The art of reflection: how to become a more thoughtful educator

Monday, July 22, 2019

In an effort to improve my teaching practice, I’ve made some pretty unattainable teaching resolutions in the past. I’ve told myself I’ll conquer all behaviour management issues; work-life balance will be my new middle name; and the marking pile will be seamlessly controlled. But such resolutions are usually made during the holidays, and it doesn’t take long for them to dissipate once I’ve returned to the classroom.

Most teachers are passionate about what they do. But research suggests that after the first few years of teaching they can begin to stagnate in their practice. It’s easy for frustrations about making the same mistakes to creep in, and we often look for quick fixes. As Dylan William suggests: “Teachers are like magpies. They love picking up shiny little ideas from one classroom; taking it back to their classroom; trying it once, and then moving on to the next shiny idea.”

So how can teachers energise themselves and become more thoughtful educators? I’ve found that taking control of my development through regular reflection and follow-up actions has helped me take ownership of my teaching and better understand how I can improve. Here are four tips for doing the same. 


Ask yourself how you want to improve

Teaching is a remarkably complex, multifaceted skill, and there is never a sense of having “mastered” it. While this could be an intimidating idea, it’s actually one of the most energising and exciting things about the profession.

Realising this begins to remove the stress and competitive element of the job. The goal becomes more simple: to be one step better than you were before. Ask yourself what aspect of teaching you want to improve on. How will you do this? Consider the impact of any changes you’re making in the classroom. Picking a pedagogical focus for each half term is a useful approach: last term I focused on the impact of refining different questioning styles. 

Regularly recording your thoughts can help you track progress and make informed decisions about how to move forward. Writing a diary is one option, or you might prefer to join the huge number of teachers sharing their ideas more publicly with online blogs (anonymous or otherwise).

If you are dealing with stress, for example, recording your thoughts over time could help identify the source of the difficulty and what you might do to cope. Or in looking at your students’ understanding of your subject, you might reflect on your ability to give clear explanations, and then experiment with the pace and words you use.

I’ve found that taking 10 minutes to write at the end of the school day is useful for understanding interactions between myself and my students.


Read around your subject

Individual observations can only go so far. There are a range of educational books and a growing body of educational research that can help to fuel this more thoughtful approach to teaching.

Last year, I decided to read 12 books to guide my efforts towards self-improvement. I had to make time in a full timetable, but the process helped me think more clearly about what I wanted to change.

One book a term can provide a roadmap to stimulating reflection; as you read you experiment in your classroom and consider the impact. It can be very motivating to see the small gains in your teaching as your repertoire of skills continues to develop.


Find a coach

Coaching can help too. Primary assistant headteacher Aidan Severs has written about how his school’s coaching model is inspiring teachers to fine-tune their practice.

If your school doesn’t have a formal coaching structure, you could look at starting an informal coaching relationship with a colleague. Sometimes we need others to guide our thinking through questioning and probing, and a coaching relationship can motivate you to improve.


Source: The Guardian