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Reflective Practices for Professional Growth

Reflective practice can be a beneficial process in teacher professional development, both for pre-service and in-service teachers. Reflective practice enables teachers to recognize the authority of their own teaching experiences that includes how students respond to their teaching.

Reflective practice as defined by Schön (1996), involves thoughtfully considering one's own experiences in applying knowledge to practice while being coached by professionals in the discipline. Schön (1983) highlighted that the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning was one of the defining characteristics of professional practice. This important interplay between experience and reflection is also influenced by the time of reflection, which has a dramatic impact on what can be seen and acted on. Anticipatory, retrospective, and contemporaneous reflection demand different skills and framing abilities (Loughran, 1996) and interact with experience in a variety of ways.

Essentially reflective practice is where the teacher undertakes deliberate and sustained thought regarding practice supported by colleagues, with an intention of improved action.  The cultivation of the capacity to reflect while teaching and after teaching has competed is an ability that is critical to acquire as a teacher and its encouragement is seen as a particularly important aspect of the role of the mentor of the beginning professional (Elligate, 2007). Indeed, it can be argued that reflective practice needs another person as mentor or professional supervisor, who can ask appropriate questions and alternate perspectives to ensure that the reflection goes somewhere (Loughran, 2002). This collaborative model of reflective practice enriches the teacher’s personal reflections and provides them with suggestions from peers on how to refine their teaching practices (Syrjala, 1996). Uzat (1998) believed peer coaching also relates the concept of coaching to self-efficacy.

According to philosopher and educator John Dewey (1933), we begin to reflect on a complex situation when we face that situation and ask ourselves what needs to be done. Whitton et al., (2004), builds on Dewey’s understandings and suggests that reflection is a threefold process comprising direct experience, analysis of beliefs, values or knowledge about that experience and consideration of the options which should lead to action as a result of the analysis.

Clift et al., (1990) recommended that reflective teaching combine John Dewey's philosophy on the moral, situational aspects of teaching with Schön’s process for a more contextual approach to the concept of reflective practice to avoid a checklist mentality. 

The primary benefit of reflective practice for teachers is a deeper understanding of their own teaching style and ultimately, greater effectiveness as a teacher. Reflective practices allow for systematic investigation upon and through the lesson that is action orientated and involves those participating in the process (Kemmins and McTaggart, 1988; Hu and Weinel, 2006). It could be suggested that reflection leads to understanding that can improve future outcomes, through contemplation on how the task was presented and how it could have been approached differently. Thus, through the process of reflection and evaluation, the teacher extends professional learning and understanding of the relationship between teaching practices and learning outcomes. Through reflection teachers seek to understand what students ascertained, when they understand what has been learned, students are more likely to engage in deep learning. Goodyear et al., (2005) demonstrated that there is a positive relationship between perceptions of worth and a deep approach to learning which draw from teacher student collaboration within the reflection process.

Other specific benefits noted in literature include the validation of a teacher's ideals, beneficial challenges to tradition, the recognition of teaching as artistry, and respect for diversity in applying theory to classroom practice.

Clift, R.T., Houston, W.R., & Pugach, M.C., eds (1990). Encouraging reflective practices in education: An analysis of issues and programs. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dewey, J. (1933) How we think. Boston: D.C. Heath and Company
Elligate, J.E. (2007). Developing Better Practice for Beginning Primary Teachers. Trescowthick School of Education, Australian Catholic University. 
Goodyear, P., Jones, C., Asensio, M., Hodgson, V., & Steeples, C. (2005). Networked learning in higher education: students’ expectations and experiences. Higher Education, 50, 473–508.
Hu, C. and Weinel, M (2006) Reflective practice in lesson design, CoCo Research Centre, University of Sydney.
Kemmis, S. and R. McTaggart (1988) The Action Research Planner, 3rd ed, Geelong: Deakin University.
Loughran, J. J. (1996). Developing reflective practitioners: Learning about teaching and learning through modelling. London: Falmer.
Loughran, J.J (2002) Effective Reflective Practice: In Search of Meaning in Learning about Teaching Journal of Teacher Education, 53; 33
Schön, D.A. (1996). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
Syrjala, L. (1996). The teacher as a researcher. In Childhood Education: International Perspectives. Ed. Eeva Hujala. Finland: Association for Childhood Education International, Oulu University.

Uzat, S.L. (1998). Cognitive coaching and self-reflection: Looking in the mirror while looking through the window. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association. New Orleans, LA
Whitton, D., Sinclair, C., Barker, K., Nanlohy, P., & Nosworthy, M. (2004). Learning for teaching: Teaching for learning. Southbank, Victoria: Thomson Learning.

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