This issue of CPD Week explores some of the possibilities open to school staff for keeping professional learning journalspdf-1454197

CPD Week Info Sheet – Writing a Learning Journal.pdf

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

One of the most effective ways of boosting the professional learning that staff undertake in your school is through encouraging the use of professional learning journals. Far from being simple descriptive documents, these journals about reflection, change and development can do more for self-esteem and self-worth than just about any other development tool.

Keeping a reflective learning journal
It’s a terribly strange quirk of the teaching profession that reflection on past and present events isn’t built into any school-based structures. Yes, there is performance management, but that is target- rather than learning-driven, and consequently a totally different experience. The teaching profession doesn’t even have a system of professional supervision comparable to that in the medical and other caring professions.

While it is undoubtedly curious that those working in the teaching profession have been left seemingly vulnerable by this lack of non target-driven professional support, there is one particularly effective tool that individuals can very easily adopt to bolster their learning at work. Professional learning journals are a great way of downloading for the purpose of later exploration; a way of spotting links and patterns and of using past experiences to inform learning for the future. Learning journals are simple, free of charge and come with a great track record of improving performance and personal wellbeing.

The first thing to take on board when starting a reflective learning journal is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing it. The overall aim is that it helps you in your work. For that to be achieved you will need to experiment to find a pattern of journaling that works best for you. There are, however, some practical pointers which will help to ensure that any journaling you do is as fruitful as possible:

  • Decide how you want to keep your journal. Remember, it is for your eyes only unless you choose to share it with a colleague. You may want to keep your journal on paper or alternatively opt for an electronic version. Your journal can also be recorded or drawn – it’s entirely up to you. It doesn’t matter what you decide – the important thing is that once you start, you keep going so that your journal has a chance to bear fruit!
  • Make sure that you are absolutely clear on the purpose of the journal. This is about furthering your learning, so that should be a discernable theme through all that you write. That means that reflection should be at the heart of your journal; the kind of reflection which will lead to change over time. Put the events that you are reflecting on in context and aim to bring in the wider world of education, too. An irony of teaching is that it can be an insular job, so the more connections you can make outside your school the better.
  • Allow a possible path for your career in the future to emerge through your reflections. This can be particularly fruitful as the space you create through writing your journal can allow you to think of goals and directions which wouldn’t previously have emerged.
  • As you read back over your journal, keep an eye on the extent to which you are analysing and processing. If you aren’t doing either of those, your journal is simply a log; interesting, but not likely to develop your learning. Think of it as a process of digestion rather than just reiterating what the meal consisted of.
  • Critical thinking lies at the heart of an effective learning journal. Use your journal to reflect critically on events at school and ways of deriving learning from them. This means setting preconceptions aside and reaching judgements or conclusions based on the merits of each situation being reflected on. It is this layer of critical thinking that lifts a journal from simple description into the realms of tangible learning.
  • Be mindful of the ‘voice’ that emerges through your journal. It will give you clear clues about your professional identity and may even help to shed some light on how and why you respond to events at work and in your life generally.

Find out more
This info sheet outlines certain features to include in your journal to make the process of creating it more fruitful.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.