What is Reflection Worth?

As part of an assignment for an AQ course I am taking, I’ve been prompted to reflect and respond to a post by George Couros on the importance of reflecting on practice. I first met George on Twitter, through Aviva Dunsiger, who played traffic cop one day and connected us when George was setting up a blogging community for the school he was principal of at the time, and was asking the Twittersphere for help setting up the site. Revisiting that site that we set up together into the midnight hours via Skype probably about 5 years ago it looks like his vision has been abandoned for a more status quo read only site. That’s too bad. The site George created for Forest Green School created a space where all of the teachers had a blog, and could reflect. It provided a space where students could contribute to the schools “television” channel. It created an online learning community where now the schools site looks like it is hewing to a more static one-way communication strategy provided for the rest of the district. I don’t want to sell PSD70 short. George now holds an elevated role within the board, and I would hope that with that comes the ability to take that vision and find ways to expand it across the entire district. Visiting the HWDSB site certainly doesn’t indicate the existence of the HWDSB Commons, so I cannot fairly comment on the demise of the Forest Green blogging community: whether it died or took on new residency on a different online platform.

The next time I saw George he was an edu-superstar, and was being fawned over by a crowd of people at Educon 2.0 in Philadelphia. Brandishing a new title: Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning. I lined up to shake his hand in person amidst the others who count themselves among his 28 000 Twitter followers. It was like a Ed-tech receiving line with Dean Shareski and Alec Couros also holding court at the sidelines of registration day, pressing the flesh, and wearing the “cool kids posture” well.

George deserves that elevation from school principal to system voice: his message is powerful, and we should endeavour to reflect, and make reflection a part of our practice; but I think the fact that the community he built has been (potentially) abandoned by the new administration at the school, speaks to how difficult a task it is to get educators to make reflection (and public reflection even more so) a part of daily practice. As someone charged with helping to spur adoption of a blogging platform at a system level, I am constantly faced with requests to create that one way communication platform. Often “I need help with my blog” requests result in a site that effectively communicates pizza day schedules and homework, with the comments turned off, and without room for student contribution. I’ve written previously about the bump-it-up blog wall, and the steps necessary to take blog adoption from parent communication vehicle to student stage or teacher reflection site, but now with almost 3000 sites hosted on the HWDSB Commons, I can probably still count on my hands the number of sites where professional practice is reflected upon deeply.

Why is that? It’s because reflection — especially the kind that you share and present to the scrutiny of others — is hard. Reflection means sometimes admitting failure in a public position that oftentimes postures infallibility (we are entrusted with the children after all). It is also because teachers tend to be humble. There are jobs you can do perfectly: jobs where the expectations are clear, and the steps to get there well trod. Teaching is not one of those positions. Regardless of how great a lesson goes, there are always chinks in the armour; students we didn’t quite reach; ways we could have improved. Teaching is a constant evolution that feels more Sisyphean than it does adulating on any given day. It is rare to come across a teacher who is not self-deprecating; who is not humble even when exuding excellence. We do work that is incredibly hard (with dwindling resources).  We are lambasted in the media as lazy and overpaid. And kudos that properly frame the reality exist, but are rare (especially from the media). To then decide to “out” oneself as something other than an expert in all things is difficult. To admit that there are days when it feels as if the students teach you more than you do them, is hard. To admit you are a learner, despite the fact that this label is one we should all ascribe ourselves, regardless of role, is one that we do not traditionally wear well, especially out in a public that generationally remembers a time when teachers purported (foolishly) to be experts in all things.

That is not to say we should not try. The belief that teachers can be experts in all things is foolish. Better to model to students that we are all on a learning path — one that does not end upon the completion of a diploma from a traditional education system. We can do this by reflecting on our daily practice, showing that learning is a process, a flame not a bucket (you know the Yeats quote). If we do that publicly, we may find an entire community of like-minded companions, out on the world-wide web, ensuring we are not alone.

Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

Join the conversation


  1. Good stuff Jared. I like to promote the term “self-reflexive,” which comes from my literary theory background. A self-reflexive text is a text that, in part, discusses itself. Self-reflexive teaching includes discussion of the actual presentation of material as part of the instruction, incorporating the always important “how” and “why” — incorporated right into the lesson plan is discussion of the lesson plan itself. It is reflection incorporated into practice.

  2. Wow! What an expert you are! Links even! Good for recognizing your ability to continue learning, alongside our students. I just want to comment on a few quotes.

    “Reflection means sometimes admitting failure in a public position.”
    We learn by making mistakes, and students need to take risks and be willing to make mistakes, in order to learn and improve themselves.

    “Better to model to students that we are all on a learning path.”
    Absolutely! Learning is life-long, and we need to model this.

  3. Jared, I have to comment on this blog post of yours. As you know, I blog regularly, and I love to share and reflect in the public realm. Not only do I think that it makes me a better teacher, but I think that it makes my students more willing to make mistakes, take risks, and try again alongside me. If you asked any of my students, they’ll all tell you that I constantly make mistakes and I admit to them too. I encourage my students to do the same, and they are. I think that this is so important. It’s in this willingness to make mistakes and learn from them that we see real growth. So while I understand why this is so hard for so many people to do, how do we change this? How can public reflection be the norm instead of the occasional reality?

    Thanks for always getting me thinking, Jared!

