Becoming a Better Teacher Through Reflective Practice?

Last year I wondered aloud in a blog post, “What does the word ‘reflection” mean to you?” and I was extremely pleased with the comments and responses I received. Thanks again to everyone who read and responded! Now, I have a new set of questions and another request. I am particularly interested in what information and ideas “newbies” to reflection would find most useful and helpful. What do you think?

Questions that come to mind:

  • Are there any quotes related to reflective practice  that you have found particularly helpful/memorable/insightful?
  • What has motivated you to get involved in reflective practice?/What has prevented you from getting involved?
  • Any “must reads” related to reflective practice?
  • What do you wish you knew about reflective practice when you first started teaching?
  • What questions do you have about reflective practice? (I can’t promise I will answer them!)
  • What does the word “reflection” mean to you?

Finally, in case you are wondering why I am suddenly asking such questions perhaps this link will explain things a bit. 

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23 comments

  1. onlyincambodia

    so so so timely! I just finished a feedback session from an observation of a teacher where that teacher was completely unwilling to reflect on their lesson when I asked them about their thoughts as to how their lesson went. There was absolutely no ability to talk about highs and lows of the lesson.
    She more or less said that the lesson was in the past. “How am I supposed to remember that? I don’t think about my lessons and what I teach. It’s there in my lesson plan.”
    The reality was, her lesson plan was poorly prepared and seriously lacking any thought to the students, task and classroom management.
    Thank you for the reminder!

    • mikecorea

      🙂 Hey Nikki,

      Wow that is a very interesting case. I suppose it is not sooo rare though. My immediate impression (obviously with a lot of distance and without a clear picture) is that this teacher doesn’t care too much about teaching/improving/developing or is unaware of the skills related to reflection (or just doesn’t see the benefits?). Interesting, nonetheless. This situation really got me thinking. I’d love to hear if there are any updates! 🙂

      cheers,
      Mike

      • onlyincambodia

        A brief update…the teacher will be doing a second observation with another person. We’ll see what comes of it? Will it change the classroom practice, lesson planning, classroom management issues, etc.? I don’t know. It really depends on her willingness to engage in the process.
        I will update again on the final outcome…

  2. eflnotes

    hi mike

    my question is what is the evidence to show that you become a better teacher through reflective practice? have you read this post? http://teachingeap.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/only-reflect/?

    i was also curious since this paper was critical of the lack of empirical support for reflective practice http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13636820200200196. are there any newer studies?

    my general thoughts are that reflection is a nice word, every teacher wants to/does reflect, every teacher also wants to/tries to be happy, so is reflection a useful and effective concept for teaching?

    ta
    mura

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the reply and the links, Mura.
      I think I will have to address the evidence question but unlike your esteemed fellow commenter I don’t happen to think that we can find good/clear/irrefutable evidence for many things but I do think this is surely something to consider and address. I enjoyed the blog post and will have to wait till I have a bit more time to dig into the article.

      You wrote, “every teacher wants to/does reflect, every teacher also wants to/tries to be happy, so is reflection a useful and effective concept for teaching?” I am not sure I agree with this thought that every teacher reflects. I think a lot of people just move on to the next class without really trying to learn/change/adapt think it through for next time. As for most people wanting to be happy…well I think I can roughly agree with that but I also think this is a case where we don’t always make the decisions that put us in places to be happy. Wow. I suddenly got well off track here!

      I happen to think that reflecting (and getting beyond bitching and moaning and complaining and superficially reviewing) is a useful concept, yes.

      Thanks very much for the thoughts/exchange! Lots to think about! 🙂

    • Tyson Seburn

      What evidence do you need beyond whether it has worked for and helped you grow? Scores on tests? Data on a wide-range study of other teachers who are not you? No.

