Spring is our admissions season at UVEI, and during this time I get a glimpse into the lives of educators. Just like the new growth I see outdoors, our applicants fascinate me. They encourage me. They are a hopeful new beginning.

Here at the admissions desk, I receive and file each piece of each application to our UVEI and UVGSE programs -- resumes of educational interests and experience; essays describing risk-taking and determination; letters of recommendation from supervisors, colleagues, professors, even from students; notes from an interview with our program faculty. The pieces of an application fit together so that I start to know each applicant even without meeting them in person.

The next step after the application and interview is the admissions review, when the Admissions Committee convenes to discuss our applicants. Not just the strengths and weaknesses they will bring to the program, but also how they will best be served. What type of mentor and placement will help them grow? What additional supports might they need? Are there any special prerequisites that should be met before participation? The admissions decision that results is personalized for each applicant -- a personalization that carries through during the entire time of a their participation with us, and even beyond that.

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The practice of reflection is about educators thinking carefully and deeply about practice, and its   purpose is to increase understanding of teaching through analysis and interpretation. At UVEI, reflection is especially important. In UVEI programs, educators learn first and foremost from experience, meaning that the primary driver of growth is real work with students in classroom settings. In this type of model, analyzing and reflecting on those experiences is critical. In fact, John Dewey, a pioneer in thinking about both learning from experience and the importance of reflection, argued that there is no learning from experience absent thoughtful reflection.

Together with colleagues from University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, and Saint Anselm College, I just completed a study on teacher reflection. We examined what types of reflection pre-service and first year teachers engage in, and how that affects their work. Research suggests that certain types of reflection are more likely to lead to improvement. Specifically, the most impactful forms of reflection incorporate:

  • Careful analysis of practice,

  • Use of research-based frameworks for informing and examining practice,

  • Metacognitive thinking about one’s own goals, self-assessing, and monitoring progress, and

  • Critically examining one’s own assumptions, and distinguishing actionable space from systemic problems.

In our study, we found that common assessments used across programs in New Hampshire tend to emphasize certain types of reflection (analysis of practice and use of research-based frameworks), and that first year teachers most commonly engage in direct analysis of practice. While this is promising in some ways -- suggesting that programs are developing some important habits of reflection -- it also indicates that it is extra important for programs to find ways to develop teachers’ habits of reflection in more sophisticated ways.

At UVEI, we work to incorporate reflection in all aspects of the program. Written performance assessments challenge candidates to explain, justify, and critique their own work. Our model of instructional coaching includes guided conferences that engage candidates in both analysis of teaching and in developing candidates’ self-awareness about their improvement process. Our emphasis on inquiry and collegial dialogue as the core of seminar meetings provides candidates with ongoing opportunities to critically examine both their own and their peers’ work. Finally, a regular process of faculty and self-assessment on progress towards specific standards, goal setting, and ongoing feedback support our candidates’ ability to monitor their own progress and steer their own growth.

Commentary by Page Tompkins

Page Tompkins is UVEI's Executive Director and Chief Academic Officer.  He can be followed on Twitter @pagetompkins.

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