Reflective practice: What does the research say?

Two PRU leaders explain how reflective practice can help teachers to assess the impact of choices they make in class
2nd November 2020, 3:00pm


Reflective practice: What does the research say?
Reflective Practice: What The Research Says

How often do you take the time to pause and truly reflect on the impact of your choices on the pupils you teach? During a busy school day, most teachers simply don't have the time. But this kind of reflection is important.

That's why, this year, we have made reflective practice an overarching development theme across our whole staff team; our aim is for every adult who has contact with pupils to recognise how their choice of actions affects a situation, negatively or otherwise. 

It is important to keep acknowledging that pupils don't develop in a vacuum; there exists a transactional relationship with staff. This means that every adult working with children must strive to improve.

In previous years, we had promoted this concept, but it always lacked nuance. We also discovered that it was difficult to force development in this area without a clear framework. The last thing we wanted was to slide into "teacher-bashing". 

Reflective practice: a research-informed approach

So, we began looking into the research around reflective practice, hoping to find a suitable framework that we could use in our staff action research projects and when discussing the actions of our pupils.

So, what did we find? We came across the experiential learning cycle of Kolb (1984) and the concept of "reflection in action" described by Schon (1983). 

We have been able to use both theories effectively. Schon's work, in particular, was very helpful in making us more aware of the potentially vast gap that can exist between our theory-in-use (what we actually do) and the high ground of our espoused theory (what we think we are doing). 

However, we felt that these models alone were not enough to "coax" reflection from our staff, especially in those situations where staff would not necessarily opt to immediately reflect, such as considering our own actions when a colleague has struggled to remain calm. Yet, these are the areas in which staff need the most support.

Reflection as a continuum

With this in mind, we have started to discuss reflection as a continuum, based on a model developed by Schon and Argyris (1974).

This model theorises that for every experience, we can consider the situation from different "depths". First, there is the "single loop" - the surface level, where decisions are informed by a more immediate time frame and we are required to apply existing rules or procedures. 

Then, there is the "double loop" - the level that requires us to step back from the incident and reframe what has happened, considering the reasons why it happened in the first place. 

Let's take the example of a pupil throwing a glue stick across the classroom. The immediate, surface-level response might be to confiscate the glue stick and remove it from view, to prevent the event from happening again.

However, the same problem is likely to occur again in the future if we don't consider why the pupil may have thrown the glue stick in the first place, and then take steps to promote successful and positive learning behaviours. This is the "double loop" aspect of the model. 

By taking the time to consider the double loop, I hope that we can begin to help staff to deal with the causes, and not just the symptoms, of the problems they face in the classroom.

But reflective practice doesn't stop there. The next step on our journey is extending this model to consider the impact of staff values and assumptions on how they may react to a situation, developing our ability to be critically reflective.

Like so much in education, learning to reflect on our practice is a journey. Hopefully, the steps we have taken so far will help to ensure the best outcomes for our pupils - and our staff.

Leanne Forde-Nassey is headteacher at The Key Education Centre, in Hampshire, and Ollie Ward is outreach lead there

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