How Practicing Self-Reflection Works for Both Teachers and Students

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Tseng Tzu said, “Every day I examine myself on three counts. In what I have undertaken on another’s behalf, have I failed to do my best? In my dealings with my friends have I failed to be trustworthy in what I say? Have I passed on to others anything that I have not tried out myself? (as cited in Confucius & Waley, 1938).

Self-reflection is an approach that allows you to have an opportunity to examine what you have done and what you can learn from your past. However, it is never an easy thing to do, as we are living in a fast-paced world full of “smart” devices. We may spot our mistakes and want to improve, but soon enough we will leave everything behind and move on to a new project. The problem is that we can never go anywhere without reflection. In this article, I am going to talk about how to take advantage of self-reflection to help us improve from both teacher and student perspectives.

Practice Self-Reflection as a Teacher

The reason I practice self-reflection as a teacher is to help me deal with stress and improve my teaching techniques to better meet students’ needs. If you want to follow my self-reflection steps, here is what you can do:

  1. Have a section in your journal or planner to summarize what you have done that day for your class and students. This part is important. You want to try your best to recall what you have done in order to evaluate your performance on the day while it is still fresh in your mind.
  2. Have a section to think about whether you are happy about how you managed your classroom and helped students. This step helps you separate your thoughts from feelings. When we are afraid to face our feelings, our thoughts would tell us to ignore them. Eventually, it will accumulate to the point that you will experience burnout. It is the accumulated pressure of feelings that causes negative thoughts (Hawkins, 2013). Writing your feelings out, whether they’re good feelings or not, helps you face them, stop overthinking, and take proper actions to deal with them. This is why having a section to physically write down your feelings is a vital part of self-reflection.
  3. Have a section to reflect on what you should have done to achieve better results. After we evaluate our performance and acknowledge our feelings, it’s time to move on and think of solutions in case we run into similar situations in the future. For example, if you are not satisfied with how you handled a student issue, what would you do to achieve a more ideal result next time? The plan you are trying to come up with now will help you better deal with the potential challenges in the future.

Practice Self-Reflection as A Student

A few of my students have tried this strategy and have noticed a huge difference in their language-learning journey. A common problem my students face is being forgetful. The reason is that, as students, they never really look back and think about what we have learned today and how they can learn from their mistakes. You can help your students improve their self-reflection by following a few simple steps:

  1. Have a section in their notebook to summarize what they have learned in the class. Evaluating what they have learned helps them identify whether they understand the content or not. Some students might understand everything in class along with the teacher, but forget it when they are by themselves. Writing down the key points they have learned forces them to really think (maybe with some critical thinking skills) instead of simply repeating what the teacher said in class.
  2. Have a section to reflect on their feelings about the content: whether they’re happy about it or not, and why. This step helps students analyze their feelings about the information they have learned. When they’re happy, it normally means that they have learned and understood the content. Writing these positive feelings down gives them more motivation to be active learners. When they’re not happy, these feelings would remind them that this is something they need to work on. Instead of being afraid to face the unhappiness, they can now take action to improve. This can encourage them to take initiative and ask questions proactively.
  3. Have a section to make it right. For example, if they understand a grammar rule that they previously had issues with, they can write down what ‘made it click’ for them. They can also create some examples to refer to in the future.

Creating a system to practice self-reflection in terms of teaching and learning a language might seem like a lot of work for both you and your students, but people learn better with challenges. If it’s too easy, they learn fast and forget fast as well. Making time for self-reflection can help teachers and students remember the key points from class and highlight where more work is needed. In addition, self-reflection is a way to relieve our stress and to face our mistakes and feelings which leads to taking proper and effective actions to solve problems.

New start, new technique. Let’s start fresh and try it out.

– Confucius C. & Waley A. (1938). The analects of confucius. Random House.
– Hawkins D. R. (2013). Letting go : the pathway of surrender (1st Hay House). Hay House.

Hello, my name is Bei Zhang. I am delighted to be part of the team to share my ideas and experience. I am currently working at Huron University College as an English Language Learning specialist. My job there is to help international students with their academic English language skills. I also teach ESL and LINC at Thames Valley District School Board, and ESL at London Language Institute, a private language school in London. I graduated in 2018 with a master’s degree in Education Studies from Western University, focused on applied linguistics and teacher education. I also have a background in human resources management. I hope that my unique perspective of teaching ESL in different educational systems can benefit the TESL Ontario Blog and our members.


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