The Importance of Personal Reflection for New (and Experienced!) Teachers

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New teachers love Julia Thompson’s insight. Catch her free webinar, now available on demand.

You’ve probably noticed that there are some educators in your school who just seem to be naturals. Their classrooms run so smoothly that they never seem flustered or uncertain. In fact, they make everything they do look easy.

Don’t be fooled. No one is a natural teacher. It takes hard work, experience and lots of deliberate reflection to become a good teacher. Now that the overwhelming newness of the first semester is over, it’s an excellent time to get started on developing a systematic plan for reflecting on your teaching practice.

Most educators will agree that self-reflection is important, but many will also acknowledge that there are two obstacles: finding the time and developing an efficient method. The first of these is fairly easy to manage. Although it would be ideal to set aside 30 minutes or so of quiet time for this every day, most of us are lucky to be able to find any unencumbered time at school. If this is true for you, start with five minutes. Close the door or find a quiet spot and devote those precious minutes to deliberate and purposeful consideration of your teaching. Five productive minutes every day without fail will soon add up.

The obstacle of developing an efficient method is solvable as well. There are lots of ways to reflect productively. Many teachers find that experimenting with different methods allows them to decide on the one that is most efficient. If you like to write your ideas down, you can use a binder or a spiral notebook as a daily diary. You could also jot ideas on color-coded sticky notes and then store them on blank pages in a binder or notebook. Many teachers are comfortable keeping an electronic record of their reflections: You could keep your written reflections in a folder on your computer or make audio recordings. Other teachers create a personal template of some questions to prompt reflection and use that to guide their thinking.

You just need to find a method that works for you and then stick with it for five productive minutes every day.

Although the topics that teachers choose as a means of self-reflection can vary greatly, many of us find that a daily evaluation of a lesson—what went well and what didn’t—is a good place to begin. You can ask yourself questions like these:

  • What can I do to gather more information about the problems I encountered today?
  • What went well today, and how can I repeat that success?
  • What did I do to help my students succeed behaviorally and academically?
  • What can I do to help my students overcome some of the challenges that affect our class?
  • What did I learn today?

A final benefit of a consistent approach to professional reflection is perhaps the most compelling reason to get started right away. Adopting a deliberate approach to your classroom responsibilities makes is easier to assume control of your daily life at school. Because you have spent time diligently working through problems and planning ways to develop your teaching skills, you will be firmly in charge of your professional life. The deep understandings that you will gain from even a few minutes of productive daily reflection will move you forward into becoming the competent and confident educator you want to be.