Reflection is a state of mind. It is a state of being that invites contemplation, analysis and speculation. The reflective journal is part of this extraordinarily simple practice. It serves as a means for teachers to candidly share their insights, feelings, emotions, and ideas in a confidential manner. Similar to a diary, it is meant to inspire reflection on events leading to both success and failure in the classroom. Implementing a reflective journal and the reflection process can be very beneficial and assist teachers in numerous significant ways not only in terms of their professional careers, but also in their personal lives.
What Does a Reflective Teaching Journal Look Like?
Personalised and rightly suited to its author, a reflective journal can take many different shapes, sizes and forms. In the context of teaching, teachers may choose a reflective journal in the form of a dialogue journal, daily diary format, personal anecdote or narrative style, or simply a teaching log. Very personal in nature, the reflective journal is a safe haven for teachers to note reflections and assess the overall success (or failure) of teaching methods. Part of a critical analysis process, the reflective journal assists teachers in developing many personal and professional qualities. Much more than simply personal notes on teaching pedagogy, the reflective journal represents an archive of personal experience and an insightful collection of perceptiveness into one’s professional development.
What are Some Benefits of Keeping a Reflective Teaching Journal?
Over time, keeping a reflective journal will help teachers to develop a critical eye for troubleshooting in the classroom. This practise will then benefit and improve the overall teaching experience, which will have a direct impact on the student’s learning experience. This creates a virtuous circle of personal investment, motivation and performance levels for teachers and students alike.
Why should teachers keep a reflective journal? A reflective journal can coach and train teachers to learn so much about themselves and their profession. From personal and professional perspectives, it can help teachers in improving numerous teaching qualities and skills. The reflective journal can assist them in:
- categorizing and prioritizing teaching objectives;
- identifying what (still) needs to be taught;
- evaluating the resources, activities, tasks, projects or teaching aids that were used;
- defining innovative and effective instructional qualities;
- heightening self-confidence as an effective teacher;
- determining strengths and positive attributes;
- identifying weaknesses, problems, and points for improvement;
- developing and improving professional skills;
- outlining and archiving successful ventures (as well as failures);
- recognizing signs of stress, responsibility overload and the potential for burn out;
- understanding, identifying and acknowledging their personal and professional limits;
- incorporating reflective procedural practice during teaching;
- assessing teacher-student and student-student relationships;
- cultivating a philosophy of teaching and learning;
- evaluating decision-making patterns throughout the planning and teaching process;
- fulfilling teaching objectives more accurately and efficiently;
- understanding the complexity of student learning strategies;
- assessing the efficiency of problem-solving methods;
- identifying innovative strategies, approaches, or methods, and
- recognizing that teachers are much more than just teachers.
Reasons Why Teachers Should Keep a Reflective Journal
With many professions, individuals gain experience, learn new skills, and evolve professionally with each day on the job. The vocation of teaching is no different. Whether in-service, novice or seasoned veteran, a dedicated teacher is always looking to improve their daily methods, so that they can better respond to institutional demands and their student’s needs. The reflective journal is a convenient way to do this because in simple terms, it functions as a mirror and archive of your daily professional activity. It can be a real instrument for survival when a teacher is caught in a vicious circle of stress and negativity, brought on by failure in the classroom.
1. Building Understanding and Learning through Notation
The reflective journal is an intuitive way of learning from one’s own personal and professional experience to inform practice. Keeping this type of journal is akin to assigning ones’ inner self an archived and unfiltered voice. It is a safe haven and way to learn about oneself: “the good, the bad, and the ugly”, while documenting one’s state of mind from lesson to lesson and day to day.
Many young or inexperienced teachers are reticent to speak about their classroom issues with colleagues for fear of judgement (Dave, the new math teacher, is so incompetent!) or retribution (You will never believe what Sarah, the French teacher, told me about her class!). It is a way to privately note down issues and problems, while taking the raw emotion (feelings of failure, doubt and fear) and panic out of the equation, in order to find concrete solutions to classroom issues, one logical step at a time.
2. Understanding Learner Development and Monitoring Student Learning Achievements
It is important to understand how learners acquire knowledge in the classroom. Monitoring student learning achievements is not only an individual matter for the simple reason that each student is part of a whole class. Apart from individual assessments and evaluations, have you ever reflected on the class as a whole functioning unit? The reflective journal can allow for this type of observation of and reflection on classroom management and environments.
