Reflective teaching requires discipline and introspection, but can produce great results in the classroom.
Reflective teaching involves taking a step back from your daily work and routine, evaluating it as objectively as possible, and actively finding ways to improve and make each learning day better. Reflective teaching requires great analytical skills because you are looking closely at both what you are teaching and how you are teaching it.
Here are 5 ways to start using reflective teaching in your classroom.
1. Create a mission statement.
Writing down a mission statement might seem like a silly use of your time, but the process of thinking about and putting into writing the things that are important to you as a teacher, your goals, and desired student outcomes can help you reorganize your priorities and see your classroom in a new way. Once your mission statement outlines your core values and goals, compare it to what is currently happening in your classroom. Think about your lesson plans, classroom objectives, classroom procedures, classroom environment, and teaching approach to see whether they reflect your professional mission as an educator. If there is a misalignment between your mission statement and classroom reality, pick one or two areas to modify, then re-evaluate after a few weeks to see whether the alignment has improved.
2. Keep a teaching journal.
Unsurprisingly, a big part of reflective teaching involves daily reflection. Keeping a teaching journal allows teachers to reflect on the successes, challenges, and struggles of each day. Journal entries don’t have to be long to be effective. The process of reflection is more valuable than the entry itself. Allocate five minutes for journal writing after the final bell each day. Once you have at least a month’s worth of entries, start looking for patterns. Is there a particular day of the week or class period that tends to be more successful or challenging? Is there a specific pedagogical approach that tends to be more or less effective? A journal is a great way to find patterns or trends that you may not have noticed otherwise.
Reflection isn’t just for teachers! Journal writing can be effective for students in every subject – especially the ones that aren’t typically associated with writing – like math, science, and technology. Students should be reflecting on their understanding of new concepts, struggles with homework or projects, additional questions they have, etc. Students tend to be more honest if journal entries are kept private and checked only for completion. Let students know that they can put a star or some other indicator at the top of any entries they want you to read if they want your feedback or extra support. Giving students opportunities to work on their communication and critical thinking skills will prepare them for success in 21st century jobs.
4. Ask colleagues for help.
It can be intimidating to invite another teacher into your classroom, but doing so can provide you with some great insights. Just as it is difficult to edit your own writing effectively, it can be difficult to see your classroom and teaching style objectively. Asking a trusted colleague to observe your classroom and provide honest, constructive feedback can be extremely helpful in your reflective teaching quest. If you’ve created a mission statement, share it with your colleague before the observation so that he or she can understand your goals and focus on helping you achieve them.
5. Reflect during class – not just at the end of the day.
If you are like most middle or high school teachers, you teach the same subject – and therefore the same lesson – several times during the school day. Don’t wait until the end of the day to reflect on the effectiveness of the lesson you just taught six times in a row. While teaching your first class of the day, be aware of which examples, explanations, and activities seemed to engage students and which fell flat. Make adjustments to the lesson the next class period, spending more time on the methods that were effective and either removing or reducing the time spent on less effective pursuits. It can be scary to change a lesson plan on the fly, but simply paying attention to your students’ engagement and understanding can help push your teaching in the right direction.
As teachers, we often spend our time thinking about the future – lesson plans to write, papers to grade, parent-teacher conferences to plan, professional development activities to attend – and forget to take the time to look back. Reflective teaching is a great tool for every classroom because it requires little time and can yield substantial results. By reflecting on your teaching and classroom daily, you can make more intentional changes and begin to see improvements in both student engagement and performance. Students who are engaged are more likely to benefit from your instruction. Students who experience success in your classroom will be more likely to graduate, attend college, and find a career doing what they love.