Thursday and Friday of this week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the New England League of Middle Schools’ annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island. It was a hoot. I had so much fun learning new techniques for teaching math to students, how to effectively utilize data to enhance my teaching practices, and how to construct and implement a meaningful and relevant unit on mindfulness. I met some amazing educators from other cities and states and enjoyed some tasty food at the Providence Place Mall. Despite all of this awesomeness, my highlight was definitely being a presenter for one of the last sessions of the day on Friday.
I presented my session on The Power of Teacher and Student Reflection. I was of course nervous and scared. Will they like me? Will I speak clearly? Will I forget what I wanted to say? What if the projector doesn’t work? What if my computer breaks? What if the Internet flakes out on me? What if the snowstorm prevents anyone from attending my session? So yes, I was a big ball of nerves. The presenter before me went over her time a bit, which also stressed me out as I was worried that I wouldn’t have sufficient time to get set up for my session. However, like I frequently tell my students, I just needed to relax, take a deep breath, and jump in feet first. So, I did just that.
I was set up with ten minutes to spare and so I used that time to interact with the teachers who had wandered, hopefully purposefully, into my session. I passed out some paraphernalia on my school to them and shared pieces of student and teacher reflection I had compiled and created over the course of the year. It felt good. Everyone seemed excited and interested in my topic. Yah, I thought. I was feeling pretty good, despite still being quite nervous.
As I got started, things seemed to go smoothly. I made sure to start out by telling the teachers in attendance that I would not be offended if they left my session part way through. “I want you to make the most of this conference. So, if you feel like this session isn’t giving you what you had hoped it would, please leave and find a session that will help you grow as an educator. I will not at all be offended.” I hope this statement helped the attendees feel a little more at ease. I then jumped right into my session. I posed questions to the audience and stirred up some conversations early on. I even made them laugh once or twice. I did my thing and tried to showcase why teachers should reflect on a daily or regular basis and why we, as teachers, should help our students see the benefit and value in self-reflection. I shared examples from this very blog as well as samples of student surveys my co-teacher and I used in the classroom. The attendees asked some clarifying questions and seemed engaged. As my session was drawing to a close, I gave those in attendance some options, like what we do for our students as teachers. “As this session is almost over, feel free to leave and head home or stay and work on applying some of what we talked about today. I’ll be here if you have any questions or would like help on anything at all.” I wanted the teachers to feel supported but also not bound to stay and work if they needed or wanted to leave. I then wrapped my session up with some closing remarks, reminding the teachers to complete the online survey for this session to provide me feedback that I can use to reflect upon later regarding this session. Phew, I made it without throwing up or peeing my pants. Yah for me! I had taught teachers how and why they should reflect and teach their students to do the same. It felt good to finish. I felt a true sense of accomplishment.
Several of the teachers in attendance came to me before leaving the session to thank me for my time and ideas. “They liked me, they really, really liked me!” It felt great. I had helped teachers. I kind of felt like a superhero, but not one of those famous ones like Aquaman or She-Hulk, but one of those extra special super heroes like Eddie Vedder or Kevin Spacey. I was helping to make a difference in the lives of others. It felt quite rewarding. So, my initial thought on how my session went was positive and upbeat. I feel like things went well with yesterday’s session. But of course, we all know how critical we can be of ourselves. On my drive home, I then started analyzing every aspect of my session and realized that I could have done a much better job. I didn’t help those teachers in attendance as much as I could have. I could have done more, said more, and made my presentation much more useful and relevant. Here is my true, thoughtful analysis of my presentation:
- I didn’t really explain how to help students understand why they should learn to be reflective. A teacher asked how I help my students see the value in reflection and really take it seriously. I didn’t have much of an answer for her. I did say that it comes down to building a culture of reflection and mindfulness in the class and school. The teacher needs to explain why the students are reflecting so that they see the relevance to them. While my response did address her question, I feel as though I left this aspect out of my presentation. I didn’t really go over how to make powerful student reflection happen in the classroom.
- I didn’t show an example of an eportfolio that I use in the classroom with my students. I wish I had been able to share an example with the teachers in my session so that they could see how we use reflection to help the students begin to take ownership of their learning and be self-aware of their habits as a student. A teacher asked about this and I just verbally explained it. I wish I had thought more about showing specific examples in my presentation. I felt like that was a big piece missing from my slideshow.
- I wish I had asked the teachers more questions. I felt like I did a lot of the talking. While I did ask the teachers to share their ideas on how they reflect as teachers and how they have their students reflect, I wish I had made the session more of an open forum or discussion rather than teacher-directed. I know that having some sort of skeleton to drive the presentation is crucial, but I feel like I had the whole body, flesh and bones and all, and didn’t allow for too much flexibility.
I know that the age old adage, “We are our harshest critic,” rings true in this situation. After reflecting on my presentation, I noticed things that didn’t stick out in the moment. I saw mistakes that I felt I had made. Sure, it’s always good to reflect on one’s work and look for ways to grow and improve; however, I also want to make sure that I celebrate the good things in life as well. I did a pretty amazing job sharing some knowledge nuggets with fellow educators so much so that they provided me specific, positive feedback on my session before leaving. So, I clearly did some things correctly yesterday. Yeah, I made mistakes too and I now know what I need to do the next time I present at a conference for teachers. Self-reflection helps me see the big picture, rather than just looking at the minutia or focusing on one aspect of my work. I take both the good and the bad into consideration when learning from my mistakes and successes. Life is a never-ending learning process. Just like Dallas Green so wonderfully tells us in his song Save Your Scissors, “And I’ll keep on running this never ending race,” I need to remember that I will never do anything perfectly, but I will do plenty of great and amazing things; in the meantime though, I’m just going to keep on running this figurative race to the best of my ability.