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December 1, 1998
Vol. 40
No. 8

Purposeful Reflection

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We live in a culture that inhibits meaningful assessment, observed Fran Prolman in her presentation Creating the School Culture That Supports Assessment. Our late 20th century expectations for immediacy in everything from fast food to fax messages to overnight mail delivery have conditioned us, she said, to making assessment "a 911 emergency" situation.
The key to good assessment, Prolman asserted, is purposeful reflection. Prolman's perspectives on the importance of reflection began forming while she studied in India as a Fulbright scholar. While there, she began sensing the contrasts between the hurried curriculums of North American schools and the more thoughtful approaches to education in India. "A meditative, internal spirit that is always thinking but withholding judgment," she said, "is the missing piece in school culture and assessment."
Purposeful reflection is a critical attribute for innovative lesson planning, for meaningful interaction with adults, for increasing student achievement, for effective supervision and evaluation, for good curriculum design, and for assessment with understanding, Prolman maintained. "A lack of reflection is what leads to angry and hostile school systems," she said.
Administrators can promote a reflective school culture, Prolman said, by increasing collegiality. "But collegiality is often confused with congeniality," she explained, "which is a seductive blinder for principals." Congeniality is evidenced by friendly cards, lots of food, and group participation in fun activities like aerobics, yet it has major limitations for really improving schools, Prolman insisted. By contrast, true collegiality is best evidenced by teachers enjoying serious discussions about teaching and learning.
  • Scheduling time for teachers to plan and design lessons together
  • Implementing peer coaching and peer "pop ins" ("This happens a lot in highly collegial schools.")
  • Holding staff development sessions where teachers can share expertise and insights
  • Encouraging teachers to ask questions and take risks without fear of reprisal
  • Providing appropriate "wait time" when asking questions
  • Developing a repertoire of reflective assessment methods
  • Welcoming problem solving and embracing alternative solutions
  • Asking questions, collecting data, and drawing conclusions that enhance critical thinking
A reflective school culture, Prolman remarked, makes the "thought muscles" stronger for both teachers and students and is directly related to higher achievement.

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