Sunday, December 5, 2010

Remembering to Reflect on What's Going Well

I have been feeling somewhat less than adequate lately. Maybe it's because we're nearing the end of a semester and I'm thinking a lot about where I thought the kids and I would be by this time of the year. Maybe it's because the professional reading I've been doing has me rethinking how I do some things or opening my eyes to others or has me wishing I was more like the authors. Maybe it's because I've stepped over a line in reflecting...the one where instead of using reflection as a tool to refine our practice, we slip into making a long list of should-haves, why-didn't-Is, and coming-up-shorts.

I do believe that we have to be willing to take an honest look at our practices and identify those places where we need to grow, change, or let go of some of our practices; however, I also believe it's critical to reflect on what's going well. The stuff that's working...those days or lessons or small moments when things are humming along so smoothly that you totally understand what athletes mean about being "in the zone". Or those little things that make you feel like you're about to burst because this is why you became a teacher.

So in the interest of reminding myself to look at what's working well--so I can build on it, so I can keep doing it, and so that I am forced to find the joyful moments in my teaching life--here's a short list of things from the past week that have me thinking that I may not be as inadequate as I've been feeling--that what I've been teaching and modeling and trying to be as a professional is having an impact.
  • Teaching kids to help each other: I looked up from a reading group and was able to see one of my stronger, quiet students helping another student learn a couple new sight words at the ABC center--the student being helped is not always easy to work with, and struggles with visual memory tasks. The next day, that student was not only able to remember which words they had worked on, but was able to quickly locate them in the morning message.
  • Helping my lowest kids feel that they are capable: My high-need reading group highjacked a lesson--in a good way! They took over and huddled around a single copy of the book, using everything we've been working and working on learning to do while reading. Problem solving using more than one source of information, talking about the story, monitoring, fixing up errors--it was beautiful...and I got it on tape.
  • Encouraging professional reflection and growth not just in myself, but alongside others: I had a spur of the moment conversation with two colleagues after school one day that not only left us feeling affirmed in some things about teaching in response to student need during writing workshop, but also generated some much-needed energy and enthusiasm.
  • Learning to work around or within barriers to what I know are effective practices: I realized that even though my writing workshop is well short on time, the kids have learned to work within it and so have I. Even though it still feels too short, the kids are engaged in their writing projects, they are making progress, and I do know more about them as writers than I thought, even though my conferring notes are woefully thin.
  • Remembering why I do this: I had to take 2 afternoons off to be home with one of my own kids, who was sick (don't worry, that's not the good thing!). While I was walking the kids to lunch before leaving, one of them said, "we can tell you love S.--that's why you are going home to take care of him." Another chimed in, "like how you love us. You take care of us and teach us stuff."
Ok, so that last one, that's the one. The one that made me feel like maybe there are some things I'm doing well. That I am making a difference for these kids. That what I do not only matters, but isn't falling as short as I thought. It gives me the energy and strength I need to keep going. 


  1. hope your little guy is on the upswing.

    had to read this post a couple of times -- it is so powerful i wanted to make sure i soaked it all in.

    never thought about how reflective practice can turn into a beat-yourself-up session ... but it can. love the way you turned it around.

    again i find myself wishing i could come learn in your classroom.

    can't wait to see you in person soon!

  2. Taking the time to reflect is a dangerous thing! As teachers, we often want the impossible for our students. We want them to see the mystery of learning and revel in that joy. We want them to be challenged but not to be overwhelmed by the challenge. We want them to experience that minute piece of frustration that will help them understand the exhilaration of “sticking to it”. We want them to believe in themselves. We want so much for them that sometimes we forget the tiny miracles that occur each day…and sometimes, many times, we don’t know that they are occurring.
    We don’t know that the student who just walked into the classroom and is greeted by you with a smile and cheerful “Glad to see you today” just left a home that was full of anger. We won’t realize that when you moved a child next to another that a new friendship would begin. We won’t know that the poetry lesson you did today will inspire one student to be a future poet laureate.
    I am so glad that you posted this message. Parents think about the positive impact that we have made on their children, but in the rush of life…it gets overlooked.
    Take time today to “pat yourself on the back”, treat yourself to that Mocha Latte or Cappuccino, sing to yourself while driving in the car about how great you are, post a message on your mirror saying “I am a teacher! I influence lives every day!”