Are you harnessing online environments for reflective professional growth?

AmysProfessional pictouchedupBy Amy Hollinger, Director of Professional Development

 

By now the majority of us in the education community have heard the term reflective educator. Many times we have also heard this term associated with our own professional growth. I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to consider themselves reflective?

Someone who:

  • sets aside time each day or week to think about one’s practice;
  • changes practice based on the reflection of what is and isn’t working;
  • considers each interaction that one has with each student or colleague and adjusting practice to meet individual needs; thinking about one’s own professional strengths and areas of growth;
  • thinks about individual student strengths and plans individualized learning according to those strengths;
  • seeks feedback from multiple sources;
  • collaborates to best meet every students needs;
  • shares one’s practice to help inform the work of others.

It sounds daunting when all the things that go into being a truly reflective educator are laid out like that. However, there is one tool that any educator can use immediately in multiple formats that will promote reflective practice. This magical tool is online environments.

What are the some of the ways to engage in online reflective practice?

There are not only multiple ways to engage in online environments such as listservs, blogs, online learning communities, social media, etc., but also multiple ways that these environments promote reflective practice. Even sharing one’s practice via a weekly twitter chat such as #pblchat causes a level of reflection that busy educators do not have time for in other formats. Admit it. If you use Twitter, you think deeply about some of those tweets before you send them out into the twitterverse, right? The time that you spend thinking about what you are about to tweet is at the most basic level of reflective practice.

Another way that educators practice reflection in online learning environments is blogging. A complete list of some of the best examples of this practice may be found on edublogawards. Blogging is at the other end of the online reflective practice continuum from tweeting. Instead of taking minutes, blogging can take hours, days or sometimes, as in my case, weeks to put together a blog post that you are ready to share in the online environment. First, there is the thinking that goes into what I want to share, then I think about the specifics of my own practice and how it relates to others. Next, I think about specific anecdotes that illustrate my practice. Finally, I wait for feedback on my post from my personal learning network that allows me to think more about my practice and how I might change it in the future.

What does reflective practice look like in online environments?

To share one’s practice publicly using a blog requires a great deal of thinking about your practice. One of my personal favorite blogs, coolcatteacher, is the creation of Vicki Davis, a full time classroom teacher, IT Director, and a mom of three children! She blogs regularly on her own practice as well as highlights the practice of others. Her mission is to be a teacher that helps other teachers be better teachers. Online environments give her a place to be reflective and share great learning experiences with a wider audience.

Another powerful way that educators are sharing their practice reflectively in online environments are through virtual conferences such as edcamps online. Virtual conferences promote reflective practice because, again, educators are coming together to think about and discuss their practice. This is a relatively easy way to reach out reflectively to a larger community of educators. Virtual conferences generally run anywhere from one day to several days. I had the opportunity to participate in the Global Education Conference organized by Steve Haragon and Lucy Gray in 2013. I was sharing best practices in global online professional development based on what we have learned here at GOA. During my session there was a live chat, and participants also had the opportunity to ask me questions. All sessions were archived with presenter contact information as well. What I found was that far from being static, this presentation was a very dynamic way to be reflective, share information, and receive feedback. The reflective process involved for me was two-fold. One, I did an incredible amount of sifting through our GOA PD courses to identify what our best practices were and to find evidence that supported those ideas. Two, once the session was over, I read through the participant comments and feedback to see what I could glean from the information provided to me by other educators. A few of the participants also connected with me after the conference which led to a deeper relationship in which we further reflected on and examined our practice together.

There are many other ways that educators can share their practice online. Blogs and online conferences are just two of the options. The point is: if you are not sharing your practice online, you are missing an amazing opportunity for professional growth. The reflective process that goes into deciding and creating what you want to live in the virtual world is one of the best ways to do self reflection. The feedback from educators from all over the globe also allows for another element of reflection which you can use to continue your journey of professional growth. I encourage all educators to explore and participate in the many ways that you can share your practice in online environments. Virtual sharing is a great tool for all reflective educators. And we are all reflective educators, even if we don’t admit it.

 

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