Reflection: looking back to look forward


We have all engaged in reflection, whether as part of our teacher training, or as part of our ongoing professional development once in the job.

According to Schön (1983) we reflect-in-action, which is reflecting on the situation whilst it can still benefit that situation, and reflect-on-action which is reflecting on how you would do things differently in the future. 

Schön described teaching as a ‘swampy lowland where situations are confusing ‘messes’’ (Schön, 1983:42) and argued that, through reflection, teachers develop ‘know-how’ based on implicit and intuitive knowledge which is defined as practical knowledge.

Why reflect?

Reflection is all about learning ultimately; learning from our experiences and then taking what we have learned forward into our practice.

Reflection is encouraged to help teachers identify areas they feel they may need support; need to come up with an intervention to solve a problem; or to learn from trying something new. It is important to remember that not all reflection needs to focus on what is not going well, it can be used to focus on what is going well too!

What is reflection?

Reflection is not just describing what happened. It includes some of the following:

  • emotions - how did you feel?
  • digging deeper into what happened using how?/why?/what if? type questions to unpick the event more critically to consider what you might do differently in the future
  • other perspectives; how did the learners/ learning support respond?
  • policy – how does current policy influence your curriculum and practice?
  • theory – how is educational theory influencing your curriculum and practice?
  • challenging taken for granted assumptions about teaching, learning, learners, and the learning environment

How will I know if reflection is making a difference to my practice?

Reflection is not just about looking back at what happened, it is forward looking. It is about what can be! Therefore, whatever insights to our practice we have gained from reflection, it is all about what happens as a result of these insights.

  • ask the people who matter the most; your learners. What do they think of the changes?
  • invite a colleague to come and sit in on a lesson and have a discussion afterwards
  • be self-aware; challenge your own assumptions and question why you do something rather than how
  • think about collaborating on an action research project with colleagues to formalise your reflections

Importantly, reflection involves learning and from this learning initiating change. If we do not put into practice what we have learnt, then reflection is pointless. Reflective teachers are active and proactive; they make things happen!

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. London: Temple Smith.

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