TeachCycle Mindset — Reflect Honestly

Welcome back to the Master Teacher blog series, a collection of posts written by Master Teachers and organized around the key mindsets of TeachCycle, BetterLesson’s innovative professional development offering.

So far, we’ve learned how Master Teachers make their teaching “All About the Kids,” how they “Measure Progress” in their classrooms, and how they “Fail Forward” by taking risks and learning from the results.

Today, we move to the fourth key mindset of TeachCycle: Reflect Honestly

To improve outcomes for students, the TeachCycle process relies on trying new teaching strategies, measuring their impact, learning from the results, then repeating the cycle anew. While each step of this process is integral to the success of the whole cycle, the learning step is paramount to driving the next iteration and thus the trajectory of TeachCycle work.

During the measurement step, teachers look at student work, evaluating it against a narrowly defined metric to determine which students successfully demonstrated the skill and which ones didn’t. The learn step requires teachers to ask themselves, “why?” Why was this group of students successful while this one wasn’t? Why did this strategy help one student but not another?

Sometimes the answers to these questions might be the strategies themselves. Perhaps a strategy was too simplistic for students’ current level. Perhaps it was a bit too advanced. Perhaps it just wasn’t a good fit.

Sometimes, however, the answers to these questions lie with the teacher. Yes, it happens. Despite best efforts and best intentions, sometimes the reason a strategy fails and students don’t learn a skill might be because of the teacher.

It is possible that the teacher was a little shaky on the content or didn’t plan the lesson as thoroughly as necessary. In some cases, there may be some underlying problems with classroom culture or routines and procedures. Any of these things by themselves or in combination would be enough to derail a new strategy and yield lackluster outcomes for students.

One of the most challenging aspects of TeachCycle is getting comfortable with the practice of self-reflection and confronting situations where your own “instructional design” is at fault for the strategy’s failure.

To support teachers in this endeavor, our TeachCycle coaches encourage teachers to reflect honestly and allow them to acknowledge their own weaknesses is a safe, open, and non-evaluative space. Coaches then support teachers to improve their instructional design with strategies geared toward classroom culture, lessons to address specific content or even technology recommendations to support a teacher’s planning.

In TeachCycle, participants have the opportunity to continually reflect and share with their coach. By meeting teachers exactly where they are, wherever that may be, our coaches ensure that TeachCycle is truly personalized professional development. Central to our coaches’ ability to support a teacher’s growth is the teacher’s own willingness to reflect honestly.

In this series of blog posts from BetterLesson Master Teachers, we hear from four incredibly reflective teachers, all of whom, despite years in the classroom, are still questioning, learning, and challenging the status quo. We’ll learn how Maria Laws solicited help from her students in her reflection process; how Andrea Praught creates “teachable moments” not just for her students, but herself as well; how Michelle Marcus’ reflection led to a change in her interactions with parents; and how Caroline Courter’s experience in the Master Teacher Project helped her develop a reflection routine.