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Reflection is a fundamental tenet of learning, and therefore a fundamental part of teaching. Why it happens is a matter of humility. But how and when it happens -- and with whom -- is less clear. This is partly because there are multiple sides to reflection -- length, width, and depth. To reflect means to look back at how something "went" in all of its available parts and patterns:

  • Causes and effects
  • Comparisons and contrast
  • Strengths and weakness
  • Characteristics
  • How close it came to expectations
  • Your emotions.

You're thinking, "I planned this, and it went like this, and now I think this."

Practice and Procedure

Reflection sounds like an abstract idea, something unspecific, and even a little mystical. Something we do in the shower or on the drive home, when no one's around and we're free to roam in our own minds. It's definitely true that reflection comes most effortlessly, and in its purest and rawest forms, in those circumstances when our minds are not otherwise engaged.

Reflection isn't a single thing, a box to check in some elliptical cycle of learning. It's as much a matter of self-awareness, humility, and affection as it is of timing, sequence, and procedure.

I can see the craft of teaching as both a sequence of steps and the fulfillment of design. It's both parts and whole, science and art, professional and people.
I know nothing is ever perfect, so I seek to improve. I also know what's improvable within my means, and what pathways there are to get there.
I believe in the endurance of knowledge and understanding, and will bring everything I know to bear on my craft.

With this kind of examination laid out, the practice of reflection is more fruitful, which is where the non-abstractions come in -- the tangible tools, processes, and partners of reflection that allow us to socialize ourselves and our teaching, and benefit from concrete practice of reflection.

An Example: Twitter as a Trigger

I use Twitter as a matter of both practice and thought. There are mechanical actions that lead to thought, and the other way around. I bring out my tablet or sit down at my PC, log onto Twitter, skim my feed, check mentions and messages, respond to tweets if I feel like it. These are inputs. The output, if I get it just right, is reflection.

If I read a tweet, interpret what I believe to be its meaning, find relevance in its message, and think even briefly about how I relate to it and how it relates to me, I'm approaching reflection.

Tweet: 10 Assessment Tools For The Flipped Classroom
My reaction: What are the strengths and weaknesses of assessment in a flipped classroom? What tools am I aware of that could work here? Do I need a tool? Is this worth clicking on? Should I save to Pocket without clicking? Click and read? RT without reading? Read, then RT? Favorite with or without reading? How am I spending my time right now on social media? Am I bumming around, or should I be more intentional about this tool or idea for a need that I have tomorrow?

When reflection happens on Twitter, it's a matter of practice, habit, and a tendency toward the kind of thought that promotes change in your teaching. But this Twitter moment is just an easy example about the dimensions of reflection: how, when, and who.

How Does Reflection Happen?

A recent blogging challenge on TeachThought encouraged teachers to use a series of writing prompts. Daily, these were about looking at the ins and outs of teaching. More broadly, they were about teachers building both their capacity and tendency to reflect.

There is also a #reflectiveteacher hashtag to carry that conversation from beyond your blog into a larger space where it has a chance for more visibility. But more importantly, the tweeting and hashtagging is about extending and socializing the practice of reflection. It's not about the post, but about the vulnerability that comes with reflection -- being honest, transparent, and then standing on your own.

The reflection actually starts much earlier, alone, in your own mind after something happens. Then it often happens with a friend, colleague, loved one or maybe even a student. Then you're likely to reflect again, alone, now pushed farther in your thinking by that sharing. Writing about it again, and then sharing that with others, makes the reflection more complex and more personal.

Alone > Together > Alone

Reflection, among other patterns, often happens alone (slow and passive), together (immediate and active), and then alone again (slow and passive again).

While Teaching > After Teaching > After School

Reflection is also a matter of timing. It can happen at any time, but no sooner than the event -- the lesson, assessment, meeting, or Socrative Discussion -- begins taking place.

While teaching, how is it going really? What adjustments seem necessary? What's most important here? Then immediately after, in a habits of mind sense, how did it go (evaluation), and how do I know (data)? After school, now that I have some distance from the event, what do I think? What's lingering? What should I do differently next time? What would students say if they were right here next to me?

Students > Colleagues > PLN

And then, with whom should I reflect? Students? Colleagues? Professional Learning Networks? My spouse? How is each episode different? What's worth talking about or forgetting?