    1. Thanks Aviva for jumping into our course and making the class Blogs more authentic, by having “real” people from “the outside” add their thoughts! Great meeting you last month, too! @mrmuzzdog

  4. This is a dense blogpost Jared — looking forward to re-reading more than once. To add my own thoughts:

    I began blogging on an external site at the beginning of last year before getting myself on the Commons, and I included pedagogy, reflections on teaching practice in general and explaining for parents what we were doing in our lessons (parents were provided with the link). I occasionally struggled with wanting to reflect on my practice (I can’t even begin to describe the value in writing my reflections!), and realizing I could not say everything I needed to for my own reflecting and growth — because doing so could reveal clues to class profile information that would not be wise to share with the community…. e.g. reflections around strategies for struggling students or reflecting on student feedback about classroom activities: it would not be too hard for readers to connect too many dots and discuss on the playground which students might have learning challenges. The joys of a small and involved parent community. Has anyone reflected on this and have any ideas to share? I have thought about wanting an anonymous blog — there could be some extremely rich, open conversations between educators that could add to improvements in teaching practice and ultimately benefit students. But how many blogs can a person manage….I already have an awesome extended PLN that I value learning from that I tap into publicly online.

    With respect to one way communication (which I think I do a lot…though I would love for more parents to comment instead just read, so we can have more dialogue — anyone have tips?), I find that I end up needing to use my blogging time to match what parents are looking for. My parents wish to have the “why’s” explained, so I use the class blog as a platform for this information when I post as the “Editor”, complete with my own colour of text (otherwise, students are posting on the class blog). I don’t always post homework and rarely details like pizza days, but there is definitely one sided information on the class blog that the parent community wants to understand: Why do I mark each individual math question on an assessment with achievement levels instead of a mark out of a total mark? Why isn’t a perfectly correct math test automatically a Level 4? Why do we spend so much time on technology “and not the curriculum”? Why do we do things like connect with community groups to learn about poverty “instead of learning the curriculum”? How were children shown in class the strategies they were expected to show on the test?

    So for me, my blogging is often a vehicle for parent communication, and there is a lot more I would like to write about that I’m reflecting on in my head. I share the bulk of my valuable reflections with a more private audience of colleagues — but wish I could blog it all publicly.

  5. This is a deep reflection. The writing piece is very well organized. I particularly like the links that are sometimes more effective than quotes. I really enjoyed reading the content and I would like to say few things about one of your ideas “The belief that teachers can be experts in all things is foolish. Better to model to students that we are all on a learning path — one that does not end upon the completion of a diploma from a traditional education system.”

    I agree that it is better to model to students and show them the big ideas, the methodology and the end result that we are expecting from them. However, in this changing world, teachers must learn to move from traditional ways of teaching -teaching core subjects as isolated disciplines- to trans-disciplinary ways of engaging students in the classroom. This means that we will, to a certain degree have to acquire expertise in many other disciplines and work with other teachers to enable different paths of learning and to promote higher thinking skills in authentic situations. So as well as collaborating with our students by welcoming and facilitating their initiatives, we need to reflect on our current practices and identify potential areas in which we can upgrade our skills and knowledge to gain more expertise.


    1. I certainly agree that we should endeavor to have knowledge in a wide breadth of disciplines; but I think we need to also be comfortable admitting when we don’t know something. Being a lifelong learner, and modeling that to students, means we are willing to admit that we don’t know everything, then working with the students to illustrate how to locate information, judge the bias of its source, or consolidate multiple opinions.

  6. I like how you bring it back to the students. We model learning by learning ourselves. My students were surprised that I was “in school” too!

  7. I agree that blogging brings you together with like-minded individuals who make you realize that you are not alone. I also wrote about that in my blog. When you talked about how self-depreciating teachers can be it made me realize that I am often guilty of this too. I am being evaluated this year because it is my first year of teaching and I am always so stressed when the principal is around. I have to tell myself that I am a good teacher! Sadly though, I have met many teachers who do think that they know everything. Obviously they are never the most popular teachers in the school!

  8. Interesting thoughts Jared. I think a lot of reflection and discussion happens in schools but between trusted colleagues in the staff room/classroom setting. After a long day at a school with numerous behaviour and social problems, it was cathartic to discuss what went well, what didn’t during a lesson with a teacher who is in “the thick of it” with you.
    Reflecting together through an online platform would seem like “work” and devoid of the type of support that comes with a face-to-face interaction.

    1. It’s wonderful that you have that type of professional learning network available to you at your school. For each teacher who has that type of support network in the staff room, there are others who cannot find that connection. Teachers who teach siloed special classes can connect with other teachers who have similar roles. Teachers who teach differently than their colleagues (perhaps with technology within a school where the rest of the staff is more traditional) can find like-minded members of the profession.

      It doesn’t need to be an essay every time. People use Twitter — which is basically a micro-blogging platform — in order to connect and reflect with colleagues. Sometimes in the hectic day their isn’t time to stop and reflect in the staff room, and in those times electronic platforms allow for that reflection to happen asynchronously.

      1. I didn’t think about it like that. I have a friend from high school who is teaching in northern Saskatchewan on a Native reserve and she uses Facebook as a means to connect and reflect about her profession.

        1. That’s a perfect example. I know that some people use Twitter to reflect. I don’t think you necessarily need to be verbose in order to leverage digital reflection tools.

  9. Jared – loved your post! It seems to sum up a lot of thoughts I’ve heard you express over the last year. IMO, nothing beats reflection. And I don’t mean the kind that happens in a conversation after school. True reflection is a deeply personal process that takes time and effort. The act of writing forces us to decide exactly what we believe and where we want to focus. Sure, blogging puts you out there, but in a good way. It’s a risk, but we can’t learn anything unless we try, and yes, fail.

    1. I’m glad you point that out. In the chaos of the day I rarely found time to connect with my colleagues in the staff room, and when I did, it was not deep reflection as much as it was congenial talk about the minutia of our daily lives. My blog has always been a space where I work through internal dialogues I’m having and work to consolidate that thinking into something tangible, something that I can return to, or point people at, as I grow, and my understand around pedagogy and technology changes.

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