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The Evolution of a

Reflective Practitioner
Melissa Hadley
MATC Synthesis Paper

Introduction
Its something we learn in our undergraduate courses. Its
something every educator wants to believe he or she is. The simple
truth: It is vital that we are reflective practitioners. One of my favorite
professors at Eastern Michigan University once said, In every difficult
situation, you should think What am I doing to contribute to the
problem. We have every intention of being the kind of teacher that
constantly evolves, stays up to date on new and inventive ways of
teaching, and truly remains flexible in our practices to fully meet the
needs of every student that walks through our classroom door.
Then life happens. We have deadlines. We have students that
dont respond to us no matter what we try. We have assessments. We
have lesson plans to create. We have parents that, for whatever
reason, dont like us. In any given day we have a hundred things to
think about not to mention the fact that we are human beings that
have personal lives and certainly have distractions to our teaching.
Somewhere in all the chaos we are supposed to think about our
effectiveness in our practice when we can barely get our day-to-day
tasks done. We are very aware that we work much longer hours than
our paychecks reflect.
Sometimes its just so much easier to think that a student with
challenging behavior is hopeless. Its much easier to think that wed be
able to do our jobs better if we had better resources, if we had better

support from our administration, if we didnt have to use the ridiculous


district-mandated curriculum, if our parents would just get more
involved the list is endless. While all of those statements may be
true, we still truly neglect to consider that very important question:
What am I doing to contribute to the problem.
The question doesnt regard any other contributing factor except
for ourselves. It neglects the notion that there will always be factors
that hinder our ability to teach the way we want to. It simply requires
that we look at ourselves in the current situation and ask to truly
assess the part we play in it. The MATC program not only required me
to consider this in my own teaching, it required me to refine it and
make it a part of my methodology, philosophy of teaching and my
entire attitude.
What it Means to Be a Reflective Practitioner
Before something can become truth to a teacher, it must first
have relevance. Moon states, Reflective practice is an active, dynamic
action-based and ethical set of skills, placed in real time and dealing
with real, complex and difficult situations (Moon, 1999). Reflective
practice doesnt mean that we get our teaching certificates and
suddenly become gurus of education. It means that we constantly
evolve. We adapt to difficulties and see our teaching as an active,
living organism that can grow and change.

The first step in finding relevance in this was while I was


completing my first artifact an action research project. I was in the
middle of my first full year of teaching kindergarten and I was
completely overwhelmed. I somehow had to take babies who had
never been in school before and somehow find a way to get them to
read at a certain District Reading Assessment level. Our school had a
Continuous School Improvement plan that focused on using a
vocabulary emphasis in math in order to increase test scores. I
conducted my action research project to determine whether or not this
strategy was actually effective with my students. Though the strategy
did prove to be effective, I remember feeling as though this project was
a wake-up call. While I was trying to fit into my role as a teacher in my
first year, I hadnt even considered the fact that it is also my
responsibility to look at strategies that Im using to see if they even
work. Of course there are always district-mandated curriculum sets to
follow and school improvement plans to show fidelity to, but that
doesnt always directly relate to student learning. A plan or strategy
can be research-based, but the point of being a reflective practitioner
is asking whether its truly fitting the current students Im working
with.
Once I came to this realization, I began to refine my methods of
selecting strategies and lessons for my students. Artifacts 2, 3 and 5 all
helped me strengthen and hone this skill in my teaching. I came to see

how much more enriching my teaching was when I was honest with
myself and critically looked at every strategy I attempted.
Reflective practitioners cannot simply leave everything up to
teaching style and lesson content. There is more to consider. We have
to look at how students learn or why they exhibit challenging
behaviors. We cant expect that a great lesson plan will automatically
lead to learning. While the curriculum and instruction side is important,
I have come to understand through my time in the MATC program that
asking myself what Im doing to contribute to the lesson isnt looking
into the situation in its entirety.
Reflective practitioners must also look into behavior. I took many
classes through the MATC program about diversity, motivation and
students with challenging behavior. Just as easy as it is to say that
wed be better teachers if we had better curriculum, its also
sometimes very easy for us to say that wed be better teachers if we
had better students. Ive caught myself saying things such as My
students are just so unmotivated. Again, I needed to utilize reflection
in regards to what I was doing to contribute to the lack of motivation.
Artifact 4 demonstrates a project that helped me refine this skill. I was
asked to not only identify a student that lacked motivation, but find out
why. I had to look into the students behavioral patterns and the way
my responses either encouraged or discouraged the student. When we
treat our students as if they are the reason we are failing in achieving

