Why weaknesses can be your strength

Introduction to reflective practice - for practicing and qualified teachers

Reflective practice is a form of experiential learning (Gibbs, 2013, pp. 14–15). It is an essential skill for teaching and learning (Brockbank and McGill, 2007, p. 49) and can be used as a tool to better understand your actions, behaviour and standing in a wider context (MIT Open Courseware, 2012c, 01:23). The concept originated with Dewey (Brockbank and McGill, 2007, pp. 21–23; Kolb, 2015, p. xiii) and was later developed by the likes of Kolb, Gibbs and Schön.

According to Dewey the reflective process has “cut and try” elements. It allows you to learn from your experience through a form of “trial and error” in which we “do something, and when it fails, we do something else, and keep on trying till we hit upon something which works, and then we adopt that method” (Dewey, 2014, p. 157). For Gibbs, reflection is an opportunity to bridge theory and practice. It allows learners the ability to gain an understanding from prior experience and reapply this with greater insight and a degree of “ownership” (Gibbs, 2013, p. 8). Kolb states that reflection is “learning from life experience; [and] often contrasted … with lecture and classroom learning” (Kolb, 2015, p. xviii). Hestates that learning needs to be extracted from experience via critical reflection in order for us to learn “the correct lessons from the consequences of action” (2015, p. xxi).

The reflective process requires you to pass through a number of stages in which you consider and think about a completed action or event in order to gain a better understanding and to learn/improve for future occasions. Many teachers have a vague understanding of the concept of reflection. Many are unaware of the array of models available to their disposal and the concepts of “reflecting for action, reflecting in action and reflecting on action” (OpenLearn from The Open University, 2011).

In the next post, we shall probe deeper, and explore three of the most renowned models of reflection, including Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle and Schön’s theories of Single and Double-Loop Learning. By using these, you will learn to undertake reflection in a structured manner,progressing through stages such as “describing, feeling, evaluating, analysing, concluding and action planning” (Gibbs, 2013, p. 3).

This process of self-assessment can lead to regular growth, allowing for better teaching and therefore better learning from our students. As a sneak preview, I shall leave you with a visual representation of possibly the most user friendly and popular of the models: Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle. You should find this to be a great starting point for your reflective journey. Enjoy!

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