Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reflecting on Reflective Practice

"We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environments."  

Myross Bush Year 5/6 students, Room 8, 2011

Robotics for the July 2015 Intake at The MindLab

My class visiting and exploring The MindLab - putting the Key Competencies into practice!


The Key Competencies (KCs) in the New Zealand Curriculum include:

  • Relating to others
  • Managing self
  • Participating and Contributing
  • Thinking
  • Using Languages, Symbols and Texts
Examples of what each of the KCs include / involve can be found on TKI.

The following video is by the authors of The Key Competencies for the Future book (Rosemary Hipkins, Rachel Bolstad,  Sally Boyd, and Sue McDowall).  They state reasons why everyone needs to read their book and, having read it, I completely agree.  I've always felt that the KCs were designed to drive the curriculum and learning with the Essential Learning Areas of English, Maths, Science, Social Sciences, etc providing a context.  In the past few years, however, we seem to be driven by the subject areas with the KCs taking a very definite backseat.  We see this in planning and assessment and we hear it in discussions.
The book can be purchased through the New Zealand Council of Educational Research (NZCER).

In 2011, my students and I also spent considerable time pulling apart the competencies and creating key word summaries of what each of the competencies meant to us.  You can read our thoughts at The Team in Room 8.  I've just gone back to read this through again today and have realised that exploring these needs to happen more often if they are going to be given the importance that was intended when they were developed.

Key Competencies Digital Stories are a valuable tool for schools and communities to pull apart what each of the KCs mean to them in their particular learning environment / context.

The Key Competencies and the Past 24 Weeks of The MindLab Learning...

Undertaking this postgrad programme and reading the book discussed above, has helped me to focus more on the KCs and how important they are for not only the students' learning but also our own professional learning.  The two KCs I've chosen to reflect on in relation to the postgrad learning over the past 24 weeks are:

  • Thinking
  • Managing self


"Thinking is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas. These processes can be applied to purposes such as developing understanding, making decisions, shaping actions, or constructing knowledge. Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency.
Students who are competent thinkers and problem-solvers actively seek, use, and create knowledge. They reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions."  NZ Curriculum TKI

I've always been fascinated by the way people think about issues and particularly our students who often have far greater insight than many adults.  During the past 24 weeks I've had to use my prior knowledge and experiences and merge these with new knowledge, particularly in programming and robotics, to create new knowledge and understanding and then to apply this to my teaching practice so that I can offer the best and most effective learning experiences for my students and colleagues as I am lead the professional learning at school.

I love learning new things and participating in new experiences and I also love challenging what I know currently.   It's why I'm constantly pushing myself to learn more, experience more and why I chose to learn through the MindLab and to push myself further, hopefully, if accepted into the Doctor of Education programme at the University of Otago.  It's about being a life-long learner and it's an active and collaborative process. It's also about being metacognitive and understanding how you think about something and why - the deeper reflection.  It's what drives our learning and teaching and it's what I've tried to apply over the past 24 weeks, in particular.

Managing Self

"This competency is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners. It is integral to self-assessment.
Students who manage themselves are enterprising, resourceful, reliable, and resilient. They establish personal goals, make plans, manage projects, and set high standards. They have strategies for meeting challenges. They know when to lead, when to follow, and when and how to act independently."  NZ Curriculum TKI
Source: Facebook: Hunt Cartoons

The cartoon says it all!  This KC is my biggest challenge.  It seems that the busier I get the more I procrastinate which seems completely crazy really as it places a lot of pressure to get things done.  While I do work well under pressure, there's pressure that is good for you and pressure that is not, let alone for those around you.  It's also not a great look when you have to admit to your students that you are more like them than they think in terms of putting off assignments and other tasks.  There is power in sharing that I have found however.  The students keep you honest - especially when they ask if you've completed what you said you were going to complete!!

As I returned to teaching after an 18 month break to recover from serious illness there have been many challenges in this KC.  I not only returned to full-time teaching but to a Deputy Principal's role and also completed my Master of Teaching through Otago in January 2015.  A couple of months later I also signed up for The MindLab postgrad programme and developed a Makerspace with my students.  

