Development Through Their Own Reflective Practice Education Essay
This essay aims to examine the extent that secondary school teachers understand and involve themselves in reflective practice and the effect of this for their professional development. I will discuss the term Professional Development in order to demonstrate that a change in practice is an important part of development. In the Literature Review I propose to explore a) teachers’ understanding of professional development, b) how they partake of reflective practice, c) the changes that can be brought about in their reflective practice and d) the issues that are associated with these changes. I believe that the knowledge that secondary teachers acquire is not sufficient in itself and that they should continually strive for professional development so that they can also encourage effective learning by their pupils.
I then propose to look at the methods and questions that teachers should ask themselves so that they can identify any discrepancies between espoused theories and theories in use. This ensures that change and development can be addressed, as this identification plays an important element for professional development in which teachers can monitor any changes in practice. Espoused theories have restrictions in not being able to assess the thinking processes that teachers use to revise and change practice. This is due to the processes which are reinforced in the unconscious (theories - in - use). A teacher may not be aware of these processes (theories – in - use), and what we espouse when investigating practice, may not be similar with any actions. Espoused theories provide a structure to engage in professional exchange in order to identify discrepancies between espoused beliefs and theories – in - use. This applies to a large extent on the expertise in which the teacher can reflect on his or her own abilities and also helps another to reflect, question, understand and analyse classroom behaviour which concerns teaching.
Beauchamp and Thomas (2009:178) have found the following statement a useful starting point in the overall perception of teacher development:
“Developing an identity as a teacher is an important part of securing teachers’ commitment to their work and adherence to professional norms… the identities teachers develop shape their dispositions, where they place their effort, whether and how they seek out professional development opportunities, and what obligations they see as intrinsic to their role”. (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, & Bransford, 2005, pp. 383–384)
Professional Development has been defined by Evans (2002:132) as “the process whereby teachers’ professionality and/or professionalism may be considered to be enhanced”. She defines professionality as an ideological based stance on the part of an individual ” in relation to the practice to which she/he belongs, and which influences her/his professional practice”(2002:131). Professional Development is about becoming more expert. Stenberg(2010:331) refers to the process as extending self- knowledge. It is about questioning and changing habits that were developed in order to cope in certain situations. Mason (2002:1)notes it is a form of personal enquiry “in order to broaden and deepen professional sensitivities to notice and to act”. We need to understand, therefore, what constitutes the developmental process – what must happen in order for teachers to develop. Evans (2002) further identifies within the term professionality, two elements which can be identified, namely Attitudinal Development and Functional Development.
Attitudinal Development is the process where “teachers’ attitudes to their work are modified” ( p.132). This features an ability for the professional teacher to be reflective/analytical , and also to show elements of motivation e.g. towards a variety of aspects of their work. Clearly, reflection is at the heart of what it means to be a professional(Goodson, 2007:129) and at its best, I believe, that any outcome of reflection is always at the heart of valid self-reflection. Pollard (2005:15) states that “reflective teaching implies an active concern with aims and consequences as well as means and technical competence”. It is therefore clear that there are particular skills and dispositions associated with being a reflective practitioner. Reflection is widely regarded as a meaningful way for teachers to achieve a deeper sense of self (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009)
Functional Development is where “teachers’ professional performance may be improved” (p132). This combines changes in the methods that teachers apply and as a result change in practice.
I would argue that the intellectual and procedural features are interconnected with teachers not being able to develop in relation to one and not the other.
Evans’(2002)definition, nonetheless, refers to both of the processes outlined above for promoting professional development( intellectual features) and to the outcomes which come out of this development (changes in processes and productivity).
Day’s (1999)definition of professional development has considerable breadth and depth and:
“is the process by which, alone and others, teachers review, renew and extend their commitment as change agents to the moral purposes of teaching; and by which they acquire and develop critically the knowledge, skills and emotional intelligence essential to good professional thinking planning and practice with children young people and colleagues through each phase of their teaching lives.”(p.4). All learning experiences, according to Day (1999), contribute to educational quality in the classroom and are part of the professional development of teachers. They are critically reflective professionals in their on-going development throughout their teaching careers.
According to Bolam (2002), former Professor of Education at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences, professional development is an on-going process in education, training and support activities which is aimed mainly at “promoting learning and development of teachers’ professional knowledge, skills and values” and also to help decide and implement “valued changes in their teaching and learning behaviour so that they can educate their students more effectively” (p.4).
For Bolam, professional development is a process that is on-going whose aim is to encourage professional knowledge, values and skills. Professional development will, therefore, result in valued changes in teaching and pupils being educated more effectively.
