Last week, I wrote about tips for getting through the long Autumn term without burning yourself out. But, we’re professionals, so it’s not only about survival for us, it’s also about improving, developing and making sure we can always deliver to the best of our abilities. That’s where self-reflection comes in.
My NQT mentor was brilliant at getting me to do it – to reflect on what works, and most importantly what doesn’t. There are always times when a lesson doesn’t go to plan, or the behaviour of the children, or individuals in your class wobbles. It’s normal. It does not mean for one second you’re a bad teacher. In my opinion, what makes a ‘bad teacher’ is not reflecting on what caused the lesson to go wrong, or the behaviour of the children to wobble. We can all blame wet play, a change of routine or even the wind. But, fundamentally we have to take a look in the mirror if we really want to understand and learn from our experiences. But how do we?
I would class myself as a very reflective teacher, thanks mainly to my fabulous NQT mentor, but it is something I have to constantly remind myself to do, and also remind myself why it is important. We do have a pressurised profession. It’s brutal even at times as we try to give the best of ourselves day in day out. Sometimes we need a pat on the back yes, and to try and pass the blame if something doesn’t go as we wanted. However, self-reflection will improve our self-development, and it will because it is something we can control.
I am going to present a few scenarios, some from my own experience, some from other peoples’. I will then try and give a flavour of what effective self-reflection might look like. I would like to add at this point I would love any feedback, or comments on my ideas, for improvements, criticisms or anything. As I said, I’m reflective, which means I’m always open to new ideas and suggestions.
Your maths lesson doesn’t go to plan, most of the children still need a lot of support with the skill you’re learning.
First, was the pitch of the lesson right? Did the children have enough pre-existing skills to allow them to access the lesson? If they didn’t, were they given support to overcome this. An example being: say you’re teaching long multiplication, but have a handful of students with very weak times table skills. Before we blame their lack of table knowledge. Ask yourself, were they given times table squares to help them? After all, the lesson is around long multiplication, not testing their times table knowledge. Did I do enough to support them and allow them to be successful? Yes ‘I’, the reflection is on what you can do as the teacher, not what they should be able to do as the students.
I am also a firm believer in re-teaching lessons. If you don’t feel the students have the skill mastered, first you look at yourself as to why, then you make sure you re-teach it in a way they will allow them all to be more successful. What is the point of pressing on with the lessons in your weekly plan? There will be a hole in their skill set, and you will have to keep plugging away; applying the band aid.
My partner teacher for the last 2 years was amazing, and not once did we ever argue or have a problem if one of us was behind a few lessons in the planning because we knew our children. We reflected as teachers, and we knew what we needed to do to get our students where they needed to be. We might have been out of sync sometimes throughout the year (only a day or 2 at most as our re-teaching was always successful if needed), but by the end of it we had two classes where our children had made excellent progress in both classes. At the end of the day that’s the aim for any teacher with the year group they have.
The children in your class are hard work in the afternoon and you go home asking yourself why
When really your first question should be: What was different about that afternoon? Did you quickly grab them from lunch without lining them up calmly and orderly, thus bringing a frantic atmosphere with you into the classroom. Were the activities you did right for your class? Had you had enough of a lunch break? Or was your mind still on a lesson from this morning?
Look at yourself, and I am sure 9 times out of 10 you’ll find an answer, and it will be something you can act on. For me personally, when I first started teaching I realised I normally owed a ‘hard afternoon’ to not being clear enough in my expectations from the start. If you have to practise coming into the classroom again, taking them outside, re-lining up, then walking in calmly. Then do it. If you’re worrying you won’t have enough time to do all the things you need to do in the afternoon, then just accept they’ll have to wait. It’s more important to remind the students who is the teacher, otherwise you’ll end up having a less productive afternoon anyway, even with the extra time you have.
The writing the children produced is off task and not what you expected
Did you model enough? Did you do shared writing? Did you support the children enough who needed it? Why were the children always asking what to write next? The answer to all of these has to come from you. What could I have done differently? If the children are asking what to write next, then were they given enough stimulus to know what to write next? Were you clear enough in the task? Go back and look at yourself. You have to do it. It’s not you looking at yourself and realising you’re rubbish; it’s going back and realising you could, and will, do something different next time.
Make a note on your plan, in your diary, or wherever about what worked, and what didn’t, or you’ll find yourself in two weeks time in the same situation. It’s ok to have things to improve on, as long as you do work on them. You’re getting to know your class all throughout the year. After 1 term you know them yes, but you don’t know how they’ll change, how you’ll change, even how the school might change. So you have to constantly adapt, not just be satisfied you’ve got everything worked out.
That’s what makes a good teacher I believe. The ability to learn and adapt. Just like your students in a way. But, I strongly, strongly believe it comes from your own self-reflection. It doesn’t have to be a diary, a blog or anything like that. It is merely the ability to look at yourself in the mirror and to say: Why did that happen? What could I have done? Then, most importantly, I am a good teacher, and I am because this is what I am going to do about it.
I plan on being self-reflective for the rest of my career, and know even after 20 years of teaching I will probably still have doubts, and questions about my ability as a teacher. But, what I plan to do is learn from every single experience I have, and to act on it. Yes, there will be self-doubt, but with it always my own self-reflection, in whatever form that takes. I hope reading this might help you do the same.
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