5. The Reflection Process

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on our experience” John Dewey

The following blog post is written as an opportunity to share how I reflect and gain feedback on my own practice and use that reflection/feedback to my advantage moving forward. Regardless of what industry you are in or what event you have just completed, a reflective process is essential to improve on your output the next time round.

As a PE teacher, there are ample opportunities to reflect, on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. Daily, I reflect on my individual practice by asking myself - were the activities differentiated enough to cater for all students, were the activities challenging enough, did students have enough time to complete the challenges, was I clear in my explanations, did the students actually comprehend the idea behind the lesson? There are so many things to consider when reflecting and these questions may not be only asked after the lesson is complete, but some can be asked during the lesson and therefore activities may be modified accordingly. I underlined the word ‘all’ in this question - were the activities differentiated enough to cater for all students? - for a clear reason. It’s a simple question, but I feel it’s quite common for activities to be differentiated for the lower ability students, but are they differentiated to an appropriate degree for the higher achievers? Are you pushing students within the class that excel at PE? This is something worth considering next time, if you don’t already. Reflect and seek feedback on the spot and investigate if the higher end students are in fact being challenged.

However, the purpose of this post is to share the ways in which I reflect and seek feedback following ‘extra-curricular’ events, such as Cross Country days, Athletics days and so forth.

Just last week, I ran our ‘Water Safety program’. A unit that involves having Year 5 and 6 students spend 2 days at the beach in their individual cohorts and undertake a number of activities that see them increase their knowledge, competence and understanding of the Marine environment. Being in Australia, where there is water and coastline everywhere, this is an essential part of a young individuals upbringing and is therefore a program I want to run as successfully and smoothly as possible.

As a result of my reflections from previous years, I believe this year was our best Water Safety program yet. But again, at the completion of this year's program, I reflected once again. Why? Because reflection will help improve the program for the future.

I believe the reflection process is a ‘3x3x3’ process. I believe that there are 3 essential questions that need to be asked and that they need to be asked to 3 essential people, in 3 great ways.

The 3 questions I believe need to be asked after any event are fairly simple:

  1. What went/worked well?

  2. What didn’t work well?

  3. What could be done to improve the day or the things that didn't work well?

Following on from this, I believe there are 3 essential people that need to be asked these questions:

  1. Yourself

  2. Your colleagues

  3. The students

The way in which you ask these individuals may differ, but I feel there are, once again, 3 fantastic ways to gain this feedback from colleagues and students. These are:

1. Verbally. I find that having a simple, casual chat, especially with the students, can give you fantastic feedback. On each of our Water Safety days, I always take 5 minutes of the lunch break to walk around and have a chat with the students and ask what they’ve enjoyed, what they haven’t enjoyed so much and what could we change next year to improve. The important part of this - is take note! I’ll touch on how I do this in a little. But I feel that by doing this with the students, in a casual environment, you get some really honest answers.

I also follow up with this when I teach the relevant cohorts again. While doing their roll at the beginning of class, rather than having them say ‘here’, I asked them to share their thoughts on the program that was run - again - something they liked, didn’t like, or something they believed could be improved.

2. Another great way to gain feedback is through ‘Google Forms’. A well set up google form can provide a ton of great feedback that will see your day/program become even more successful the following year. I stress that this needs to be a well set up google form. I have definitely fallen into the trap of throwing a form together at the last minute and the feedback you get isn't so valuable and ends up creating more work for you. You need to think about relevant, clearly articulated questions that aren’t too challenging for the age group and consider how they will be able to respond eg. Multiple choice, short answer, etc. Putting in the time to set up the form prior to sending it out will definitely save you time on the other end. If you teach students with one-to-one ipads, this is a very helpful way of gaining feedback.

3. The last way is an email to colleagues. Following your event, send an email to all staff that were involved in the day and ask the relevant questions. I also believe, as an added note, that you need to thank everyone for their time and effort. As a PE teacher, these days can be tough to organize and facilitate, but when your staff are on board and willing participants, it makes the days so much easier! So be sure to thank them while asking for their input.

In order to get the best feedback, it is important to carry out this reflection soon after the event. I wouldn’t be expecting staff to email me the same night that it’s been completed, but definitely send an email out the following day or in the days shortly after.

Through participating in this feedback and reflection process, you’re going to get fresh ideas and it is going to help in the future. The important thing is write down these ideas somewhere where they are accessible the following year. This is much easier said than done, over the years I’ve had countless notebooks and diaries, but I end up with too many and can’t keep track. My new process though was amazing for me this year.

After completing the Water Safety program and reflection process last year, I created a google document in my ‘Water Safety’ folder titled ‘Ideas for 2020’. In this document, I wrote down all the different things that I would aim to change about the program after taking into account the 2019 feedback that I gained from the reflection process. This proved invaluable when it came to organizing the 2020 program. I had written clear ideas and changes that would be made and implemented them into the program, which made for such a fantastic few days down at the beach.

This year I have once again made changes - including some as the week progressed - and have written notes on how the program will be adapted in 2021 (Crazy that I am writing 2021, where has time gone!?). This could be taken one step further and you could organize the program for the following year in the weeks preceding, however, I feel that’s far too in advance for me.

Once you’ve gathered your information, make your changes. In this blog I have used my Water Safety program as the example, but this can be done for all special days, Cross Countries, Athletics, Swimming Sports, etc. It goes beyond that too, use it for lessons, seek feedback from the students of their thoughts on individual games, lessons and units of work. At the completion of the year, I undertake a very similar process for my yearly planner and make relevant notes of what to change for the following year.

In closing this blog however, I wish to share some amazing advice that I was given by Bernie Holland (@achpervicpl) that you need to consider after the reflection process is taken into consideration. When you are making changes, regardless of what you are applying this too, be incredibly mindful that whenever you add something into your lesson, program, or sports day, something needs to be taken out.

Ask yourself, “Is what I am adding into the program, more valuable than what it is actually replacing?”.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, I would love to know your thoughts or if you found this helpful in anyway. Get in touch via Twitter or Instagram (@HeadsUpHPE) or via email headsuphpe@gmail.com/

Have an amazing day!