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14 Practicing Reflective Teaching


Good instructors do not just assess their students, they also find ways to assess themselves in order to continuously improve their own practice. The American Library Association (2009) identifies continuing education and lifelong learning, specifically with regard to our role as instructors, as a core competency of our profession. ALA (2009) includes understanding of “learning theories, instructional measures, and achievement standards,” as well as “the principles related to teaching and learning,” as core knowledge, and acknowledges the “necessity of continuing professional development of practitioners.” We can address these competencies and continuously improve our teaching by engaging in reflective practice and seeking out professional-development opportunities to enhance our knowledge and skills. This chapter introduces the concept of both general and critical reflective practice and outlines activities to promote reflection. The chapter ends with a review of professional-development outlets and opportunities related to teaching and learning.

What Is Reflective Practice?

Reflective practice “is a process of self-examination and self-evaluation in which effective educators regularly engage to improve their professional practices” (Shandomo, 2010, p. 103). Research suggests that engaging in reflective practice can improve our teaching (Dervant, 2015; Murray, 2015; Zahid & Khanam, 2019), lead to more mindful practice (Mortari, 2012), and increase our self-efficacy (Khanmohammad & Eilaghi, 2017). Ideally, reflection should be as integral to our practice as any of the steps in Backward Design or lesson planning.

Many of us probably already engage in some informal reflection. After an instruction session, we might naturally notice how we are feeling about the session and perhaps think about what is prompting those feelings. For instance, if we feel uneasy, we might try to identify points in the class when we sensed confusion, lack of engagement, or lack of attention. If the session went well, we might think about the parts that felt engaging or revisit specific points when students seemed to have “aha” moments or make insightful connections. In both cases, we might share anecdotes about the class with colleagues and get their feedback.

While both thinking back on the class and consulting with colleagues are aspects of reflective practice, there is a difference between the casual approaches described here and truly reflective practice. As Goodsett (2014, p. 12) explains, “good reflectors move beyond description of an experience and begin to identify problems or questions, gather information to address the questions, study the issues and the gathered information, and make sound decisions for further action based on this act of studying.” Our engagement in reflective activities must be intentional and analytic, and we must apply what we learn from our reflection to inform our practice.

Techniques for Reflective Practice

How do we engage in systematic reflective practice? Reflective practice does not have to take a lot of time, but we are busy people. A good practice is to block off time dedicated to reflection and protect that time as much as possible. Reflection is best when it takes place shortly after the instruction, while the details are still fresh in our minds. If possible, you might try blocking out some time at the end of each instruction session to reflect. Even as little as 15 minutes can be enough to capture initial thoughts.

While reflecting on positive experiences is rewarding, reflecting on challenging events can be uncomfortable, and, unfortunately, we are apt to dwell on the negative (Brookfield, 1995). At some point, we will have a lesson that flops or receive some negative feedback from students or peers (Booth, 2012; Brookfield, 1995), and we certainly need to be honest with ourselves in critiquing our experiences. At the same time, however, we must keep things in perspective and be kind to ourselves. One or two negative comments should not outweigh an abundance of positive feedback. Reflective practice is not helpful if it leaves us drained or discouraged. We should remind ourselves that no one receives perfect reviews all of the time and keep our focus on the fact that we are learning and improving. We should also remember to celebrate our successful lessons.

With these caveats in mind, several activities and guides exist to facilitate reflective practice. This section introduces some of the most popular; more can be found online.

Reflection as a Four-Step Process

One approach proposes a four-step process that encourages us to reflect on our actions and to use reflection as a step toward taking action (York-Barr et al., 2006, p. 82). Step one focuses on the question “What happened?” and invites us to choose an event, situation, or interaction from our classroom and describe it in detail. The event could be positive or one that was challenging or upsetting. In step two we analyze and interpret the event by thinking about “why” things happened as they did. In step three, we answer the “So what?” question by considering what we learned from the event and from our reflection on it, and consider how we might apply what we learned in our practice. The final step asks “Now what?” and invites us to consider our next steps, including how we would handle a similar situation in the future, and how we can get more feedback. Each step is accompanied by additional questions that help guide our reflection and analysis. Table 14.1 lays out the four-step process and questions in more detail. See Activity 14.1 for a brief reflective exercise.

Table 14.1: The Four-Step Reflective Teaching Process

Step Focus Question Guiding Questions
Step One: Description What happened?
  • What did I do?
  • What did others (students, colleagues, etc.) do?
  • What was my affect? What was their affect?
  • What was happening around us? What were the circumstances? Was anything unusual going on?
Step Two: Analysis and interpretation Why?
  • Why might things have happened this way?
  • Why did I behave the way I did?
  • What can I surmise from others’ behaviors and reactions?
  • What was I thinking and feeling? How might that have affected my choices?
  • What else might have contributed to the event?
  • What are my hunches about why things happened as they did?
Step Three: Meaning and application So what?
  • Why did this even seem significant enough to reflect on?
  • What have I learned from this? How could I improve?
  • How might this change my practice in future?
  • What questions do I still have?
Step Four: Implications for action Now what?
  • Are there others I might consult with about this event? Who?
  • What do I want to remember the next time a similar situation occurs?
  • How can I set up conditions for productive interactions and learning?

