Reflective and Reflexive theory and practice

In this blog post, I’ll be investigating the theoretical concepts of reflective and reflexive practice – exploring the various theories, tools and models and relating these concepts to my own personal experience in developing a blog and how this has helped me enhance and share my learning.

Reflective Practice

I’m going to start not with a definition of Reflective Practice, but rather a critique, one I feel I share with many others – the sheer lack of conceptual clarity surrounding the term and what it entails (Finlay, 2008). Reflective Practice is somewhat of a canopy term that carries multiple meanings and contradictory definitions, despite being the subject of “extensive theorising and philosophical debate, ideas and practices associated with its application are ill defined” (Burgess, Rhodes & Wilson, 2013). The subject remains open to broad interpretation. Adding to the complexity of the subject area, the terms Reflective Practice, Reflexivity and Critical Thinking are often used interchangeably, whilst they operate on the same spectrum, they differ in terms of meaning and scope (Brookfield, 2009).

Nevertheless, some form of consensus has been reached amidst the plethora of definitions and differential views surrounding Reflective Practice. In the most basic form, Reflective Practice is understood to be ‘the process of learning through and from experience’ (Finlay, 2008) or ‘the structured approach to thinking about self practice, as to improve future practice’ (Osterman, 1990). Schon (1983), a leading academic in the field of Reflective Practice, defines it as simply ‘the capacity to reflect on action as to engage in a process of continuous learning’, which involves ‘paying critical attention to the practical values and theories which inform everyday actions’. Whilst these definitions provide a basic understanding of what the term entails, they don’t quite encapsulate the complex nature of Reflective Practice. I believe the following definition provides a more adequate summary and greater clarity:  

“Reflective practice is the use of self-analysis to understand, evaluate and interpret events and experiences in which we are involved. The process of Reflective Practice seeks to enable insights and aid learning for new personal understanding, knowledge, and action, to enhance our self-development and our professional performance” (BB, 2017).

Expressed alternatively, the process of Reflective Practice, is one of “thinking, of comparing and verifying for the purpose of learning about and improving practice, developing practice based theory, connecting theory to practice and improving and changing practice” (Kessl, 2009). My personal interpretation of Reflective Practice is; the deliberate mental process of critically evaluating one’s practice, as to draw valuable conclusions that help improve future practice. Reflection allows for continuous learning and development; by analysing and evaluating a situation, it’s possible to see what did and didn’t work, actions and behaviors that lead to a desirable or undesirable outcome, as to change for the benefit – a process of continuous self improvement.

It’s believed that by engaging in Reflective Practice, one can:

  • Hone their existing knowledge
  • Generate new knowledge
  • Generate new idea’s
  • Modify actions, behaviors and learning needs

Subsequently enabling a Practitioner to improve their practice, engage in the process of CPD and produce future positive outcomes (Schon, 1987). Reflective Practice can be further broken down into –

Reflecting-on action – a structured approach to reviewing, describing, analysing and evaluating past practice for the purpose of gaining insight to improve future practice (Finlay, 2008).

Reflecting-in action – examining experiences and responses as they unfold, as to alter actions and behavior in the moment, to produce positive outcomes (Schon, 1983). Reflecting-in action is something I engaged in throughout the development of my blog; evaluating blog content and research, reflecting whilst writing to ensure fluency and consistency.

Numerous models and tools exist to depict and facilitate the process of Reflection and learning. Below is an overview of key Reflective Models;

What, so what, what now? (Rolfe, 2001)

Rolfe

Adapted from the developmental Learning Cycle, pioneered by Terry Borton (1970), through this analysis, the simple cycle begins with a description of a situation, which leads to a critique of the situation and the development of knowledge. The cycle prompts practitioners to think of ways they can improve their practice. Throughout the development of my blog, I adopted this cycle for critiquing research, developing article plans and building arguments.

Gibb’s Reflective Cycle (1988)

gibbs

Arguably the most popular Reflective model, the cycle is a structured, detailed debrief of a situation that prompts reflective thinking. This model facilitates a greater depth of Reflection in comparison to alternate models, with greater emphasis on the role of emotion and analysis (Reid, 1993).

I adopted this cycle for the purpose of taking a structured approach to evaluating what did and didn’t go well at the end of each my completed articles, as to improve my article my next one.

Kolb’s Reflective Model (1984)

learning-kolb

Another highly influential model that draws on the concept of experiential learning. The theory argues that we learn from a continuous cycle of experience and experimentation – trial and error. The model usually starts with a ‘concrete experience’, which practitioners then reflect upon, which then leads to the formation of abstract concepts, which when applied in new situations, generate new concrete experiences and knowledge, building on prior knowledge and experience. The model essentially depicts the progressive transformation of information into knowledge.

Modern writings on Reflective Practice encourage Practitioners to engage in both personal reflection and broader social critique (Finlay, 2008).

Critical Thinking/Reflection

Critical Reflection can be described as the adoption of a questioning stance to solving issues, challenging discourses, and examining our own assumptions (Finlay, 2008). Critical thinking/reflection differs from other forms of Reflection in that it’s concerned with exposing and questioning the status quo; what can be considered the norm – discourses, narratives and practices. In the words of Giroux (1983) – “critical reflection lays bare the historically and socially sedimented values at work in the construction of knowledge, social relations, and material practices”, “it situates critique within a radical notion of interest and social transformation”. Critical Reflection can broadly be defined as contemplation that examines and questions assumptions embedded in practice and beliefs. For me, Critical Reflection/Critical Thinking, simply means a deepened state of reflection that challenges assumptions that are taken for granted.

