Fire up the Reflective Practitioners

January 5, 2017

My own fiery reflective journey began in earnest over a decade of three attempts at certification in the National Board Certification process.  I speak from experience when I suggest that for some, the “reflective practitioner” (Danielson, 2013) is not as much born; as is instead, forged in the twin fires of doubt and failure.  Questions like “What went wrong in my class or with this lesson? Why did this end up this way?” are indicators that you too have been fired up in the reflective process.  Danielson, 2013 recognized over time professional educators could develop this skill of reflective practice, “this way of thinking both reflectively and self-critically and of analyzing instruction through the lens of student learning—whether excellent, adequate, or inadequate—becomes a habit of mind, leading to improvement in teaching and learning” (p. 61).  I experienced a paradigm shift as a reflective practitioner this semester when faced with the choice to open up a class session to what I immediately discovered was somewhat negative feedback.  National Board standards have confirmed:

“Reflective teachers are positive role models of lifelong learning for their students as well as for their professional communities. They are risk takers, and make their processes of learning and reflecting visible to their students and their professional learning communities in order to encourage enthusiasm for inquiry.  Their students view them as passionate partners in learning” (NBPTS, p. 77).

I could choose to ignore this opportunity for reflection, let it pass by and remain unaltered.  I could turn my face away from the fire, or embrace the fire and let it do its work.  A few of my students, when asked, shared honest thoughts and specific details on my areas of need for improvement including managing class questioning.  I promise you it felt uncomfortable to be considered wrong, to be criticized by my students even assuming it was meant to be constructive, and to have felt as though I had failed my students.  After they shared their viewpoints I had another choice to make, to remain open to reexamine the information shared and decide which parts of it I might own.

Over the following days this uncomfortable experience replayed itself in my mind and I tolerated the ambiguity and discomfort of self-exploration to eventually come to an understanding that “not all bad things are bad”.  I first had to own what did and did not belong to me.  “Yes, it was bad.  Yes, they are right this does belong to me.  This one however does not and it felt sort of like a cheap shot or piling on.”  Needless to say I privately and publically owned some of the feedback and when I recognized and accepted it as an area that needed improvement, I felt empowered to put my mind to the task of creating a solution.  It was at that time that I fully felt and appreciated the growth I was making as a learner.  National Board reflection standards promoted “professional reflections that are vigorous and significant. For accomplished teachers, learning and reflecting are continuous.  They engage in reflection both individually and in groups. They dialogue with other professionals to mutually reflect on their practices” (NBPTS, p. 78).

Not only did my students observe me receiving emotionally charged and difficult feedback and valuing it, they have since received a report back on how their perspectives have changed my thinking and stimulated an altered instructional plan.  Throughout the process of reflective practice I have found healing in the exploration of feelings that have originated in situations of doubt and failure.  Firing up your reflection will burn away the harsh feelings and rough edges of failure.  When the smoke clears you can be left with rich ashes, beneficial for effective problem solving, while focusing your attention on finding better results for you and your students.

Danielson, C. (2013). The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument. Retrieved  from November 25, 2016.
NBPTS Literacy: Reading–Language Arts Standards, 2nd ed. Retrieved from nbpts certificate emc lrla standards 09.23.13.pdf.

Kathleen Shahan, NBCT

Kathleen Shahan, Ed.D. has served in education since 1992 as a first grade teacher in an urban district for nearly a decade, Title One reading specialist, instructional coach, director of literacy public charter school, and as district READ180 facilitator in a rural school setting.  Her current position is as an undergraduate and graduate assistant professor at the University of Arkansas at Monticello and this year she has renewed her National Board Certification.  She recently published in the peer-reviewed Arkansas Association of Teacher Educators (ArATE) electronic journal with her manuscript:  Value-Added Reflection: Promoting Higher Order Thinking, Inquiry, Learning and Change. Dr. Shahan can be reached at