(Adapted from York-Barr et al., 2006, p. 82)


Activity 14.1: Reflections on Teaching

Think about a recent time that you were in a teaching role. This does not have to be a formal classroom experience; it could be teaching your little brother or sister how to tie their shoes or teaching your friend how to make your famous pasta sauce.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Describe the experience in as much detail as you can remember.
  2. What do you think went well during that interaction? Why did it go well?
  3. What might you do differently if you were to teach that same content or skill again? Why would you want to change?


Keeping a journal is a relatively low-barrier way to engage in reflective practice. All you need is a notebook or a word processor to get started; then, make a habit of recording your observations, reactions, and ideas after each lesson. As noted earlier, the closer to the session you take notes, the better because your memory will be fresher.

Remember, the point of reflective practice is to move beyond description to analysis and action. We can use the questions from the four-step process in Table 14.1 to guide our journaling. Additional guiding questions include (Danielson, 2009):

  • What worked in this lesson? How do I know?
  • What would I do the same or differently if I could reteach this lesson? Why?
  • What additional data do I need to make an informed decision? How could I get that data?
  • What root cause might be prompting or perpetuating the student behaviors I observe?
  • What do I believe about how students learn? How does this belief influence my instruction?

Tompkins (2009, p. 226) offers a detailed guide to reflective journaling for librarians. She distinguishes between diaries, which are often free-flowing narratives of thoughts and impressions, with a more structured journal which combines “personal reflections with empirical descriptions,” such as class location and time, attendance, and details about the lesson plan. In samples of her own journal entries, which could serve as templates, Tompkins (2009, p. 235, 237) records the date, time, and location of the session; provides some brief background information on the class, such as any discussions she had with the faculty member; and then provides a description of the session, including her own actions and her observations of students. Finally, she completes the entry with a set of reflections which includes her thoughts and inferences on the class, and her ideas for any changes to the session. Tompkins (2009, p. 236, 238) also provides examples of lesson plan and handout revisions based on her reflections, which demonstrate how she put the reflections into action. Similarly, Renard (2019) offers an online lesson plan template with built-in space for reflection.

Video Recording

Recording ourselves in action during an instruction session can be an enlightening, if somewhat uncomfortable, experience. While recording and watching ourselves perform can be excruciating, the insights we get from this process are invaluable. We can see things on recordings that we probably would not be able to notice otherwise, and the impact of seeing it ourselves is different than having an observer describe it. For instance, when reviewing a video of one of her instruction sessions, one of the authors of this book, Laura, noticed that she frequently played with her bracelet while talking. Thinking that action might be distracting, she stopped wearing bracelets when teaching. After listening to recordings of her classes, the other author of this book, Melissa, realized that she frequently uses the word “so” as a filler. Noticing this has helped her think about starting sentences differently and become more deliberate about using silence in class. While other reflective practices rely on our observations and memory, a video provides us with a concrete and detailed record of the event (Goodsett, 2014).

When reviewing your recording, pay attention to your overall presentation and delivery.  Notice things like the volume and pace of your voice, where and how you stand, and whether you make eye contact with learners. Ask yourself whether students in the back of the room would be able to hear you, or whether you are speaking too quickly. Notice whether your voice conveys enthusiasm and interest, or whether you sound monotone. Watch for any distracting behavioral or verbal tics. Finally, review your delivery of the content. Were your explanations clear? Did you provide helpful examples? You might also note whether the impressions you had of the class align with your observations of the recording. For instance, during the session you might have felt like a particular activity went well and that students were engaged. When reviewing the recording, look for evidence that supports or contradicts your impressions. If the recording shows something different than your impression, you might consider what caused the discrepancy.

While the point of video recording is to critique your presentation, you should be fair to yourself and not feel the need to change everything about your performance. Remember that a live session will always be a little “messy,” and some tics and a little nervousness are natural and human. You should focus only on changing aspects of your delivery that could impact learner comprehension or engagement, such as speaking too quickly or softly for people to understand. In addition, you should choose just one or two changes to work on. Creating a laundry list of issues will feel overwhelming and could be counterproductive.

As a final note, be aware that recording the session could make some learners uncomfortable. Be sure to let students know ahead of time that you are recording and emphasize that your purpose is to assess your own performance, not theirs. Also, let them know what steps you will take to assure their privacy and confidentiality, such as not sharing the recording and deleting it when you are done with your reflection. If you are delivering your session in another person’s class, such as a one-shot session at the invitation of a faculty member, you might alert the faculty member ahead of time that you plan to record.

