Teacher Education

The Power of Looking Within: Reflect, Learn & Grow

Discover how to embrace self-reflection as a regular practice for ongoing growth and development

This session will focus on the power of self-reflection, and how this powerful tool enables educators to deepen their learning and personal growth. Through introspection and critical analysis, educators can gain a deeper understanding of teaching practices, personal biases, and areas for improvement. This self-awareness allows educators to continuously evolve and enhance their skills, positively impacting our students’ learning outcomes. Discover how embracing self-reflection as a regular practice is crucial for ongoing growth and development as educators.



Dr. Francesca Sparks is a highly experienced and passionate educator with more than 30 years of service in education. She began her career as a special education teacher and basketball coach, and then District management roles. Over the course of her career, she has facilitated equity institutes, served on equity research teams for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA); the State Child Welfare and Attendance Committee; the San Bernardino County African American Task Force, and received the ACSA Diversity Award.

In retirement, she focuses on supporting the next generation of educators as an Educational Clinical Supervisor for the University of Massachusetts Global and the University of La Verne. She has also served as an Adjunct Professor for the University of La Verne.

Dr. Sparks specializes in Special Education, and her passion for this specialty led her to start her own company, Education Assistance LLC., where she provides advocacy services and support to families and individuals with disabilities. 

Dr. Sparks is a proud mother of four adult children and a loving grandmother to five grandchildren.


Jessica Hurdley:

I am pleased to introduce Dr. Francesca Sparks, who after 30 years in education, retired and now fills her time as an educational clinical supervisor for the University of Massachusetts Global and the University of La Verne. Dr. Sparks, welcome today. Thank you so much for hosting this session with us as well. I’m going to go ahead and turn the time over to you and you can take it away.

Dr. Francesca Sparks:

Well, good morning and good afternoon for those who are not in the Pacific time zone. It is a wonderful morning and I am so happy and glad that we are here together to go through this process and this journey of learning and self-reflection. I’m going to go ahead and share my screen. This morning, we are going to discuss the power of looking within, reflect, learn, and grow. As educators, we are always our worst critics when it comes to pretty much anything in our lives. When we’re in our careers, in our lives, in anything that we do in the community, we self-reflect constantly.

So this morning I want to welcome you to another opportunity to reflect and learn about reflection. The purpose of this morning is we’re going to involve ourselves in critical examination of thoughts, beliefs, and ideas regarding self-reflection. Through this process, we will identify how self-reflection reinforces personal strengths and strengthens areas of growth in teaching strategies. We’ll discuss how self-reflection increases effectiveness of learning, planning and teaching strategies. And we’ll determine how as teachers, we reflect and create positive academic outcomes for our students and we will foster a culture of continuous improvement in teaching.

Our presentation discussions. We just finished the introduction. This morning, I want you to just take a moment and reflect on your personal life and in the chat add if you had to describe your life in three words, how would you do it. Only three words. I’ll give you about a minute.

Yes. Cheerful, diligent, appreciative. Thank you, Melody. Okay, so let’s go on to some research, which is our next step here, and then we … I’m so sorry. And then we will move into the importance of self-reflection for educators, three ways to use self-reflection for deeper learning, benefits of using self-reflection for teachers and students, and then review some key points. We have a quote, “The act of reflecting is one which causes us to make sense of what we’ve learned, why we learned it, and how that increment of learning takes place.”

“Moreover, reflection is about linking one increment of learning to the wider perspective of learning, heading towards seeing the bigger picture,” and that is Philip Race in 2026. He is currently one of the most foremost in reference to speaking about self-reflection along with Dewey and Costa and Garmston. Right here we have a couple of quotes from each one of their articles or books regarding self-reflection. And I’ll give you just a second to look at those.

Okay. Let’s move on. Why is self-reflection important? Well, the first idea or component of self-reflection and why it’s important is personal growth and self-improvement. Number two would be increased awareness of teaching practices, and number three is improve student learning. So let’s look at number one, personal growth and self-improvement. These two items are very essential to the growth of teaching and self-reflection. It involves a critical examination of your daily ideas, your daily lesson planning, your daily lesson and content that you have taught throughout the day.

