Reflection to refine our teaching is the gateway to action elements of excellence, says Fabian Darku.

The impacts of ‘failure’ on educators

When a lesson does not go to plan, we as educators can sometimes resemble melancholy figures. It can adversely affect us when we have endeavoured to deliver our best, but our plans have somehow drifted wayward.

Worse still, a perennial problem is exposed when we compute the countless numbers of teachers exiting the profession, troubled as they reflect and question their ability to continue. This is not exclusive to Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) and Early Career Teachers (ECTs). Most of us have been in this dark place, with many still suffering from poor mental health due to continual feelings of self-doubt. Many admit to resilience levels being tested like never before, exemplified further by the instability created throughout the global pandemic.

Being a teacher myself, I fully identify with the negative outcomes that can emerge from lessons and know that we often mask our true feelings in the haze created by the busyness in a teaching day. A façade to present ourselves as resolute ‘role models’ to our learners and
colleagues can also conceal our emotions and can be fraught with consequential mental health effects.

The unexpected emergence of what is described as ‘learned-helplessness’ 1 can become a reality for educators undergoing long-term apathy and a lack of motivation to construct solutions to challenges arising from their lessons.

The beginning of ‘R.A.T.E.’ reflection

The overarching goal of R.A.T.E. reflection was to create an easily remembered, user-friendly model that could help educators identify advancements required in lessons. It was not intended as a tool to punish the failings of any educator. It was created primarily as a means of self-assessment, to encourage a drive towards productively reflecting on lessons, where adjustments are embraced as a learning process. I too, was a disillusioned educator, astounded that my creativity had become overshadowed by administrative tasks. I was seeking to create a tool that could simplify my teaching and I hoped others would also benefit from it. A process was born, bearing similarities to confiding in a colleague or coach about lesson dilemmas.

What does ‘R.A.T.E.’ reflection represent?

There are four easy-to-remember elements that can help us become better educators:
R – Reflect and review (teaching practice).
A – Achievement awareness (in the lesson).
T – Target-setting tips (for future lessons).
E – Enforce and evaluate enhancements (apply and evaluate targets).

By using a ‘What can we do differently?’ phrase, we can aim to increase connectivity with our learners on both a subject and personal level.

DelibeRATE reflection

Reflection in my opinion, works best when we pause to think deeply about lesson occurrences and how teaching delivery may affect our learners and our own psyche. Reflection is particularly effective when positioned as a delibeRATE facet of our consciousness and used regularly to inform our pre-lesson planning and post-lesson evaluations.

When we act upon these reflections, we exhibit a ‘growth mind-set’ 2, clearly emphasising that we are willing to continually change our approaches to teach for our own personal development, with our learners reaping the rewards. Placing potential improvements under the spotlight and creating viable solutions is a sure-fire way to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Where constructive actions are taking place, learners have more positive experiences of the classroom environment

Resilience and motivation

Any educator can consider using R.A.T.E. as a thought process, to make rapid improvements to create ‘best-fit’ teaching practice. The desire to reflect, raise solutions and bounce back, requires a two-pronged attack of resilience with motivation. These are aspects required in abundance for future classes to satisfy the varying degree of learning needs. 

We must accept that any ineffective ideas can be easily dragged to the ‘Recycle bin’. It does not mean these have completely failed, but can later be restored, as they may well work for another group. We can then have the ability to coach ourselves into being the best educators we can be.

Why reflection raises learner-retention

Our learners are our unofficial judges. We are cast in the role of ‘problem solver’ and we are expected to have the answers to make their learning experience its best one. Due to extreme tiredness, educators can all fall short in their lessons at some point. What we want to do does not always align with what we can do in reality. Learners can then become despondent and detached and lack the motivation to learn and progress. If we allow abject negativity to take hold of our experience of teaching, the drive to make positive improvements becomes clouded by feelings of being powerless to overcome such obstacles.

Sometimes a week or two can see noticeable shifts with individuals or groups take place. If we as educators are willing to make tweaks to our practice, we can rejuvenate our learners at a time when it is needed the most!

Reflection must not be used as a weapon to place educators who may be experiencing ‘successes’ with a group of learners, on a pedestal. The unpopular saying of “they behave for me” can now be dissected as we consider that each educator has varying challenges that contribute to learners’ engagement.

The results of R.A.T.E. reflection

Reflection must have its own space where ideas can be developed in a non-judgemental light. There should be a drive towards coaching over the capability to develop the use of teaching tools. In attending to our inner consciousness, we can remind ourselves that ‘failure’ in teaching is commonplace. We must normalise the concept of lessons ‘going wrong’.

We may benefit from using a regular strategy to help us get back on track when we feel we have not exhibited our best teaching. It is hoped that R.A.T.E reflection serves its intended purpose as a user-friendly tool for educators to apply changes to practice with ease. Responsive reflection is required with urgency, as learners cope with the damaging effects of a global pandemic. They are searching to find themselves and establish some kind of normality and consistency. It is perhaps unrealistic to have reflection mandated as a compulsory component of teacher development, but is worth considering as one to enhance our teaching practice.

Reflecting to refine our teaching is the gateway to action elements of excellence!

References

  1. Peterson, S 2001, Learned Helplessness, Science Direct, Viewed 1st December 2021, [https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/learned-helplessness]
  2. Dweck, C 2007, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Ballantine Books, New York.

Author

  • Fabian Darku

    Fabian is a teacher, teacher-trainer and teaching and learning leader. He has worked in secondary and FE establishments since 2008. He has Master’s Degrees in teaching and learning and sport and culture. With 5 years’ experience in retail management prior to teaching, Fabian has the proven adaptability and desire to make a positive impact to teaching practice through reflective methods.
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