Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How I'm Trying To Mentor Myself

Reflecting on teaching helps make teaching better, right? Blogging about teaching is a form of reflection on teaching ergo blogging makes you a better teacher.

The pic at the top of this post comes from Dan Meyer's presentation about teachers who blog or tweet and what they get out of said blogging/tweeting. I helped him a bit with the research for this talk, and the "blogging as reflection" idea came through again and again in the responses to Dan's surveys. Blogging is reflection. Reflection leads to better teaching. Better teaching? More blogging. Boom. A virtuous cycle.

I'm sure that blogging is reflection. But I don't think enough teachers grapple with the limits of blogging as reflection. And there are some pretty serious limitations.

  • It's very difficult to talk about specific incidents or students in a blog post. Readers lack the (boring) context of the classroom that could make those incidents meaningful.
  • The vast majority of people are unwilling to write publicly about their anxieties and concerns about their teaching, so the vast majority of posts are about sharing moments that worked.
  • Blogging pushes us towards reflections that can easily cross the threshold into other people's classrooms. I'm more likely to blog about "How does feedback work?" than I am about "How can I make sure that my fourth graders each have strategies for figuring out a multiplication problem by the end of the week?"
I love blogging (obviously) but lately, I've been trying something different for my reflecting. I've been calling it self-mentoring, which is good except it's a terrible name.

A brief aside: as a new teacher, my school assigned me a mentor, and it was the best learning experience about teaching that I've had so far. My mentor visited my class each week. Before she observed, we'd chat for about 30 minutes about how my week of teaching had been. She'd ask questions and push me to think more deeply about why my students were doing, thinking and saying the things that they were. Post-observation, we'd have a similar chat that was laser-focused on what had just happened in class.

I haven't worked with a mentor since that first year, but this summer I found myself wanting very badly to recapture those conversations. Truth be told, this is something that I'd been trying hard and failing to do ever since our mentorship ended. (See here here here here and here for all my public failures.) The failures were easy to come by, because the problem is fundamentally hard: how do you push your own thinking past the limits of your current thinking?

I have 30 minutes free on Wednesday afternoons, and I like the way that I've spent them over the past few weeks. I seat myself and lay out my special teaching notebook. I have a protocol for how I spend this time. Right now, it goes like this:
  1. Write about anything of interest for a moment or two.
  2. Make a list of classroom incidents that might be interesting to dig deeper into.
  3. Write down some questions.
  4. Start writing about one of the classroom incidents. I have my mentor's voice in my mind as I do this. I try to ask myself the questions she'd ask. "Why do you think that happened?" "What do you think she was worried about?" etc. 
  5. I make a little box for any significant takeaways from the analysis.
  6. I go read through the Teaching Works practices and spend a moment noting anything related to those 19 practices that might be worth working on over the next week.
I've been really happy with the way this has been going so far. It feels realer and more natural than any of my other failed experiments over the past four years. I've been coming out with a bunch of takeaways that would make for terrible blog posts: "I sometimes walk away from a kid before I understand their thinking, and this makes it hard to decide who to choose to share in discussions" and things of that sort.

It's a lovely little ritual. I hope that I stick with it, but I think that I will because it's a lot of fun and it's been helping me make improvements. I'm hopeful that I've landed on something that works for me.

1 comment:

  1. I love this. I hope you do find ways to write more about the details of it as time goes by.