Reflective Practice

What is Reflective Practice?

Reflection and reflective practice are relevant for educators because we often find ourselves navigating complex contexts: 

In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high, hard ground overlooking a swamp. On the high ground, manageable problems lend themselves to solutions through the use of research-based theory and technique. In the swampy lowlands, problems are messy and confusing and incapable of technical solution (Schön, 1995, p. 28). 

The process of reflection can be a very personal undertaking and there is no one way to engage in reflective practice. Whether you’re new to teaching or are an experienced instructor, reflective practice is a skill you can develop over time.  

  • Reflective practice is purposeful thinking about our actions and decisions in a variety of contexts; it can help you gain a better understanding of yourself and of the ways knowledge is created and shared. 
  • Reflective practice is essential for your professional growth, continuous learning, and improvement of your teaching competence. It’s also necessary for exploring the Teaching Excellence Framework. 
  • Engaging in reflective practice can help you make a map of the teaching landscape and adjust your map when the topography inevitably changes.  
  • Collaborating with the campus community and making use of available services like peer observations can help your students and support your professional growth. 

Source: Adapted from NIOP 2021 

We have included Gibb’s Reflective Cycle (1988) below as an example. However, you may also wish to check out other reflection models to see which one works best for you. Suggestions include:  

  • ERA Cycle (Jasper, 2013),  
  • Driscoll’s What Model (Driscoll, 2007), and  
  • Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (Kolb, 1994) 

Gibb's Reflective Cycle

According to professor and author Graham Gibbs, “It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience, it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost” (1988). 

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1988) (see Figure 1) is one of several tools or models of reflection that can help you with reflective practice. It’s based on the following six stages in a continuous cycle of improvement:  

  1. description
  2. feelings
  3. evaluation 
  4. analysis 
  5. conclusions 
  6. action plan 

During each stage, you’re encouraged to ask several questions to effectively support your reflective practice.   

Figure 1: Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1988) 

gibbsCycle

Using Gibbs’ six-step cycle can help you identify your strengths and your areas for improvement and establish a personal action plan to improve your teaching practice. As you progress through the cycle, note that the first three steps relate to what happened during your lesson, while the last three steps focus on how you might improve on the experience and outcome(s) in future lessons.  

A number of helpful discussion prompts based on Gibbs’ cycle are provided below (adapted from Manchester Metropolitan University, 2018). You don’t have to answer every question, but the questions can help guide your reflective practice.

The chart below applies the stages of the Gibbs’ cycle to an individual lesson; however, it can be used across your teaching practice, in general, to reflect upon a semester or an online, blended, or HyFlex teaching experience. 

What happened during the lesson?

Step 1
Description
What happened?
  • Try to describe the lesson in detail without judgement.
  • This helps to set the scene and provide context.
Step 2
Feelings
What were your reactions and feelings?
  • Explore any feelings or thoughts you had during the class and how they may have affected your lesson.
  • You can also discuss how you felt after the lesson.
Step 3
Evaluation
What was good or bad about the experience/lesson?
  • Focus on both the positive and negative aspects of your lesson.
  • Consider the experience from your students' perspective as well as your own.
  • What were the areas for celebration? What went well during your lesson?
  • What was challenging? – What didn't go so well during the lesson?

How could you improve upon the experience and outcome(s)?

Step 4
Analysis
What sense can you make of the experience?
  • Look at what was really going on during the lesson.
  • Identify any factors that helped you during the lesson (e.g., previously taught lesson, research experiences)
  • Consider your role in the lesson and how that contributed to its success or challenges faced.
  • What knowledge – your own or others’ (e.g., academic research, theories, models) can contribute to your understanding of the situation?
Step 5
Conclusion
What have you learned and what could you do differently?
  • Ask yourself what you can improve upon (specifically and generally).
  • Could or should you have done anything differently during the lesson?
  • Are there particular skills or areas of knowledge you now need to develop?
  • What might you do differently in your classroom in the future to improve student learning?
  • What are some potential areas for future focus to support improved professional learning and teaching practice (TEF, EDI, UDL, Niitsitapi Strategy, SCC)?
Step 6
Evaluation
How will you improve your practice?
  • Consider what sources of information or support would be helpful.
  • Can you identify one or two things you want to work on to improve for next time?
  • Think about what steps you want to take based on what you have learned through this reflective process.
  • How will you adapt your teaching practice or improve your skills?
  • If the same thing happened again, what would you do differently?
  • Consider setting yourself targets, identifying the next steps you need to take to achieve your targets and deciding on success criteria that will tell you that you have achieved your target(s).

References

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. 

Driscoll, J. (2007). Practicing clinical supervision: A reflective approach for healthcare professionals. Elsevier.  

Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford Further Education Unit. 

Jasper, M. (2013). Beginning reflective practice. Cengage Learning.  

Kolb, D. (1984.) Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice Hall.  

Lethbridge College. (2021). Why we reflect. NIOP 2021.  https://lethbridge.instructure.com/courses/24254/pages/why-we-reflect?module_item_id=1389354 

Manchester Metropolitan University. (2018). Applying the Gibbs’ reflective model [PDF  file].  https://www.mmu.ac.uk/media/mmuacuk/content/documents/careers/Applying-the-Gibbs-Model-2018.pdf 

Schön, D. A. (1995). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Arena.