We all know the value of reflection for our development as teachers. It helps us learn from experience and focus on key areas. But do these reflections always need to be recent? What can we learn from revisiting our past reflections? That is the focus of our post this month as David Dodgson offers a retrospective on his first blogs from a decade ago.
Summer blogposts are often something of a challenge. Working as I do on a September-June academic year, I have no immediate point of reference from the classroom, no reaction to developments and changes in my courses, and no ‘aha!’ moments to reflect on.
This is why my posts in August tend to focus more on wider issues in ELT (such as last year’s look at positive trends in ELT), with more time to look at the bigger picture.
There is, of course, plenty to be thinking about in terms of the bigger picture as schools around the world are in various stages of re-opening while adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with so much uncertain and unknown, I don’t want to engage in speculation – plus, it would also be nice to indulge in a ‘normal’ post and not another one about remote learning!
So, with the glorious gift of free time on my hands, it struck me that it has been ten years since I wrote my first blog. I thought I would go on a self-reflective journey and see how I react to some of those early posts a decade on.
The First Post
I started a blog during my MA course after a module on online learning platforms which included a brief section on the versatility of blogs. Having just been to a conference to give a presentation on self-assessment, I reflected on that. Well, I say reflected. I actually just described the talk and embedded links to some of the resources I used. 10 years on, the links to the images and presentation no longer load automatically, leaving little of substance behind.
Later, I would conduct research into blogging for teacher development, which revealed the initial tendency to engage in a descriptive form of writing, focusing on what happened with little analysis of why it did or didn’t work, or what could be adapted and applied to different contexts.
Still, one takeaway from the post is that while it is shallow in reflective terms, it is succinct and perfect for a quick read – it is all too easy for blog posts to cross into article territory at times!
I would soon take my blogging into the classroom (or, to be more precise, bring my classroom into the blog) as I reflected on a Text Reconstruction activity I had done in the computer lab in the primary school I worked in at the time. This was my first blog to be written in a list format as I shared ten takeaways from the experience. Again, much of the post is descriptive but I had started to dig a little deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson and how I would do it differently next time.
Reading this again ten years on, one thing that struck me was the clarity with which the words helped me relive the moment. Thanks to this post, I can almost place myself in the classroom, remember the students, and (somewhat ironically!) reconstruct the key moments which would otherwise have been buried deep in the recesses of my memory. I am now thinking that I haven’t done an activity like this for a long time and should investigate adapting it to my current context.
Building a PLN
At the time I started blogging, I was in something of an echo chamber. I wrote a few posts and received a few comments from my fellow MA candidates and a couple of teacher colleagues but that was it. I soon discovered that blogging was only one part of a much larger online teaching community where I could connect with other educators around the world, share ideas, learn and develop.
The initially unfamiliar acronym PLN (Personal Learning Network) soon became an essential component of my self-directed teacher development. Thanks to platforms like Twitter, I was able to seek opportunities and engage in reflection in a way that just wasn’t happening in my local context.
Through these connections, I was able to find out about conferences and webinars (and would later start presenting at some of them myself), keep up to date with current trends and debates (dogme ELT was a hot topic at the time), and make connections with other teachers who I still regularly communicate with to this day.
Even though I am not as active on Twitter as I used to be, the whole experience of engaging with a like-minded community was an incredibly positive one and I can honestly say I would not have enjoyed the opportunities and career path I have without it.
Getting Out of My Comfort Zone
Widening my online professional presence to social media also helped me find other blogs and communities to engage with. I soon spotted calls for writers on popular websites and decided to try my luck at writing for a different audience.
One of the first guest posts I wrote was for the popular Teaching Village blog and focused on using PowerPoint as a classroom resource. (PowerPoint? Yes, I know – it didn’t seem especially innovative back then either. However, I would say that as a tool it has stood the test of time better than some other tools I wrote about 10 years ago such as Glogster and Prezi. Besides, ahead of schools moving online last March, I gave training on creating and using shared online PowerPoint and Google Slides files, so it has served me well!)
Again, much of the post is descriptive but it was a challenge to focus more on writing for a wider audience and adapting my ideas to a more general context.
I would also that summer write a post on building relationships with young learners for the Prestwick House blog. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about this post until I started my retrospective for this month’s MET blog but it is certainly one I am proud of having written. It incorporates a personal experience as a middle school student and how that would affect my approach in the classroom as a teacher years later. Reading it again now, it is a strong reminder of the importance of avoiding making assumptions about our learners and getting to know them in order to help them learn as best as possible. If you follow through on one link from the many in this post, I recommend this one.
Ten years on, much has changed about how I blog as I write these monthly posts. There was a time when I would blog multiple times a month instead of just once and focus very much on my context. Although I do not blog that frequently or specifically anymore, I do now think about my teaching and professional development in a different way. As a fellow blogger said to me a few years ago, even if every idea does not become a blog post, the thought that “that could be an interesting blog post” often prompts critical reflection and analysis, helping make me a better teacher.
How do you reflect on your teaching? Do you ever revisit your past reflections be they in blog, journal, or performance review format? Please share your experiences in the comments.