The Reflective Practitioner

{Scales, Pickering, & Senior, 2011. Continuing Professional Development in the Lifelong Learning Sector.}

The main steps in reflective practice; have an experience, recapture your experience, think about it, mull it over, and evaluate it.

Reflective practice is the starting point of CPD; reflecting on experiences and using opportunities to develop and plan a way forward to initiate positive change become a fundamental element of improvement.

One can initiate meaningful conscious action from reflective practice.

We are committed to CPD for our own development, our learners, and the institutions in which we work; the continual updating and improvement of subject knowledge; the continual updating and improvement of learning theory and practice.

This commitment to CPD flourishes on a positive self-concept and a growth mindset belief, feeding back into beliefs that you can make a difference and develop self-efficacy beliefs.

Developing a positive notion of self-efficacy begins with reflective practice:

evaluation of capabilities entails judgments of your capabilities to organize and execute courses of action to attain designated types of performance;

willingness to embrace change and improvement for yourself and your learners.

Reflective practice can explicitly aim to develop autonomy and a sense of self-efficacy.

Historical notes

With John Dewey, reflection begins from a state of perplexity and doubt. When you enter a new situation, two reactions may result, you ignore and don’t adapt, continuing purely impulsive or routine action, or you use these periods of doubt and perplexity to learn and act reflectively, characterized by ongoing self-appraisal and development.

With Donald Schön, reflection and learning begin in uncertainty. Our mental understanding is characterized by a theory-practice gap, what we think we are or should be doing, and what we are actually doing. We explain our experience with technical rationality or acquired theoretical knowledge, but we live our experience through tacit knowledge.

Reflection in action begins during a practice when something isn’t working as one expects it to; past experience is evoked as one tries to understand why and how to adjust the practice (of teaching or learning).

Reflection on action is engaged after the experience to reflect on why the situation happened and how one can improve things; one may seek solutions and changes in discussions and dialogue.

Reflection for action involves using reflection as a basis for planning future action and entering a cycle of continuous improvement.

Experiential learning, learning by doing, is a learning process in which an experience is reflected upon and translated into concepts that become guidelines for new experiences.

With David Kolb, we have a 4 part cycle of learning; do it, think about it, formulate a theory about it, do it again, and see if it’s any better. Another wording may be; working on tasks, observation, theorizing, or experimentation. You may have a preferred segment of the cycle where you enter it generally or where you put most of your energy and attention into it. The value of the cycle is in completing it and moving through it in a process of change and continual development; a balancing act may be most beneficial.

Reflection, learning, and development – other approaches

Transformative learning

With Mezirow (1991), a dilemma can lead to challenging our assumptions and presuppositions and changing our perspectives as well as ourselves.

With Moon (2004), reflective practice engages capability and skills to facilitate taking a critical stance. It involves moving out of our comfort zones and possibly taking life-changing risks.

Critical incident analysis

A critical incident is a challenge; when something goes wrong, we need to ask ourselves what happened and why, framing the incident as questions. Upon reflection and analysis, we seek to find solutions that we can incorporate into our practice.

Collaborative learning

Working with peers in learning circles can provide a safe place to try new ideas and take risks.

Critical lenses

With Brookfield (1995), Four perspectives we can take on to examine and reflect upon our professional practice:

Our autobiographies as learners and teachers. We have experiences of being taught and beliefs about what teaching and learning should be like. Without reflection, we will teach in ways that we ourselves like to be taught.

Our student’s eyes. We may empathize and imagine what it would be like to be learners in our own classes.

Our peers’ perspective. We may ask peers to observe our work and discuss it with us.

Theoretical perspective. Reviewing theory periodically for insights and understanding.

Appreciative inquiry

The appreciative inquiry approach provides an antidote to an ethos of criticism and negativity about what people can do. Learning and development are not primarily about looking for gaps or deficiencies in our knowledge and practice but about actively searching for possibilities for change and new ideas and approaches. It is a collaborative approach to developing individuals based on a positive attitude in which honesty, trust, and integrity are maintained throughout the process.

