What is reflective practice?
You tell me!
There are so many definitions out there it can hard to pin down what we mean. Essentially this is a self-reflection process that encourages informed decision making. It allows us to challenge our own assumptions and beliefs about what is working and what isn’t and can help us expose bias.
Reflecting openly is what Sellars (2014) refers to as a must-have for being more open to other perspectives and interpretations so as a matter of everyday teaching we must scrutinise the origins, validity and limitations of our personal beliefs, values and principles.
Jay (2003) says that “… looking back on experiences in a way that informs practice, learning in the midst of practice, and/or making informed decisions about what to do, when to do it, and why it should be done.”
According to O’Connor and Diggins (2002) “reﬂective practice is a cycle that involves stopping to consider practices and the reasons for them, thinking critically about alternative perspectives and changing practices based on new understandings’’. They say it is a cycle of on-going learning that occurs when we take the time to “stop, think and change”.
Arthur (2005) says that by being reflective we can distance ourselves from our thoughts and actions, make sense of how and why particular practices worked or didn’t work, and use new understandings of these processes to adapt practices to be more effective in the future.
One of the best definitions I have come across is by Leon Benade who says that it is
“the on–going, regular and persistent use of reflective tools to engage, individually and collectively, in critical thinking about various aspects of practice (teachers’ work). This practice has a temporal character requiring practitioners to look back, to consider the immediate and continuous present, and to project into the future. Reflection problematises, confronts and challenges, leading to the creation of plans for just action, and the implementation of those plans to bring about significant and meaningful changes to the circumstances of people and situations where practitioners have influence.”
But then, I also think Sinclair’s definition takes some beating too:
Reflection begins with a concern, an issue, a not sure, a worry, a problem, a dilemma, a puzzlement, an uncertainty. It unpacks these concerns by putting you at the centre and examining them
at a deep level in order to understand the effect you have on your practice and student learning. It is about ‘I,’ ‘me,’ ‘my’
Gore and Zeichner (1991) present 4 important types of reflective practice that I think we need to plug ourselves into:
- An academic reflection
- Do I know my content well?
- Am I using appropriate pedagogical strategies for my students’ needs?
- Am I well-organised and resourced in readiness to teach?
- Have I sequenced the content suitably for my student needs?
- Does the planning cycle include suitable assessment strategies for evaluating student learning?
- Have I been innovative and creative in order to engage and sustain students’ interests?
- A social efficacy reflection
- Am I implementing what I know from research and evidence about teaching this content?
- Have I considered specific strategies that have proven to increase student success?
- Have I considered and used research and evidence to plan for these children in this context and these circumstances?
- Is this evidence-based practice meeting the needs of the children in my class?
- A developmental reflection
- Am I providing teaching and learning contexts, tasks and instruction that are suitable and appropriate for the stage of the children from a developmental perspective?
- Have I evaluated the children’s skills and thinking to determine the stages at which each of them is able to engage in different learning contexts?
- Have I planned suitable modifications to ensure appropriate differentiation?
- Have I designed teaching and learning activities that meet the needs of diverse groups of learners?
- Have I taken into account and effectively utilised the children’s interests related to this learning?
- A social reconstructionist reflection
- What do I believe to be the purpose of education?
- Do I have specific philosophical beliefs or viewpoints about the values, purposes and functions of education?
- Does my practice promote student equity and justice?
The act of self-reflection can be transformational because it can lead us to examine our assumptions, understand complex problems, issues and concepts, become better communicators and give us a stronger sense of self. Reflection can help us improve practice, facilitate behavioural change, avoid burnout, and find solutions to the problems we face. It is a path towards teaching wisdom.
Arthur, L., Beecher, B., Death, E., Dockett, S., & Farmer, S. (2005). Programming and planning in early childhood settings (3rd ed.). Sydney: Thomson Publications.
Gore, J. M., & Zeichner, K. M. (1991). Action research and reflective teaching in preservice teacher education: A case study from the United States. Teaching and Teacher Education, 7(2), 119-136.
Jay (2003) in Perry (2004) p. 140 Perry, R. (2004). Teaching practice for early childhood: A guide for students 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge Farmer.
O’Connor, A., & Diggins, C. (2002). On reﬂection: Reﬂective practice for early childhood educators. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Open Mind Publishing
Sellars, M. (2014). Reflective practice for teachers. London: SAGE.
Sinclair, A. (2013). Notes to help with writing reflections. [Handout]. Auckland: University of Auckland, New Zealand: EDPRAC 305.