In November I was gifted with the opportunity to co-facilitate a session at NCTE with my colleagues and friends, Gary Anderson and Karen LaBonte. Our goal was to explore the ideas of reflection and reflexivity in our practice as educators. We were joined by some fellow educators who helped guide small group reflection/reflexivity. Thank you to:
Jennifer Ansbach Manchester Township High School, New Jersey
Jeana Hrepich Antioch University Seattle
Cindy Minnich Upper Dauphin Area High School, Elizabethville, Pennsylvania
Meenoo Rami Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Amy Rasmussen Lewisville High School, Lewisville, TX
Lee Ann Spillane Orange County Public Schools, Orlando, Florida
Andrea Zellner Oakland Schools, Pontiac Schools
We each reflected on a time in our practice where we moved from being reflective to being reflexive. The idea for this stemmed from a piece by Gillie Bolton. The following are my thoughts from that day. Several folks asked if I would share this, so here it is. Sorry for my procrastinator’s delay!
As I think about the journey I share here, I truly believe this concept of being reflexive in our practice has wide implications for so much going on in our world today. Our beliefs guide our actions, for good and not so good. Only when we are more willing to explore this will we stem the tide of so many negative trends in our society.
Thank you for joining me on this journey.
NCTE 2015 Minneapolis, MN
Today our goal is to for all of us to understand the role of reflection and reflexivity on our practice.
When I think about being a reflective and reflexive practitioner, I am drawn to my journey as a white educator who has spent most of her career working with students who don’t look like me.
Reflection told me as a young teacher I was not reaching all of my students, especially my boys of color. It compelled me to seek out ways to be a better teacher, specifically in the area of writing. I understood how to assign writing. But my ability to understand how to teach writing was limited by my own knowledge and experience. Reflection drove me to seek out new information and voices like Nancy Atwell’s and mentors like my colleagues in the Writing Project.
Reflection caused me to notice how little my students were reflected in the books on my classroom shelf and in the bookstores. It drove me to expand my own reading, to use hashtags like #weneeddiversebooks. To throw in a Maya Angelou poem, a short story by Amy Tan, a piece by Gary Soto.
Reflection reminded me I wasn’t communicating as well with parents as I should. So I created a class newsletter and utilized the school wide electronic communication venue.
Bolton explains that reflection is when we ask WHY? And then we seek the answers to that why through exploration of theories and texts and the wider sphere.
And so I was a reflective practitioner as I tried to find ways to engage my students of color in classroom. Yet, there were still disconnects. It would have been easy to resort to thoughts like “well, they’re just unmotivated” or to subscribe to media and societal portrayals of people of color and to lower my expectations of my students and to exonerate myself from any more responsibility for their success.
But my failure with many of my students of color did not sit well with me. So I looked for resources, to help me understand how to be a white teacher of students of color. I began a windy, bumpy journey towards understanding what Gloria Ladson-Billings calls culturally responsive pedagogy. It is a journey that many days still leaves me with more questions than answers. It is a journey that I believe epitomizes what it means to move from being a reflective practitioner to a reflexive practitioner.
Bolton defines reflexivity as finding ways to question our attitudes, theories in use, values, assumptions, prejudices and actions of habit. It is to understand a common phrase used in equity work “we don’t know what we don’t know” and to examine that which we do not know.
And so, reflexive practice has meant I have had to challenge and change how I conduct my practice. As a white teacher I have had to come to understand what David Kirkland and Jamila Lyiscott and Ernest Morell have challenged us with this week at NCTE- to find that pedagogical third space basing our classrooms on where our students ARE, not where we want them to be, and seeking as educators who may not look like them and share their experiences to truly understand them.
Reflexive practice means my writing workshop includes model texts from hip-hop and from writers who infuse primary languages other than English into their writing. It means my students write to tell their stories, to share their voices, to speak out to change the world. It means their voice is honored.
Reflexive practice compels me to not just hashtag #weneeddiversebooks, but to actively work to make available texts that reflect the many realities of my students’ lives. But it also means I look critically at texts. Sharon Draper said in a session on Thursday that we don’t just need diverse books we need quality diverse books. It means when I look at texts, I look through the lens of my students to insure their stories are represented with dignity and respect. And that the authors on my shelf mirror them as well.
Reflexive practice means I do not correct my students language to standard English because I am their English teacher, but to honor the language they bring and teach them the power of understanding how to code switch their language depending upon audience and purpose and time and place.
My reflexive practice means I don’t just communicate with parents, families and caregivers, but I invite them to work with me so that we can insure every student who walks through the door achieves to their highest potential. It means understanding that the significant adults in students’ home lives know them and have insights to share with me so that I may learn.
I’d like to give you a challenge for next year here at NCTE. It is easy to attend sessions with educators high on our list of those we admire, to find sessions that offer us fresh ideas for practices already in place in our classrooms. But I’d like to challenge you, if you did not this year, to attend one session, just one, that challenges your belief system. Find a session that pushes you out of your comfort zone, which brings to light something you didn’t know you didn’t know. And when you do, be open to it. Share with others. Recognize how you shape your surroundings. Ask critical questions. Deepen your practice in new, exciting and scary ways.
Bolton, G. (2005). Reflective practice: writing and professional development (2nd ed). London ; Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.