All teachers should be reflective practitioners.
The need is that much greater when teaching within the more networked mode.
Natural digital evolution, the pace and magnitude of the organisational transformation, the expectation that schools will continually accommodate the new normal, and the increased dependence on dynamic social networks should oblige all teachers to be reflective practitioners, able to apply the skill in their teaching and in enhancing the wider school community.
Teachers globally, particularly in the last couple of decades, have been readied in many schools and systems to make extensive use reflection in adjudging and enhancing their own teaching.
Extending the rationale underpinning the earlier post on teachers as specialists and generalists (Lee, 2022) all teachers should also be able to apply that skill to school’s working as a networked organisation.
It is no longer enough to restrict this vital professional skill to just their teaching.
It should increasingly be applied to better understanding the school’s ecosystem and networking.
In 1987 Schon astutely observed
In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high ground overlooking a swamp. On the high ground, manageable problems lend themselves to solution through the application of research-based theory and technique. In the swampy lowland, messy, confusing problems defy technical solution. The irony of this situation is that the problems on the high ground tend to be relatively unimportant to individuals or society at, however great their interest may be, while in the swamp lie the problems of greatest human concern. The practitioner must choose. Shall he remain on the high ground where he can solve relatively unimportant problems according to prevailing standards of rigour, or shall he descend to the swamp of important problems and non-rigorous inquiry (Schon, 1987, p3)?
Significantly he made these observations before the digital and networking technology transformed the organisational landscape.
The imperative of adjudging the total topography, and not simply the ‘high ground’ is that much greater within more networked organisations, where near all operations are interconnected, the divisions are blurred and the organisation is naturally evolving, at an accelerating pace.
Tellingly the division between what is the ‘high’ and what the ‘swampy’ ground is even blurred.
Compounding the need is the increasing use being made of social networks, formal and informal, all of which are dynamic, some with a long life, others that exist only for a specific purpose. Few of the networks ever appear on an organisational chart, and few, if any have their contribution to the organisation quantified and included in a data analysis.
That said any who networked to advantage or have observed their impact, positive and negative will appreciate the importance of both the teachers and heads being able to reflect upon, shape, grow and when apt abandon the networks. We are in a world where one ill-considered post in the school’s e-newsletter can within minutes go viral and impact the school’s marketing for several years.
The COVID experience affirmed the importance of not only understanding the workings of schools as networked organisations but all professionals being able to reflect on the totality of the school’s workings, to compliment the positive, and to flag the ineffectual procedures.
The pandemic hit most every school underprepared. Schools instantly put in place what were thought to be appropriate arrangements. The informal networks quickly provided their feedback and many schools within weeks had to markedly change their approach. There was not the time to go through the ‘desired’ data collection and analysis. Rather professional reflective practitioners, working in the ‘swamp’ listened, observed and with their educational expertise and years of experience immediately made the requisite changes.
At this point in time there is little, or nothing published on the application of reflective practice across total school ecosystems, and in particular those strongly networked. Indeed Schon’s 1987 work on Educating the Reflective Practitioner that devoted many pages to schoolteachers concentrated on the classrooms and post graduate practicums.
That shortcoming needs to be rectified. It is appreciated that will take time, and some astute thinking as folk seek to get a better handle on already highly complex, integrated, rapidly evolving, unique, synergistic ecosystems.
But that need shouldn’t stop schools immediately growing the ability of all teachers to better reflect on the practises of the total school. As COVID underscored they are already working in networked schools that need to be better understood immediately.
Critical is the willingness of the head to genuinely respect, trust and empower all teachers, and to give them the requisite agency and support.
In brief the teachers have to be treated as education professionals.
Schon makes the oft neglected critical observation that all professionals in learning their profession grow their memory muscle, knowing instinctively what to do at any given moment. That holds equally in teaching. It is a vital quality that comes from years of experience, reflection and is a professional capability that should be respected and valued.
Without respect for that professionalism by the head it is pointless a school or system contemplating the growth of reflective practitioners.
In growing the teacher’s capability to reflect upon, and adjudge the total ecosystem, particularly the ‘swampy’ elements it is important, as flagged in earlier posts, to grow their macro understanding of the school’s workings within the networked mode.
Much of that understanding can be naturally developed as teachers go about their daily work, but with a major caveat. The head must orchestrate the creation and evolution of a digital and networked learning environment and culture, that daily involves teachers in all manner of across school community projects, teaching teams, working groups, committees and critically networks, an involvement that naturally grows the understanding.
That involvement will, from experience also naturally grow the use of a stronger digital and networked mindset in every facet of their work.
While growing the macro understanding schools, as all the good ones do let their teachers also pursie their interests and apply their particular talents where best suited.
Globally most every networked organisation is readying it’s professionals to better understand and shape the workings of increasingly interconnected, naturally synergistic, and complex networked organisations.
Some highly sophisticated research is being undertaken and quality tools are being developed.
In a networked society the art is to take advantage of those developments and to apply them to your own setting.
- Schön, D (1987) Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.