09 May 2013

...Reflective Practice

Reflective practice is a well-documented approach to learning, which can help professionals understand and deal with the complex and dynamic nature of their experiences. However there is a crucial distinction to be made between, let me call it 'learning from experience' and reflective practice. This difference can often be missed by those new to reflective practices or those engaging in it, as part of a mandatory learning programme, for example. But before I address that, let me take a moment to share the experts' words on the subject of reflective practice - a little nod to the theory...
Critical reflective practice is:

Recapturing and evaluating experience (Boud et al, 1985).

Challenging the status quo through identification of assumptions about successful practice (Ghaye & Ghaye, 1998).

“A process which brings about some... fairly permanent change of behaviour or way of thinking” (Turnet-Bisset, 2001, p.55).

Analyzing concrete experience in order to enable abstract conceptualization which informs active experimentation (Osterman & Kottkamp 2004).

“A dynamic process…" towards improved, higher-quality practices (Pollard, 2008, p.17).

More recent developments in reflective practice have consolidated the concepts and refined practical approaches, in terms of the needs of contemporary professional practitioners. The following themes have been emerging:

  • Looking forwards – involving projection and planning in the process
  • Focusing on strengths – amplifying positives rather than dwelling on problems
  • Developing a state of mind – so that reflection becomes an ongoing constituent of practice / embedded mindfulness 
  • Reflexivity – making the distinction between simply remembering and learning to analyse (Bolton 2010; Ghaye 2011).

So, the broad themes are in place and, as I will address in other posts, various frameworks exist to support successful development and application of reflective practice in the workplace. But if this sounds overly simple, it is partly because a key idea is missing from this overview - a crucial aspect of the reflective practice landscape which transforms it into a powerful learning tool. Reflective practice must include an honest, introspective critique of ourselves, which challenges our views, values and core beliefs. Unless this takes place 'we simply reinforce existing patterns and tendencies' (Tripp, 2012), which will inhibit learning and progress.

And this is the distinction which effective reflective practitioners must be aware of. Engaging in single-loop learning allows us to alter our practices and to achieve new goals. This is sufficient for some people - 'I've thought about it; I'll do it like this/differently/better next time.' But double-loop learning allows us to understand and reshape the context of our practices, and the concepts which define the goals we aim for (see Argyris & Schon, 1974).

References and further reading

Argyris, C and Schön, D. (1974) Theory in Practice: increasing professional effectiveness. London; California: Jossey-Bass

Bolton, G. (2010) Reflective Practice: writing & professional development (3rd ed.) London: Sage.

Boud, D., Keogh, R. and Walker, D. (ed.) (1985) Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning.  Abingdon: Routledge Falmer.

Ghaye, A. and Ghaye K. (1998) Teaching and Learning through Critical Reflective Practice. London: David Fulton.

Ghaye, T (2011) Teaching and learning through reflective practice : a practical guide for positive action (2nd ed.) New York : Routledge

Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R. (2004) Reflective practice for educators: Professional development to improve student learning (2nd edn.) California: Corwin Press.

Pollard A. (2008), Reflective Teaching (3rd ed.) London; New York: Continuum

Tripp, D. (2012) Critical Incidents in Teaching: Developing Professional Judgement. London; New York: Routledge Falmer

Turner Bisset, R. (2001) Expert Teaching. London: David Fulton

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Regards, DJA