In search of the Reflective Practitioner

Blogging AgainI began teaching in 1988. It was a tough job and thinking about getting better was superseded by survival instincts. Early on in my career, there were several documents that the province produced in support of improved professional development. I didn't pay much attention to these but one phrase I saw in those documents some 20 years ago stuck with me. Reflective Practitioner.  I sort of understood the concept but other than simply thinking about what you did in the classroom, I wasn't at all sure what to do with this term.

When I discovered blogs almost 5 years ago, I soon figured out what that term meant. Since that occasion I have sat down to write close to 1,000 pieces of reflection. While not all would be considered deep, most take me anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to craft. While it may not always look like it, these are generally borne out of the times I spent observing, thinking and working in classrooms. The reflective writing has been valuable but definitely the nearly 4,000 comments have been even more of a learning experience. As it's been said many times, this is the single best professional development experience I've had. Way beyond any one conference, workshop or even twitter.

In a week I'll be teaching an advanced technology course at the University of Regina. In the introductory course, I've had students set up blogs to get a feel for what it's like. Some like it, others tolerate it. This term I would like the students to do some analysis of quality, reflective blogs of classroom teachers. I'd like them to develop some criteria for what they feel is a great reflective blog. Hopefully they'll be able to start a journey of reflection that will carry them into their career and not wait 15 years to begin what is certainly a critical characteristic of a great teacher.

I have to admit I've been remiss in developing a list of great classroom teacher blogs. Most classroom teachers use their blogs as homework portals or classroom showcase blogs. Others have developed resource or tool based blogs. I'm not suggesting these are bad but they aren't reflective. Most of the reflective blogs I read tend to be from those outside the classroom. First off, these folks do have more time to devout to blogging but also they need to do the work I'm doing so I gravitate to them naturally.

Three bloggers who I love to read because of the way they reflect and analyze their own practice are Kelly Christopherson, Clarence Fisher and Dan Meyer.

Kelly is an administrator and teacher in Saskatchewan. He wears his heart on his sleeve. I don't always see things the same way as he does but that's precisely why I read him.  His struggles of late deal with the challenges of change and leadership. If you're a school administrator, you'd find his writing fascinating and I'm sure many times you'd be nodding visibly as you read and other times yelling at him.  He doesn't write to make friends, he writes because you sense he has to.

Clarence is someone I've known and read for a number of years. Very cerebral, Clarence makes clear connections between what he sees in his classroom and what is happening in a larger scale. He's likely most similar to my style but certainly his daily experience with middle schoolers keeps him very grounded. He practices what he preaches. Every teacher can learn lots from him.

Dan is a high school math teacher currently on leave and working at Google. That hasn't stopped him from continuing to have a highly practical approach to blogging. He is keenly interested in what works in a classroom and less with lofty applications to solving all the problems with education. With a niche for media, he takes pride in analysing everything from classroom management techniques to how to design a useful handout.

That's three. Three teachers who spend time reflecting and writing about their experiences and ideas. I need to show my students more than these three. So if you'd be so kind, leave a comment with a similar description as I've used here to tell me about your favorite reflective classroom blogger. So read this, retweet it and together we can create a list that you can use and yes, selfishly I can use with my students.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by shareski

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  • Thanks. I've always to be reflective in what I do. For me building in reflection to professional development activities is important, critical to growth and improvement. I use Twitter for reflection (@dpeter), my blog for a more intensive reflection – and most importantly, I use opportunities to talk with faculty for reflection. I ask them questions that provoke reflection, introspection and self-examination – questions, answers and discussion are some of the best tools for reflection.

  • My daily job in our district is both as a biology teacher and an instructional coach.  In reality, the vast majority of my time is spent asking questions, consulting, and otherwise helping my faculty mates become effective and reflective practitioners.  Though I agree with the concept that hey…  at the height of his career, even Michael Jordan had (insert large number) personal coaches.  I think this is a successful model to have a position focused wholly on pedagogy & curriculum as opposed to all of the management and operations that admins get pulled into by the nature of the beast.  Another big part of the job is to co-plan building PD with the principal.  I suppose it helps to have another set of eyes to keep on the "pulse" of teaching and learning in the building.  The more educated we are about this… the better we can fit PD to our needs.
    I say all this up front to simply point out how deeply I agree with your assertions here.  Though my position certainly certainly has measurable value in my school, I have always felt that getting someone behind the wheel of their very own blog was the way to get someone into perhaps the richest levels of reflection.
    I began writing my blog simply as a "proof of concept" experiment for the application of open blogs in the classroom.  That quickly moved from playing around in the genre, to sharing digital resources with my staff…  to reflecting on teaching, learning, coaching and professional development.  That has even transferred over onto my favorite project, that of raising two little girls. 
    Back to the main point…  I really do think there is nothing a teacher can do that builds and sustains reflection more than writing regularly to an openly public blog.  However, getting a teacher to jump that far is tough.  In the meanwhile, I decided to get the feet of folks around me squarely wet in the realm of reading and writing online by a building network on Ning.  I recently created one for the district level as well.  It is slowly taking shape for being only a few months old.  Those are linked in the sidebar of my blog.  Another interesting thing there is to check out the "district colleagues" list for those who actually have wanted me to help them set up an individual blog.  The majority of these are admins at either the building or even district level.  I find that pretty interesting.  Dr. Dial is the latest in that list and has really taken off as a reflective blogger.  However, most post infrequently.
    Two final things:  1)  My favorite reflective blogger:  Dr. Michael Doyle at .  He is quite prolific and often brings his experiences in school over into life in general.  A diamond in the rough for sure.  Precious few actually write this well online.  and 2)  Questions:  You started blogging well enough into your career that you could make really informed choices upon what to target and where to reflect.  How do you feel this might be different for a fresh new teacher where every single experience is new?  I wonder if this makes it easier… or if this somehow makes things tougher.  Do your students tend to retain threads of "community" after they leave your classes, or do they float off into their own individual digital worlds more or less?  I wonder how important that might be.  Finding "community" as a blogger somewhere early in the process certainly seems to help.  Is that something you have worked on?  I'd love to hear what you do in this area if so.  I could use some tips.  😉

