I have yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t wish to perfect their craft. Reflection is an excellent way to critically examine your teaching. Even though I consider reflection to be a vital tool to make more effective educators, I propose that excellent educators take reflection a step further – great teachers own and evaluate their impact.
Taking ownership is a difficult but necessary aspect within the reflection process and one that is sometimes lacking. In order to appropriately take ownership, educators must be open-minded and flexible in their teaching practices and methods.
Let me paint a common picture in schools. Over the course of two weeks, your team has collaborated for countless hours to write exceptional lesson plans. Together you have gathered a variety of materials, added technology to your curriculum, and delivered fun and engaging instruction. You’ve now reached the point in the unit where you will give students their rigorous summative assessment. After all the time and effort you put into planning and developing your instructional cycle, you have confidence that your students will crush it. Assessment day comes, you analyze the data, and discover your students have completely bombed! All the confidence you had prior to the assessment is quickly melting away. You know the importance of reflection so you start to fill your mind with all the possibilities for why this happened. “This group of kids is way less motivated than students I’ve had in prior years.” “I do have some pretty badly behaved students, I think they are distracting everyone.” “If only I had more assistance in my classroom.” “My students are low performing this year, if I had my kids from last year these results would be different.” “This class has a bad work ethic.” How many of us educators can relate to this type of reflecting? If not personally, have you heard a colleague reflect in this manner? According to Webster’s dictionary, all the previous statements could technically fall into the category of proper reflection; which I find extremely unfortunate when it comes to teaching. For this reason, teachers can do more than just reflect, we can take responsibility.
I would define teacher ownership simply as an educator taking responsibility for the impact their actions have within the classroom. Sounds pretty simple, but for most of us that is easier said than done. In true teacher ownership, a teacher would believe that they are the sole factor that either enhances or hinders classroom culture. Let’s think about the examples listed above. An educator who takes responsibility for their classroom would reflect in a different manner. Instead of shifting blame on outside factors, the teacher might wonder- “what could I have done differently to reach my students?” “ How can I be more effective to best meet the needs of my students?” “ How can I instill motivation into students who lack motivation?” “ How can I build stronger relationships with my students?” These type of reflective questions shift responsibility from factors that are outside the teacher’s control to factors that teachers have the ability to change and improve. This is, in fact, at the heart one of our sticky core values, Mind in Boat. When educators begin taking this type of ownership and focus on what they can control, they begin to more effectively make change within their classroom.
To be clear, I am not belittling the difficulties these factors bring to teachers daily. All of examples above are legitimate challenges. Knowing this, teachers must still acknowledge one important thing. This group of kids in your classroom right now, with all of their individual needs, are not going anywhere. And they need you as their teacher who has the courage to take responsibility rather than focus on things outside of your control.
Here’s my challenge for you. I challenge you to realize that your students don’t always come to you as the well-behaved, self-motivated students who already have the skills they need to be successful in life. I challenge you to focus your reflections on how you can impact your students and help them succeed. It’s our job to teach and inspire our students so they will be all they were meant to be. It’s time we not only realize our impact but we own it!
Blair Hicks, Leader, 5th grade Teacher, Taylor Mill Elementary