Why Reflect on Your Teaching?

By three methods we may learn wisdom:
First, by reflection, which is noblest;
Second, by imitation, which is easiest;
and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.

How do we know if our teaching methods are resulting in high quality learning opportunities for our students?

Reflecting on your teaching practice is an essential part of your development as a professional instructor. After you’ve carefully planned and implemented your teaching and assessment methods, you might wonder how effective those methods are in their intended purposes. A great place to start is to reflect on your experiences as an instructor and how they have shaped your teaching practice, and thus students’ learning. CTL recommends that you adopt a reflective teaching practice.

What is a Reflective Teaching Practice?

A reflective teaching practice is a purposeful “willingness to engage in constant self-appraisal and development” (Pollard, 2005, p. 13). Brookfield (2017) describes it as a “sustained and intentional process of identifying and checking the accuracy and validity of our teaching assumptions” (p. 3).

To reflect is to learn from one’s own professional experience as a teacher.

Simply thinking about your teaching isn’t the same thing as reflecting on your teaching. Certainly the act of reflection requires thinking, but the crucial point is that a reflective teaching practice is a far more regular and deliberate process than thinking about your teaching from time to time.

The process of reflection involves reviewing, analyzing, and evaluating the situation after a teaching experience or event has occurred (Farrell, 2020; Horton-Deutsch, & Sherwood, 2017).

Why Reflect on Your Teaching?

Brookfield (2017) states that the chief reason for including a reflective teaching practice is “to help us take more informed actions so that when we do something that’s intended to help students learn it actually has that effect” (p. 5). Thus, the greatest benefactor of a reflective teaching practice is the student.

However, there are meaningful benefits of a reflective teaching practice for the instructor as well. Integrating a reflective teaching practice can be personally and professionally fulfilling for instructors. The process of reflection can help accelerate instructors’ professional growth (Russell, 2018; Schön, 1987). Faculty who continuously engage in setting goals, self-monitoring, and self-evaluating develop expertise in teaching, and foster significant change in attitudes and beliefs about teaching (Kreber, 2002; Guskey, 2002; Tanner, 2011).

Moreover, through reflection teachers and instructors might also promote improvements to themselves, their instructional practices, their teaching and learning relationships, and their community.

What are some of the benefits of reflecting on your teaching?

Benefits of Reflection for Instructors

Reflection can help instructors:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety and increase learning, competency, and self-awareness of their own teaching practice (Contreras et al., 2020).
  • Promote development of practical insight and understanding of one’s own emotions and imagination (Bulman & Schultz, 2013).
  • Describe what happened, discuss their feelings, evaluate, and analyze the experience, draw conclusions and develop an action plan if faced with the same situation in the future.
  • Promote fundamental rather than superficial improvements to teaching (Russel, 2018).
  • Develop their metacognition specific to teaching.
  • Make teaching more meaningful and rewarding.
Benefits of Reflection on Instructional Practices

Reflection can:

  • Improve instructors’ self-efficacy as teachers.
  • Make instructors more effective and efficient in planning and designing their courses.
  • Help instructors differentiate useful teaching strategies from those that are not working.
  • Stimulate new insights into instructors’ practices, in their classroom and the program in which they teach (Russell, 2018).
  • Help instructors determine how to better prepare, deliver, and evaluate their students’ learning.
  • Improve the quality, affordability or access of resources available to students
  • Improve instructors’ knowledge and use of an array of instructional approaches and technologies relevant to their subject area.
  • Improve knowledge and use of a multifaceted and aligned approach to assessing student learning.
Benefits of Reflection for Teaching and Learning Relationships

Reflection may also help instructors (Russell, 2018):

  • Develop more successful and satisfying relationships with their students.
  • Improve their interpersonal/ communication skills and their capacity to develop open and trusting relationships with students.
  • Figure out how to earn students’ respect, work with students, and develop a strong rapport with students.
  • Focus much more closely and carefully on what is unique about each individual learning in their classes.
  • Identify and implement alternative, more positive reactions to classroom situations (e.g. students that arrive late).
Benefits of Reflection for Community

Reflection might also help instructors:

  • Better understand the culture of their course, department, faculty, school or university through personal experience (Russell, 2018).
  • Improve their capacity to collaborate with colleagues to promote student learning and success.
  • Connect to a diverse and broad learning community.
  • Gain recognition from peers as a positive champion in teaching and learning.
  • Produce valuable insights about themselves and their own practice (Russell, 2018).

To help integrate a habit of reflective teaching into your practice, CTL has developed the Effective Teaching Framework which will aid you in your efforts. The Framework will provide you with methods to help you identify areas of your teaching practice to reflect and potentially improve on.

Ready to get started? Go to CTL's How to Reflect on Your Teaching page for ideas about how you might reflect on your teaching.

Works Cited

If you are interested in learning more about this subject, you can find these and other resources related to the Effective Teaching Framework in our reading list on our Libraries Reading List Service.

Bulman, C., & Schultz, S. (2013). Reflective practice in nursing, 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley Ltd.

Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher (Second ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Bruno, A., & Dell’Aversana, G. (2017). Reflective practice for psychology students: The use of reflective journal feedback in higher education. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 16(2), 248-260. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1475725716686288 

Contreras, J. A., Edwards‐Maddox, S., Hall, A., & Lee, M. A. (2020). Effects of Reflective Practice on Baccalaureate Nursing Students’ Stress, Anxiety and Competency: An Integrative Review. Worldviews on Evidence‐Based Nursing, 17(3), 239-245. https://doi.org/10.1111/wvn.12438

Farrell, T. S. C. (2020). Professional development through reflective practice for English-medium instruction (EMI) teachers. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 23:3, 277-286, https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2019.1612840

Guskey, T. R. (2002). Professional development and teacher change. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 8(3), 381-391. https://doi.org/10.1080/135406002100000512

Horton-Deutsch, S., & Sherwood, G. (2017). Reflective practice: Transforming education and improving outcomes, 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Sigma Theta Tau International

Kreber, C. (2002). Teaching excellence, teaching expertise, and the scholarship of teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 27(1), 5-23. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1020464222360

Pollard, A. (2005). Reflective teaching (Second ed.). Continuum.

Russell, T. (2018). A teacher educator’s lessons learned from reflective practice. European Journal of Teacher Education, 41:1, 4-14, https://doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2017.1395852

Schön, D. (1987). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Tanner, K. D. (2011). Reconsidering “what works”. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 10(4), 329-333. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.11-09-0085