Reflective journaling is frequently employed to help preservice educators make sense of fieldwork experiences. Analyzing the weekly journals of eight preservice educators, I offer conceptual language to describe how journal writing provides a window into students’ capacity for reflection. This capacity is described in terms of three continua: self-awareness, sophistication of reflective writing style, and relationship of reflection to action.
Noticing and articulating these continua allows those who train Jewish educators to see their programs as both professional training and a space for adult learning. Successful reflection requires both reflective skill and developmental capacity, making it complicated to assess and support growth. In Jewish education settings, this can be even more complex when students’ own personal Jewish journeys intersect with professional learning.
Working in teacher education and professional development, teacher educators are accustomed to preaching the idea that reflection is good and that novice educators can get better at it by with practice. They may become frustrated when encountering students who may not be capable of some kinds of reflection or may not be progressing in expected ways. Journaling or other related activities can seem futile in this light.
Scholars have also challenged the notion that reflection is inherently useful. Fendler (2003) suggests that reflective writing can be, rather than a mirror held up to one’s practice, a “hall of mirrors,” endlessly refracting back and amplifying sloppy thinking or prejudices. Others (Brookfield, 1995; Zeichner & Liston, 1996) worry that the desire to encourage student teachers to be reflective leads us to label “anything we like in teaching” as reflective, or allows students to mull over their thoughts without challenging or complicating them. At best, they argue, this kind of “generic” reflection is merely ineffective; at worst it can actually reinstantiate harmful stereotypes or reinforce bad practice. Dyment and O’Connell (2011) note that studies of student journals reveal “generally disappointing” levels of reflection (p. 95).
Each of these concerns is legitimate. “Just reflect” is insufficient as a goal or a directive. However, for some students, even “just reflecting” is very difficult. Teacher educators can read journal entries carefully and respond to encourage the development of skills of reflection as well as individual developmental capacity. Such feedback, along with collaborative reflective practices such as protocols and group observations, prevents some of the dangers of unmediated navel gazing that that reflection exercises can unwittingly promote.
Along with feedback for skill development, teacher educators must provide a “holding environment” (Drago-Severson, 2004; Kegan, 1994) to support and challenge students as they practice making sense of their teaching experiences. Teacher educators must acknowledge that attaining the reflective disposition of a master educator will require not just practice and technical skill, but also significant transformative learning for many novices. Reflective journals can provide a view on this process that will allow teacher educators to support novice educators as they move toward a stance of sustained and productive reflection.