The Reflective Practice Guide: An interdisciplinary approach to critical reflection - Barbara Bassot 2015
Review and looking forward
’It is a most mortifying reflection for a man to consider what he has done, compared to what he might have done.’
In this final chapter we will review our journey through this book, using the Integrated Reflective Cycle (Bassot, 2013) to summarise some of the concepts covered and to draw some of the key threads together. We will then look forward to the kind of practitioners we want to become and how we might achieve this. Central to this will be Senge’s (2006) concept of Personal Mastery and the need to ensure there is creative tension in our practice to maintain momentum and to keep us moving forward. The chapter will conclude with some key questions for continued reflection.
Review and the Integrated Reflective Cycle
In this book we have made a journey from the foundations of reflective practice to critically reflective practice where critical reflection is so integrated in our professional lives that it becomes our way of being. We have examined a number of theoretical concepts along the way and I hope that you have engaged with some of the activities suggested in each chapter. Hopefully the case studies have resonated with some of your own particular professional practice and have also given you insights into the practice of people in other professions.
Our journey began with a discussion of what reflective practice is and the need for practitioners to reflect on their practice. We then explored a range of seminal literature on reflective practice, which helps us to learn from our professional experience by evaluating it in order to develop and improve it. We then progressed towards our destination of critically reflective practice by examining the place of feelings in professional practice, followed by a critical consideration of how we make assumptions and the importance of challenging these in order to practice in an anti discriminatory way. We then looked at learning from feedback and how we can reflect effectively in groups. As we began to look forward we considered the management of change and how critical reflection can be integrated into our lives as a way of being.
Figure 12.1 The Integrated Reflective Cycle
My own Integrated Reflective Cycle (Bassot, 2013) is shown above and draws on some of the key literature covered in the book. It is always useful to compare and contrast different theoretical approaches, as they often have their relative strengths and weaknesses. In this cycle I have highlighted the strengths of a number of theoretical approaches and have posed questions around the cycle in order to help your continued thinking.
Reflective activity 12.1
Examine the Integrated Cycle — which theoretical approaches can you find within it?
Taking a questioning approach to professional practice is an excellent way of delving deeper into not only what you did, but why; this is a key feature of critically reflective practice. Clearly The Integrated Cycle is not completely new and this cycle (like many others that we have discussed) draws on the work of Kolb (1984). It also uses some of the questions posed by Gibbs (1998) and Johns (2009).
The cycle starts with an experience; we are encouraged to describe what happened but also to think about the context of the experience. This, of course, can have a major impact on how we view the experience and what we do in the particular situation. It also asks us to examine the contributory factors, some of which might stem from the past (for example, our previous experiences) and the present.
We are then asked to reflect-on-action (Schön, 1983) in order to interrogate our approach. This includes an examination of the feelings we experienced and any assumptions we might be making. In addition, we are asked to think about the possible consequences of these assumptions and how the client might have experienced things too.
We then examine how this experience can contribute to our professional knowledge; for example, what can we learn from it that we could later apply to other similar situations. And what is new that we can add to what we already know? What is different that we need to recognise and pay attention to?
The final step on the cycle asks us to look forward to see how we might use this knowledge and experience in the future. Here, it is important to consider the strategies that could be adopted next time.
Reflection-in-action is shown in the centre of the cycle; this emphasises that this kind of ’thinking on our feet’ is constant and needs to be done throughout the experience.
Case study 12.1
Katy is a counsellor in private practice who values spending time reflecting on her practice. She is currently working with a 17-year-old student (Amy) who has been self-harming and, following one of her sessions, she uses the questions on the Integrated Reflective Cycle to help her to examine her practice.
The experience — Amy seemed very distressed today. She told me that she has been self-harming again. I suppose exam time is coming round soon, which always seems to put her under lots of pressure. She always wants to do well and to make her parents happy. Deep down she knows she is scared of failing.
Reflection-on-action — I want to support Amy and try to help her to see more of why she self-harms. I felt really upset when she told me she had cut herself again, particularly as it’s been quite a while since she’s done this. I suppose I’d assumed that she’d be all right, particularly because we talked about the stress of exams coming up the last time we met. She’s such an able student and I wish she could see how capable she really is. Instead, she always seems so hard on herself. As soon as she walked through the door I could see that she was in a bad way. Her whole demeanour was very subdued.
Theory — so what can I learn from all of this? I can see that self-harming is something that can rear its ugly head again and again when people feel their life is getting out of control and when they are overwhelmed by their emotions. Getting to know Amy is helping me to understand more about the pressures young people can experience.
Preparation — Working with Amy has helped me to understand more about self-harming and I can see that I need to read more about it. I’ve also seen a training day being offered by a charity that specialises in supporting those who are self-harming, so I will register for that, which should help.
Like any other model, The Integrated Reflective Cycle should be critiqued as it also has its relative strengths and weaknesses. Critiquing any theory and in particular its relationship to professional practice is always necessary in order to identify its strengths and weaknesses. Strengths in theoretical approaches are the things that help you to develop your understandings and to take your practice forward; weaknesses are the aspects that could hinder your progress and which you might want to discard. It is always important to be clear about the reasons for your critique and to make sure that you can justify your arguments. For example, using a model just because you like it might not be a decision you can easily defend. In the same way, discarding something only because it takes you into difficult territory is also questionable. It is important to remember that critically reflective practice asks us to accept a level of ’inner discomfort’ (Boyd and Fales, 1983: 106) so that our practice can develop. You could critique The Integrated Cycle by posing questions such as ’Can I only start at the top of the cycle, or could I begin at any point? The arrows only point in one direction; could I travel round the cycle in the opposite direction, or even track across the cycle?’
