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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Nature of Reflective Practice in Education



"The Nature of Reflective Practice in Education" 
By Kathy Patricia Caton ‘91

Reflective Practice: a simple and common sense strategy for an effective educational environment.

There are many valuable tools within each of our classrooms that can expand the understanding of the educator on a daily basis; those tools are generated from the wisdom of the young, our students. Exploring their readiness to learn, facilitating their classroom experiences, giving the learners strategies to combat insecurities and being a good listener are key elements in securing a valued character building classroom environment. The tools are simple and easy to incorporate into every classroom environment.

One strategy of logic that I use and talk about in my classroom is what I call “Reflective Practice,” or “Mirrored Enlightenment.” This is one of many techniques I have enlisted within the class structure that has empowered me to fine tune my intuitive facilitation skills and retain a harmonious classroom atmosphere—a strategy which I have been practicing for over twenty five years.
As I discuss in my book, Da Capo, from the Beginning: Inspiring Life Lessons from the Other Side of the Baton, I began my career at SUNY Fredonia, in the same methods classroom and student teaching environments where the teacher is at the head of the class—the lecturer, not necessarily the “facilitator.” As an “empath” and intuitive, I was able to relate to the child’s learning readiness, and I balanced my listening and observational skills while engaging students in a classroom activity. This concept was not included as a strategy when student teaching; this is one of many concepts I have incorporated along the way.

Reflective practice begins when you, the teacher, observe the students you see on a daily basis, including those observations seen outside of your classroom. Whether it be during recess, bus duty, hall duty, gym, the field or even the lunch room, observe and learn. An intuitive teacher and administrator can learn much about a student’s learning readiness just by observing how they interact in a non-academic environment. In my long career, I have only met two administrators that spend every day at recess or the lunchroom for these same reasons: taking note, witnessing, and learning.
Once the educator has made some conclusive insights relating to those students, then you can begin your next encounter with those students, reflecting from the knowledge you observed when they were not under your baton.
Next, I would then begin the class in a group activity where you, the teacher, can observe student behaviors and readiness in a game type environment within an academic setting. For example, begin each class with some sort of “Do Now” and count the class off in groups; spending the first five minutes of class encouraging students to work with others where they can be themselves, while utilizing a game model, is not only a fun but also a fundamental skill building activity. Whether it is a math, language, history, science, art, wellness, or music, exercises done in groups with a timekeeper on board helps you create a new class dynamic. This “Do Now” can be at the beginning, middle, or end of your lesson plan, depending on what works best for you and your students. My elementary students prefer to do this activity first, since it helps them focus on the task at hand. You may choose to change the time of the game daily, as that works well for middle-schoolers, who are full of energy and looking to release that energy after the first twenty minutes of any class. It also applies in high school later on in the period, especially when you have latecomers who are not quite at your doorstep in the beginning of class. 

Communicate, validate, appreciate each process in each environment, and you will surely see an evolution of supportive coordination in your classroom. Once each focused activity is over and the students have left your classroom, reflect; write your observations down in a journal. Who was working as a leader? Who were the listeners, engaged learners, or even the apathetic classmates? Assess the success of the activity. What did you learn today that you did not know yesterday about your students and how they learn? From your classroom assessment and reflective practice, write down what have you gained from each day’s experience and what you may want to amend or keep consistent in tomorrow’s learning setting.
Teaching is a practice for both the learner and the educator. If the educator attempts this new strategy, reflective practice in their daily lesson plans, they will see themselves and their pupils in a different light. This will empower you, the educator, to develop the creative side of yourself to enrich and enlighten your next class with significant success.


Kathy Patricia Caton received her Bachelor’s in Music Education from Fredonia State and her Master’s from Stony Brook University. She began her career in preschool music education and then K-12 music and theater education in a variety of schools in New York and now, Massachusetts. As a choral conductor, Kathy extended her studies at the Royal School of Church Music in the UK, founded and directed the Smithtown Community Chorus, guest conducted at Chautauqua All County Festival, and taught as tour choir director in Huntington and Middle Country Schools. Presently, she is teaching a project-based arts curriculum model at Mt Greylock High School in Williamstown, theatre education and direction at Drury High School in North Adams, and introducing preschool music education to the Williams College Children's Center. Kathy’s first book, Da Capo, from the Beginning: Inspiring Life Lessons from the Other Side of the Baton chronicles her life’s journey as an educator and relates notable jewels of wisdom she has acquired along the way.

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