Teaching Opinion

On Being a Reflective Educator

By Starr Sackstein — May 18, 2018 4 min read
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I’m my own worst critic.

Often in situations, I harshly judge myself and expect things that are wildly unrealistic, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting them from myself.

I’ve always been more forgiving of others, more capable of seeing and experiencing and praising their successes. It seems more humble and appropriate as an educator to focus less on myself in this capacity than others. Truly feeling rewarded from witnessing other people’s successes, I always have tried to acknowledge when honestly deserved, whether students or colleagues.

So when it comes to me, my reflections are critical. After situations occur, immediately thinking, “how could I have done that better?”

This year, however, I have tried to step back to put things in perspective. Reflection is huge and as I have learned from my own foibles this year, writing about challenges immediately is no longer terribly appropriate. But that doesn’t mean, I shouldn’t, can’t or won’t think about my role in different situations.

To truly model being reflective, I have to put myself out there and show how it is done. Assessing situations, sometimes even while I’m in them to determine if a different path needs to be chosen. After being in the classroom for 16 years, I have gotten quite good at thinking on my feet and switching courses if I need to when the plan is going south. Rather than stay the course, just to see something through, I abandon the plan and try to salvage whatever time I could to remedy where the plan failed.

This is true as a new school leader too.

Being hard on myself isn’t necessarily the problem, but also being able to balance that with what I’m doing right is equally important.

So here are some things I’ve been working on that have been really useful:

  • Asking for help. I simply don’t know everything and especially don’t know what I’ve never been told. What I’ve learned this year is that I can plan for any number of things, but not for the situations and expectations that haven’t been communicated. Blunders happen because of this and being able to ask for help, before, during and after greatly impacts how situations turn out. I used to be afraid to ask for help, now I relish it.
  • Knowing who to ask for help is paramount. Asking for help isn’t enough, I need to know the right people to go to in different situations and that is not always so easy to do. Trust is a big part of this and knowing with whom I can be vulnerable and who will be able to steer me in the in the right direction
  • Taking risks. Sometimes it feels like everything I do is a risk as I try to gently disturb the status quo. Knowing how to balance what I would like to present to our team and knowing what I should and can present is always a risk. I need to read the room well and then be responsive to what I see. Additionally, I have to know when to push and put myself out there to compel folks to consider something else. I’m not the kind of leader who feels the need to issue directives to compel compliance; I want authentic buy-in.
  • Getting feedback. I need to ask and get feedback from everyone. How well am I doing? How do you feel about this? What do you think about this idea? And then I need to be open to adjusting my plans based on the feedback I receive. Additionally, as I’m assessing situations I need to try to see them from a multitude of perspectives. Too often I get mired in my own perspective and that isn’t helpful to anyone. That’s why I need the feedback that I’m getting from colleagues, our team, and friends that are outside the situation. My mentor is always a good person for feedback too.
  • Continuing my education. This year has also challenged my thinking in terms of the graduate classes I took to support my ability to do my job. Admittedly, before I began the learning for my program, I wasn’t sure that an additional degree was essential for leadership. Honestly, as a teacher, I developed many of my best assets in this role, but what I’ve learned from my classes I wouldn’t have known otherwise. My colleagues have helped to challenge my thinking and helped me conceptualize how to do things differently, like how to consider a strategic budget for our department that values time and people more than things. My law class was also eye-opening and having the opportunity to be exposed to the law and what I have to uphold was extremely useful.
  • Keeping an open mind and a growth mindset. Being me is all about having an open mind, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not uncomfortable with new ideas sometimes. I’m always eager to keep pushing, to truly listen to those around me before making up my mind and to trust my gut. Since there is a great investment in doing well in this new capacity, I eagerly participate on Twitter, I go to conferences, I ask questions and keep learning. My newest obsession is audiobooks which feed my curiosity and suit the amount of time I have.

Being an educator requires constant reflection. Every choice and action should be transparent and thoughtful and connected to the district-wide goals. Accessing my strengths, focusing my energy on being attentive to the needs of those on our team is essential for my continued growth as an educator and person. So I’m just going to keep pushing, keeping the big picture in mind without allowing the daily minutia to get me down. We simply can’t sweat the small stuff, just keep moving forward.

How do you reflect as an educator? Please share

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