Reflective teaching is a process where teachers reflect on their own teaching practices and learn from their own experiences.
This type of reflection allows teachers to see what works well in their classrooms and what needs improvement. Reflective teaching also helps teachers to understand the impact that their teaching has on students.
Examples of reflective teaching include observing other teachers, taking notes on your own teaching practice, reading about how to improve yourself, and asking for feedback from your students to achieve self-improvement.
Reflective Teaching Examples
Reflection in practice is a concept by David Schon which involves small moments of reflection throughout your day.
Instead of pausing at the end of your activities and reflecting upon what you did, Schon argues that good practitioners reflect in the moment and make tiny changes from moment-to-moment. This is the difference between reflection on practice and reflection in practice. “Reflection on” occurs once the lesson is over. Reflection in occurs during the lesson.
For example, as you’re doing a question-and-answer session with your class, you might realize that the students are tuning out and getting bored. In order to resolve this problem, you might choose to get the students all to stand up and play heads or tails for questions you ask them. This might get the kinesthetic learners re-engaged in the lesson and salvage it from its impending implosion.
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2. Conducting Classroom Observations
Another way to do reflective teaching is to start a classroom observation routine. Create a template for your observations (e.g. listing each student’s name down the side, with notes beside it) and take notes on students’ work.
You could, for example, choose to observe how well students responded to a new classroom intervention. These written observations can form the basis for changes that you can make to your work as you progress.
Similarly, you could make observations about students’ interactions after changing the classroom layout. This can help you edit and refine your chosen layout in order to maximize student learning and figure out the best location for each student.
3. Pivoting based on Formative Feedback
Reflective teachers also try to obtain formative feedback from students in order to gather data that can form the basis of their reflection.
An example of formative feedback is a pre-test a month before the exams.
This pre-test can help the teacher understand the general areas of weakness for their students, and acts as the basis for a pivot in their teaching practices. The teacher may, for example, identify a specific math challenge that the majority of the students had trouble with. They can then put extra focus on that challenge for the next few weeks so the students can ace that challenge in the end-of-term test.
In this way, formative feedback is a core tool for teachers in their formative feedback toolkit.
4. Keeping a Teaching Diary
A personal teaching diary can help teachers to identify trends in their behaviors (and the behaviors of their students) that can help teachers to improve.
For example, in my teaching diary, I will often take notes about how I reacted to certain events. I’ll note my reaction as well as things I did well, ways I effectively self-regulated, and things I did poorly. If I’m taking notes on an answer to a student’s question, I might note that something I did well was “give a clear answer” but an area for improvement might be “I failed to follow-up later in the day to check my student’s comprehension”.
Incidentally, teaching diaries can be extremely useful for performance reviews. Bring your teaching diary into the performance review and go over it with your line manager. They will be super impressed with your reflective practice!
5. Receiving Student Evaluations
Despite how much we may despise student evaluations, they can contain important tidbits of information for us.
I often like to compare my evaluations from one to the next to see if there are changes in the student trend. I’ll also work really hard on one aspect of my teaching and see if I can get students to take notice and leave a comment in the evaluation.
For example, one semester, I decided to implement a tech intervention (I let students use an educational app in class). The students used the app, and it turns out – they didn’t like it!
Without the student evaluation, I wouldn’t have been able to identify this problem and work on solving it. You can read all about that study here, which I published in an academic journal.
6. Debriefing with a Mentor
Having a mentor has been invaluable for me in my career. By sitting down with a mentor, I learn a lot about my strengths and weaknesses.
Mentors tend to bring out reflectiveness in all of us. After all, they’re teachers who want us to improve ourselves.
Your mentor may ask you open-ended questions to get you to reflect, or discuss some new points and concepts that you haven’t thought about before. In this process, you’re being prompted to reflect on your on teaching practice and compare what you do to the new ideas that have been presented. You may ask yourself questions like “do I do that?” or “do I need to improve in that area?”
