Critical Reflection on Practice
By Jan Faulkner
The National Quality Framework highlights the importance of critical reflection on our work with children. But what is the difference between “reflective practice” and “critical reflection”? This article explores a definition and provides ideas for what it takes to engage in an authentic process of critical reflection.
Jan Fook (2015) makes a distinction between reflective practice and critical reflection. She suggests that critical reflection goes deeper than reflective practice. When we engage in critical reflection, we examine the power dynamics that frame our decisions and actions and challenge the assumptions we hold to be true. She describes the two practices as follows:
“…a way of reducing the gap, by unearthing the actual theory that is embedded in what professionals do, rather than what they say they do.” (Fook, 2015: 441)
“The aim of critical reflection is to assist the learner to unearth and unsettle assumptions (particularly about power) and thus to help identify a new theoretical basis from which to improve and change a practice situation.” (Fook, 2015: 446)
Fook’s definitions suggest that reflective practice is about aligning what we say we do with what happens in practice. While this is an important process to undertake, engaging in critical reflection is to seek out and consider alternate perspectives. The aim is to determine new ways forward and ultimately transform practice with better outcomes for children. The Early Years Learning Framework adds to our understanding by stating that, “Critical reflection involves closely examining all aspects of events and experiences from different perspectives” (EYLF, p13)
Overall, critical reflection involves the following:
It is important to note that critical reflection requires a team approach; a team that is willing to debate ideas, share opinions and consider alternatives. To do so requires trust, willingness to challenge the norms and respect for the opinions of others. We need the curiosity, courage and drive to ask the type of questions that promote discovery. Essential is a curious mindset that leads educators to delve into the thinking of others. In other words, to examine practice through different lenses.
In his book ‘Becoming a critically reflective teacher,’ Stephen Brookfield suggested that we can examine practice through four lenses (2017). By using these four lenses we can illuminate different parts of our teaching, gain a fuller picture of our practice, and become aware of our pedagogical assumptions. He suggests the following four lenses.
This is not an exhaustive list – you could also explore practice through the lens of a parent, an ecological lens or a cultural lens. But where do these lenses fit into a process of critical reflection?
Melinda Miller (2011) introduces us to a three-level process of critical reflection. She suggests that at the first level we must acknowledge our initial reaction to a situation – our feelings, our first response. We do this before moving on to level 2, considering alternate perspectives and then to level 3, drawing new conclusions about practice. The following explanation of the three levels have been adapted from Miller (2011).
Level 1: Reacting
At this level, we are telling our own story of the situation that occurred including:
Level 2: Elaborating
We now need to gather further insights about the situation, including:
Level 3: Reconstructing
After examining and analysing a range of perspectives, we draw new conclusions about our practices and:
Important to critical reflection is that it be a group endeavour and part of daily practice. Services need to create an atmosphere where it is safe and acceptable to share opinions and ideas. One of the ways to create such a climate is to work on conversational skills. Judith Glaser writes that engaging in great conversation is a form of intelligence, and she states:
Conversations are dynamic, interactive, and inclusive. They evolve and impact the way we connect, engage, interact, and influence others, enabling us to shape reality, mind-sets, events, and outcomes in a collaborative way. (Glaser, 2014)
Glaser suggests that there is a link between the heart and the brain and that during great conversations we feel good, our brains engage, and we open up to the other person. When we don’t feel good, we shut down and become resistant. Engaging in authentic critical reflection means being good at having dynamic, inclusive and collaborative conversations. One way to start the journey towards having such conversations is for the team to set agreed on rules for engaging with each other. These rules might include the following:
Critical reflection is about committing to co-creating with others and having the courage to share your stories, listen to the stories of others, learn from them and be influenced by them.
ACECQA (2017) National Quality Standard and Operational Requirements: Guide to the National Quality Standard
Brookfield, S.D. (2017) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher 2nd Ed USA: Jossey-Bass
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (2009) Belonging Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia Canberra: DEEWR
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (2010) Educator’s Guide to The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia Canberra: DEEWR
Dewey, J. (1910) How We Think accessed 16/1/2018 from The Project Gutenberg EBook https://www.gutenberg.org/files/37423/37423-h/37423-h.htm#CHAPTER_TWO
Fook, J (2015) “Reflective Practice and Critical Reflection” in Lishman, J. (ed) Handbook for Practice Learning in Social Work and Social Care 3rd Ed. E Book. Pp 440 – 454
Glaser, J. E. (2014) Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results Bibliomotion: New York
Miller, M. (2011) “Critical Reflection” Reflections. Gowrie Australia. Issue 45. Pp 4-6
Completing 'Critical Reflection on Practice' will contribute 3 hours of NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) Accredited PD in the priority area of Delivery and Assessment of NSW Curriculum/EYLF addressing standard descriptors 2.1.2 from the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers towards maintaining Proficient Teacher Accreditation in NSW.