One school year has ended and the next is (hopefully after a time of rest) soon to begin. Summer is a good time to reflect upon what worked in my classes and what did not. What will I keep? What will I change? What will I eliminate? What would I like to tweak or try?
Reflective practice... is the habitual and judicious use of communication, knowledge, technical skills, reasoning, emotions, values and reflection in daily practice for the benefit of the individuals and communities being served. (Epstein and Hundert, 2002)
Introduced in 1987 by Donald Schon, the concept of reflective practice is a way for beginning teachers to match their own practices to those of successful practitioners and for experienced educators to reflect on the effectiveness of their lessons and to be aware of the need to change practices and/or direction as their student population changes. As the concept grew in popularity, many schools, colleges, and departments of education began designing teacher education and professional development programs based on this concept.
Unfortunately, in our need to reduce everything to its most basic components so that we can do it faster and have more people doing it, ended up giving us what Boud and Walker (1998) refer to as a “checklist” or “reflection on demand” mentality, where the reflective processes have no link to conceptual frameworks, and teachers are required to reflect without an established context for their particular teaching/learning situation. Reflection then becomes just another piece of “fluff and stuff” that teachers must do in order to maintain their status.
And yet…. reflecting on teaching is frequently cited as a fundamental practice for personal and professional development (Biggs, 2003; Boud et al., 1985; Lyons, 2002), although few see it as more than a time-consuming, abstract concept with no real practical benefits.
Reflecting on my practice as a teacher is what allowed me to spend over 40 years in education without burning out. Teaching is complex and, as practitioners, we are faced with hundreds of decisions during our lesson planning as well as during delivery of said lesson. It is the perfect example of “ongoing assessment” as we are led from the pre-assessment (or what our students know), to interim assessments (how the lesson is going and what our students are deriving from it), to summative assessments (what have we accomplished and what do our students know and are able to do).
The ability to reflect on what we do, how we do it and, especially, why we do it and then to develop, adapt, and change our plans to fit our particular student population – a population that is becoming ever so diverse in its composition and its needs – is what takes us on the road from newbie to expert.
Why do we need to make time to reflect now more than ever?
The major changes in education make it necessary for us to rethink our role as teachers, to focus on curricular integration, teaching for meaning, interactive dialogue, socialization, and collaboration within the context of the classroom. The move from the teacher-directed classroom has been in the making for many years, and yet we are, on a daily basis, bombarded by models, programs, and books that take away our ability to interact with our teaching environment and our students, by providing us with canned and scripted lessons that are only superficially interactive or meaningful.
If excellence in teaching, and improved educational outcomes for all students is what we aspire to achieve, then we need to regularly make time to evaluate our approaches to teaching and learning. This includes knowing WHO are our students are and what their needs are; building partnerships within our schools, communities and businesses; establishing flexible learning environments utilizing those partnerships; creating new contexts for learning and revamping the old ones; and exploring what our students need to learn and how best to expose them to that learning.
Critical reflection allows us to become expert teachers, relying on a large set of skills and strategies that we often weave into our teaching instinctively. Reflection allows us to look back at our choices and actions to remind us that they are based on sound educational principles and the knowledge that we have of our students.