7. Using Self-Reflection Worksheets
Self-reflection worksheets are a good ‘cheat’ for figuring out how to do self-reflection for people who struggle.
You can find these worksheets online through services like Teachers Pay Teachers. They often involve daily activities like:
- Write down one thing you struggled with today.
- Write down one big win.
- Write down one thing you will actively try to work on tomorrow.
These worksheets are simple prompts (that don’t need to take up too much time!) that help you to bring to the front of your consciousness all those thoughts that have been brewing in your mind, so you can think about ways to act upon them tomorrow.
8. Changing Lesson Plans Based on Previous Experiences
At the end of each unit of work, teachers need to look at their lesson plans and self-assess what changes are required.
Everyone is aware of that teacher who’s had the same lesson plan since 2015. They seem lazy for failing to modernize and innovate in their practice.
By contrast, the reflective practitioner spends a moment at the end of the lesson or unit and thinks about what changes might need to be made for next time the lesson is taught.
They might make changes if the information or knowledge about the topic changes (especially important in classes that engage with current events!). Similarly, you might make changes if you feel that there was a particular point in the lesson where there was a lull and you lost the students’ attention.
9. Professional Development Days
Professional development days are a perfect opportunity for reflective teaching.
In fact, the leader of the professional development day is likely to bake reflectiveness into the event. They may prepare speeches or provide activities specifically designed for teachers to take a step back and reflect.
For example, I remember several moments in my career where we had a guest speaker attend our PD day and gave an inspiring speech about the importance of teachers for student development. These events made me think about what I was doing and the “bigger picture” and made me redouble my efforts to be an excellent teacher.
10. Implementing 2-Minute Feedback
The 2-minute feedback concept is excellent for reflective practice. For this method, you simply spend the last 2 minutes of the class trying to get feedback from your students.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to give students a post-it note at the end of the lesson. Have them write on one side something they liked about the lesson and on the other something they didn’t like. Then, you can read the feedback to reflect on how to improve.
With younger students, you can do ‘hands up’ for students and ask them how confident they are with the topic.
For online lessons, I’ve put a thermometer up on the screen and asked students to draw on the thermometer how confident that are (line at the top means very confident, line at the bottom means not confident at all).
11. Reading Books
Books are excellent for helping us to reflect and contemplate. There is a wide range of books for teachers, from philosophical ones like Pedagogy of the Oppressed to very practical workbooks.
Through reading, we encounter new ideas that challenge our current ideas. As we pick up new ideas and information, we interrogate our current thoughts and find ways to assimilate them into our new thinking. Sometimes, that requires us to change our own current opinions or thoughts, and challenge us to consistently improve.
In this way, reading books about teaching is an inherently reflective practice. It makes us better practitioners and more thoughtful people.
12. Listening to Podcasts
Like books, podcasts enable us to consume information that can help us pause and reflect.
I personally love podcasts because I find them easier to consume than books. The conversations and dialogue in podcasts help me to feel immersed in a conversation with close friends. Good podcasts hosts make you feel like they’re grappling with the exact same concerns and emotions as you are – and it’s a motivating experience.
Good podcasts for teachers include The Cult of Pedagogy and Teachers on Fire. These podcasts help me to reflect on my own teaching practice and continue to learn new things that I can compare to my own approaches and integrate when I feel they offer new insights that are valuable.
There are many ways to incorporate reflective practice into your teaching. By taking the time to reflect on your teaching, you can identify areas where you can improve and make changes to your practice. This will help you to become a more effective teacher and better meet the needs of your students. Through reflective practice, you can also develop a stronger sense of who you are as a teacher and what your personal teaching philosophy is.
Drew, C. & Mann, A. (2018). Unfitting, uncomfortable, unacademic: a sociological critique of interactive mobile phone apps in lectures. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-018-0125-y
Lousberg, L., Rooij, R., Jansen, S. et al. Reflection in design education. Int J Technol Des Educ. 30, 885–897 (2020). doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10798-019-09532-6
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.