Peer Observation

Having a colleague observe your class and offer feedback can be informative and perhaps less intimidating than video recording. You could invite anyone with whom you feel comfortable, but if you can find colleagues who also do instruction and whose teaching you respect, they might have additional insights based on their own classroom experiences and understanding of the craft of teaching. They will also be alert to nuances of the classroom and issues of instructional design and delivery that might not be as apparent to colleagues who do not engage in instruction. Most important, however, is to find a colleague whom you can trust (Booth, 2012; Goodsett, 2014), as no lesson will be perfect and by inviting observation you are opening yourself up to criticism. Booth (2012) reminds us that getting feedback from colleagues can be difficult. She suggests that “if you receive harsh or unhelpful feedback, console yourself with the knowledge that it likely was either offered unintentionally or as an unsubtle manifestation of ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ syndrome.” Some librarians in educational institutions might have mandatory classroom observations. However, those observations are often part of a formal review process and might take a less developmental or coaching approach. Even if your institution mandates such reviews, setting up your own observation with a peer can be worthwhile.

In general, your colleagues will probably focus on the same areas and reflect on the same kinds of questions outlined earlier, such as your classroom presence and delivery, the sequence and scaffolding of content, and the overall classroom dynamics. However, you could also ask your colleague to focus on specific areas about which you feel uncertain or have questions. For instance, maybe you feel as if your discussions are falling flat and would like your colleague to pay particular attention to that portion of the class and try to identify issues that might be hindering more engagement. You could create a brief template to guide the reviewer and highlight areas where you would like specific feedback. Example 14.1 shows a sample peer-observation form with a focus on classroom presence and delivery. Even if your colleague provides you with some written feedback, it can be helpful to arrange a time to debrief in real time. A meeting will allow you to ask any follow-up questions and to compare your impressions of the class with your peer’s.


Example 14.1: Peer Observation Form

  Fair Good Excellent
The instructor’s voice was clear and audible.
The pace of delivery was appropriate to the audience.
The instructor seemed engaged/interested in content.
The instructor made eye contact with students.
The instructor moved away from the podium/whiteboard.
The instructor made good use of classroom space.
The instructor had a good “classroom presence.”


What were one or two strengths you observed in the instructor’s delivery and/or classroom presence?


What is one thing that could be improved?


An additional benefit of peer observation is that it can be reciprocal; you might offer to observe and critique your colleagues’ sessions for them. Acting as the observer not only allows you to provide support to your colleagues, it can be a learning experience for you as well. Watching our colleagues in action gives us ideas and inspiration for our own classrooms. As you observe your colleagues, pay attention to what seems to work and what you might want to try yourself. Keep in mind, as well, that we all have our own teaching style, and what is effective for one person might not work for someone else. For instance, some people are great at incorporating humor into their sessions, but for another person, the same joke will fall flat. Do not be afraid to try ideas from colleagues, but do not blindly copy them either. Identify elements of their practice that you admire and adapt them to your style.

Communities of Practice

A community of practice moves beyond the one-to-one interaction of peer observation to create a group of practitioners that offer each other support. Group members can share ideas and act as sounding boards for each other. For instance, if one member is considering a new teaching technique or wants to try a new activity in the classroom, they might get input from the group before implementing it. Some groups will share resources, such as lesson plans and rubrics, for other members to use and adapt. Others might act as journal clubs, discussing readings on teaching and learning. Most importantly, however, these groups can offer each other support for the emotional labor of teaching. Group members can celebrate each other’s successes and help each other work through challenges. Also, when we discuss challenges with our colleagues, we often find that others are facing the same issues, which can help us feel less isolated.

Student Feedback

Part of the purpose of reflection is to improve the student experience. In order to do that, we must solicit learners’ perspectives and input, rather than trying to guess how they felt about our sessions. Many of the assessment and evaluation techniques introduced in Chapter 9 and Chapter 13 can also be used for reflective practice. As we analyze feedback from tools like minute papers and class evaluations, we can reflect not just on whether learners appear to be achieving outcomes or were satisfied with our sessions, but why that might be, and what that might mean for our practice. We should look for patterns in the responses and consider what those patterns tell us. For instance, if a group of students indicate that all of them were confused by part of the lesson, we can reflect on the explanations and examples we offered at that point in the lesson or the activities we implemented, and consider what we might do differently next time.

Brookfield (2006) suggests using a Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) to learn more about learners’ perspectives on the session. The CIQ is similar to a minute paper, but, rather than asking students to reflect on their learning, the CIQ is designed to “discover the effects your actions are having on students and to find out the emotional highs and lows of their learning” (Brookfield, 2006, p. 41). Brookfield recommends the following questions:

  • At what moment in class did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  • At what moment were you most distanced from what was happening?
  • What action that anyone (teacher or student) took did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action that anyone took did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What about the class surprised you the most (this could be about your own reactions to what went on, something that someone did, or anything else that occurs)?

Because these questions focus on learners’ emotional and affective responses, they can help to uncover aspects of our sessions that promote or hinder learning that we might not discover through questions that focus on content. Brookfield also recommends making the CIQs anonymous to encourage students to be honest in their reflections.

