The Importance of Reflection and Stillness

In the PGCE courses here at Buckingham we create excellent reflective practitioners. The design of the course requires it. The weekly readings and stimulus questions direct our trainees to consider a particular area of research or focus of pedagogy and reflect systematically on this in relation to their own teaching. They are encouraged to consider how this can be imported into their own practice and thereby they, and ideally their students, are empowered to grow. It is this reflection, this purposeful thought, that facilitates this. By engaging in this consideration of research and careful assessment of impact we improve as practitioners.

Our trainees also reflect on their best and worst lessons of a week, some weeks go better than others as do some lessons of course but the importance of turning these into learning opportunities by reflecting on them cannot be underestimated.  You may have the best and worst lesson of your year (or time in teaching) in one week, or even in one day but as long as these experiences are reflected on and learned from they are all of value, they shape us and allow us to grow.

As a tutor I have seen examples of excellent reflective practice in weekly tasks and evidence in careful planning, not just to jump through a hoop or meet a requirement but as an indication of intent to learn and grow as a teacher and of this desire for their students. I have seen teachers think hard about how to reach the disengaged students, to meet them where they are and to lead them forward, or better yet to open the door for them to step through themselves. This might be through a careful use of a popular cartoon series or through an analysis of Stormzy’s lyrics, but this process of reflection on what is needed and then on how it may or may not have worked (the cause, effect and impact of our actions) is energising and vital.

Like very many important things though, reflection may feel hard to make time for (despite it being required/timetabled!). I get much thinking and reflection done in the car, at traffic lights or in jams, where there is little opportunity for external distraction. A good podcast or the radio can focus our mind but letting it drift, is useful too. Finding time to settle, to pause, to be, to enjoy some silence and stillness is important too.

In the huge amount of work that went into re-designing the PGCE course for this year there was real thought about how to streamline the processes, to capture the important by allowing time, building it in, for reflection on practice and reading in a more straightforward manner. It no doubt feels very busy for our trainees, they are working extremely hard, because it all matters.

It is good to know that the intention for reduction of workload and streamlining associated admin is a consideration in education. The government emphasis on reducing workload, school initiatives on more effective (or no) marking, and the early career framework for more support for new teachers are comforting. But only if this translates to effective time for reflection, and for I would advocate for stillness in the lives of those in education. A recent Teacher Tapp survey found that if offered one wish from a list including a £1,000 pay rise, or a marking assistant, from over 4,500 respondents the leading results (32%) would choose an extra 3 days a year for CPD or family time (at the teachers’ choice). This indicates a thirst in teachers for time to reflect, to learn and to be.

Our own well-being, and that of our students, is of course crucial to the effective functioning of the education system. The PISA results this week indicate good progress in Maths (tick) and moderate progress in English with more concern over Science[1] (on going target). The data on happiness is also of importance though. “Where the UK really does stand out from other countries is life satisfaction: 15-year-olds in the UK are much less likely to say that they are satisfied in life than almost every other country that participated in PISA 2018”.[2]

Do we allow, encourage and facilitate time for happiness? What does this mean? We can reflect on this further. Is it time? Is it being taught to appreciate the value of things that get lost in the do,do,do nature of many of our lives? Is it time for stillness, for silence, for escape from deadlines or technological distraction? Is it the outdoors?

For individuals it may mean a few minutes of daily focusing on breathing, or a weekly yoga session, or going ‘phone free’ for a day, or more. By reflecting on what can work for you to manage the load, to find time to be, some stillness in the activity is important. At certain times, at the end of a term, or year, it may mean deeper reflection: Am I in the right place? Am I with the right people and ethos? Is this the right profession for me? It is not any easy role to sign up to, to qualify for, or sadly it seems to stay in. As you reflect on What Went Well, and what could be Even Better If, remember we can often find fantastic support in those around us. This can be in the mentor, such a crucial role for schools and reflected in our courses, in the Early Career Framework[3] and the new DfE ITT Core Content Framework[4]; or from other colleagues or support in school, or in voices of support outside the workplace, if you can find time to hear them!

Many may feel trapped on a path where relentless self-improvement is required, meet this target, develop this skill, improve the results. But growth and moving forward is integral to teaching and learning – for the deliverers and the learners. Another recent Teacher Tapp survey asked whether a good Christmas wish for teachers might be no major changes to education policy by a new government.

There are of course external factors we cannot control but opting to reflect, to make time to think, to intend to learn and grow is essential for us all. As the end of term finally arrives, as a new calendar year approaches, try to take time to find some stillness too.

I saw a lesson where a teacher stepped out of their comfort zone to try a stillness exercise for the first time. It was a lively class, it was late in the day, it was the first time they had done this, it was an observation lesson. This came as a result of reflecting on how to deliver the topic, how to connect ideas to practice, to evoke empathy and to reach students where they were and to move them forward. The calm was tangible, the product purposeful. I wonder if we could all find that in our impending breaks.

[1] Key findings from PISA, The Education Data Lab: https://ffteducationdatalab.org.uk/2019/12/nine-key-findings-from-pisa-2018/

[2] Key findings from PISA, The Education Data Lab: https://ffteducationdatalab.org.uk/2019/12/nine-key-findings-from-pisa-2018/

[3] Early Career Framework, DfE, Jan 2019, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/773705/Early-Career_Framework.pdf

[4] Initial Teacher Training Core Content Framework, DfE, 2019, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/843676/Initial_teacher_training_core_content_framework.pdf

Amanda Parker-Jones, Course Developer

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