Refining Your Teaching Practice with Reflection

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/high school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
A teacher stands in front of a chalkboard, reflecting thoughtfully.

Reflection, by definition, is serious thought or consideration of where one has been, where one is now, and where one would like to be in the future. In order to make reflection beneficial for your teaching practice, one must be willing to be totally honest with oneself and to admit areas for growth.

Reflection with no intention of using said-reflection for improvement is not a true reflection. As educators, we should be willing to reflect and then take that to celebrate victories and strive to improve where growth is indicated to achieve best practices in teaching.

Why is Reflection Important in Refining Teaching Practices? 

Reflection is essential in refining our teaching practices by, as mentioned above, helping us to realize our strengths and weaknesses. Often times we can improve weaknesses through reflection by simply improving on the processes we already have in place. We do not have to re-invent the wheel every time we fall short.

Also, reflection can show us how to improve by simply doing things a little differently than we have done in the past. In fact, changing our approach is a wonderful way to keep things fresh and up-to-date for our students and ourselves.

Best teaching practices are always being discussed; our curriculums are always going to be similar, but there are a myriad of ways to approach the different subjects. It is essential to adjust our teaching practices to what is in the best interest of our students; this makes for effective teaching practices.

Methods to Guide Reflection in Teaching

There are many ways to practice teacher reflection:

Daily Notes

For reflection to be a powerful tool in our teaching repertoire, it should be continuous and ongoing. Reflection should be used daily as we assess how a particular lesson went on a specific day. Physical notes that include the day’s successes and challenges should be taken and filed for future reflection and adjustment. By daily note-taking, reflection at the end of a school year or over summer break can be made when the next day’s tasks are not raining down upon us.

Colleague Discussions

Frequent reflection can also be gained by open and honest discussion with our colleagues, including certain teachers instructing in the same subject matter. A teacher also should not be afraid to solicit direct feedback from the students they teach. Often the recipient of our lesson (the students) are the most honest feedback we can get.

Professional Development – PLCs, Workshops, And More

Professional development opportunities such as subject area courses and workshops can be effective in us reflection openly and honestly. These same professional opportunities also serve to help us incorporate new materials into our curriculum. PLCs are also wonderful opportunities to reflect and solicit support in growth areas.

Questions for Reflective Teaching

As one decides to be a genuinely reflective teacher, we must ask ourselves questions to stimulate us. The attitude must be to be the very best we can be and serve our students better today than I did yesterday. This is where a person must be open and honest with themselves, even if reflection brings unpleasant results to our minds.

What Do I Do Well? What Did I Do Well?

As the reflection process begins, we must ask ourselves, what do I/did I do well? This is a great way to start as it usually gives us a positive start in the realm of reflection. Any time we start with a positive, we are generally willing to go further even if the results are not as positive.

Upon What Can I Improve?

Or, where did I lack today? Being open and honest with ourselves can quickly become positive as we make plans for improvement in the future. Also, in admitting an area of improvement, we can be encouraged to seek other sources to incorporate into our teaching approach overall and in individual subject areas.

How Can I Improve My Teaching Practices in the Future?

Again, if we are open and honest, we will seek out people, programs, and strategies to help us in this area. This is where peer-teachers and student feedback can be very beneficial in our growth as educators.

What Do I Need to Learn to Further Develop as an Educator?

In asking this question, we are asking for immediate improvement and more profound future development. This broad question is beneficial now and later. This is the type of question where we consider the remainder of a school year and where we want to be in five years or ten years. What type of teaching career do you want?

The role of reflection in our profession should always be in the best interest of my students. Many examination results will be positive, and we should revel in them. Others will be challenges to our growth and we must be willing to change because we missed the mark or with the times. The past few years of education have taken all of us to places we never dreamed we would be.

But, with true, honest, and open reflection of our teaching practices, we can teach like we never have before, remembering always that we take students where they are and strive to move them up from there. Often this takes us being willing to reflect honestly and make changes for the good of all our students.

After all, our students are the reason we teach, aren’t they? Our students’ growth and success should be the main reason for our reflection. And, changes, when needed, are paramount to our students’ success!

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