While gathering direct feedback from students is important for our reflective practice, we also need to remember that their input might be skewed or unreliable at times. Students are not always good at assessing their own learning, and they might let factors such as the comfort of the room, the race or gender of the instructor, or even how the instructor is dressed influence their feedback. Indeed, some studies suggest that course evaluations, in particular, are not good indicators of teaching effectiveness (Falkoff, 2018) and are often biased against women and people of color (Buskist & Hogan, 2009; Owen, 2019). These caveats do not mean that we should ignore or avoid student input, but we must look at it in a balanced way. Patterns of responses might indicate an issue, but one or two negative comments do not constitute a pattern. If we do get some limited negative feedback, we have to consider it objectively and try to determine if it is a real issue or just the reaction of a disgruntled person. Most importantly, we cannot let a handful of negative comments discourage us (Brookfield, 1995).

Recapturing the Student Experience

Typically, we reflect on our practice from our perspective as a teacher. However, we can also gain insight from putting ourselves, literally or figuratively, in the place of the student. One way to do this is to recall some of the best and most effective teachers, as well as some of the worst and least effective teachers, we have had and analyze what made these instructors good or not-so-good at what they did (Goodsett, 2014; Renard, 2019). Think about the actions the teachers took in the classroom, what tone they set and how they set it, how they managed classroom discussions, how they answered questions, and what teaching methods and instructional strategies they used. You might try listing five personal qualities, skills, or attitudes that made the teachers more or less effective (Renard, 2019), but the idea is to move beyond description to analysis and action. Once you have described the teachers and identified the skills and qualities that made them good (or not so good), think about how the descriptions apply to your own practice. What qualities do you share with the effective teachers, and how do you apply those in the classroom? What qualities could you develop or improve on? How might your analysis of these teachers influence your own practice?

Brookfield (1996) suggests taking the experience one step further by actually becoming a student again. One challenge we face as instructors is that we are so deeply ensconced in our subject that we forget what it was like to be a novice. As instruction librarians, we typically have a master’s degree and years of experience working in libraries. Search strategies, types of resources, criteria for evaluating sources, and the jargon of the field are all second nature. As a result, when teaching, we might gloss over explanations that we think are obvious or skip steps in a process simply because we hardly notice them.

Sharing his experience of learning to swim as an adult, Brookfield (1996, p. 4) notes that being a student can help instructors recapture the feeling of not being the expert in the room, and of the discomfort and anxiety that can come from “not getting it.” He encourages instructors to find opportunities to engage in learning experiences on topics that are challenging for them. Of course, part of the process is to reflect on your experiences as a learner and think about how they might apply to your own practice. After each session, you might reflect not on the content or what you learned, but how you learned and circumstances that supported or hindered your learning. For instance, did you find yourself unwilling to ask a question because you did not want to admit that you were having trouble understanding? If you did ask a question, did you feel validated by the teacher’s response? Did certain activities or approaches to the material engage you? Did others leave you feeling disengaged? Why might that have been? As you answer these questions, think about how these same circumstances play out in your own classroom, and how these reflections might influence your practice.

Teaching Statements

A teaching statement is a narrative that outlines your personal philosophy of teaching and learning, and how you put that philosophy into action. These statements are relatively brief, about a page in length. Teaching statements can be an important professional tool, as they signal to colleagues and employers how you approach teaching, and some employers will ask for a teaching statement as part of the job application for an instruction position. More importantly, developing a teaching statement forces us to reflect on and articulate the beliefs, theories, and understandings that guide our practice, and explain how these influence our instructional activities.

A teaching statement should address four major elements (Graduate Student Career and Professional Development, 2019):

  • Outcomes: What do you want your students to learn or be able to do? This question is about more than just learning objectives for a single instruction session. Rather, it asks you to think broadly about the fundamental concepts, lifelong learning, and problem-solving skills you hope your learners will attain. Will they be more confident researchers? Better consumers and creators of information? Will they understand the social and economic value of information? While you might not be able to address each of these themes in every session, they are the broad goals and ideas that inform your content and instruction.
  • Activities: What methods do you use to help students achieve these goals? To answer this question, do not just describe what instructional strategies you use, but why you use them. For instance, if you are a proponent of active learning, discuss why you believe active learning is a valid and appropriate teaching method. You might draw on research and learning theories to support your position. To make the statement more specific and personal, you can also give examples of the types of activities you use in the classroom.
  • Assessment: How do you know if your students have learned? Discuss the methods of assessment that you use, as well as how and why you use them. You might also address the ways in which you use student feedback to improve your teaching. Again, consider including specific examples of assessment methods you have used and changes you have made based on student feedback.
  • Philosophy: Why is teaching important to you? This question prompts you to talk about why you have chosen this career path, and what you get out of teaching. You might also discuss the kinds of professional development and lifelong learning you pursue in order to keep improving your practice.

