The Power of Reflection: Metacognition and Reflective Teaching

reflective-teacherA few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview a superintendent and a school board member for a graduate school assignment. The interview questions were designed by the professor to cause people to really pause and reflect on their current practices related to culture, effectiveness as a leader, communication, roles and responsibilities, and community partnerships. Both people I interviewed commented afterwards that they appreciated the opportunity to be reflective about their practices and the impact of those practices on students, staff, and the community. The superintendent even asked me to send him the questions so he could use them with his building leaders.

Many dictionary definitions refer to reflection as “careful thought or consideration”. The research on reflective thinking includes metacognition or a self-reflection of your own learning process or current practices. Given the work we do, I have asked teachers and leaders to be reflective and metacognitive for years, but am now fully realizing the power of that process. Being reflective and open to feedback, along with using many forms of data, guides the work I do on a daily basis and provides me with opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Starting with Dewey’s work in 1933, there has been a call for teachers to be reflective about their practice and use that information to make positive changes to their practice. In his work, Dewey identified three attributes of a reflective teacher: open-mindedness, accountability, and ability to overcome personal fears in order to critically evaluate their work (wholeheartedness). Dewey’s work connects to the constructivist learning theory of Piaget (1932) and Vygotsky (1982) which also recognized the importance of reflection within our teaching and learning practices, because a learner constructs knowledge through interaction with content and the world around them.  According to Thomas S.C. Farrell in the book Reflective Practice in Action: 80 Reflection Breaks for Busy Teachers, “we do not learn as much from experience as we learn from reflecting on that experience” (2004, p. 7).  Some helpful ideas from the book include:

  • Reflecting during and after lessons
  • Data analysis
  • Teaching journals
  • Peer observations and job-embedded coaching
  • Creating opportunities and guidelines for group reflection
  • Use of Professional Learning Communities or teacher development groups
  • Starting Action Research projects

For group reflection to be successful, there are several items that need to be in place. The first is building a culture in which people feel safe to take risks and be honest. All members need to feel passionate about and connected to their work; value the group approach; and have clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the group. As I consider the implications for our schools along with district and building leaders, it is clear that culture really does matter; effective communication is critical; and leaders should model these reflective behaviors for students and staff. Building and district leaders must create opportunities for real collaboration that include time for data analysis and reflection to improve teaching and learning outcomes. They must also make time for daily classroom observations followed by reflective feedback conversations that include more asking and less telling. Creating opportunities for structured peer observations is another great way to promote reflection and growth among teachers while fostering a culture for learning.

As leaders, we must model and practice the behaviors we want to see in our students and staff. The upcoming holidays are a great time to assess where we have been and where we need to go. Take time to celebrate the hard work and great things you see happening in classrooms while asking the questions that cause analysis of our current data and teaching practices. Create a growth mindset culture driven by “not yet” versus “now”. Make time to reflect.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” — Peter Drucker, author and founder of Drucker Business Institute

Lee Anne Housley

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