Reflection in Teaching
Teachers, it is thought, benefit from the practice of reflection, the conscious act of thinking deeply about and carefully examining the interactions and events within their own classrooms. Educators T. Wildman and J.Niles (1987) describe a scheme for developing reflective practice in experienced teachers. This was justified by the view that reflective practice could help teachers to feel more intellectually involved in their role and work in teaching and enable them to cope with the paucity of scientific fact and the uncertainty of knowledge in the discipline of teaching.
Wildman and Niles were particularly interested in investigating the conditions under which reflection might flourish–a subject on which there is little guidance in the literature. They designed an experimental strategy for a group of teachers in Virginia and worked with 40 practicing teachers over several years. They were concerned that many would be "drawn to these new, refreshing" conceptions of teaching only to find that the void between the abstractions and the realities of teacher reflection is too great to bridge. Reflection on a complex task such as teaching is not easy. The teachers were taken through a program of talking about teaching events, moving on to reflecting about specific issues in a supported, and later an independent, manner.
Wildman and Niles observed that systematic reflection on teaching required a sound ability to understand classroom events in an objective manner. They describe the initial understanding in the teachers with whom they were working as being "utilitarian - and not rich or detailed enough to drive systematic reflection." Teachers rarely have the time or opportunities to view their own or the teaching of others in an objective manner. Further observation revealed the tendency of teachers to evaluate events rather than review the contributory factors in a considered manner by, in effect, standing outside the situation.
Helping this group of teachers to revise their thinking about classroom events became central. This process took time and patience and effective trainers. The researchers estimate that the initial training of the teachers to view events objectively took between 20 and 30 hours, with the same number of hours again being required to practice the skills of reflection.
Wildman and Niles identify three principles that facilitate reflective practice in a teaching situation. The first is support from administrators in an education system, enabling teachers to understand the requirements of reflective practice and how it relates to teaching students. The second is the availability of sufficient time and space. The teachers in the program described how they found it difficult to put aside the immediate demands of others in order to give themselves the time they needed to develop their reflective skills. The third is the development of a collaborative environment with support from other teachers. Support and encouragement were also required to help teachers in the program cope with aspects of their professional life with which they were not comfortable. Wildman and Niles make a summary comment: "Perhaps the most important thing we learned is the idea of the teacher-as-reflective-practitioner will not happen simply because it is a good or even compelling idea."
The work of Wildman and Niles suggests the importance of recognizing some of the difficulties of instituting reflective practice. Others have noted this, making a similar point about the teaching profession`s cultural inhibitions about reflective practice. Zeichner and Liston (1987) point out the inconsistency between the role of the teacher as a (reflective) professional decision maker and the more usual role of the teacher as a technician, putting into practice the ideas of theirs. More basic than the cultural issues is the matter of motivation. Becoming a reflective practitioner requires extra work (Jaworski, 1993) and has only vaguely defined goals with, perhaps, little initially perceivable reward and the threat of vulnerability. Few have directly questioned what might lead a teacher to want to become reflective. Apparently, the most obvious reason for teachers to work toward reflective practice is that teacher educators think it is a good thing. There appear to be many unexplored matters about the motivation to reflect – for example, the value of externally motivated reflection as opposed to that of teachers who might reflect by habit.