Journalling My First Few Months

COLEMANGAFor the first couple of months of my teaching contract I have been keeping a journal.  I have always strongly believed that reflecting on mistakes and experiences is the best way to learn.  I feel like I am a reflective person however I have never been one to sit down and write out my thoughts into a journal or diary.  Creating a journal presented a unique opportunity for me to further engage in the reflective process.   Sharing my journal has challenged me to think about challenges and experiences to a depth that I do not think I would have done otherwise.  I believe that keeping this journal for my first year of teaching has enhanced my experience in the following ways:

1. Increased depth of reflection.

Being asked to share my journal and my reflections has challenged me to go deeper and resulted in a higher quality of reflection.  I believe very strongly that sharing my work created a level of accountability that I would have struggled to have otherwise.  Knowing someone is going to read your reflection challenges you to create something that reflects the passion you have for the profession.

2. Enhanced/increased number of learning experiences with other professionals.

A lot of my journal was focused on various initiatives within the division and education in general.  Focusing on the experience of other professionals challenged me to begin conversations that drew out there opinions around a particular idea or practice.  One of my favorite things to do is to share my philosophy and ideas with other educators.  Having this journal helped to focus my conversations into something that I could potentially journal and share later.  I was able to learn more about different initiatives and different teachers’ successes and failures because this journal challenged me to ask questions that probed deeper into these issues.

3. Increased frequency of reflection.

Ideally teachers reflect on the successes and/or failures of every lesson that they teach however there are times when commitments outside of school or a need for balance takes away from this experience.  Keeping a journal challenged me to continually reflect on all aspects of every lesson even though I did not journal or share on every aspect.  I would reflect on each lesson I did trying to draw out particular ideas that I could reflect on further in my journal.

4. Encouraged to try (or transition to) new things quicker.

As I was continually reflecting on my lessons, experiences, interactions, etc. I was more aware of any successes or failures that I had.  This heightened awareness allowed me to quickly identify things that worked well or not so well with certain classes.  I was able to switch quickly to something new if I needed to because I was very conscious of how successful my current method was.

5. Greater confidence in what I was doing and why I was doing it.

Being able to share ideas and receive feedback on them was such a confidence builder as a first year teacher.  Sharing my journal presented a great opportunity to receive affirmation about the practices and lessons I was attempting from people who were knowledgeable and appreciative of these methods. Having a system of support and affirmation is an important thing for new teachers and without my journal it would have been harder to find.

Everyone’s situation is unique and what may have worked for me may not work as well for somebody else.  Differences aside, reflective practice is at the core of what it means to be a teacher.  A teacher committed to the profession is a teacher committed to developing their skills and practices.  Keeping a journal is one of the simplest (yet probably the most effective) way to continually engage in a process of life long professional development.

As you read this journal I hope that it offers a unique perspective from a first year teacher.  I would recommend a process similar to this for any first year teacher.  Keeping a journal and constantly reflecting on experience can be annoying and time consuming however in the field it can be one of the only forms of accountability you have.  Engaging in authentic reflective practice will help you learn faster, be more effective, and experience more success more often in your first year on the job.

Here is my journal (it has gotten quite long):

Journal of a First Year Teacher

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Microteaching – Vascular vs. Non-Vascular

On February 3rd I taught a 10 minute lesson on the difference between vascular and non-vascular plants to my classmates. Micro-teaching to my classmates provided me with an excellent opportunity to receive valuable feedback on my teaching practice.  I was able to get an outside perspective as well as information on how I made my ‘students’ feel.  Having a set model to teach to provided me with a structure to follow and I found that my method (Concept Attainment Method) lent itself very well to the sciences.  I found it was useful because it is particularly good at comparing different things which science (especially biology) involves very often.  I thought this method provided a good opportunity for students to create meaning in their own words which hopefully helped with understanding.

It was great having a video of my teaching in order to view and reflect on afterwards.  Having this to play back has helped me to see some of the things that I didn’t realize I was doing.  One thing I found from the video is that I never spent enough time at the beginning of the lesson explaining the process of what we were doing to my students.  I think if I was clearer at the beginning students would have been less confused and hesitant once we began the lesson.  In response to this confusion I did emphasize halfway through that, “confusion is good right now” which the students and observers recognized as helpful to the class.  Another thing that I picked up from the video is that I could have slowed down and took my time more.  I remember at the time feeling like I was rushing although upon watching the video I saw I had more than enough time at the end and could have asked a couple more questions to gauge understanding.  A third thing I noticed is how small I write in front of the class.  This wasn’t so much of an issue in a class of 10 students close to you however in a larger class I definitely need to keep this in mind.

The student and observer feedback that I received was extremely positive.  It was said that I had a very good, comfortable presence on a lot of the comments.  I found this comforting because sometimes I feel nervous and that I am rushing.  Knowing it doesn’t appear this way is nice.  Everyone also enjoyed the visuals that I provided and how I incorporated them into the lesson.  I could have made my printing neater however some students said that combined with the visuals served to engage them.  One thing that really stuck out was how everyone said I did a good job of relating the vascular tissues to something my students were familiar with.  I appreciated this comment because in ESCI we are learning that making a connection between what science says and the students know is the most important role of the teacher.  When I used Landon’s circulatory system example to extend into what vascular tissue does the class said that it was far easier to make a connection than when they were presented with complex scientific terms.  Finally another comment that was repeated often was that I did a good job of emphasizing why we should care at the end of the lesson and providing examples of what the differences may mean in my students lives.

I felt like this process helped me to gain confidence first in myself and second in the practices that I have learned in education so far.  I really enjoyed this model because I felt like I was building to a better understanding as I went along.  It got me excited to watch my class slowly come to an understanding of the concepts I was presenting them (in their own words).  This process has definitely given me a lot of meaningful feedback to consider moving forward.   I think that experiences like this help me to become more comfortable with myself in front of the class which in turn allows me to focus more on my students and how they understand.  This process has served to affirm that the theory I’m learning is extremely practical and that I am capable of applying it in the way it is meant to be used.  I’m excited to have more opportunities to teach and learn more about myself and my teaching practice.

My Vascular vs. Non-vascular Lesson Plan

My Student and Observer Feedback:

http://www.glogster.com/glog/6lo91ma1p36op0rduegrma0