Good teachers reflect on what, why and how they do things in the classroom. Great teachers adapt as a result of this reflection, to continually improve their performance. In this guide we share everything you need to know about the benefits of reflective teaching, how to become more reflective and encourage others to do the same.
In this article:
- What is reflective practice in teaching?
- The importance of reflection in teaching
- The effect of reflective teaching in schools
- 5 benefits of being a reflective teacher
- How to reflect on teaching: getting started
- 7 reflection activities for teachers
- Using video for reflective practice: what the teachers say
What is reflective practice in teaching?
Naturally, most teachers will spend time thinking about what they did in the classroom, why they do certain things and if it’s working.
Reflective practice is purposeful reflection at the heart of a structured cycle of self-observation and self-evaluation for continuous learning. It’s central to effective continuing professional development (CPD) and becoming a more highly skilled teacher.
The importance of reflection in teaching
Teacher reflection helps you move from just experiencing a lesson, to understanding what happened and why.
Taking the time to reflect on and analyse your teaching practice helps you to identify more than just what worked and what didn’t. When reflecting with purpose, you can start to challenge the underlying principles and beliefs that define the way that you work.
This level of self-awareness is a powerful ally, especially when so much of what and how you teach can change in the moment.
If you don’t question what your experiences mean and think actively about them on an on-going basis, the evidence shows you are unlikely to improve.
Reflective practitioners can better ride the waves of change
Schools with a reflective teaching culture have an edge in times of rapid change. The shift to blended and online teaching as a result of Covid-19 in 2020 is a great example. Even the most experienced teachers found themselves in uncharted waters. Strategies needed to be reconsidered and delivery forms adapted to the new learning environment. Reflection, collaboration and iteration were critical skills and key for adapting quickly in challenging times.
Reflective cultures support excellence in teaching AND learning
A culture of reflective practice creates a strong foundation for continuously improving teaching and learning.
In an environment where teachers collectively question and adapt, draw on expertise and support one another - student learning benefits too. In fact, developing excellence in teaching has the greatest impact on student achievement, according to Prof. John Hattie.
The effect of reflective teaching in schools
Encouraging reflective practice in schools, not only benefits individual teachers but the school as a whole.
Developing a culture of reflective practice improves schools by creating a strong foundation for continuously improving teaching and learning. It sends the message that learning is important for both students and teachers, and that everyone is committed to supporting it.
Reflecting practice creates an environment of collaboration as teachers question and adapt both their own practice and that of their colleagues. Teachers can team-up, drawing on expertise and offer each other support. This helps to develop good practice across the school, resulting in a more productive working environment.
But reflective practice in teaching is not just important for teachers and schools. According to research by Prof. John Hattie, developing excellence in teaching has the single most powerful influence on student achievement as well.
5 benefits of being a reflective teacher
The best teachers are reflective, and they’re also the first to say that their practice can always be improved. Here’s why it’s worth taking the time to reflect on your teaching regularly - and encouraging your colleagues to do the same…
1. Reflection is at the heart of effective professional development
If you don’t spend time giving purposeful thought to your professional practice you cannot improve. Once you take ownership of your CPD by actively reflecting, evaluating and iterating on your practice, your confidence will sky-rocket.
2. Remain relevant and innovative
Self reflection helps you to create and experiment with new ideas and approaches to ensure your teaching is relevant, fresh and impactful for your students.
3. Stay learner focused
Reflective practice will help you better understand your learners, their abilities and needs. By reflecting, you can better put yourself in your students’ shoes and see yourself through their eyes.
4. Developing reflective learners
Reflective teachers are more likely to develop reflective learners. If teachers practise reflection they can more effectively encourage learners to reflect on, analyse, evaluate and improve their own learning. These are key skills in developing them to become independent learners, highlighting the important role of teachers as reflective practitioners.
When you reflect you must be honest. At least honest with yourself about your choices, success, mistakes, and growth. Self-reflection acts as a constant reminder to stay humble and continue working hard to achieve results.
If you’d like to find out more about teacher reflection, download our FREE practical guide to 'Enabling effective teacher reflection'.
How to reflect on teaching: getting started with reflective practice and tools to help
Do you want to get better at reflecting on your own teaching, or are you supporting colleagues to get started with reflective practice? Either way there’s some simple steps you can take.
Step 1: Gather insights
First, you need to gather information about what happens in the classroom, so it can be unpicked and analysed. Here are some different ways you can do this
Keep a teacher diary/journal
After each lesson, write in a notebook or in the notes section of your phone about what happened. You could even send yourself a voice note. Note your reactions and feelings as well as those of the students. This relies on you remembering to do it, and your ability to recall the details, which means it’s not as thorough or reliable as other methods.
