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Reflecting on Teaching

This is an excerpt from Core Teaching Practices for Health Education by Phillip C. Ward & Shonna L. Snyder.


Though the word reflection has many definitions, forms, and foci, we define it in the context of teaching as the purposeful act of inquiry into your own behavior and students’ behaviors, and the purpose is to improve your teaching and student learning. Reflection can take place before (e.g., reflecting on the previous lesson), during, or after the lesson. Reflection can also occur long after the event (e.g., reflecting on how you taught something last year). To reflect, you must first attend to the critical aspects of your teaching or student performance and then spend time reflecting on your observations.

Your reflection should be purposeful (i.e., you act on your findings), and it should result in maintenance of good teaching practices, refinement, and a focus on improving practices and those that are less effective. Think about a sculptor sculpting her clay (teaching behaviors and student learning) in different ways to produce the sculpture she envisions. In the context of teaching, you reflect on teaching behaviors and student learning different ways to produce the outcome you desire, student learning. Such reflection requires observation, judgment, and action. As teachers, you are expected to be intentional decision makers, and to that end, reflection is a critical teaching practice.

Reflection can be approached in many ways. Important considerations include the following:

  1. Make notes in your lesson plan immediately following a lesson, when events are fresh in your mind. Chefs make many edits to recipes, changing the amount of ingredients or procedures in the margins. We think that lesson plans should be living documents as well, constantly modified with notes and comments in electronic documents or written on hard copies.
  2. While you might make notes on your teaching, effective teachers also put aside time to reflect more deeply, particularly when your note at the end of lesson is something like, “Don’t do it this way again.” You will need time to research ways to do something differently the next time the lesson is taught.
  3. After you write down your thoughts, make changes where necessary.
  4. Reflection is not confined to a single lesson. Broader issues such as social justice or social and emotional learning (SEL) require more frequent reflection.
  5. Not all reflection is focused on a lesson. Reflection can also be focused on other education issues like your mission statement, advocacy efforts, or social justice.

There is no one way to reflect, no one-size-fits-all strategy that works for all teachers. Different teachers use different methods or a combination of methods. Here are some common examples.

  • Talk with a peer or group of peers. Reflection is helped by posing problems and asking questions. One good way to do this is with a peer or group of peers who meet regularly and can help unpack the issue you are reflecting on.
  • Ask students for their opinion. It can be daunting to ask students how the lesson went, and you must be ready for the hard truth when asking for this information. You must never take it personally, but rather remember that this information is a way to reflect. Students can respond by writing on note cards or just in conversation. Getting students’ opinions also engages them in the purpose of the lesson, and that is always a good thing.
  • Keep a reflection journal. A reflection journal allows you to capture details of your teaching directly after class, which provides an ongoing narrative of your teaching across terms and years. Taking five or so minutes after class, write thoughts on the day's lesson (typing or handwriting works, although handwriting often supports better memory and reflection). You might reflect on the following questions: What went well today? What could I have done differently? How will I modify my instruction in the future?
  • Use teaching inventories. Teaching inventories provide a sort of checklist to use as a self-check. They require you to respond to questions about your teaching practice and are usually designed to assess the extent to which particular teaching practices are used. They often consist of multiple-choice questions on a Likert scale and typically take less than 15 minutes to complete. You can find inventories online ( Inventories are not something to be used regularly, but using them two or three times a year can be useful.
  • Video-record your teaching. You can record your lessons using a camera, phone, or even wearable technologies such as GoPro. We favor cameras or phones because they focus clearly on you as the teacher. Observing your teaching can make visible to you things you would otherwise not see. Doing so can significantly increase your understanding of your teaching and the nuances of your lesson.
More Excerpts From Core Teaching Practices for Health Education