      • eflnotes

        hi tyson,

        how do i judge that it is ‘reflective practice’ that has ‘worked’ for me and not a particular teaching technique? and will what works for me work for others? if it has worked for me now will it last in the long term?

        alex ding in the post linked to above describes this concern well along with – the nebulousness of the term, what is the ‘object’ of reflection, the reliance on the self.

        the paper (linked above) reviewing effectiveness of reflective practice includes other concerns – the problem of forgetting, the biases in human thinking, developmental aspects of teaching being ignored.

        ta
        mura

  3. Pingback: weekly ELT round up 01/03/2013 - ELTSquared.co.uk
  4. Tyson Seburn

    ***Are there any quotes related to reflective practice that you have found particularly helpful/memorable/insightful?
    I never have figured out where I got this quote from, but I live by it: “Knowledge is a social construct, never absolute; it must be continually questioned and challenged if it is to continue to be valid.” On the surface, it may not see so reflective practice in nature, but it continually encourages me to look at what I think I know, what I think I’ve figured out and trust about teaching, what I have determined are solid activities, and reevaluate whether they are still so awesome or now crap.

    ***What has motivated you to get involved in reflective practice?/What has prevented you from getting involved?
    Blogging has been a tremendous ally in reflection. Everyone knows it in principle, but there’s something about putting your ideas into writing that help clarify what you really think and what does or does not make sense. Like most though, my only barrier is time–getting caught up in daily tasks.

    ***Any “must reads” related to reflective practice?
    I haven’t read it all, but Tom Farrell’s Teaching practice; a reflective approach is very solid. http://www.reflectiveinquiry.ca/

    ***What do you wish you knew about reflective practice when you first started teaching?
    I wish I realised how powerful reflection is in growing and not falling into a repetitive rut. I also wish I knew that there were others who valued reflection.

    ***What does the word “reflection” mean to you?
    For me, it means looking at the reality of what I do, how I teach, how I prepare, how I feel about my students and their progress (or lackthereof), how other teachers do what they do and think what they think, in order to bring change to my practice or reconfirm that who I am as a teacher is good for another little while.

    • mikecorea

      (A very belated) Thanks very much for taking the time to answer the questions, Tyson. I really appreciate it. Thanks also for sharing the link to Dr. Farrell’s site. His work and help has been very inspirational.

      I especially like your thoughts about change or reconfirm because I think people often think of RP as simply weeding out the problem areas.

      Thanks again and thanks for the mention of blogging as well!

      Cheers,
      Mike

  5. swisssirja

    Hi, Mike
    I have been thinking about what is happening in my classroom all the time (way too much at times!) but it is only two months ago that I stuck a label to this – reflective practice. Why? Because two months ago I started following twitter and blogging actively and these two words were impossible to dismiss. And just like with writing about anything really, getting our thoughts into words makes them clearer and gives a healthy distance to overwhelming emotions.
    The moment I started thinking of my endless after lesson thoughts as reflective practice I could somehow get rid of the TOO emotional side, I could stop blaming myself for everything and taking negative moments too much into heart. What happened instead was something incredibly fruitful, positive and confident. I took a more “scientific” approach, the rants at the end of the lesson became part of my own development and progress. This positive feeling started to influence my lessons as well … and I guess I don’t exaggerate if I say that reflective practice has already given me an incredible confidence boost in the classroom.

    So as a kind of newbie to reflective practice I would simply say it is a powerful tool that helps teachers grow but also protect them from their own too emotional attacks

    Sunny greetings from the Alps,
    a new reflective practice addict

    • mikecorea

      Thank you very much for the sunny greeting and helpful sharing!
      When I first read this post my plan was to use your quote in my presentation (and ask someone to read it aloud—with your permission of course). Instead I got a bit sidetracked and took other routes with the talk. Looking back, I wish I had followed my first instinct!

      I’d also like to apologize for the delay in responding!
      With the start of the term and everything it was hard for me to respond thoughtfully to such thoughtful comments. Now, armed with coffee and a lovely spring day I am finally able to find the mental space to respond.
      (And remove the daily feelings of guilt associated with not responding yet!)