Senge’s concept of personal mastery
In his book The Fifth Discipline, Senge (2006) discusses his concept of personal mastery, which is an enlightening way of considering our continuous professional development. Personal mastery is more than being competent and skilful and involves living life from a creative viewpoint rather than a reactive one. Senge describes personal mastery as a discipline with two continuous processes. First, we have to clarify what is important to us in our work; this means having a vision for our practice. Without a vision, we do not know where we are heading or what we are aiming for. Second, we should seek to see our current reality more clearly, so that we can begin to move towards our vision.
Reflective activity 12.2
Now think about your vision for your practice and write down a statement in a few sentences that encapsulates what you are aiming for in your professional life and the kind of practitioner you would like to be. It is useful to think of a vision as a destination. If this is difficult, imagine you hear your colleagues talking about you in a very positive way. What do you hope they would be saying?
Creative tension is the force between our vision and our current reality. Now imagine stretching an elastic band between your two hands, with one hand above the other. The hand above is your vision and the hand below is your current reality. The elastic band stretched between the two represents the creative tension between your vision and your current reality. This creative tension is central to Senge’s concept of personal mastery as it is this force that moves us forward towards our vision.
Tension is a word that usually has negative connotations associated with stress and distress. Creative tension, however, is a positive term and is the source of creative energy that we need to continue learning and developing. It enables our practice to keep moving forward and is vital in retaining a high level of motivation and commitment to professional practice.
In the image of the elastic band outlined above there are, of course, two possible movements that can happen. First, I hold on to my vision, keeping the upper hand in place, and my current reality then moves up towards my vision. Or, second, I lose sight of my vision and the upper hand moves down towards the acceptance of my current reality. It is also important to remember that, as my current reality moves towards my vision, my vision must continue to move forward or the creative tension will be lost. Vision, therefore, is not a permanent or static concept but one that is continually changing and moving forward. People who show a high level of personal mastery continually review their vision in order to maintain the creative tension needed to move forward through a continuous process of learning.
People who show a high level of personal mastery demonstrate the following characteristics:
• They have a special sense of purpose that some would articulate as a calling.
• They see their current reality as an ally not an enemy.
• They work with the forces of change not against them.
• They are deeply inquisitive.
• They feel connected with others.
• They are aware of their uniqueness.
• They feel part of a creative process.
• They are always learning.
• They are aware of what they do not know and where they need to grow and develop.
• They view mistakes as opportunities for growth.
• They are deeply self-confident.
Case study 12.2
Julian is an Economics teacher in a secondary school. He went into teaching after a career in banking because he no longer found the work stimulating. He felt that he would gain more satisfaction from working with young people and wanted an opportunity to give something back to society. Julian’s vision for his practice is to be an excellent, caring and compassionate teacher who enables students to grow in their knowledge of Economics and themselves. Ultimately, he wants his students to achieve their full potential and to live successful (however they define success) independent adult lives. He loves teaching Economics because it is a practical subject that can help the students understand the way the world and, in particular, business operates. Julian enjoys keeping up to date with current affairs and reads widely. He regularly discusses economic issues with his students and is known as an inspirational teacher.
By contrast, Senge also describes two kinds of unconscious beliefs that many people have which serve to work against personal mastery. The first is powerlessness; we feel unable to bring about those things that we really care about. The second is unworthiness: that we do not deserve to have what we desire. Most people hold one of these and both work against enabling us to achieve what we really want to achieve. Just as creative tension propels us towards our vision, our feelings of powerlessness and unworthiness hold us back from achieving our vision.
Reflective activity 12.3
Think about the two points above. Does either of them resonate with your own experiences? What is holding you back from realising your vision?
Some final reflections
Having reached the final part of this book, it is good to reflect back as we conclude. Professional practice can be demanding, but as a result is rarely boring. Thinking back on the time since you began reading this book, it is helpful to identify your major learning points. It is also useful to consider how you can continue to move your practice forward. This usually involves considering what you need to learn next. Support from others in your learning is vital in helping you to achieve your potential, so it is worth making sure that you have people around you who can continue to do this, as well as being mindful of those whom you can support too — in my experience, we can learn a lot from supporting others. Looking ahead can help us to think more about our vision, which in turn fosters the creative tension we need to become the professional practitioners we would like to be in the future.
In this chapter we have focused on The Integrated Cycle and Senge’s concept of personal mastery. Senge’s work reminds us of the importance of continuing to look forward to develop ourselves and our practice in order to achieve our vision. Critically reflective practice enables us to be mindful practitioners who accept nothing at face value. As we continue to examine ourselves and our work in this way, we ensure that we meet the needs of our clients whilst maintaining satisfying and fulfilling working lives.
Bassot, B. (2013) The Reflective Journal, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Boyd, E.M. and Fales, A.W. (1983) ’Reflective learning: key to learning from experience,’ Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 23(2), 99—117.
Gibbs, G. (1998) Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods, Oxford: Further Education Unit, Oxford Polytechnic.
Johns, C. (2009) Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, 3rd edn, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Schön, D.A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, Aldershot: Ashgate.
Senge, P. (2006) The Fifth Discipline, 2nd edn, London: Random House Business.