Reflective practice refers to the process of thinking about, and reflecting on, one’s own actions and those of others in order to improve performance. It is a crucial skill to develop for effective Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and is a requirement for many professions. There are various names that refer to the practice of reflection, such as metacognition, critical self-awareness, and self-reflection.
This guide will help you understand what reflective practice is, how it can be used effectively, and how to implement it effectively into your professional practice using a variety of models and frameworks.
The Reflective Practice Cycle
Reflective practice involves a certain cycle of thought processes and actions. The following is an example of a standard reflective practice cycle:
- Awareness – In this stage, we become aware of our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and other cognitive states. We notice them without judgement or bias.
- Interpretation – This is where we try to make sense of these mental states. We ask ourselves questions like, “What does this mean?” “How do I feel about this?” “Why did I think/feel/perceive this way?”
- Evaluation – Once we have interpreted our experiences, we evaluate whether they were accurate or not. If they were inaccurate, then we need to adjust our interpretations accordingly.
- Analysis – At this point, we reflect on our actions and their results. We look at things from different perspectives, such as by considering what alternative approaches we could have taken. We also consider alternative explanations for why we acted the way we did.
- Action – Finally, we take action based on our new interpretation.
- Re-evaluation – After taking action, we re-evaluate our experience again. This allows us to see if there was any value in our actions. If there wasn’t, we may decide to repeat steps 1–4. If there was some value in our actions, though, then we should continue with step 6.
Why is Self Reflection Important?
Self-reflection is important because it helps us learn more about ourselves and our abilities. It teaches us to recognize when we are doing something well or poorly, which allows us to improve upon our skills. By examining our strengths and weaknesses, we gain insight into who we really are. This knowledge enables us to achieve personal growth. It also helps us to develop empathy towards others, since we are able to identify with the emotions and situations of others.
Self-reflection is also important because it improves our relationships with others. When we know how others perceive us, we are better able to learn how to communicate more effectively.
The Benefits of Self Reflection
There are many benefits associated with self-reflection. Some of these include:
- An improved sense of self-awareness- You will begin to understand yourself better than you ever have before through self-reflection. You can become aware of your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, and your values and beliefs. All of these aspects of yourself help you to define who you are.
- Raises emotional intelligence– Through reflection, you will learn how to manage your own emotions and understand those of others. You will be able to respond appropriately to your own feelings and to those around you. Emotional intelligence is beneficial because it helps people interact with others in a positive manner.
- Promotes Continuing Professional Development– It is beneficial to strive to grow professionally. The process of self-reflection allows you to examine your actions and practices and determine areas that need improvement. This helps you to continuously refine your skills and stay abreast of current trends and best practices.
- Insights into one’s own learning style– Through self-reflection, you are able to discover your preferred methods of learning. You can use this information to tailor learning and development activities to your unique needs.
- Helps to assess performance– Through self-reflection, you can evaluate your effectiveness in your profession. You can use this data to make changes to practices, strategies and techniques.
- Improves communication and interpersonal skills– Another important benefit of self-reflection is that it improves your interpersonal skills. When you reflect on your actions and responses, you will notice patterns in your behaviour. These patterns allow you to see where you may need to improve your interactions with others. You will be better able to express yourself clearly, listen to other people, and empathise with their feelings.
- Develops critical thinking skills– Self-reflection can also help you think critically. By analysing your own strengths and weaknesses, you can become an even better teacher. You’ll be able to recognise patterns in your teaching and adjust accordingly. Additionally, you’ll be able to see things from different perspectives, allowing you to challenge your assumptions.
- Promotes creativity– Creativity is another way in which self-reflection benefits you. By reflecting on your practices, you can come up with new ideas. Furthermore, you can identify areas where you need improvement. As a result, your teaching methods can become more creative.
- Increases motivation- Motivation is essential for anyone wishing to achieve their goals. By reflecting on your own motivations, you can better understand why you do what you do. This knowledge will help you to motivate both yourself and those around you.
- Improves decision-making– Through reflection, you can analyse your decisions and find ways to improve them. For example, if you have made a poor decision, you can reflect on your reasoning behind the choice. From there, you can determine what you might do differently next time.
- Enhances problem-solving skills– Problem-solving is another skill that can be improved through self-reflection. If you’re having trouble coming up with solutions to problems, you can reflect on what has worked well in the past.
- Encourages students to be responsible for their own learning– Self-reflection helps students learn how to take responsibility for their own education. By encouraging students to reflect on their own learning, they will begin to realise that they are capable of making positive changes by themselves.
Is Self-Reflection a Character Trait?
Self-reflection is not a character trait in the literal sense of the word. Although some people might find self-reflection easier than others, everyone has the potential to learn how to incorporate self-reflection into their lives, be it for personal or professional purposes.
