“All teachers are reflective” is a phrase that I have heard a few times recently when discussing the importance or reflection as part of the school improvement process. When digging deeper into what is meant by this, I have found that in some cases there is a lack of understanding as to what it really means to be a reflective educator. Too often, when we think about being a reflective practioner, the reflection process is limited to evaluation; what went well and what did not. In some instances, reflection may include what might I do differently next time.

Being reflective is much more than that. Firstly, reflection must involve action. True reflection in education cannot happen without the the thoughts of what might be done differently next time actually translating into planning for action and taking action. There is no point saying that all teachers are reflective if there are lots of thoughts but no action. How does that really improve student learning?

Secondly, reflective teachers are inquirers; they use processes of inquiry to undertake reflection that leads to student growth and school improvement. Consider the inquiry cycle from Kath Murdoch below, as a process of reflection:

Inquiry Cycle for Reflection

There is a structured process to the reflection. Quality reflection takes time in order for us to take the best possible action:

  • We spend time tuning in to the evidence that we already have about what it is is not going right and we wish to improve.
  • We spend time finding out more, particularly if our knowledge, understanding and skills in this area of teaching and learning need to be furthered.
  • We may sort out the ideas / ways for possible action, by prioritising them or determining one improvement for the time being (a marginal gains approach).
  • We may spend more time digging deeper into the specific area for improvement.
  • We may then draw conclusions about what we have to do; we now know why we have to make changes, what we are going to do to improve student learning and how we will go about doing it.
  • Finally, we take action, we put our reflection into practice and as we do so we begin to reflect again – we are constantly seeking to get better at what we do for students.

Finally, you may be thinking that this is very similar to what is done in highly functioning professional learning communities; it, indeed is. Collaboration is an important part of being a reflective teacher. Reflecting on your own can have its limitations in terms of having other people to bounce ideas of, having other people to challenge each others viewpoints, having other people to give us the necessary feedback to critically reflect and, most importantly, other people to share our journey with.

An important part of being a reflective teacher is how we use available evidence to support an inquiry process that enables us to take action and also how having a professional learning network (PLN) is vital to providing us with sources of information that can be utilized and worked with to support improvement in student learning. Sometimes, a PLN may just be there to affirm our beliefs and current thinking in that aspects of our work are going very well after all. We must not forget that reflection should also be about celebrating and upholding what teachers are doing well in schools.