Addressing some of these areas can feel challenging, especially if you have not yet spent a lot of time in the classroom. However, even if you do not have much experience teaching, all of us have spent plenty of time as students; we can draw on those experiences, and our reflections on effective and less effective teachers, to shape our teaching philosophy. If you have not yet had the opportunity to put your philosophy into practice, you can describe how you would implement your ideas in the classroom. See Example 14.2 for an example of a teaching statement from one of the textbook authors. You can find many more examples online.


Example 14.2: Laura Saunders’s Teaching Statement

My goals as an instructor in a graduate-level professional program are:

  • To provide students with a foundation in both the theory and practice of librarianship.
  • To develop their critical thinking and intellectual curiosity by encouraging them to engage with the core questions and challenges of the discipline.
  • To facilitate the discovery and creation of new knowledge through active engagement with course content.
  • To foster a climate of respect and inclusion.

I strive to achieve these goals through a constructivist approach to teaching and learning, which includes an emphasis on active engagement with course materials, problem-based learning, and collaborative learning through small- and large-group activities and discussions. I have made a conscious effort to integrate more of these practices into my day-to-day teaching, both in person and online. For instance, in my reference class, I moved from a model of introducing and explaining the criteria for evaluating resources and then asking students to apply those criteria, to a flipped model in which students engage with the resources through a series of small- and large-group activities and discover for themselves what is important when deciding the quality of a resource. Similarly, I have students engage with ethical questions related to the profession by examining case studies and current news stories in which students have to draw on their understanding of the values and ethics of the profession and their own experiences to decide what would be an ethical approach to the problem. These activities require students to think critically about the material rather than just apply a set of standards or criteria, and student feedback shows they find the activities to be more relevant and interesting than the lecture-based approaches.

The constructivist philosophy emphasizes the social nature of knowledge, but I also believe that individual students have different preferences for learning engagement. Some students are comfortable joining discussions and engaging with peers immediately, while others want time to process and reflect on new information. I try to accommodate these preferences by providing students with various paths for active participation, including small- and large-group discussions, self-reflective activities, online forums, and feedback sheets so that everyone can participate in a way that is comfortable.

I am strongly committed to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, both in the classroom and in the LIS profession. I believe we are all collaborators and partners in the learning process. Just as I bring my own background knowledge, research, and professional experience to the classroom, I encourage students to bring their experiences, to ask questions, and to challenge assumptions so that we can all learn from each other. I strive to create a welcoming and inclusive environment by modeling respectful engagement and valuing diversity of experience. I consciously seek out readings by diverse authors and with a critical focus on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our field, and I work to bring a lens of diversity to the content and activities with which we engage.

My hope is that students will emerge from my classroom ready to engage as professionals and empowered to explore, critique, question, and even challenge the major issues of the field.

Critical Reflection

The reflective practice discussed thus far in this chapter focuses mostly on the design and delivery of instruction. Critical reflective practice focuses on uncovering the assumptions and biases that influence our teaching and surfacing the politics and power dynamics of the classroom in order to facilitate a more democratic and inclusive environment (Brookfield, 1995). Critical reflection acknowledges that teaching is not a neutral act. Rather, it is grounded in the values, norms, and behaviors of the culture in which it is practiced, a culture that is usually so ingrained as to be invisible. As a result, instructors make decisions and plan their instruction around cultural biases and assumptions without even realizing it. For example, many instructors assume sitting in a circle with their students is more welcoming and democratic than standing at the front of the class with students sitting in rows (Brookfield, 1995). But why do we think that? And is it true? Indeed, some students might find sitting in a circle uncomfortable or intimidating. Shy learners might feel as if they are under more scrutiny or feel more pressured to participate. Students with less experience in the American educational system might be unsure of the expectations of a classroom set up this way.

Shandomo (2010) discusses the importance of critical reflection for teachers, particularly those preparing to work in urban schools. She notes that the majority of new teachers are white, middle-class women whose worldview and experience often diverge greatly from their students. She suggests that some teachers might view their “students as having cultures that are deficient, rather than valid but different from their own” (Shandomo, 2010, p. 103). We face a similar issue in librarianship, given that the library field is similarly dominated by white, middle-class women.

Critical reflection asks instructors to “identify the assumptions governing their actions, locate the historical and cultural origins of those assumptions, and develop alternative ways of acting” (Shandomo, 2010, p. 101). For instance, Elmborg (2004) notes that within the fields of education and library science we tend to view literacy and related concepts such as information literacy as universally good, and assume that people are autonomous learners, meaning they can choose to become literate. These views ignore the ways in which our school systems have been created to be more responsive to middle-class students who grew up speaking English and were constantly exposed to reading and writing, and the ways in which Western concepts of literacy enabled colonization and the spread of other Western values such as capitalism. Similarly, Drabinski (2008) discusses how the race and gender disparities that are inherent in our classification systems might be apparent in the search examples we choose, and these biases might also manifest in the ranking of search results. If we are aware of these issues, we can reflect on how they influence our teaching practice and address them in our instructional design or within the classroom as appropriate.

