Making Teacher Reflection Meaningful

  • December 26, 2015

Teacher reflection:  You remember being forced to do it at university and in your teacher certification programs.  You certainly take a moment or two daily, or innately throughout the day, to reflect upon your practice, make adjustments, and better prepare for the next day’s adventure.  But how often do you earnestly sit with focused reflection and clearly prioritize and synthesize your thoughts in writing?  Some of us have integrated it actively into our practice.  Yet many of us struggle to find the time and energy.

But is it worth it?  Consider John Dewey’s famous quote “We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”  This makes a lot of sense.  We as educators can only really progress in our craft by thinking about and making conclusions regarding our day-to-day experiences in the classroom.  And the practice is pedagogically sound for the modern educator, too.  In a recent study, researchers at HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina found that reflecting right after a lesson increases a person’s performance the next time they access the material.  Although most educational research narrows in on “doing” in the classroom, this study is pioneering work around the effects of active reflection.  This work supports Dewey’s assessment of the way our minds process and internalize new information and practices.

Still, between managing data teams, PLCs, staff meetings, lesson planning, lesson revision, grading, RTI practices, professional development, conferences, and the actual time spent in the classroom, it’s no surprise that educators might struggle with the formal practice of written reflection!  Below, Education World has compiled a number of quick and easy strategies and resources to make this invaluable process possible for even the busiest in our business!  

A.  Quick Daily Reflections

It might not seem manageable to write an essay every night between grading and lessons, but that doesn’t mean reflection has to be put on the back-burner.  Below, find a few ways we can make meaningful reflection without making it a time-chomping chore.

Two Column Journaling

Many teachers find the two column notes method to be a painless way for quick reflection.  The general idea in all of these options is that you’re asking yourself “what happened?” and following it up with a more focused “what does this mean?”  This method is built to have you quickly reflecting about the day and adjusting for tomorrow.  The key here is to make it a routine.  Every day during your prep period or right before you leave the school building or right before you start grading before dinner.  Try some of these questions to get your started.

1.  What did you notice about the kids today?

2.  What went well today?

3.  Did students learn today’s objective?

4.  Which students “got it” today?

5.  Why was today’s lesson important?

1.  How will this change your tomorrow?

2.  What would you improve upon next time?

3.  How do you know?

4.  Who are you still worried about?

5.  How will students use this in their lives?

Daily Rating System

This is an even quicker way to make quick daily reflections.  Although it might not be as detailed, it allows for an immediate post-lesson reaction space, and could easily be used live in the classroom.  Rating the day with some quick notes around a number of dimensions is not only more than manageable, but can be interesting data to look at after a week or a particular unit.  How was engagement this unit?  How did my feeling of preparedness affect that engagement?  How do days where I’m struggling with classroom management affect student acquisition of kills and concepts?  What trends am I noticing in my practice?

My General Preparedness

0          1          2          3          4          5          Notes:

Work/Product Quality

0          1          2          3          4          5          Notes:

Student Engagement

0          1          2          3          4          5          Notes:

Skill/Concept Acquisition

0          1          2          3          4          5          Notes:

Classroom Management

0          1          2          3          4          5          Notes:


0          1          2          3          4          5          Notes:

Teacher Mood

0          1          2          3          4          5          Notes:

What’s the day’s takeaway? 

What do you need to remember?




B.  Weekly Reflection Menu

For teachers that can’t imagine yet another task added to their daily routine (which is completely understandable), a weekly reflection might be more manageable.  It might be useful to keep these reflections in a notebook, journal, or digital document that you’re able to access at the end of the week, either Friday before you leave or as a weekend practice.  Setting an alarm on your phone is highly recommended.  The purpose of the “menu” below is to keep you thinking about multiple aspects of your practice.  You might choose to stick with one question for a few weeks, or you might choose to rotate questions to keep it fresh and interesting.  Think about using some of these weekly reflection prompts:

  1.  What choices have I given students this week?
  2. What was tough this week?  What strategies do I have in my toolbox that could help?
  3. What do I need help with?  Where can I seek that help?  What would be my dream professional development?
  4. Are most of my students accessing the material?  How do I know?  How am I differentiating up?  How am I differentiating down?
  5. Does my gradebook reflect what students actually know and can do?  Why or why not?  How do I know this?
  6. In what areas can I still improve professionally?  What’s currently stopping me from improving in these areas?
  7. What am I trying to accomplish with my students this week /this unit / this semester?  What’s the core of my lessons?
  8. What additional assistance, support, and/or resources would have further enhanced this week / unit / semester’s work?  Create an action plan for next week / unit / semester related to these resources.
  9. What was inspiring about this week?  What was so inspiring about it?  How could you bring that energy to your lessons next week?
  10. How much time have I spent with friends, family, and/or pursuing personal interests lately?  How does this relate to my work with students at the school?

C.  Daily Binder Worksheets

Sometimes all we want is something to print out and throw in a binder for our daily or weekly reflection practice.  Below, find links to a handful of “ready-to-go” reflection worksheets and template for printing.  Each elicits a different level of self-reflection and caters to different educator personality types.

1.  An easy and friendly daily 6-question daily reflection sheet from Fairy Dust Teaching.

2.  Two options for reflection journaling from IPPOBUK.

3.  A much larger assessment collection from The Incredible Years, addressing a number of practice concentration areas.

4.  A domain-specific and much more formal self-evaluation tool process from the Idaho State Department of Education.

5.  A simple reflection checklist for English, Math, and Science specifically from Teachnet.

No matter how you decide to format your reflection time, make sure it is consistent, thoughtful, honest, and ultimately geared toward improving your practice and changing tomorrow’s, next week’s, or even next year’s work with students.  Good luck and happy reflecting!  If you have any recommendations for making reflection manageable for the modern educator, leave your thoughts and tips in the comments section!

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