How Do You Reflect? Options For Teachers And Students

A few weeks ago, I was listening to Chris Betcher on the Virtual Staffroom podcast interviewing Helen Otway. Helen is an inspiring leader at a Victorian P-12 school.

Image: 'Savage walk: don't ask, just go'
Image: ‘Savage walk: don’t ask, just go’

Many of the topics Chris and Helen talked about struck chords with me including the idea of developing a more thoughtful approach to teaching and learning through reflective practice.

There has been a plethora of research on reflective practice over the years. Most people would agree, in order to continually learn and improve, individuals need to engage in regular reflection.

The world has certainly changed since the term ‘reflective practice’ was first coined. This got me thinking, what is the best way for teachers and students engage in reflection?

Four Ways I Reflect

Currently, my primary avenues for reflection include:

1) Blogging

This blog is an excellent metacognitive process and avenue for reflection for me. Through the process of creating blog posts, I often “think about what I think” and put those thoughts into words. Through delving into my thoughts on topics and writing about what has been happening in my classroom, I often come up with new ideas and strategies to utilise in my teaching.

Another huge benefit of blogging is the comments. When other educators offer thoughts and opinions on my blog posts, I am introduced to new perspectives that help me reflect further. I think my students are better off for having a teacher that blogs and I couldn’t recommend blogging enough as a reflective exercise!

2) Team teaching

2011 is the second year that I have been team teaching with Kelly Jordan. Prior to this, my reflections on lessons, student progress and teaching strategies used to happen in an ad hoc manner in the staffroom/team meetings with teachers who were disconnected from my classroom.

Team teaching allows for such rich reflection almost every hour of the day (and night!). When we’re not teaching, Kelly and I find ourselves talking non-stop about what our students need to work on, what ideas we could use and how our teaching is going. Our ideas just seem to bounce off each other proving that “two heads are better than one”! Team teaching has been one of the most rewarding and powerful situations I’ve experienced as a professional and I know my students are benefiting from it.

The key to this scenario is that Kelly and I are extremely like minded with our philosophies, drive, work habits, priorities, discipline strategies etc. Our partnership is harmonious and productive. While I love team teaching, I could think of nothing worse than being told who I should team teach with!

Read more about how I team teach

3) Time out

I find I have the best ideas and reflective “aha moments” when I take time out from what I am doing.

I have come up with some of my most memorable ideas and breakthroughs when I am running, bushwalking, cooking or even just having a shower! Strangely enough, I have even come up with thoughtful perspectives while sleeping! Time to think is so important for me.

4) Being part of a PLN

I would certainly not be the teacher I am without my professional learning network (PLN). Effective teaching and learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum. A day doesn’t go by where I am not using Twitter, blogs, podcast, webinars etc. to connect with other educators, learn, reflect and improve. When I am pondering an idea, I can use Twitter to get ideas and opinions from people all around the world.

I can hardly believe that the majority of teachers are still relying on the insights of their immediate team or school when there are billions of people out there who can broaden your horizons!

Half of my main sources for reflection wouldn’t be possible without technology!

Students need to be encouraged to reflect as well and introduced to mediums such as blogging, collaborative work, social media or time out as they progress throughout their schooling.

 In this video, this Stephen Heppell discusses how metacognition can help a young person to become a co-producer and explorer of their learning, rather than a consumer.

What avenues do you use to reflect?

How do you encourage your students to engage in reflection and metacognition?

26 Replies to “How Do You Reflect? Options For Teachers And Students”

  1. Kathleen,

    Yet another wonderful post!

    Reflection is such an important part of being an educator. Without it, we’d never grow, we’d never learn from our own mistakes.

    One part that I really take away from this is taking some time out. I know myself, I often get so caught up, so wrapped up in what’s taking place now, that I never really take a step back to allow that extra time to think. Much like you, I know this is when some of my best thinking occurs and I need to make sure that I always allow myself this time!

    Always looking forward to the next post!

    Shawn Avery

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Shawn,

      I’m like you , I get so caught up in what is happening and being actively busy that I rarely step back to think. But when I do it is so worth it!