For instance, perhaps with certain groups of students, it would be more appropriate to not only incorporate group activities and tasks, but also accept that some apprehensive or introverted students work independently and differently from the others. Depending on the age level of the students, the approach to teaching (an unfair double standard to some) may need to be defined and tactfully explained, without insulting or centering out the concerned individuals.
3. Becoming a Reflective Professional
As mentioned earlier (big bullet point list at the beginning of this article), the teacher who keeps a reflective journal will benefit in many different ways. The reflection process is a conscious effort at the early stages, however, over time; this process is rapidly assimilated and becomes second nature (an unconscious, metacognitive skill). The reflective method will assist the teacher to acquire many transversal skills that will provide them the opportunity to work more efficiently in an independent or collegial fashion. These skills are useful and applicable in both professional and personal life.
4. Improving Decision-making
In noting down lessons, personal and student feedback, teachers stand to gain a better understanding of what impact their methods and strategies have on their student’s learning styles. In the long-term and with much experience, the teacher can learn to quickly perceive eventual obstacles or pitfalls associated with a specific teaching method or approach.
As the teacher becomes accustomed to the various student learning strategies and styles, the need for adaptation may be necessary on behalf of both the teacher and student. Depending on the situation, context, students, and resources, the teacher who adheres to the reflective process may demonstrate a very flexible and spontaneous nature, by adapting their pedagogy mid-lesson.
5. Developing Metacognitive Skills
Since reflection is a state of mind, reflection will become second nature for the teacher who adopts a reflective journal process. This process will enhance the teaching experience, since it has the following built in “scientific process”, if you will:
- make an observation (The students are not answering my questions.);
- ask a question (Did everyone understand my question?);
- form an ‘if’ hypothesis, or testable explanation (Perhaps they can’t see or understand my diagram on the board. If I improve the diagram, perhaps this will help.);
- make a prediction based on the hypothesis (I need to use another colour to illustrate.);
- test the prediction (Use another colour and darken the information on the board.);
- repeat: Use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions (They are still not answering – the problem is not my diagram on the board. Perhaps they don’t understand this problem, question, illustration, and example. Let me try that again with another method or example.), and then,
- start the process once again.
Over time and with practise, this process can be used directly in the classroom environment to assess student learning in order to signal the need or opportunity to modify and adapt a teaching situation. It builds transversal metacognitive skills since it requires judgement, critical analysis, brainstorming, and collaboration. And these skills lead to better informed decision-making and self-confidence building.
6. Improving Observational and Critical Analysis Skills
Every day, a reflective journal will offer moments of observation and reflection. This should be done in quiet and calm conditions. That is why it is important for a teacher to note down their thoughts when they are alone, after class, or at the end of the day, when the experience is fresh in their mind and not a distant memory or a memory that has been influenced by another party (a colleague, friend or spouse).
Keep in mind that reflection is an ongoing process to develop critical analysis skills. The recent memories are very useful to troubleshoot or brainstorm solutions in an unbiased and factual manner. Emotion may be integrated as a side note into the reflective journal, but the recent memoires should be based on fact. The recent memories are very unique and different from distant memories that may be deformed with time or by someone else’s opinions.
Consider for instance, a job interview experience. After an interview a candidate will either feel elation (I think I got the job!) or disappointment (That was so humiliating!). In either case, as soon as the experience is shared with someone else, this other person will project their opinions or emotions and sway the candidate’s initial sentiments. This is particularly true when the experience is negative and the other person wishes to console or comfort the distressed candidate. For this reason, a job candidate should note down their feelings right after their interview before speaking to a peer.
7. Enhancing Professional Development
As mentioned earlier, a reflective journal is a part of an ongoing process. This ongoing process will consequently have an impact on metacognitive skills, and also enhance the overall quality of a teacher’s professional development, since reflection and the reflective journal methodology encompass an ingrained quality verification process.
It is important to note here that one of the main underlying objectives of reflection is overall improvement and amelioration. Therefore, reflection methodology represents a fail-safe measure to ensure preventative and precautionary assessments, not only in terms of teaching, and classroom management, but above all in the area of career management, when difficult and stressful situations (vicious circles) may arise. A reflective journal will assist a teacher in defining a plan of action within or outside of the classroom.
8. Analyzing and Reasoning a Dilemma
If there is one area where reflection and the reflective journal can really make a difference, it is in moments of crisis and despair. Taking the time to reflect on issues allows an individual to make better informed decisions. A reflective journal offers a secure, private, and safe space for this. In times of crisis, a reflective journal provides structure and support “to empty one’s sack”, so to speak. This is very precious in diffident moments of uncertainty and isolation.