A composite reflection model 

Experiences <~> Reflection <~> Perspectives <~> Action

Perspectives ~ personal, learners’, peers’, theoretical

The temporal aspect of the experience ~ past, present, future

Reflection on action: after the experience, constructing meaning.

Reflection in action: during the experience, using tacit knowledge.

Reflection in social interaction: collaboratively exploring alternatives.

Reflection for action: implementing change to improve and develop practice.

Avoid being absorbed in one perspective; move between perspectives.

Avoid being self-absorbed; bring in others to the reflection.

Avoid being too theoretical; use reflection practically.

Clarify your thinking about reflective practice.

Potential barriers to reflection

Organizational ethos with little or no support for reflective practice or recognition of its value.

Unrealistic approach by identifying strengths but no weaknesses.

Apprehension and concern that identifying weaknesses or problems may have a detrimental effect on an organization.

Lack of collaboration, unwillingness to share and develop experiences with others.

Emotional challenges

The purpose of reflection is to develop meaningful insight into experiences.

Experiences can entail strong emotional elements, such as anger or hostility. Reflecting on such experiences on how effectively you handled the situation and what worked or did not work can evoke emotional challenges.

To learn from the experience, it is necessary to consider its emotional component.

Emotional intelligence is essential for effective reflection, as well the reflective process is essential in developing emotional intelligence.

Bringing an appreciative inquiry approach to the reflection supports how you handle and manage your emotions resulting from reflection and responses from colleagues and emotions of your learners to help you understand their motivation and learning.

Goleman’s social and emotional competencies model identifies five domains:

self-awareness: being alert to your feelings;

self-regulation: managing your feelings;

motivation: using feelings to help you achieve your goals;

empathy: tuning in to how others feel;

social skills: handling feelings well in interaction with others.


Our beliefs about our skills and abilities affect our attitudes toward learning and development, positively or negatively.

Fixed mindset are beliefs that basic abilities, such as intelligence or talent, are fixed traits that cannot be changed. Talent alone creates success, not effort or practice.

Growth mindset recognizes that brains and talent are just the starting point and that effort and purposeful engagement result in improved performance and continually developing ability.

Encouraging a growth mindset helps learners to break out of fixed, limiting beliefs about their ability and is the most empowering difference to make in people’s future lives.

QUAD process model for reflection and CPD

Question <~> Understand <~> Appraise <~> Develop <~> Question

Question: critical events, positive and negative experiences; recurring themes; your experiences; your attitudes and opinions.

Understand: links between theory and practice; the value of collaborative working; different perspectives; learners’ needs, e.g., additional support, learning styles, and cultural differences.

Appraise: your PDJ, monitor your progress; learners using formative assessment; learners’ attendance and achievement; and evaluate feedback from learners.

Develop: using teaching observations to identify themes for development and to set targets; through reviewing PDJs and action plans; using appraisals and periodic reviews; by researching, applying, and evaluating new teaching and learning techniques; by using reflective practice and CPD to maintain your license to practice.

For reflective practice to succeed, it must be valued for its own sake as a process of development and improvement and not, primarily, as a process to be monitored and evaluated by others; make it a part of the organizational culture.

Personal Development Journals

A device to undertake an ongoing self-dialogue, record and reflect on critical incidents, monitor your distance traveled, and identify key themes in your development and signposts for the future.

Reflectivity. What happened? What did you observe?

Affective reflectivity. Identify your innate response to this situation. What are your feelings about the situation?

Discriminant reflectivity. What did you do? On what basis did you take this action? Did it work? Do you have anything that confirms it worked? How accurate do you now consider your self-perceptions?

Judgmental reflectivity. Consider whether you have pre-judged events or made assumptions. On what basis did you judge an incident, and where did the judgment come from? Do you ever ask for advice? Do you always make your judgment and stick with it?

Conceptual reflectivity. Think about your perceptions and values and how these affect how you make sense of events.

Theoretical reflectivity. Consider how knowing specific theories influences your teaching and learning and how to assess their value.