It can identify your weaknesses, your areas of growth, I prefer areas of growth, and it can show you or identify your strengths and it impacts the students when you do this. It gives you a better focus on how you can improve your student outcomes. It fosters self-awareness. One of the things that we as teachers and as humans do is we look at ourselves and we are very critical of ourselves, especially when we have to talk in front of others or we hear our recording or we have to speak. One of those things is being self-aware.

It helps us for personal growth and it improves our teaching practices. That way we are able to move forward and continue to progress throughout the year. By engaging in self-reflection, teachers can become more effective, more supportive educators and they can learn positive impact on their students. But essentially, self-reflection is for that personal growth and that self-improvement and the engagement of self-reflection, and continuous development in your professional development. Two, increase the awareness of teaching practices.

One of the things as we are life learners, and I believe that all teachers are life learners, whether they start out that way or they learn and they grow into life learners, we have a love for doing something new, getting out of the box, keeping our students engaged. So when we do self-reflection, it increases the awareness of how we’re teaching and what practices we’re using and what strategies we’re using to impact our students in a positive way and get those positive academic and often behavioral outcomes. It improves our methods of teaching.

It improves our strategies. It improves how we approach our students and even how we create our lesson plans. It involves consciousness of awareness and reflection. It takes time to look deeper into what we do on a daily basis. It’s just not skimming the surface. It’s taking the time to honestly look at ourselves to say, hey, what could I have done better? What could have I adjusted? And it aligns us with our TPEs. If we are coaches and helping our candidates in college and teachers that are seeking their credentials, it helps us to improve our feedback to the teachers.

All right. Self-reflection also improves student learning. So when we reflect on what we do in the classroom, how we do our strategies, how we implement practices, whether it be lessons, discipline, our UDL strategies, our MTSS strategies, that is a connection, a direct connection to student learning. When we learn, our students learn. By reflecting on our teaching methods and also important, our classroom management, not classroom control, classroom management and our strategies, and it helps us to engage and make that connection, that personal connection to our students.

It changes how we support student learning as a whole. Self-reflection also gives us a growth mindset. It takes us out of that box and it gives us areas to move around and find new ideas and new ways and leaning in instead of leaning back and looking and being very harsh and just going day to day. It gives us an opportunity to look out in the distance and see a far off and how we can improve ourselves and our growth mindset and also our students. Also, we want to look at daily reflection. Self-reflection is not just a one-time thing.

It is a daily thing. It is something that is a journey. As long as we’re in the career of teaching or even if we go outside of the career of teaching, daily reflection is important. It’s essential to growth. Setting aside time for personal reflection, whether it be teaching or students or in our daily lives, it’s important. Identifying areas for improvement is essential to growing in self-reflection and growing in the classroom, growing in our curriculum development, growing in our lesson plan development and identifying where we need to grow so our students can grow.

And making actionable goals. That’s one of the things that I had to learn personally. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have what we have now. We have clinical supervisors. When I started teaching in 1987, I did not have that support. So it gives me the pleasure to pay it forward to our students and our candidates now because we teach them to make new goals. We teach them to cross out the goals that they have completed and move to the next one. We help them prioritize what’s important in the classroom. And another thing that I always help the candidates in is I help them balance.

I remind them that is very, very important to balance your personal life with your work life. And one of the things that I say all the time, if you are not well, your classroom is not going to be well. Your students are not going to be well. Your teaching practices are not going to be well. So when you take care of yourself, you can take care of everyone else around you.

Next we have one of the things that I did not do early on in my teaching is collaborative reflection, which actually was very frustrating for me. I didn’t have someone to tell me, hey, let’s go meet … Like we have PLCs right now, I didn’t have the opportunity to do that. So one of the things that I encourage the candidates to do and students to do and teachers to do is collaborate. Collaborative reflection, it’s wonderful. So we’re going to look at three areas of collaborative reflection. The first one is engaging in dialogue with colleagues.

When we dialogue with colleagues, it’s a reflective journey. If you have the support we provide today for college candidates, and I don’t know your age group that’s online with me. If you can reflect back and determine whether or not you have the opportunity to dialogue with your colleagues, with your peers, have that PLC experience. But when you that opportunity, this is what it does for your growth, your self-reflection and learning and growing. Engaging with your colleagues impacts the teacher and your student growth.

Now you have the opportunity to talk with teachers who are teaching the same subjects, teaching the same coursework, and you can talk about how to develop your teaching strategies. So they can come in and say, hey, why don’t you watch me teach this lesson and give me some feedback? And we have to be able to take positive and negative feedback. It helps us grow. By discussing and exchanging ideas and perspectives, teacher can gain new insights and strategies for teaching practices. It helps us to move in a direction of positivity of change.

