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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 15, Number 4, March 2003

Teacher leadership and reflection

by Mark Lueke

"If we want the world to be different, our first act needs to be reclaiming time to think."
– Margaret Wheatley

With so many expectations, can educators work together to create innovative plans of action that will bring improvements to our educational system? Educators should be encouraged to go beyond merely coping with educational reform and create time to reflect on how they may participate in its transformation. Michael Fullan, in his book Change Force, the Sequel, suggests that hope, above all, gives us the strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem hopeless. If we want the world to change, the reflective process can provide a tool to rediscover hope and trust within ourselves. Margaret Wheatley’s idea of "reclaiming time to think" along with honest discussion with colleagues has allowed many educators to preserve optimism during these turbulent cycles of change.

Reflection, according to Joan Richardson (2002), can be simple, like clearing your head of distractions, thinking deeply about a single topic, communicating with colleagues, or it can be formal, like keeping a journal or portfolio. Richardson suggests that reflection is the belief that the closer we look, the more we can learn about ourselves. She is convinced that at the heart of reflection is the belief that educators possess the knowledge to improve their practice; all they need are opportunities to consider their work.

Reflection becomes more than just thinking; it becomes an empowering tool facilitating personal growth, development, and effectiveness. Reflective thinking is considerably more powerful when connected to a framework. Peter Senge (1999) provides a helpful model. His "Four Cornerstones of Change" are the pillars I lean on in order to observe, reflect, and learn. The absence of any one of the cornerstones—aspirations, conversation, relationships, and conceptualization—undermines the ability to learn. Understanding how to keep members of a team or an organization positively focussed and working together is critical information to possess as we work toward improving on the status quo. Reflection tests principles, provides purpose, and generates courage.

I believe in the power of reflective thinking because stories with strong moral purpose have positively affected my personal and my professional life. Michael Fullan (1999) suggests that we pursue moral purpose in complex times of change. He sees the teaching of our youth as a great moral act. Moral role models include people or characters from all facets of society, including educators, students, writers, actors, sports figures, and even characters from mythical tales. My "go-to guy" is Father Damien (Neiman, 1980), a Saint from Belgium, who lived most of his life on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. Father Damien had a strong moral purpose; he followed his heart and helped innumerable lepers by providing comfort and dignity. He planted faith and hope in the minds of his community. History provides challenging moral perspective to which many may aspire. Father Damien demonstrated great leadership, especially as he encountered considerable resistance from his colleagues. He encountered many barriers in life, one of which was a physical obstacle called Pali. Pali, a cliff-shaped mountain, separated the sick from the healthy. Father Damien climbed this mountain regularly to encourage the community to help the lepers. He demonstrated fierce determination to do the right thing even when many of his colleagues failed to support him. His effort shows us how the power of belief and strong moral purpose can make change happen. I use this moral anchor as I aspire, converse, form relationships, and conceptualize change. I would encourage others to reflect on a moral figure to help them overcome their personal Pali so they can sustain their own hope and trust.

If educators are willing to take a purposeful deliberate pause to make use of reflection, they may discover a powerful moral purpose that permits them to reclaim or maintain hope. Meaningful communication and collaboration may allow educators to become more than individuals simply coping with educational change. Roland Barth (2001) suggests that if you want to predict the future, you must create it for yourself. If we want the world to be different, our first act may be to take time to think. If we become more effective reflective thinkers, we may make our schools not just different places, but improved places, to learn for everyone.

Mark Lueke teaches at Dover Bay Secondary School, Nanoose Bay.

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