Whilst it may sometimes seem that we are under constant scrutiny as teachers, the reality is that for a significant amount of time we are left to get on with it. We don’t receive regular feedback on our lessons (except from the students) for long periods. Often, when we do receive feedback, it is in a particular context e.g. a lesson observation or a learning walk with a specific focus. In fact, we are the regular ‘observers’ of our day to day lessons. It is the feedback that we give to ourselves that is the primary way we can develop our practice.
Much has been made of the ‘10,000 hour rule’ which suggests that this is the amount of time it takes to become masterful at something. However, this relates to purposeful practice rather than just time doing something. Otherwise, we would just teach for 10 years and then all be expert teachers. In order to use our everyday experience to improve we must make it purposeful and that is where focused reflection comes in. If we are reflective practitioners, then every single lesson becomes a point of development. Everything that goes well becomes another powerful tool in your toolbox and every negative experience is actually a positive one in that it propels you into further improvement.
These are my rules for purposeful reflection:
Be clear about your core purpose: We do all of this because we want to ensure that the students we teach learn. Whatever we do has to go towards that- otherwise what is the point? Don’t get into the habit of reflecting solely on ‘what Ofsted want’ or ‘what SLT need to see’- make it about ensuring students learn things.
Be honest: Don’t kid yourself. There is no point in reflecting on your practice if you don’t want to admit where it could be improved. This goes for people afraid to admit a mistake or even those embarrassed to say that they are actually very good at something.
Be open: There are different ways of doing things. You need to be open to suggestions on things you might change. This can be difficult when certain methods have worked in the past or work with your other classes.
Be confident: There is a danger of the reflective practitioner becoming the doubting practitioner. You know that you do everything to the best of your ability and being reflective is not the same as being critical- it is a strength to acknowledge when to do things differently. Also, we need to develop the outstanding elements of our practice as much as anything. Dylan Wiliam states that ‘…the greatest benefits to students are likely to come from teachers becoming more expert in their strengths.’
There follows an exploration of some of the ways you can develop your ability to reflect purposefully:
Filming yourself is one of the most powerful methods of reflecting on your practice. Seeing yourself as others see you can be difficult but also very helpful. If you watch a video of yourself with a clear focus you can pick up on all sorts of things. I filmed myself recently and was struck by my body language with a challenging class. It was interesting to see how different my posture, movement and expression were in this lesson compared to another class where I was smiling, moving around the room etc. Again, this isn’t just about negative things- the first lesson with my year 8 class this year was a textbook example of how to set the tone with a new class and I can use this video to remind myself of how to deliver a positive lesson and the techniques that I used to good effect there. You can use a bog standard camera or a more complex system like IRIS Connect.
Another way to develop reflective practice is to find a coaching partner. This really needs to be someone that you trust. They don’t have to be an expert in the area you want to reflect on because this isn’t asking for advice- their job is to listen and keep it purposeful. If you have a particular issue, you talk to them about it. A good coach will ask the killer question and get to what this is really about. Sometimes they don’t even need to as the process of articulating your thoughts allows you to approach the problem in a different way.
The GROW model is a suggested framework for this:
G: Goal- what do you want to achieve?
R: Reality- describe the reality of the situation you are in. What are the barriers to you achieving the goal?
O: Options- explore a variety of different options.
W: Will- what will you do?
This is just one way of doing it. In practice, once you have a few formal conversations following this method you know how it works and it becomes a little less rigid. The key is for the coach to listen. Often, that is all you need to get the issue sorted. This will also work well for self coaching.
Triads/ Professional learning communities/ Call them what you want!
We have coaching triads in our school. We are given time in whole school training to meet and plan. The fact that we are peers and no one line manages anyone or has any other agenda means that the dialogue is safe and helpful. In one instance, we watched a video of my teaching and my colleagues had some great advice to help me. One of them suggested something so simple that I had not thought of to manage the behaviour of my class but which helped me no end. If you don’t have anything like this set up then form a triad yourself.
On top of this, there are all sorts of informal learning communities in a school. 5 minutes of discussion with a couple of colleagues can often be a great way of reflecting. For whatever you wish to develop, there will be someone in your school who is an expert and who could support you.
I enjoy writing this blog. Once I click ‘publish’, my ideas and thoughts become solid and voiced so I have to reflect on what I truly believe and know about teaching. Blogging has been useful to summarise my thoughts after training sessions I have attended or before sessions I have delivered. Sometimes I set out to do a ‘how to’ guide like this and am reminded by all the things that I used to do or which I have never tried. The blog is as much about developing my practice as sharing it.
If blogging doesn’t feel like the right approach to you, then you could find another way to reflect and share. You could tweet your reflections or even volunteer to lead a training session.
We have a lot of data nowadays as teachers. I don’t think we use it well enough. Since I discovered how to use pivot tables in Excel, I’ve looked at my data a lot as I can organise it easily. For example, when analysing behaviour data for my classes, I noticed that one group had significantly more consequences on one particular lesson. That made me consider the fact that this was a lesson which I arrived in after teaching in another classroom away from my normal base. I was taking a few minutes to set up, hand books out etc. An awareness of this led to a tiny change of practice and now that lesson runs smoothly.
Reflecting on students’ work
I do a great deal of my reflecting as I mark books. You can teach a lesson but students don’t get it. They may well have enjoyed a lesson but learnt nothing or you may have work which seemed to be brilliant as they completed it in class but misses the point. Your job as you mark is to reflect on what they actually learnt and whether your methods of teaching were effective. Again, this isn’t about looking at the negative things- sometimes it is about realising that they learnt a great deal when you did x but not when you did y.
360 degree feedback
One of the most interesting experiences for me was getting 360 degree feedback. As part of a middle leadership course, I asked for feedback from a number of colleagues. It could be quite difficult reading anonymous feedback from colleagues but it was fascinating to see how other peoples’ perception of me differed from my own perception. The reflection part is in acknowledging the degrees with which this perception reflects the reality. I won’t go into details here but I did receive some feedback which helped me to build better relationships with my colleagues around issues which I had no idea were issues. You might also include student voice in that feedback too.
You need not even go to any of these lengths. Sometimes all it takes is a 5 minute reflection on your day in the car on the way home- whatever works.