Reflective Practice and Professional Development
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Reflective Practice and Professional Development

Peter Tarrant

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eBook - ePub

Reflective Practice and Professional Development

Peter Tarrant

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About This Book

The connections between reflective practice and professional development are the focus for this book, which offers guidance to support lasting change and provides strategies to enable self-initiated professional development.

The book includes:

- traditional approaches to reflective practice

- how to enhance the effectiveness of reflective practice

- putting reflective practice in context

- how reflective practice can improve attainment for students and staff

- an Appendix of useful resources.

With case studies and examples of relective practice from trainee teachers and from students studying across a range of Education courses, this book equips the reader to develop their own reflective practice framework. Relevant also to practitioners working across the children?s workforce, it encourages personal and professional development for the whole range of professionals working in education and care.

Peter Tarrant is a Teaching Fellow at the Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh.

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What is reflective practice?
Chapter Overview
In this chapter, I will discuss professionalism and the reasons why we are encouraged to reflect. I will look at some of the more traditional models of supporting reflective practice and explore the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches and their impact on practice.
  • Why this book?
  • Why do we need to reflect?
  • What is reflection?
  • What is the impact on practice?
  • Focus reflection questions
Why this Book?
For many years now, I have been working with teachers and student teachers in developing professionalism. One important element of this professionalism is reflection on practice. Over this time, I have investigated a number of approaches to reflection; and I have investigated the ways it is promoted, ‘prescribed,’ supported, documented and utilized in the context of teacher professionalism. I have looked at coaching models, structured models and traditional models. I have considered the benefits and drawbacks to reflection and the many challenges in having an approach that encourages personal reflection which is relevant, meaningful, and, above all, useful to those doing the reflecting.
One significant conclusion I have come to is that it should be the person doing the reflecting who gets the most out of the experience. In order to manage this, they should have some ownership of the process, they should see and understand its purpose, and should not feel that it is something imposed upon them by others.
Why do we Need to Reflect?
One of the benefits of reflection is its impact on professionalism. Through reflecting on our practice, we become more aware, more in control, more able to see our strengths and development needs. Through reflection, we can begin to move from novice to expert. Berliner (2001: 5–13) states: ‘To the novice the expert appears to have uncanny abilities to notice things, an “instinct” to make the right moves, an ineffable ability to get things done and to perform in an almost effortless manner’ (in Banks and Mayes, 2001: 20).
He talks about the five stages: novice, advanced beginner, competent performer, proficient and then expert. He suggests that ‘the experts have … an intuitive grasp of the situation and a non-analytic and non-deliberative sense of the appropriate response to be made’. Berliner goes on to say:
The wealth of knowledge and routines that they employ, in fact, is so automatic that they often do not realize why they performed a certain plan or action over another. However, when questioned, they are able to reconstruct the reasons for their decisions and behaviour. (In Banks and Mayes, 2001: 27)
It is this process, the questioning or self-questioning to reconstruct what happened – or to construct what might happen – that enables the teacher to move from novice to expert. Indeed, it helps the expert to continue to grow and develop. It may even enable the expert to pass on this expertise to other professionals as they share their reflections.
It is well documented that to develop as professionals we need to be able to reflect on our practice and to learn from this reflection. Donald Schön (1983) suggested that the capacity to reflect on action is to engage in the process of continuous learning and that this is one of the defining characteristics of professional practice.
What is Reflection?
There are many definitions of professionalism, and probably just as many definitions of reflection. It is important to establish what definitions I am using to underpin the ideas in this book.
There is much written about notions of professionalism. Authors such as Carr (2000), Sachs (2001) and Story and Hutchison (2001) view a professional as someone with training, expertise, autonomy and values consistent with the society of the time. For the purposes of this book, I will assume a shared acceptance of the ‘training and expertise’ aspects, but the values and autonomy perhaps require some discussion.
Professional values
It is important to acknowledge that being professional is about much more than ‘what you do’. It is also about how you do it and the values that go along with it. It is about how you behave, it is about who you are and how you see yourself. Our actions and attitudes are influenced by our values and what we believe is ‘right’, ‘just’ and ‘fair’. Often, we can become entrenched in our own view of the world and do not see some of the other ‘possibilities’. Given the enormous influence we have on the lives of young people, it is important to be aware of how the values transmitted, either consciously or unconsciously, are appropriate. This book suggests that through talking about our profession, through articulating some of these deep-seated beliefs and values in terms of professional practice, we might begin to better understand them. Often, we do not realize that we hold some of these values until we have cause to stop and reflect upon what we did/said, why this might be and what effect this might have upon others in our care.
Teachers in particular can be very self-critical, and the demands of the profession are such that we often take even constructive criticism from others badly. We, nevertheless, blame ourselves for any seeming disaster that occurs in the course of our duties. Yet, on the other hand, we get little formal recognition for our victories and seldom stop to celebrate our expertise. It is often only when we stop and reflect that we realize how far we have come and how well we have done. This idea of reflection is not new. Many institutions have reflection embedded in the systems that operate in the professional environment. For many, it is this reflection and these values that help to define their professional identity.
Professional identity
Osgood (2006) suggests that ‘a professional identity is performatively constituted, “being professional” is a performance, which is about what practitioners do at particular times, rather than a universal indication of who they are’.
This is echoed by Sachs (2003) who states that ‘across society, professionalism increasingly refers to an individual’s attitude and behaviour, rather than a group’s formal status and collective identity’.
