Without doubt, the ability to reflect critically on your work as a teacher is one of the most important skills you can develop throughout your training and subsequent career. Quality reflection can help you to appreciate what you do well, to understand what may need development and to navigate the many challenges that are undoubtedly a feature of your life in school.
Effective reflection, of the kind that supports your development, your decision-making about teaching and planning, and that feeds into actual change, is relatively rare, however. If we are not given the opportunity to practice reflection or to develop skills throughout our initial teacher education and early years in the profession, we are unlikely to be able, suddenly, to reflect effectively.
First things first
Reflection is ultimately about habit. If we don’t work it into our daily routine, we won’t keep up the habit and won’t benefit from what it can give us. It’s worth taking the time to discern what will work best for you. For example, many write their reflections, whether in a detailed blog for others to read or a list of key words that best describe your critical appraisal of whatever you’re reflecting on. For others, some other recording form works best, for example, podcasting, sound recording, perhaps even some artistic endeavour. The key is to work out what will keep you critically reflecting and recording for the purposes of progress in your work as a teacher.
Making reflections work
While you can study critical reflection in most, if not all, higher education institutions,
– Attitude is everything… all professionals in any sphere of work need to have the attitude that they are continually learning and developing their craft. Initial teacher education cannot possibly deliver everything you need to know for the duration of your career. It can only be a starting point; an opportunity to become a competent beginner in a profession that requires ongoing development from all of its members. Critical reflection is one way of helping to move you positively onward in your work as a teacher.
– Critical reflections are key… it is common for initial reflections to be descriptions. This is a normal stage of the process. The more you do it, the quicker you will get through the description phase and into the critical reflection phase.
– Reflections should lead to learning… what you put into your reflections should somehow translate into learning. What changes would you implement in future? What successes have you achieved? How can these be built on? Your reflections shouldn’t hang in a void. Rather, they should be stepping stones on the path to positive changes in your work.
The break ahead should be just that, a complete break from work. But if you’re not into regular reflection, and find yourself thinking about the term just passed, or about specific aspects of your teaching, aim to use those as a launch pad for your habits of critical reflection in the coming term.
Find out more
There are several books that will help to inform your critical reflection. These are useful starting points for your own research:
– Introduction to Critical Reflection and Action for Teacher Researchers by Sullivan, Glenn, Roche and McDonagh (published by Routledge, 2016)
– A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice by Jennifer Moon (published by Routledge, 2004) – see also Moon’s Learning Journals, also published by Routledge (2006)
– Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development by Gillie Bolton (published by Sage, 2014)
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.