Use the long holidays to have a deep reflection on your teaching

As we butter-up for the festive season, I can’t think of a better time of the year for teachers to reflect on how the race has been. It can be difficult and time consuming for teachers to scrutinise their performance, but like any other occupation, reflection is essential for improvement. Asking deliberate questions, reflecting on the answers, and implementing changes on how you approach your teaching based on your reflection determines if you are a decent or great teacher.

Ideally, you should be reflecting and thinking about your teaching throughout the day, the semester/term or the year. This can be difficult for inexperienced teachers who are focused on delivering content, classroom management and assessing students during a class. However, being able to see how well (or how poorly) a lesson is being received and make adjustments is one sign of a reflective teacher. If you haven’t been doing it, reflect on how to incorporate it next year.

There are various ways to reflect. Some teachers take notes, some record themselves teaching, others pass out surveys to their students, while some simply pause from time to time, even while teaching, to ask themselves, “is this working?” If you as a teacher don’t take time to examine your day, your week, your quarter, or your year in the classroom, you simply will not improve as a teacher.

Jotting down notes or keeping a reflection journal after every class is a good way to reflect. You should think about which aspects of a class were successful and which could be improved upon.  Collect these notes throughout the day, think on them for a few minutes while jotting them down, and then set aside some time at the end or beginning of every week to reflect.  Reflecting on your collated notes for just 15 minutes a week can often provide huge value, particularly when you’re dealing with a new or challenging course.

Setting up a video camera in the corner of your classroom to occasionally record yourself teaching can be an awesome tool. Just as athletes use videos of themselves to help improve their athletic performance, teachers can use this type of footage to see themselves through the eyes of their students. An even better idea is to invite a veteran teacher to sit down and watch the video of your teaching with you. The more experienced teacher can use the pause button to stop at critical moments and offer you tips and pointers in a way that could never be done, while the students are sitting at their desks in your classroom staring expectantly at you.

Another very effective tool to use is a survey of specific questions that you write and give to your students for their response. Obviously you need to consider your audience very carefully when you write the questions. I’m always amazed by how honest students can be if you ask them, and how useful their comments become if you take them to heart. Sure there will be some responses that you’ll simply have to dismiss, but this type of direct inquiry can be the most effective tool for personal professional reflection.

Lastly, use your peer observation comments. During the term, arrange for another teacher to observe your class and offer feedback. Reciprocate by observing your peer and see what you can learn from another teacher!  You’ll be surprised by how much this can help. Nothing will elevate your craft better than having a trusted peer evaluate your performance.

Reflecting on your teaching practices should not just be about finding mistakes or harping on negative aspects. Look for positive things and celebrate them. Then, choose one or two areas where you can improve and work on those systematically. No teacher is perfect and everyone has room for improvement, but if you fail to see where you can improve then you never will.