Sunday, April 08, 2012

encouraging better practice in teaching

practising teachers should be encouraged to use reflective journal writing as part of their daily professional teaching experience. Nooreiny Maarof, “Telling his or her story through reflective journals,” International Education Journal, 2007, 8(1), 205-220.

My brother from New Zealand is staying for the weekend. A trained high school teacher, with a deep passion for education, and a particular focus on outdoor education and life skills, I always enjoy hearing what he’s thinking and wrestling with.

Today, we discussed the place of student feedback. As we were sharing notes, he commented on a new initiative among high school teachers in New Zealand. Teachers are being expected to keep a journal, in which they reflect on their daily teaching.

It struck me as a brilliant initiative and I began to think about it in terms of tertiary education, and in particular for us teaching staff at Uniting College.

I have often reflected how you need no qualifications to be a tertiary educator, other than expertise in a particular field. Which potentially makes for some very, very bad teaching. Sure, in a tertiary institution, we receive feedback from students, in the form of class evaluations. But this is often highly individual, a teacher receives it, but it is up to them if they do anything with this information.

Last month at Uniting College, we added a quality management step, in that we are requiring teachers to, upon receipt of feedback, complete a one page form reflecting on what they did well and what they might like to change.

But that occurs at the end of a course. What if it was supplemented by the use of a journal, in which teachers reflected on what they hope to achieve in each class, what actually happened, and what they are learning about the art of teaching? For us at Uniting College, it could also include linking to our particular focus on forming leaders. How did what we do – in class and informally – help us in the task of leadership formation? How did it build on what students already bring to the class? What “sacred moments” were we part of creating?

This could then be shared with a peer on a regular basis, throughout a semester, for discussion and mutual support. It would not be tied to performance, but simply a way to encourage reflection on practice and with a peer.

Advantages could include a constant reminder of why we exist, reflection on our practice, peer support in our task, and learning from the best practice of each other.

Thoughts? And what other ideas have you come across for encouraging better teaching practice at tertiary/Seminary level?

Posted by steve at 10:34 PM


  1. Happy Easter to you and yours mate.

    You might find the following useful. The link will take you to a post and some interesting articles on education:


    Comment by Paul Fromont — April 9, 2012 @ 6:44 am

  2. I think its a great idea. Praxis is about connecting theory and practice, so to speak, not only reflecting on practice. So for me the next question is about the next step beyond that – how you bring deeper understandings or skills into the mix. My other thought is that for me, my ‘debrief’ often happens in my head when I drive home. So it might be an audio ‘dump’/recording, not necessarily another thing to write in front of a screen.

    Of course you also raise the question of how we think we know that what we did made a difference, and to what extent what happens in a classroom on a particular day sheds light on that. But you know that already.

    Comment by craig — April 9, 2012 @ 11:11 pm

  3. thanks Craig. I hadn’t thought of a screen, but a good old fashioned paper based notebook. I had wondered about handmaking for all the Faculty.

    For me this also raises the question – what about admin staff. how do we invite them into reflection on their core roles – again as peers in a learning community relationships.


    Comment by steve — April 9, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

  4. John Drane wrote (on Facebook) – “Getting them to sit in on each others classes is a good start as most probably have no idea the specifics of what others teach so it can enhance coherence in the curriculum as well as positive if critical feedback (“have you thought of doing xyz for topic abc?”).”

    And steve Taylor replied – “Do you see this as being different from peer assessment? I’ve had a fellow lecturer sit in to “review my performance” (years ago), which I’m still trying to work out how effective this was, as it seemed to changed our relationship. But you seem to be suggesting it for curriculum integration purposes?”

    Comment by steve — April 9, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

  5. as a new member of the team, I think it would be really helpful to encourage journalling, and peer support. i already have an informal mentoring relationship with a faculty member, but to intentionally support one another in the way you suggest would help make the most of such a relationship, and could have benefits for teachers at any stage of their teaching career.
    is there a course for tertiary teaching offered by the university? might it be helpful to encourage faculty to participate in that as part of professional development?? (not that I am saying I want to take it on right now, but one day …)
    like the idea of including admin staff, too, because they are also engaged in the education / formation of leaders

    good thoughts, Steve. thanks

    Comment by sarah — April 10, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

  6. thanks Sarah. I too really warm to the idea of a way to intentionally support. As you allude, assuming that we are always needing to grow in our “charism” of teaching.

    I would’ve assume that some sort of prof dev for those who begin teaching is mandatory, but it doesn’t seem to happen. Which subtly seems to be saying we employ experts ie people who know stuff, but we don’t expect them to be teachers other than by intuition! or worse, of modelling what is experienced as students – which perhaps is other experts rather than other teachers.

    So this is all part of culture change


    Comment by steve — April 10, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

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