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September 1999

Reflective Journal Writing in the
Wired Age

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By Helen Coltrinari and Coral Mitchell

TVOntario’s pilot program tests the theory that critical reflection with peers in the form of professional journal writing breaks through the isolation of classroom teaching.

TVOntario continues to break new ground for teachers. Four years ago, TVO launched the Galaxy Classroom. As part of the research for the pilot program’s effectiveness, teachers were asked to keep a journal. It became obvious, however, that the participating teachers needed greater guidance in creating in-depth journals.

The 1997 pilot of the Virtual Classroom provided the technology that made the interactive learning series possible. Four videos, broadcast through TVO’s The Learning Zone, provided background information on the purposes and processes of reflective journal writing, some barriers to professional reflection and some strategies for creating a climate conducive to reflective practice. Participants then posted reflective journal entries on an interactive web site and received feedback from a mentor.

A reflective journal is intended to prompt teachers to think deeply and critically about what they do, why they do the things they do, what they might do more of and what they might do differently. The video explores journal writing techniques.

With the rationale and writing strategies in place, directions for the kind of content one might include in a reflective journal are explored. A series of questions for reflection are posed in four categories: descriptive reflection, analytic reflection, evaluative reflection and planning reflection.

There are systemic barriers to reflective practice, and this video acknowledges the simple truths: the event-driven nature of teachers’ lives, the descriptive focus of teachers’ thinking, the difficulty of confronting unpleasant truths, the role of the professional identity, the burden of guilt associated with teaching, the conspiracy of silence relative to teachers’ learning and the evaluative culture within the educational arena.

The fourth and final video offers strategies for overcoming these barriers and creating a climate conducive to professional reflection and growth. Three categories of ideas are explored: the process of building a learning culture in schools, the role of professional dialogue and the benefits derived from sharing professional knowledge.

The teachers who took part in the pilot watched the tapes at their leisure and wrote journal entries onto a password-protected web site. Coral Mitchell, a faculty member at Brock University’s faculty of education, was the only person with access to the reflective writing. She wrote comments directly to the teachers. As well, she posted comments regarding common themes or issues to a public web page to elicit group discussions or to engage collective learning.

Through this experiment with video, discussion and mentoring, we began to suspect that a more expanded version of this project could infuse new life into professional practice. This belief is supported by statements found in the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession. For example, "Teachers modify and refine teaching practice through continuous reflection" and "Teachers engage in a continuum of professional growth to improve their practice."

The results of this project are not intended to serve as a recipe, but rather as a collection of materials, ideas, and resources for sharing professional practice and for building a community of learners. It is a mechanism to break through the isolation of classroom teaching and to engage teachers in critical reflection.

Our experiences in the classroom have taught teachers to fear recrimination for admitting a weakness or a gap in our knowledge. Our experience has also taught us the difficulty of finding information and support for reflecting on our practice. A natural follow-up to this project is a web site and a set of mentors where teachers can post and mentors critique.

For additional information and activities, visit the TVO web site at

Helen Coltrinari is the head of professional development and accreditation with TVO’s Educational Programming and Services. Her e-mail address is Coral Mitchell is a faculty member at Brock University’s faculty of education. She can be reached at