The Key to Improvement is Reflection

Like all you first-year teachers out there, I am wrapping up my very first school year. I started writing for the Gradeable blog back in September of 2013 and it’s been a whirlwind of researching pedagogy, learning my audience of educators, and keeping on a schedule. More often than not, taking a good, hard look at my work took a backseat to keeping up with a blog. Sometimes, I felt like I was losing the forest for the trees. Perhaps you can relate.

reflection for improvement

The key to improvement is in our backlog

As the school year winds down, I have more time to clean up the blog, assess areas for improvement, and gear up for the next school year—just like you are probably doing before September rolls around.  Some of it is fun—revisiting pieces I forgot about. Some of it makes me cringe—like finding posts without pictures. Most of it is tedious—going back to make sure everything is organized. Although it would be much easier to leave this year behind, charge forward, and focus on next year, improvement starts by making sense of what’s behind us.

So it’s the end of the year. You’re surrounded by extra copies of assignments long past, old projects students never took home, lost homework that suddenly reappeared. If you’re like me, you have an overwhelming urge to file everything in the circular bin and start anew. However, we all know that in that mound of work lies a primary resource for improving your craft. According to educational theorist David Kolb, “reflection plays an important major role in the transformation of experience into knowledge.” [sic] The key to improvement is in our backlog.

To be effective, reflection for improvement must be deliberate. I’m not just rereading my blogs to reminisce about blogging days gone by—I’m analyzing my efforts to see how we can pivot to create better content, to increase reader engagement, and to organize more logically. For example, one thing on my agenda is to comb through all our blog posts to make sure they are labeled consistently. I’m making sure all the exit ticket posts are tagged “exit tickets” and “formative assessment example“. That way, at the end of next year, I can avoid manually re-labeling everything. By looking back on the things I did and adjusting accordingly, I set our team up for success the next time around.

Some questions to ask yourself

Reflection of a school year starts with the syllabus or your lesson plans. Dig up those bad boys (or girls) and match up your original plan with how you executed it. The University of California, Berkeley has some pretty good reflection questions to start with:

  • What worked well in this class, and why? What didn’t, and why?
  • Where did the students seem to have difficulties?
  • Were there any noticeable points where the students seemed very engaged with the material?
  • What types of things may need greater clarification the next time?
  • Were there any particular pedagogical strategies that seemed to work well?
  • What will I change the next time I teach this topic?

Of course reflection is unique to each teacher and each lesson plan, but the idea is the same:  analytical reflection helps us act instead of react. Next time around, what will you do differently based on what you’ve learned?

We’ll be spending our summer months talking about strategies and philosophies around reflection for improvement. Got ideas to share? We’d love to hear them because we’re really excited about this topic so comment below! Wondering how to streamline the reflection process in your classroom? Learn more at

Bonus for the engineers out there: Doesn’t all this feedback talk make you think of control systems and feedback loops! =D

Double bonus for people interested in control systems: “Feedback loops take the system output into consideration, which enables the system to adjust its performance to meet a desired output response.

One thought on “The Key to Improvement is Reflection

  1. Pingback: ProTip Wednesday: 6 Steps to be Productive in Summer Reflection | Higher Order Teaching

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