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  • Buffy Hamilton's The Unquiet Librarian is a very reflective library-based blog:

  • Sean,

    Like most people, I stumbled around the first while trying to figure out how to get the most out of this space. It's really hard to define how to use a blog. I realize that many find a niche and often times it's not particularly reflective but that's fine. My students find it pretty painful for the most part. That's partly because it's part of a class. My greatest joy is when they continue after the class. Sadly maybe 5% carry on. I recognize that some of that is related to maturity and transition from studying to teaching. I'm trying to figure out how to get them to remain reflective. Many teachers do this without a blog obviously, I just think that a blog is a perfect example of how technology exponentially improves what we know is already best practice.

    My goal this term is for them to spend more time examining the nuances of great reflective bloggers and connect with subject and grade specific teachers who do it well. I fear it's not as great a number as I'd hoped.

  • I really like to read Neil Stephenson's blog.  Neil is a middle years social studies teacher.  Check out his blog at

  • I am teaching a class for students who will become writing consultants, and part of the course is shadowing and then interning in the writing center.  I have found with past classes that the how-to of reflection (in general) and reflection on their own practice(in particular) does not come to them as easily as I had hoped.  This semester I am going to work with them using strategies that anthropologists use to observe and write observation logs.  I always have them use blogs so that we can all share in the experiences and wisdom of one another, but I hope to help them write more rich posts right from the beginning with this extra training.  Have you had the experience that students need coaching when it comes to reflection?  Do you think that teachers also need this coaching?  Have you read Stephen Brookfields's "Becoming a  Critically Reflective Teacher ?"

  • Terry,

    I have to think that teachers do indeed need coaching. I haven't really thought about how outside of what i do when blogging. I'll have a look at Brookfield and consider more deeply how I'll help coach them. Thanks.

  • Your post reminded me why I enjoy blogging. I love to write and I'm the type of teacher who constantly rethinks the day in reflection. I keep two written journals and my professional blog for a variety of purposes, but one of the main reasons is for professional reflection. It's been a struggle lately to find the time to post, and I'm not alone in that. Several virtual colleagues, all full time teachers, have recently shared that they too, are finding it difficult to fit blogging into their routine. I agree with you that many of the reflective bloggers are outside the classroom. Many of us inside just don't have the time.
    After a little poking around into my Google Reader, here are three I recommend:
    Jan Smith is an intermediate teacher who is very knowledgeable about blogging with students. She hasn't blogged very much recently in her professional blogspace, ( but when she does, it's brilliant. She's the reason I started blogging.
    Bryan Jackson teaches gifted students language arts and social studies. He's passionate about music and that passion works its way into his teaching and his blog. Check it out at
    I also like Kim Cofino ( While the two bloggers above from British Columbia, Kim teaches in Thailand. I like the way she writes and I find her blog inspiring.
    Good luck compiling the list!

  • I think I have been blogging since 2006. I migrated my Blogger blog to a WordPress blog recently and I notice my earliest posts did not get transferred. That is too bad because those earliest blog entries reflected the last of my years as an administrator in rural Saskatchewan. Computers as instructional technology and the internet have been a consistent thread since at least 1997 but my discourse was broader than that. Coping with lost data is something we all must learn and I have been losing data since the first misplaced handout in 1980. 
     Between 1980 and 1982 I taught in a boys boarding school in Nigeria. The journal I kept during those two years was vital. Before blogging, I journaled in my agendas sporadically. Some entries are long, most seem to foreshadow my current tweets. I resumed keeping a journal during my year at grad school in Regina. 
    Reflection is vital, you are right Dean. I think it is the effort to articulate the lived experience of my practice that makes the journaling and blogging worthwhile. 

