Think back on the past week of your life. What went well? What didn’t? If you could go back in time, are there things you would change to avoid making certain mistakes? What actions would you repeat to experience the same successes or moments of joy?
It might seem silly, but this act of thinking back on past experiences to learn from them and make better decisions in the future is a process called “reflective action.” And for early childhood educators, continually engaging in reflective action can have a profound impact, both on how you teach and how your children learn.
What is reflective practice?
Reflective practice is the ability to reflect on one’s actions to engage in a process of continuous learning. For educators, this means reviewing lessons and identifying ways in which those lessons were, or were not, successful. Ultimately, this process can help ensure that all children are learning as effectively as possible.
There are four steps to the reflective cycle:
It might seem obvious, but executing your lesson plans is the most important part of the reflective cycle. These experiences and their outcomes will set a baseline for you to reflect upon and help you identify areas where you can improve.
The key to self-assessment is to understand the effect your teaching has had on your children’s learning. It’s not a matter of if the lesson is “good” or “bad.” Instead, it’s about identifying which aspects of the lesson you can improve to meet your children’s current learning needs.
Considering new methods
Should children get more hands-on experience with the current material? Should you incorporate more play into your teaching? Are there ways to enhance the learning environment to make the lessons more impactful? Consider all possibilities, and don’t be afraid to try something new if you think it will improve the quality of your teaching.
Putting ideas into practice
Once you’ve identified new methods, you can start to incorporate them into your lesson plans. Remember, reflective practice is a cycle, and any new ideas you use in your teaching can be reviewed and improved upon later. It’s about continuously trying new things and learning what works best for young children.
The importance of reflection in teaching
The world of education is constantly evolving, and educators must continually improve or revise their teaching practices to meet the increasingly diverse needs of their children. In other words, reflective practice helps to ensure that all children learn most effectively, as teaching is tailored to their learning needs. But educators and children can also benefit from reflection in a number of other ways.
Promotes professional growth
Studies show that engaging in reflective practice can help educators better understand their own personal strengths and weaknesses. By identifying goals and noting the results of lessons, you can find new ways to adjust your teaching methods, modify routines, and improve strategies when addressing your children.
Reflective practice and innovation go hand-in-hand. By taking the time to review your teaching methods and children’s engagement with the lessons, you can find new and creative ways to address challenges. Consider incorporating more play, taking the learning outside, or finding ways for children to have more hands-on experiences.
Cultivates better teacher-child relationships
Reflective teaching practices give educators the opportunity to consider the unique learning needs of every child they teach. Incorporating more individualized learning techniques into your lessons can help children better understand the material and help you foster better communication with them.
Learning to solve problems and meet challenges effectively and efficiently is incredibly important in the classroom. Reflective practice gives educators the time to identify solutions for the challenges they are facing. For instance, a teacher can use previous teaching experience (their own or those borrowed from a colleague) to find new ways to motivate children who face learning problems. By drawing on knowledge and past experiences, you can become more resourceful and confident when faced with new challenges.
Reflective practice examples
While the benefits of reflective practice seem too good to pass up, for busy educators, finding time to sit and reflect after a long day might seem impossible. Fortunately, reflection doesn’t require a lengthy meditation period—in fact, it doesn’t even have to be done alone. Try these helpful techniques when you want to reflect on your lessons.
Start a journal
Maintaining an ongoing journal of your teaching techniques and outcomes is the simplest way to reflect on your lessons. This doesn’t mean you have to spend an hour a day writing. Just five minutes a day, or a few times a week, will help you think back on your time spent teaching and answer questions like:
- “What went well?”
- “What could I have done differently?”
- “What should I try next time?”
Record your lessons
Use your phone (while keeping it out of sight) to record your lessons. This can be a video of the entire class or just audio of your instruction. Recording your lessons can allow you to fully reflect on all aspects of your teaching, from gauging the clarity of your instructions to identifying which children are engaging the most or least.
Reflect in the moment
Another simple and quick way to use technology to your advantage is by leaving yourself real-time feedback on your phone or tablet. This can be a voice memo or a few lines written in your Notes app. Recording quick summaries of your lessons in real-time ensures that you don’t forget any important aspects of the lessons and that you can more accurately assess what went well and what didn’t.
Ask for suggestions
Reflective practice doesn’t always have to be done alone. Talk to other educators about their experiences and ways they’ve improved their own lessons. Getting advice from colleagues can help you reflect more objectively and spot areas of improvement you might not notice on your own.
Observe your peers
If you have the time to sit in on your fellow educators’ lessons, observing their methods can give you insight into the strengths and areas of improvement of your own teaching strategies. The goal here is not to identify what they are doing wrong but rather to create open communication and professional development among you and your peers.
Incorporate learnings from your reflective practice into your daily lesson plans. Download our free daily lesson plan template and customize it to suit your teaching style and children's needs.
How to become a more reflective teacher
There is no such thing as the perfect teacher. Educators are always growing and evolving as children’s needs change. Reflection is a critical part of your professional development as a teacher because it allows you to put yourself inside the learning experience and better identify areas where you can grow. But it’s not always easy.
Being objective with yourself (or having others be objective for you) takes time and doesn’t always lead to positive findings. But putting in the time to be reflective gives you the opportunity to make sense of the learning happening in your classroom. To ensure that your reflection is beneficial, consider a few simple rules:
- Be honest with yourself
- Be open to new ideas and methods
- Reflect on all aspects of your teaching
- Avoid giving yourself unnecessary restrictions on areas to review
- Don’t just reflect—put your ideas into action
- Keep the needs of your children at the forefront of your reflection
- Don’t just focus on the negative; give yourself credit for the things you are doing right too
The bottom line
Reflective practice is a key part of teaching and learning. And it doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming. Develop reflective habits that work best for you, whether it’s jotting down notes in a journal or watching your lessons on video. By staying consistent, you’ll ensure that your lessons are timely, engaging, and effective for your children.