By Melinda Crean
I like to think of teaching as a journey; there’s a beginning when we start, a route with many deviations that bring both fulfilment and disillusionment, and there’s also an end. Often, I reflect on the beginning part of the journey and what I wish I’d known before I decided to become a teacher.
Reflection is a significant part of the teaching journey and it’s crucial that we seek feedback and advice to self-evaluate for self-improvement. But, it’s also important to remember that “the perfect teacher does not exist, but we all can become better teachers. Continual improvement of our teaching skills is the essence of professionalism in our field.” (Good & Brophy, 1991)
Are you a reflective teacher? If you don’t spend time reflecting yet, I want to share with you a few of my favorite reflection tools. Whether you’re a new teacher or an experienced professional, these ideas and tools are sure to help you on your journey.
1. Traditional Journal
Do you keep a journal? This may not seem like an innovative idea, but journaling a simple way to document your journey and keep an interesting record of your thoughts, feelings and impressions and how they changed during your teaching journey.
I used a journal when I first began my teaching journey. Below are a few examples of entries from my first teaching journal.
“The perfect teacher does not exist, but we all can become better teachers. Continual improvement of our teaching skills is the essence of professionalism in our field.” (Good & Brophy, 1991)
“Today was the big day, my chance at using resources when reading aloud. I thought I did a pretty good job, but it just doesn’t seem to come natural to me. I don’t find reading aloud difficult, but attempting to add resources to help it seem more enjoyable is easier said than done. I will just have to take up any opportunity I can and have some practice.”
“Every place I turn there seems to be Pokemon. There are Pokemon games, trading cards and a movie has even been made. Many of the children brought the trading cards to the class. When the children wrote in their daily journals, some of them even talked about Pokemon. Obviously the advertisers of this product have been very successful, but what I want to know; is Pokemon actually teaching children anything? If so, how do I incorporate this into my teaching to make me more successful?”
These entries may be showing my age, but do children still play with Pokemon?
When I look back at these now I can have a quiet chuckle. Still, entries like these help me see how far I’ve come from the beginning, and the importance of these reflections.
From my very first teaching experience I considered the children’s interests and how this could be incorporated into their learning. This helped me to shape the learning experiences and trial new and original ideas that I may not have had the courage to do without the reflection.
2. The 5-Minute Journal
As we know, many teachers are time poor. We are pulled in countless directions, so finding the time to reflect can be a challenge.
To resolve the “time” issue, I use an app called The 5 Minute Journal. It provides a more guided structure for your reflection that’s quick and easy to complete.
It includes a morning and evening component. In the morning you document:
- What you’re grateful for.
- What would make today great.
- A daily affirmation.
In the evening you can document:
- Three amazing things.
- How your day could have been improved.
A couple of other features I like are:
- Being able to set a reminder so that you’re notified each day to complete the reflection.
- You can upload photos and export the journal as a PDF.
Below are some examples of entries from my 5 Minute Journal.
3. Reflective Writing
Another approach you can take to help with development is to involve your students in the process of reflection. This will provide you with valuable information as to how your students feel about the class, you as the teacher and the learning and teaching they’re experiencing.
To participate in reflective writing, your students will write about how the class might be improved. One way to do this is by writing sentence completions. Each member of the class is asked to complete a series of incomplete sentences. Some examples could include:
- To help me learn more, the teacher should________________________.
- To help all of us learn more, the class should________________________.
- To keep me working hard, the teacher should________________________.
- Things that happen in our class that are a sign of a good day________________________.
- Things that happen in our class that are a sign of a bad day________________________.
- Things that should happen more in our class to make it a better place for learning________________________.
The responses you receive from your students will help you to identify both the positive things happening in the class and areas for improvement.
One outcome of your reflection may be that you want to try something different, or you may realize that what you’re already doing is working. You may also find an area of weakness that requires you to participate in further training or professional development.
The benefits of being a reflective teacher are numerous and the process may just inspire you to try something new and innovative!