The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Reflective practices – how they can work

‘I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.’ - Abraham Lincoln

Recently when I was working with a group of PGCE students, the subject of reflective practice and how new teachers can achieve this under time restraints came up. There was no doubt that being a reflective practitioner was a goal that these beginning teachers were fully committed to, but they were genuinely concerned about how to find the time to do meaningful reflections that might feed into positive change in the way they work.

There’s no doubt that this is a significant challenge, and it’s easy to say that we should prioritise reflection and identify ways of doing it. However, the reality for those who are very new to the profession is that it can be hard to engage in reflection that doesn’t slide into self-criticism, and even more challenging to find ways of making those reflections impact professional learning in a constructive way. Perhaps we should adjust our expectations.

Reflective practice can and does feed into professional learning, but it’s hard to achieve in a vacuum. For a new entrant to the profession, it’s unlikely that reflection will feed into successful CPD without effective mentoring and guidance. So what else do we know will actually work?

  • Sustainability: A school-wide commitment to reflective practice will help teachers to make reflection a part of daily life. If it’s to be of any professional value, the method used needs to be sustainable.
  • Honesty: Being aware of the major pitfalls of reflective practice, not least the reluctance to acknowledge the role that personal ego may play. Sometimes we get it wrong and that’s fine. However, when our reflections find us seeking to blame, make excuses or gloss over events we’re missing out on potential professional learning. Similarly, if reflective practices result in us concluding that we’re ‘rubbish’ or ‘useless’ something is terribly wrong. Own it all, the good and the bad, and keep things in perspective. If your reflections indicate a need for support, ask for it.
  • Making connections: Reflection can and should be used to help make links between existing professional knowledge and future professional learning. It may illuminate the developmental path ahead and build on what has come before. Seek connections whenever possible.
  • Developing independence: As reflective practices become more sophisticated with time, so too will professional self-awareness and self-directed learning. Being on top of your professional development needs helps to prevent being channelled in a particular direction or swayed too easily by whatever latest fad is being pushed in the press, blogs and social media.
  • Maintaining the spirit of inquiry: Rather than viewing professional learning as something that occurs in bite-sized, independent units, use reflective practice to deepen your inquiry into a particular dimension of your work. Find threads of connection between new and existing learning and plot a trajectory for future development.
  • Autonomy: Be aware of the degree to which your reflective practices are developing professional autonomy. This way you will be moving towards independence and self-direction when it comes to CPD.

Too often, reflective practices are lauded without exploring exactly how they can serve teachers best. Address that, and we just might support true reflective practice more effectively.

 

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