• by Juanita C. García, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • November – December 2012 • Juanita Garcia

Whether teaching is an art or a science, it is no easy task. A good teacher takes you from where you are and stretches your mind, ever onward, to the next step, the next insight, the next glimpse of knowledge. Good teachers reflect and evaluate their own practice, success and misgivings. Critical reflection is a key quality of effective teachers: “The ability to reflect on what, why and how things are done and to adapt and refine practice is essential for successful teaching and learning” (Rayford, 2010).

Think about the best teachers you have had. What did they do? How did they make you feel? What did you learn from them? Teachers can have either a profound positive or adverse impact on students’ lives. The best teachers believe in their students and challenge and inspire them. They free students up to take risks in their learning. They respect and value their students’ backgrounds and strengths, incorporating them daily in profound ways into the classroom. It is up to each individual teacher to become the best teacher he or she can be.

Reflective practice can be a valuable process in teacher professional development. This article reviews the concept and benefits of reflective practice and provides some guiding questions to assist the reflection process for teacher professional growth and lasting school change.

The Reflective Teacher

A common definition of reflection is simply thinking about things. In a professional setting, reflection is deliberate, purposeful and structured. It is linked to theory and practice about learning. Reflection is a conduit for change, and one can realize it in several ways (Fullan, 2005). According to York-Barr, et al., it is only through this practice of reflection that teachers experience growth (2001). Schon (1987) defines reflective practice as a critical process in refining one’s artistry and craft in a specific discipline. He recommends reflective practice for novices to assess alignment of their own individual practice and that of successful practitioners.

Reflective practice is widely used by mentors and coaches as a way of involving teachers who are thoughtfully applying appropriate and applicable knowledge to practice. Smyth (1989) asserted that there are four sequential stages connected to questions that lead teachers to critical reflection: (1) Describing – What do I do; (2) Informing – What does this mean? (3) Confronting – How did I come to be like this? (4) Constructing – How might I do things differently?

The discourse from researchers is that critical reflection can occur individually, in small groups and in large groups and is followed up with thoughtful action that leads to professional growth of teachers and lasting school change.

Why Reflective Practice

Reflective practice occurs at each moment of the teaching and learning experience. It should not be only a one-time scheduled activity at a certain period of the day. Good teachers are continuously reflecting and adjusting the instruction. It is, however, not uncommon for teachers to spend some time after students have left to do deeper reflection of the entire day.

Reflective teachers ask themselves if there is anything they need to change in their teaching practices. They think about their teaching regularly, thoroughly and systematically. In other words, they become reflective practitioners. Reflecting on teaching practice is a way to re-think what and how we taught something, the impact it had on students, and the overall success of the teaching and learning experience. It is a type of self-assessment.

When Should Reflection Occur

It is important to help teachers know what to look for when reflecting on their teaching. It is not a haphazard event. It is a planned event with certain thoughts in mind. This article suggests a more formal designated time for reflection. This can be before, during, or after a lesson or series of activities. The time varies on the different situations. The guiding questions during each stage may assist the reflection process.

Before teaching or planning a lesson, it is important to understand the goals and objectives (especially language objectives for second language learners) and to develop a plan of action. Be clear on what the introductory or engagement part of the lesson will be. Think about students! What learning behaviors are most effective? Decide what works best for them: verbal interaction, hands-on manipulation, drawing, demonstration, working with a partner, etc. What thinking and understanding is expected from the students and what teaching behaviors are necessary?

Anticipate what might happen: how students might respond, how they might participate or not, what misconceptions might occur. Be prepared to react to these situations.

Other key questions include:

  • Did I take the time to prepare my students adequately before exposing them to new sources of information?
  • Did I build background knowledge for understanding the lesson and activate their prior knowledge?
  • Did I stimulate their curiosity to learn?

During teaching the lesson, implement a plan. An effective, reflective teacher does not think of teaching as a script to deliver and is willing to take the time to think about his or her teaching. A skilled teacher thinks about difficulties and areas of concern while teaching.

  • Am I using enough wait time before and after responses to questions?
  • Am I exploring alternative strategies to reach all learners?
  • Am I using various forms of communication (listening, speaking, reading and writing)?
  • Am I modeling and encouraging critical thinking?
  • Are my students talking to each other – agreeing, disagreeing, challenging, etc.?
  • Can my students explain their ideas clearly?
  • Are my students willing to take risks in their learning?

After teaching, look back! Ask questions about the lesson. What worked, what didn’t work, what could be done differently, and what can be done next time?

  • What kinds of questions did I ask: Questions for which I do not know the answers or testing questions to find out what they know?
  • Did I make the most use of the technology available?
  • Did I integrate learning across the curriculum and help my students understand how it can be applied to the real world?
  • Was my classroom arranged to facilitate discussion and maximum interaction?
  • Did I encourage respect for and listening to other students?
  • Did I give my students time to reflect on their experience and identify what they learned, what they liked and what they did not understand?

Final Thoughts

Changes in teaching practice take time. Perhaps one might not need to change everything about their teaching. Some things may be working. Look for the positives and work on the focus of the reflection. The more reflective a teacher becomes, the more aware he or she is of how capable the students are. Teaching can be a rewarding experience from which we learn every day.


Fullan, M. Leadership and Sustainability: System Thinkers in Action (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, Inc., 2005) pp. 1-27.

IDRA. Focusing on Language and Academic Instructional Renewal (FLAIR) Project Training Guide, unpublished (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2001).

Rayford, C.R. “Reflective Practice: The Teacher in the Mirror,” Theses/Dissertations/Professional Papers/Capstones, Paper 5 (Las Vegas, Nev.: University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2010).

Schon, D.A. Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987) pp. 22-79.

Smyth, J. “Developing and Sustaining Critical Reflection in Teacher Education,” Journal of Teacher Education (1989) 40(2), 2-9.

York-Barr, J., & W.A. Sommers, G.S., Ghere, J. Montie. Reflective Practice to Improve Schools: An Action Guide for Educators (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press,Inc., 2001).

Juanita C. García, Ph.D., is  an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org

[©2012, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November-December 2012 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]