Develop a format that suits your personal needs and style. Be clear about the purpose and value of journal writing.

Use visual images to highlight or reinforce events.

Use diagrams to understand, analyze, and evaluate events.

Leave spaces to return to and add relevant theory notes or subsequent ideas.

Create and develop an action plan linked to the journal and observations, establishing a framework for ongoing development.

Celebrate the distance traveled, and take pride in your developments.

Link theory to practice.

Use the PDJ as a means to implement changes. Take responsibility for self-development.

Online discussion boards

Technology that supports wide participant networks will not, by itself, produce collaboration. A shared conception of teaching and learning is needed based on co-constructivist principles in which participants are motivated to build knowledge together. Shared goals with the purpose of collaboration having been agreed upon by all participants are crucial. Building knowledge together is the appropriate motto for a collaborative framework.

Learning from lesson observations

As a reflective practitioner, you will develop the habit of observing yourself, being aware of your activities and interactions in the classroom or workshop, and making adjustments as you go along.

Immediately after the session, ask yourself:

What were you planning to do or wanting the learners to achieve? Who were the learners? How were you trying to achieve the session’s aims and objectives?

What happened?

What went well?

What was effective? How? Why?

What went according to plan? What didn’t?

What were the causes of difficulties or changes?

What would you do again?

What wouldn’t you do again?

What was unaccounted for or not planned for?

How will your planning for the future change?

Being observed

The main purpose of observation should be improvement rather than grading. Negotiate a focus for your observation. Use agreed and shared criteria and format for observation. Provide developmental feedback as soon as possible after the observation. Following observation and feedback, do action planning for improvement. Provide support for improvement.

The CPD Process

The CPD planning cycle

Step 1: Reflect on your role, subject specialism, and priorities.

Identify key priorities to enable you to keep up to date with your subject area and to develop and improve your teaching and learning strategies.

Step 2: Analyze goals and needs using reflections, reviews, and appraisals.

Use evidence from various sources, such as learner feedback, evaluation, appraisals, teaching observations, and your own assessment.

Step 3: Use the analysis to create a year-long professional development plan.

Identify activities to develop as a professional. What type of activity and what topics are likely to be most effective for you? Include a brief rationale for each activity, a timeline for achievement, outcomes, and the success measures.

Step 4: Carry out your planned activities and log outcomes and reflections on progress

Include dates of completion and time spent on reflection and progress. Demonstrate the difference the activities make to you, your colleagues, and your learners.

Step 5: Create a professional development record from the evidence in your log.

At the end of an annual cycle, record the most significant activities that have impacted your practice. Demonstrate the impact of what you have achieved through your CPD.

Step 6: reflect on the impact of what you have achieved.

What impact have CPD activities had on your professional practice, colleagues, and learners?

CPD activity is meaningless unless it makes a difference to you or your learners.

Put ideas into practice, analyze what you have changed, analyze how this has affected your learners, and gain learner feedback as part of the reflective cycle. Time spent thinking about new ideas, implementing them, and undertaking outcome reviews all count toward your CPD hours.

Keep notes of what you have learned from team meetings, briefings, membership events, and network events.

Keep track of your ideas.

Keep a note of what you do throughout the year, and document and track activities.

Your time plan, including success measurements, may change as your organizational priorities and the wider context may change.

Plan and undertake professional development on an ongoing basis. Reflect on what you have learned from the activities, demonstrate how activities and reflections have made a difference to you, especially concerning your teaching role, and then show evidence of this difference.

Share your plans and ideas with colleagues. Seek peer feedback, and join peer discussion groups. Participate in joint or group CPD projects with your colleagues, thus enabling reflection to take place on joint or group activities rather than individual events.

Start by identifying your development needs and prioritizing them. Consider your professional identity in terms of subject specialism and your teaching. Take responsibility. Be adaptable, flexible, and forward-thinking in your approach to CPD.  Analyze needs and goals in your priority areas. Include strengths and areas for improvement.

To define goals and needs, evaluate and use evidence such as learner feedback, appraisals, peer review, and teacher observations.