We have students today that are not like the students that I had when I started teaching. They’re more social media-oriented, so their attention span is maybe 15 minutes at the most, but you only have 10 seconds to engage them and keep them engaged. So when you discuss different ways and new insights with your colleagues and your peers, you find better ways to engage your students. That leads to improving student outcomes again and improves instruction. And I guarantee you, you will enjoy that process of teaching much more than you had before.

Also, collaborating with your peers and your colleagues fosters a sense of community and support. It lets you know that you have people or friends or colleagues that you can go to before you’re so frustrated and that you don’t want to teach anymore or you become burnout and the people that you build up as a community will support you positively. And you have to have those people that are going to be honest with you, not those that will want to just say yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. You want people in your community that are going to support you and support you the right way.

You want people that are going to fill your cup, not those that are going to always draw from your cup. And you want to be that positive influence as well. Any questions so far? Okay. All right. Moving on then. But overall, when we dialogue with our colleagues, it facilitates culture, continuous learning and improvement. It benefits everyone at the school, especially that little community that you have that you call students.

Next, we have sharing experiences. Find my right slide here. When we share our experiences, I think we went over just a few moments ago and we can pull from our colleagues, it actually takes some of the pressure off of us to always have to find a new idea or a new practice or a new strategy. It helps us to understand that we don’t have all the answers, and it’s okay not to have all the answers and go to your colleagues that may have some answers. Or we have the University of Google, we have the University of YouTube that has a host of ideas and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

All right. Next slide. Focused on self-reflection. There’s three areas that I would like to bring to you in reference to being focused on reflection. It’s three ways to use self-reflection for deeper learning and growth. Number one, reflecting on specific lessons or activities. Number two, analyzing student performance. And number three, identifying changes for future lessons. And we always want to be cognizant of how we’re going to function in future lessons. I had a candidate just the other day who said, if I could have my class from last year back again, I would do it completely different.

Because he has learned different strategies through the coaching and through the self-reflection process, he has learned new ways to engage the students. All right. When we’re specifically focused on reflection and focused on specific lessons, it can help both the teacher and the students by providing structured frameworks or evaluating and improving their learning experience by looking back at your previous lessons and reflecting on your activities and your lesson lesson plans and did they identify or meet the level of your students? Did the students meet their learning goals for that lesson?

And if they did, how can you improve that? But if they did not, what can you do differently to make those lessons and activities more applicable to your student population? Your instructional materials, take account to reflect on your instructional materials. If you have a student group that is primarily hands-on, I am a very visual learner, so I love direct instruction, but I actually have to have my body in the seat to learn and see examples. So I take that into account because I’m a bit ADHD, so I take that into account when I’m helping my candidates create lesson plans.

How well do you know your student group? That question will help you develop better lesson plans, more effective lesson plans for them, and more effective activities to engage a deeper learning process. When you focus on reflection, it also helps students develop a growth mindset. When you know your students and you know how they learn and their styles of learning and you help them learn how to self-reflect on their learning process, it changes how they see and how they learn. It changes how they think about learning. It helps them see some of the mistakes.

It helps your students learn some of their areas of growth, their areas of strength, and then you can help them proactively help move to help that learning process more enjoyable for them. Okay. Any questions in the chat? So in the chat, can you tell me one way you have helped your students increase their growth mindset? I’ll give you about a minute or so.

I cannot see the chat.

Jessica Hurdley:

Dr. Sparks, I don’t think there’s anything in there currently just yet. Oh, here we go. Shannon said, “My students are not allowed to say I can’t do that. Instead, they’ve been taught to say I can’t do that yet.”

Dr. Francesca Sparks:

Yes. Excellent. Excellent. Thank you for that response. Okay. I’ll give them a few more minutes to get it into the chat. I see that they’re coming.

Jessica Hurdley:

Chris Phelps said, “Helping them change their language, the power of yet exactly.”

Dr. Francesca Sparks:

Yes. Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your responses. Perfect. Okay. So one other thing that we can … There’s one more. “Challenge them to try new ways to learn, study with each other and be proactive.” Perfect. Great. Thank you so much. All right. So one of the last things I want to say about the focusing on the reflection is and your lessons and activities. It’s essential, essential in fostering a sense of ownership between yourself and your students. And just a reminder, this is not just a reflection process and a growing process and a learning process for the teacher, it is a reflection and a learning and a growing process growing for the students as well.