      Thanks for your ongoing support!

  2. Hi Kathleen,

    This is such a fabulous post! Great tips for making sure reflection is built into what we do daily. John Maxwell writes about reflection often in his leadership books. “Reflection turns to insight… and renewed energy to go strong…”

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Tracy,

      Thanks so much for pointing me to the John Maxwell site. That one minute video is well worth watching – he sums up the real meaning of reflection beautifully.

      Thanks for your comment and continued support!

  3. Kathleen,

    Great post, as usual! 🙂

    I believe in reflective thinking and have seen the power of it. I use it to better myself and to help my students.

    Even though our students are quite young, I completely agree with what Dylan Wiliam says about asking students how they learn. Each school year, I ask my students what kind of a learner they are…auditory, visual, or kinesthetic. At first, I didn’t think they would understand what I meant or be able to identify how they learn. I was shocked at how much they knew about themselves.

    Thinking about how people learn and talking with students can definitely make you a better teacher. I notice when I attended traditional PD meetings, much of the information is verbal. Well, I’m not an auditory learner. If the presenter would tap into more modalities…their presentation (and probably their classroom teaching) would be better.

    The idea of teaching metacognition is something I haven’t done enough of. I could certainly make use the “extra Friday!” 🙂

    Like you, I team teach with someone who shares my teaching style and philosophy, Faith Ranney. I feel so lucky to have found her. We share ideas and reflect constantly about what went well and what didn’t work. Like you said, a partnership can be rewarding, but must form naturally. Forced partnerships can be quite stressful.

    Thanks, again, for a great post! You’ve given me a lot to think about, and I look forward to applying some metacognition lessons next week when I’m back from the break!


    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Linda,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      You hit the nail on the head with your reflection on PD. I too get restless and bored if a session is purely auditory. Similarly, I like listening to podcasts but I have to be doing something else at the same time – cooking, running, walking, cleaning, driving etc. “Sit and listen” is not my learning style!

      That is interesting how much children know about themselves as learners from such a young age. Teaching metacognitive skills is definitely something I need to do more of too. Time certainly is of a premium, isn’t it!

      You’re lucky to have been working alongside Faith for so long. Forced partnerships would be stressful and I also know from experience that when partnerships are all give and no take, that is draining on a working relationship too.

      Great comment, thanks Linda!


  4. Researcher. Co-producer. Explorer.

    As Stephen Heppell says we can move past the student (teacher!) being a consumer. I think you have nailed it Kathleen. We are by far better of for being reflective, both students and teachers. With the changing nature of workplaces and with social media, we can certainly extend our PLNs beyond the building, thus providing us with a multitude of views, experiences, ideas and connections. Strong ties are made with people whom otherwise you would never have met or even known about.

    Thank you so much for including me in your post. It was very humbling to be included amongst the other educators your have referenced.
    Helen 🙂

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Helen,

      Thanks again for the inspiration for the post! I’m still trying to work out how to show the power of PLNs to teachers who aren’t using it (which is most teachers at my school). I can talk about it all the time but until people actually change their way of operating and give it a real go, they won’t see the benefits. I guess people like us just need to keep spruiking the benefits!


  5. Nice post, Kath! And two of my favourite videos by excellent people worth following.
    At a recent PD with Kath Murdoch on what makes a great inquiry teacher, she talked about split screen teaching. She is referring to an awareness and focus on the content, skills etc at the same time as on the actual process of learning itself. Kids need to be aware of why they are doing things and how they are learning. Teachers too!

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Edna,

      That is just a terrific analogy – split screen teaching and learning, I like it! Definitely something I am going to reflect on further!

      Thanks for your comment,

  6. Hi Kathleen,
    I’m so glad you wrote this post. It is something I can tell you’ve considered from both an analytical perspective but also from that heartfelt place too. It sounds as if you are beginning to really merge those two perspectives for the benefit of not only your students and your co-teacher, but for yourself.

    I was wondering…where can you see the impact of this in your classroom or in your life? I’m sure there are some big things….but also in those small ways that don’t necessarily seem so huge, but really are?

