During your time as a trainee or full-time teacher, you are constantly evaluating your own teaching practice through the exercise of formative assessment, conversations with your colleagues and class observations. Plunging into the world of supply teaching opens you up to a range of benefits but you may feel a little lost without the continuity of being in the same class day in and day out.
You may begin to wonder, “How am I doing as a teacher?” or “Did I deliver that lesson well today?”. You could end up having a bit of a bad day and feeling like you have no one to reflect with or no clear steps to help improve your practice down the line. This may not apply to supply teachers in long-term placements but for those of you who have questioned how you’re getting on in day-to-day supply life, here are a couple of tips on how to continue being a reflective practitioner.
Write, write, write
Schools almost always ask supply teachers to complete marking for the day before leaving. With social distancing measures, this might differ today. Depending on the school’s own feedback system for supply teachers, in addition to marking, you could note down a quick overview of the day. This would detail:
- How each lesson went
- Which children didn’t progress as much during the lesson. Might they require extra support the following day?
- Those who progressed at an accelerated rate
- Children to be rewarded for good behaviour
- Any behavioural issues
- Overall comments about the day
In writing all this down, you’ll paint a detailed picture for the class teacher and for yourself about how the day went. It will bring to the forefront of your mind what went well and what could be improved upon in your own practice. What supported the pupils’ learning? Did you resolve that issue at playtime to the best of your ability? Do you need to improve your subject knowledge or think about developing your pedagogy for a specific topic? Taking note of your thoughts at the end of the day is a useful tool that you can look back on – almost like a journal. Even if you’re only teaching that class as a one-off, you’ve already started taking action and can put time into research and finding literature linked to your focuses. Then hopefully, at some point, you can put your ideas into practice.
Talk, talk, talk
Whether you’re a regular visitor at a school or just making a fleeting visit, speaking to other staff at the school can give you an understanding of different ways you could deliver a lesson. Hearing them illustrate their own practice and map out their thought process will give you a few ideas you could “magpie” or build on in your own way. If you’re lucky enough to have a teaching assistant (TA) in your class, you might want to catch them during a break time and ask them which children they noticed were struggling, distracted or really tuned in. This then gives you the chance to reflect and practice new strategies for the remainder of the day, even if you’re teaching something completely different. Also, observing how the TA interacts with the class will give you some cues on the class culture – thus helping you form an understanding of what might help their learning and what might hinder it. Opening a discussion with a member of staff, regardless of how (un)familiar you are with them, can help you to form some alternative views and broaden how you might approach a similar situation next time.
As teachers (supply or not), we naturally question ourselves and reflect upon how our class was that day, week or year. What is unique to being a supply teacher and maintaining reflective practice is that break in continuity. Formalising your personal reflections in a way that allows you to keep track of and record your performance will be beneficial to your growth. Taking inspiration and creating your own opportunities for reflection with peers would also aid continuity and stability in your practice. You might not be able to refer to recent observation notes or attend staff training meetings but you can bring yourself to account and set goals – challenging yourself to become a more motivated and innovative educator.