Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

Reflection is a key aspect of the personal and professional development that teachers are required to undertake to keep pace with the changing nature of teaching.

Reflection is an integral part of personal and professional development.

But when it comes to ‘reflecting’, what does this actually amount to?

Many teachers are encouraged to ‘reflect’ as part of the ongoing CPD but aren’t given any real structure, advice or pointers about how to reflect. Just thinking something over and writing about it isn’t thorough enough.

There are lots of models for teachers to access and one useful tool is the Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle.

This model was developed by Graham Gibbs in 1988 to give structure to learning from experiences and is something that could benefit colleagues.

It offers a framework for examining experiences, and given its cyclic nature lends itself particularly well to repeated experiences, allowing you to learn and plan from things that either went well or didn’t go well.

It covers 6 stages:

  • Description of the experience
  • Feelings and thoughts about the experience
  • Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
  • Analysis to make sense of the situation
  • Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently
  • Action plan for how you would deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes you might find appropriate.

Gibbs offers us this thought:

It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that generalisations or concepts can be generated and it is generalisations that allow new situations to be tackled effectively.

Personal development is personal improvement, while professional development involves improving educational experiences for students. In a professional sense, engaging with reflection (i.e., thinking about how things are and thinking about how they might be improved for students and the school  must be accompanied by action (i.e., actually doing something in an attempt to make things better for students and the school).

1. Description

This is your starting point and it is here you recount what you are reflecting upon, giving a descriptive account with contextual information as appropriate.

Helpful questions:

  • What happened?
  • When and where did it happen?
  • Who was present?
  • What did you and the other people do?
  • What was the outcome of the situation?
  • Why were you there?
  • What did you want to happen?
2. Feelings

Your emotional state will play a huge factor and so describing your feelings is important. Here you look back on your emotional state and your rational thoughts about the situation or occurrence being reflected upon. Be accurate and insightful in your reflection.

Helpful questions:

  • What were you feeling during the situation?
  • Was it normal for you?
  • What were you feeling before and after the situation?
  • How did your emotions and thoughts alter (if at all) after the situation arose?
  • What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?
  • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
  • What were you thinking during the situation?
  • What do you think about the situation now?
3. Evaluation

Think about how well a situation was handled. Try to focus on the positives as well as negatives and be fair to yourself and to the contexts of the event being reflected upon.

Helpful questions:

  • What was good and bad about the experience?
  • How did you react?
  • How did others around you respond?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did you and other people contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)?
  • Was a resolution arrived at?
  • If a conclusion was made, then how was that done, and was it effective?
4. Analysis

Consider the individual aspects of the event which might have been crucial, and whether they are positive or negative towards the event unfolding.

Helpful questions:

  • Why did things go well?
  • Why didn’t it go well?
  • What sense can I make of the situation?
  • What knowledge – my own or others (for example academic literature) can help me understand the situation?
5. Conclusion

Think about possible alternatives to the course of action that you took. Could other options have been applied instead? What might have happened differently if those alternatives had been executed?

If the way you acted ended in a positive outcome, then use this as a base to work from so you can follow the same direction if the same situation arises in the future. If the situation was negative in some way, then consider how to ensure that there is no recurrence.

Helpful questions:

  • What did I learn from this situation?
  • How could this have been a more positive situation for everyone involved?
  • What skills do I need to develop for me to handle a situation like this better?
  • What else could I have done?
6. Action Plan

The action plan is your guide for future action. Here you identify what you will do (and thus, what you will not do) to ensure an improvement in your handling of similar situations in the future.

Action plans are useful spurs for discussions with colleagues and provide fertile ground for the exchange of ideas.

Helpful questions:

  • If I had to do the same thing again, what would I do differently?
  • How will I develop the required skills I need?
  • How can I make sure that I can act differently next time?


Gibbs G (1988) Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.

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