The Power of Reflection

Written by: Ben Oberdick

Primary Source: Information Literacy Resources

When I think about self-reflection, and the power and importance it has had in my life, and in my career as a teacher, my thoughts often trail back to a quote I once heard or read from Carl Sandburg, ““It is necessary … for a man to go away by himself … to sit on a rock … and ask, ‘Who am I, where have I been, and where am I going?”

While I don’t believe that you have to go sit on a rock by yourself, or put yourself in Thoreau-like isolation, to engage in reflection, I do think that taking the time to sit quietly, or take a walk, and think about who you are as a teacher (or person), where you’ve been in your career (or life), and where you are going in your career (or life), can be incredibly helpful. I’ve never been a person who kept a journal, or who’s written much outside of school, but as a new teacher I was encouraged to use reflection as a tool for improving in my work, and once I began, I was hooked. It was a great way for me to think and critically reflect on a teaching and learning and I used it to fuel my improvement as a teacher. Immersing myself in the world of reflection also allowed me to discover some new teaching and learning heroes like Stephen Brookfield and Parker Palmer who have stayed with me from my former life as an elementary school teacher to my current life as an Information Literacy Librarian.

One easy way begin reflecting on your teaching (or life) is to use a reflection prompt as a jumping off point. Below, I’ve given some examples of prompts you could use to reflect after you’ve taught a lesson, class, course, etc. as well as some other more general prompts that could be used any time.

Prompts for after some kind of instruction:

1. Was this activity/lesson/class successful….why or why not?
2. If I do it again, what could I do differently to help students learn more?
3. Did this activity help students learn more than others I’ve done? Why?
4. What evidence do I have my students are learning?
5. When did you feel most engaged with your class/students?
6. At what moment in class were you most distanced from what was happening?
7. What actions by either a teacher or student have been the most affirming or helpful?
8. What actions by either a teacher or student have been the most puzzling or confusing?
9. What about the class/lesson/activity surprised you the most? (This could be about your own reactions to what went on, something that someone said, or anything else that occurred).

Other prompts:

1. What have you recently learned about yourself as a teacher?
2. What are your greatest strength(s) as a teacher? (list specific examples)
3. In what areas can I still improve professionally? (list specific examples)
4. How can you best use your strengths as a teacher to maximize the positive impact you have on student learning?
5. Why do you teach the way you do?
6. What should students expect of you as a teacher?
7. How has your thinking about teaching changed over time? Why?
8. What has caused you the most stress this year?
9. What were your biggest organizational challenges this year?

Lovingly written by Benjamin Oberdick

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Benjamin M. Oberdick is an Information Literacy Librarian, responsible for leading information literacy sessions for students taking a First Year Writing class in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures. Prior to beginning at Michigan State in December 2008, Ben worked as a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Mars Hill College (Asheville, NC), an elementary school teacher (Raleigh, NC) and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Slovak Republic.

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