I learned that I had to be very organised and focused but it is still a work in progress.  Have I improved? Possibly but there is still a long way to go, and it is something I need to master, particularly as I begin my Doctor of Education in July this year.  In order to be able to do this I will follow the description of what we expect or aim for with our students and will rely on my community of practice to keep me honest and on-task.

Teaching as Inquiry and the Key Competencies

If you're like me and want to delve deeper into the KCs and what they mean for your professional learning then the following would be a good place to start.  It has tools for learning and reflecting and great questions to get you started.  I'm going to be putting this to good use when I begin my Doctor of Education studies in July.  

Teaching as Inquiry and the Key Competencies


The final part of this post centres around an article written by Lynda Finlay (2008) Reflecting on reflective practice.

What I Agree With...

I agree with Finlay (2008) and don't focus on one particular model as our reflections need to be flexible and adaptable to a particular situation, time and place.   I have found, however, the following blog which contains questions designed to prompt some very in-depth reflective thinking / authentic reflection.  This would be a great resource to add to your reflective toolbox.


I have always tried to be a reflective practitioner and previous entries on this blog which I started in 2009, I hope, reflect this.  The following links to posts are examples of this.  It's very 'interesting' (read cringe-worthy, forehead slapping) to look back on your old posts and see how / if your thinking has changed.  Also a great tool for reflection!

For ease of reading, I will post the points from Finlay (2008) as bullet points rather than a long discussion.

Often, even in the discussion of what exactly is reflective practice, there will be a large range.  This has been my experience when discussing this in both face-to-face and online learning environments.

"In general, reflective practice is understood as the process of learning through and from experience towards gaining new insights of self and/or practice' (Boud, Keogh, and Walker, 1985; Boyd and Fales, 1983; Mezirow, 1981; Jarvis, 1992, in Finlay, 2008, p.1).

  • Reflective practice can become a 'tick the boxes' exercise if not handled well.
  • Individuals need to be taught the models, be given time to reflect and the practice of reflection must be valued by the school / organisation.
  • Knowledge of expectations must be clear.
  • Support from colleagues is critical.
  • It is only successful if it is a social rather than an individual activity.
  • Must be flexible and adaptable in terms of the models used.
  • There are different models for different purposes.
  • No one model fits all situations.
  • There are a range of tools, practices and models.
  • "The point is to recapture practice experiences and mull them over critically in order to gain new understandings and so improve future practice" (Finlay, 2008, p.1).
  • Huge concern over performance-based practice - does this mean only focusing on assessment data to inform practice.  Shouldn't it go far deeper than that?
  • Needs to be a balance of reflection-in and reflection-on practice.  Formalised reflection-in-practice (e.g. through a journal or blog, etc.) can be difficult in the middle of teaching.  This is something we do as teachers but it happens as we teach.
  • Beware of complacency and simplicity of / in reflection.
  • The context of reflection can be seriously undervalued.


Reflective practice is not as 'simple' as it seems and can raise many ethical issues and concerns including those of privacy, consent to have stories shared and reflected on and the maintenance of professional relationships to name a few.  It can also be very confrontational emotionally for some people to share their reflections, to put them on paper (or in a blog as the case may be).  These issues need to handled carefully and respectfully.  

Many courses, professional learning environments, university courses require reflection on what has been learned related to our own understandings so what do we do for individuals for whom this practice is very confronting but they need to complete the requirements for a particular purpose?  

If the purpose of true reflective practice is to pull apart and analyse our practice to change or improve it but to do so means confronting our beliefs, etc., then are we getting genuine reflection from participants or just a surface reflection to meet the requirements?

Even the terms used can be confronting for some.  The term 'Critical Friends' can be misunderstood to mean that your professional learning buddy is there to critique you and your practice and find fault with it when the true definition couldn't be further from the truth.  It is vital to pull apart definitions, terms and expectations for this to be the valuable experience it can be.

I think that the heart of any reflective practice in a school or other organisation needs to be a shared and very clear understanding of not only what constitutes reflective practice but also the expectations for individuals within the practice.  We need to be very careful about sharing information, using names, etc in a public forum such as a blog - even if it is a 'private' one.  Indeed, the argument can be that if we make a blog private then are we stopping ourselves from learning from the opinions of others who would read the blog and comment if it wasn't private?  The use of social media to reflect and learn is powerful but it often creates more questions than answers as we learn more about how to use it well - and professionally.