      So, on to the response….

      I loved your point about reflecting previously without having a word for it!
      I think your point about phrases like reflective practice and reflection being unavoidable are also very true. Sometimes I worry it is too much of a buzzword and the original meaning is being lost.

      You wrote, RP is a “powerful tool that helps teachers grow but also protect them from their own too emotional attacks.” Wow. So very well said. I think this cuts right to the heart of it. I think it’s very easy to beat ourselves up after a lesson that didn’t go how we planned. I think this is probably natural. I also think it probably doesn’t help us develop. From my view, critically reflecting on what happened can help raise our awareness and then give us a wider perspective and perhaps more choices for next time.

      I love your idea about turning the end of lesson rants into something more productive. Lovely image.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful and helpful comments!

      Sunshine from sunny Seoul being sent your way!

      Cheers,
      Mike

      PS–Completely randomly I feel the need to tell you that when I first read your name I read it is “Swiss Ninja” and that image sort of stuck with me! 🙂

      PPS- If you are not Sirja and you are reading this I highly recommend her blog: http://swisssirja.wordpress.com/
      From my view she has been really been showing the value of reflection!

      • swisssirja

        Hi Mike,
        now that response made me grin form ear to ear! Especially as I knew you were having cozy time with coffee and sunshine while writing it 🙂
        And thank you so much for your kind and truly praising words. For a PLN newbie it’s such an encouragement!

        Yours truly,
        Ninja from the Alps 😉

      • mikecorea

        🙂 So happy you enjoyed my response! I really enjoyed your comments and still wish I used them in the presentation! So nice to have you in my PLN!

        Cheers!

  6. gemmalunn

    Hi Mike,
    – Are there any quotes related to reflective practice that you have found particularly helpful/memorable/insightful?
    During RP “there is a distancing of the problem, like backing away from a painting to see the whole picture” (Carol Rodgers)
    – What has motivated you to get involved in reflective practice?
    I saw a couple of presentations last year about RP, can’t remember who the presenters were 😉 but they were pretty good and inspired me to get involved in RP.I haven’t looked back since, just reflected!
    – Any “must reads” related to reflective practice?
    Carol Rodgers – Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking
    – What do you wish you knew about reflective practice when you first started teaching?
    That there is no set way to reflect, it’s useful to follow the ELC / write a diary etc but everyone has different ways of reflecting and it doesn’t need to be a strict procedure.
    – What does the word “reflection” mean to you?
    To me it means looking objectively and deeply at your teaching and your classes and without being judgmental looking for ways in which you can change and improve what you do and what happens in your class.
    Hope that’s some help, look forward to seeing your presentations on Sat,
    Gemma.

    • mikecorea

      Hello Gemma,
      (who spoke in room 2105 at 2:00!)
      Thanks very much for reading and responding. Great quotes and answers. Very useful and helpful! I like how you mentioned judgment, as this is for me a huge issue. It is just so normal and natural to start from judgment and consider what is good and bad.

      Good point about the set/strict procedure stuff. I think it can be too easy to get wrapped in that instead of the real business of working to become more aware!

      One a personal note, I am so happy to see your involvement in RP (through your blog, presentations, and actually doing it at school on the day.) It is really fantastic to see. Thanks for the support and thanks for being such a great model!

      Thanks again!

