Program Goal IX: Reflection and Professional Development

The Education Department's conceptual model recognizes the prominent role that reflection plays in effective classroom decision-making. Like Cooper (1999), we believe that "reflection is the decision-making system's way of correcting itself" (p. 8) in that it adds to one's body of knowledge for use in future decisions. Though reflection may take place before or during teaching, it is our view that the most important reflection occurs after teaching and away from the hustle and bustle of classroom interactions. It involves self-evaluation through a critical analysis of teaching decisions and their outcomes to determine how effectively each of the three teaching functions (planning, implementing, and evaluating) were handled (Cooper, 1999).

Dewey was among the first to promote reflection as a means of professional development in education. He believed that critical reflection is the most important quality a teacher can have and that it has more impact on the quality of schools and instruction than the teaching techniques one uses (Dewey 1916). Dewey (1933) added that when teachers speculate, reason, and contemplate using open-mindedness, wholeheartedness, and responsibility, they will act with foresight and planning rather than basing their actions on tradition, authority, or impulse.

More recently, Donald Schon (1987) has suggested that the ability to reflect on one's actions is a defining characteristic of professional practice, and Osterman (1990) wrote that reflection is an essential part of the learning process because it results in making sense of and extracting meaning from experiences. Similarly, Snowman, McCown, and Biehler (2012) noted that reflection is an essential component of professional development and can put a novice teacher on the path to becoming an expert teacher.
Schunk (2012) sees a connection between reflection and constructivism. Through reflection, teachers mentally construct knowledge about themselves, their teaching, and their students and continually add to and change their concept of effective teaching. Similarly, Osterman and Kottkamp (2004) noted that reflective practice incorporates key elements of constructivism, experiential learning, and situated cognition, including an understanding that learning must be an active process, that knowledge is constructed through experience, and that learning is most effective when it involves collaboration
Definitions of Reflection: Though reflection and reflective teaching have been defined in a variety of ways, Valverde (1982) viewed reflection as examining one's situation, behavior, practices, effectiveness, and accomplishments by asking: What am I doing and why? The self-evaluation that follows involves active, persistent, and careful consideration and contemplation of the practitioner's beliefs and knowledge and leads to professional development, growth, and greater understanding of self and the profession. Valverde went on to state that to be truly considered reflection, this self-examination must be constructive, deliberate, and undertaken periodically. Similarly, Kottkamp (1990) defined reflection as "A cycle of paying deliberate attention to one's own actions in relation to intentions . . . for the purpose of expanding one's opinions and making decisions about improved ways of acting in the future, or in the midst of the action itself (p. 182).
Kottamp's definition acknowledges Schon's (1983) perspective that reflection can take place in different time frames. When reflection takes place before or after an act, it is called "reflection-on-action." This sort of reflection in teaching occurs before a lesson when a teacher plans and considers possible lesson outcomes and after teaching when one considers the lesson's actual outcomes. "Reflection-in-action" occurs during teaching such as when a teacher modifies and adjusts teaching based on unexpected student behaviors.

Stages of Reflection: Van Manen (1977) described reflection as consisting of three stages: Stage one is confined to analyzing the effects of strategies used. The second stage involves reflection about the assumptions underlying a specific classroom practice as well as its consequences. Stage three entails questioning the moral and ethical dimensions of decisions related to the classroom situation. It involves reflection on the assumptions underlying a decision or act and on the broader ethical, moral, political, and historical implications behind the assumptions on which the decisions are based. It also involves technical, educational, and ethical consequences of those decisions. For reflection to have the maximum effect on professional growth and development, educators must engage in all three stages.

Elements of Reflection: Stones (1994) suggested that three important elements are necessary for reflection to occur: practical experience, a meaningful knowledge base, and interaction with other human beings. Practical experience, Stones contends, is the basis for learning, but learning from these experiences will not take place without reflection. Clark (1995) added that educators become more aware of the contradictions between what they do and what they hope to do by reflecting on successes and failures in the classroom. All experiences educators have, inside and outside the classroom, provide building blocks for continued development within the profession. This does not happen automatically, however. By themselves, experiences do not provide guidance for and development of future practices. Only by reflecting on, considering, and wondering about these experiences do they become a major source of strength in the quest for becoming a more accomplished teacher.

Meaningful knowledge about pedagogy and theories of learning as well as social, historical, and political foundations of education are also considered by Stones (1994) to be crucial for productive and meaningful reflection. Knowledge of content, as well as information about students, availability of instructional resources, and educational research are other aspects needed in the knowledge base of a successful reflective teacher. Lasley (1989) added two other crucial elements to Stone's vision of an effective knowledge base: philosophical awareness and understanding of what constitutes good practice. He cautioned that without these components, reflection may lead to repetition of mistakes and preoccupation with techniques, rather than to discovery of the values and assumptions that underlie practice.

In addition to the above components, Stones (1994) suggested that collaboration with colleagues is also of critical importance for fostering professional growth through reflection. Teachers must continuously make difficult decisions about instruction and a host of related issues, but when actively sharing experiences and using professional colleagues as support for reflection and problem-solving as well as for seeking and giving feedback, these decisions are more likely to result in informed actions.

Teaching is not a solitary act. It is more like a continuous interaction between teachers, students, parents, colleagues, and the community where problems are discussed and possible solutions suggested. This interaction gives the participants new perspectives on teaching and supports their development. Not only does reflection on interactions with others lead to stronger decision-making, but it may also lead to stronger communication skills. Brookfield (1995) contended that through reflection a teacher becomes better able to justify and explain educational actions to self and others. Reflection aids educators in speaking about their practice in a confident and informed manner.

Ginsburg (1988) believes that problem-solving skills are also an essential element of effective reflection as they provide a means to modifying and enhancing understanding of professional practice. This is particularly the case when teachers are trying to make sense of difficult situations, identify areas in need of improvement, and develop  action plans.

Reflection and Moral Stewardship: In addition to the aforementioned effects of reflection on professional growth and development, Goodlad (1990) suggested that reflection also aids the educator in becoming a moral steward. By reflecting on daily practice, the educator is more likely to understand and practice the standards of professional conduct spelled out in the Code of Ethics for the Education Profession.

In summary, we believe that the act of reflection is a key factor in one's professional growth and development. It helps teachers confront and challenge their current conceptions of teaching, and learning, assess their current practice, identify areas for improvement, and become better educational decision-makers.


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Updated July 2012 by Edmund J. Sass