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  • Writer's picturesarahlmauro

How to Be a Better Teacher Through Reflection

Updated: Mar 29

No matter what your position is- new teacher, teacher in a new job, veteran teacher, team leader- reflecting on your teaching methods is crucial to improving your practice and helping students have a more meaningful time in your classroom.

It starts with thinking about your school year and, perhaps obviously, what went well and didn’t.

But that’s just the jumping off point. Diving into things more critically is what I’m going to help you with in this post.

I’ve been teaching music for nearly a decade, mostly in elementary and middle school. Taking the opportunity to reflect on how things went during my year has made me a better teacher and positively affected my students. Be sure, self-reflecting is not just for classroom teachers!

Over my career, I’ve realized that the best way for meaningful reflection to happen- without getting lost down a rabbit hole of overthinking- is to:

  • ask myself questions

  • determine my markers of success, and

  • brainstorm ways to improve on weaknesses

If you’re struggling getting started with self-reflection on your teaching, this post is for you. This prompt format is a great way to consider different aspects of your practice without overwhelming yourself!

And if the idea of specific music teacher toolbox strategies and resources is something that excites you, you’d get a lot out of joining the ADM community. In my email newsletters, I help educators like you teach meaningfully and joyfully- but beyond the music- in your classrooms.

Join now here!

Here we go!

Mint green background with text reading how to meaningfully reflect on your teaching, four questions to ask yourself. Graphics of a thought bubble and a chaklboard. A Different Musician logo is as the bottom.

How to Meaningfully Reflect on Your Teaching Practice

I know that I am a HUGE over-thinker. I can ask myself one question that leads to so many others, like intertwining paths to who knows where. By the time I feel like I've dug really deep, often I have gone so far from where I started that it's not as helpful as it would have been to just follow a map.

So I'm giving you a map.

Like I mentioned above, I've developed a prompt format to get you started.

Below are four questions. For each one, you're going to think about your markers of success and areas of weakness. Then, I'm going to give you a small set of tasks to hone in on your shining moments and ways to create more of them next year!

Self-Reflection Questions

1. What did you teach, were students engaged, and what expectations did you set?

2. How did students show you what they learned?

3. What do you wish you had done more of?

4. What were some of your best lessons and why?

We all know it’s hard to boil down your year, so even picking a few of these questions to answer is a great start!

To help you tackle these questions, I'll answer them with an example from my past school year with fourth grade:

1. What did you teach, were students engaged, and what expectations did you set?

Since this is basically a recall question, and my list will undoubtedly look different from yours, let’s jump to the next reflection area.

Markers of success: I am happy with the varied skills and content areas I covered. We sang, moved, listened, responded, played gamed, and learned new instruments. I know that kids had fun in music class because of the laughter, the kinds of questions they asked, and the enthusiasm they showed.

Improving on weaknesses: Considering some of the recurring behaviors and habits I saw, I do think my expectations could have been higher at times. Next year, I want to teach routines and procedures more explicitly and give students ample time to practice them.

Your tasks: What would you define as markers of success in your classroom? What are some of your weaknesses? How did they show up this year and what can you do to turn them around next year? (Tip: sometimes it’s hard to articulate these two things, so you might ask yourself instead, What behaviors and habits did students show that I was pleased with/ frustrated with?)

2. How did students show you what they learned?

As teachers, we know we need to go past teaching and providing opportunities. We need to assess what the students learned. And to assess it, we need to identify how they showed it.

I’m talking about more than just your report cards, which may or may not assess standards or musical skills. I’m talking about knowing your students’ musical proficiencies based on their own performance.

Markers of success: My fourth graders showed me they knew barred instruments, for example, by performing with the skills we learned and reading the notation. In general, students could do these things independently pretty well.

Your task: Consider how much students accomplished this year and how they showed it. Put another way, when were you really proud of your students?

Improving on weaknesses: Several times, students showed me they could not recall skills or strategies that we had been practicing. In the moment, I provided interventions or re-taught content. Next year, perhaps there are more note-naming routines I can build into each lesson. We could do a centers day where we focus on literacy. Or maybe more student models would be a good idea.

Your task: Could lack of retention be addressed with a change in opening class routines, themed days to work on specific skills, or further intervention related to behavior? How can you anticipate these things and build in responses or natural consequences?

3. What do you wish you had done more of?

No one gets to absolutely everything they want to do in a year, especially specialists with limited time with kids. And sometimes you realize that things that worked well are applicable in other scenarios.

Markers of success: When students enjoyed certain games or activities, I usually found time to repeat them at a later date that worked for me. Also, I learned from my students that asking for their input on how to handle disputes was a good way to get them thinking about fairness and equity- instead of me making every decision without giving them the chance to think critically about their role in their own classroom.

Improving on weaknesses: I sometimes misjudged how much time students would need to learn harder musical skills or prepare for a performance. With more focused, goal-oriented planning, I can do better at scaffolding next year.

Your tasks: Think about what activities, content, songs, or games your students enjoyed. Are there similar ones that would reinforce the same skills or help teach new ones? Similarly, what routines and habits did you do that created a welcoming environment or positive culture? How can you apply those to other grade levels or classes?

4. What were some of your best lessons and why?

Do you have certain days that stand out to you as just about picture perfect? I bet you do!

Markers of success: My fourth graders LOVED “Old Roger", which we did in October for Halloween. After I saw that songs with refrains or that could be acted out were a bit hit with them, we did a few other similar activities through the year. They were meaningful and students had a voice in making them happen.

Improving on weaknesses: Just like I can think of my best lessons, I can think of the derailed ones, too. They didn’t work because of a variety of things, some of which were in my control and some of which weren’t. Days like that happen, but next year I want to help my students be more accountable by letting them brainstorm solutions with me to get back on track.

Your tasks: What kinds of lessons are your sweet spots? Can you find similar content to teach, or even repeat the activity another time? On the other hand, if lessons got derailed, what did you do to fix them? How can you involve your students in the solution next time?


Did or does this prompt format seem manageable?

I like it because it's very specific, but still broken up into bite-sized chunks.

What else would be helpful to you as you think about your teaching practice?

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions! I'd love to connect with you. You can find me at the socials below!

And remember, joining the ADM community is a great way to learn more about strategies and resources to help you teach meaningfully and joyfully in your classroom!

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