Effective CPD is related to the context and needs of each institution.

Guidelines for planning effectively for CPD activities

CPD is most effective when part of a deliberately planned process. Reflection on CPD is central to the process, including reflective accounts of the actual impact of the activities on your professional practice and your learners.

Activity: this should be part of a long-term plan, supported by management, that gives you opportunities to apply what you have learned, evaluate the effect on your practice, and develop your practice.

Planning: seek a shared, clear vision of the effects of improved practice. Show what expertise, understanding, or technique the CPD is intended to deliver. Clear, defined outcomes are the starting point of being able to evaluate the impact of the CPD.

Include developing skills, knowledge, and understanding that will be practical, relevant, and applicable to your current role or career aspirations.

Provide CPD training by relevant people with the necessary experience, expertise, and skills.

Use lesson observation as the basis for discussion about the focus of CPD and its impact.

Use CPD to model effective learning and teaching strategies: e.g., active learning, trying out ideas in a supportive setting.

Integrate CPD to promote ongoing inquiry and problem-solving embedded in the organization’s daily life.

Evaluate CPD’s impact on teaching and learning, guiding subsequent professional development activities. The most effective evaluations are planned from the outset as an integral part of the CPD.

Creating your development plan

Having clear objectives leads to more successful outcomes; you know what you want your learners to achieve at the end of the lesson, so you plan your teaching and learning strategies to ensure the end goals are achieved. Good planning is an indicator of achieving successful outcomes and being able to measure the effectiveness of the outcomes.

Clear statements regarding what you desire from the professional development process enable you to set objectives to help you achieve your outcomes.

For example: ‘by the end of this CPD activity, I will be able to …’

Reflection should be an integral part of the process as a whole.

Now create your development plan.

What type of activities have you included and why?

Use all the information available to you, including activities, the objectives for each activity, the action plan and time scale, and a column for recording what was achieved and the outcomes for the teacher and the learner.

Make your plan personalized and relevant, and include more meaningful activities. Take account of the individual, the workplace, and national and government initiatives.

Measuring the impact of your CPD

A CPD Impact Evaluation Model links evaluation to the reflective cycle (step 6). Establish at the planning stage what kind of difference do I want to make and to whom? By when? What are the picture, evidence, and data at the outset? What picture and evidence do I want to achieve?

What evidence shows change is needed; what evidence shows your progress in planning and implementing change; what evidence shows that change has happened?

Be prepared for unexpected and unintended outcomes besides expected outcomes.

Adapt as you progress, and look out for possibilities and opportunities.

Evaluating CPD events

Before any formal CPD activity takes place, such as coaching, workshops, or conferences, consider:

what targets or objectives the CPD activity is designed to meet;

what the impact of engaging in the CPD activity will be;

what the outcomes will be in terms of impact on classroom skills and how this will affect the learning of the students;

how you can measure the above.

Use a five-level impact evaluation framework: participant reaction; participant learning; organizational support and change; participant use of new knowledge and skills; pupil (student) learning outcomes.

Choose the most meaningful evaluation mode for yourself. Include items of

Expected teacher outcomes: what skills will you develop, and how do you plan to use them? What gains in knowledge do you expect to make, and how do you see this making a difference in your teaching? What do you expect to be able to do that you can’t do now?

Expected student outcomes: What will be the impact on student’s progress or learning in the classroom? What are the likely time scales for this?

Measurement of student learning outcomes: How will you measure the impact of CPD on students’ learning and the progress they make as a result? How will this be evidenced?

In light of these evaluation methods, evaluate at least one recent CPD activity.

Recording and monitoring CPD

You may use a personal CPD portfolio with the following structure to it:

a job description;

staff handbook and code of conduct;

personal achievements and positive comments to recognize achievement;

training and professional development undertaken and evaluation of it;

annual personal targets;

whole organization targets in which they are involved;

membership of any working parties.

From the onset, aim to share your development with a colleague who will act as a critical friend, support your activity, and peer review your planning and reflections on CPD.