Looking in the mirror, I mean really, truly looking in the mirror, is hard for many of us to do. It means looking at things as they truly are, not as we imagine them to be. Our imagination is a strange and wondrous thing; it can cover up a negative experience one day and blow the same negative experience out of proportion the next. This tendency our mind has is protectionary—it helps humans move forward without paralyzing fear or worry. I think this natural tendency is especially strong in teachers. I mean, really, we have to be able to literally forget certain aspects of our jobs from year to year so we will keep coming back after every summer. As a teacher, I have found that this special human ability is one I have to intentionally suppress to properly reflect on my classroom.
I am an admitted and professed fan of Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset,” but I think the name creates a misconception in many people’s minds. Growth mindset is, by definition, about movement forward; more specifically, it is about forward momentum from this moment on. Here is where the fallacy lies: While the outcome is future growth, the path to this future growth is through the past. For teachers (or at least for me), this path occurs through reflection. Teachers need to honestly and thoroughly review more than just what happened in the classroom; they need to review their own actions in the classroom.
Looking in your “classroom mirror” can be especially harsh. We are sometimes the only cheerleader for our classrooms, so, like any good cheerleader, we focus on the good parts and cheer even harder during the hard times to keep attitudes positive. While this is great for the emotional barometer of a classroom, it is not great for reflection needed to create future growth in your own practices. This is where I give my one great idea (and I usually get groans of discomfort from teachers I am mentoring): We need to videotape our teaching. Through video you can see exactly what you are doing as a teacher, and, more importantly, how the class is receiving your teaching. You will pick up big and small nuances of your teaching. You can use what you see to empower yourself to improve your teaching. This is the growth mindset. Looking back and evaluating your actions allows you to be able to make educated choices about how to act in the future.
When I videotaped my classroom, the first thing I noticed was my tendency to circulate on one side of the room more often than the other. I thought I was being equal in my time distribution between my groups. The truth, however, was that I favored one side over the other; I spent almost twice as much time with one side. Acting upon this reflection, I devised a system and improved my practice. While mentoring, I have had teachers watch themselves and realize that they don’t give enough wait time, some even answering their own questions. No matter what you see in the video, apply these insights as you decide where and how to grow as a teacher.
The hardest thing I have faced while mentoring is mentoring a teacher that insisted she needed to work on one thing while the real issue was something completely different. Here again holding up the classroom mirror was helpful. No longer did I rely on my debriefing session to tell the teacher what I saw. Now, we watched the video together, and I could follow her lead as she reacted to what she saw. It created a situation in which I didn’t have to be the judge of her classroom—she was now the one evaluating her classroom. I got to be her leader and give her strategies, support, and praise when she truly deserved it.