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Reflective Teaching as a Professional Development Tool

Janelle Cox

Teachers often reflect upon what is and is not working in their classrooms by venting to their colleagues. This happens so much that many teachers are not even aware that they are doing it. They think they are simply voicing their thoughts on their day, but what they are actually doing is called reflective thinking. Reflective thinking about your professional development is the means of looking at what you do in the classroom, why you do it, and how you can make it better. It’s basically the process of self-observation and evaluation.

Most educators would agree that implementing this process into their daily routine can be an effective way to ensure student success, as well as lead to improvements in teaching. However, while most teachers would argue that they are already doing some sort of self-reflection (by venting to friends), that’s not always an effective method. Here a few suggestions on to use this important professional development tool.

Professional Development: Where to Begin

Where do you start? Beginning the process of reflective teaching can be an obstacle for many teachers because they think that they won’t have enough time in the day. However, all you really need to get started is to carve out about five minutes of your day -- anybody can do that. Sit down and think about your lessons, what went well, what didn’t go well, and what you would do to change it. Write down everything that you’re thinking, or use the voice control button on your smartphone to record your thoughts into the notes app. This can act as your “Reflection journal” for the time being. Once you get the hang of the process, your five minutes a day will soon turn into ten or even 30, and may even end up being the most productive thing that you did that day.

What to Do Next

Before we talk about alternatives to a self-reflection journal, it’s important to mention that only using the means of venting as a form of reflective teaching (“My students didn’t understand … today”) is not an effective method, because you or whoever you are speaking with may jump to conclusions without thinking about the entire picture. Reflective teaching is a process where you collect, record, and analyze all of your thoughts. By simply venting about one thing that went right or wrong, you will not get an accurate observation and result.

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However, when you take the time to follow the process, whether it be for five minutes or 50, you will be able to see results in your teaching. In order to see these changes, you first have to know how to self-reflect the proper way. As we mentioned before, keeping a reflection journal is the easiest way, but it doesn’t always work for everyone. Here are a few alternative professional development methods that many teachers find to be effective.

Colleague Observation

Many teachers like to invite a colleague into their classroom to observe them when they are teaching. They give their colleague a list of criteria to look for, then they discuss their thoughts about their observations. While this is a great reflective teaching method to use, it must not be the only method, because you can’t invite a teacher into your classroom every week. However, using this method a few times a year can be a great way to learn more about your teaching as well as get advice.

Video or Audio Recording

Another effective professional development tool to self-reflect is to use an audio or video recording of your teaching. What’s great about this method is that you can do this every single day if you want to. You can record every lesson or a few lessons, it really depends on what you are looking for. If you want to know if you talk too much, or if the students don’t talk enough, then just use an audio record app on your smartphone to get a better picture. If you want to know how you move about in the classroom, then a video recording can tell you that.

Student Feedback

You can also ask your students what they think. If you want to know how you come across as a teacher to your students, then just ask them. You can hand out a questionnaire, or have students give you anonymous feedback on anything that they want you to know. Your students’ opinions can add a very valuable perspective to your teaching.

What to Do with the Information Learned

Once you have your information, now what do you do with it? First, you must think in patterns. Is there anything that you’ve noticed that is recurring? You may have also noticed that you do something that you didn’t know about, like standing in the front of the classroom the entire lesson, or talking too much and not let the students talk. After you’ve thought about what you’ve discovered, you can start to think about how you will make changes, like moving around the classroom more when you talk, or incorporating more cooperative learning groups.

Another idea to help you make changes is to talk about your findings. You can chat with a colleague, or create a blog post asking for advice. You may also consider researching academic articles or books to help you find out more ideas.

Reflective teaching is a process, and during this process you will find out a lot, not only about your teaching, but about yourself. Remember, your overall goal is to find out what you are doing as a teacher, why you are doing it, if it’s effective, and how you can do it better. Once you are armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to make changes, if needed.

Do you use reflective teaching as a means of professional development? What method of self-reflection do you find the most effective? Please share with us in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you on this topic.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.