Harnessing a Cyclone: How to Build a Reflective Practice

This post was written by elementary educator Kelly Gresalfi.

This is a four-part series, with installments released weekly. We encourage you to follow Kelly’s journey this month and challenge you to engage in the questions at the end of each segment using the hashtag #ExploreReflectConnect.

A reflective practice should be unique to the individual: it can manifest in a range of mediums, scope and scale, lengths of times, topics, steps, and more. For me, I benefit from a mixture of self-reflection, peer reflection, and reflection with students. Self-reflection helps me identify what I want to work on and why, peer reflection helps me dig deeper and expose the hidden logic behind my choices, and reflecting with students helps me include them in my own learning and reminds me that they are the reason I am reflecting at all. I reflect best through writing, though it can also be done through quiet thought, drawing, conversation–whatever works for you!

Just like when we all learned how to plan lessons or write essays, I find it helpful to start with an abundance of structure, and over time the process can become more informal. The following is a clean and simplistic version of what has become my personal reflection process:

Plan: I like to start by asking a big question. Then, think about a few entry points to engage with that question. Plan around these entry points.

For example, if you choose to reflect on your students’ social-emotional learning (SEL) during COVID-19, start with: “How am I supporting my students’ social-emotional learning during COVID-19?” Then, you could break this question down into tangible entry points that you could plan around, for say, the next week:

  1. Provide students with opportunities to connect as a community (virtual morning meetings, collaborative project opportunities, etc.).
  2. Allow students to express their current state of being (in meetings, writing assignments, etc.).
  3. Offer opportunities for students to share feedback (one-on-one conferences, over emails, community conversation, etc.) and decide how you will (or will not) act on this feedback.

Try: This one is simple: just try it out! Plan a morning meeting one day and see how it goes or offer an opportunity for students to share feedback. Whatever you decide, make sure you document what happens. Your documentation may be some chicken scratch on the margins of a paper, or a journal entry. It could also be an exit slip from students or notes taken during feedback conversations.

Reflect: Review what happened. Maybe with yourself, a peer or mentor, or even your students. Ask questions and discuss them. Remind yourself to be OPEN to feedback (I know this is easier said than done!).

Transform: Here’s a fun part. PLAN AGAIN, keeping in mind what went well and what did not. Decide how you will move forward. Did the morning meeting work or were students engaged? What did their faces say over zoom? Did anyone turn their camera off? Come up with a new plan, a spin-off, and then TRY IT OUT. See what happens, and don’t forget to document!

Reflect: Here we go again. Did you miss something in your previous reflection stage? If so, think about trying something new here, like asking students what worked for them and what did not. Use their feedback and apply it to your next goal. Don’t be afraid to veer off course— this process can take you anywhere, which is why I call it a cyclone.


Thank you for joining me for the second of my four-part reflection series. I hope this piece has given you ideas of how to either start or iterate on your reflective process. Here are some questions to guide us in this moment:

  • Reflection can be high tech, low tech, no tech, and use a wide variety of mediums—or none at all! What medium do you use for reflection?
  • Developing my reflective practice has taken time and lots of tweaks along the way. Thinking about your practice right now, what is or isn’t working?
  • We are on this journey together. What are some new strategies you plan to try out this week to boost your reflective practice?

Come back next week for part three of four!

 Feature image by Jonathan Irish

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