Souce: Journal of Jewish Education
This study explores how structured reflective practice by teachers in a Reform congregational school contributes to relational growth and the development of an inquiry stance in teaching. Analysis of teachers’ responses to weekly prompts about their classroom experiences reveals three prominent themes: classroom management as inquiry, the tension between focusing on creating community and focusing on Jewish content, and thinking explicitly about how intention can influence teaching practices. The relational aspect of this reflective practice creates a safe space for experimenting with teaching practices and allows us to shift our gaze from a problem-solving approach toward a more inquiry-based stance.
As practitioner action research, this study is an examination of two teachers’ experiences and also of my own role in those experiences through our reflective writing exchanges. Using systematic data collection and qualitative analysis and interpretation, I aimed to better understand how the reflective exchanges contributed to our relationships and to the teachers’ development of an inquiry stance in their teaching. I then used my findings to inform future practice, the essential final step in an action research inquiry.
In sum, this study has shaped my practice as a Jewish educational leader in significant ways. First it confirmed for me that knowledge about teaching practice is generated inside teachers’ classrooms. Structured relational and reflective practice gave rise to serious thinking about teaching.
Second, I was able to see that written dialog strengthens the relationships teachers have with me as their supervisor and partner in improving their teaching experience and leads them to ask questions about their teaching practice. The structure and the routine of a weekly practice afforded us the space to build our relationships and create a fertile ground for asking questions while also trusting suggestions without feeling judged. Without the reflection and responses that built our relationships, the inquiry would not have happened. By paying attention to the relationships and the community we were building, the teachers felt free to experiment and to ask the questions about their teaching.
Third, I confronted both the assumptions that guide my responses, and the fact that the principal–teacher hierarchy and evaluation factored into our relationships and the reflective process despite my efforts to maintain an ethical stance that includes transparency and power sharing. Each week when I sent reflection prompts, I expected some of the teachers’ writing to be about things like logistics because of a perceived and actual hierarchical structure built into a congregational school. I think the teachers assume they are in that structure. In fact, I found very little writing about those issues. When responding to reflections, I was constantly thinking about how the teachers would read my responses. I wondered whether we could co-create a dialog about practice, rather than a hierarchical assessment of their practice. Would our conversations feel judgmental, or supportive of growth?
In addition, I learned deeply about what it means to be an educational leader researcher. I now understand that data collection is complex and may involve more than what I am already doing, such as follow-up interviews and recorded conversations; and that there is room for more follow-up to the reflection conversations. If I were to enlist the teachers in tracking the conversations, perhaps we (each teacher and I as a pair) could use the reflections and responses to create goals and follow through with suggestions. The teachers could try out different teaching moves and then share their experiences with me. I am convinced that the work of structured reflection is worthwhile and can lead to meaningful and thoughtful changes in teaching practices and provide insight regarding relationships and power structures within congregational education settings, as these affect instructional practices, too. Everybody complains about the lack of time. By analyzing the content of teacher reflections from one school year, it became clear that creating time and space for this practice matters. There is serious thinking that occurs within the structured reflective practice the teachers and I created, and it does not take a lot of time. Through thinking, reflecting, and responding, we were able to shift our gaze from a mere problem-solving approach toward a more inquiry-based stance in our teaching and learning that addressed issues that frequently arise in congregational school settings.