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“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius
It is easy for teachers to spend so much time and energy focused on their students’ progress that they forget to consider their own performance. Self reflection can be a valuable tool that helps make you aware of how you are teaching, which in turn makes you a better teacher. Teaching without reflection is teaching blind – without any knowledge of effectiveness.
It can be difficult and time consuming for teachers to scrutinize their performance, but like any other occupation it is essential for improvement. Asking deliberate questions, reflecting on the answers, then implementing changes on how you approach your teaching based on your reflection differentiates decent teachers from great teachers.
“I am a writer of books in retrospect. I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn.” ― Robert Frost
Ideally, you should be reflecting and thinking about your teaching throughout the day. This can be difficult for inexperienced teachers who are focused on delivering content, classroom management and assessing students during a class. The more familiar and comfortable you are with these elements, the easier self reflection while teaching will become. Being able to see how well (or how poorly) a lesson is being received and make adjustments is one sign of a reflective teacher.
To get started, make a point to consider each class after it is completed. Jot down notes or keep a reflection journal of how the class went or ask some of the questions in the following section. You should think about which aspects of a class were successful and which could be improved upon. Collect these notes throughout the day or after every training session, 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.
Create a list of questions to ask for each class or training session. Some examples include:
Video taping yourself one will take a bit longer, but can be really valuable. Explain to your students that you are focusing on improving your teaching and set up a camera to film a class. Make sure that you get permission from your students in advance, and preferably in writing – depending on camera placement, you shouldn’t need to get any students in your video, just yourself. Watching yourself teach will provide valuable insight about your body language, nonverbal cues, speaking habits and how you respond to students.
Arrange for another teacher to observe your class and offer feedback. It may help to give them specific areas to watch for, such as how well you ask questions or respond to behavior problems. Reciprocate by observing your peer and see what you can learn from another teacher! You’ll be surprised by how much this can help, we promise. There’s nothing that will elevate your craft better than having a trusted peer evaluate your performance.
If you are struggling with a certain aspect of teaching, bounce ideas off of a colleague. Often another perspective will assist you in solving the problem or thinking creatively. It is especially helpful to collaborate with others who teach the same course.
Gather feedback on your teaching from the ones who are most comfortable with it – your students! Don’t wait until the end of a course to hear their opinions, ask frequently. Create activities where they can constructively criticise your teaching. It may be beneficial to have these be anonymous so the students will feel free to be honest.
Most importantly, you need to make and take the time to think through the feedback you’ve created and collected for yourself. We know that schools, homes, and busy training centres can be noisy and it’s often difficult to find a quiet place devoid of distractions, but if you can find a quiet place and fifteen minutes or so of uninterrupted time, you’ll be more successful in your reflection efforts. If you can’t try to get to a coffee shop, teacher’s lounge, or even your car (although it’s best to have a desk or table to lay out your notes) where you won’t be interrupted, then use a concentration app to help create some ambient noise which will help you focus. Here’s a list of five good ambient noise apps for a variety of platforms that are built to help with concentration.
Now that you’re in a spot where you can do some reflection, take a look at your notes, feedback, video, student responses, or questions that you’ve collected throughout he previous week, and observe them. Try to find a common theme or thread. Don’t focus on specifics, but instead try to observe patterns that prevail across multiple days or classes (or even weeks). Many times these will be positive reflections, and that’s great, but sometimes they’ll be negative, or something that needs to improve. Don’t get discouraged if you’re feeling like things are going well. Simply make a list of these trends, then take a few minutes to think of some ways you can tackle these items. Often you won’t be able to change everything right away, but chipping away at issues and making incremental progress can really add up over the course of a few months, semester, or a year. Even if you have several things you’d like to improve, try to focus on no more than one or two items each week. Remember to share your reflections with a trusted coworker, spouse, partner, or teacher as you go along and value their input.
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.
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