Most educators would agree that good teachers have the drive to constantly improve both instruction and student learning. Being an effective teacher is not an end in and of itself. Good teachers are growth-oriented, always working toward becoming better teachers.
Reflection is an essential component of the process of inquiry and growth, a key to improving as both teacher and learner. Through coursework and portfolio building, Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) can help degree candidates understand the importance of reflection and how to make use of it in the educational setting.
What is Reflection in Terms of Education?
As a thought process, reflection is an integral part of learning and education as a whole. Noted educational philosopher John Dewey’s definition of reflective thought is commonly cited in research and discussion of the concept:
“Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends, constitutes reflective thought.”
This definition supports the idea that reflection is an active process. Reflection allows people to think back on and learn from their experiences, constructing new knowledge and applying that knowledge to new experiences. In this way, reflection could be thought of as nearly synonymous with the process of education. In fact, Dewey defined education as such:
“It is that reconstruction or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience, and which increases ability to direct the course of subsequent experience.”
This may sound familiar to those who have studied the scientific method and inquiry-based learning. Dewey’s definitions of education and reflective thought focus on the cyclic, iterative nature of learning and inquiry. Whether in the research lab or in the classroom, building knowledge is a continuous process of discovery based on questions, research, trial and error, drawing conclusions upon reflection, and applying that active reflection to replication and further learning.
What is the Value of Reflection for Teachers?
Being that continuity of learning and growth is central to Dewey’s educational philosophies, he considered reflective thought essential for both student learning and teaching. In this, both the teacher’s and student’s roles should be inquiry-based. Teachers who strive to better the education of their students should constantly be reflecting on what they teach and how they teach it, judging the effectiveness of their teaching, learning from that reflection and using what they learn to inform further teaching.
Dewey’s educational philosophies are often associated specifically with pragmatic or experiential education, decidedly not the foundation of mainstream U.S. pedagogy for much of recent history. But modern education has seen a shift toward more student-led, inquiry-based practices in both content and instruction. Culturally responsive curricula, differentiated instruction and collaborative classroom design are good examples of these practices. And, naturally, reflection on the part of the teacher is an essential component of this shift in educational methodology.
Reflection also plays a central role in adapting to change in educational environments and learning from disruptions to teaching norms, the COVID-19 pandemic being a prime example. The onset of the pandemic left no time for a carefully constructed migration to remote learning across the country and world. A plethora of technology tools and trends facilitated the classroom exodus. But, in large part, teachers had to learn on the fly, experimenting with new tech and methods to create effective learning environments during unprecedented times.
Reflection proved key to navigating the tumult of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers and students pivoted and adapted, reflecting on what worked well and what didn’t within the constraints and potential of the virtual classroom. The pandemic also illuminated disparities in access to the technology and internet connectivity needed for educational continuity during the pandemic, prompting reflection on equity of resources for students and spurring efforts to close the digital divide.
Further, as students and teachers returned to the classroom, reflection offered insight into what educators learned through the pandemic and how that learning could positively impact in-person education.
How Can Educators in C&I Leadership Roles Promote Teacher Reflection?
Curriculum and instruction coordinators, specialists and coaches are uniquely positioned to put reflective teaching into practice within their schools. As for student education, C&I design can incorporate student reflection and inquiry into lesson plans, materials, student-led choice in content, and delivery and demonstration methods as well as active self-evaluation.
C&I redesign and implementation requires in-depth teacher training, including coaching and development in instructional methods, culturally responsive content knowledge and reflective practices. Providing teachers with training, resources and actionable performance feedback is the responsibility of C&I leadership.
But giving teachers time, structure and guidance in the reflective process is also necessary. Reflective teaching can be promoted through regular self-evaluation and formalized teaching inventories. But using multiple forms of reflection in teaching can increase its potential effect immensely. Daily reflection through less formal journaling can help teachers process and learn from their teaching experiences in an ongoing manner. Teachers can also record their lessons on video, reviewing them to gain perspective and reflect on their instruction and student experience.
In addition, a teacher’s most valuable resource is the community of colleagues. One teacher may be having difficulty engaging a student in a particular subject. But a colleague may have already found a way to adjust instruction technique, environment or content to help that student engage. Solving day-to-day teaching problems can be as simple as getting together with a co-worker, reflecting and finding out what works for them.
Creating a safe environment and structured time for honest reflection and collaboration among a school’s community of teachers is an important task for educators in C&I leadership roles. By studying active reflection and incorporating it into teaching practices, C&I personnel can empower teachers to improve. Integrating reflection into curricula can help students deepen engagement in their own learning. As a whole, promoting reflection for teachers and students alike can affect educational growth for the entire school community.