    Your transparency is inspiring and pushes all that read it to consider what they should be doing. I’ve been working on being reflective, and like you, find writing about my work is helpful. I think it’s really a journey….maybe.


    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Marsha,

      Thanks for your great comment.

      There are some bigs things that come to mind that have developed via reflection. The Ugandan Global Project which was a huge success came about when I took time out to read a running magazine. I read an article and a seed was planted which I then though about more during a run and a shower. It amazed me that such a small thought could develop into such a big idea with a little reflection and discussion with my PLN.

      Other things come about all the time eg. it might be in the back of my mind that I need to find a way to help a couple of students master reading some high frequency words. The idea will sit there but until I take time out to think, talk to my PLN or discuss it with Kelly – the ideas don’t really develop.

      I find that if I’m on the go all the time I don’t get the chance to think about how I am going and where I need to go next. Sometimes I think I should slow down more! The same could be true for children who are in a classroom that is go, go, go!

      I’m glad you’re finding writing is also helpful. It really is a journey!


  7. I have just discovered your wonderful blog and am so enjoying everything I am reading and exploring the many resources and tools listed.

    I especially like your comment that “effective teaching does not happen in a vacuum”. How true that is and yet I find so many teachers don’t even want to discuss with other teachers what they are doing and how they are doing it face to face. It seems that the only conversation that goes on is negative and complaining. That is why I am so happy for my PLN. It is what keeps me going in a sometimes toxic environment.

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Heather,

      Thanks so much for your kind words! It’s people like you who encourage me to keep blogging (as well as the reflective benefits of course!)

      I know what you mean about working with teachers who aren’t like minded and I am so grateful for my PLN as well! I think it’s kind of funny that all my real professional learning occurs outside school and I am just going through the motions during most of the school organised sessions.

      Keep going!

  8. A great post Kathleen – so well said! I found myself agreeing with so may of your comments.

    The process of blogging for me is also a way of taking time out to think and reflect on all that I am learning. As for those ‘ah-ha’ moments. Yes they happen to me too in all kinds of odd places and times! As for team teaching, I couldn’t agree more. When I was ‘teaming’ with another Teacher Librarian in a senior library I found that our minds, thoughts and manner were so finely tuned that we could even finish each other sentences! It was a fantastic experience. And no doubt – we all grow so much from our PLN which we can tap into any time of day.

    Glad you brought all this to our attention with this post.

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Bev,

      Great to hear from you.

      “Ah-ha” moments are just great aren’t they. They really get me excited about teaching which proves without reflection I could just be going through the motions and not really changing anything for the better.

      It’s great to hear that you had a positive experience with team teaching as well. As Linda Yollis said, forced team teaching partnerships would be quite stressful but when they can develop naturally, they are so productive and beneficial to everyone. Haha, Kelly and I feel like we can finish each other’s sentences too and sometimes we sit back and think our introductions ran like a script, the way we bounce off each other.

      Thanks for your comment,

  9. Kathleen,

    Thanks for another fantastic post! Whenever I try to help colleagues build a PLN yours is one of the first blogs I direct them to.

    Reflection is so vital to everyone involved in education – teachers, students, admin, etc. I do think it comes easier to some (some people are naturally more reflective), but everyone should do it some form.

    My most productive reflection also comes during exercise, hiking (“bushwalking”) and in the shower. My best ideas, and also plenty that fail, come during quiet activities when I can just think. Of course, my PLN is a big help, as is the fact that my dad has been teaching for about 40 years and we have great discussions together.

    I think (hope) that most teachers reflect on their teaching, but the manner and tone of this “reflection” can vary greatly. I worry that some teachers “reflect” on their teaching primarily in terms of the calendar, assessments, and covering content. If your main concern is progressing through units towards a standardized test, then true metacognitive reflection is going to be limited. If, however, your goals are to stimulate personalized learning, real world application, collaboration, and risk-taking, then metacognitive reflection is inevitable because you will be creating the learning conditions based on student performance and interest rather than on a calendar based curriculum. This requires reflection. Following a canned lesson doesn’t require reflection.

