How We Teach is the Message

Telling Our Story: The Importance of Public, Reflective Practice

Goals of Telling Our Story

How might we tell the story of the complex, multi-faceted work we do as educators? And why would we want to? How does engaging in this sort of reflective practice publicly benefit educators individually, while also impacting the collective profession?

Dr. Dan Ilaria and I have been working on these ideas as we prepare for PD Day for Teachers Teaching with Technology (T3) Instructors at the upcoming T3 International Conference.

Here is the Essential Learning we developed for this session:

But, first, why?! Reflecting on our practice can be time-consuming and intense work. Then making this reflective practice public?? That seems to require a whole other level of vulnerability and courage. Why engage in this complex and revealing work? Let’s consider some ideas related to this overarching question of Why?

Why Tell Our Story?

Consider the following (seemingly disconnected) excerpts from some of our favourite education resources…

From Hattie, Fisher, and Frey’s Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning:

“Since high-quality math lessons involve a good deal of collaboration (as we’ll discuss in the next chapter), it makes sense for teachers to set social learning intentions as well. Social learning intentions are those that focus on the social skills that foster effective collaboration and communication. Will has seen one frustrated teacher post the social goal ‘Be quiet when the teacher is talking!’ This is not the type of social goal that we mean here, even though respect for a teacher talking is important. However, a social goal of ‘be quiet and listen when others are talking’ is a valued skill in small and large group work. It makes sense to attend to the social skills of mathematics students. After all, Vygotsky (1962) and others have certainly shown us that all learning is a social endeavor. The ways in which peers interact and work with one another, and with their teacher, are an engine in the classroom.” (Hattie, Fisher, & Frey, 2017, p. 51)

From Timothy Kanold’s Heart!: Fully Forming Your Professional Life as a Teacher and Leader:

“Nobody mentioned to me that working alone and privately making all my own decisions could cause rigor inequity and damage to the overall learning of every student in our school and, in the long run, limit my potential learning and journey toward becoming a fully formed professional.

Seems a bit unfair.

And yet, no matter the school or district you work in today, we now know the knowledge sharing and development of each educator in the school (urban, rural, or suburban), regardless of grade level (elementary, middle, or high), cannot be limited to a hallway happenstance.” (Kanold, 2017, p. 103)

From NCTM’s Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All:

“Mathematics teachers are professionals who do not do this work in isolation. They cultivate and support a culture of professional collaboration and continual improvement, driven by an abiding sense of interdependence and collective responsibility. Schools that support success for all students are characterized by a collective sense of responsibility for improvement (Williams 2003) and a sense of collective efficacy—a belief that the instructional staff has the capacity to implement the actions necessary to make a difference for their students (Barber and Mourshed 2007; Hoy, Tarter, and Hoy 2006). Mathematics educators must hold themselves, individually and collectively, accountable for all students’ learning, not just the learning of their own students. Within a culture of professionalism, educators embrace the transparency of their work, their accomplishments, and their challenges, and they share ideas, insights, and practices as they collaborate in ways that build on individual strengths and overcome individual challenges to ensure mathematical success for all students.” (NCTM, 2014, p. 99)

And, also from NCTM’s Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All:

“Teaching is a complex and harried profession, and all too often as a result teachers do not
take the time necessary to engage in structured reflection. Instead, at best, they focus on
finding quick fixes to immediate problems without addressing the more important and long-term learning needs of students (Korthagen and Vasalos 2010). However, reflection is critical, and NCTM (2007) has argued that the essential factor in the growth and improvement of teaching is not just lesson preparation, but also the analysis of lesson outcomes during and after each lesson. The degree to which teachers’ instructional practice improves depends in part on how well and how frequently they reflect on their instructional practice (Artzt, Armour-Thomas, Curcio 2011).

To improve instructional practice, teachers need to devote more time not only to collaborative planning but also to intentional and structured reflection.” (NCTM, 2014, p. 105)

To unpack and synthesize these four excerpts, take a few minutes to engage in the Headlines Visible Thinking Routine:

Consider the big ideas and important themes across the four excerpts you read. Write a headline for this collection of excerpts that summarizes and captures a key aspect that you feel is significant and important.

What would your headline be?