  7. Tom Randolph

    Mike,
    ***Are there any quotes related to reflective practice that you have found particularly helpful/memorable/insightful?
    Here in Korea my ‘trainees’ read and react to this from the Analects of Confucius: “Daily I examine my person on three counts. In my undertakings on behalf of other people, have I failed to do my utmost? In my interactions with colleagues and friends, have I failed to make good on my word? In what has been passed on to me, have I failed to carry it into practice?”

    as well as this, which I found helpful as we greatly intensified our program’s focus on reflection over the past four years:

    “…although teachers are constantly encouraged to ‘reflect’ on their teaching, they are unable to do so
    effectively unless they are specifically trained in how to reflect (they tend to ‘react’ rather than ‘reflect’!). It is known that teachers can increase their ability to identify their strengths and weaknesses and take action towards improving themselves as better teachers when they receive feedback from different sources—for example through trainer, colleague, and learner observations—as well as from watching their own video-recorded lessons. The best results for their development are obtained when teachers are also provided with focused input sessions related to reflecting on different aspects of their classroom teaching as well as having the opportunity to watch videos of themselves teaching.”
    Gun, B. (2011). Quality self-reflection through reflection training. ELT Journal Volume 65/2 OUP. P. 125.

    ***Must reads – the above article in its entirety was pretty useful, as are the sets of reflection questions in the chapter 1 appendix of Richards and Lockhart (1991?). These are great for helping ‘newbies’ just get started writing or recording.

    *** Wish I’d known – how much discipline REAL reflection requires. It’s so easy to wax poetic about oneself and one’s beliefs/ideals, but digging into the grist of how to be more effective with THIS/THESE students, on THIS day with THIS topic is hard hard work (albeit joyous). I spent a good number of years doing the former, and it was only when I got to this particular gig in this part of the world that I had to confront myself and work out whole other ways of becoming a terrific teacher, because the stuff that had worked so well before was much less successful here. To work it out, I had to learn to really reflect.

    *** What does ‘reflection’ mean to me – assuming that ‘understanding’ and ‘action’ follow the ‘reflection’, it means loiving oneself, understanding ‘love’ as M. Scott peck did — ‘the willingness to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing oneself or others’.

    I hope this isn’t too much.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks, Tom! Great stuff and a lot to think about!
      I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and answer the questions. It was not too much and was extremely helpful.

      Thanks for raising the point about reflection training. Someday I’d like to hear (read?) about how/if you are able to share these ideas with your trainees and what results are seen.

      I was especially drawn to this quote:
      [I wish I knew….] how much discipline REAL reflection requires. It’s so easy to wax poetic about oneself and one’s beliefs/ideals, but digging into the grist of how to be more effective with THIS/THESE students, on THIS day with THIS topic is hard hard work (albeit joyous)
      Very well said and an excellent point.

      Thanks again! Congrats on the new blog!

  8. Matt H

    Hello! Reflecting will be slightly different for eveyone… And we all do it different ways… But I do believe it’s an important part of becoming a better teacher. Especially in the beginning of one’s career, and especialy if something unexpected comes out during the lesson. After a few years in most teachers get into a good groove & probably spend less time reflecting – but this can also lead to getting stuck in a rut! 🙂 I agree with the above comments that getting online & joining the conversation within the community of other trainers is extremely useful in terms of reflecting… As you naturally will compare what you read & hear to your own situation. Joining any teaching organizations or attending conferences is also great for reflection.

    I also find taking notes about courses or saving old lessons can help – especially when you look at them years later and see if/how you might have changed. Having a trusted coworker observe is also great for reflection.

    What was useful at the beginning of the career? I’d say having open conversations with experienced teachers and hearing about they also had so many of the same questions/worries/etc… And seeing that they were also continously growing… Learning… Adapting… And yes, reflecting… After decades of teaching 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Hello Matt,

      I appreciate the comments. I think you shared some important points about reflecting being different for everyone (and perhaps the need not to insist that everyone do it the same way), and about getting stuck in a rut as well as the benefits from learning from more experienced teachers. I think early in my career I was not as open to such learning and it probably caused me to develop as bit more slowly than I could have. Yet, sometimes perhaps we need to re-invent the wheel a few times before we are ready to borrow from others.

      Great ideas here! Thanks so much for sharing! These days I am particularly interested in observation. Peer observation with the goal of development (and not evaluation). Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting! Much appreciated…again very useful and sensible stuff.

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