How to Make Reflective Practice a Daily Practice

Take a look at the habits of any professional athletes, and they likely spend time engaging in Donald Schon’s reflection-on-action. Reviewing game tape, once they’re outside of the context of the game, is how athletes are able to make evidence-based adjustments to their games. For educators, reflective practice is how we improve our craft and better serve our students. By reexamining what occurred inside the classroom once we’re outside of it, our teaching acquires an element of intentionality and purposefulness.

We all know we should be engaging in some kind of reflection after a lesson (after all, we ask our students to do it to reap the benefits of deeper learning), yet reflective practices is one of the first things that falls by the wayside when we get busy. Aside from the confines of teacher evaluations, it’s difficult to make time for a full-blown reflective practice.

But reflective practice doesn’t have to be an onerous, all-encompassing task. It’s actually more meaningful when it occurs in frequent, quick bursts.

Four Time-Saving Strategies for Reflective Practice

1. Reflective Conversation

In my first year of teaching, I had to attend a check-in with my department chair on Fridays to reflect on the week. By the time I got to that meeting, I had forgotten a majority of the things that had happened earlier in the week that I wanted to talk about. I felt like that student who gets her essay back a month after turning it in.

Grant Wiggins talks about how feedback needs to be timely, actionable, and ongoing. Enter reflective conversation, the water cooler talk for teachers. These quick, informal moments where you ask a colleague, “Hey, how do you structure town hall meetings?” or, “I asked students to come up with a creative project, but they all made Kahoots. What would you do differently?” can go a long way in improving your practice. The best part is that you can sneak these moments in as you’re walking to a meeting or refilling your cup of coffee.

Engaging in this kind of conversation made a huge difference in my own career. At my most recent teaching job, we had a two-week turnaround time for assessing essays, and my stack would pretty much sit on my desk for 10 days before I could dive in. All it took was asking a colleague how he broke up his essay pile (six essays at a time), and I landed upon my own method: The Rule of Four. Next time you’re chatting with a colleague, make a point of asking one reflective question.

2. Formative Feedback from Students

Why do we only ask for feedback from our students at the end of a course? We often ask students to reflect on their understanding of content, but how often do we ask for feedback on our teaching methods when we have the opportunity to make adjustments during the course?

I created a simple Google Form to collect and collate reflections and feedback from my students. It’s instant feedback in short answer form. You could expand on this practice by creating a rating scale and using the technology to visualize quantitative data in digestible chart form. By asking for reflection throughout a learning experience rather than only at the end, you can accumulate, analyze, and synthesize data to find themes and patterns to adjust to.

3. "Gut-level" Teacher Reflection

Jennifer Gonzalez of The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast came up with a framework for 5 questions to help teachers listen to their guts about their practice:

  1. What parts of the classroom space make you feel tense, anxious, or exhausted? What parts make you feel calm, happy, or proud?
  2. What parts of your planbook give you a lift? What parts irritate you?
  3. Which names on your student roster make you feel proud? Which names make your chest tighten?
  4. Which coworkers give you a positive feeling, which a neutral feeling, and which a negative feeling?
  5. Which professional buzzwords (ex. project-based learning) give you positive, negative, or mixed feelings?

The key is to hone in on the parts of your practice that aren’t quite sitting right with you. Gonzalez has created a free worksheet for these questions, but you can just as easily think through these questions on your commute.

4. Reflective Annotations

As a teacher, I used Google Docs extensively, from giving students feedback on their essays to creating a curated lists of resources for my students. I also used Google Docs for my unit plans, lesson plans, calendars, and handouts. I would frequently use the comment and suggesting functions on my handouts and calendars to type in a few quick notes. Maybe I had timed a project so that it straddled a vacation and the results were disastrous. Maybe a lot of students misunderstood one of the components of an assignment. Maybe a lot of students wrote on the same topic. Noting these insights when they happened saved me a lot of time when planning the following year and made me more responsive to what was going on in the classroom.

Today, I still do a review of my professional “game tape” every day and keep a running list of notes on my phone. I might not always be able to make adjustments immediately, but I can at the very least focus on what needs improvement and leave well enough alone.

Have any quick reflective practices that you swear by? Share them with us on Twitter or email

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