The Reflection Cycle & Teacher Development

This week in the Digital Education Leadership program, we continued our exploration of ISTE Coaching Standard 4B: “Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.” ( 2017) This is my 4th post exploring this standard. I’ve previously considered how to use the workshop model to implement effective technology-focused professional development, how to incorporate self-assessment as a best practice for applying new knowledge, and how to include elements of active learning when planning professional development sessions. My focus for this post is on the role that administrators play in the process of professional development.

When considering the role administrators should play in professional development, issues such as funding, resources, and time management to accommodate teacher release come to mind. These components are practical and necessary, but they often occur behind the scenes and are not likely to make teachers feel independently supported and heard. As a high school teacher, I asked myself what my administration could do to best support me in my growth as related to technology professional development. Above all, I want a choice in what I learn and how I learn it. I also want support in that endeavor, which is where administration comes in!

The Reflection Cycle is a way that administrators can require teachers to pursue professional development while giving teachers the autonomy in what and how they learn. My school uses the Reflection Cycle as a tool for evaluation and development. Teachers must choose two goals to pursue. One is completely up to the teacher and the other must be rooted in a goal developed by a teacher’s PLC. While not traditionally used to implement technology-based development and growth, I believe the Reflection Cycle is ideal for that exact purpose.

The Reflection Cycle method meets the needs of adult learners in two keys ways. The most important way is in giving teachers a choice in what they would like to pursue. For technology-focused development, this might be an exploration that is oriented around a particular tool or learning goal. By allowing teachers to make this choice, there is inherent intrinsic motivation. The other key way in which the Reflection Cycle supports adult learners is by allowing teachers a choice in how to pursue their goal. Some teachers may have an exact solution in mind (“I’d like to attend X training.”) while others may need the support of a coach or peer to find a solution (“I’m interested in student blogging, but have no idea where to start.”). Just as we aim for differentiated instruction with our students, we should also differentiate for teachers.

While the particulars of the Reflection Cycle vary by institution, most cycles tend to follow Kolb’s Four Elements of Experiential Learning:

  1. concrete experience
  2. reflection
  3. abstract conceptualization
  4. active experimentation

This particular model of learning is cyclical or ” ‘iterative’ because [it is] based on a repeating, but continually evolving and improving, cycle of learning.” (Scales, 2008, p. 12)

The concrete experience is the classroom practice that a teacher chooses to focus on. For the Reflection Cycle, this might be a specific lesson, learning strategy, or a broader topic like a class policy. For applying the Reflection Cycle to technology, this concrete experience could stem from a particular tool (OneNote), a skill set (online research), or a need (student collaboration). Additionally, teachers could be asked to select one of the ISTE teacher standards to focus on.

The next step in the Cycle is reflection. Reflection asks the teacher to think critically about the concrete experience. This might include guiding questions such as:

  • what were my students learning goals?
  • how did I teach the content?
  • what went well?
  • what could be improved on?
  • what did my students take away from this lesson/project/tool?
  • did I meet the needs of ALL learners?

Particular to technology, you might ask the following:

  • did technology enhance this content? (or, if not currently used) could technology enhance this content?
  • how would this content change if I were to use a different digital tool?
  • what elements of 21st century learning could I bring into this content?
  • are there additional opportunities for collaboration that I bring into this content?

In the abstract conceptualization stage of the Reflection Cycle, teachers are given the opportunity to explore solutions to the needs they identified in the previous step. As mentioned earlier, some teachers know where to go to identify resources while others may need additional help and guidance. Solutions can vary widely by the teacher and the goal. Goals might include attending a conference, release time to observe mentor teachers, digital or print resources, funding of a particular tool, meeting with a coach, or participating in a webinar. During this stage it is critical that administrators provide support for the agreed upon solution.

The final stage in the Reflection Cycle is active experimentation. Teachers have an opportunity to apply their newfound knowledge and determine the impact on student learning. Accountability at this stage should be pre-determined by the teacher and administrator: Is there going to be a formal observation? Will student data be collected? This is also an ideal time for the teacher to meet with peers to share the experience.

Of course the beauty of the Reflection Cycle is that once you complete the last stage, you can begin again as you continually refine and improve on your practice as a teacher.

You might be asking yourself what this looks like on a practical level. How can an administrator with dozens of teachers to oversee manage this type of independent, self-driven professional development? My school has experienced success with the SMART goal template. Administration uses the SMART template to support teachers in creating Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based goals. As teachers, we meet with administration throughout the Cycle in order to stay accountable, access resources, and share both challenges and successes. In my five years of teaching in two states, this is by far the best way that I have seen professional development implemented and I’m excited for the potential to use this technique specific to technology-related development.



Scales, P. (2008). Teaching in the lifelong learning sector. Maidenhead:
     McGraw-Hill/Open University Press.

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