Back in January, I was casting about for some instructional inspiration. What could I do, what could I try to improve my teaching in the upcoming semester? A light bulb went off when I suddenly remembered Betsy Tompkins’ (2009) excellent article on reflective journals. She suggests that the systematic practice of recording teaching processes, decisions and behaviors may be “a source of inspiration and professional development” (Tompkins, 2009, p. 232) to academic librarians. Motivated by her example, I experimented with a reflective teaching journal during the Spring 2018 semester and was delighted with the results. Below are my four best reasons why you might consider keeping one yourself.
- Cheap and easy
No need to register for another expensive webinar or workshop. This professional development opportunity will cost you nothing more than a bit of time and effort. To get started, all I did was set up a journal entry template in Word, modifying Tompkins’ (2009) form to include sections on materials, assessment and future planning. Over the course of 15 weeks, I used this template to create entries on 25 one-shot sessions. I’ve included my template in this post as well as a sample entry prepared for a BU401 Elements of Marketing class.
Typically, I would fill in a template through the “Summative Assessment” section before the class meeting; this act of writing actually enhanced my lesson planning. Then I tried very hard to complete the “Post Class Reflections” and “Link to Future Planning” sections immediately following the class. The latter didn’t always happen, but I found I generated much better insights when I journaled right away.
- Good data
A teaching journal can help remind you what to do different and better the next time around. Recently, I was asked to teach a summer section of Elements of Marketing with two days’ notice. I pulled out the Spring 2018 BU401 journal entry below and was immediately reminded to update my materials with the new textbook title and with a U.S. Census citation demonstration.
I am hopeful that my journal notes will also inform conversations this fall with returning classroom faculty. Rather than passively accepting incoming instructional requests, I now feel equipped to initiate specific recommendations and suggestions. Two possible examples include:
- “Follow up with (professor’s name) re books as sources conversation. If in fact he does link book use to better papers, perhaps we can devise an assignment whereby students locate and engage with one book related to “Exit West” themes.”
- “It was progress that she included a graded assignment related to the library session. But maybe going forward, we could push beyond finding the article and add on reading/understanding the article. I take responsibility for that, and will be more assertive going forward.”
- How am I doing?
A lot of my entries are pretty basic, like “I was flat today” or “This lesson plan has too much content” or “Consider eliminating the research question video.” But in February I wrote up an experience which I am still thinking about. A student stopped me after class and said: Excuse me, professor. I hope you don’t mind me asking. How do you think you did today? I was startled and amazed by his question. When I asked if he wanted to give me any feedback, he shared: You are too comprehensive. Students are not robots. Just say – there’s information out there if you want it. And you know what, he is right! I sometimes worry so much about clarity and connecting the dots, that I often do not leave space for trust and discovery. Journaling helped me to process this truth and has helped kept this experience front and center all semester.
- Teaching artifact
An academic librarian can use a reflective journal to improve her teaching. She can also use it as an artifact of her instructional efforts. I plan to print all my Spring 2018 entries and organize them into a notebook, which I will then deposit into my Queensborough personnel file. That journal is a detailed record of my teaching activity; and while it may not hold the same currency within CUNY as student evaluations and classroom observations, it does provide authentic evidence of my commitment to teaching and learning.