Professional / Cultural Concerns

Reflection is important otherwise how do we change our practice to meet student needs?  How do we challenge our own learning / assumptions / beliefs and practices?  But what about some cultures for whom self-reflection / self-analysis is against their cultural beliefs.  How do we manage this?  Also, how do we ensure that reflection is not used merely to justify current practice, particularly practice that is not as effective as it could be?

There is also the argument that if reflective practice is not shared or made public and is kept to the individual, then it becomes an individual tool / responsibility rather than a collective enterprise at an organisational level.  (Quinn, 1998, 2000 in Finlay, 2008).  This can lead to the status quo being maintained rather than being questioned if it needs to be questioned. 

Education Council New Zealand

We also need to be aware of the requirements / guidelines from the Education Council around social media, particularly when so many of us use social media as part of our reflective practice, for example on Twitter formal chats and conversations with others, Facebook, Google+ etc.  

Teachers and Social Media

Models of Reflection - What I Use... and are There Others I Would Like to Adopt?

My model is centred around a community of practice which I will discuss in a later blog post but which I have also discussed in previous posts and in my Master of Teaching research.  I don't follow any one model but a range of models such as Gibbs Reflective Cycle (1988 in Finlay, 2008), critical incident analyses, case studies, reflective journals / diaries / blogs and Critical Friends, a process of learning through and with others, e.g. colleagues and students, and which has at its heart, reflective practice.   See for example:
Advantages of models such as those discussed in Finlay (2008) are that they provide a starting point for teachers beginning their reflective practice journey.  The question, however, is can one model suit all situations scenarios and experiences?  I don't believe that it can.  Just as the situations vary, so should the strategies/models we use to analyse them if we are going to be truly reflective practitioners and get the most out of our reflections.

Many models provide a solitary or individual reflective structure whereas social reflection via Critical Friends, for example, can provide a deeper insight into our practice through observation, discussion, analysis, questioning and the views, opinions and insights of others involved in the process, including the students.

"...practitioners gain from working in a dialogical team context that enables them to hear the alternative perspectives so vital for reflective practice" (Finlay, 2008, p.17). 

How successful it is depends on the value placed on it by those involved.  I've experienced both ends of the spectrum where it was used merely to 'tick the boxes' that it had been done and was often part of an appraisal process (a discussion for another time as it shouldn't be part of that if we want open and honest reflection), through to where it was extremely valued as it was a way of informing and improving learning and teaching for ourselves and for our students. 

Reflection-on, reflection-in and reflection-before action are all important parts of reflective practice but the skills must be taught and supported and valued by all involved in the process. 


In 2014 I became involved with TeachThought as a Social Reach and Engagement Coordinator which involved creating an online community of practice.  I developed this through the Facebook page, a community wiki and also started the Reflective Teacher@TeachThought weekly Twitter chat.  Shortly after starting this Beth Leidolf, a colleague and now friend from the United States became involved and together we developed and grew the community and the weekly chat.  Unfortunately, due to returning to teaching after a long illness, I have not been involved in the community recently but it continues to grow and thrive under Beth's leadership.  

Our whole purpose and focus for the community was to create a reflective teacher community who were involved in true reflection as discussed in this post.  We created a month-long blog challenge - one of many - which centred around reflective practice.

Reflective Teacher @TeachThought community wiki

Reflective Teacher @TeachThought blog challenge


Education Council New Zealand. (2015).  Practising teacher criteria.  Retrieved from https://educationcouncil.org.nz/

Education Council New Zealand. (2015).  Teachers and social media.  Retrieved from https://educationcouncil.org.nz/

Finlay, L. (2008) Reflecting on reflective practice. PBPL.  Retrieved from https://app.themindlab.com/course/release/205-week-25-apc-reflective-practice

Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Boyd, S., & McDowall, S. (2014). Key competencies for the future. Wellington: NZCER.

Literacy New Zealand. (2015, June 10). Reflective models. https://literacynz.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/reflective-models/

Ministry of Education. (nd)  Key competencies online.  Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum#key_competencies

Ministry of Education. (2007). New Zealand Curriculum.  Wellington: Learning Media.

Ministry of Education. (nd)  New Zealand Curriculum online.  Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum#key_competencies