Invite a peer to observe
Invite colleagues to come into your class to collect information about your lesson and offer feedback. This may be with a simple observation task or through note-taking on a specific area you’ve said you’d like to reflect on. Of course, there are challenges with this approach. Timetabling is an obvious one, and another drawback is the potential for differing memories and perceptions about what went on in the lesson.
Record your lesson
A video recording of your lesson is valuable because it gives you an unaltered and unbiased view of how effective your lesson was from both a teacher and student perspective. A video also acts as an additional set of eyes to catch behaviours that you may not have spotted at the time. It also means you can come back to it at a convenient time, and watch a short clip, rather than having to remember to take notes or rely on your memory.
Have reflective discussions
Does videoing or analysing your own practice feel like a big hurdle? A great starting point can be to simply get together in a small group (in-person or online) to watch a publicly available video of another teacher and then encourage discussions about the teaching and learning they’ve observed.
This quote from Prof John Hattie sums it up nicely:
“If you look at the research it says that about 80% of what happens in a class a teacher does not see or hear. How can we get more eyes into the class? How do you get other teachers going in there, looking at the impact and feeding back to help the teacher see what it’s like being a student in their classroom? I’m a great fan of recording classrooms and using video to show teachers how they look to students. That’s the power of video, it’s another way to see your impact” - Prof. John Hattie.
Once you’ve gathered information on your lesson, the next step in reflecting on your teaching is to analyse it. But what should you be looking for? Here are some suggested reflection activities.
7 reflection activities for teachers:
The ratio of interaction
How much are children responding, versus how much are you talking to them? Is there a dialogue of learning in their classroom or is the talking one-sided?
Growth vs. fixed mindset
The way you respond to your students can inspire either a fixed or growth mindset. Praising students for being 'smart' or 'bright' encourages fixed mindsets, whilst recognising when they have persistently worked hard promotes growth mindsets. Carol Dweck found that people with growth mindsets are generally more successful in life…so, which are you encouraging students to have? Read more about Carol Dweck’s theory of the growth mindset.
Are you correcting the students consistently? Teachers should avoid inconsistency; such as stopping a side conversation one day but ignoring it the next, as this causes confusion with students and the feeling that the teacher is being unfair.
Opportunities to respond
Are you giving your students enough opportunities to respond to what they are learning? Responses can include asking students to answer questions, promoting the use of resources such as whiteboards or asking students to discuss what they have learnt with their neighbour.
Type and level of questions
Do the questions being asked match the method of learning that you want to foster in their classroom? The type of questions you ask students can include open or closed, their opinion on certain topics, or right or wrong. Is the level of questions being asked appropriate for the students' level of learning? To find out more about open questions read our blog: Questioning in the classroom.
Instructional vs. non-instructional time
The more students are engaged in learning activities, the more they will learn. Try to keep track of how much time they give to learning activities compared to how much is spent on other transitional things such as handing out resources or collecting work at the end of the lesson.
Teacher talk vs. student talkDepending on the topic, decide how much students should be talking about what they're learning compared with how much they should be talking to them.
Using video for reflective practice: what the teachers say
Video brings a new level of depth and awareness to teacher reflection; a firsthand sense of self rather than the hearsay of others, making it a highly effective tool for teacher CPD.
David Rogers, a multi-award winning geography teacher and Deputy Headteacher at Focus Learning Trust, Hindhead says: “Video provided me with a powerful opportunity to reflect upon and develop my own practice based upon capturing what actually happened. Having led the adoption of lesson capture software in a number of settings, I know that these platforms are not for anyone to judge lessons. If you don’t believe me, video yourself and share the recording with colleagues.” Discover what else David learned from recording his practice here >
Assistant Headteacher Ryan Holmes says: “In the middle of the whirlwind of a teacher’s day, finding the opportunity to take a step back and reflect is not easy. I have found filming my lessons a valuable opportunity that provides me with the space I need to more objectively look back at my lessons, away from the hustle and bustle of the lesson itself. It is an opportunity to identify strengths and areas of improvement.” - Read more about Ryan Holmes experience here >
The IRIS Connect video technology enables teachers to easily capture their lessons and review an objective record of their teaching and learning. Using the IRIS Connect mobile app, teachers record their lessons which are automatically uploaded to a web platform. Once there they can privately view the videos and annotate their teaching practice using time-linked notes and analytical tools. If they choose too, they can also share their videos with trusted colleagues, inviting them to give their professional feedback and advice.
These videos become an invaluable resource for the individual teacher and wider school, allowing many teachers to benefit from the solutions of successful teachers.
Want to find out more about how IRIS Connect can help your school to further improve its teaching and learning? Get in touch.