    I reflect a lot (sometimes my dad tells me I reflect too much), and occasionally I find it helpful to reflect on the big picture – Why am I teaching? What is the purpose of these countless, beautiful interactions I have with the children? What do I want them to think about, what do they need to learn?

    This helps me to put things (i.e. standardized test scores) in perspective. Then I can get back to the nitty gritty reflection of “Why didn’t that activity go the way I had hoped?”

    Thanks for giving me extra time to reflect!

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Jonah,

      Thanks for your kind words. I do appreciate you sending people to my blog!

      You are very lucky to have such an experienced mentor in your dad. I think all teachers need other teachers in their lives who they can talk to and reflect with regularly.

      I agree with your points about some teachers engaging in that “surface level” reflection about getting through the content. It is worrying and I’m sure we all know teachers who have hardly changed a thing in their classroom over the last 20 years.

      There is a lot of emphasis placed on standardised testing in my school too and I do have an issue with that…. but that is another blog post! I’m always glad to find that the most inspiring educators in my PLN (eg. you) have similar beliefs about the real meaning of education.

      Thanks again for your comment, Jonah. It is obvious that you are a big “reflector” because you always offer such insightful viewpoints from a variety of angles. It’s terrific!


  10. JoAnn Jacobs says: Reply

    You have asked a very important question and proceeded to answer it in a very thoughtful manner. I think reflection helps one to become better at what they do regardless of what it happens to be. As far as educators it is vital, we can never improve without taking a good hard look at what we do.
    As I go out for my run six mornings a week school is always on my mind. When I was in the classroom I would refine ideas, think about specific kids, what could I do to be better, how could I help a parent in trouble. Now as part of an admin team I focus on what I can do to help teachers along with parents and kids. It is never finished, thoughts are always flying through.
    Thank you for a wonderful post.

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ JoAnn,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I love running before school too – it is a great way to focus on the day ahead (not six mornings a week though, lol).

      It’s great to hear you’re taking your reflective experiences into your admin role.

      I think you’re like me, our brains just never stop!


  11. Thanks for another great post Kathleen!

    I recently reflected through my own blog on Term 1. I found it extremely valuable to be able to reassess both my own and the class’ goals.

    I’d like to sit down and ‘make time’ to formally reflect, rather than thinking at recess or lunch ‘well that was crap’ or ‘that worked so well!’.

    With a 5/6 class I had a couple of years ago, a lot of the students were very poor at using their time effectively, and time management, so I introduced a ‘Reflection Journal’, in which they answered 4 set questions at the end of each session, especially if they weren’t working up to a level 4 standard. I found this worked well for the students, as they had to think about and pin point why they weren’t using their time effectively – which eventuated in the kids becoming more proactive with their learning, and the journals ended up being used less frequently – say at the end of the day or so.

    A goal for Term 2 is to introduce more reflection for the students, something formal, but less involved than the journal, and more than conversation. Any ideas!?


    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Kirby,

      I have just updated my Google Reader. I added your blog and enjoyed reading through your posts. I especially enjoyed the post about QR codes. I want to learn more about that! I think someone was doing a session at ICTEV?

      It is good to make the time to reflect and I enjoyed your reflective post.

      The reflective journal sounds like a good idea – anything that gets the students being more proactive in their learning is great!

      Hmm, ideas for reflection…there are a whole heap of tools you could use like VoiceThread, Wallwisher, blog posts etc. I have just discovered Evernote and I like the way you can record quick snippets of writing, voice or photos. I guess this would be more of a teacher directed thing though. I look forward to hearing about what you come up with!

      Kelly and I would like to introduce a new avenue for reflection too I think as we find traditional “sharetime” just doesn’t seem to hit the stop no matter how we tweak it!

      Thanks for your comment!

  12. A great blog, keep up your great posts.

    I quite agree, both Helen and Chris are inspiring educational leaders!

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      @ Roland, thanks for stopping by!

      Great to be part of your PLN.


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