Educators in all contexts—formal and informal teaching environments—constantly reflect on professional practices. We reflect on how students respond to lessons, on the implementation of hands-on and field-based interactions, on how assessments are designed, and on why some laboratory activities support engagement in science when others do not. It is fair to say that teachers constantly examine and think critically about effective strategies, content, and students’ needs. An abundance of tools and question prompts are available to guide educators in the process of reflective teaching. These strategies help teachers understand how to adjust lessons so that they support student sense making more deeply. They ultimately bring attention to complex details of everyday teaching—the relationships, interactions, and moments of understanding. Reflective practice is about being present in teaching so that we can fully understand how students are learning (Rodgers 2020).
Of course, being fully present at all times is a noble professional goal. The day-to-day whirlwind of responsibilities and concerns can tax even the most seasoned educator. Deep reflective practice requires that teachers engage in productive spaces where they can openly share and listen to others with similar ideas and challenges. These spaces can exist where teaching happens, or they can be external “underground” spaces (Kohli 2019) where educators reflect on practices outside of their regular context. Kohli (2019) suggests that teacher-led spaces are essential for educators to navigate critical issues and that these spaces should be a regular part of teaching.
In late 2020 when educators across the globe faced uncertain shifts of their regular routines and practices, I worked with a group of graduates of the Endeavor STEM Teaching Certificate Project to enact a collaborative “underground” space to focus on issues of equity in STEM teaching. The Endeavor project supports K–12 educators with professional development across STEM content areas, with the mission of developing confidence, content knowledge, and awareness of integrated STEM. Veteran STEM teacher educators facilitate online graduate-level coursework for classroom teachers across the nation, collaborating with NASA researchers to bridge mission data and classroom teaching. The graduates of the program who elected to join the collaborative group were interested in the common goal of attending to equity in STEM teaching. They shared the experience of Endeavor project coursework, which provided a strong foundation for collaborative online discussion. The 10 graduates worked in different school districts, spanning all socioeconomic contexts, and teaching science and math to K–12 students.
Due to COVID-19 safety concerns, many teachers followed hybrid schedules, and some were completely remote—all of them taught throughout the pandemic and during the widespread attention to racial injustices brought to light by George Floyd’s death. Many educators expressed feelings of isolation, additional stress of teaching online and from home, as well as concerns for the social emotional well-being of their students who were learning away from the classroom and trying to make sense of the world. As a group, we used a protocol for discussion to ensure that each teacher had equal time and attention to discuss issues of teaching with an equity focus. The protocol, Teaching With Attention to Equity (Figure 1 in Supplemental Resources), was adapted from McDonald et al. (2015) and Settlage and Johnston (2014). Despite the challenges of the school year, all 10 teachers voluntarily attended the online sessions each week to engage in reflective practice. One teacher reported feeling “safe letting down my guard and listening to new ideas and perspectives…” and another shared that “gathering with others in this space was cleansing and refreshing during a time of chaos.” The specific ways that each educator chose to attend to equity through discussion with others varied depending on factors specific to their teaching context. Some shifted their practice to center student ideas and cultural assets. Others employed tools to support student sensemaking. Those who were able to enact shifts to their teaching practice in the classroom had autonomy as professionals and demonstrated understanding of pedagogical choices that center students and their ways of knowing. Each teacher progressed on their journey of understanding equity through reflective practice.
There is substantial agreement in the field of education that using conversational routines and turns of talk can establish collegial relationships and productive efforts that lead to a culture of collaboration that enables improvement (Cheung et al. 2018; Horn and Little 2010). The Endeavor STEM Teaching Certificate Project provides opportunities for STEM educators to identify and apply tools for attending to students with an equity lens. Teaching With Attention to Equity is a helpful tool to establish norms and structure conversations to create a supportive space for improving practice and attending to equity.
Karen A. Woodruff, PhD, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Director of the Endeavor STEM Teaching Certificate Project in Rye Brooke, New York.
citation: Woodruff, K.A. 2022. Connecting educators through equitable and reflective practice. Connected Science Learning 4 (3). https://www.nsta.org/connected-science-learning/connected-science-learning-may-june-2022/connecting-educators-through
Cheung, R., T. Reinhardt, E. Stone, and J.W. Little. 2018. Defining teacher leadership: A framework. Phi Delta Kappan 100 (3): 38–44. https://doi.org/https:/doi.org/10.1177/0031721718808263
Horn, I.S., and J.W. Little. 2010. Attending to problems of practice: Routines and resources for professional learning in teachers’ workplace interactions. American Educational Research Journal 47 (1): 181–217. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831209345158
Kohli, R. 2019. Lessons for teacher education: The role of critical professional development in teacher of color retention. Journal of Teacher Education 70 (1): 39–50.
McDonald, J.P., N. Mohr, A. Dichter, and E.C. McDonald. 2015. The power of protocols: An educator's guide to better practice. Teachers College Press.
Rodgers, C.R. 2020. The art of reflective teaching: Practicing presence. Teachers College Press.
Settlage, J., and A. Johnston. 2014. The crossroads model. Educational Leadership 71 (8): 67–70.
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