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The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Being a reflective teacher: making it work for you

Being a truly reflective teacher is hard. Skills of reflection are difficult to acquire and seemingly not frequently demonstrated (when asked to reflect, many simply describe). Elizabeth Holmes outlines the benefits and offers tips for effective reflection.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Søren Kierkegaard

I've read a few blogs and emails this week by people who have decided to take a break from social media. The reasons stem from a desire to spend more time on meaningful reflection rather than the knee-jerk reactions that social media platforms tend to encourage within us. There’s no doubt that the quality of education debate on social media can, at times, fall victim to point-scorers making it a poor space in which to express reflections, so perhaps a break to focus can be fruitful.

Steps to effective reflection

The younger we are encouraged to reflect the better, so that the skill grows with us and by the time we are in adults reflection is second nature.

I’ll stick my neck out and say that being a reflective teacher just might help us to derive greater satisfaction from our jobs and may even make us better teachers. No, I haven’t seen anything that categorically proves that for each and every practitioner, but experience tells me that the benefits to be had from true reflection can be great. There are, however, just a few points to keep in mind:

  • It’s best not to look to blogs for inspiration. Many offer well-considered opinions on various topics but there are very few that demonstrate reflection of the kind discussed here.
  • It can be helpful to approach your time for reflection with the aim of understanding your experience of work more clearly, and perhaps even with the aim of moving forward in your professional and personal development.
  • Reflection is about critical thinking, being analytical, posing questions (and perhaps answering them), reaching conclusions, identifying paths ahead. It’s quite a sophisticated and private process so you may not wish to share your reflections.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of considering only your development needs. It can be very useful to reflect on your particular skills and talents at work and life generally. This can help you to determine what you might want do more of – an often overlooked idea in the world of professional learning.
  • It’s useful if reflection becomes second nature; an important part of your daily routine, complementing and supporting your work, rather than adding to it.
  • Be open to the range of tools out there to support reflection, from simple notebook and pen to a whole range of apps, from digital recordings to mind maps and other such diagrams. You’re not restricted in any way; just do what works for you.

There are various cycles of reflection that you may find useful; several are variations around analysing a particular experience and developing an action plan for the future. This can be helpful in that you are integrating future change in your reflection. Being able to use reflection for this purpose is highly likely to be fruitful. It’s not just about self-knowledge, but change when needed, too. Whatever approach you take, reflection will be helpful to you if it enables you to view your work with some distance so that you can gain clarity on what is important for you at any time. If your habit of reflection ever becomes burdensome, it is time to make some changes rather than give up altogether. Enjoy! 

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