Teaching is a dynamic process. Brennen and Noffke (as cited in McKernan, 1997) stated that teaching is not only a knowledge-bounded set of competencies, but it should reflectively supports teacher growth and professionalism through the questioning of policies, problems and the consequences of actions. As a result, an effective teacher should carry out continuous reflective practice to avoid from becoming a routine educator who only rely on current knowledge and experience.
What is reflective practice? Reflective practice is viewed as means by which practitioners can develop a greater level of self-awareness about the nature and impact of their performance, an awareness that creates opportunities for professional growth and development (Osterman & Kottkamp,1993). It is a cyclical process which requires educators, whether pre-service or in-service, to evaluate how their personal belief and attitudes impact their decisions and actions in the classroom. This conscious recall and examination of the experience will be used as a basis for decision making in choosing suitable actions for future lessons.
Reflective practise usually involves three main components, which are problem identification, recollection and analysis of the event, and finally, response to the event. Through this process, educators gain more understanding on their own practical performance. Then, it will encourage them to apply other alternative teaching approaches in the classroom. This continuous self-examination also improve their self-esteem and rekindle their interest in teaching profession. In fact, reflective practice helps educators to perceive their profession as an art which includes creative manipulation of various teaching approaches and methods.
This paper discusses three ways to promote the professional growth of a teacher through reflective practice. These three reflective methods are general writing, peer observation and recording lessons. Then, further discussion on the potential findings from each method are given and supported with appropriate examples. Finally, this paper will suggest suitable actions that can be taken by the educators to improve their professional qualities and skills.
Since teachers are the agents of their own change, they should take proactive steps to start the process of self-evaluation and self-improvement through general writing. It is a type of personal creative writing that encourage the teachers to reflect on a significant experience, connect and think critically about new ideas. Due to its simplicity and effectiveness, general writing is often viewed as an indispensable way in facilitating reflective process in the teaching profession. It provides written records of productive thoughts which serve as useful directions for teachers to clarify their thinking and enable them to take proper actions to improve their future instruction.
As an evidence of reflective thinking, the written account starts with short descriptions of certain significant events written shortly after each lesson. It can be in written or electronic format such as reflective diaries, communal journals, field journals and even blogs. In order to increase its effectiveness, general writing should be done in regular intervals, whether daily, weekly or monthly, to avoid leaving out important observations. Good entries should provide continuous records of classroom activities from various points of view.
According to Hampton (2010), genuinely reflective writing often involves revealing anxieties, errors and weaknesses, as well as strengths and successes. Normally, it is written in certain structured formats. Firstly, it can be written in an essay form. The description of events is written in three parts, which includes a short description of events, interpretation of observations and suggestions for improvement. Secondly, the accounts can be recorded in table form. McKernan (1997) suggested a three by two classification matrix which sets out to describe affect vs objectives, content and teaching method.
Table 1: The diary matrix: affect and processType of affectIntentionsTransactionsOutcomes
Source: McKernan (1997: 85)
A good piece of reflective writing shows evidence of in-depth reflections after the descriptive part. The reflection process can be done personally or as a collaborative effort between the writer and a facilitator, colleague or small groups. By rereading the entries, the rewarding moments where positive developments are achieved can be identified. Besides, these written records will also highlight the problems or constraints faced in the efforts to achieve the intended objective such as unexpected obstacles in the teaching process. Questions can be used as guidance to help focus on significant aspects on the teaching practices. Then, critical analysis has to be done from various perspectives of the events to enable the writer to reach reasonable explanations.
Finally, the writer should consider the suitable actions which can overcome the problems or weaknesses identified earlier. It enables him/her to perform better when facing similar situations in the future. The writer also needs to think about ways to capitalise on his or her own strengths. To further illustrate how reflective writing helps teachers to promote their professional qualities, excerpts from two journal entries of a trainee teacher is given below.
Day 1: Introductions--September 16th, 2008Today, I met . 6thgrade class at Mary Hogan. I was immediately struck by how much older these students seemed. . I have to admit that I was nervous.
Journal #4: Unexpected Challenges--November 4th, 2008. lesson was disturbed by an impromptu fire drill. I think it was very beneficial to experience the unexpected challenges that go along with teaching. .. I think the best way to approach these situations is to be flexible and to understand that no amount of planning can get rid of these things.(Source: https://segue.middlebury.edu/view/html/site/aharris/node/80429)
These two entries contain description of events and feelings during her practical at Mary Hogan. The first entry explains her anxiety in teaching an older group of students. The second entry clearly shows evaluation on a classroom experience and suggestions for future actions. Through reflecting on her experience in Journal 4, she realised that unexpected events are normal in the teaching process. So, she suggested flexibility in executing lessons as a practical solution in handling similar situations.
3.0PEER OBSERVATION As the saying goes two heads are better than one, the power of dialogue is more effective in generating deep and meaningful reflection than solitary efforts which only involve an individual educator. This is the main reason behind the popularity of peer observation in reflective practice. In education, peer observation can be defined as a supportive process in which two or more educators work together around shared observation of teaching. It provides a non-threatening environment to conduct classroom research, develop new insights and share constructive ideas on the classroom issues identified. To maximize the sharing of best teaching practices among colleagues, a minimum of two peer observation sessions per academic year are recommended. Generally, peer observation consists of three main steps, which are pre-observation, the actual observation and a post-observation. During the first step, the inviting teacher and the observer meet in an orientation session a few days before the observation. The discussion focuses on the general details of the session such as date, time, scope and instruments of observation. During the actual observation, the observer carries out the observation during the partners lesson. To ensure unbiased and reliable information, observation instruments such as checklists, rating scales and open-ended narratives can be utilised during the observation process.Finally, the parties involved discuss the findings openly in a face-to-face meeting, preferably within a week of the observation.
Post-observation discussion will be productive only when undertaken in an atmosphere of trust and security, and with a developmental intent (Hitchins and Pashley, as cited in Race, 2009). So, a safe enviroment is needed to encourage the exchange of a rich source of ideas and talents between both parties. It is mutually beneficial for both the observed and observer. Useful findings on various aspects of teachers classroom practices such as questioning techniques, time management, student activities and closure can be obtained through the perspective of the observer. However, to achieve the optimum input from this reflective method, the observed teacher has to be open-minded in accepting both positif feedbacks and constructive criticisms.
Then, the parties work together to brainstorm proper strategies to overcome any weaknesses identified during the observation. Finally, the inviting teacher should try out these new ideas, instructional strategies, or different approaches in the next lesson. This step will ensure that teachers do not only possess relevant discipline specific qualifications or knowledge, but they are also capable of choosing suitable teaching approach to overcome their weaknesses identified earlier.
An example of peer observation programme was implemented in a private university college in Kuala Lumpur from October 2006 to September 2007. The findings from the first round of peer observations highlighted weaknesses such as poor whiteboard management and slides reading and repetitive used of certain words. During the second round of observations which wa