Here are the headlines that Dan and I each wrote after engaging in this same exercise:

Teachers Need Time to Talk, Share, and Reflect with Colleagues

Grow Yourself, Grow the Profession: Improve Teaching through Collective, Social Reflection

What common themes do you notice across our headlines and the headline you wrote?

Three Reasons to Tell Our Story

How do these articles relate to our earlier question of Why tell your story? Based on the excerpts above, here are three reasons we think telling our story is so critical:

Learning is Social

First, learning is a social endeavor. We learn through community. We learn through contemplating, sharing, refining, defending, connecting, and growing our ideas. We learn by engaging in professional dialogue about our practice, our strengths, our challenges, our goals, and our actions.

If we accept that learning math is a social endeavor—one in which students construct meaning through purposeful conversations—then should we not expect that learning to teach math is a social endeavor, as well? By reflecting on our practice publicly, we engage in collaborative learning that improves our practice in ways that we could not have grown on our own.

Access & Equity

How does reflective, public practice connect to access and equity?

Tim Kanold challenges us to consider how educators working alone cause rigor inequity for learners. Think about that for a minute…

Working alone in education is not a choice or a preference if it leads to rigor inequity for our learners. By working in isolation, we limit our students to our individual ideas—ideas that could only be strengthened, refined, supported, extended, defended, enhanced, or altered by working within a professional community of practice.

Also, by working alone we rob our professional community of the expertise, insights, strengths, and gifts that each of us uniquely bring to the education community. Make no mistake: we are each needed in this landscape. We each serve our students in unique, irreplaceable ways that only we can do. As a profession, we need the collective wisdom of every part of our profession—specifically, we need your voice and your wisdom.

Redefining education as a profession where collaboration is a standard of our practice will further our collective work of providing access to high-quality, equitable learning for all students.


And what of professionalism? Professions have an inherent set of standards, knowledge, and practice that define and guide the work of those engaged in the profession. Reflection and collaboration are two such practices within the teaching profession.

As NCTM states, intentional lesson planning is not enough—we must also engage in structured reflection of our practice. Here’s where Telling Our Story comes in. When we tell our story, we intentionally reflect on what we did, why we did what we did, what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what we might do better next time. Through the act of public storytelling we engage in structured reflection about our instructional practices; interestingly, engaging in this structured reflection actually further grows our instructional practice in ways that otherwise might not have been possible. Telling our story improves our professional practice, thus improving future stories we can tell.

Telling our stories publicly is also critical for exposing the complex, demanding work that is teaching. It is imperative that we add to the collective narrative about what it means to teach—and that this narrative more and more reflects the day-to-day realities of the dedicated, thoughtful professionals who are engaged in this work. In so doing, we collectively write a public narrative of what it means to be engaged in the education profession.

Goals of Telling Our Story

These three reasons for telling our story connect to two permeating goals of telling our story: growing ourselves individually and growing the profession.

We grow ourselves by reflecting on our practice. When we tell our story in public settings we glean new learnings, insights, and connections by reflecting on the choices we made, why we made them, and how these choices played out.

In making the case that reflection is a form of practice, the authors of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning explain:

“Reflection can involve several cognitive activities that lead to stronger learning: retrieving knowledge and earlier training from memory, connecting these to new experiences, and visualizing and mentally rehearsing what you might do differently next time.” (Brown, Roediger, McDaniel, 2014, p. 27)

Why is this important? Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel (2014) contend that to learn from experience, we must first reflect on that experience. They elaborate:

“The common term is ‘learning from experience.’ Some people never seem to learn. One difference, perhaps, between those who do and don’t is whether they have cultivated the habit of reflection. Reflection is a form of retrieval practice (What happened? What did I do? How did it work out?), enhanced with elaboration (What would I do differently next time?).” (p. 66)

We grow ourselves by learning from our experiences; we learn from our experiences by engaging in structured reflection.

We grow our profession by speaking our teaching realities and work into a public space that refines the perception of teaching a little closer to the actualities of that work in practice. We also grow our profession by adding our voices, perspectives, and wisdom to the collective dialogue about the complex and rewarding work of educating our society. We also grow our profession by showcasing our learning, teaching, and best practices so that we can inspire and resource our colleagues who are engaging in similar work.

How will you grow your practice and impact the profession by sharing your teaching and learning experiences publicly?

Michelle Rinehart

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