Creating a Self-Reflection Process
At the start of a new course, I used to myself digging through various scraps of paper and digital notebooks to find my reflections from the previous period on what worked, what didn’t, and why. These in-the-moment reflections are critical components to my course design process and my teaching development. And yet, without a great system to capture, process, and use them, I’m often left to piece them together from memory alone.
To help myself organize my reflections, I drafted out what my self-reflection process would look like and created a timeline that would parallel the course. Here’s a snapshot:
Let's talk more about each step in this process:
Step 1: Write goals. In order to organize my self-reflection process, I start by reminding myself about my goals for my course(s). These typically include personal and professional goals, since I view these as intertwined. If goal-setting is not a helpful way for you to organize, you may want to think about this step in terms of defining areas of growth, setting intentions, or visualizing success. Do I want to be more organized about my collection (always!)? Schedule specific times to reflect, write, and check in? Use my reflections to improve a course(s), write an article, or prepare for curriculum review?
Step 2: Define success. As with goal-setting, defining success helps me to structure and organize my reflections. Defining success is really about thinking practically about what I want to accomplish with my self-reflections. Does success look like using the organizational structure I established at the beginning of the term? Does it mean revising a course(s) syllabus? Writing that article I wanted to write? Submitting the course(s) for curriculum review? Defining success helps me with personal accountability--another issue I can struggle with when teaching reflectively.
Step 3: Keep notes. When it comes to self-reflection, it’s critical that we find a way to capture them, yes, but to do so in a way that helps us to actually work with them. When thinking about keeping notes, think first about sustainability: what is the most effective and efficient way for you to keep notes? Next, think about usability: what is the most effective and efficient way for you to use notes? The way I’ve tracked notes really depended on what I was using most at the time. For instance, in one course, I used my instructor’s copy of the course syllabus to track my reflections. This was helpful because my goal was to revise and update the syllabus the next time I taught the course(s). In another semester, I used the notes feature on my phone to dictate my notes because I was going to use my reflections to update the syllabus for curriculum review.
Step 4: Revisit regularly. Setting aside time to reflect on our reflections may seem like a luxury, but it’s one way we can give ourselves time and space to think deeply and critically. Revisiting our reflections means thinking about our goals, our measures of success, and our collection practices.
Step 5: Reflect often. Scheduling time to reflect is critical to a reflective teaching practice. When sitting down to schedule reflection time, consider when you do your best reflective thinking (morning, right after class, after lunch, evening), the amount of time you need to do adequate reflection (a few short sessions, one longer session), and the day of the week where you can make time to reflect.
Step 6: Revise as needed. When we set up our reflection process at the beginning of a course(s), we are doing so as a “best guess” as to what the next weeks or months will look like. Those best guesses give us a helpful starting place, but that doesn’t mean that’s how it will go. As you’re reflecting on your course(s), take time to evaluate the parts of the process that work and revise those that don’t. Most often, I have to revise the ways I’m keeping my notes because the organization system I thought would work best has changed as the course has progressed.
Step 7: Assess results. At the end of the course(s), I schedule time as I’m waiting for final projects to be submitted to review my reflections and assess what I’ve learned. At this point, I think about whether or not an in-the-moment reflection turned out to be correct and/or useful going forward. I also evaluate my process and think of ways I could make it more effective and efficient for the next course(s).
Step 8: Celebrate success. Sure, there are many times where I have fallen short of my process and my goals, but there are always wins that deserve to be celebrated. Sometimes successes come in the shape of “I learned what not to do…” Sometimes successes come in the shape of improving the course, expanding my pedagogy, writing an article, and staying organized. But it always, always ends with celebrations.
Having used this process for several courses, here are a few takeaways I’ve learned:
Let's talk about each of these takeaways:
Write goals that excite, interest, and motivate you. Writing goals is a place where I feel free to express myself. Sometimes I write my goals, sometimes I create a post-it wall of intentions, and sometimes I illustrate them. For me, it’s important that my goals inspire me to keep working at them.
Think continuation--not just expansion. Too often reflection is viewed as a constant treadmill leading to some ideal. And while I love expanding what I do and know, I also love getting deeper and better at what I’m currently doing. So, instead of learning a new tech tool, I’m going to try to use a tool I know more effectively, efficiently, creatively.
Consider available development opportunities. It’s easy for me to be overwhelmed by options and opportunities for my teaching development--I want to try it all! One way to help me pare down my choices is to see what development opportunities are available and interesting and scaffold my goals and reflections around them.
Start with small goals that can expand (or not). Starting small with my goals helps me to focus my reflections and think more deeply about my development. They help to concretize my process and make it manageable. They also help me see (and celebrate!) my progress more clearly.
Creating a self-reflection process that works for you can help you make, track, and use the critical insights you have into your teaching practice.
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