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The Five-Minute Daily Reflection

Does anyone really have time to reflect? Between grading, planning, supervision responsibilities, faculty meetings, conversations with parents, coaching duties, club-sponsorships, and (not-to-mention) the many hours dedicated to teaching classes, teachers just don’t have enough time in their day.

Reflection may seem like an unrealistic luxury for teachers who are trying to manage the myriad of daily responsibilities their job entails.

Bring Order to Chaos

And yet (AND YET!), regular reflection is vitally important for teachers, as we seek to more fully master our craft and support our students. While I cannot speak for everyone, I can attest to my own struggle to make time for reflection as a new teacher. I used to spend my drive home blasting nostalgic indie-rock music as the events of the school day scrolled automatically through my overextended mind. It was as if my brain had prepared a YouTube playlist of all the highlights and lowlights from the previous ten hours. But there was no pause button and no way to exit the app. So, I would recount my apparent triumphs and failures on a daily basis, but with no discernible method. Within this mindset, anxiety abounded, while practical strategies for improvement were scarce.

Until…

I developed a method for harnessing the chaos of my daily recap, deliberately repurposing my thoughts for constructive reflection. For me, this method became the “five-minute daily reflection.” It’s simple; it consumes very little time; and, for me, it works. I could tell a difference in the quality of my lessons, assessments, and feedback within a couple of weeks. You can find the template here.

Since this entry is all about *saving* teachers’ time I won’t go into detail trying to explain a self-explanatory reflection template. Instead, a better use of space would be to walk you (our dear reader) through an example that proved pivotal in my own practice from a few years back, and then show how I might quickly fill in the template. This one still burns fresh in my mind.

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Phase #1: Critique

There will be days when nothing seems to go well and you feel like you’d like to have a “do-over” on all of it. However, I’ve never found it particularly helpful to critique everything about my performance. Attempting to diagnose and troubleshoot every single misstep can complicate the reflection process and impede your progress. Instead, I prefer to zero-in on one aspect of the day that did not go as I had hoped. This phase is the critique.

One cloudy September day, U.S. History class did not begin in the manner in which I had envisioned. While I was setting up and taking attendance, students were unruly and not-at-all exhibiting the qualities of engaged student-leaders. They meant no harm, but, to put it bluntly, they were checked-out. One student dribbled a soccer ball to the front of the room and exclaimed, “you can’t stop the striker, Mr. P!!!”

I’m proud to say I did indeed stop the striker. I made an epic play on the ball, scooped it up, and locked it away in a cabinet. Then I sternly, but calmly, demanded order and announced that we would be learning for the rest of the period. I am a fairly easy-going person, so the severity in my voice startled the class into compliance. But, at what cost? I was bothered by the fact that I had to resort to manipulating the environment rather than fostering a calming atmosphere that encouraged engagement. The first ten minutes of the class had been completely wasted because I did not adequately set structured conditions for success.

Phase #2: Affirm

Reflection constitutes more than simply self-diagnosing mistakes. If that were all it entailed, it would be a very depressing process. There is usually a “win,” or something positive, to build on for each day. Even after that disaster of an opening for U.S. History, there were still moments where my lesson “clicked” and the students were plugged in. Positives abound if you know how to identify them. In addition to showcasing my superb goalkeeping skills, I also managed to salvage the next phase of that class. Students analyzed primary sources in groups, and then used the sources to write a thesis statement in response to a historical question. That was a productive use of time! Perhaps I could continue to incorporate skill-building sessions such as those moving forward.

Phase #3: Connect

Finally, I’ve found it helpful to look for patterns in my own successes and failures. Making connections can allow teachers to identify what types of problems they are repeatedly dealing with and get to the root of what ails them. Likewise, moments of success viewed as a series of events can help us see what our natural strengths really are. Over time, I noticed that the pandemonium/soccer ball incident was part of a larger pattern of structural deficiencies in my lessons. We all learn the importance of readiness, purpose, and clear objectives in our first education classes in college, so I thought (for sure) that I had mastered these concepts. However, my perception did not match reality. While I knew on a cognitive level that students need a clear sense of purpose and a definitive understanding of the day’s objectives, I was not actually setting conditions for this type of success consistently. Before long, I learned to dedicate extra time and attention in my lesson planning to making absolutely sure that students were ready for the day. This revelation improved my effectiveness as an educator exponentially.

Phase #1: Critique

1. A moment I’d like to have back was:

2. What went wrong?

3. How can I use this moment to improve?

Phase #2: Affirm

1. A moment I’m proud of was:

2. Why did it go well?

3. How can I repeat this success next week? 

Phase #3: Connect

1. Patterns and connections to previous reflections?

2. Miscellaneous Notes:

The Challenge:

We don’t have to spend hours of our weeks writing extended teaching reflections. However, reflection is an incredibly important tool for our continued development as professionals. Furthermore, it helps us serve our students to the best of our abilities. 

Five minutes of reflection per day can be an absolute game-changer. So, we encourage you to try our method and see how it works for you!

 

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