Reflective Practice Groups in Teacher Induction: Building Professional Community Via Experiential Knowledge

Article excerpt

Introduction

Historically, the reality of classroom teaching in American schools has involved a single teacher placed in a classroom full of students. The teacher's job has been to move students through the curriculum and, to the highest extent possible, practice rugged individualism as challenges developed in that environment. When American education was a system largely based on one-room school houses spread across the countryside, no doubt other options were lacking. The unspoken culture of instruction, which is the legacy delivered from such a system, has for years viewed it as a sign of weakness for a teacher to step outside of that classroom for assistance. This system has forced a long line of teachers to face, totally alone, a swarm of perplexing classroom episodes and incidents.

Educators who have been a part of this tradition can relate that sometimes these classroom episodes linger in practitioners' minds. These struggles force teachers to assimilate and accommodate as they seek more effective classroom strategies. When teachers are successful in their classroom settings, they gain new experiential insights that build their professional knowledge base. When incidents are unresolved, they persist in the mind of the educator. During such experiences, teachers question their pedagogic abilities and efficacy. If honest, all teachers would admit that they have had such episodes. These unsettling attempts might involve an unruly student, an intimidating parent, or systemic challenges. The catalysts that confront professional confidence and efficacy are endless. For years neither time nor the work culture promoted the group processing of such teaching events.

New Expectations for Schools and Teachers

Teachers are no longer, with few exceptions, marms and masters isolated in their teaching practice. Now most work in expansive buildings with dozens of colleagues. The changing American culture, demographics, politics, and economics are creating a different type of school. Coupled with these changes, an expanding science of teaching and learning, a movement to elevate teaching to a true profession, and a growing demand for teacher accountability and assessment by national standards have combined to bring about new expectations for the postmodern educator. Today, even beginning teachers are expected to come to the classroom with knowledge, dispositions, and performance capabilities enabling them to reflect on their instructional strategies and interactions with students.

One significant component of the changes for professional educators is the heightened expectations for and emphasis on teacher reflection. The standard grows out of a body of literature that emerged during the 1980s and which describes the needs for, approaches to, and benefits from reflective practice. Reviews of this literature can be found in the work of Schon (1983, 1987), Tom (1985), Smyth (1988), Grimmet et al (1990), Richardson (1990), Sparks-Langer & Colton (1991), Wellington (1991) and Wilcox (1996). Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) and Pathwise[TM] teacher performance assessments formalize the expectations for teacher reflection.

Teacher reflection in a collaborative environment enhances professional development and planning. Teachers gain insight from the experiential knowledge of their colleagues as their practice is confirmed and honed. Professional community develops in a process of non-threatening, non-evaluative communication. Educational service to students is improved through higher level teacher effectiveness and increased teacher efficacy. The implementation of this standard leads to the professionalization of the educator's role.

Organizing Reflective Practice Groups

This article shares an experience with a first-year teacher induction research and development project. The Minnesota Board of Teaching funded seven pilot projects to investigate a variety of effective approaches for supporting first-year teachers. …

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