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The Reflective Practitioner

Your opportunities for growth as a teacher are limitless if you apply principles of reflective practice to your teaching much as you do with your clinical practice.

Definitions of Reflective Practice:

  • Reflective practice is commonly used by professionals as they meet new and different situations and challenges. "Reflective practice is more than just thoughtful practice, it is the process of turning thoughtful practice into a potential learning situation." (Jarvis, 1992)

  • Reflection relates to a complex and deliberate process of thinking about and interpreting experience, either demanding or rewarding, in order to learn from it. (Atkins & Murphy, 1995)

  • Reflective learning is "the process of internally examining an issue of concern triggered by an experience which creates and clarifies meaning in terms of self, and which results in a changed conceptual perspective." (Boyd and Fales, 1983)

  • According to Smith (1995), reviewing events can enhance good standards by avoiding situations that were poorly managed in the past. Reflection also provides opportunities for individual and professional self-development (Hinchcliff et al., 1993); and enables us as practitioners to deal with unique and complex situations that we may encounter in practice (Smith, 1995).

Stages of Reflective Process

Atkins and Murphy (1995) provide a stage model for the reflective process:

Stage 1 -
Awareness of uncomfortable feelings (usually due to new, unfamiliar, or negative situations)
Stage 2 - Examination of components of the situation and exploration of alternative actions
Stage 3 - Summary of outcomes of reflection or learnings
Stage 4 - Action resulting from reflection

Other comments on reflective practice

Blackburn (1999, p. 7) says that, "Reflection matters because it is continuous with practice. How you think about what you are doing affects how you do it, or whether you do it at all." He adds that good citizens must value life-long, liberal learning and the historical and cultural context of work.

Schön (1983) says that professionals must be reflective practitioners, individuals who understand the inextricable link between ideas, values, and the work done day-to-day.

"[Physicians] do reflect-in-action, but they seldom reflect on their reflection-in-action. Hence this crucially important dimension of their art tends to remain private and inaccessible to others. Moreover, because awareness of one's intuitive thinking usually grows out of practice in articulating it to others, [physicians] often have little access to their own reflection-in-action. The resulting mysteriousness of the art of [doctoring] has several harmful consequences. It tends to....create a misleading impression that practitioners must choose between practice based on [medical] science and an essentially mysterious artistry. And it prevents the [physician] from helping others in his [profession] to learn to do what he can do. Since he cannot describe his reflection-in-action, he cannot teach others to do it. If they acquire the capacity for it, they do so by contagion. Yet one of the [physician's] most important functions is the education of his [successors/students]." [p.243]

Question Sets For Reflection On Practice

Adapted by Julie Lochbaum, Ph.D., from Schön (1983).

Question Framing--The Critical Skill of Reflective Practice:
  • Did I reframe the problem as given me by the patient? Why? How?
  • Can I solve the problem I have framed?
  • Is solving this problem significant to the patient?
  • Am I satisfied with what I get when I solve this problem? Is my patient?
  • Have I made the situation coherent to me, to my patient, to my students?
  • Have I made it congruent with my fundamental values and theories?
  • Is it congruent with those of my patient?
  • Have I kept inquiry moving? [p.133].
Behavioral Values:
  • Did I give and get valid information?
  • Did I seek out and provide others with directly observable data and correct reports so that valid attributions can be made?
  • Did I create the conditions for free and informed choice?
  • Did I try to create, for myself and for others, awareness of the values at stake in the decision, awareness of the limits of my capacities, and awareness of the zones of experience? Did I keep all free of defense mechanisms?
  • Did I try to create conditions, for myself and for others, in which the individual is committed to an action because it is intrinsically satisfying - not because it is accompanied by external rewards or punishments?
  • Did I surface private dilemmas, so as to encourage public testing of the assumptions on which the dilemmas depend? [p. 231]
General Reflective Questions:
  • How can I understand this?
  • What can I make of this?
  • What have I really been doing?
  • What in my work really gives me satisfaction?
  • How can I produce more experiences of that kind?
Reflective Practice Questions for Interactions with Students:
  • How is my student thinking about this?
  • What is the meaning of his/her confusion?
  • What is it she/he already knows/knows how to do?
  • Is there a way I can help her/him to use that knowledge to understand this?


Atkins, S., Murphy, K. (1995) 'Reflective Practice.' Nursing Standard. 9; 45:31-35.

Blackburn, S. (1999) 'Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy.' Oxford University Press.

Boyd, E.M., Fales, A.W. (1983) 'Reflective Learning: Key to learning from experience.' Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 23; 2:99-117.

Hinchcliff, S.M., Norman, S.E., Schober, J.E. (1993) Nursing Practice and Health Care. 2nd Ed. Edward Arnold. London.

Jarvis, P. (1992) 'Reflective Practice and Nursing.' Nursing Education Today. 12:174-181.

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Basic Books.

Schön, D. (1990) Educating the Reflective Practitioner. Jossey-Bass.

Smith, C. (1995) 'Evaluating Nursing Care: Reflection in Practice.' Professional Nurse. 10; 11:723-724.