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Reflecting on the classroom

Jean Hopman is a PhD student at Victoria University whose research uses narrative inquiry methods to explore classroom dynamics and investigate the impacts of emotional consciousness on teacher agency and wellbeing.

“We hear a lot as teachers that reflection is very important, but in class, when we’ve got our students in front of us, we can’t reflect very easily in that moment …” Hopman explains.

Indeed, working alongside other teachers as a part of her research, Hopman provided them with a forum to reflect on their experiences and actions. This not only generated stories and helpful discussion, the project also resulted in better understanding of the way they work and their pedagogy.

“[It’s about] trying to get to those ‘aha’ moments,” Hopman says.

“The whole purpose of the group is that it’s a safe space to support each other. It’s not about being critical of each other or saying you should have done this, you should have done that, or even saying next time you should do this or that, it’s just about listening to the story…

“Teachers would tell stories about things that had perhaps perplexed them, or they were stuck on, in these sessions, and then through discussing those stories, we then tried to find ways to work together towards uncovering the underlying assumptions that are being made, the key roles in the stories and how they impacted the teacher.”

Finding herself interested in the topic almost seven years ago, Hopman who has worked as a primary and Secondary teacher describes her PHD as “an action research project”, adding that one potential end goal may be to create a professional development model that can facilitate reflexivity.

Regardless of end goals, Hopman says the value of the opportunity to reflect within a supportive environment, has made a difference to the teachers she’s worked with over the month.

“Even if it just results in these particular teachers sharing their story, and being heard … [but] I think there’s the potential to help many teachers…”

“A major part of what we do as teachers is develop positive relationships with our students. And if we don’t have those relationships, everything else we do, is not going to have as much impact.”

Nearing the end of her project, Hopman admits, is slightly daunting.

“I’m going to sit here and say I’m finding it really hard! But it’s a PhD, it’s meant to be hard!

“I always think doing a PhD or doing any thesis or big project it like running a marathon, and at some point, you come to a brick wall, where you feel like, ‘I don’t think I can finish this’ and then all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and you get to the end.

“You’ve just got to push through.”

Challenges aside, Hopman encourages those who are interested in furthering their education to pursue their academic passions.

“If the interest is there, it’s there for a reason and that it is definitely worth looking into …

“If you’re interested in doing it, there’s a reason why. Follow your passion…”

This story by Elizabeth Beattie originally appeared in the October 2016 edition of Australian Teacher Magazine. 

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