our academic goals for the classroom, we set them up to believe that
failure is an attribute of their character, rather than a product of
circumstance that even we are contributing to.
Every classroom has students with challenging behaviors. I
believe that there is no perfect classroom. In my undergraduate
studies and my first years of teaching, I thought, in my naivety that it
was my job to be stoic and fix the behavior problems. I can recall going
over rosters at the beginning of the year and receiving warnings about
students that were coming into my class from other teachers. The
MATC program has developed my perception of situations such as
these. This notion that students come to our classroom with
problematic behaviors and its our job to set them straight is one-sided.
Rather, Ive come to realize (particularly during my development of
Artifact 7) that a reflective practitioner sees it more in terms of a twoway relationship. The term challenging behavior is entirely
subjective. What may be challenging to one educator may not bother
another. Again, when we assume that we have the answers to the
challenging behavior neglects the questions: What am I doing to
contribute to this situation.
For instance, within Artifact 7, I focused on a student of mine
who threw tantrums several times within any given school day. She
would scream, kick, cry, throw things, and always for what I perceived
to be no reason at all. This student irritated me. My heart sank when I

saw her walk in the door every morning. What I didnt realize at the
time was that I felt this way because I was seeing her behavior as
something I should have the answer to, but didnt. In Artifact 7 I was
challenged to observe her and think critically about the way I was
responding to the tantrums. I came to find that she simply lacked the
communication skills to express her frustration as effectively as her
peers. When that perception shift occurred, I suddenly was able to
provide strategies for the student to self-soothe and the tantrums
became non-existent.
What Reflective Practitioners Do
I think its natural for us to assume that the more experience and
knowledge we gain about a subject, the more effective we are. In this
mentality, its easy to attribute problematic situations (academic or
behavioral) to the flaws of our situations. What we need to realize and
what the MATC program has shown me is that we are the situations.
We are the facilitators of learning and learning can occur with perfect
circumstances or without them.
While working on Artifact 6, I was able to see how learning
occurs in students when content is relevant, meaning that we should
use the circumstances around us to foster learning. Vygotskys
approach of social constructivism gives us the opportunity for students
to learn in their social context. With this knowledge, I have come to the

conclusion that being effective has little to do with what were given,
but rather what we do with what we have.
That being said, the MATC program has helped me develop a
working list of characteristics of a reflective practitioner:
1. A reflective practitioner shifts from looking at all of the factors
that make up barriers or roadblocks, and instead, critically analyzes his
or her beliefs, values, methods and attitudes. Instead of placing focus
on all of the things that get in our way, instead we ought to be looking
at how we are getting in our own way. For example, my son is two
years old and has autism. He eats one thing: oatmeal. Thats it. Many
veteran moms will tell me that I should serve him what I want him to
eat and when hes hungry, he will eat. This is not true of a child with
autism. He will starve himself rather than eat. Consequently, I make
very healthy versions of oatmeal to satisfy his nutritional requirements.
I called my own values into question. I had to ask myself whether it
was more important to me that he eat what I want him to eat or that
he be properly nourished. Our teaching is similar. Do we want our
students to conform to what we feel is important, or would we rather
shift our values in order to let natural learning occur?

2. A reflective practitioner asks him or herself what the goal is


and what is being done to reach it. Along with calling our values into
question, we also must take a look at what it is specifically were trying

to accomplish. Sometimes in order to achieve a goal, we must do


things outside of our comfort zone and analyze our methods. This
requires confidence and the realization that learning is
multidimensional. We should be learning as much from our students as
they are from us. For example, several of my artifacts required me to
select an objective for my students based on observation. I had to
spend time learning my students. It wasnt as easy as seeing an
objective stated on a lesson plan and making activities to correspond. I
had to really know the components that made up my students and
derive my goals from the given information. This meant rethinking the
way I taught them.
3.A reflective practitioner is willing to let go of old habits for the
sake of new needs of the students he or she teaches. As educators
who deal with anywhere from 20-30 students at a time, its natural for
us to develop routines and habits. We stick with what works. However,
what do we do when sticking with what works no longer works? Many
times throughout the MATC program I was challenged to give up
convenience for effectiveness. For example, I think of myself as an
advocate of differentiated instruction. I use formative and summative
assessments and I base my lessons on data. However, while I was
working on Artifacts 5 and 8, I had to change the entire structure of my
literacy instruction because what I was doing, though effective in the
past, was not working with my struggling learners.

4. A reflective practitioner replaces pride with productivity. I


strongly believe that nobody likes to be wrong. Nobody likes to come to
the realization that theyre doing something that isnt working. After
all, this is our career for which we are paid. We go to school for years
and continue our education well beyond other professions. We dont
like to feel as though we dont know what were talking about.
However, in order to truly evolve, we need to look at what is best for
the students we teach. We have to submit ourselves to being wrong
from time to time for the sake of finding methods and strategies that
work. Thats what I feel the MATC program has been about.
Conclusion
Though many things made sense to me throughout my time in
the MATC program, I believe the vitality of being a reflective
practitioner was the main concept highlighted in every course. I
believe each of my artifacts reflects this. In each one, I was called to
look upon my practice and think very critically about every aspect of
not only my teaching, but also my persona. Every course helped this
skill to sharpen in order to prepare me to take my teaching to a whole
new level.

Resources:
Reflective Practice. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2015, from
http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/reflective-practice.html#ixzz3V8uKDxSe

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