Making Time to Reflect on Your Teaching

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By Sophie Sparrow from University of New Hampshire Law School

Once you have submitted final grades, you may have a few moments to breathe. You may want to jump into tackling all the important work-related projects that have been waiting-scholarship, conference presentations, course preparation, office cleaning-in addition to planning a vacation, filing delayed tax returns, grilling, and gardening.

As you wrap up the semester, we also invite you to make time to reflect. In transitioning from the structure of a teaching schedule to more flexible days some of us immediately want to fill the time with a host of activities. Making the time to reflect-yes, actually scheduling time during the days ahead-can lead to a fuller and richer life as a teacher. Four concrete ways to engage in reflection over the next few months are below.

  1. Write about teaching.Spend as little as ten minutes a week capturing your thoughts about teaching. What new approaches do you want to try next year? What did you learn from grading students’ final assessments this semester? (See Gerry Hess’s May 2010 idea of the month below, on Course Reflection.) You might even want to get a special journal for this purpose. (I love pretty journals, but I have to type because my handwriting is so terrible.)
  2. Read or reread material about teaching.Books, journals, websites, and blogs enrich your thinking about teaching and learning. Several books I’ve recently learned a lot from: Therese Huston, Teaching What You Don’t Know(2009), Barbara E. Walvoord, Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education(2010), and John C. Bean, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (1996). In your teaching journal, jot down the ideas and reactions you might want to try.
  3. Talk to others about teaching.If attending a teaching conference isn’t in the cards this summer, find colleagues at your own or other institutions, and chat with them about teaching. Almost everyone responds favorably to: “I just read your article/book/blog/ course description and was wondering if I might chat with you for a few minutes about it.” Consider what you learn from them about their teaching. What do they want their students to learn? How do they assess them? What is the biggest struggle they have in teaching? Their greatest joy? How do their answers affect your thinking? The first time I taught Torts, others said that the hardest part of the course for students was proximate cause. It was good to know that ahead of time.
  4. Watch others teach.Whether you are enrolled in a course or watching your kids’ soccer lessons, you can learn a lot from observing others teach. What do they do that seems effective? What’s ineffective? Whether you are watching TED conference videos on YouTube (TED conferences showcase new ideas and have an incredible range, e.g. Sugata Mitra’s new experiments in self-teaching), attending a faculty retreat, or listening to directions to the beach, you can learn a lot by paying attention to how engaged you are and reflecting on what makes that happen. Teaching is all around us. Paying attention to it and learning from it are invaluable ways to enrich your own development as a teacher.
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