Experience is the best teacher

Photo by Suat Eman FreeDigitalPhotos

The following quote from Bolman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership had me thinking: “Experience, one often hears, is the best teacher, but that is only true if you reflect on it and extract its lessons”.  How true.

Professional development is all about continually learning to be a better teacher, and what better way to learn than to reflect on our own practice?  An important tool for extracting lessons from our teaching practice is the ability to reflect on the experience. Reflective practice is a commitment to a continuing process of reflection, learning and change.  It is a meta-cognitive process that requires us to stop for a moment, and think about our practice i.e. What am I doing? Why am I doing it?  Where am I doing it?  How am I doing it?  Why am I doing it this way?  What am I doing it for?  What am I trying to achieve here?  And for whom am I trying to achieve it? Is there another way I could be doing this? If yes, then how?

It is essential that our teaching supports the active learning of those we teach.  Reflecting on our practice allows us to consider whether or not our teaching is supporting learning as intended, and whether or not it is supporting the learning outcomes we intended.   Teachers, therefore, need to reflect on what implicit theories they have constructed that influences their actions and impacts on their teaching.  Uncovering the deeper layers of an experience can only be achieved through reflection. The self-discoveries we make present us with opportunities to adjust, improve and change how we teach, and in this way, our teaching practice is continually refined.

Teaching situations are often complex and dynamic, simply because teaching involves relationships.  Having to respond immediately to a situation is part and parcel of teaching, and every situation and experience further informs us.  The more teaching experiences we have, the more we have to reflect on, and the more lessons we can extract from these experiences.  Therefore, in order to truly learn from experience, it is important for teachers to systemically reflect on their practice.  Looking at teaching practice in a systematic way can be achieved through reflective journal writing, self-review, evaluation and action research. Reflecting on practice, and reflecting on experiences, is essential for ongoing professional development.

What are your views on this topic?  What knowledge do you have to share with other teachers?