In teaching, the arrival of the sun signals the turning point in the academic year.
It’s the point where we can start looking back at the school year so far, tracking the overall learning arcs for students, and making changes.
It is time to review, reflect, modify and renew.
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But high-quality reflection can be challenging. We can often be far too self-critical, but we can be excessively charitable, too. We can be blind to our contradictions and inconsistencies.
These inconsistencies may not be in our planning; they may be in the disparities between what we believe as teachers and what we actually do in our classrooms.
Do we have constructivist beliefs about how students learn, for example, but fail to provide pupils with opportunities to explore their own methods of thinking in our lessons?
This kind of consistency is important. We need to identify our beliefs about how students learn and how we should teach our subjects.
This process is critical in order for us to create a learning culture that is consistent with our beliefs.
Exploring our own epistemology can feel like pointless reflection, offering little in the way of outcomes for students.
But without a clear understanding of our beliefs and principles, how can we use them to evaluate our current practices?
One method for carrying out this exploration of our underlying beliefs is self-study. Through this process, teachers begin to articulate aspects of their own professional learning and improve their teaching practice.
It’s more than just armchair reflection, though.
Self-study should involve:
Evidence of modifying your thinking as a result of the evaluation;
Interaction with colleagues, students, literature and your own prior work to examine your understanding;
Use of qualitative and quantitative methods to provide a variety of perspectives to answer your question;
Formalising your findings, making them presentable and sharing them with your professional community.
So how might this look in practice? Self-study can seem quite complex, but a simple way to start is to make time in a department meeting to discuss the following questions:
What is education?
What is the purpose of education?
What is [insert your subject here]?
What is the best way to teach [subject]?
How do students learn in [subject]?
If my experience is anything to go by, none of these questions will be easy to answer, and agreeing on a final statement as a department will take work. And it will likely modify the thinking of everyone in the group.
Then share your ideas. Ask colleagues in different departments, or in the same department in other schools.
Consult literature on the topic. Add more questions. Construct a survey and ask your students.
You will almost certainly find your brain spinning.
But the process will allow you and your department to make decisions from the same philosophical perspective, evaluating your current schemes of work against your principles, and ensuring that you are working together to create a coherent and cohesive learning environment for your students.
Emily Seeber is head of science at Bedales School in Hampshire