Theories and Models of Reflective Practice
There are various models and theories in relation to self-reflection. Some of the most prominent reflective practice theories include:
- The Kolb Reflective Cycle (1984)
- Gibbs Reflective Cycle (1988)
- The Schön Reflective Model (1991)
- Atkins & Murphy Model of Reflection (1994)
- The Johns Model of Reflection (1995)
- Brookfield Reflection Model (1995)
- What? So What? Now What? Reflective Model (2001)
Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of these models to see what they offer.
Kolb’s Reflective Cycle (1984)
Created by David Kolb in 1984, the Kolb Reflective Cycle is a model used to describe the process of reflection. The cycle consists of four stages:
- Concrete Experience – In this stage, you reflect on your experiences. You think about what happened and what you learned from the experience.
- Reflective Observation – In this stage, you observe yourself and try to understand why you reacted the way that you did. You also consider the implications of your actions.
- Abstract Conceptualization – In this stage, your focus shifts to abstract concepts such as values, beliefs, attitudes, etc. You start to analyse your thoughts and feelings.
- Active Experimentation – In this final stage, you experiment with new ideas and apply them to real-life situations.
This model was designed to help teachers improve their teaching skills. It emphasises the importance of reflection and the need to constantly re-evaluate your teaching methods. You can read more about Kolb’s Reflective Cycle here.
Gibbs Reflective Cycle (1988)
Dr. Graham Gibbs is known for being a leader of research within the Department of Behavioural and Social Sciences at The University of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, England. Created in 1988, Gibbs’ model of reflection is based on his extensive research into the development of reflective thinking. He argues that there are six stages of reflection:
- Description – This stage involves describing an event or situation. You may want to write down everything that happened.
- Feelings – In this stage, you explore your emotions and consider why you may have felt a certain way.
- Evaluation – In this stage, evaluate the impact of the event or situation. Did it have a positive or negative effect? Was it worth doing?
- Analysis – Analyse the event or situation. Think about its causes and consequences. What went well? What could be improved?
- Conclusions – Make conclusions based on your analysis. How did the situation pan out, and how did it affect you and those involved?
- Action Planning – Plan your future action based on your conclusion. Will you do anything differently? If so, what will you do?
The Gibbs reflective cycle is often used in educational settings. It encourages students to examine their own learning and how they can improve themselves. You can read more about it here.
Schön Reflective Theory (1991)
Created by philosopher Donald Schön, this model focuses on two particular reflective concepts: reflection in action and reflection on action.
- Reflection In Action: The idea of reflecting as something is happening. This could include considering the situation as a whole, deciding how you will react, and what your immediate actions are.
- Reflection on Action: The idea of reflecting on a situation after it has happened. This includes considering how your actions affected the situation, reconsidering said actions, and thinking about what could be done differently in the future.
Schön’s ideas about reflective practice are often used in business settings as well as in education. You can read more here.
The Johns Model of Reflection (1995)
Developed by Christopher Johns, a nursing professional, this model has five basic steps/key questions.
- Describe the Experience: What happened?
- Reflection: Consider the experience from multiple perspectives
- Influencing Factors: Identify factors that influenced the experience
- Could I Have Dealt With It Better?: Consider if you could have handled the experience better and what changes would you make
- Learning: Learn from the experience and apply the lessons learned to future situations
Johns Model of Reflection was created primarily to be used in nursing. That being said, it can easily be adapted to various other working and teaching environments. Check out more on the model at the link here.
Brookfield Reflection Model (1995)
Stephen Brookfield’s 1995 reflective model divides the standard reflective practice into four particular lenses.
- The Autobiographical Lens: This lens can help teachers with any aspects of their teaching methods that can be improved upon by encouraging them to combine their own experiences with their teaching practices.
- The Student’s Views: A lens for understanding student perceptions of the course content by putting yourself in their shoes. Think about how their actions led to their experience and how you can relate to them.
- Your Colleague’s Views: Reflection on the views of your colleagues, such as considering their observations, opinions, and experiences. How do these insights affect you and your work?
- Theoretical Lens: A lens for reflection on theory or knowledge. This lens allows us to reflect on the theories, ideas and approaches we are using and how they may impact our practice. Good sources of knowledge include literature on the subject.
This particular reflective theory places a lot of focus on empathy and understanding. Read more about it at the link here.
What? So What? Now What? (2001)
This model- developed by Borton, Driscoll, Rolfe et al.- focuses on the three questions of what, so what, and now what.
- What?: What is the problem? What was your role in solving the problem etc?
- So What?: What did you learn? What were the consequences of your action etc?
- Now What?: What should you do next? What are you going to do differently, etc?
Atkins & Murphy Model of Reflection (1994)
Atkins & Murphy’s model of reflection is another reflective model that was created for nursing practice. It is very detailed and requires a deeper level of reflection and analysis than is used in other models. In brief, the process involves:
- Awareness: The first step is awareness. It is important to realise that we are all learners and that there will always be new things to learn. We need to be aware of our own learning needs and those of others.