Such reflection does not mean that we necessarily must change our practices, but it does mean we should be more mindful of those practices and what their impact might be (Brookfield, 1995). For instance, once we realize that sitting in a circle might be challenging for some students, we can explain why we chose that seating arrangement so that students can understand our purpose. Knowing that one of the challenges might be the pressure to speak, we might find ways to alleviate that pressure. For instance, we could have a policy to not call on people unless they volunteer, or we could give students the opportunity to “pass” if we do call on them and they are not ready to join the conversation.

Critical reflection acknowledges that a power dynamic always exists in any classroom (Brookfield, 1995). Even in classrooms where instructors do not assign grades, such as a public- library workshop, learners probably have the sense that the teacher is the “expert” on the topic,  with the authority to set and enforce policy, to choose the content and the activities, and to decide who is allowed to speak in the classroom. Critically reflective teachers acknowledge that power dynamic and take steps to balance and share power. Simply encouraging students to ask questions or challenge ideas is not enough because students might not believe such invitations are sincere. We must demonstrate our willingness to be questioned and challenged by listening respectfully and taking learners’ ideas seriously (Brookfield, 1995). We can also invite students to participate in forming classroom policies and norms, allowing them some choice, making room for all voices, and, most importantly, treating everyone with respect.

While the focus of critical reflective practice is different from general reflective practice, many of the same techniques and activities described earlier in this chapter, such as journaling, peer observation, and analysis of student feedback, can be used for critical reflection. With their focus on learners’ feelings of engagement, affirmation, and confusion, Critical Incident Questionnaires can be especially effective for critical reflection. As we uncover things about our lessons that students find distancing or confusing, we can try to address the assumptions or dynamics that might underlie them, while expanding on those that learners find affirming and engaging. See Activity 14.2 for a critical reflection exercise.


Activity 14.2: Critical Reflection Exercise

Listed below are some common ideas about teaching. Choose one or identify an assumption or bias of your own, and then answer the questions that follow.

  • Lecturing is passive and boring for students. It is better to have discussions or activities so that students can participate in the learning.
  • The idea of the teacher as the “expert” establishes a power dynamic that might make learners hesitant to question or challenge ideas. I can balance that power dynamic by telling my learners that we are collaborators or peers and that I will learn as much from them as they will from me.
  • Information literacy is an essential set of competencies because information is power. Information literacy can help narrow socioeconomic gaps and give people agency. All people need to learn these competencies.
  • Students want to be self-directed learners. I should give them as much choice and as little direction as possible so that they can take responsibility for their own learning.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Do you agree with the statement you chose?
  2. What specific assumptions or biases underlie the statement?
  3. Think about different kinds of learners—older adults, younger students, people of different language proficiencies and literacy levels, people of different educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, and so on.
    • How might these different learners feel about the statement?
    • Are there any for whom the assumptions underlying the statement might not hold true? In what ways?
  4. Do you feel that the statement is one with which you agree and would want to implement?
    • If so, why? How could you explain your thinking to a student who did not agree?
    • If not, why not? How might you change the statement and actions to feel more inclusive?

Professional Development

Reflective practice and lifelong learning are intertwined. Our reflections will lead us to new understandings about our practice, but they will also prompt new questions. As we make decisions to adjust our practice based on our reflections, we will likely find that we need more information or want to learn more about certain instructional strategies, teaching methods, theories, and best practices before we implement a change. We can engage in lifelong learning by taking advantage of the many professional development opportunities available both within the library field, and in education more broadly.

Professional Associations

Professional associations like the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), and the Public Library Association (PLA) provide a range of professional development opportunities. Some associations, or divisions of associations, are dedicated exclusively to instruction topics, including LOEX, the ACRL Instruction Section, and ALA’s Library Instruction Round Table. Each association runs conferences with workshops, presentations, and other sessions on topics related to teaching and learning. While national conferences can be expensive to attend, these associations offer other free and low-cost professional development forums such as webinars, toolkits, reports, and professional listservs. For instance, ACRL offers the Information Literacy Framework Sandbox, where academic instruction librarians share resources including lesson plans, rubrics, and instructional activities. Listservs like ILI-L provide professionals with a community of practice and a forum to share ideas, ask questions, and offer support. Regional associations and conferences, like ACRL New England, the California School Library Association, and the Illinois Information Literacy Summit, provide many of the same benefits and opportunities as their national counterparts, often at a lower cost.

We can also explore general education associations in addition to library-focused associations. Educause, Editorial Projects in Education, and Edutopia offer a wealth of free resources, including newsletters, videos, and blog posts on a wide range of educational topics. Librarians working in a higher education environment can take advantage of information from the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) and the American Association of Higher Education (AAHE). School librarians will be interested in the American Association of Educators, and national and local parent-teacher associations. Many states have a professional network or association for nonprofit institutions, like the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, which offer trainings and resources that might be of particular interest to public librarians.

