Writing a reflective essay on teaching and learning offers you the opportunity to think about your beliefs and ideas on teaching and analyse how those beliefs and ideas manifest themselves in practice in your classroom. Not only does the teaching and learning reflective essay give you the chance to think critically about yourself as a teacher, but it can also serve as an introductory document to your teaching portfolio.
Ask yourself what learning means to you and what qualifies as a successful learning situation. Make sure to take note of what counts as concept mastery in your discipline, and think about how your definition of learning coincides with that of your field. Also, consider whether or not your definition of successful learning has changed over time.
Ask yourself some questions about teaching. What are your goals and aspirations as a teacher? Have these goals changed over time? What are your beliefs about teaching, and how would you categorise your role in the classroom? Think of analogies that might describe your behaviour as a teacher. Are you a coach? An entertainer?
Look back at your teaching goals and your definition of a successful learning situation. What steps would you take/have you taken to reach these goals and attain successful learning in your classroom? Think about specific assignments, course materials, lesson plans, assessment instruments and student evaluations of your teaching.
Determine how you plan to continue developing as a teacher. Will you attend workshops? Will you attend disciplinary meetings and/or conventions? Do you have plans to write a book or make presentations in your discipline regarding your teaching methods?
Begin to organise and write your essay using the information you came up with during the first four steps. The teaching and learning reflective essay is personal, and should be written in a first-person, informal style. A personal anecdote can serve as an introduction to your teaching and learning goals and philosophies, but is not mandatory.
After writing your introductory anecdote or general introduction, look back at Steps 1 through 4. Give each of these steps its own paragraph or two in your essay so that your essay would be organised as follows: Your definition of successful learning, your beliefs and goals as a teacher, and descriptions of how your classroom activities and designs reflect your teaching goals and ideas on successful learning. Finish with your ideas for continued professional development. Once you have finished your essay, ask a seasoned teacher to read and respond to your reflection, and then make any necessary revisions.
Should you choose to start your essay with a personal anecdote, consider choosing a story from your days as a student, rather than from your time as a teacher. You can then make reference throughout the essay to your time as a student as a way to show the reader how your student experiences have shaped your ideas about teaching and learning.
If you are using your reflective essay as part of a job application, check with the school in question to see if they have a specific format for teaching essays. If you are using your reflective essay as an introduction to a teaching portfolio for tenure review, your department or school may have a specific format they want you to follow in writing the essay, or they may mandate that you address specific qualities of your teaching.