Reflecting on “Reflecting on reflective practice”

Reflection“Reflecting on performance and acting on reflection is a professional imperative.”
McKay in Forthcoming (2008), quoted by Finlay1

I have been asked to reflect on an article from Finlay entitled “Reflecting on reflective practice“. Although the article is really helpful to reflect on reflective practice (… sorry …), it is a rather ironic exercise … if you want to know why, please read the article. In this post I will highlight points that I relate to and briefly comment on my own model of reflection.

Highlights

In the article the author highlighted the contribution of Schon2 to this field. Schon described two types of reflection, i.e. ‘reflection-on-action’ (after-the-event thinking) and ‘reflection-in-action’ (thinking while doing) and I agree with the phenomenological concerns with ‘reflection-in-action’3. However, as Finlay’s research suggests, I find that I have become “mindfully aware” of my actions as I gained teaching experience over the years. Whenever I am in class, I seem to be constantly evaluating the impact of the words I use to make statements, the choice of words when I ask questions and the effectiveness of the activity I have chosen to facilitate a specific learning goal.
She summarises it well, “Professional practice is complex, unpredictable and messy”1.

Zeichner and Liston’s five levels of reflection, mentioned by the author, are interesting to note. They are “rapid reflection”, “repair”, “review”, “research” and “retheorizing and reformulating”7. I am of the opinion that most teachers, myself included, engage with Zeichner and Liston’s first three points on a daily basis but I think the last two are often neglected. Although I have done informal research over the years to improve teaching and learning in my classroom, a lack of formalising this research has probably led to it having a smaller impact on my practice. Secondly, as I have mentioned in a previous post, spending a lot of time in education’s social media sphere the past few years has had me unwittingly disengage with the meatier aspects of our profession – such as keeping up-to-date with peer-review research on academic theories.

Finlay’s explanation of the difference between reflection, critical reflection and reflexivity shows that reflective practice is a complex, context-dependent process that requires the input of other people. For 14 years I taught ‘alone’ in a traditional classroom but the past two and a half years I am often team teaching in an open learning space. This context gives a whole new meaning to ‘critical reflection’ since your practice is completely transparent and accessible to the other members of your team. I have been forced to be a more reflective practitioner because I cannot ‘hide’ in my classroom anymore. My team members will challenge me, and they have to have the permission to challenge me, to ensure sound teaching and learning take place in our learning space. By the way, based on this experience, I want to argue that reflective practice has to be an integral part of a knowledge society4.

At Elim Christian College (my employer), there has been a major shift the past few years from teacher appraisal being an evaluative process done to the teacher to it being an authentic collaborative process for growing great teachers. This has enabled me to have a positive attitude towards being a reflective practitioner. Seen against the author’s comments on the challenges with reflective practice, my shift in attitude comes as no surprise. I agree with her quote of Hobbs, “Reflection and assessment are simply incompatible”5.

What model of reflection do I use?

I tend to gravitate towards a model of reflection shared by Tony Burkin of Interlead with a group of our staff members. Basically you ask yourself three questions, i.e. “what is happening”, “what’s not happening” and “how can I influence what’s not happening”. When this is done against the backdrop of the reflective questions in the practising teacher criteria6, you have a robust model of reflection at your disposal. I have to think through my own assumptions and engage my students and my team in conversations to determine whether we are on the same page or not. However, I still need to work on being more intentional about scheduling enough time for reflection into my day and keeping a better written record of these reflections. Will this blog enable me to do it? 🙂

I will close with this quote,

“Reflective practice should be applied selectively, taught sensitively and generally used with care.” Finlay (2009)

References and Notes:
1. Finlay, L. (2009) Reflecting on reflective practice. PBPL. Retrieved from http://www.open.ac.uk/opencetl/files/opencetl/file/ecms/web-content/Finlay-%282008%29-Reflecting-on-reflective-practice-PBPL-paper-52.pdf
2. Schon, D.A. (1983) The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.
3. Finlay writes, “In strict phenomenological terms actual pre-reflective, lived experience, by definition, can never be grasped in its immediate manifestation.”
4. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.
5. Hobbs, V. (2007) Faking it or hating it: can reflective practice be forced? Reflective Practice, 8(3), pp.405-417.
6. Practising Teacher Criteria. Retrieved from http://educationcouncil.org.nz/sites/default/files/Registered-Teacher-Criteria-Handbook-(English).pdf
7. Rapid reflection – immediate, ongoing and automatic action by the teacher; Repair – in which a thoughtful teacher makes decisions to alter their behaviour in response to students’ cues; Review – when a teacher thinks about, discusses or writes about some element of their teaching; Research – when a teacher engages in more systematic and sustained thinking over time, perhaps by collecting data or reading research; Retheorizing and reformulating – the process by which a teacher critically examines
their own practice and theories in the light of academic theories.

Photo creditphil41dean via Foter.com / CC BY


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