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What Is Reflective Teaching?

Teachers can spend hours planning a lesson. They read preparatory material, copy pages for assignments and organize supplies. Every one of those hours will serve a teacher well. When educators are unprepared for class, their teaching is less effective and their students can feel the tension.

Planning lessons, preparing materials and delivering information, however, are not the only essential parts of the teaching process. One of the most effective practices of experienced educators is reflection. When teachers practice reflective teaching, they look back at their teaching, student responses, student success and student behavior. They evaluate the lesson and how the students received it. They become more aware of not only what they teach but also why and how they teach it.

Reflect on Teaching

Even the most carefully planned lessons can fall flat, and, too often, a busy teacher will simply push aside that poorly received lesson and move on with the rest of the day. By the next year, the difficulties of the lesson will fade away. The teacher may prepare just as earnestly the next time, but unless something changes, the lesson will most likely fall flat again.

When a lesson is less successful than expected, reflective teachers will not rush on to the next thing. They will take the time to look back at the lesson and make observations about their teaching and how students reacted to the lesson. It may be possible to identify specific elements of the lesson that the students misunderstood or did not receive well. It may be that the outcome was completely different than the teacher expected. Whatever conclusion teachers come to, looking back is always beneficial.

Successful lessons also need evaluation. By reflecting on success in the classroom, teachers can see what they did well and how the adjustments they made during the lesson met the needs of their students.

How to Reflect

As teachers reflect, they write down observations about the classroom, the students and their feelings as they were teaching. They note which parts of the lesson succeeded and note possible reasons why. They also make notes about the elements of the lesson that were ineffective. They ask themselves evaluative questions:

  • Did the lesson work?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What should I change?
  • How can I reteach this material?

The key to reflective teaching is deliberately and consistently reflecting right after class. Teachers who do not take time to reflect immediately find their memories become vague, as the rest of the day carries its own problems and situations. So it is important that teachers build time for reflection into their plans.

Collaborative Reflection

Although reflecting is largely a solitary process, teachers can also collaborate with others. When teachers develop a community of trust and respect, they can take questions about unsuccessful lessons to colleagues. A more experienced colleague may ask different questions about the lesson. Other teachers come to the table with a variety of styles and skills that offer new solutions and fresh approaches.

Reflecting With Students

Another way to practice reflective teaching is to include students in the process. When teachers can see a lesson is ineffective, one way to find solutions is to ask the students themselves what may have gone wrong. This interaction with students serves two purposes:

  1. It gives the teacher a chance to see the topic from the students’ point of view.
  2. The teacher models the practices of reflection and collaboration for students.

Becoming a reflective teacher takes time and practice. It is helpful to enlist trusted colleagues for collaboration and accountability. Although solitude may be important when taking notes and recalling the details of each lesson, reflective teachers seek out the perspectives of other educators and welcome their feedback. Taking the time to reflect on lessons, whether successful or not, serves both teachers and students.

Learn about the Lamar University online Master of Education in Teacher Leadership program.


Edutopia: The Reflective Teacher: Taking a Long Look

United Federation of Teachers: The Importance of Reflection

Teach Thought: The Cycle of Reflective Teaching

Teachers College Record: Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking

ASCD: Fostering Reflection

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