As a teacher, your profession may provide you with a sense of comforting cyclicality. While curriculum evolves, the fundamentals of many subjects and age-based learning expectations vary little over time. As a result, you may enjoy the familiarity of teaching many of the same lesson plans year after year. When you fall into a rhythm—a comforting habit of exercises, assignments, and processes—it can become easy to overlook the importance of self-reflection. Could there be a new, more effective approach to teaching the fundamentals of the periodic table? Could a grammar lesson be improved to produce better concept application? Could you engage with students more effectively if you incorporated more group work into your instruction?
Reflective teaching is an academic style in which teachers regularly self-assess their performance, their teaching style, methodology, and pedagogy, evolving their approach over time to produce optimal student outcomes. The reflective approach requires teachers to take time to evaluate and adjust their style. What follows are three benefits of reflecting teaching.
Three Benefits of Reflective Teaching
- Reflective teaching brings into alignment one’s underlying beliefs about learning and classroom practice. Teachers who have attempted reflective techniques frequently report how surprised they were to observe misalignments between their assumptions and reality.1 Your tenure may have you convinced that your strategic approach to a specific topic is always successful in enabling student comprehension; however with self-reflection, you may realize that there are opportunities to further enhance the effectiveness of your lessons.
- Reflective teaching enables professional development. Continual reflection allows for constant improvement. By thinking critically about the success of your lessons plans and the outcomes they produced, and by putting time and effort into creative solutions to limitations and barriers to success, you can find innovative and impactful ways to refine your teaching skills for greater professional success.
- Reflective teaching supports student-centered learning. Student-centered learning refers to “a wide variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students.”2 Student-centered learning is one of the foundations of today’s educational theory and practice. By consistently asking for feedback from your students, you can use that information to create better lesson plans which are more meaningful for students in the future. You may also ask for feedback from other sources such as students’ families, other teachers, your principal or instructional coach. In essence, you are creating and experimenting with techniques and curriculum approaches that may contribute toward higher achievement levels since you are fine tuning what works best and what does not work.3
Three Ways to Practice Reflective Teaching in Your Classroom
There are several approaches to successfully implementing reflective teaching tactics. Carve out time to experiment with one or all of these techniques to find the combination that produces the most significant results for you and your students.
- Peer observation. Ask a trusted mentor and fellow teacher to observe your classroom instruction and provide feedback. Every teacher has a unique style and a plethora of best practices developed over years of teaching. An observing colleague can point out aspects of your approach that may be limiting student engagement—things you may not be able to observe yourself—and can provide suggestions for improvement. This is one of the best ways to improve teaching!
- Record and evaluate your lessons. While you may often tell your students that you have eyes in the back of your head, the reality is that a teacher cannot possibly observe everything that occurs in his or her classroom during instruction. Video (keeping student privacy in mind) or audio recording your lessons, however, can provide you with the ability to identify aspects of class participation, as well as your teaching style, that you would not otherwise have been able to observe. For example, you may be able to note how students’ engagement wanes after 10-minutes of lecture, or how many times you call on students in the front for answers compared to those in the back, or which topics resulted in the most questions and confusion. This type of reflection can provide valuable opportunities to target areas of opportunity in your pedagogy.4
- Self-reporting. Seeing a pattern in writing can be illuminating. At the end of every day for one week, create an outline of your class time, documenting all of the strategies you used to convey the day’s lessons. Observe how much time your students spent listening to lecture, participating in team problem-solving, creatively ideating, collaborating in pairs, studying independently, and being assessed through testing. If you find that you are leveraging one style of teaching more than others, or that students were more engaged or seemed better able to comprehend theories when they participated in a specific activity, you have identified a tactic you can employ more frequently in your classroom for better results.
Any amount of time spent reflecting on opportunities to improve your classroom techniques, and ultimately your students’ performance is time well spent. No matter what approach you take, the most important concept to remember is that reflective teaching requires an openness to observation, self-assessment, and experimentation. By remaining open to change, you will open yourself—and your students—up to improvement.
1. Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.↩
2. The Great Schools Partnership. (2014, May 07). Student-Centered Learning Definition. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.edglossary.org/student-centered-learning/
3. Arkansas State University Academic Partnerships. (2018, March 22). How Does Reflective Teaching Help students? Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://degree.astate.edu/articles/k-12-education/reflective-teaching-help-students.aspx
4. Dabbs, L. (2018, February 05). 3 Tips to Support a Reflective Teaching Practice. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/new_teacher_chat/2018/02/3_tips_to_support_a_reflective_teaching_practice.html