Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher

Written by Trevor Cox, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Adult Education and Safety Sciences – 

 

Last year at the UCO Transformative Learning Conference, the keynote speaker, Bryan Dewsbury, mentioned multiple times that Stephen Brookfield’s book: Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher was a foundational text for the kinds of teaching and learning that engaged things like marginalization and oppression. I made a note that this would be an important book for UCO’s 21st Century Pedagogy Institute (21CPI, faculty development series) to engage in this year. So, I was pleased to lead a faculty book group using this text during the fall 2019 semester.

Almost any faculty member you come across would agree that part of our responsibility at a university is to help people engage in critical thinking. But what do we even mean by this? Often I think people assume critical thinking means the ability to read deeply, evaluate an argument, and then make a sound argument for or against something. But this is only part of it.

Enhanced photo of tree reflecting off a nearby pond and bookCritical reflection for Brookfield is more than just making and evaluating arguments. Critical thinking and reflection is about uncovering hegemonic assumptions and illuminating power. Illuminating power is about uncovering “how educational process and interactions are framed by the wider structures of power and dominant ideology” (p. 9) such as capitalism, positivism, democracy, militarism, white supremacy, and patriarchy. Hegemony is “the process whereby ideas, structures, and actions that benefit a small minority in power are viewed by the majority of people as wholly natural, preordained, and working for their own good” (p. 17). Brookfield argues that power and hegemony affect every aspect of the educational process and need to be an essential piece of what it means to be an educator.

Uncovering power and hegemony challenges us as educators to take a critical approach to all of our teaching, as well as get various critical lenses through which we look at our practice. Brookfield argues the four lenses we can use are Student Eyes, Colleague Perceptions, Personal Experience, and Theory.

A few takeaways from our group:

  • Critical reflection is more than just a technique. It is a way of being an educator. Once you begin to look through these various lenses and challenge your own assumptions, you will begin to see how they affect not only your classroom, but your departments, colleges, universities, and systems. Brookfield even offers helpful tips for not becoming overwhelmed or overwhelming others in this process.
  • Racism, power, and hegemony can and should be addressed no matter the subject. Often we leave these subjects for specialized classes in education or diversity. But these issues and ideologies affect how our students show up in class as well as our disciplines. As many in our group pointed out, having a multidisciplinary group allowed us to see how this showed up in a variety of areas. Educators need to be creative in how we address these problems in our classes, even when the subject is seemingly unrelated. By using the four lenses, we can begin to discover how these play out in our various disciplines. I specifically mention racism here because that is a focus of Brookfield’s, but it could easily apply to any other “ism” prevalent in our society.
  • We need to listen to our students. Pairing this with our 2019 Annual Collegium on College Teaching Practice speaker’s ideas (David B. Daniel, James Madison University), it is increasingly important that we not only listen to our students, but adjust as necessary. Even when we cannot adjust for educational purposes, this should be part of the dialogue with our students.
  • Educators need each other. How often do we sit and really explore the challenges of being educators with a diverse set of colleagues? The more we can critically engage the struggles we face, the better educators we will become.
  • We need to read broadly and reflect on our own experience. The more we educate ourselves on the discipline of teaching and learning and allow that to influence our practice, the more we benefit the students who come into our classrooms. This point and the previous point make me extremely thankful for the 21CPI book groups.
  • Becoming a critically reflective teacher is not for the weak at heart. Being an engaged educator working towards challenging power and hegemony is not without its costs. It can be difficult work and raise questions that upset the status quo. But in the end, it is what is required for a more just and equitable learning environment.

This book is an extremely helpful and practical resource. Given the subject matter, you would think the book would be heavy and dense, but it is an easy read laced with humor and a lot of grace for people trying to undertake such hard work. It is filled with practical takeaways educators can begin to immediately incorporate into their work.

 

Brookfield, S. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher, 2nd Ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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