Reflection and Systematic Action: the Teacher as Researcher Becoming an excellent teacher is not a

Becoming an excellent teacher is not a matter of simply memorizing and applying a few formulas, rules and theories. The educator practices an art that can only be perfected with time, through interaction with students and other educators, and personal effort to improve. Advancement depends on the capacity of the educator to learn from all of these experiences – not only to carry out activities each day, but also to take the time to observe, reflect, analyze, search for and apply new ideas, and evaluate their results – in order to become continually more capable of guiding the development of students’ capabilities. In other words, advancement depends on the teacher’s capacity as a researcher.

There are certain qualities of the researcher that every teacher needs to develop, such as observational skills, the ability to perceive changes in a system, and the ability to detect patterns. But the activities of a teacher, unlike those of many researchers, are not only concerned with disconnected analysis of events that have already occurred. The teacher is an action- researcher in the truest sense of the word, because he or she must continually learn in action and from action about how to make improvements over time.

It is in this context that tools such as the “teacher diary” have become more and more widely used. Professor David Jeffrey summarizes research about this tool, saying:

“Teacher diaries are recognized as useful introspective methods that assist in the professional development of teachers (Maneekhao and Watson Todd, 2001; McDonough, 1994; Thornbury, 1991; Lowe, 1984)… They are personal accounts of classroom experiences with the aim of finding new insights. They involve an inwardly reflective procedure by thinking back carefully over the lessons, putting our thoughts into writing and then analysing these for deeper insights. The self- awareness generated by this contemplative procedure can be beneficial for the personal-professional development of teachers.”

As this summary indicates, the teacher diary is usually conceived of as a personal reflective tool, in which a teacher might write each day or each week in order to review experiences and seek out means for personal improvement. This cultivates an attitude of reflective teaching, described by British Council teacher trainer Julie Tice as “…looking at what you do in the classroom, thinking about why you do it, and thinking about if it works - a process of self- observation and self-evaluation. By collecting information about what goes on in our classroom, and by analysing and evaluating this information, we identify and explore our own practices and underlying beliefs. This may then lead to changes and improvements in our teaching.”

While it is true that personal professional development is an important purpose of teacher diaries, use of this tool should by no means be limited here. The conception of a teacher as researcher does not only mean that he or she is learning systematically in order to improve his or her own practice, but also that the teacher is an actor capable of generating knowledge about the educational process itself as a field of scientific inquiry about interaction with the human mind and character. Seen in this light, education is not only an art, but one of the most complicated of the sciences. While other scientists dedicate their energies to investigating molecules, specific animal species, ecological systems, and an array of other living and non-living forms, the educator is one of the few scientists whose subject of study is a being endowed with consciousness and reason.

The overarching research question of the educator – how to enable the human beings with whom he or she is interacting to develop their capacities to their fullest potential – is an enormously complex question, involving an array of factors into which the gaze of science has barely penetrated. Issues such as the roots of motivation, the discovery and development of particular talents, the cultivation of those spiritual qualities that enable disciplined and focused progress, the extraordinary connections between mental structure and language, and the faculty of communication itself, which no other animal possesses in anything like comparable range and richness – all of these present profound subjects of inquiry for every teacher.

If the teacher diary is used with an eye towards the gradual generation of knowledge about these and other related subjects, the teacher not only becomes a professional capable of systematically improving his or her practice, but also truly begins to see the world as a researcher, a scientist who is investigating and discovering more about the incredible world of human potential every day.

1. Jeffrey, David. “A Teacher Diary Experience.” Accessed on December 1, 2006 from

2. Tice, Julie. “Reflective Teaching: Exploring our own Classroom Practice.” Accessed on December 1, 2006 from