The value of reflection in enhancing professional practice, particularly in education, is evident and well-supported by a wide range of literature. In education, reflections encourage teachers to think deeper about their own practice, and use that as a trigger for action (Smyth, 1993). It entails looking to our experiences, connecting with our feelings, analysing our practice of theories and building new understandings to inform our actions (Schön, 1983). Beyond the individual level, a fraternity of reflective practitioners is one that is continually updating and improving itself (Smyth, 1993). A quote attributed to John Dewey reads: “we do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.”
For that reason, reflection must be a part of any culture that is committed to excellence. In the context of day-to-day work, the deliberate documentation of reflection however is a real challenge. But the lack of documentation does not preclude the occurrence of deep reflection. More often than not, the evidence tends to point to the latter – improvements that could only have come about from a deep scrutiny of what had been done before.
As a leader I would encourage my people to embrace the active practice of reflection as something of great value to their personal and professional growth. This would involve the following:
Reinforcing the purpose and value of the reflective practice through professional conversations and discussions;
Teaching my people how to reflect, by prescribing a simple reflective model that is rigorous but accessible;
Establishing simple structures that encourage the documentation of reflections; and
Involving peers in the reflective exercise.
The above is a simple reflection model that may be used to encourage the deliberate practice and documentation of reflection. Anchored on the Borton development framework, the model extends his cycle of questions to an outer ring which articulates the practice, analysis and evaluation of the ‘now what?’, leading the user back to the inner circle of reflection. Key to this model is the introduction of the external voice in the analysis and evaluation stages of the reflection-practice cycle.
In practice, the reflection process is no longer an individual activity but a social one that supports individual growth. The external voice provides an opportunity for the user to affirm or challenge the validity and rigour of their reflections.