop anyone in a classroom unsupported. So I got them to agree to daily meetings for planning and reflection. I started each meeting asking the teachers to share one thing that went well that day. Instead of a roundtable bitch session (sorry), this set the tone for a productive meeting. Instead of feeling attacked by discussing problems, teachers could highlight successes. I wrote all the great ideas down in my notebook and added them to an email at the end of the meeting in case anyone wanted to use them for their own classes in the future. After that, we talked about teaching challenges. I shared a challenge from my own class and we brainstormed ideas for why it happened and what can be changed next time. After that the other teachers were more comfortable sharing experiences from their classes and we found students who were in the wrong level, materials that were not level-appropriate and teaching challenges we all face. We came up with suggestions together and found ways to implement them either immediately or in the next week. We also spent time talking about the next day’s schedule and what we envisioned the activities to look like. That way everyone went to class at 9am armed with a detailed schedule, action plans for dealing with challenges, and the knowledge of support from all the other teachers.

And it worked. Week one was rocky, but we were flexible and set a precedent for solving problems together without blame. Week two was better. Meetings were shorter and relationships closer. The administration provided most of our new challenges. Week three was the best. Meetings were mostly celebratory and eventually migrated to restaurants and bars. Best of all, everyone left on good terms, feedback was constructive, and the teachers commented on how much they’d learned working for the camp. I learned a lot too and not just about teaching – about how to work as part of a team while still being the “head teacher”; about solving problems without making people feel bad; about the value of reflection and a positive attitude.

Lots of love for my reflective ‘something betters’. 🙂

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Comments

  • Sophia  On July 2, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    You are a natural teacher trainer then 🙂 I was just talking to someone (well OK it was Mike Griffin) about how the best teacher training is feedback, ie reflection. Your instinct to start with what went well and share good practice, and then to share challenges (I like this choice of word) including YOUR OWN and value everyone’s ideas (regardless of their experience) is great. I feel a lot of TTs are afraid to show ‘weakness’ instead of drawing on this opportunity to share common ground as practitioners. Hope this is a road you get to travel down more often!

    • livinglearning  On July 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Thank you Sophia. I really appreciate your feedback. I generally prefer to be just one of the team, but work has thrust me into situations like this that I’ve had to learn to handle. Thanks to the PLN and the RPSig, I feel a lot more prepared and I’ve had opportunities to reflect on what I believe and why and see examples of successful facilitation.

  • haeundaelife  On July 3, 2012 at 10:47 am

    This is fantastic! I would ditto everything in the previous comment and add that it gives me an immense boost to read and be reminded of the power of refection. (I haven’t taught a class in near three weeks! yikes! Nothing to reflect upon. 😦 ). Keep up the awesomeness

    • livinglearning  On July 11, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks, John! I know how it feels to be on break and miss reflection. I was at loose ends when we first met, believe me. Now I am making up for it, and grateful for your support. Enjoy the break!

  • Vicky Loras  On July 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Anne,

    Like Sophia mentions, the best training is feedback and I am glad this word appears throughout your post. As every difficult situation, the beginning is always difficult but I am happy to hear that everything went well, that there was a lot of reflecting done and that there were a lot of chances to celebrate it!

    Super!

    Have a great week,
    Vicky

    • livinglearning  On July 11, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      Thanks so much for the comment, Vicky. I’m happy to say that I’ve learned a lot. I’m still learning, and I’m grateful to have so many great teachers as friends and examples to learn from.

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