Reflective Teaching and the Self

An approach for transformative teaching

You teach your self. Who ever you are, who ever that ‘self’ is will determine the words and deeds you perform in the classroom.

It’s really difficult to change the teaching self from the outside. Governments, district leaders and principals could mandate policies and training meant to change attitudes and instructional strategies. But in the end, the teacher is the one who decides if he will internalize new knowledge and practices, and translate them into acts and talks in the classroom.

The teaching self must be transformed from the inside. The teacher is the only one who can transform the teaching self. One way to encourage self-transformation is to foster a reflective teaching environment that allows the teacher to reflect on teaching and the teaching self.

What is reflective teaching? Reflective teaching is a process in which teachers analyze their own teaching and deliberately think and act to improve teaching and learning. It’s meta-teaching: the teacher thinking about herself teaching, talking and acting in the classroom. And deliberately seeking ways to improve what she does in the classroom.

It’s meta-teaching: the teacher thinking about himself teaching, talking and acting in the classroom.

Reflective teaching needs an atmosphere of learning. And I mean, the teacher as learner. In a reflective teaching environment, the teacher learns from students. The teacher sees herself as a student in the class. She isn’t the only source of knowledge or skills in the room.

The reflective teacher also tries to learn about the students, the people in the room. He observes and listens carefully to students, looking for verbal and non-verbal cues. It’s an important part of knowing if students understand the material being taught. The information he finds out will determine if he should continue the lesson, back up and teach fundamentals or stop and do something else.

Teachers learn from other teachers. There should be scheduled time for teachers to talk to other teachers. Teachers should be able to share resources, plan lessons together and discuss ways to improve student learning-outcomes that are not defined by the length of a session or a discipline.

For example, if students are having trouble understanding word problems in Math class, the Math teacher might discuss this issue with the English teacher. The English teacher might stress reading comprehension during English sessions to improve Math performance and meet curricula goals in English. That way learning becomes more holistic and skills traverse disciplinary boundaries.

There should be scheduled time for teachers to talk to other teachers.

Teachers learn from experts. There should be regular professional development to train and coach teachers. Yes, an expert or coach can guide your thinking by exposing you to ethics, pedagogy and instructional strategies, but you need to internalize these ideas. Act. Think. Speak. You do the work. Teachers can also pursue new ideas through books and personal research.

Reflective teaching is a continuous process. The reflective teacher tries new skills and knowledge and constantly adjusts them to improve learning outcomes. The reflective teacher sees education as a formative process that is always evolving. Teachers use formative instructional strategies, and review formative assessments to improve instruction.

The reflective teacher sees education as a formative process that is always evolving.

Reflections can be formal or informal. Some teachers keep a formal journal on teaching. That way they can track their own thinking and see how it has (or hasn’t) evolved. This ‘journal’ can include student scores so you might try to make connections between teaching strategies and student performance. It might also include samples of student work (copies, of course) and notes about common student mistakes.

If you have parental permission, you can record video of your teaching and interacting with students. Here you really ‘see’ yourself. You can see things like if you interrupt students while they’re speaking. Do you call on the same students all the time? Do you face one side of the room and neglect another?

Let the video record students too. Look at their facial expressions. Are people at the back zoning out? Video is a great tool for reflective teaching, if you have the resources. A smart phone could also work for this. Video should be viewed as research and students as vulnerable participants. As such, it shouldn’t be shared publicly without parental permission.

Reflection can also be informal, where teachers have discussions with other teachers or engage with new resources and make their own adjustments to ongoing acts and words in the classroom.

For this to work…

…the teacher has to be a student. A student who is learning to teach. Learning to learn about the self.