Looking at Ourselves in the Mirror


January 28, 1986

January 17, 1991

September 11, 2001

March 17, 2020


What do all these dates have in common? They’re days that left enduring impacts on my generation. Every generation experiences events that etch into their minds forever. In my case the abiding events to date are the space shuttle Challenger explosion, the start of combat in the Gulf War, the attack on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon and the closure of all Illinois schools due to Covid-19. All these events have had some kind of major impact on how we live or do business today. In addition to standing out in history they demand reflection. Reflect on how you might be able to help out, reflect on what you need to do moving forward, reflect on how things could have worked out differently if something else would have happened to prevent these events. As we approach the anniversary of school closure due to Covid-19 we ought to reflect on how it has affected our lives, our classrooms and the world.

Educators have much from 2020 to consider. We recognize changes in teaching practices for this new world. We need to look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked. We should look at the tools being used in our classrooms and decide if they will maintain their utility upon return to in-person instruction. We should be doing a lot of self-reflection with or without a pandemic, so let’s take a look at some tools that can help us reflect on our teaching, our students, our successes and our failures in an effort to make ourselves better educators.

One key strategy to becoming a more effective educator is self-reflection on the lessons we teach. We need to look at what worked in a lesson and what didn’t. Was there a group of students that did well with a lesson while others did not? One of the best ways to assess this is with a digital portfolio. Many of us created these while working through our education degrees to become teachers but never kept the practice. Some of us again had to do this en route to a master’s degree to become school administrators and again probably withdrew. I admit to being one of those individuals so don’t feel bad; most of us haven’t continued this practice even though we should. Those of you who are evaluated on the Charlotte Danielson model or a variant of it know that you need to show evidence of the different domains with the addition of a reflection piece. It helps you out and it also shows your evaluator that you’re reviewing the work you’ve done.

One of the better tools I’ve used for building digital portfolios is Live Binders. For those of us who grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s this is the digital adaptation of a Trapper Keeper. The free version of Live Binders is perfect for keeping a digital portfolio. For those of you that use the Danielson model I would suggest making tabs for an introduction of yourself and then one for each domain. Using the free version of Live Binders you can even break each domain into its subdomains if you like. If you aren’t using the Danielson model the application is still very effective. Break your tabs into your categories, areas of concentration, or however your evaluation breaks down. Then upload your lessons, activities, photos, videos, or whatever other evidence you have for your domains into these tabs. This way you have a working history of teaching. So you don’t run out of space I would suggest uploading any large files like videos to the cloud on your Google, Dropbox or other storage account and link to them.

Another great tool for building portfolios is Google Sites. Many people shy away from this as they are not familiar with the idea of web design. Calm your fears, as Google has made site creation super easy and user-friendly for all levels, though it requires more work than Live Binders. The main difference is that you will need to create a new page for each domain and then link your pages together. Another advantage to Sites is the ability to break your domains down further than you could in the free version of Live Binders. Break things down into domains, subdomains, and then even subjects if you like. It is limitless. Just a reminder though: stay organized and make sure you nest your pages under the page that they fall under. Make sure your subject page for subdomain 1.1 is nested under 1.1 which is nested under domain 1, for example. Having a flat structure (everything listed under the main page) might seem easier but for organization it will be much messier. 

For any tool that you might use in building your portfolio, reflect on each artifact that you upload. Your reflections should be honest and meaningful. Even if a lesson fails miserably (we have all had those from time to time) you need to reflect on WHY. If a lesson goes wonderfully you need to reflect and share WHY as well. All too often we get lost in our heads about the lessons that fail but not often enough about the ones that succeed because we just move on. You need to reflect on why it worked so well so you can try to replicate those successful strategies. You should also take note of lesson highs and lows and at what times they happened. I’m not suggesting exact times but rather trends (in the morning, in the afternoon, right after lunch). Maybe the next time you teach that lesson you’ll want to adjust the time to circumvent missteps or distractions. If you teach the same lesson multiple times in a day reflection on response trends and times holds even more value.

The main thing to remember throughout this process is to self-reflect on both positives and negatives. Even if/when you share this with your evaluator, self-reflection on a bad lesson is in many cases more powerful than reflection on the best ones. We need to learn from things that have gone wrong to make ourselves stronger. Concentrating strictly on the good will never help you grow. This is why, when taking web design classes, it is often taught to look at poorly designed websites before great ones to understand what to avoid. The goal in analyzing both is to avoid copying good websites and instead work toward understanding the differences between good and great. So to help yourself grow you need to reflect on both as well.

It’s important as educators to always look inward to project the best outward to our students. It is as important to teach our students to become proficient at self-reflection. They can use some of the same tools to accomplish this. Live Binders and Google Sites are just two tools in the box that can help, but when working with students you might have a few more in mind. Encourage them to start small just by commenting on their own papers using the comment features in Google Docs or Microsoft Word. 

Inside and outside of education we need to be more reflective of everything from class lessons to our relationships to world events. Through reflection we can grow as a society and as individuals which will help make us better people the world over.

Here are a few classes related to this topic:

Michael McGowan
Mike McGowan is currently a Technology Director and building administrator for Sunnybrook School District 171, a PreK to 8th grade district in Lansing, Illinois.  Mike is also an Executive Board member for IDEA (Illinois Digital Educators Alliance) the Illinois ISTE (International Society for Technology in Educators) affiliate. 

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