Are you still a reflective practitioner? How to get the most out of this ever more vital habit

One of my enduring memories of my initial teacher training (a quarter of a century ago!) is of my school based mentor explaining methods of reflection; what worked, what led to enhanced learning for him and his pupils, and what contributed to improving his wellbeing.

I remember the simple effectiveness of his words. Reflection is about looking after yourself and your career.

With the benefit of the intervening decades, I can say with some certainty, that whether you are fresh out of initial teacher education or well into your career in the profession, reflecting on your teaching and wider work is an essential part of working life.

Reflection is what helps us to develop our skills, to respond to the shifting demands of the job, and to be better versions of our working selves.

And yet this most crucial element of the job is often consigned to snatched time on an irregular basis. Either that, or we place far too great a burden on ourselves to produce something concrete by way of reflection; a blog, perhaps, or a presentation to be shared with colleagues. While this may prove useful to you, it’s unlikely to be sustainable in the long run, and it’s unnecessary, unless you find it fruitful.

Keep it simple

If you’re new to reflecting on your work as a teacher, make it easy on yourself at first. There’s much to be gained from asking simple questions such as:

– How did the class receive this work?
– Were they sufficiently challenged and engaged?
– Did they achieve what I wanted them to achieve?
– How effective was my assessment?
– Would I do this again?
– How would I adapt?

It’s not necessary to write pages of analysis, unless you choose to. The key to reflections that have a chance of impacting practice is that they are sustainable. Finding a format that works for you is essential. A diary, blog, bullet list, recording – anything that encourages you to repeat the process is valid. Consider, too, what happens next. A conversation with your mentor? Time to think? Further reflection? Actual changes to your planning and practice?

Reflect with purpose

There is no doubt that the simplest and briefest of reflections can be fruitful (as above), but it’s also worth going deeper by thinking in terms of the layers of your work, perhaps not simultaneously, but at the very least on a rotational basis. For example:

– Subject knowledge: how do you stay up to date? What do you teach? Are there gaps in your knowledge? How enthused are you by what you teach? Do your pupils readily share that enthusiasm and thirst for more knowledge?
– Pedagogy: How is the curriculum designed? How is it implemented? What do you do in terms of technique when teaching, and why do you do it that way? In what ways has the “how” of your job changed? What works in your context?
– Teaching context: Can your working environment be improved? Does is adequately support learning? How effective are relationships in your classroom?
– Change implementation: Where change is indicated, how might it be implemented? Who can support that? Does it need facilitating?

Ultimately, you are exploring, though your reflections, what life is like for your pupils with you as their teacher, and what life is like for you. And it’s about identifying effective practice, and that’s well worth devoting a little time to.

How to take it further now…

What’s offered above is intended as food for thought, but if you want to take things further, try these:

– Andrew Pollard’s Reflective Teaching in Schools (Bloomsbury, 4th Edition), is an excellent guide for both primary and secondary teachers from initial teacher education and beyond. It covers practical advice and pathways to deeper expertise.
– Readings for Reflective Teaching in Schools, edited by Andrew Pollard, contains relevant texts, information about research findings, and annotated support.
– Information about books on reflective teaching in early education, further, adult and vocational education, and higher education can be found here 


Author: Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth holmes photo

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.

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