It all started on August 3rd, 2013. I was 15 and ready to take my first step into teaching – literally. I was standing in front of the classroom, waiting for the coordinator to introduce me to my first group: a class of eight 15-year-old teens. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck, “How can I teach teenagers if I’m one of them? How can I cope with their insecurities while I’m still trying to understand and overcome mine?”, I thought.
Four years later, I was the one introducing a new teacher to a group of students. Being the coordinator at the age of 19 was indeed a dream come true. I was helping all teachers and students, creating new projects, attending workshops that focused on leadership and management, it was great.
But then, my mind was suddenly filled with questions: “Am I inspiring my colleagues? Do I have enough experience? Do I have enough certificates? Am I good enough to be here?” And just like that, after only a few months, I quit.
It was tough. I couldn’t explain my decision, I just knew I needed more time. Time to learn, to become the best for me, for my students and my colleagues. Being the coordinator was the perfect experience, but it wasn’t the right time.
So, I went back to teaching. And I’m going to be completely honest, it was a breath of fresh air.
It was right there that I knew that I was meant to be in the classroom and that I was a better professional than I was when I first started. It might seem obvious, but I was not aware that this had happened through the reflections I had made about my own pedagogical practices throughout the years.
Reflecting upon my practices was something I’ve always done unconsciously. I always tried to understand what went well and what didn’t in each class. I was trying to improve to make my students learn better, so I thought I was doing it the right way. But the moment I started to take more courses and read more books and articles on teaching was when I realized I was dealing with something called: “The Sticker Theory”.
Remember when you were a child, and your mom bought you many notebooks at the beginning of the school year and all you could think was: “Wow, I’m going to save these stickers for when I really need it.”
That was me with my notes, books, videos, and articles. Of course, I was going to review those notes and reflect on my practices based on them. But when? Only God knows.
That’s when I came across Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1988). I would sit down after each class and ask myself the following questions:
- What happened? – DESCRIPTION
- What was I feeling? – FEELINGS
- What was good and bad about the experience? – EVALUATION
- What else could I have done? What sense can I make out of this situation? – ANALYSIS
- What could I do next? – ACTION PLAN
This completely changed my practice. Before that, if something went wrong during a class, I’d simply throw that lesson plan in the trash and never use it again. Now, I reflect on every single moment and identify what went really well and what didn’t, I take notes of my students’ feedback and adapt it to make it a better class the next time.
I still have lesson plans I created seven years ago, which I’ve adapted many times to make them more engaging and relevant to each of my students.
As teachers, we must be able to explore and seek means for constant updating to ensure that their training is continuous and uninterrupted, and this is only possible through constant reflective actions on their pedagogical practices.
According to Garcia (1997, p. 4), this reflective action in teaching practice requires that the teacher is not limited to the investigations presented academically, but must produce practical knowledge, which is validated by the practice itself, based on reflection.
This way, we understand that teacher education goes far beyond what we see and learn in college and that it also happens inherently. Teachers can create autonomy that allows a coherent reflection on their knowledge and the reality in which they find themselves, and how to put these two factors together to improve their performance and enhance students’ experience.
In order to reflect upon our practices intentionally, Stephen Brookfield (1995) suggests we use some sources to make things more meaningful and our practices more effective. He says we can make this reflection through four lenses: our students’ eyes, autobiographies as teachers and learners, colleagues’ experiences, and the literature on teaching and learning. In other words, you can read as much as you want, you can listen to your students, you can learn new things every day, but if you don’t sit down and reflect on the information and adapt it to your own reality as a teacher, all the information is useless.
To be a reflective teacher is indeed a double-edged sword. It’s great to be able to get better after each experience, but taking a moment to think about your mistakes and everything that went bad during a class can be tough.
So my recommendation is that you start this journey of efficient and life-changing reflection upon your practices by asking yourself a few questions:
- What are my beliefs as an educator?
- What is my personal mission?
- What’s special about my teaching?
- What are my weaknesses?
- How do they affect my teaching?
From this, we can affirm that we are moving from a logic that punctuates professional development at a certain time and place, to another that perceives it as a process throughout the educator’s life through reflective practice.
In conclusion, from the moment teachers identify reflection as a fundamental point for expanding knowledge and adapting content for fair learning for all students, they start to see themselves as a constant object of study that can always improve by taking each and every experience into account.
So, cherish each one of your experiences, share them with other teachers, listen to your students, take a break from courses and start spending more time going through everything you read and every piece of information you come across online. This way, you will not be shaping yourself as the best educator in the world, but a better professional than you were yesterday. And that’s the whole point, right?
BROOKFIELD, Stephen. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San-Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1995.
MARCELO GARCIA, C. A formação de professores: novas perspectivas baseadas na investigação sobre o pensamento do professor. In: NÓVOA, A. (Org.). Os professores e a sua formação. 3. ed. Lisboa: Dom Quixote, 1997. p. 51-76.
By Amanda Lambert
Pós-graduada em Psico-pedagogia e Neurociências. Professora de Língua Inglesa há 10 anos, possui certificação TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) pela Bridge Education, experiência em escola de idiomas, aulas particulares e coordenação pedagógica. Atualmente se dedica à criação de cursos para professores, consultoria e coordenação pedagógica, ensino de língua inglesa para turmas regulares e alunos particulares, e produção de conteúdo em redes sociais.