The school year has just ended for me. I always, always spend this time looking back over what I could have done better during the last year. Although I do spend time each school day reflecting about my teaching practices, I find myself better able to judge the way I designed and delivered lessons earlier in the term because some time has elapsed. That distance always allows me to see more clearly what I did, I should have done, and what I could do in the future to help my students succeed.
After I have spent time looking back (and trying not to cringe at my mistakes), inevitably my thoughts turn to the new school year that will be here all too soon. I imagine the great lessons I will teach. My students will hang on my every word. They will all be so intrigued by the material that they will beg for enrichment work.
In my mind, I am the best teacher in the world when I can look ahead and see what’s possible. I will have learned from my mistakes and moved on to do a much better job—next year.
As my rich fantasy life as the best teacher in the world would indicate, I do believe that making a serious effort to maintain a reflective teaching practice is one of the best ways that teachers can improve their teaching skills.
Currently I am also working on the third edition of The First-Year Teachers' Survival Guide. In the opening section I have a piece about having a reflective practice that should help new teachers be successful. Here is a sneak preview…
Developing a Reflective Practice
The deep thought required of educators is far more important than many teachers realize. Reflecting on our teaching should be part of every aspect of our professional lives. Such reflection needs to systematic, methodical, and purposeful.
Veteran teachers have found many different ways to reflect on their practice. We can gather information about our performance from a variety of sources such as asking colleagues to observe us, surveying our students, joining staff discussion groups, or even videotaping ourselves. Examining the information that you gather in these ways will allow you to assess your strengths as well as your weaknesses. You will be able to discern trends and patterns in your teaching as you seek to improve your skills.
One very common and useful method of maintaining a reflective teaching practice can also involve recording ideas and observations in a journal on a regular basis. Whether you choose to maintain a journal online, in a computer desktop folder, on paper, or even in an audio version, it is important to be diligent about recording regularly. The questions below can help you use the time that you want to reflect on your teaching practice as efficiently as possible.
- Were my goals for this lesson reasonable and appropriate?
- Were my students challenged to do their best?
- Did students learn what they were supposed to master? How can I ensure that they always do this?
- How would I change this lesson before teaching it again?
- How engaged were my students in the lesson? How can I increase the level of engagement?
- At what points in the lesson did I have to change strategies or activities? Why? How productive was this flexibility on my part?
- How should I have changed the lesson?
- How can I offer remediation or enrichment activities to the students who need them?
- What data do I need to collect before teaching this lesson again ? How can I gather this information?
- What data do I need to collect before moving on to the next unit of study? How can I gather this information?
- What can I do to improve my skills at collaborating with colleagues?
- What worked in today’s lesson? What did not work?
- How do I want my students to interact with each other as a whole group?
- What can I do to help my students collaborate with each other in small groups?
- What is the most efficient way to ___?
- How can I improve the way that I give directions?
- How can I integrate technology into my lessons?
- What problems did I have to manage today? How well did I manage those problems?
- Where can I learn more about how to ___?
- How can I improve the way to deliver instruction?
- How well do I listen to my students? What can I do to make sure that I model good listening skills?
- Which students were off task? What caused them to be off task?
- When were my students on task? What can I do to guarantee that continues?
- How did I show that I was enthusiastic about the subject matter?
- How effective were the motivation techniques that I used? How can I modify them for future lessons?
- How can I foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and courtesy among my students?
- How well do I manage my classroom? What can I improve?
- What should I do to help my students learn to be self-disciplined learners?
- How much progress am I making in improving my teaching knowledge or skills? What can I do to improve?
- How can I use my strengths as a teacher to full advantage in my classroom?”