Becoming a reflective teacher: the practicalities

Author: Lorna Smith
Published: 05/08/2019

Becoming a reflective practitioner

During your training year, reflecting on the observation and evaluation process can be a useful way to develop professionally. 

Using lesson observations to reflect 

You will probably be given a range of observation forms which will be useful in supporting your reflective practice, one to structure others’ observations of your teaching, and one for you to use as an observer yourself. Both work best when the observation process is built around a specific focus – it’s all too easy to try to see too much.

I think that the most useful forms are the kind that ask for a maximum of three positive comments from the observer, and three targets or points for action arising from the lesson. They start a dialogue. They reflect and shape your learning more effectively than the forms that have a tick-box for each and every Standard that you’ve hit. The least useful, in my view, are those which are modelled on former Ofsted practice, leaving you with an Ofsted 'grade'. You need formative, not summative assessment.

Using evaluations to reflect 

You will probably also complete evaluation forms after your own teaching. I don’t think that at this stage you should be evaluating everything, just for the sake of making a fat portfolio. Choose what to evaluate, and your choices should include lessons that went well – often, surprisingly, neglected by trainees – and also what didn’t work. A well designed form should ask you to consider:

  •     what went well, and why

  •     the evidence that you use to support your comments above

  •     an explanation of why learning outcomes were not, or only partially achieved

  •     an account of the changes you would make if you were to teach a similar lesson again

  •     a reflection on the ways in which your future teaching will change as a result of the evaluation.

If, in your next lesson plan for the same group, you can show that the evaluated lesson has changed your approach, so much the better.

The Five Whys

It is very easy and very tempting to fudge an evaluation. You must be rigorous. There’s a technique used in Total Quality Management that may help. It’s called ‘Root Cause Analysis’ or, more popularly, ‘The Five Whys’. It’s based on the premise that if you ask ‘Why?’ five times in succession, questioning each answer in turn, you will eventually arrive at a useful answer.

For example, take as a starting point a statement like ‘I had more behaviour problems in today’s lesson than usual.’

Why? Perhaps because pupils were not engaged with the material.

Why were pupils not engaged with the material? Maybe because I tried a different approach to planning – not so detailed.

Why did you try a different approach to planning? Because I was short of time, so I borrowed a lesson from my flatmate, who said it would work.

Why were you short of time? Because I didn’t start planning until too late in the evening.

Why did you start planning so late? Because I left it until after I’d come back from going out, instead of doing it beforehand.

And you are left with the root cause. Trying to be reflective won’t work unless you’re prepared to get down to root causes, painful though it may be. Being a reflective teacher means being tough with yourself, acknowledging the truth of what you discover, then acting on it. It quickly becomes a habit, if you apply yourself.

Lorna Smith

Lorna Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bristol and teaches on the PGCE English course.