Approaches to Professional Learning #2: Reflective Practice

Encouraging Reflection to Deepen Learning and Combat Burnout - MITE MMC  Institute for Teaching Excellence

“Reflective Practice” is a professional learning approach that is not unique to education, but used in various forms in other professions as well.  It is generally conceived as a cycle of practice/experience, assessing evidence regarding the impact of the practice/experience, considering ways to improve the practice/experience in the future, then implementing a change which becomes a new practice/experience that can be assessed. The assumption underlying this approach is that improving the way professionals think about their practice will lead to more effective actions.

 In an education context, such a cycle would look something like…

  1. Implement a teaching strategy intended to address a student learning goal.
  2. Collect formative assessment evidence of student progress toward that goal.
  3. Assess the evidence, drawing conclusions regarding how effective the strategy was and why.
  4. Brainstorm ways the practice could be improved, or what alternative practices might be used instead.
  5. Implement the new/improved practice, beginning a new cycle of reflection.

While reflective practice involves intentional steps to evaluate classroom experience and student learning after the lesson, it also operates at the moment-by-moment level as a teacher observes what is happening in the classroom and makes adjustments even as the lesson progresses.  Expert teachers have both an intuitive sense of how to respond to what is going on in their classroom, and a habit of intentionally and systematically evaluating their practice.

Reflective practice can be both individual and collaborative.  Individually, teachers can focus on areas that are especially relevant to them.  This makes the approach flexible and low risk.  However, it lacks accountability or support, and may result in blind spots not being addressed.  Engaging in reflection in collaboration with colleagues addresses these issues, and has the added benefit that each individual teacher’s growth can inspire growth in others.

What I like most about this approach:

  • It fosters intentional actions towards improving student learning.
  • It does not need to be overwhelming or complicated or need additional resources to implement.  Teachers can focus on one strategy or area for improvement at a time.
  • It empowers teachers to innovate their own responses to challenges and explore areas of practice that are especially relevant to them or about which they are curious.

Some challenges I see with this approach:

  • Reflection takes time.  Teachers would need to intentionally allocate time to analyze evidence of student learning, draw conclusions and innovate improvements.
  • Some teachers may need support to develop skills in identifying, collecting and analyzing evidence of student learning.
  • Assessing evidence of student learning can feel threatening to some teachers.  These teachers may need emotional support to engage in this cycle of reflective practice, especially in collaboration with colleagues.

To explore this approach more…

Book: Creating a Culture of Reflective Practice (Hall and Simeral, 2017)

Website: “Getting started with reflective practice” by Cambridge International Education, UK

Website: “Reflective Practice” from the education department in New South Wales, Australia

Online Articles: “Three reflective practices for effectiveness” and “Fostering Reflection” from ASCD

Blog: Reflective Teaching Journal

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