Continuing Education Courses

You can find a number of free and fee-based continuing education courses related to library instruction beyond those offered by the professional associations listed earlier. For instance, WebJunction from OCLC offers dozens of free webinars, several of which are relevant to library instruction, including webinars on creating and delivering training, online teaching skills, and general teaching skills. Similarly, Infopeople is a California-based, nonprofit library consortium that offers free training on a range of topics, as well as some consulting services in areas like instructional design, webinar production, and assessment. Library Juice Academy offers more than 20 courses related to library instruction, including an option to earn continuing education credits and complete a certificate in library instruction by combining at least eight of their courses. The ACRL Immersion program is an intensive, five-day training geared toward academic instruction librarians. Finally, some LIS programs offer continuing education or postgraduate certificates, and others offer an option to audit courses, typically for much less than the regular cost of the course. You can also look outside of the library science field for relevant courses. For example, Columbia University offers a free course on inclusive teaching through the EdX platform.

Professional Literature

Professional journals, trade magazines, and blogs can be sources of information and inspiration for instructors. Many of the associations listed earlier produce publications ranging from peer-reviewed journals to reports, newsletters, and blogs. For instance, the American Association of School Librarians publishes Knowledge Quest and School Library Research. ACRL publishes College & Research Libraries and College & Research Libraries News, both of which are open access. Communications in Information Literacy is another open access journal that publishes research and commentary exclusively on information literacy and library instruction topics. Some useful general education publications include Education Week, Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and Educational Leadership. You can find many more by searching online or through general and education-focused subscription databases. The ERIC database, hosted by the Institute of Education Sciences, indexes over 1.5 million education resources, many of which are available freely online. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can also be useful spaces for finding literature and ideas, and for interacting with colleagues and forming communities of practice. See Activity 14.3 for a brief exercise on finding professional development outlets.


Activity 14.3: Finding Professional Development Resources

Select an information setting that you would like to work in and identify three or four outlets for professional development that would be relevant to that setting.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. What resources do these outlets offer related to teaching and learning?
  2. How might you use these outlets now as a student as well as later in your professional practice?

Teaching Centers and Employer-Supported Training

Academic and school librarians often have access to additional professional development opportunities through their places of employment. Many institutions of higher education house a center for teaching and learning to support faculty and staff. Most centers run workshops on teaching and learning topics, and many also offer consulting services, such as classroom observations, one-on-one consultations, and syllabus and lesson plan reviews. Many school districts also run professional development trainings for their staff throughout the year. In addition, some schools might have funding to support registration for conferences or other external continuing education opportunities.

Public library staff can often benefit from professional development and training opportunities offered through state and regional consortia. In addition, municipalities might offer training to city employees. Although such trainings might not be directly related to teaching and learning, they often will incorporate relevant topics, such as how to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion; how to manage conflict; and how to improve communication. Libraries might also hire consultants to facilitate training on topics of their choice, and some consultants will consider reducing or even waiving fees for nonprofit organizations like public libraries.


Reflective practice enables us to gain a better understanding of ourselves as instructors, to identify areas of strength and areas for change, and to continuously improve our teaching. Professional development and lifelong learning are core values of our profession and can support reflective practice by offering general learning opportunities, as well as specific training in areas that we want to change or improve.

The key takeaways from this chapter are:

  • Reflective practice asks us to think not just about what we do in our classrooms but why we do what we do and how we might want to change and improve our practice. Critical reflective practice asks us to uncover our underlying biases and assumptions to promote a more inclusive and democratic classroom.
  • For it to be effective, reflective practice should be an integral part of our overall practice, and we must make time for it in our schedules.
  • We can facilitate reflective practice through activities like journaling, requesting peer observations, and soliciting student feedback.
  • Crafting a teaching statement can also prompt us to reflect on what we believe as instructors and how we put those beliefs into action in the classroom.
  • A range of professional development opportunities is available through professional associations, continuing education, and professional literature. We should explore these opportunities to enable lifelong learning and continued improvement of our practice.

Suggested Readings

Booth, C. (2011). Reflective teaching effective learning. Rowman & Littlefield.

Awarded ACRL’s Ilene F. Rockman Publication of the Year for 2012, this handbook provides a thorough introduction to instruction for librarians, with an emphasis on reflective practice. Booth’s book is full of templates, activities, and examples to help librarians plan instruction and engage in reflection.

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. Jossey-Bass.

This book delves deeply into the purpose and process of critical reflection. Brookfield offers an empathetic discussion of the emotional labor inherent in teaching, as well as the power dynamics and inequalities in education, and provides insights into the ways in which critical reflection can benefit both instructors and their students. He includes advice and activities for facilitating critical reflection. The book is focused on college teachers, but much of the advice is applicable to librarians and any setting.

Burns, E. (2018). School librarian as inquisitor of practice: Reimagine, reflect, and react with the new standards. Knowledge Quest, 46(4), 54-58 (EJ1171712). ERIC.

This article guides school librarians through a set of reflective practices to explore and better understand the American Association of School Librarians’ National School Library Standards (AASL, 2018a). Burns provides a brief overview of reflective practice and of the Standards’ development, and then guides the reader through a reflective process using the “what,” “so what,” and “now what” probes to consider how they can apply the Standards in their work.

