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Professional Learning

The Benefits of Developing a Reflective Routine

Teachers who take time daily to reflect on what worked in class and what didn’t can better assess areas for improvement and begin to make necessary adjustments.

January 4, 2021
Man at home writing in notebook
PeopleImages / iStock

Never before has the profession of teaching been more taxing. During this global pandemic, teachers are asked to come to their job each day ready to work, create engaging lessons, and maintain their own mental health and that of their students. In addition, they’re asked to toggle between face-to-face and online learning environments, often at a moment’s notice.

In order to thrive in these uncertain times, it’s essential for teachers to gain a sense of agency and control. Developing a reflective practice is an important tool for this work. The good news is that at some level, teachers are already thinking about what is working in their classrooms and what is not. Through a more formal approach, they may begin to further hone their practice, collaborate with colleagues, and begin to develop ways to translate practical skills from the traditional classroom to the digital learning space.

Document Your Own Experience

Take time to block out the current uncertainties of the world and reflect on what you have control over: your teaching practice. Keeping a reflective journal is a great way to begin this work. Developing a journaling practice is not a novel idea. However, this activity will help you build resilience, an essential mindset given the current teaching landscape.

Taking a cue from the practice of mindfulness, reflecting on your daily practice allows you to pay attention to the present moment and will help keep feelings of overwhelm at bay. Journaling will also help give you a better understanding of where to focus your efforts for improvement.

Starting with one lesson, consider questions such as the following:

  • In terms of student learning, what really worked during this lesson? What didn’t?
  • What proves that students actually learned?
  • What teaching skills did I use to promote learning?
  • Was there a moment in which I really connected with a student?

Responding to these questions should take no more than 10 minutes or so. When writing, try to write down as many of the details as possible. Reflecting on aspects of the lesson that worked as well as thinking about what did not are equally important.

Additionally, if you are currently teaching face-to-face, reflect on the lesson through a virtual teaching lens. Questions such as “How might I transfer what worked in this lesson to an online experience?” will help you build your online repertoire based on in-person successes. This reflection will also help you think strategically about the shift to remote learning and prepare you in advance of any adjustments.

Create a Guiding Question

It’s easy to recognize what didn’t work in your lesson. It’s much more challenging to then turn these struggles into reflective questions to improve your practice. Creating guiding questions is one way to begin this deeper work. Start by developing your question around one self-observation. For example, perhaps you noticed that you didn’t have enough time to check in with each student during the lesson. Examples of guiding questions for this situation may include the following:

  • How might I create more moments in this lesson to work one-on-one with students?
  • How might I incorporate more ways to check for understanding?
  • How might I provide ways for students to support one another?
  • How might I connect with each student while teaching this lesson online?

It’s important to make sure that your question relates back to a specific observation you made about your own experience. Try not to make your guiding questions too broad; they should refer to adjustments to your practice that you can implement immediately. Keep in mind that you will want to create a question that can be assessed through observable results.

Partner With a Colleague

Invite a colleague to join you in this process. If this type of interaction is new to you both, take time to get to know one another on a professional level. Compare your teaching styles, including your strengths as well as your areas for growth. This relationship-building process doesn’t need to take months to accomplish. The key is engaging in thoughtful, honest, and focused conversations from the get-go. Share your guiding questions. Then, working together, brainstorm solutions. Conversation starters may include questions such as these:

  • Have you had a similar experience in your classroom?
  • Do you have any strategies you used that were successful?
  • Are there strategies that you thought would work but didn’t?
  • How would you address this situation in an online class? Would the solution look different?

Talking about both successes and failures as they relate to your practices allows for a richer discussion. Depending on your school’s status, these discussions can occur either face-to-face or online. Use the time together to share knowledge, create inspiration, and codesign quick solutions to address your guiding question.

Take it a step further by then inviting your colleague to observe your newly edited lesson. Use the guiding question to form the focus of the observational work. Again, these collegial observations can be done in person or online. By working with another teacher in this manner, you are building agency, developing empathy with colleagues, and adding to the collective knowledge of your faculty.

Developing a reflective practice needs to be deliberate. Engaging in these practices will help keep you engaged and present in your work. Balancing a reflective mindset with actionable adjustments to your teaching will help you stay nimble and in control during these uncertain times. 

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