About Reflective Practice

Young woman on a train writing notes
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How many of us sit down at the end of the day and reflect on the lesson?  I mean really sit down and think about the good, the bad, the ugly, and the potential.  For many of us, I’m sure the intentions are there, but on a really bad day, we’re probably more inclined to pack up our things, get home, call it a day, and think “tomorrow will be better”.  In these moments, as much as with the great days, it’s important for us to reflect because reflecting doesn’t mean kicking us when we’re down, but rather it means finding ways to bring us back up and truly know that tomorrow will be better because today wasn’t terribly horrible.

When I was first learning how to be an educator, I was taught how important it is to allow students to reflect on their practice so they can measure their own successes and determine next steps that are important to them.  One of the greatest skills you learn as you reflect is critical thinking, which for English language learners in academic settings is crucial when it comes to writing papers.  Reflective practice also allows teachers to provide students with opportunities for ‘teachable moments’.

Reflective Practice for Students

When I taught, I used reflective practice as an intrapersonal activity and had students write quietly in their journals.  They could write about what went well or badly that week, but I really wanted to hear about why they thought that way and how they would use that experience to their advantage.  I would then read the journals and provide some notes of encouragement or opportunities to open up dialogue.  The main outcomes I wanted them to be able to achieve were to

  • build confidence in English writing in a less formal manner,
  • problem solve to create a better outcome, and
  • stay focused on their goals.

Some students loved the activity while others did it because they were asked to.  Some days I took it personally that they weren’t as into it as I wanted them to be; those were my bad days, but looking back now, I didn’t take a moment to do reflective practice for myself.  I guess it was more do as I say not as I do.

Reflective Practice for Educators

When I started my master’s of education program last fall, the first article I had to read was all about reflective practice for educators.  I was immediately hooked to the article and I highlighted sections, made margin notes, and posed questions on every page.  Although the article is geared toward Early Childhood Educators, the theory and premise stands for any educator in any field. The article by Leeson (2010) illustrated how important it is for educators to have a reflective practice and not just in isolation, but in a team setting.  Leeson (2010) states that by engaging in reflective practice, educators are able to

  • build confidence in their practice,
  • be more flexible and adaptable in diverse settings, and
  • enhance creativity.

These outcomes made complete sense to me, and it’s naturally what I and many other educators strive to do in our profession.  Leeson (2010) provides educators with multiple ways to engage in this practice:

  • independent journaling;
  • journaling at first, the problem solving independently, and bringing the solutions to a team; or
  • storytelling in a team setting and problem solving together.

In my current position, I am privileged to be able to work in a team setting and have a manager who encourages this type of practice.  Because I work one-to-one with students, my job can be very isolating because only the student and I know how the session went.  However, there are many days that I am grateful to be able to walk in the office and say “that appointment was rough and I’m not sure if I did my best”.  We educators can be pretty tough on ourselves and having a reflective practice team can help us realize what we did well and how we can build our confidence and skill set to enhance the next experience.

Do you have a reflective practice?  If so, why did you start and how do you practice?

Reference

Leeson, C. (2010). In praise of reflective practice. In J. Willan, R. Parker-Reese, & J. Savage (Eds.), Early Childhood Studies. Exeter, England: Learning Matters.

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5 thoughts on “About Reflective Practice”

  1. Reflective practise is very important….for the instructor. I find myself re-thinking lessons all the time. Trying to make them better for the students.
    Yet I also find that students seldom reflect on their efforts. Occasionally one might come in to talk about a situation but few truly reflect.
    One must always be there for questions but rarely is the right question asked that shows introspection.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Branko. I agree that it can be effortful to engage students in reflective practice and you may not always get out of it what you hoped. Sometimes I wonder if it is because they don’t see reflective practice as an essential skill when they are looking to us for instruction and development rather than their own expertise. Maybe as more educators use reflective practice in the classroom, we will be able to develop the skill more. To me, reflective practice encourage critical thinking, and in Ontario, that is part of the Essential Employability Skills that employers look for. Perhaps with this approach to students, they might see the investment?

  2. I am a firm believer in reflective learning. It encourages learners to take ownership on their own learning. For lower level learners, CLB 1 or 2, I allow them to use their first language to jot down their thoughts whereas for the higher level ones, the process could be challenging for they have to use a second language to articulate their thoughts; therefore, I suggest them to focus on one thing on each journal writing.

    1. Hi Magdalene,
      Thank you so much for your tips on how you scale your reflective practice for different levels. I think it’s great that you encourage this practice early on in their language training. I also like the way you have them focus on one topic. I think it’s a great tip for anyone to take with them. By focusing on one topic, we not only focus our reflection, but we also have a greater chance of critically thinking about that one topic.

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