A high school science department creates a common language and practice to reflect on classes and shares the valuable insights gained from taking this weekly “journal writing pause.”
As department head of fifteen teachers at her large, suburban high school, Sarah noticed that her teachers were “grasping” for moments to talk about their students and classes: at the copy machine, over the lunch table, in the few minutes before and after faculty meetings. While these conversation clips provided connection and some value for teachers, she wondered about creating a more structured and regular opportunity for her department members to reflect upon and share the everyday successes and weaknesses from their classrooms. While getting all fifteen teachers to sit around a table once a month was a challenge, Sarah knew that getting them on board for some kind of collective reflection could benefit students and teachers alike. She posed the question to her colleagues: “how can we create individual opportunity/space for reflection while also creating a common language/protocol so that we can better use these reflections, and each other, as resources?” With a focus on how to improve student learning, the department members brainstormed a list of “10 Journal Questions for Reflection”* that were entered into an easily accessed Google Document.
The teachers agreed to take one 45 minute planning period per month to reflect upon one of their classes in the Google Journal Doc. While their “reflection folders” serve as their own private artifact spaces, teachers are encouraged to post at least one of their journal responses to the department list-serve per semester. They also agreed to read and post a response to at least one colleague’s journal entry per semester. While Sarah had considered setting up a schedule for shared reflections, she found that by leaving the “on-line” portion of this open her department members took it upon themselves to read and respond to classes and entries where they felt they could learn the most or share the greatest expertise. The on-line conversations spill into face-to face discussions at school, and grade teams often use their journal entries in conversations around class planning and addressing issues with particular students. Sarah adjusted department meeting time to include a 20 minute period at the end of the meeting for teachers to “partner” and discuss implications for practice based on one of their class reflections. In addition to creating a shared language and space for reflecting upon classes among department members, Sarah also shares how these “artifacts” have served as great tools for her to better provide support and feedback to her teachers throughout evaluations. She insists that while the journal entries do not replace the value of a human observer (or videotape of a class), they provide opportunity for teachers to think hard about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how their students are impacted. Giving teachers a chance to look at their own perspective (in writing) creates opportunity for deeper thought, as they reflect upon their own viewpoints. Many of her teachers further insist that this “flexible” way of connecting has helped them feel less isolated and more invested in both their work and that of their colleagues.