Without reflection, these elements may get locked away and development is hindered. Through reflecting on practice and on ‘what it is to be professional’ the door is opened to better understanding and potential development of the tools that will enable you to develop and grow professionally. These are tools that will support your practice in times of change, where attitudes and approaches must adapt and develop.
Reflective practice is specifically about reflecting on oneself and one’s inner world, behaviours and impact. Therefore, we need to consider much more than performance. Many ‘expert professionals’ can operate well in difficult situations and not tell you how they did so. Through reflection and articulation, it is possible to learn how to express these things and to understand what made the difference in a certain situation. It is possible to look at your own beliefs and values and consider them in the light of your profession. The whole autonomy element of professionalism can only really be addressed if you are able to stop for a moment and reflect on your practice.
Donald Schön (1983) has written extensively on this relationship between reflection and professionalism. He states:
A professional practitioner is a specialist who encounters certain types of situations again and again … He develops a repertoire of expectations. He learns what to look for … As long as his practice is stable, in the sense that it brings him the same types of cases he becomes less and less subject to surprise … As practice becomes more repetitive and routine … the practitioner may miss important opportunities to think about what he is doing. He may be drawn into patterns of error which he cannot correct … When this happens the practitioner has over learned what he knows.
A practitioner’s reflection can serve as a corrective to over learning. Through reflection he can surface and criticize the tacit understandings that have grown up around the repetitive experiences of a specialized practice, and can make new sense of the situation of uncertainty or uniqueness which he may allow himself to experience … Sometimes he arrives at a new theory of the phenomenon by articulating a feeling he has about it … When someone reflects in action, he becomes a researcher in the practice context. He does not separate thinking from doing. (In Pollard, 2002: 6–7)
Professional expertise
Having trained and qualified to do your chosen profession, it is important to realize that this is not the end of the journey. Becoming a professional is not the end, merely a stop en route. The continuous development – constantly developing and updating knowledge and expertise – is what separates the professional from the technician.
Fullan (2007) suggests that every teacher has to learn, virtually every day. I would contest this and suggest that it is not ‘virtually’ every day, but indeed every single day! He goes on to state that ‘to improve we need to do two things: to measure ourselves and be open about what we are doing’. The reflective process is one approach to this challenge, and one I will discuss in more detail in the following chapters of this book.
Professional autonomy
There is, of course, a well-documented, ongoing debate about autonomy for professionals. There is always a fine balance between, on the one hand, the need for results and accountability, and on the other, the professional judgement and independent licence required to respond to day-to-day situations.
Quicke (1998) argues that teachers can be moral leaders only if they have sufficient autonomy to develop ‘strategies and approaches in ways which, in their view, will benefit society’ (cited in Banks and Mayes, 2001: 47). However, decades of government intervention have led to the erosion of professional autonomy. In particular, for teachers, ‘the application of rigor, and of robust standards and procedures by successive governments, has widely been viewed as an undermining of autonomy and creative potential in the classroom, with teachers as ciphers, simply technicians of the process’ (Storey and Hutchison, 2001: 47).
Brown (1989) argues that ‘teachers work spontaneously from their own situations and this does not tally well with a more systematic, define objectives – plan activities – evaluate achievement of objects, approach’.
It is this spontaneity and autonomy that should be nurtured in order to maintain a true sense of professionalism. The aim of this book is to examine some of the ways that the professional might be able to develop self-awareness regarding their own skills, aptitudes and values, through a process based upon reflective practice.
Professional accountability
However, it would be wrong to argue for a generation of maverick individuals, each working from individual ideals and purposes. Of course, we need boundaries and guidelines. In Scotland, the GTCS (2008) believes that the Code of Professionalism and Conduct has achieved this. ‘It also has the benefit of making the profession more secure in its own professional standards yet, at the same time, making it more accountable to the public.’ The GTCS advises teachers that they have ‘tried to balance producing a book of rules or an exhaustive list of “do’s and don’ts” with the broader, less prescriptive approach of a Code. This is to assist and support the individual teacher in relation to the professional judgments he or she has to make on a day-to-day basis’.
Models of professionalism
Eraut (1994: 2) suggests two models for teacher professionalism: the ‘functionalist model emphasises expertise and relative autonomy; the traditional model concerns restrictions for entry and continuing competence with adherence to a code and self-regulation’.
It is this continuing competence, the continuous professional development which drives the ideas in this book. ‘Reflection is skilled practice that uses experience, knowledge and enquiry processes to increase our capability to intervene, interpret, and act positively on successes, problems, issues and significant questions’ (Ghaye, 2011: 20).
Fullan (2008: 80) agrees: ‘No part of the work of a consistent effective performance is static. In the midst of any action, there is a constant learning whether it consists of detecting and correcting common errors or discovering new ways to improve’.
Moon (2001: 365) argues that ‘apparently, the most obvious reason for teachers to undergo work towards reflective practice is because teacher educators think it is a good thing’. This is echoed by Tabachnick and Zeicher (1991: 14, cited in Pollard, 2002: 14) where they suggest that ‘neither Cruikshank nor Schön have much to say, for example, about what it is that teachers ought to be reflecting about … the impression is given that as long as...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Reflective Practice and Professional Development
APA 6 Citation
Tarrant, P. (2013). Reflective Practice and Professional Development (1st ed.). SAGE Publications. Retrieved from (Original work published 2013)
Chicago Citation
Tarrant, Peter. (2013) 2013. Reflective Practice and Professional Development. 1st ed. SAGE Publications.
Harvard Citation
Tarrant, P. (2013) Reflective Practice and Professional Development. 1st edn. SAGE Publications. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Tarrant, Peter. Reflective Practice and Professional Development. 1st ed. SAGE Publications, 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.