By Lana Danielson:
Great teachers know when to make decisions quickly and when to step back and reflect.
Teachers face a myriad of daily choices: how to organize classrooms and curriculums, how to interpret students’ behaviors, how to protect learning time, and so forth. Many choices involve matters so routine that a teacher can make and implement decisions automatically. Teachers make other decisions in the midst of an evolving situation after quickly reviewing the situation and recalling what has worked in similar scenarios. But teaching also involves complex choices about difficult problems that, if left unaddressed, often escalate. A different type of thinking is needed to address such choices. Tough choices call for teachers to engage in sophisticated reflection—including self-reflection.
Expert teachers adjust their thinking to accommodate the level of reflection a situation calls for. Their teaching is characterized by an intentional competence that enables them to identify and replicate best practice, refine serendipitous practice, and avoid inferior practice. Because of their ability to reflect, great teachers know not only what to do, but also why. Research (Constantino & De Lorenzo, 2001; Danielson & McGreal, 2000; Glickman, 2002; Lambert, 2003) substantiates the role of reflection in teachers’ professional growth. A disposition toward reflection—and a good sense of when the teacher needs to step back and think deeply—should be part of all teachers’ repertoires. How can we nurture this habit of mind?