Reflexivity

Reflexivity differs from Reflective Practice and critical reflection, in that it’s concerned with both personal reflection and broader social critique. This sees practitioners engaged in a process of critical self-reflection; reflecting critically upon subjective factors that impact self practice, whilst simultaneously considering socio-political perspectives (Finlay, 2008).

Discussion

Developing a blog, exploring topics in depth, and delivering my personal take on existing practice and contemporary issues has been hugely beneficial to me in a number of ways. It has enabled me to;

  • Develop my technical skills – prior to taking this module, I had no previous experience in blogging, developing a blog has helped me expand and enhance my technical competencies and gain a desirable skill that employers seek.
  • Actively contribute to my profession – prior to taking this module, I’d made no contribution to HR literature in any form, blogging has given me a platform to publicly share my idea’s surrounding existing practice and contemporary issues. An active contribution show’s that I have an active interest in my profession and if done properly; innovative ideas backed by sound reasoning and supporting evidence, strengthens my credentials as an innovative and knowledgeable HR professional.
  • Challenge and influence existing practice – blogging has enabled me to weigh in on existing practices and challenge the status quo with new idea’s, as well as deliver my own perspective on current affairs. Challenging existing practice with new solutions, show’s that I’m critical and progressive.
  • Develop new knowledge and reinforce existing knowledge – some topics I chose on the premise that I already possessed a good understanding of the subject area, equally, I chose topics that were unfamiliar to me, like Emotional Intelligence, in the interests of gaining new knowledge.
  • Deepen my understanding of contemporary issues –  the theme of writing around contemporary issues, has provided me with an up to date, and developed understanding of challenges that HR and more broadly speaking, organisations face in the current climate of commerce, i.e economic conditions, Brexit, new regulations. This is especially useful considering i’ll soon be subject to these conditions in the workplace, a better understanding, allows for better management/navigation, reducing risk. Writing around current issues also enabled me apply theory to real world situations.
  • Improve my writing skills – writing a blog placed considerable emphasis on my audience, which in part decided the structure and writing style I adopted for each of my blog posts. I figured my audience would be HR professionals and other business professionals, so I tailored my style to this type of audience, which wasn’t much of a challenge given I was essentially writing for myself. What presented more of a challenge was finding the tricky sweet spot between appealing to my audience and conveying my personal brand through writing, without being too forceful. Every paragraph was checked on completion to ensure this criteria had been met, and consistency checked throughout all five blogs.
  • Understand my own thinking and learning style – prior to engaging in this module I had no previous awareness of structured approaches to thinking and learning. By adopting these structured methods and tools, I was able to take a systematic approach to learning, thinking and writing, which proved to be more effective  – logical structure, objective arguments, consideration of a wide range of factors.
  • Enhance my creativity through deepened critical thinking – critical reflection played a pivotal role in forming creative idea’s for each of my blogs. My process of developing blog content was one of; conducting research around each of the topic areas and critically evaluating findings till I’d found a unique and interesting perspective to exploit. For example, when I researched engagement, findings indicated an epidemic in disengagement, I critically evaluated this situation further to uncover root causes of disengagement in the UK, these findings formed the basis of my article.
  • Develop a personal brand – developing a blog allowed me to share my unique personality and my idea’s through the medium of writing, which traditional essay writing limits. I believe I did this well, as a person, I’m refined, objective, logical, critical, considerate of all factors and I only pursue arguments if I can back them up with facts, I believe these qualities and characteristics surfaced in my writing.

 

References:

  1. 2017. Reflective Practice. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.businessballs.com/reflective-practice.htm. [Accessed 2 April 2017].

Burgess, S., Rhodes, P. and Wilson, V., 2013. Exploring the in‐session reflective capacity of clinical psychology trainees: An interpersonal process recall study. Clinical Psychologist, 17(3), pp.122-130.

Brookfield, S., 2009. The concept of critical reflection: Promises and contradictions. European Journal of Social Work, 12(3), pp.293-304.

Borton, T., 1970. Reach, touch, and teach: Student concerns and process education. McGraw-Hill Paperbacks.

Finlay, L., 2008. Reflecting on ‘Reflective practice’. PBLB paper, 52.

Gibbs, G., 1988. The reflective cycle. Kitchen S (1999) An appraisal of methods of reflection and clinical supervision. Br J Theatre Nurs, 9(7), pp.313-7.

Giroux, H.A., 1983. Theory and resistance in education: A pedagogy for the opposition. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Kessl, F., 2009. Critical reflexivity, social work, and the emerging European post-welfare states: Kritische Reflexivität, Soziale Arbeit und die post-wohlfahrtsstaatlichen Transformationsprozesse in Europa. European Journal of Social Work, 12(3), pp.305-317.

Reid, B., 1993. ‘But we’re doing it already!’Exploring a response to the concept of Reflective Practice in order to improve its facilitation. Nurse education today, 13(4), pp.305-309.

Osterman, K.F., 1990. Reflective practice: A new agenda for education. Education and urban society, 22(2), pp.133-152.

Reid, B., 1993. ‘But we’re doing it already!’Exploring a response to the concept of Reflective Practice in order to improve its facilitation. Nurse education today, 13(4), pp.305-309.

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D. and Jasper, M., 2001. Critical reflection for nursing and the helping professions: A user’s guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Schon, D., 1983. The reflective practitioner.

Schön, D.A., 1987. Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. Jossey-Bass.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s