One of the key means by which this PGCE course has sought to develop our professional teaching abilities has been reflective practice. Throughout the course, we have been asked to reflect upon our own teaching experiences and then to relate them to a range of wider educational contexts. We have been asked to undertake such reflection in our journal writing and in our various assignment commentaries.
The importance given to reflection during the PGCE demonstrates its importance in the wider educational world. Since Dewey first suggested the concept in the early twentieth century, reflective practice has developed into a full-blown shift in the educational paradigm, particularly since the publication of Schon’s Reflective Practioner in 1983 (Richardson, 1990, 3-4). The significance of reflective practice in contemporary education should be clear in that it represents the now dominant theory of teacher training.
But to what extent is reflective practice a function of structured initiatives and programmes? In other words, can we only undertake reflection within a clearly defined programme? I suppose a simple answer is no. Reflection forms a part of our everyday world; as we react to our environments, we reflect and contemplate our responses on an almost continuous basis. But, is such contemplation really reflective practice?
Whilst the answer to this question is probably beyond us here, I would argue that truly reflective practice is more than just informal thinking (although this is certainly not to devalue such contemplative thinking which underpins reflective practice). As has become clear to me during the PGCE, true reflection can only take place within a structure. That is, the structure appears to be a necessary means of provoking and sustaining the critical analysis required by reflective practice.
Given this, in this seminar, I would like to pose one central question: namely, how can we continue to use reflective practice in our continuing professional development? In other words, if structure is really as significant as I have argued, how can we maintain ourselves as reflective practitioners after the conclusion of the PGCE?
As reflective practice becomes increasingly widely applied, one possible avenue might be found within reflective supervisory systems. Various performance measuring systems now take reflection as an axiomatic starting point. If we are fortunate to be a part of such a review programme then we might usefully use this framework as a means to continuously reflect on our progress as teachers. However, this presupposes that we work within such an environment, which is not always the case.
Furthermore, reflective practice, as I have come to understand it, is more about our own personal response than it is about external stimuli. In other words, our reflections are our own and not our line managers. The central issue is, then, how we can continue to utilise critical reflection ourselves.
As I have discovered during the PGCE, written work is a particularly effective means of developing reflective practice. There are a number of reasons why this is so. Firstly, written reflection is, as Ross says, a useful way to ‘preserve critical analysis’ (Ross, 1990, 103). As we have seen ourselves, written work allows the practitioner to look back and chart their own development. Secondly, writing offers the institutions in which we work the opportunity to ‘challenge and support…reflective thinking’ (Ross, 1990, 104). Thirdly, it offers a useful structure in which we can develop our own ideas.
Having highlighted its usefulness, how can we make use of written reflective practice in our own professional development? Again, I feel that there needs to be a structure of some kind to make such practice truly reflective: but what kinds of structures are available?
Some degree of written reflective practice may already be incorporated into our annual review procedures. If so, then this offers the opportunity (albeit on a limited scale) to continue with written reflection. However, I would suggest that this is a rather limited opportunity: to be effective, reflection needs to be an ongoing and not merely annual activity.
Another possibility is that of informal reflective practice. If reflection is supposed to be our own response, then surely it is our own responsibility. By continuing to write reflectively (as time and other pressures allow), we are taking control of our own professional development. Nevertheless, given the intrusion of other pressures, it will undoubtedly be difficult to maintain such practice for long. On the other hand, this is certainly true of development in a more general sense. If, then, we are to develop we have to find creative ways to continuously develop ourselves.
How can we continue to use reflective practice after the conclusion of the PGCE?
Clift, R T et al., (eds., 1990), Encouraging Reflective Practice in Education, London: Teachers
Richardson, V (1990), ‘The Evolution of Reflective Teaching and Teacher Education’ in Clift, R T et al., (eds., 1990), Encouraging Reflective Practice in Education, London: Teachers College Press, pp. 3 - 19.
Ross, D D (1990), ‘Programmatic Structures for the Preparation of Reflective Teachers’ in Clift, R T et al., (eds., 1990), Encouraging Reflective Practice in Education, London: Teachers
College Press, pp. 97-118.