Pensive woman standing wtih pen to her chin

During NEE training this summer, we explored the Four Paths to Effective Feedback. One of those paths was the Descriptive Path, which requires teachers to reflect on their practice after the principal has observed a lesson. Having a teacher that has the personal tools necessary to be reflective makes this type of feedback conference possible and enjoyable for both the teacher and principal. Some teachers are natural reflective learners, and some are more passive. Is there anything you as the principal can do to foster this thoughtful examination of practice?

Encouraging reflective thinking not only produces a meaningful post-observation conference but also serves to improve specific teaching performance in the classroom. With repetition, it can become an effective tool that facilitates a teacher’s ability to investigate, analyze, and understand. Reflecting on one’s own decisions during or after a teaching experience can improve practice and therefore increase student achievement.

Requesting, hoping, or praying that a teacher blooms into an assumption-questioning, analysis-driven, judgment machine is not likely to do the trick. However, by providing teachers the tools and opportunities to identify student learning barriers, they may see the value in reflective thinking. If you are coaching teachers to become reflective practitioners, consider offering teachers the following charge to establish a reflective mindset:

  • Commit to daily reflection no matter how busy or stressed the day becomes.
  • Ask yourself daily: “How did it go and how do you know?”
  • Challenge assumptions.
  • Reflect on positive as well as negative teaching experiences. What’s working is as important as what’s not working.
  • Give yourself grace, be honest, and frame your thinking from a growth mindset, not criticism.

Here are a few tools that will be helpful as teachers begin to develop their reflective muscles:

  • Practice self-questioning. It will be helpful to develop a few go-to questions that you can rely on until you become more comfortable with self-questioning, i.e., What went well? What problems did I face? Why did these problems occur? Did the students understand? What changes would have helped?
  • Keep a reflective journal (double-entry journal, mind maps, stream of consciousness writing).
  • Develop a variety of ways to test conclusions you may draw from reflection. What data will you collect to support or refute your thinking?
  • Participate in shared planning with peers. Invite colleagues to observe a lesson and reflect on their feedback. Record yourself for self-reflection or reflection with peers.
  • Ask students for feedback.
  • Try a new method or strategy. It will be easier to reflect with honesty.

As a principal, one of the rare times you have an absolute one-to-one conversation with a teacher happens during the post-observation conference. What can you do to nurture a reflective response from your teachers? Try these behaviors:

  • Be specific about the focus of the conference.
  • Craft questions that will cause the teacher to investigate, analyze, and come to understand what was effective and ineffective about the teaching experience.
  • Provide enough wait time for the teacher to reflect.
  • Review what are the known facts from the observation, but use most of the conference for the teacher to reflect on the unknowns and what is left to be learned.
  • Ask questions that seek reasons and evidence to facilitate deeper reflection.
  • Do not allow the structure of the conference to limit or confine the teacher’s ability to reflect on what they believe is important.
  • Nurture a supportive and trusting environment.

How do teachers grow in their practice? They confront their practices that have become comfortable and challenge their reactions to daily teaching situations. It is the only way to make sure their practice is meeting the needs of all students.

Cheri Patterson is a trainer and field support representative for the Network for Educator Effectiveness. She joined NEE in 2013 after an extensive career in K-12 education as a teacher, principal, and associate superintendent.


The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.