Introduction to Reflective Practice

RR graphic - no words.jpg  Introduction to Reflective Practice

Objectives for this Module:

  • Define reflective practice
  • Discuss why one should reflect
  • Identify thee components common to reflective practice models
  • Identify different levels of reflection
  • Explore perceptions of reflective practice and its usefulness in academic and professional settings.
  • Identify suggested readings to become more informed about reflective practice

Essential Questions:

  1. What is reflective practice?
  2. What is the need for and value of reflective practice?
  3. What three elements are common among reflective practice models?
  4. What are the levels of reflection?

What is Reflective Practice and Why Should We Reflect?

The process of reflection encompasses several critical components and has been viewed in different frames by many noted scholars. However, there are common elements of reflective practice that individuals have agreed upon. In broad terms, reflective practice is a process whereby an individual learns from his or her experiences and gains new insights related to self or practice based on thinking or reflecting on these events. The process requires individuals to examine their assumptions regarding daily life and work, being self-aware and willing to evaluate their responses to situations. In sum, reflective practice is a blend of reflection, self-awareness and critical thinking (Eby, 2000). The entire process is based on the premise that individuals return or recapture an experience and think critically about the experience in order to gain new insights and improve future practice (Finlayson, 2008).

 As early as 1933, John Dewey defined reflection as an active, continuous, deliberate set of processes one engages in when examining beliefs and knowledge relative to certain events. Dewey (1933) differentiated reflection from “every day” thinking in that reflection not impulsive; rather, it is purposeful, systematic, and logical. However, the things one reflects on are usually every day events that cause doubt, disquiet, or confusion. Individuals experience concern and perplexity each day in a variety of settings. These events and lessons offer plenty of room for reflection. It is a specific process where we apply solutions to problems through trial-and-error situations and then form hypotheses, and test out ideas (Finlay, 2008). Today, “reflective practice” represents a variety of situations, from individual introspection to a group of practitioners who engage in dialogue with colleagues.

Reflective practice is seen as a professional imperative, in that it is an official benchmark standard for some professional organizations, such as in the nursing profession (Finlay, 2008). It is also becoming a standard or common component of professional practice. Schon (1987) highlighted the use of reflective practice as a professional development tool to allow individuals in various professions to improve their practice. For example, Brookfield (1999) discussed the benefits of reflections in educational settings when teachers encounter unexpected events or critical incidents that require making mid-lesson adjustments and changes to those lessons in order to avoid the same situation in the future.

Individuals can also reflect outside of the workplace in reaction to everyday situations. We all experience events that go awry or unexpectedly. As a result, we think about what we may have said wrong, how we hurt someone else’s feelings, or what we could have done differently. We also need to think about the things we did well or correctly. Thus, there are many reasons to engage in reflection, ranging from improving our professional practice, avoiding stagnation in work and life and to avoid future mistakes.

What three elements are common among reflective practice models?

There are three common components to all reflective practice models:

  1. We have an experience
  2. We reflect on the experience by mulling over what happened
  3. We take action on the reflection (Bassot, 2016).

In addition to these common components, authors have developed different levels of reflection.

To make the process a bit more concrete, Van Manen (1977) demonstrated three levels of reflection in a hierarchical structure. The lowest level is technical reflection which is the process of achieving goals in an effective and efficient manner. The goal is that the individual possesses the skills and competencies to get the job done, not on engaging in critical reflection or change. The second level is practical reflection, which includes the processes or means through which the goals can be accomplished. Individuals examine the goals themselves to determine their worth and consider alternative practices and choices. The third level, critical reflection encompasses consideration of high level moral, social, political or ethical issues along with the development of autonomy and self-understanding. The three common levels to reflective practice, according to Van Manen (1977), are the technical skills needed to get a basic job done or to accomplish a task, reflection on the process or means through which a goal or task is achieved, and critical analysis of the consequences and larger picture outcomes of the task. Other levels of reflection are identified in the recommended readings at the end of this module.


In this training, you will be introduced to several of the key contributors to reflective practice: Dewey, Schon, Driscoll, Kolb, Gibbs, Mezirow and Johns. The work and models of these individuals will be explored in upcoming modules. As you move forward on your journey of learning about reflective practice, you also need to reflect on how this process applies to you, your daily life and your professional life. As you reflect, consider the following questions:

  1. How do you define reflective practice?
  2. How do you reflect during a typical day at work and/or at home?
  3. What do you see as the benefits and disadvantages of reflection?
  4. How might engaging in reflective practice make you a more effective practitioner or person?

Review Questions

  1. How is reflective practice different than the thinking we engage in each day?
  2. What is the need for and value of reflective practice?
  3. Describe the three elements that are common to reflective practice models.
  4. Provide examples for each technical, practical, and critical reflection.
  5. How might engaging in reflective practice make you a more effective practitioner?

References and Recommended Readings

Bassot, B. (2016). The reflective practice guide: an interdisciplinary approach. Abington: Routledge.

Brookfield, S.D. (1999). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Chicago, IL.: Henry Regnery, Co.

Driscoll, J. (ed). (2007). Practicing clinical supervision: a reflective approach for healthcare professionals. Edinburgh: Belliere Tindall.

Eby, M.A. (2000). Understanding professional development. In A. Brechin, H. Brown and M.A. Evy (eds). Clinical practice in health and social care. London: Sage Publications.

Finlay, L. (January, 2008). Reflecting on reflective practice. A discussion paper prepared for Professional-Based Professional Learning Centre (PBPL) CETL: The Open University.  ( Retrieved from

Gibbs, G. (1998). Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning. Oxford: Further Education Unit.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as a source of learning and development. Englewoods Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall.

Schon, D.A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action.  New York: Basic Books.

Van Manen, M. (1977). Linking ways of knowing with ways of being practical. Curriculum Inquiry, 6 (3): 205-28.

Youtube videos: (good)



Viewed 517 times