Like the diary, the reflective journal serves as a psychological release and coping mechanism. By means of reflection, the teacher can better focus on setting goals and recording ideas on the way to achieving these goals. The reflective journal creates a place for the teacher to self-reflect, release information or mental clutter, while boosting short and long-term memory capacity. It also inspires creativity because when your mind is free of worry and stress, you are in a better position to see the problem(s), build new foundations and take steps towards innovative solutions.
9. Encouraging Collaboration and Collegiality
When looking for solutions to a crisis, one need not remain alone and isolated. The reflection process can also be very beneficial when involving a colleague. Today, with technology, the colleague does not necessarily have to be that inquisitive colleague across the hall. It can be an unbiased international colleague in a foreign country, with unique perspectives on teaching the same types of classes and students.
The reflective journal also encourages trouble-shooting and problem-solving through collaboration. Collegiality is sometimes crucial to lesson creation, decision-making and classroom management. What is murky and complex to one person may be simple and obvious for someone who is not directly involved or implicated in the situation. Also, the reflective journal forum was created as a community-driven collaborative means to create synergy amongst novice, seasoned, or veteran professionals, in order to exchange on and address all types of problems, issues, challenges or success and research related to the vast profession of teaching.
10. Analysing Instruction from a Qualitative Perspective
As we have seen, reflection methodology is an on-going process that promotes pro-activity. Personal investment in this methodology can ensure and enhance the overall quality of instruction, since the underlying objective is to examine and control quality teaching methods and classroom management. The reflective journal is the recorded combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. Clearly, it would be impossible to remember and retain the details of every lesson and classroom experience over the course of the school year. The reflective journal can serve as the archive. Highly convenient, it can be utilized to backtrack through the lessons and understand when, how or why an approach or method was a success or a failure.
11. Developing Reflective Inquiry
For novice teachers, keeping a regular reflective journal may seem like a daunting task, one more responsibility amid others at the onset of their careers. However, the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences of this methodology. Furthermore, what may initially appear to be a meticulous recall of short-term memory, will in fact lead to intellectual stimulation and training. In addition, this method yields the development or enhancement of reflective inquiry skills, which are transversal in nature. They can and will be applied elsewhere on a subconscious level (in the classroom, during meetings, and in one’s personal life).
12. Promoting Growth in the Critical Analysis of One’s Teaching
No one is perfect. In life, there is always a margin for error and improvement. This is true in life and in teaching. Depending on the chosen format and form, the reflective journal may reveal that all is perfect in terms of teaching methods and student learning. However, if the format integrates an emotional or professional dimension, a teacher may notice that despite their pedagogic flawlessness, there is a feeling of personal frustration due to the seasonal or yearly tediousness of the profession.
The critical analysis of one’s teaching should (with the right reflective journal format) encourage occasional reflection on personal feelings with regard to the teaching post or the profession as a whole. For this reason, the reflective journal and critical analysis of one’s teaching can promote intellectual and professional growth. Perhaps an occasional change (of classroom level or institution) is needed to refresh and rejuvenate not only the human experience, but also professional dynamics.
13. Promote Teacher Autonomy
For the most part, a reflective journal methodology encourages teachers to become autonomous in critically analysing their teaching methods and finding solutions to their own problems. Nevertheless, even though reflection implicates a conscious, independent effort, a teacher who is caught in a vicious circle for lack of viable solutions, can and should consult with a colleague or superior. If there is apprehension about contacting employees within the same institution, a forum or community of distant and perhaps international individuals may be the most suitable solution for finding unbiased support and guidance.
14. Incites Responsible and Principled Decision-making
As mentioned earlier (see #4), the reflective journal method can assist teachers in making informed and rational decisions. However, the nature of these decisions is not limited to pedagogy and classroom management. With the right format, a reflective journal can readily incorporate a checklist to assist and guide a teacher through a more informed, modern decision-making process that takes into consideration wider global concerns such as moral, ethical, environmental and sociopolitical issues. In this way, teaching will not only educate students and provide them with theoretical or practical knowledge and skills, but also contribute to the overall achievement of our societies. Remember that teaching and education in general, is an investment in our future.
What is a reflective teacher? A reflective teacher is a practitioner who reflects on and analyses the quality of their instruction to assess the overall efficiency of their pedagogy, in terms of institutional demands, student learning acquisition and classroom management
What is the purpose of a reflective journal? A reflective journal is a practical didactic tool which can assist novice, seasoned or veteran teachers in structuring, gathering and examining their feelings about their teaching performance, as well as assessing their overall teaching efficiency through classroom or audience observation and reflection.