Holding up a Mirror to One’s Professional Practice
by Jody Spiro
As we in education attempt to contribute to peoples’ lives through learning and growth, it is essential that we engage in similar self-reflection and continuous improvement of our own practice. Such work is best done in a community of practice of like-minded educators – and, all the better, if the members of that community of practice span the country and – better yet – the globe.
One of the best ways to challenge our assumptions of what “is,” and how we are doing is by trying out our techniques in new situations and being reflective about how they play out. The mantra is to treat everything as a learning experience – as hard as that may be.
Two examples from my own work have made this clear to me. They took place when I was conducting workshops overseas with educators who wanted to use “active learning” to help their students engage in “critical thinking.” The idea was not to import “American” ideas, but rather to work together to develop locally-appropriate adaptation. In both examples, I learned as much about my own practice as the participants learned about theirs.
During a session in 1995 in Estonia, I quickly identified to myself a member of the group of educators whom I perceived as uninterested in the topic. My perception was re-enforced when he was absent from the afternoon session; even though he had left a message that he had to attend to urgent business and would return the next morning. Indeed, to my surprise, he was in his seat when I arrived the next day. When we went around the table reporting out on a “critical incident” exercise designed to reflect on our learning styles, this man reported (with tears in his eyes) on specific, new teaching techniques he had learned through the workshop yesterday. This was memorable to him because, he said, “During the past 50 years, I hadn’t learned anything new.” In this one moment, I became aware of the significance of the work I was doing – and also of my fallibility in “reading” my audience. I learned to test my assumptions about participants’ engagement.
A few years later in Moldova, an audience member leapt to his feet to criticize my opening keynote presentation to the assemblage. He raged, “Why do we need someone from the United States to come here? No one will solve Moldova’s problems but Moldovans.” As difficult as it was, we went ahead with the agenda as planned and worked together during the next several days to develop lessons and a guidebook for teachers. On the last day, just as we had ended the last session and were preparing to leave, the same man charged to the front of the room. A nervous hush came over the room. But, this time, he stepped up to apologize. “It’s only fair,” he said. “Since I made such a fuss at the beginning, I need to say how much I learned and how the result we achieved would not have happened had we not gone about this together.” This was a remarkable moment where his extraordinary growth had become apparent. As well, my own self-reflections on how I had handled this difficult situation, and the value of sticking with the work despite its difficulties, were invaluable.
What we do isn’t easy, but with self-reflection and continuous improvement, it is humbling and gratifying. Keeping in touch with others, and sharing the ups and downs, helps enormously.
Think of a time in the last six months have you learned something new and answer the following questions: (1) what did you learn? (2) Why did you learn it? (3) How did you learn it? And (4) Why was it memorable?
Also, check out Jody Spiro’s New Book Leading Change Step-By-Step!