You want them to grow just as much as you’re growing. So that sense of ownership and responsibility for their own learning, which is part of the TPE process and assessment process, it leaves more positive and supportive learning environment for you. Because remember, you don’t want to control your classroom. You want to manage your classroom and let the students be responsible for their own learning. And this is the perfect way to get them to move into that journey of self reflection and learning how to facilitate their own learning.

Going back to … I’m on the wrong slide. One second. Analyzing student performance. When we analyze student performance, it helps both the teacher and the student to identify strengths and areas of growth. It helps them set goals. It helps them improve overall in their growth process. By examining the data and the progress, teachers can tailor lesson plans, they can change their instruction to adapt to their student learning process and you can better meet the student needs. One of the parts of the TPE as a clinical supervisor and as an adjunct professor for special ed law, we tend to say What’s good for special ed students or students with disabilities is good for everybody.

Making the adjustment, looking at the students’ work, looking at their independent work, looking how they interact with their peers, looking at their needs in a way that facilitates comprehensive learning is where we want to analyze the student performance. We want to sit back and just observe your students actively in the classroom, give them an activity and just sit back and facilitate and watch how they learn, see what they do, see how they communicate and interact with their peers. Listen to their conversations. You can learn a lot, as we call it, by ear hustling.

Ear hustling, you can learn a lot from your students in regards to ear hustling. And then you just take that information and you use it in a positive manner and you use it to achieve the goal for engaging and heightening their development in reference to critical thinking, their higher level of thinking and moving them toward that responsibility of learning. When you analyze students’ performance, you allow yourself to monitor what you have taught in order to re-engage your students for re-teaching, because often we have those focus students who we have identified and we struggle with being inclusive, bringing them into that inclusive environment to learn on the level of the other students.

So when you look at and analyze students’ performance is not just their work, it’s the whole student, not just their work. Again, I’m going to say the whole student. The whole student matters because it’s the whole student that you’re going to get when they start a new growth mindset, when you foster that into them. That self-assessment process for the student is going to be wonderful. Just the light bulb is going to come on for your students. So when you sit back and you analyze and you look and you assess your student, like someone in the chat said, the exit ticket, the thumbs up, you learn your student facial expressions.

That was one of my strengths. I will learn my student’s facial expressions and I would know. Okay. We need a little bit more of this or we need to change this. And remember, lesson plans are not concrete. That’s a very important lesson for a lot of our teachers coming into the system, into the program. Lesson plans are not concrete. They are fluid. They can be changed at a blink of an eye as needed in the classroom. So when we collaborate and when we analyze our student’s performance, it ultimately leads to enhanced growth, academic growth and success for both the teacher and the student.

Right now we’re going into the standardized testing in schools right now. Think about reflect on how your standardized testing went last year and what you can do better this year to enhance your students’ scores or just enhance their attitude toward taking the standardized test because it’s about attitude as well. It’s not just about their work. It’s about their attitude that they have in regards to their work. So ultimately when you analyze and you know your students, it’s a great day in the classroom.

All right. Number three, identifying changes for future lessons. One of the TPE requirements and state requirements is when you’re going through and we observe our teachers on video or live or in the classroom is how you’re connecting those life experiences from your students and how are you taking that information that you taught today and connecting it to your next lesson. So when you come to that next lesson, the students have something that you can have them reflect on to bring into that lesson. See, because it is a journey. I keep saying it’s a journey.

It is definitely a journey. It’s something that is continuous. It never stops. When teachers take the time to reflect on their teaching methods and their lesson plans, they can identify and change their lesson on the spot. When you realize that your lesson plan is not meeting the need of your students and that lesson and that content at that particular moment, at that particular second, you can change that lesson plan right then and there. You can tweak what you need to tweak to be inclusive to all students. And remember, all students are what we’re talking about.

All students, not some of students, not two or three of the students, but all students. That inclusive body of students. By reflecting on past lessons, teachers can also identify patterns and trends in student learning. So it goes back up to that analyzing. When we reflect back on and we connect to lessons, we can see, okay, how well did they do this? Do they do this better or do they do this better? So this activity worked well with them. This activity did not. This teaching approach did well with them. This teaching approach did not.

