“Reflective practice is the ability to reflect on one’s actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning” – Donald Schön
What is Reflective Practice?
Whether we are conscious of this or not, we all undertake activities to think about our experiences, learn from them, and develop a plan for what we will continue to do (or stop doing). Can you think of a time when you came home at the end of a week where everything had gone wrong? Or maybe when everything had gone well? What are your next steps? Are you able to answer the question, “Why am I doing what I am doing?”
In order to continue to develop a reflective practice that will serve us in college and in the workplace, we need to examine and understand the reasons for our reactions, our feelings, and our interactions with others. Creating a formal practice of reflection leads us to become a reflective practitioner.
Reflective practice has developed across many academic disciplines to help us intentionally learn from our experiences. There was a time when reflective practice would have been considered an optional skill or a desired disposition, but over the past few years, reflective practice is no longer considered an optional skill or disposition—it’s now essential to success.
Reflective practice has been explored and defined by many scholars including Bolton (2010), Moon (2001), Rodgers (2002), and Schön (1983). Reflective practice is a systematic, rigorous, self-directed meaning-making process where a person moves from one experience to another through the development of insights and practice with the intention of coming to a deeper understanding of one‘s personal values and intellectual growth. Schön (1983) suggests that in practice, reflection often begins when a routine response produces a surprise or an unexpected outcome. The surprise gets our attention, which may begin a process of reflection. Reflective practice is “a dialogue of thinking and doing through which one becomes more skillful” (Schön, 1983, p. 56).
Example from the Workplace: Reflective Practice according to the College of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario
Reflective Practice is an approach used by educators to analyze and think critically about their professional practice with the intention to better understand and improve their practice. Reflective practice is thoughtful, action-oriented and often, a collaborative effort. Educators use reflective practice to plan, evaluate their strengths and challenges, make decisions and create change, if necessary. Self-reflection, critical reflection and collaborative inquiry are all important elements of reflective practice (2017).
Nothwithstanding the definitions given above, it’s important to remember that reflection is a highly personal skill or disposition, and different people will define it in different ways. There is no one “right” way of defining what reflection is or how it should be done. Your ability to develop an effective reflective practice will depend on your own personal circumstances and school or work environment.
For this reason, this resource will explore elements of reflective practice that will help the practitioner develop their own practice. In describing reflective practice, I have interchangeably referred to it as a skill and/or a disposition . In the workplace, a skill is something that can be acquired, while a disposition is a way of being or a mindset. Current thinking suggests that reflection is not a skill but rather a way of being or disposition. Reflection involves an evaluation of our ethics, values, and feelings around our experiences, both positive and negative.
To learn more about reflective practice, watch the video Understanding Reflective Practice by Lifetime Training.
For more information on this topic, check out the resource links below.
- Reflective Practice and Self-Directed Learning by the College of Early Childhood Educators
- Getting started with Reflective Practice by Cambridge International Education Teaching and Learning Team
- Research Article Revisiting reflective practice in an era of teacher education reform: A self-study of an early childhood teacher education program by Sophia Han, Jolyn Blank and Ilene R. Berson.
Bolton, G. (2010). Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. ↵
Moon, J. (2001). Short courses and workshops: Improving the impact of learning and professional development. Kogan Page: London. ↵
Rodgers, C. (2002). Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking. Teachers College Record, 104, 842-866. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9620.00181 ↵
Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books. ↵
College of Early Childhood Educators (2017). Code of ethics and standards of practice: For registered early childhood educators in Ontario. https://www.college-ece.ca/en/Documents/Code_and_Standards_2017.pdf ↵