As a Grade 10 science teacher, I am constantly feeling the pressure, self-imposed I am certain, to produce students literate in all aspects of the broad provincial curriculum. My students, for the most part, seem to lack the interest and commitment required to succeed in all but the situations where gratification is immediate and benefit/effort ratio is high. This results in an overly stressed teacher and a student body that is less than enthusiastic about learning.
Thus, while I was initially rolling my eyes at having to read more about reflecting, I was pleasantly surprised by how astutely written and personally relevant Stephan Brookfield’s writing is. As I read, I felt a connection to what he was saying about how I practice and how I feel about what I do. It was like a survival manual for teachers, a way for teachers to maintain their sanity and become more effective practitioners, all by becoming critically reflective.
Overall, Brookfield points out, there is a disparity between our intentions and our practice. He suggests that what we think we mean and do can be perceived quite differently by our students. The power that we wield as educators distorts the educational process. By reflecting critically we can become aware of the role that power plays and we can see things from a variety of viewpoints, our students’ as well as our colleagues’.
Learning to reflect critically will result in increased energy, an increased sense of purpose. The demoralizing guilt and blame that burdens us when we believe ourselves to be responsible for our students’ resistance to learning will decrease. Critical reflection requires that we question assumptions and practices and that we become aware of how these assumptions frame how we think and act.
The following three questions stood out for me, questions I need to ask myself and questions whose answers I would love to know, indeed, I should know the answers:
1. How do I know when I am teaching well?
2. How do I know my students’ are learning?
3. How could my practice be more responsive?
\hi-ˈje-mə-nē, -ˈge-; ˈhe-jə-ˌmō-nē\
Definition of HEGEMONY
: the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group
Critical reflection allows us to explore hegemonic assumptions that permeate my practice that are harmful to my health. I am guilty of seeing teaching as a vocation. I find it hard to say no which has resulted in impossible class loads and a less than effective teacher. Brookfield sees critically reflective teachers as “able to distinguish between a justifiable and necessary dedication to students’ well-being and a self-destructive workaholism.”(p.16)
Critical reflection provides teachers with a rationale, an “organizing vision” that grounds our practice.
I am constantly buying books and reading to try and solve problems. Teachers who reflect critically realize that there is no magic pill and that all ideas need to be tweaked to fit the context of each classroom.
Customer satisfaction. Whether the students or the parents are the customers, teachers who try and meet all needs are reaching for the unattainable and risk self-destruction. I know this to be true. Teaching is my second career, my first was as a horticulturalist in a retail garden center. The parallels between both arenas are alarming and it was liberating to read Brookfield’s thoughts on the “capitalist economic system” that schools are becoming. “Equating good teaching with a widespread feeling among students that you have done what they wanted ignores the dynamics of teaching and prevents significant learning.” (p 21)
Critical reflection is necessary to inform what we do and why. It illustrates/underlines our intent and rationale and allows us to be able to communicate this to others if required. Emotional results include increased stability and improved morale and a greater sense of being in control, fewer feelings of being a victim of circumstances outside one’s control. The classroom will become energized and an environment is created where change, risk-taking and failure is valued.
Next step: How do I find out what the student’s experience is in my class? How do I create a classroom where the student’s concerns are the focus of classroom activity on a regular basis? (As well as a place where learning continues?)