What does the research say?

The notion of reflection is not new. It has long been known that effective teachers are continually reflecting on and improving the way they do things. Reflection however is not a natural process for all teachers. Some teachers think it’s not reflection but a toolkit that is needed. Biggs (2003) eloquently highlights that a toolkit will not necessarily lead to excellence in teaching:

Learning new techniques for teaching is like the fish that provides a meal for today; reflective practice is the net that provides the meal for the rest of one's life (Biggs 2003).

Reflective practitioners take an inquiry stance in that they actively search for understanding and are always open to further investigation.

Timperley, et al (2003) reinforced the fact that teachers need to be constantly updating and improving their practice, and hence engage in lifelong learning:

It is important, therefore, for teachers to continually update and expand their professional knowledge base and to improve or revise their practices so as to meet the learning needs of their increasingly diverse students…The ever-changing knowledge base in our society means that a teaching force that uses yesterday’s professional knowledge to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s society can no longer be tolerated.

Advantages of reflective practice

Reflective practice provides a means for teachers to improve their practice to effectively meet the learning needs of their students.

Brookfield (1995) succinctly describes the advantages of reflective practice for teachers. Reflective practice:

  • helps teachers to take informed actions that can be justified and explained to others and that can be used to guide further action

  • allows teachers to adjust and respond to issues

  • helps teachers to become aware of their underlying beliefs and assumptions about learning and teaching

  • helps teachers promote a positive learning environment. Through reflection, teaching becomes responsive to student feedback and needs. Trust is built when students see their feedback is valued and taken seriously

  • allows teachers to consciously develop a repertoire of relevant and context specific strategies and techniques

  • helps teachers locate their teaching in the broader institutional, social and political context and to appreciate that many factors influence student learning.

Watch the Filmpond video, ‘Reflection in Practice at Greystanes High School’ to find out about teachers’ views on the benefits of reflective practice.

Transcript for 'Reflection in practice at Greystanes High School' video (.docx 85kB)

Attitudes and attributes of reflective practice

Dewey (1938) was the first to describe three essential attitudes that form the basis of reflective practice:

Open-mindedness—a willingness to consider new evidence as it occurs and to admit the possibility of error. It involves being open to other points of view, appreciating that there are many ways of looking at a particular situation or event, and staying open to changing one’s own viewpoint. Part of open-mindedness is being able to let go of needing to be right or wanting to win.

Responsibility—the careful consideration of the consequences of one’s actions, especially as they affect students. It is the willingness to acknowledge that whatever one chooses to do (e.g. decisions about curriculum, instruction, assessment, organisation, management) will impact on the lives of students in both foreseen and unforeseen ways.

Wholeheartedness—a commitment to seek every opportunity to learn and a belief that one can always learn something new.

More recently, Larivee (2006) has identified the attributes of reflective practitioners who are open-minded, responsible and wholehearted. They:

  • reflect on and learn from experience

  • engage in ongoing inquiry

  • solicit feedback

  • remain open to alternative perspectives

  • assume responsibility for their own learning

take action to align with new knowledge and understandings

  • observe themselves in the process of thinking

  • are committed to continuous improvement in practice

  • strive to align behaviour with values and beliefs

  • seek to discover what is true.

Essential modes of reflection

Reflective practice is undertaken not just to revisit the past but to guide future action. Reflective practice can incorporate four modes of reflection: reflection-in-action, reflection-on-action, reflection-for-action, reflection-within. Reflective practitioners make use of all four of these modes.

Reflection-in-action is taking note of thinking and actions as they are occurring and making immediate adjustments as events unfold. Re-evaluation occurs on the spot.

Reflection-on-action is looking back on and learning from experience or action in order to affect future action. Reflecting after an event is probably the most frequently used form of reflection.

Reflection-for-action (Killion and Todnem, 1991) involves analysing practices with the purpose of taking action to change. It includes reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. This type of reflection is proactive in nature. Often called 'closing the gap' reflection, it focuses on closing the gap between what is and what might be.

Reflection-within is inquiring about personal purposes, intentions and feelings. Teachers might question what is working well; keeping them from taking action, keeping their perspective limited; or why they reacted in a particular way. This is very similar to self-reflection.

Lenses for reflection

Within each mode of reflection it is useful to reflect through multiple lenses. Brookfield (1995) suggests the use of the following four lenses for reflection.

The autobiographical lens, or self-reflection, is the foundation of critical reflection. It requires teachers to stand back from an experience and view it more objectively. This lens allows teachers to become aware of aspects of their pedagogy that are effective or that may need adjustment or strengthening.

This lens allows teachers to view their practice from students’ perspectives and is often a consistently surprising element for teachers. Both self-reflection and engaging with student feedback may reveal aspects of teaching practice that need adjustment.

While good teachers will engage with the first two lenses, excellent teachers may also look to peers for mentoring, advice and feedback. Engaging with colleagues and hearing their perspectives allows teachers to check, reframe, and broaden theories of practice, and to consider new ideas and approaches. It also makes teachers aware that many of the challenges in teaching are common, which can be profoundly reassuring.

The fourth lens found in theoretical literature fosters critically reflective teaching. An engagement with both colleagues and scholarly literature supports teachers and also clarifies the contexts in which they teach. The theoretical literature extends understanding and appreciation of learning and teaching practices and helps teachers see the links between their personal development path and the broader educational context.

In summary, reflective practice incorporates reflection in, on and for action as well as reflection within. Seeking information from various lenses serves to further strengthen reflective practice.

The PDF below provides sample questions that use both the four modes of reflection and a variety of lenses.

Link to Word: Reflective practice questions
Reflective practice questions (.pdf 89kB)

Using teaching standards as a framework for reflective practice

The ability to articulate what it is that you actually do as a teacher on a daily basis, and the capacity to reflect on your practice are learned skills. Effective teachers are able to do this objectively which allows them to continually improve their practice, continue to develop and grow as professionals and continually improve outcomes for students.
Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership, 2014

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers provide ‘a framework which makes clear the knowledge, practice and professional engagement required across teachers’ careers’ (NSW Education Standards Authority).

Beginning teachers will find that the teaching standards provide them with the framework to:

  • demonstrate the essential attitudes of reflection – that is, open-mindedness, responsibility and wholeheartedness

  • put the different modes of reflection into action

  • apply multiple lenses when reflecting on their practice.

Induction and accreditation processes provide the ideal opportunity for beginning teachers to develop the ‘learned skills’ of reflective practice as a teacher.

The reforms that have emerged from the Great teaching, Inspired Learning initiative emphasise the need for induction processes to:

  • support teachers to develop skills and evidence of effective practice for accreditation as a Proficient Teacher

  • use the professional teaching standards for structured induction into the profession of teaching

The guide Using teaching standards as a framework for reflective practice (.docx 59kB) can be used in multiple ways by beginning teachers and their supervisors and/or mentors/coaches:

  • to record insights, experiences, successes and challenges

  • to reflect on practice

  • to seek and provide feedback

  • to identify areas of strength

  • to determine next steps for professional development

  • as a springboard for formulating and gathering evidence for the purposes of gaining accreditation at Proficient.

Go to NESA for further information regarding accreditation at Proficient processes.

To access a registered course focused on engaging in reflective practice see ‘Reflecting on standards’ in the Courses section of the Teaching Standards in Action website.