In 1990 Ellen Moir described six emotional phases that new teachers go through: anticipation, survival, disallusionment, rejuevenation, reflection and anticipation. It seems likely that these are actually emotional phases that all teachers go through each year to varying degrees. It’s impossible to characterize the the past school year as a typical one and therefore unlikely that all educators experienced each phase in the same way or to the same degree. There may not have been time for rejuevenation, reflection or anticipation. At the very least, summer break should be synonymous with rejuevenation with all teachers taking well-deserved time for those things that allow them to both relax and re-energize. Erica Layne reminds us that “rest is not idle, is not wasteful. Sometimes rest is the most productive thing you can do for body and soul.” Ideally, rest would be the prevailing mindset of the summer, but all teachers know that thoughts of school will creep in and reflection will also be part of the summer.
John Dewey said “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.” The question then becomes how do we take time to focus our thinking, to think critically about why change is needed, what that change might look like and how such changes can be implemented in our instructional setting. This is what Terry Heick refers to as “informed experimentation”. It is not change for the sake of change. It’s a changeinformed by what we’ve learned from past practice and consideration of what we know to be desired practice. The challenge is narrowing our focus so that we are able to either do more of what we know we do well or address what we perceive to be a challenge. This is where the integration of the Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) with the Catalyst platform can provide support for educators ready to think critically about an aspect of their practice. TELL defines effective practice in seven domains: Collaboration, Environment, Learning Experience, Learning Tools, Performance and Feedback, Planning, and Professionalism. Each domain identifies the criteria and subcriteria associated with the domain. Each domain has a corresponding self-assessment tool that allows educators to identify possible areas for professional growth.
Catalyst is an online portfolio platform that allows educators to set goals and note progress toward goals by collecting evidence, documenting discussions, and recording reflections. It also allows educators to connect with others who are working toward the same goal. Working with others who have similar goals can lessen the stress we may feel when working in a zone of creative tension since our minds do not like the cognitive dissonance that acknowledgement of the gap between reality and vision creates.
Tutorials explaining how to use Catalyst can be found here.
What would it look like to use TELL and Catalyst for reflection?
Let’s imagine a scenario where a teacher has looked over each of the TELL domains and decided to take the self-assessment for Learning Experiences to consider how teachers facilitate meaningful learning experiences that advance language learning. The teacher uses Catalyst to mark strengths and goals, reviews the outcomes with a critical friend or mentor and decides to select LE3.f in order to focus on strategies that check for understanding when working with written and spoken text. The teacher accesses resources linked to LE3.f and connects with 2 other teachers working on the same goal area posting evidence showing a couple of new strategies that she will try with an authentic text. After trying the new strategies with students, the teacher returns to Catalyst to reflect on how well they worked and to continue to discuss additional strategies for checking for understanding.
We often think of “less is more” in terms of curriculum and our expectations for student learning. A focused approach to professional growth allows the teacher to set realistic goals for their own professional growth.
Focusing on rejuvenation and reflection allows us to anticipate the next school year knowing we’ve taken time for ourselves, have given thoughtful consideration to our practice and are ready to implement new ideas.