Answering the Call: Taking Time to Reflect


Three areas to reflect on as we plan to improve our practice this year

By Amber Chandler

As the year winds down, how can we find a happy medium between intense scrutiny and oblivion? What do we need to be looking for when we reflect on our teaching?

Recently, as I was preparing for my formal observation, I stumbled across the question “Are you a reflective practitioner?” As I pondered that, it occurred to me that reflecting — the act of looking at oneself — should be approached as if seeing oneself in a mirror. I don’t know about all of you, but I am often my harshest critic when I really look in the mirror, noting every line, bump, or blemish. However, I have also spent an entire day unaware that my skirt was twisted backwards, even though I’d looked in the mirror a half dozen times. We can look in the mirror and see only the flaws, or not really see what is right there. As the year winds down, how can we find a happy medium between intense scrutiny and oblivion? What do we need to be looking for when we reflect on our teaching? Here are three areas that I recommend reflecting on as we plan to improve our practice this year:

Am I a role model?

Students are watching us every second. If we are snarky with a coworker or roll our eyes when someone drones on the announcements over a crackling speaker, how can we expect students to be respectful to those very same people? In the same way, we need to make sure that we are modeling the attitudes we hope to foster in our students. For me, one of the things I try to do with students is to show them that learning is difficult, but that we must take risks, and if we fail, reassess and have resilience to try again. This year provided the perfect opportunity with an epic fail implementing Genius Hour. I could have dug in and insisted that my plan was good, but I would have missed the opportunity for a better outcome and a chance for students to see a “successful” fail as we approach Genius Hour in a new way later this year. enumerates 6 ways any teacher can be a positive role Model for middle school studentsDon’t be afraid to model traits that might initially make yourself look weak — how to handle being wrong, what to say if you lose your temper, or what to do when you forget to do something important.

Am I taking care of myself?

I was in college the first time I noticed what I call the “Thanksgiving Meltdown.” Each year, right around Thanksgiving, I’d get super sick, ending up spending the entire four-day weekend on the couch. Too many late nights studying (mostly!), too many skipped meals or pizza for a week, as well as too much self-imposed pressure always seem to catch up with me by Thanksgiving. Fast forward to my first years teaching, and the exact same thing would happen. I’m happy to say that after about ten years of teaching, I finally learned how to stop the vicious cycle that would then lead into a Christmas-break breakdown. I know that’s a long learning curve, but taking care of oneself can often be the most difficult task. In fact, it was only when I had my first child did I take the time to figure out how to take care of myself in order to take care of her! EdWeek Teacher offers helpful ideas on self-care. I’ve now learned that I need a well-timed, pre-planned personal day (I’m lucky to have three unrestricted days in my district) right after Halloween to have a “me day.” Don’t be afraid to call a timeout for yourself, and create rituals that help your body and mind.

Am I showing gratitude to my tribe?

When we have close relationships, particularly those that we form at school with our fellow teachers, it is easy to take each other for granted. I’m incredibly lucky to have two special education teaching partners who keep it all under control for me. I’m also reminding myself this season to think about some of the people who have come to my rescue without a second thought who are not typically a part of my normal day. Brandy Baker, our guidance office secretary, recently helped me out of a scheduling debacle, and though I thanked her and brought her coffee the following day, I want to keep in mind that I am so incredibly lucky to have many members of my tribe here at school who will swoop in with a comforting word, cover my class at the last minute, or provide the perfect placebo of chocolate and coffee. I’m going to work on my own contributions to the positive culture in the new year, looking for ways to fill the gap for those who might need it. Don’t forget the unsung heroes in your life.

Though I’m pretty sure that the question “Are you a reflective practitioner?” wasn’t looking for this answer, I’m also confident that it is good for me to think on these things. Take time to reflect this winter.

Please share some of the tools you have for self-reflection, some  self-care ideas, or celebrate an unsung hero in the comments.

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified ELA teacher and the author of The Flexible ELA Classroom: Practical Tools for Differentiated Instruction in Grades 4-8. She’s online at