The Importance of Teacher Reflection

Growing in the Teaching Profession Through Reflection

When teachers reflect on teaching is more important than how they reflect. Tara Moore/Taxi/Getty Images

While there is agreement among education researchers that reflective teachers are effective teachers, there very little evidence in recent research to recommend just how much reflection teachers need to do. There is also very little evidence in past research that outlines just how a teacher should reflect on his or her practice. Yet there is undisputed evidence that suggests that teaching without reflection can lead to bad practice, imitation in instruction Lortie (1975).

So how important is the use of reflection to a teacher's practice?

The research suggests that the amount of reflection or how that reflection is recorded is not nearly as important as when the teacher has had the opportunity to reflect on his or her teaching. Teachers who wait to reflect may not be as accurate in their reflections about what happens during the "swampy lowlands of practice." In other words, if a teacher's reflection is distanced by time, that reflection may revise the past to fit a present belief.


In an article titled "Teacher Reflection In a Hall of Mirrors: Historical Influences and Political Reverberations" (2003), the researcher Lynn Fendler makes the case that teachers are already reflective by nature as they continuously make adjustments in instruction.

 "...the laborious attempts to facilitate reflective practices for teachers fly in the face of the truism expressed in the epigraph of this article, namely, that there is no such thing as an unreflective teacher."

Teachers spend so much time preparing for and delivering lessons, that it is easy to see why they often do not spend their valuable time to record their reflections on lessons in journals unless required. Instead, most teachers reflect-in-action, a term suggested by researcher Donald Schon  (1987). This kind of reflection-in-action is the kind of reflection that occurs in the classroom in order to produce a necessary change at that moment.

This form of reflection-in-action is slightly different than reflection-on-action. In reflection-on-action,  the teacher considers past actions relative soon after instruction in order to be ready for an adjustment in a similar situation. 

So, while reflection cannot be packaged as prescribed practice, there is a general understanding that teacher reflection-in-action or on-action results in effective teaching. 

Methods of Teacher Reflection

Despite the lack of concrete evidence supporting reflection as an effective practice and the lack of available time, a teacher's reflection is required by many school districts as part of the teacher evaluation program.

There are many different ways that teachers can include reflection as part of their own path towards professional development and to satisfy evaluation programs.

A daily reflection is when teachers take a few moments at the end of the day to debrief on the day's events. Typically, this should not take more than a few moments. When reflection is done over a period of time, the information can be illuminating. Some teachers keep a daily journal while others simply jot down notes about issues that they had in class. Consider asking, "What worked in this lesson? How do I know it worked?"

At the end of a teaching unit, once assessments have all been graded, a teacher may want to take some time to reflect on the unit as a whole. Answering questions can help guide teachers as they decide what they want to keep and what they want to change the next time they teach the same unit.

For example,

  • "Overall which lessons worked and which didn't?"
  • "With which skills did students struggle the most? Why?"
  • "Which learning objectives seemed the easiest for students? What made those work better?"
  • "Were the end results of the unit what I had expected and hoped for? Why or why not?"

At the end of a semester or school year, a teacher may look back over the students' grades in order to try and make an overall judgment about the practices and strategies that are positive as well as areas that need improvement.

What To Do With Reflections

Reflecting on what went right and wrong with lessons and classroom situations is one thing. However, figuring out what to do with that information is quite another. Time spent in reflection can help ensure that this information can be used to produce real change for growth to occur. 

There are several ways teachers can use the information they learned about themselves through reflection:

  • Teachers can reflect on their successes and find reasons to celebrate. They may use their reflections to recommend the actions that lead to success for students in next year's lessons.
  • Teachers can individually or collectively reflect on areas that need improvement and look for areas where lessons did not have the desired academic impact.
  • Teachers can reflect on any housekeeping issues that arose or areas where classroom management needed some work. 

Reflection is an ongoing process and someday, the evidence may provide more specific guidelines for teachers. Reflection as a practice in education is evolving, and so are teachers.