Farmer, L. J. (2017). Managing the successful school library: strategic planning and reflective practice. ALA Neal-Schuman.

Farmer covers all aspects of managing a school library and couches the text in reflective practice. As such, she integrates reflective questions throughout the book, encouraging readers to envision their ideal school library and what it would entail to achieve that vision.

Goodsett, M. (2014). Reflective teaching: Improving library instruction through self-reflection. The Southeastern Librarian, 62(3), 12-15.

In this brief article geared toward librarians, Goodsett describes the benefits of reflection and describes several methods of self-reflection, including journaling and video recording.

Graduate Student Career and Professional Development. (2019). How to write a teaching statement that stands out. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This site offers clear, straightforward advice for developing a teaching statement. Although the article is written for graduate students preparing for faculty positions in higher education, the recommendations apply equally well to teaching statements for any setting.

Reale, M. (2017). Becoming a reflective librarian and teacher: Strategies for mindful academic practice. ALA Editions.

While Booth’s book, noted earlier, is a full introduction to instruction with a section on reflection, this book focuses entirely on reflective practice within the realm of instruction. Reale provides a solid overview of reflective practice and a deeper dive into several activities and practices, including journaling, reflection with colleagues and peers, and opportunities for reflection in the classroom. She integrates theory but includes practical examples and applications.

Tompkins, E. K. (2009). A reflective teaching journal: An instructional improvement tool for academic librarians. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 16(4), 221-238.

This article provides a detailed yet succinct overview of reflective journaling for librarians. In addition to targeted advice, Tompkins shares examples of her own journals and lesson plans that were revised based on her reflections.


American Association of School Librarians. (2018). National school library standards.

American Library Association. (2009). ALA’s core competences of librarianship.

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2017). Roles and strengths of teaching librarians.

Booth, C. (2012, March 14). Reflective teaching for librarians. American Libraries.

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. D. (1996). Through the lens of learning: How experiencing difficult learning challenges and changes assumptions about teaching. In L. Richlin (Ed.), To improve the academy (pp. 3-15). New Forums Press.

Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Buskist, C. & Hogan, J. (2009). She needs a haircut and a new pair of shoes: Handling those pesky course evaluations. Journal of Effective Teaching, 10(1), 51-56 (EJ1092114). ERIC.

Danielson, L.M. (2009). Fostering reflection. Educational Leadership, 66(5).

Dervant, F. (2015). The effect of reflective thinking on the teaching practices of preservice physical education teachers. Issues in Educational Research, 25(3), 260-275.

Drabinski, E. (2008). Teaching the radical catalog. In K. R. Roberto (Ed.), Radical cataloging: Essays at the front (pp. 198-205). McFarland.

Elmborg, J. (2004). Critical information literacy: Definitions and challenges. In C.W. Wilkinson & C. Bruch (Eds.), Transforming information literacy programs: Intersecting frontiers of self, library, culture, and campus community (pp. 75-95). Association of College & Research Libraries.

Falkoff, M. (2018, April 25). Why we must stop relying on student ratings of teaching. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Goodsett, M. (2014). Reflective teaching: Improving library instruction through self-reflection. The Southeastern Librarian, 62(3), 12-15.

Graduate Student Career and Professional Development. (2019). How to write a teaching statement that stands out. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Khanmohammad, H., & Eilaghi, A. (2017). The effect of self-reflective journaling on long-term self-efficacy of EFL student teachers. In J. Vopava, V. Douda, R. Kratochvil, & M. Konecki (Eds.), Proceedings of AC 2017 (pp. 547-561). MAC Prague Consulting.

Mortari, L. (2012). Learning thoughtful reflection in teacher education. Teachers and Training: Theory and Practice, 18(5), 525-545.

Murray, E. (2015). Improving learning through collaborative reflective teaching cycles. Investigations in Mathematics Learning, 7(3), 23-29 (EJ1057515). ERIC.

Owen, A. (2019, June 24). The next lawsuits to hit higher education. Inside Higher Ed.

Renard, L. (2019, February 21). How to become a reflective teacher- The complete guide for reflection in teaching. Book Widgets.

Shandomo, H. M. (2010). The role of critical reflection in teacher education. School-University Partnerships, 4(1), 101-113 (EJ915885). ERIC.

Tompkins, E. K. (2009). A reflective teaching journal: An instructional improvement tool for academic librarians. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 16(4), 221-238.

York-Barr, J., Sommers, W.A., Ghere, G.S., & Montie, J.K. (Eds.). (2006). Reflective practice to improve schools: An action guide for educators. SAGE Publications.

Zahid, M., & Khanam, A. (2019). Effect of reflective teaching practices on the performance of prospective teachers. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 18(1), 32-43 (EJ1201647). ERIC.


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Instruction in Libraries and Information Centers Copyright © 2020 by Laura Saunders and Melissa A. Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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