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Forward to the special issue of Teachers College Record on Contemplative Practices and Education.
Thinking, particularly reflective thinking or inquiry, is essential to both teachers’ and students’ learning. In the past 10 to 15 years numerous commissions, boards, and foundations as well as states and local school districts have identified reflection 0 inquiry as a standard toward which all teachers and students must strive. However, although the cry for accomplishment in systematic, reflective thinking is clear, it is more difficult to distinguish what systematic, reflective thinking is. There are four problems associated with this lack of definition that make achievement of such a standard difficult. First, it is unclear how systematic reflection is different from other types of thought. Second, it is difficult to assess a skill that is vaguely defined. Third, without a clear picture of what reflection looks like, it has lost its ability to be seen and therefore has begun to lose its value. And finally, without a clear definition, it is difficult to research the effects of reflective teacher education and professional development on teachers’ practice and students’ learning. It is the purpose of this article to restore some clarity to the concept of reflection and what it means to think, by going back to the roots of reflection in the work of John Dewey. I look at four distinct criteria that characterize Dewey’s view and offer the criteria as a starting place for talking about reflection, so that it might be taught, learned, assessed, discussed, and researched, and thereby evolve in definition and practice, rather than disappear.
This article draws upon and integrates a number of distinct but overlapping areas of inquiry in the literature on teaching: teacher inquiry, reflective practice, spirituality and education, and contemplative practice. In it, we examine the implementation of a particular phenomenological form of teacher inquiry, the Descriptive Review, in an urban teacher preparation program. The authors participated in a longitudinal study of graduates of the program and are engaged in the continual examination of student work to assess the efficacy of the inquiry process in helping students overcome bias and habitual thinking, become more mindful of the basis of their professional judgments, and develop a moral framework that might help them resist dehumanizing and ineffective policies and imposed practices. The article includes the authors' autobiographical reflections about what brought them to this form of practice, a description of the theory and practice of the Descriptive Review as it is carried out in their teacher preparation graduate programs, a description of the urban context in which the work takes place, and a student narrative of practice, which is analyzed in relation to the theory of phenomenological inquiry. The conclusions are tentative; although the efficacy of the method is clearly demonstrated in the narratives that students produce about their inquiries into practice, the complex and challenging environments that new urban teachers are facing are problematic in terms of the capacity to develop contemplative practice.
Recent literature has described how the capacity for concurrent self-assessment—ongoing moment-to-moment self-monitoring—is an important component of the professional competence of physicians. Self-monitoring refers to the ability to notice our own actions, curiosity to examine the effects of those actions, and willingness to use those observations to improve behavior and thinking in the future. Self-monitoring allows for the early recognition of cognitive biases, technical errors, and emotional reactions and may facilitate self-correction and development of therapeutic relationships. Cognitive neuroscience has begun to explore the brain functions associated with self-monitoring, and the structural and functional changes that occur during mental training to improve attentiveness, curiosity, and presence. This training involves cultivating habits of mind such as experiencing information as novel, thinking of “facts” as conditional, seeing situations from multiple perspectives, suspending categorization and judgment, and engaging in self-questioning. The resulting awareness is referred to as mindfulness and the associated moment-to-moment self-monitoring as mindful practice—in contrast to being on “automatic pilot” or “mindless” in one's behavior. This article is a preliminary exploration into the intersection of educational assessment, cognitive neuroscience, and mindful practice, with the hope of promoting ways of improving clinicians' capacity to self-monitor during clinical practice, and, by extension, improve the quality of care that they deliver.