Professional Development

The Place of Reflection in PD

Reflection is crucial in professional development, giving new teachers and veterans a means to deeply understand new practices.

Teachers and administrators talking in a professional development meeting
©iStock/Morsa Images

In my experience, there’s a pivotal aspect of teacher development that is often overlooked: the influence of beliefs. Learning—for students and adults—always requires a change in cognition, but it doesn’t necessarily require a change in beliefs.

For example, a teacher may learn how to implement a strategy like guided reading in her classroom, but that doesn’t mean she’ll put it into practice—her beliefs may direct her to teach in an alternate way. Often she is correct: Teachers are professionals who know how important quality instruction is, and they should have the right to make professional decisions concerning their classrooms.

But if it is the case that a new classroom strategy has been supported by research and is still overlooked by teachers, how can leaders of professional development (PD) guide them through the process of shifting their beliefs to accept something novel that they’re initially inclined not to accept?

I want to focus on one response to this question—reflection.

The Value of Reflection in PD

Providing opportunities for teachers to reflect in the context of supportive and solution-focused environments leads them to make strides toward professional goals, builds self-efficacy, establishes long-term growth, and ultimately can result in higher student achievement.

For a teacher to shift toward a new belief, she must interact with the new strategy by fixing her thoughts on its details for an extended amount of time, carefully picking it apart, questioning its validity, and justifying or criticizing it using formative and summative assessments. It’s not enough just to understand the new strategy—she must wrestle with it too.

There are a few practical ways to build structured reflection into your campus PD.

1. Learning walks: Learning walks allow teachers to observe other teachers implementing and succeeding with novel strategies in their classrooms. During one learning walk session that I led, a new teacher observed a seasoned colleague executing an engaging and thought-provoking lesson. Afterward the new teacher sighed with relief: “So it can be done!”

The new teacher and I reflected on what we had seen and were able to identify components of the lesson that contributed to its success. The new teacher was able to experience success vicariously through a colleague, emboldening her to pursue new practices in her own classroom with new vigor.

This shows that when teachers see their peers working with new strategies, they’re motivated to take risks and try new and innovative practices themselves.

2. Video learning teams: When a teacher records herself in order to show her work to peers, she gains from their wisdom—they may be able to suggest approaches that didn’t occur to her.

After a video learning team watches a peer’s video, they should provide feedback and solutions to any obstacles she experienced. This meeting encourages reflection on the part of both the receiver and giver of feedback. Often the teachers giving feedback learn just as much as the receiver as they reflect on their own practices in relation to the observed lesson.

Jim Knight discusses the benefits of using video learning teams as a reflective tool in Focus on Teaching: Using Video for High-Impact Instruction.

3. Flipped PD: In the flipped classroom model of instruction, teachers assign videos or text as homework so students are prepared to dive deeper into the content in the classroom with the teacher. Similarly, flipped PD can magnify the effectiveness of your face-to-face meetings by promoting reflection beforehand.

I’ve used Google Classroom as a learning platform for the teachers on my campus. It provided a convenient way to share articles, videos, surveys, and assignments with teachers, allowing me to guide them to reflect often on their classroom practices and priming them to engage in face-to-face PD. And it’s easy for teachers to discuss their reflections with one another on an asynchronous discussion board since each person can work at the time that’s most convenient for her or him.

4. Purposeful feedback: One of the most detrimental things an administrator can do is observe a classroom without providing feedback. Most teachers crave feedback, and not providing it after walkthroughs only makes teachers doubt themselves and their abilities.

Consider asking teachers to post an “I want feedback on _____” sign on their door. This gives them the autonomy to decide where they are growing and what they want to reflect on, and it invites the administrator to give useful and relevant feedback.

And to inspire a growth mindset and ease your teachers’ minds about receiving frequent feedback, you might consider posting the same sign on your own office door.

5. Voxer: Our communications are no longer limited by time and space. Technology such as the Voxer app allows individuals to communicate with peers anywhere and to learn collaboratively—we gain new perspectives from outside of our school or district to enhance our reflection. Educators can form groups and use the tools to send voice messages, text messages, and images.

I’ve been able to connect on a personal level with educators across the country with the help of Voxer, and you can easily reach me there at AaronMarvelEDU.

Learning is a lifelong journey, and reflection is a way for teachers and administrators to continue to develop our professional practice whether we’re new in our positions or seasoned veterans.