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  • by Blaine Helwig

Professional Reflection – Apprentice to Master Teacher

Time passes quickly. No argument there. I graduated from high school about 35 years ago, and although it does not seem like yesterday, the three plus decades possess a deceptive quality as I reflect on them. I know I lived those years, but sometimes it seems a life that someone else lived, and I watched the movie from afar. Of course, we all have our own take on these matters but we generally realize that, albeit painful at times, personal reflection into our past yields perspective, insight, maturity, and hopefully some small amounts of wisdom.

But, what of professional reflection in our daily work?

As with personal introspection, I have discovered similar benefits from the self-evaluation of both my structural engineering and public education professional careers. Without question, the perspective and insight gained from the process is worth the investment of time. For example, after completing the final structural design of a steel girder, instead of proceeding to the next element in the project, I varied the girder’s flange and web thicknesses to determine the stress sensitivity in comparison to span length distance. Hence, experiential ‘rules of thumb’ could be developed for evaluating girder sizing on future engineering projects and intuition into the structural engineering design process.

The reflective approach will be unique in all professional fields, but with many moving parts of a typical classroom, self-reflection is an essential step in achieving master teacher status. However, public education is a unique field since there is no entry-level work. An entry-level teacher is assigned the same professional responsibilities as the seasoned teacher in an adjacent grade level classroom – a room full of children with the same daily and end of the year performance requirements. With equal responsibility, both novice and veteran teachers must establish, create, develop rapport with colleagues, administrators, parents, and a classroom of children, and the instructional workload has not even begun. However, classroom systems and daily routines influence the instructional success of the novice teacher compared to the skilled, master teacher, and an entry-level teacher will rarely develop into a master teacher by avoiding self-reflection and critique of their daily practice.

In What Classroom Areas is Self-Reflection the Most Beneficial for Entry-Level Teachers?

  • Reflect on the veteran and successful teacher’s classroom’s physical environment: student and teacher desk locations, anchors of support/bulletin board content and posted classroom rules.

  • Evaluate predictable and structured classroom routines so students understand daily expectations and the novice teacher may evaluate and provide adjustments, if necessary.

  • Emulate the veteran teacher until the beginning teacher possesses complete understanding before Innovating to afford an effectiveness and/or efficiency assessment of the practice. Understand the process and thinking, first!

  • Contemplate upon the guidance from seasoned teachers and administrators on difficult student disciplinary cases, or marginal disciplinary student issues will heighten.

  • Write and muse in your journal at the end of each school day: What went well in daily routines? What did not go well? What do I think were the causes of the lack of success? What changes can I minimally make to be more successful? For example: Did I plan for early student finishers? Did students know my expectations? Was I consistent in my daily student management expectations? Do I need to move students’ desks/seat locations for better compliance and less distractions?

  • Write and ponder in your journal at the end of each school day: What went well in the daily instructional lessons? What did not go well? What do I think were the causes of the lack of success? What adjustments can the teacher minimally make to be more successful? For example: Did I secure the students’ undivided attention before I started the lesson and maintain it throughout the lesson? Did I think through and adequately prepare my lessons? Was I prepared for the instructional day? Did the students have the background knowledge to be successful with the presented lesson? Was there student accountability and learning outcomes in the daily lesson plan?

Teaching a classroom of children is a difficult job. No argument there. Just as it takes repetition for students to master content, it takes daily practice and introspection in the pedagogy itself to master the process as well. Of course, without consistent and honest self-evaluation, a novice teacher will have difficulty achieving mastery level status.

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