Reflective Practice: A tool for self improvement

Published: 04th March 2009
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Copyright (c) 2009 Positively MAD

This article explores the importance of reflective practice as a tool for school self-improvement by looking at the relevance and implications of the reflective practice cycle.

The article is structured under the following headings:
- ON REFLECTING
- THE RELEVANCE OF REFLECTIVE PRACTICE
- WHAT IS THE REFLECTIVE PRACTICE CYCLE?
- WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF RP FOR A SCHOOL?
- CONCLUSION

ON REFLECTING ...

Have you ever, having returned from a date with someone new, sat down and dissected the events of the evening in minute detail? Perhaps you have wondered whether a comment you made could have had an unintended meaning or was perhaps misunderstood.

Have you ever worried whether you have misread your date's body language or - particularly if the date goes awry, pondered over what went wrong and how to avoid making the same mistakes next time?

This is perhaps an overly negative view of a possibly lovely evening, but it does serve to highlight the fact that we all, in our everyday lives, take time to ponder and reflect on things that have happened during our day.

Whether this is done consciously or unconsciously, we all respond to circumstances by thinking about them and processing the events through memory and recall. And more often than not, these thoughts create decisions and these decisions create choices which determine future actions.

Thus, we may return from a holiday, armed with photographs and tales, and while reflecting, may decide to return there again next year, or perhaps, because things went horribly wrong, opt for a better travel agent, or different destination.

Or perhaps, as a parent returning from a tour of a few prospective schools for your child, you have sat down to discuss the options open to you. You recall each school visited, and remember the impact each may have had. You weigh the pros and cons of each, consider each scenario from a range of perspectives, and finally make a decision that is not rushed into.

Think of times, recent and past, where you have stopped to reflect and think about an experience. Here "thinking about" and "remembering" are not synonymous: when we remember we recall events and details; when we "think about" them we employ our critical thinking faculties, using analysis and evaluation, synthesis and reasoning. We ask questions and attempt to find answers; we plan and construct possibilities; we process, deconstruct and assess the outcomes of ideas and strategies. From this, we are able to articulate choices that need to be made and possible ways of implementing those choices.

So, in an attempt to find a reasonable definition of the process of reflecting, let us use this simple formula:

REMEMBERING AND THINKING ABOUT + MAKING CHOICES AND PLANNING = REFLECTING

We all, in some form or another, think about our experiences. Reflective Practice, however, is a means of providing EVIDENCE for such thinking and reasoning. It is a RECORD of the ways that you have thought about and reflected on an experience.

THE RELEVANCE OF REFLECTIVE PRACTICE

I would like to make the assertion that school improvements would be more profound if all schools adopted reflective practice as daily habit.

I am not alone in my thinking:

"Critical reflection upon experience continues to be an effective technique for professional development." Kettle B., & Sellars, N. (1996). The development of student teachers practical theory of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 12(1), 1-24. EJ 526 790

"By its nature, the reflective practice cycle causes teachers to step back and critically reflect not only on how they teach, but also on why they teach in a particular way." Schon, D.A. (1996). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey

"Next year is my final year and I feel moreonfident and motivated in my studies since completing this module and have learnt a lot about myself and my learning style, through keeping the journal and I am going to start keeping one permanently so my reflective learning process can be enhanced. I now know the skills that graduate employers will be looking for and I must have them to get a good job - my action plan will help me to do this." Student, Napier University

"The primary benefit of reflective practice for teachers is a deeper understanding of their own teaching style and ultimately, greater effectiveness as a teacher. Other specific benefits noted in current literature include the validation of a teacher's ideals, beneficial challenges to tradition, the recognition of teaching as artistry, and respect for diversity in applying theory to classroom practice." Freidus, H. (1997). The telling of story: Teachers knowing what they know. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Chicago, IL. ED 409 274

"The ability to think about what one does and why--assessing past actions, current situations, and intended outcomes--is vital to intelligent practice, practice that is reflective rather than routine." Journal article by Hilda Borko, Paul Michalec, Jean Siddle, Maria Timmons; Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 48, 1997

"The primary benefit of reflective practice for teachers is a deeper understanding of their own teaching style and ultimately, greater effectiveness as a teacher. Other specific benefits noted in current literature include the validation of a teacher's ideals, beneficial challenges to tradition, the recognition of teaching as artistry, and respect for diversity in applying theory to classroom practice." Hurst, B., Wilson C., & Cramer, G. (1998). Professional teaching portfolios. Phi Delta Kappan, 79(8), 578-82. EJ 563 868 "If schools are to change for the better, they need to become places where teachers can be reflective" At the Heart of Teaching: A Guide to Reflective Practice (McEntee, et. al., 2003)

"In order for a teacher to grow, learn and excel, she must periodically stop and examine herself, her educational goals and her teaching practices. She must ask herself and her students questions and struggle with them to find answers. Inquiry & reflective practice are instrumental tools for teachers to change, improve and hone their philosophy and teaching practices. It also serves as teaching method that capitalizes on student interests, curiosity and the idea that students learn better when they construct their own knowledge." GEMMA CLASING, M.A.Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) Masters of Education program. "Being reflective is a key aspect of professional development. For it to be effective this reflective process needs to be cyclical." http: / / www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/ keystage3/ downloads/ ws_cpdlac_p018805sec.pdf Practitioner action research creates a greater knowledge of self and situation www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/ innovation-unit/ pdf/ despavlou_hotseatsummary2.pdf

There is a wealth of documentation supporting the notion that reflective practice is key, not only to professional development, but also to raising standards. Even a cursory search of the Dfes Standards

Site website will return 500 references to recent policy making and government initiatives confirming, not only the value of reflective practice, but also the need for both students and teachers to be involved in the reflective practice process.

Assessment For Learning programmes all over the country will have to, at some point, acknowledge the importance of reflection and review.

It is impossible to separate AFL from reflection, as the ability to reflect will very much influence key areas like self and peer-assessment. But reflective practice is not confined to AFL: all components of school life can be improved through RP - from the teaching support staff to the administration team and the governing body. Everyone involved in the process of RP can use that process to improve conditions of work, to determine attitudes and morale, to concentrate attention to detail and use introspection as a means of self improvement.


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