Smyth’s Model Of Reflection

What is Smyth’s model of reflection?

Reflection is intellectually unsettling but that’s a good thing.

John Smyth says that if teachers are going to uncover the forces that inhibit and constrain them, they need to engage in four forms of action with respect to teaching.

These “forms” are characterised by four sequential stages and are linked to a series of questions:

(a) describing (What do I do?),

(b) informing (What does this mean?),

(c) confronting (How did I come to be like this?), and

(d) reconstructing (How might I do things differently?)

We can look at this as an activity and cue process as follows:

Activity Cues
Describe What did I do?

The purpose of this question is to describe action without judgements.


Inform (Analysis)


What does this mean?

The purpose of this question is to inform yourself about the theories that influence your actions, and includes a search for patterns of principles underpinning practice.

Confront (Self awareness) How did I come to be like this?

The purpose of this question is to confront the key assumptions underlying practice, and includes an examination of the broad historical, social and cultural context


Reconstruct (Evaluation and Synthesis) What do my practices say about my assumptions, values and beliefs?

The purpose of this question is to reconstruct or modify practice, and includes consideration of alternative views and generation of goals for future action

Where did these ideas come from?

What social practices are expressed in these ideas?

What is it that causes me to maintain my theories?

What views of power do they embody?

Whose interests seem to be served by my practices?

What is it that acts to constrain my views of what is possible in my practice?

Smyth (1993) reminds us that

1. Reflection should not to be restricted to examining only technical skills; it should equally be concerned with the ethical, social, and political context within which teaching occurs;

2. Reflection should not be restricted to teachers reflecting individually upon their teaching’ there needs to be a collective and collaborative dimension to it as well;

3. Reflection is a process that is centrally concerned with challenging the dominant myths, assumptions and hidden message systems, implicit in the way teaching and education are currently organised;

4. Reflection is also fundamentally about creating improvements in educational practice, and the social relationships that underlie those practices;

5. Reflection is founded on the belief that knowledge about teaching is in a tentative and incomplete state, and as such, is continually being modified as a consequence of practice;

6. Reflection occurs best when it begins with the experiences of practitioners as they are assisted in the process of describing, informing, confronting and re-constructing their theories

For me, Smyth’s second point is probably the most important because self-reflection isn’t something done individually and by yourself. Reflection has to be a team exercise and done as a school community. As Smyth says,

Rather than empowering teachers, what individual reflective processes actually do is to send teachers on guilt trips in the vain search for the alchemists’ equivalent of the philosopher’s stone.


Smyth J (1989): Developing and sustaining critical reflection in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education 40(2) 2-9

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