How can I see reflection as a way of teaching, so that it's impossible to separate out and itemize, but is instead a moment-by-moment thing that is always with me like a heartbeat?

How do you use reflection in your teaching practice?

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slwilso's picture

I have been teaching for 7 years and I have found that my use of productive reflection has evolved through the years. I teach 23 classes for one hour each week and while I initially would reflect more so as a mental thought only, I quickly realized that the only way that my lessons and students would really benefit from my reflections would be to record my reflections. I keep a class book that includes attendance, seating charts, and a space to jot down reflective ideas. I try to write at least one thing that I noticed, especially if it involves a change for the better. Sometimes have a moment to write at the conclusion of a class, sometimes it is at the end the day. I always try to write down a reflective idea before I leave for the day, so that it is still pretty fresh in my mind.

BGallardo00's picture

Just recently I have been discussing the practice of reflection in one of my graduate courses. After teaching for 10 years, I am realizing that I have been reflecting, but not as effectively as I could be. Currently my reflection is just personal reflection of my teaching practices. I plan to work more on reflecting with colleagues so that I can get more input on the effectiveness of how I am teaching.

cz's picture

"Without reflection, we go blindly on our way."
No reflection means no improvement!

MrsOB209's picture

Since becoming an IB PYP teacher, I have learned the importance of reflection as a teacher. I have done my best to model it for my students, but I have realized recently, through a graduate class I am taking, that I have not fully developed the skill myself. That being said, I plan to do what many of you have done and start a journal and daily reflection. This will allow me to document incidents that arose throughout the day, reflect on how I handled them, and how I could handle them differently next time. Since I have just finished two grueling nights of conferences, I feel this will better prepare me for meeting with parents and preparation for IEPs, Student Team meetings, and even prepare lessons. It is not always easy to be honest with yourself, but without it, there will be no change or growth.

lynda moving's picture

I consider reflection to be an innate part of every teacher. The degree to which we do so depends on the individual. However, in order to derive the full benefits of reflective practices, I believe reflection must be a systematic routine where teachers can set time out to not just think about past event but also to chart the way forward. Teachers also need to work as a team sharing ideas via blogs, twitter and other social communities.

L. Gourley's picture
L. Gourley
Educational Therapist Intern

The habit of reflection is not given its proper position in education. Reflection is like the time needed after applying glue to an item, when it must then sit quietly for a time, clamped with slight pressure to keep it in place, until the cement takes full affect. If five minutes at the end of class were devoted to quiet reflection, students allowed paper and pen to document their thoughts, and some choice focus questions written upon the board, what affect may it have upon students' learning?

Kristy Godbout's picture

I really enjoyed this post. I was working on a post for one of my COETAIL courses about the power of the web. I think it is vital that we reflect on our use of the web to maximize how we are using it as a tool. Your post came up on one of my feeds and the title caught my attention. I really liked what you said "Reflection isn't a single thing, a box to check in some elliptical cycle of learning. It's as much a matter of self-awareness, humility, and affection as it is of timing, sequence, and procedure." For me this rings so true. I am wondering if we should alter our concept of reflection to not just think about how something "went" but if we constantly work to be in that state of mind before, during and after we do something. This would include our teaching practices as well as how we think about our use of the Web. When thinking about the world "reflect" the prefix "re" means again and again. You are so right about saying it's a part of the cycle of learning. Thank you for your thoughts. You can read my thoughts here. I would be curious to see what you think!

lisabalucas's picture

In my field of early intervention we use reflective practice in a small group guided by a psychologist to discuss our feeling about our work. We ask questions often that start with " I wonder". We also have the psychologist available for one-on-one time to discuss individual concerns. The work of early intervention is a highly emotional role, and reflecting on a regular basis helps me keep a balanced perspective.

SocialWorkerColleen's picture

There is definitely more change that can occur with a ontological state of mind. Vulnerability is crucial to enhancing the effect of our awareness.
Awareness + Vulnerability = an opportunity for connection and collaboration (thus allowing the possibility of significant change).

mrsk's picture

I have recently began my graduate studies and am realizing how crucial it is to be a reflective teacher. Prior to this research I have been introduced to I think I was reflective on everything else in my life but my teaching. I look at my teaching in a whole new way. The more reflective I am the more my students will benefit.
I currently am not on twitter, but this idea of using twitter as a trigger for reflection is very interesting.

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