The Value of Self Reflection

With video cameras in hand, educators enhance their practice by watching themselves teach

October 31, 2014
Faculty member Pamela Mason

Do you want to be the sage on the stage or the guide on the side?

It’s a question that Lecturer Pamela Mason poses to her Language and Literacy students each spring, right before she drops the bomb that causes the class to squirm; namely that part of their final grade will be based on based on a self-reflection they’ll write after watching a video of themselves teaching.

As soon as the lesson is explained, “all of the air gets sucked out of the room,” says Mason. But once students understand that they are not being judged on their video performance — but rather on how they reflect on their video — the dynamic changes.

“We have always included these video reflections as part of our pedagogy in the reading specialist strand of the Language and Literacy Program,” says Mason, who serves as faculty director. “What it gives us is an opportunity for the students to authentically reflect on what they are teaching, how they are teaching it, and how they are responding to students’ engagement or lack thereof.”

For the master’s candidates who will soon be serving as reading specialists in schools around the nation, Mason said the video exercise demonstrates the importance for teachers of focusing on the learners in the classroom first. “We want them to be well prepared in the content and the instructional strategies they are using,” says Mason, “but really, to go from the technical skills to the adaptive skills. What do I need to do in this moment to meet my objectives and not just be tied to my lesson plan? What was happening with the students?

“I always tell my students, ‘If the lesson is going south, don’t go south with it,’” says Mason. “They should be making in-the-moment instructional decisions and then, in their reflections, they can say why — so they can just roll with it, focusing on the learners in front of them rather than the content.”

Perception Meets Reality

For Christina Grayson, Ed.M.’14, watching herself on video was difficult, but also transformative. With so many things going on in a classroom at any given time, Grayson realized — after her self-reflection — that no amount of planning covers the nuances that arise during an actual lesson.

“When I came to the Ed School, I said that I valued certain things,” says Grayson, “and when I watched my first video I realized there were certain things I valued in my practice that I thought I was doing that I was actually not doing at all.” As a result, “Video reflections are something I will continue to do, even when I’m not turning them into anybody.”

The value, says Grayson, lies in the opportunity to not only direct the individual lesson, but then to evaluate it based on your own goals and vision. “It wasn’t someone else saying to me, ‘You’re doing something wrong.’ It was me seeing myself and being able to say to myself, ‘Well, this is what you’re doing, this is what you want to be doing, and we can identify what needs to happen next’”

Given this opportunity to watch themselves, says Dori Galvin, Ed.M.’14, teachers can “tune in” to the dynamics at play in the classroom and to the individual needs of students differently than they might have planned.

“When you’re new to a classroom or new to an age group, you’re so in the moment. You’re so worried about doing the things you had planned on doing,” says Galvin. “It’s really hard to look at yourself with a wider lens and to look at your practice with a wider lens.” But, when you do, “there is nothing that can compare to it. You should do it if you want to become a better practitioner and if you would like to become a better teacher and you want to push your practice.”

The video camera, in the hands of teachers, places the power of reflection exactly where it needs to be, says Mason, while also imparting a powerful lesson for those leading the class. The simplicity of the exercise — where the only required equipment is a smart phone that can be set to record video — can be used by any teacher, anywhere and anytime.

“It’s not about me as the teacher, it’s about the students,” says Mason. “It’s about making good instructional decisions for the students in front of them and growing and learning. It’s OK to trip and fall as long as you can dust yourself off, pick yourself up, and know, ‘This is where I need to go.’ That’s where the video reflections can fit into their program and their development as professionals and as reflective practitioners.”

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