- Description: Describe what happened. This includes describing the situation, the people involved, and what you did.
- Analyse: Analyse what happened. This is where you look at the situation in detail and try to find patterns and meaning.
- Evaluate: Evaluate the knowledge you have discovered and make sure that you have considered all aspects before making any judgments.
- Identify & Action: Identify what you learned and what you would like to change and commit to making these changes in your practice.
Atkins and Murphy also identify the common principles that are present in previously published works in the field of reflective practice and provide a list of skills that are essential for this process. Read more about Atkins & Murphy’s framework here.
Other Models of Reflective Practice
Let’s now have a look at some of the other reflective models available.
The Mezirow Model of Transformative Learning (1978)
Created by Jack Mezirow in 1978, this model focuses on communicating and instrumental learning methods.
Tripp’s Model of Critical Incident Analysis (1993)
This 1993 model by D. Tripp seeks to allow teachers to identify situations that can be used for deeper reflections via the following thought process:
- Create Critical Incidents
- Plan Response
- Implement Response
- Observe Effects of Response
Bolton’s Model of Reflection (2018)
This book by Gillie Bolton – with Russell Delderfield – focuses on thoughtful reflection and how this can improve professional development and self-awareness. It also offers a range of activities and exercises to try in relation to reflection as well as writing assignments.
Who Uses Reflective Practice?
As mentioned earlier, reflective practice is widely used within the education sector, but it is also common in health care, social care, and business sectors too. In fact, it is being used increasingly in many different fields.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these professions.
Social Care Professionals
Social workers and care workers use reflective practice to aid in professional development, decision-making and problem-solving. They reflect on their work and the impact they make on clients. They also reflect on their personal values and beliefs. Learn more about social care and reflection here.
Nurses use reflective practice to help them to understand themselves better and to become more effective nurses. They reflect on their actions and decisions, including their interactions with patients and colleagues. Nurses also reflect on their own knowledge and skills and how they might improve.
The NHS is a prime example of a healthcare organisation that uses reflective practice. Regular reflection is an integral part of professional conduct for nurses and is required for registration and revalidation with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). You can learn more about the nursing practice and the reflective method here.
Doctors, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, occupational therapists, and medical students are just some of the healthcare professionals who regularly engage in reflective practice. They use it to gain insight into their own behaviours and attitudes, as well as to reflect on their experiences and the outcomes of their actions. Have a read about healthcare professionals and their relation to reflective practices here.
Early Years Practitioners
Early years practitioners use reflective practice to help children to grow and develop. This is essential for those who work in childcare, such as in a nursery. They use it to reflect on their own behaviour and the way they interact with young people, as well as to consider ways they could improve their practice.
Teaching and education is another profession that regularly engages in reflective practice, with various learning journals available to teachers. Teachers often use reflective practice to help learners think critically and evaluate their performance.
Children in schools can benefit from this approach greatly, hence why it is popular with teachers. Read more information about reflective practice in teaching here.
Students of all kinds – children, teenagers, and university students – also use reflective practice to help with their studies. It helps them identify gaps in their knowledge and plan future study sessions and assessments.
Students can also use reflective writing to analyse and critique their own work. Much like teachers, students have access to learning journals to reflect on their experiences and progress. You can read more about student reflective practice here.
Reflective practice is used by many other professions too, such as in finance, public administration, management, HR, criminal justice, and more. Not only that, but it is an incredibly useful skill to implement into your personal life to be able to reflect on yourself as a person and your past experiences.
How To Write A Self Reflection
In order to write self-reflection, you need to start by thinking about what you want to achieve. What do you want to get out of writing? Do you want to share something with someone else, or do you want to keep it private? Once you’ve decided what you want to achieve, then you should start planning how best to go about achieving it.
A good template to follow is to start with a description, follow with interpretation, and end with the outcome. An example of this kind of self-reflective writing would be :
- Description: I am going to write about my first year at University.
- Interpretation: My first year has been great so far. I feel confident and happy with myself. If I were to change anything, I would say that I wish I had started studying for my final exams earlier.
- Outcome: I will hopefully continue to enjoy my time studying and have learned to begin my examination preparation earlier in the future.
This is an example on a basic level, but the framework remains the same no matter what kind of self-reflection you are writing about. For a better look at the process of reflective essay writing, check out the link here.
- Bassot: The Reflective Practice Guide: An interdisciplinary approach to critical reflection (2016)
- Atkins and Murphy: Reflection: a review of the literature. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 18: 1188-1192 (1993)
- Kolb: Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development (1983)
- Gibbs: Learning by Doing (1988)
- Schön: The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (1991)
- Johns: Engaging Reflection in Practice: A Narrative Approach (2006)
- Bolton: Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development (2018)