I would like to talk a bit about reflective practice. To be honest, many times I raise my eyebrows in a wary look when I hear the word. Mainly, I guess, because I don’t think we can really tell someone to reflect and expect them to do so (because we told them to). Neither, to show them an experiential learning cycle (you know that diagram?) and expect them to follow it. What bothers me slightly is this ‘having something to show’ the other when it comes to teacher development. But I do like when someone tells me a story about a lesson they taught, about how a learner progressed (or regressed), and about an insight they had while teaching (or afterwards).
Another idea I associate with reflective practice is that of carrying Action Research. But this can be daunting to the teacher who already has a number of lesson to teach, papers to mark, reports to fill, lesson planning, and hey, a social life!
Although I support the principles of Action Research, I know that for me the ‘research’ part of it would be impossible to execute at the moment amidst all I’m doing. Impossible because of the rigor, methodology, and extension of what a research involves. So, what can I do in a smaller scale but with similar developmental significance?
A journal, a blog, a diary, a videolog (?). In essence, something that involves a narrative.
For now, I’m more comfortable engaging with the written possibilities, even though the videolog thing has crossed my mind quite frequently (I actually made two videos once).
The rationale is that the process of writing down one’s thoughts serves as a ‘thinking device’, helping the teacher find his way in retelling a story and in examining his perceptions and, if done very well, its multiple perspectives. Writing as a ‘thinking device’ is generated from oneself to oneself. A bit like a film director who also acts in the same film.
The act of externalizing reflections through writing makes a teacher’s ideas more ready for re-conceptualization. Writing is, perhaps in the loneliest form, engaging in dialogue. This is attuned to Vygotskyan perspectives of development which proposes that verbalization is a vehicle to changes in behavior, process of which language (and languaging) is the main mediation tool.
One of the many advantages of this process it that the personal practical knowledge derived from narratives takes into account and prioritizes the context from which the teacher generates her knowledge; which is ultimately where she will then re-apply her knowledge and expand its scope, sort of creating a feedback loop.
“It is a kind of knowledge carved out of, and shaped by, situations; knowledge that is constructed and reconstructed as we live out our stories and retell and relive them through process of reflection” (Clandinin, 1992: 125).
Among the many ways in which teachers can develop (conferences, workshops, twitter chats, reading, etc), I think narratives in form of writing are very empowering and change-conducive activities.
I’ll leave you with a short video I made of Dale Coulter speaking about his experience using journals. Dale has developed an admirable way of advancing his understanding of teaching and learning, and if you don’t yet read his blog, you’re missing the opportunity of being inspired.