In this blog entry, I’d like to get a bit more practical in regards to reflective practice. I’ve written a number of blog posts on the advantages of reflection in teacher development, and I think it’s time now to focus on some specific questions that we should be asking ourselves as educators to begin the ongoing process of reflective practice. So, let’s move away from theory and look at some specific ways of starting that journey.
The questions I’m about to share with you guided my own journey of reflecting on my classroom practice, teacher identity, and core values as an educator. They are also questions that I used in my work with in-service teachers in Canada and the United States. For the most part, they are deceptively simple, but they require a significant degree of openness and courage to explore our practice and aspects of if that we often take for granted.
I want to start with a framework that teachers can adopt to embrace reflection. I’ve borrowed the framework from Thomas Farrell’s (2004) list of four fundamental questions:
- What do I do as a teacher? (a description of my practice)
- What does this mean to me? (a look at the theories behind my practice)
- How did I come to be this way? (a look at the influences of my practice)
- How might I do this differently? (a look at my future actions)
There is no question that this sequence of questions can be addressed very quickly but also very superficially by any teacher at any time in his or her career. The reason why I see this as a framework for reflective practice is because the questions cover larger, more complex areas of professional growth: they indicate larger aspects of practice and identity that my reflective practice needs to explore. In other words, asking myself “What do I do as a teacher?” or “How did I come to be this way?” are questions that can be answered quickly but that, in order to truly support reflective practice, must also lead to more focused analyses and reflection on my identity and classroom practice. In short, the framework questions should guide us towards other, more focused and therefore much more challenging questions.
Let’s start with the first question in the framework above: What do I do as a teacher? The following questions (many of which are borrowed or adapted from Ferrell) can help start the process of addressing that larger question:
- If a child asked you to explain what you do as a teacher, what would you say?
- What do your friends and family think about you as a teacher? Do they ever say that you
talk or behave like a teacher? If so, what does this tell you about yourself as a teacher?
- What do you think your students think about you as a teacher?
- What do you want to be known for as a teacher?
- Explain your ideal lesson, class period, or student project/assignment.
- Draw your ideal classroom. What does this drawing tell you about yourself as a teacher?
- Is there anything that you would like to change about your teaching?
Is there anything that you have tried to change … or did change?
- Do you ever come to class unprepared? What does it mean to you to be prepared?
- Are there any routines in your practice?
- What do you look like when you teach, when you’re “in action” in your classroom?
- Do you tend to re-use the same lesson plans, resources, tests, and assignments from year to year?
- How often do you stop to think about your classroom practice?
- How do you interact with students in your class?
How would you describe these interactions to a younger, less experienced colleague?
- What does teaching look like to you? How do you define it?
- Are you ever upset or dissatisfied with yourself after class?
- Are there any critical, influential, or groundbreaking incidents in your teaching history
that define you as a teacher?
- Have you ever felt discouraged, helpless, or bitter? Have you ever felt burned out?
- How much time do you spend thinking about new ideas for teaching your classes?
- Do you ever talk with your students about their perceptions of your classes and teaching?
- Have you ever considered team-teaching or working in close collaboration with another teacher?
At first glance, these 20 questions may not seem very revolutionary or groundbreaking. But, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that they can get us started on a very engaging and challenging path of self-discovery. I know from experience that our honest answers to many of the above questions can help jumpstart the process of critical questioning of our professional practice and identity.
But since reflective practice involves such personal professional development experiences, what role is there to play for principals, superintendents, and other education leaders? How can they support this very valuable type of professional growth? The answer is simple, but often very challenging to implement: create the kind of supportive, intimate, encouraging, and responsive professional development climate that makes it possible for teachers not just to engage in reflection as individuals, but also to openly share their reflections – and the insights gained as a result of reflection – with their colleagues and school leaders.
This requires an important shift away from professional development that’s imposed upon teachers in the form of workshops by external experts and towards self-driven and practice-based development that grows out of who we are as educators and human beings, where we are, and our ongoing efforts to reflect on and make sense of our practice. Creating a school climate that is conducive to open sharing of reflections and ideas, and that recognizes, validates, and provides ample opportunities for reflective practice is a significant challenge for administrators today.
Farrell, T. S. C. (2004). Reflective practice in action: 80 reflective breaks for busy teachers . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.