Reflective Practice


Reflective practice

…is often considered one of the cornerstones of professional practice in education.

Using different theorists’ models of reflection can help the process avoid becoming jaded. It may also help you avoid reflection which is unproductive, destructive, or simply navel-gazing.

Terry Bourton

‘What? So what? Now what?’ Simple and straightforward model – ask yourself what happened, why this is significant, and what you will do about it. Can be used as a coaching tool – click here for an example:

Donald Schön

‘Reflection-in-Action’ (the moments of thinking on your feet when you are in the classroom) and ‘Reflection-on-Action’ (the thinking that follows a teaching and learning session.) This model sometimes appeals to people who find reflection difficult. Look back at a session and identify the times when you responded to something unexpected – maybe a learner asked an unusual question, or you realised you needed to change the pace of an activity. Think about how effectively you managed this, and why is was or was not successful. Would you do the same or act differently next time?

Being more alert to how you reflect-in-action can raise your self – awareness and ‘mindfulness’ about your practice. For an article about

Schön and his ideas click here:

Stephen D. Brookfield

‘Four Critical Lenses’ – these lenses are (1) your own, (2) your learners,

(3) a colleague’s and (4) theory. This model can provide a rich level of insight. Compare a colleague’s observation, an evaluation from your learners, and your own reflection for the same session. Also reflect on the theories of teaching and learning on which your model your practice and how they played out in this instance, or how they inform your thinking about how to do things differently. For an article by Brookfield on becoming a critically reflective teacher, click here:


Geoff Petty

‘A Medal and a Mission’ – Petty outlines how to use this for providing effective feedback to learners, but it can also work well as a tool for reflection. It can help avoid falling into the ‘blame game’ trap (blaming yourself and/or your learners) if a session has been less successful than planned. Focus on the aspects of teaching and learning that did go well,

(your medal), then identify what will you change, develop or build upon to


Northern College Guide to Good Practice in Teaching and Learning


improve teaching and learning in the future (your mission). Geoff Petty’s website can be found here:

David Kolb

‘Learning Cycle’ – useful for breaking down the process of reflection into thinking and doing – each stage has to be completed for it to be effective.

Four stages:





Concrete Experience – doing or experiencing something

Reflective observation – thinking about what happened

Abstract Conceptualisation – learning from what happened

Active Experimentation – trying out your learning

The cycle then continues again. Kolb suggests you can enter the cycle at any stage, but all four steps must be completed for it to be effective. Click here for a critique of some of Kolb’s ideas:

Graham Gibbs

‘Six Steps’ cycle – can be useful as a debriefing tool because it also pays attention to emotions and feelings. It is often used in the health professions.







Description - what happened?

Feelings – how did you feel at the time?

Evaluation - what was good or bad about what happened?

Analysis – why did this happen? What sense can you make of it?

Conclusion – based on your reflections, what are your conclusions about how it could be different in the future?

Action plan – decide what you will do to make it different next time

For a more detailed outline click here: e.pdf

Reflexive practice is a relatively recent concept. This suggests that reflection on ‘what’s happened’ is limited in its usefulness. Instead, it’s important to consider our own experiences as learners and to think about how these shape the way we see the world, our roles as teachers, and our practice. Uncovering our assumptions about teaching and learning, it’s suggested, as well as considering social, political, institutional and cultural influences and constraints, can bring fresh insight and perspectives.

Brookfield’s article (above) has some insight to offer.


Northern College Guide to Good Practice in Teaching and Learning