Watching film

Baruti Kafele served as a teacher and school principal in New Jersey for more than 20 years. He led transformation in four schools, including "The Mighty" Newark Tech, which went from a low-performing school to one of national acclaim. Principal Kafele, as he is known, is an expert on "attitude transformation." He speaks to educators about strategies -- such as self-reflection -- that can help reach students and close the "attitude gaps" that impede student success. Kafele received his master's in Educational Administration from New Jersey City University.

Q. You refer to self-reflection as “game film.” Why is this practice important? What should teachers and principals look for in their personal game film? How often should they do this?

Self-reflection is an integral component of every presentation that I do, and it was an integral component of my practice as a school leader. I refer to it as watching “game film” just as athletes watch their own game film. In sports, the purpose of watching game film is to study and analyze what worked, what didn’t work and what needs to be adjusted. The study and analysis of game film forms the basis for practice for the next opponent.

It works the same way for educators. At the start of the day, at the end of the day and throughout the day, educators must study their game film via self-reflection, self-assessment and self-adjustment for the next lesson … the next interaction. This requires hitting the “pause button” of their practices and running their internal DVDs to ensure that they are bringing the best version of themselves to their students daily.

Q. How can we encourage teachers to make this practice a priority? And make them feel safe doing it?

Throughout my travels, I meet hundreds of educators who obviously know what self-reflection is and what it’s about but don’t necessarily engage in it regularly. It is very easy to get so bogged down into the pressures and demands of the work that we fail to see the correlation between self-reflection and performance. It is my strong contention that in order for self-reflection to take hold at the building level, there must be ownership at the leadership level. The principal has to lead the discussion with the entire staff about the positive effects of “studying our game film.” It works best when it is a part of the culture of the school. The translation is everyone in the building, including support staff, understand the significance of self-reflection and therefore engage in it regularly.

Q. How are self-reflection and intentional leadership connected?

Self-reflection and intentional leadership are actually inextricably linked.

By definition, intentional means “done on purpose; deliberate.” Self-reflection is just that … it’s deliberate. It’s a purposeful act of self-analyzing what has already occurred with the intentions of learning lessons from it and using those lessons to move forward.

Intentional leadership is engaging in what one has set out to do as opposed to leadership that is random, arbitrary and haphazard. Intentional leadership means assessing one’s intentions -- reviewing and analyzing them -- through self-reflection in order to identify those areas where self-adjustments might need to occur.

Q. How important is this practice of self-reflection in today’s sensitive classroom environment?

As an educator who spent 21 years as a teacher and principal in urban schools, I worked with students whose “stories” are virtually unimaginable by many of the teachers who teach them. I remind teachers during workshops that many of their students live in home and neighborhood environments that are overwhelming that if any teacher were asked to trade places with any student for a 24-hour period, many wouldn’t last for one hour. The challenges are that enormous for children.

The reality is that the experiences these children face are essentially their world -- and when they come to school every day, they are bringing “their world” along with them. This translates into a very sensitive learning environment indeed. Teachers must deliver not only effective instruction for all learners in their classrooms, but they also must meet those students’ social-emotional needs as well.

Self-reflection is crucial in this regard. Teachers have few opportunities in this environment to “to get it wrong.” Many of these students are “high need” and therefore require teachers who thoroughly understand their needs. Regularly then, teachers have to engage in ongoing self-reflection, self-assessment and ultimately, self-adjustment to increase the probability that the needs of learners in sensitive classroom learning environments are being met.

Kanoe Namahoe is the editor for SmartBrief on EdTech and SmartBrief on Workforce.

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