  • Patricia Hensley's  blog is one of the few I read with posts that keep me thinking well after I read them. 

  • A reflective blogger I enjoy reading is Louise Maine at <a href="">Hurricane Maine</a>.  Louise teaches high school biology (and environmental science I think) and posts thoughtful reflections on what is going on in her classes.  She uses wikis, and is big on inquiry and project based learning.  Definitely worth a look.

  • Hi Dean,
    I think reflective blogs are one thing and classroom blogs are different. In order to be reflective, you need to be honest and often times critical of yourself and others. In my opinion, the audience for that is often not your students and their parents, school administrators and/or district administrators. In my case, I have a classroom blog that I do not use for assignments (we have another portal for that), rather I use it for suggested experiences and a little bit of reflection on what's happening or what might be of interest to my students and their families. I am often extremely critical of myself, however I'm not going to express every insecurity for the consumption (and possibly ammunition) of my classroom parents. (If they really want to know those things, they can work a little harder and Google me.)
    On the other hand, I have my personal blog. It is public and the same students and parents and administrators can find and read it, however it is not where I point them and I do not blog as a representative of my school over there. That is where I express myself with a different audience in mind. I am still the same teacher, and I believe in many ways my two blogs compliment each other, but neither is really a reflective classroom blog.
    Good luck with your next class. They are lucky to have you as their teacher. Are there still spots open? I'd like to sign up. 🙂

    • Lee,
      I think one thing that seems troublesome for teachers is the idea of having more than one space. As you clearly state, you really can’t have one space to meet all the needs of students, parents and colleagues. One size does not fit all.

      I’d also state that while you’re only half a year into your return to the classroom, you’re blog which now speaks from a classroom perspectives would certainly make my list of highly reflective.

  • As a long-time teacher turned trainer,  I’ve looked for ways to help teachers reflect on their craft. I’ve had some success with reflective classoom walks – think of a roving Socratic seminar.  

    See my how to post: Teacher-Led PD: 11 Reasons Why You Should be Using Classroom Walk Throughs

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  • I also started teaching in 1988, and my favorite comment on my teaching from that year came from the rural district's superintendent, who remarked, "We're so glad you are able to work so well without supervision."  Even then, I was trying to use computers in the classroom, and it was the almighty Apple IIe, and many 5-1/4" floppy discs full of appleworks, and fun programs for the kids.  Since 1988, I've had computers in the classroom at all times, be they for the students or myself, and I've taken so much staff development that I often wonder if I can fit a supplemental drive in my neck, ala Johnny Mnemonic.  I'm still in the classroom, however i've been venturing into doing conference presentations, and some minor blog posts there have convinced me that I could do a blog, and keep people interested, give a few reflections on current practices, and maintain my sanity at the same time.  It is probably time I started doing this, and with your encouragement, I will begin.  I checked out Mr. Nash's world, and I'm glad to see that someone whose profile picture reminds me of a certain horror film star, seems to be very normal in every other respect.  He even seems well adjusted, and this is also an encouraging factor.  See you on Blogspot!

    • Richard,
      Leave a link here when you start. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Dean,
    Thanks for constructing this great resource and facilitating this discussion.  As a relatively new blogger ( I would love to read the feedback that not only you as a global leader, but also your students could provide.  I write from the perspective of a learning leader (I avoided using the word "administrator" here) transforming his practice from a traditionalist to a connectivist.  I write my blog mostly for myself, but I deeply value the feedback I receive I receive from my growing PLN.

  • Thanks Tony,

    The challenge is for students is introducing them to bloggers that have the interesting blend of practical and philosophical. Too much practical can lead you to forget why you do what you do. Too much philosophical without practical is too far removed from the classroom. Finding bloggers that exemplify these characteristics is the key. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dean, from the comments and feedback, I'd say you're on the right track for getting some very interesting and reflective bloggers to join your list. I'm flattered, humbled and somewhat taken aback to be put in the same sentence as both Clarence and Dan. I've always found Clarence's blog to be a great combination of reflection practice and pondering on the what if's while Dan, as you said, has a great way of looking at how things might work and what can be done to make things better. As you have indicated, my blog is more a personal journey style, looking at my own practice and where and what I can do to be better at what I do.  Good luck with your class, have a great 2010 and keep on with all those great ideas and thoughts!

  • I've been thinking a lot about reflection  – in fact I did a series last week on my blog that you might enjoy. 
    A Taxonomy of Reflection: Critical Thinking For Students, Teachers, and Principals:
    The Reflective Student:
    The Reflective Teacher:
    The Reflective Principal:

  • Paul Kolenick

    Thanks Dean. The blog seems to be a great way for teachers and in-school administrators to reflect upon their practice. The ideas of Donald Schon and others have been put into play with gusto… It's really  encouraging, isn't it?

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