So you can change and identify patterns whether good or bad or indifferent to adjust your student learning and your instructional strategies. Reflecting on identifying changes for future lessons allows the teacher to stay accountable. It holds you accountable for assessing and developing as an educator. That means you may have to go do professional development, you may have to go to University of Google and find a way to connect the lessons back and forth. It’s okay to go and research and do homework for yourself.

Teachers can identify areas of improvement and seek out that professional development to improve their knowledge, their teaching skills. Like I said, if you are a teacher or if you are a clinical supervisor or if you are an adjunct professor, we are life learners. But overall, practice of reflecting and identifying changes are crucial for both teacher and the student growth. We always want to make sure that our students are part of our reflecting and our practices. It leads to more effective teaching and learning for our students and for our classroom and for our school.

All right. Dewey says, “Reflection involves not simply a sequence of ideas, but a consequence, a consecutive order in such a way that each determines the next as it properly” …. I’m sorry you guys. “The next as it” … I am out of line here. “Outcome where each in turn leans back on its precedent.” So tell me what you think this means. What is Dewey talking about when we are talking about reflection involves not simply a sequence of ideas, but a consequence? When you reflect, what are some of the consequences you have experienced?

Give you a couple minutes.

So no one has experienced that when you reflect the consequences of reflection, whether good or bad, positive or negative?

We have one from Miriam. It says, “Looking at what went well and didn’t.” Okay. “Ideas without action are dead. When do things, the consequences follow.” Yes. So when you have … “It’s often helpful for students to critique each other and suggest improvement. Doing this in a smaller group can be less intimidating.” Okay. That’s a good idea. However, how do you introduce that to them, Shannon? Do you practice it so they’re able to take positive criticism or how do you introduce that? I’m curious.

While she answers, if she wants to answer. If not, I’m okay with that. We’re going to move forward because we’re almost finished. Benefits of using self-reflection for teachers and students. Improve teaching practices, enhanced student learning and positive impact on classroom culture. These are some of the things that we spoke about earlier on in the journey of self-reflection and growing. And just think about these, take these as some takeaways and look at them and say, how has my self-reflection improved my teaching practices?

How has it enhanced my student learning and how has it positively impacted on my classroom culture? Think about that. And you don’t have to put it in the chat, but think about that the next time you get ready to talk, if you’re clinical supervisor, talk to your students and your candidates. Ask them these questions. Or if you’re a teacher, ask yourself. Self-reflect on these three questions. Okay. Shannon says, “I teach reflection to students through our time together. We begin by reflecting on simple things and then spend some time reflecting on my lesson and then we use the student lesson as a basis for reflection.”

Thank you, Shannon. I appreciate that. Okay. Practical tips for incorporating self-reflection and teaching. Creating a regular routine for reflection, using tools and techniques, reflection tools and techniques that we talked about some of those earlier and encouraging students’ reflection. Because if you want to grow, you want your students to grow with you. Okay. Okay. Question for you for the chat. Share your ways to reflect, learn, and grow. Drop your answers in the chat. One of my favorite places to reflect is in the car on the way home or on a long drive.

And then the other place and the other time is 5:00 AM in the morning. I’m an early bird and I love to sit and listen to calming music and reflect on the day before and what is to come for this day. And I believe that we are coming to the end. So I’m going to give you a little bit of encouragement. I want you guys to continue to self-reflect. I want you to take the opportunity. If you do it, do more of it. If you haven’t started to reflect, take your time and just take the opportunity to do so. It’s a very enjoyable journey, even though sometimes you may frown at yourself.

It’s okay. It’s a learning process. That’s why we’re here to learn and grow. At the end here, I have some resources and I believe that you can download this PowerPoint on the site. And then if you don’t mind, if you can take the poll at the end right here, as soon as it comes up. Yays and nays. Self-reflection. Have you grown from this presentation? Yay or nay? And give me some of your takeaways. And it’s been a wonderful time with you guys today. I appreciate you hanging out with me and I’ll see you next time.

Jessica Hurdley:

Thank you so much, Dr. Sparks, for all of that information on self-reflection. I liked the piece that you said where if you are not well, your classroom’s not well, your students aren’t well, your teaching isn’t well. And really self-reflecting is such a large component of being able to acknowledge that and see what we can do for the future-