The beginning of a new year is a time of renewal – renewed ambitions, renewed energies, renewed bonds within our communities, and a renewal of self. As we look ahead to the possibilities and potential that the new year brings, it is important to remind ourselves that a key part of renewal involves taking stock and reflecting back on our past thoughts and actions. By engaging in reflective practice, it empowers us to move forward with a renewed sense of clarity, purpose and meaning, and helps us make the most of the year ahead.
The concept of reflective practice was first introduced by Donald Schön in 19871 to describe the process of intentionally and thoughtfully considering one’s own experiences, ideally with guidance or supervision from mentors, in order to effectively apply knowledge to practice and refine one’s craft or discipline2. Reflection is an ability that can be developed over time and enhanced by particular learning contexts, such as those where support from mentors or supervisors is provided and where ongoing active reflection is encouraged and reinforced3. Reflective practice is multifaceted and may involve one or several of the following phases: anticipatory reflection, which involves planning ahead based on past experiences; reflection-in-action, where learning occurs within the moment and involves maintaining flexibility during practice; and reflection-on-action, which involves retrospective analysis and consideration of experiences after they have occurred4. In some cases, reflection may also be stimulated by the anticipation of future challenges3. Reflection can be achieved through a variety of activities and practices, including (but not limited to): private reflection; conversations with colleagues and supervisors; digital monitoring of work in practice; evaluation of case studies; and journaling5,6.
Reflective practice has many benefits, both for how we consider our work and how we consider ourselves. For teachers, reflection enables a deeper understanding of teaching style, which consequently results in greater effectiveness as a teacher both in the classroom, within the school community, and with regard to one’s personal identity as a teacher2. Other specific benefits to teachers include involving and engaging students as active learners, creating a positive classroom and school atmosphere, and maintaining flexibility in teaching practice4. Finally, there are benefits of reflection that extend beyond the school context and inform our thoughts and actions as members of our broader community and society. These benefits include challenging us to think more critically, raising new questions to explore, helping us deal more effectively with challenges or conflicts, and enabling us to put things into a broader perspective5.
Reflection need not only occur at the start of a new year; in fact, ongoing reflective practice is critical to flourishing both personally and professionally. By taking stock of our thoughts and actions, we are able to continuously renew our approach to work and our daily lives, enabling us to move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and potential.
1. Schon, D. A. (1987). Educating the reﬂective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
2. Ferraro, J. M. (2000). Reflective practice and professional development. [Electronic version]. ERIC Digest. Retrieved 20/12/2016.
3. Mann, K., Gordon, J., & MacLeod, A. (2009). Reflection and reflective practice in health professions education: A systematic review. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 14(4), 595-621.
4. Pinsky, L. E., Monson, D., & Irby, D. M. (1998). How excellent teachers are made: Reflecting on success to improve teaching. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 3(3), 207-215.
5. Mitchell, T. D., Richard, F. D., Battistoni, R. M., Rost-Banik, C., Netz, R., & Zakoske, C. (2015). Reflective practice that persists: Connections between reflection in service-learning programs and in current life. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 21(2), 49-64.
6. Amobi, F., & Irwin, L. (2012). Implementing on-campus microteaching to elicit preservice teachers’ reflection on teaching actions: Fresh perspective on an established practice. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9(1), 27-34.