Recently, I was watching the webinar series “Who Gets to Thrive? The Science of Learning and Development as a Tool for Anti-Racism.” In the second episode, Angela Ward, the supervisor of race and equity programs for Austin Independent School District, says, “Without reflection, we continue to make decisions that put us down a spiral of compliance that are not human-centered, not-healing centered, and we have no way to get to a space of transformation.” Reflection is one of the ways through which our brains make meaning. The act of reflecting enables us to connect what we know from previous experience to what we have just learned (Cantor et al., 2020). My coaching brain wondered: Do our educators really know how to reflect purposefully? Do our leaders? How can we find out? What can we do if they don’t?

Late last week, Hewetté Moore, ISA’s director of social, emotional, and academic development (SEAD), and I met with long-time ISA principal, Dr. Wachera Ragland-Brown, head of William Shemin Midtown Community School (WSMCS) in Bayonne, NJ, and Carlton Jordan, ISA English/language arts and leadership coach. The four of us were planning a presentation together, and Dr. Ragland-Brown and Carlton shared the work they had started on reflective practice—for both students and staff. They focused on reflection out of a collective desire to dive deeper into work that they had started last year around the four SEAD-driven academic mindsets (Farrington et al., 2012):  

  • I belong in this community,  
  • I can change my capacity through effort,
  • I can succeed, and
  • this work has value and purpose for me.  

These mindsets are what help build student agency and lead to ongoing success as a learner, and they are necessarily connected to the meaning-making strategy that is reflection.

Dr. Ragland-Brown recognized that it was not enough to say to her staff, “Go out and do this;” she shared her belief that her team needed iterative and incremental opportunities to learn, apply, and practice. So, Carlton helped develop a reflection tool, and together they modeled the use of that tool to provide teachers with individual and whole-group feedback about the reflective strategies they use with students. When I asked what was helping to establish reflection as a school-wide practice, Carlton pointed out that Dr. Ragland-Brown had built conversations about deliberate reflection into her one-on-ones with teachers, emphasizing the opportunity for growth and not a focus on accountability or compliant implementation of a required schoolwide initiative. She wanted teachers to think about why they were applying specific strategies to help them better identify and assess their impact and to make sure they were strategies that were useful and sustainable.

The deliberate choices a principal makes to create safe spaces for adult learning, where taking risks and making mistakes are encouraged, can lead to greater and deeper internalization. Leaders model for teachers the kind of safe, affirming, encouraging environments we need them to create for students for optimal growth. As I heard the team talk about the reflection work at Midtown, I noticed how important it was for them to emphasize that the process was supportive and purposeful, and they wanted teachers to generate the same for their students. To help teachers have clarity, the school applied a common framework and used the language from the document as part of its goal-setting and progress-monitoring. Teachers were encouraged to submit and resubmit examples of work. I kept seeing a pattern of learning and support that moved from coach to leader to teacher to student and back. During the planning meeting, for example, we talked about the job-embedded SEAD coaching and professional development that Principal Brown and Carlton had helped plan. The two of them met to assess impact of the professional development, and during that meeting they reflected on their respective roles in the process and then made decisions about how to follow up based on each teacher’s progress.

When we work together to deliberately reflect on the state of our schools and the professional learning we have or want to put in place, we must consider the social and emotional learning of the adults as well as that of the children. Are we creating the spaces and conditions for all, leadership included, to grow? To find out more about how coaches can support you as you create human-centered, transformative environments in which all learners can thrive, reach out to


Cantor, P., Darling-Hammond, L., Little, B., Palmer, S., Osher, D., Pittman, K., & Rose, T. (2020). How the science of learning and development can transform education: Initial findings. Science of Learning and Development Alliance.   

Duchesneau, N. (2020). Social, emotional, and academic development through an equity lens. The Education Trust.

Farrington, C., Johnson, D., W., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Roderick, M., Williams Beechum, N., & Seneca Keys, T. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners: The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.

Melnick, H., & Martinez, L. (2019). Preparing teachers to support social and emotional learning: case study of San Jose State University and Lakewood Elementary School. Learning Policy Institute.