Reflective Practice


Dr Elizabeth Stafford explores themes from Unit 3 of the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators.

How often do you find yourself replaying in your head the events of the day or a significant incident in your life? Whether it is reliving a conversation with a colleague to decide what they really meant, thinking about the decisions you made which have led you to a certain point in your life (I was going to be an opera singer, but here I am!), or thinking about why the exploits of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex make you so happy (or angry, if you’re a certain type of newspaper reporter), we are all quite used to the idea of reflecting on our own experiences.

In what we might loosely term ‘the caring professions’ this kind of reflection is harnessed and deepened to provide a learning opportunity. Teachers, nurses, and social workers – to name but a few – use reflective practice on a continual basis to consider their strategies, behaviours, diagnoses, decisions, and the effect of these on those around them.

In 1910, Dewey defined reflective practice as:

‘the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it’.

This means taking a questioning approach to our work, moving beyond just thinking ‘that was ok’ or ‘that was a disaster’ to drill down into the situation and identify why things happened the way they did. As a teacher, this information can feed into planning and delivery, to enhance positive aspects, and reduce negative outcomes.

Schon (1983) described reflection as having two aspects: reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action.

Reflection-in-action happens ‘in the moment’ whilst you are teaching, and is characterised by instant reaction. So for example if you can see that your pupils don’t understand something, you try to explain it in a different way there and then.

Reflection-on-action happens ‘after the event,’ and is characterised by a deeper level of thinking about what caused your pupils to misunderstand, and what other options were available for avoiding or correcting the situation.

Meaningful reflection-on-action requires a level of critical analysis to establish what happened, why it happened, and any underlying factors that contributed to the situation. For example, the students did not understand, but was this because:

  • You explained it badly because you don’t understand it yourself
  • You explained it badly because you understand it to a much higher level
  • You explained it badly because you hadn’t thought about how to explain it
  • They weren’t listening because they weren’t interested
  • They weren’t listening because they were having their own conversations
  • They were listening but they couldn’t hear you
  • They were listening but they couldn’t understand the language
  • They were listening but it was nearly lunchtime
  • And so on…….

An unanalytical approach might assume that the students didn’t understand due to a bad explanation, and the resulting action would be ‘don’t explain it like that again.’ An analytical approach however might discover that your entire group were not native English speakers, or hearing impaired. Clearly this is an unlikely scenario, but it is possible, and your action to deal with this would be very different.

Reflective practice is a hugely important activity for professional development. It helps us grow and learn as teachers, and in consequence helps our pupils grow and learn too. It helps challenge our thinking, change our perspectives, challenge our assumptions, and ensures that we are always doing our best for our pupils.

Reflective Practice and the Trinity CME

In our version of the Trinity CME, Reflective Practice isn’t just the subject of a module, it is the philosophy which underpins the entire programme. Your relationship with your mentor will give you the opportunity to reflect on your learning needs, your music education practice, and the needs of your students, so that every task you undertake on the programme will improve and enhance learning outcomes for the children and young people that you teach.

This process starts with a needs analysis process during which you reflect on your prior learning and knowledge to ascertain where you are now in your practice. With the help of your mentor you will use this process to create the Professional Action Plan that will guide your progress through the programme. You and your mentor will reflect on and review this document at regular intervals throughout the programme to decide what learning you should undertake next, until all the units have been completed.

In creating evidence for your portfolio by completing the e-module tasks, there will be an element of reflection to every item that you submit. This may be annotating a lesson plan stating which aspects went well and which were less successful, or a more extended piece of reflective writing discussing your thoughts on, for example, an element of pedagogy, or an unexpected incident in your classroom.

The process of reflection is so important, that if you are unable to meet an assessment criterion – for example if something goes wrong in a lesson observation and you aren’t able to demonstrate it sufficiently – in some cases you are able to submit a reflective statement detailing what you would do differently next time to meet the criterion, and this can stand as evidence instead.

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