5 Reflecting effectively
In a busy school placement you may find that you concentrate on immediate reactions, big issues or surface level responses to situations. This is a common experience, and well established in the research literature as Finlay notes in her paper ‘Reflecting on reflective practice’.
Busy, over-stretched professionals are likely to find reflective practice taxing and difficult. Bland, mechanical, routinised and unthinking ways of doing reflective practice are too often the result.
Other authors have expressed concern about the concept of reflective practice and have challenged concepts such as Schon’s ‘reflection-in-action’. For example Ixer, writing about reflection in social work practice, argues that ‘reflection-in-action’ cannot be applied to those working in professionally demanding situations in the same way as it can be to other professions. He suggest that in these situations:
Practitioners are seen as applying knowledge built up from their own experience which is ‘tacit’ and therefore difficult to access and discuss. Reflection aims to develop conscious control of knowledge in such circumstances, through a process of metacognition, so that professionals are able to self-analyse and learn to operate more effectively in demanding situations. In essence, this means that they develop transferable skills which are lifelong and not context-specific.
This quote contains important messages about effective reflective practice that are worth unpicking. Firstly, Ixer’s use of the phrase ‘tacit knowledge’ acknowledges that at times you will be acting in an unconscious, routinised way. This links with the discussion about practice wisdom, and how established teachers can find it difficult to express their thought processes or how they learned a particular strategy.
Secondly, Ixer mentions metacognition, which is commonly defined as thinking about thinking. The idea of developing pupil’s metacognition is increasingly being discussed in educational literature with a view to helping pupils take conscious control of their own learning. However, there is also increasing evidence that teachers need to develop their metacognitive awareness to increase their own professional learning and to enable them to support pupils develop their metacognitive skills effectively (Veenman et al., 2006, Kuhn, 2000, Kistner, 2010). Being metacognitively aware as a teacher, involves understanding how your thinking (and therefore learning) is developing.
Finally, Ixer highlights how, through metacognition, and conscious control of your thinking and learning, you will be more equipped to transfer your learning between different contexts and situations. This is a critical point as you move between different school contexts and develop career long learning habits to ensure you are able to adapt your practice to new ideas in education.