Clearly, reflection is at the heart of what it means to be a professional, (Goodson, 2007:129) and at its best, I believe, that any outcome of reflection is always at the heart of valid self-reflection. Pollard (2005:15) states that “reflective teaching implies an active concern with aims and consequences as well as means and technical competence”. It is therefore clear that there are particular skills and dispositions associated with being a reflective practitioner. Reflection is widely regarded as a meaningful way for teachers to achieve a deeper sense of self (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009)
Reflective practice is fundamental to teacher professional development as it is a core activity within the profession. Teachers who engage in reflective practice need not only to have competencies but also attitudes. When Dewey defined reflective action as “behaviour which involves active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or practice in light of the grounds that support it and the further consequences to which it leads” (1910:9), he believed that the attitudes of a) open-mindedness, b) responsibility and c) wholeheartedness were necessary for suitable reflective action (1910:29,34).
These then were adapted by Pollard (2003:17), and accepted as a major component of professional commitment.
Wholeheartedness. Aspiring to develop professional development thereby enabling engaging in reflection and aspiration towards reflection in order to progress in our professional capacity.
Open-mindedness. This attitude makes us consider different ways of reflective teaching by investigating other practices rather than relying on their own. I would suggest that, however open-minded we are, we should examine critically whether another practice would suit our own educational goal in our teaching.
Responsibility. Professionals who accept responsibility of their action also accept accountability for their enhanced performance which produces better outcomes.
Together, these three attitudes need to be demonstrated by teachers whose objectives are to be reflective teachers.
In the work of Zeichner and Liston(1996:6)this responsibility for professional commitment is clearly linked to reflective practice:
“When embracing the concepts of reflective teaching, there is often a commitment by teachers….to take responsibility for their own professional development. This assumption of responsibility is a central feature of the idea of the reflective teacher.”
Day (1999) constitutes change as part of planning and professional thinking which contribute to changes in practice because teachers’ planning and thinking will certainly lead to reflection in what they will do in their classrooms. For Calderhead(2012:11) , planning is not a rational or linear process but a much more creative, interactive, problem finding and problem solving process where a teacher might start with an idea and through various multi-faceted strategies of reflexivity, eventually come to form a classroom activity or activities. Consequently, the major outcome of professional developmental planning is change in practice and, I believe, is a direct function of the adeptness of teachers.
Any change is founded upon personal ethical values. We are what we do rather than what we say we are (Bolton 2005.) It is difficult to gain clarification regarding ethical issues expressed in practice, it’s much easier to say what we believe. Argyris and Schön(1974:6-7) developed theories of action which demonstrate how changes in behaviour could be achieved. They note that there are two types of theories of action, namely espoused theories and theories- in - use. Espoused theories represent what we say we believe, we mean to do or actually do. In contrast, theories – in – use describe what we actually do and the beliefs and theories which have determined what we do.
Another contribution by Argyris and Schön(1974:19) is the difference between single - loop learning and double - loop learning. Single-loop learning involves enabling people to develop knowledge and skills appropriate to and defined by present circumstances while, in contrast double- loop learning involves redefining the nature of problems faced by an individual and learning how to cope with the new understanding.
In single loop learning, the teacher will strive to learn more skills to further increase class control but will not address the fundamental problem that his theory - in - use is not working. He may consider that maintaining such strict control is disadvantageous to his own effectiveness as a teacher. If he does so, he may now strive to acquire skills that allow for the development for more inclusive teaching styles, greater pupil involvement and a deepening of the learning experience. Such a response can be seen as double loop learning – learning that the original theory in use was ineffective and then acquiring skills to modify the theory – in - use to bring it more in line with the espoused theory with a focus that is deeper and broader than they had previously attempted. Tomlinson(1995:72), nonetheless, recommends us to be alert to the possibility of deskilling ourselves when we try to perform consciously and deliberately actions and skill that are intuitive through experience. For Eraut(2004: 51)it’s reflecting critically upon that evidence, without necessarily having to explain tacit knowledge that is functioning well. However, if that knowledge is ineffective, the situation has to be reviewed and tacit knowledge subjected to scrutiny.
Differentiating between the two theories is central to the work of Argyris and Schön. One of the main factors which moves the individual from single-loop to double-loop is feedback. The teacher who continues to increase classroom control is unlikely to seek feedback but the teacher who changes his theory-in-use is far more likely to seek feedback from colleagues and pupils when he runs into problems. Tomlinson (1995:26) notes that Schön and Dreyfus and Dreyfus assume that the acquisition of systematic capabilities like teaching must be seen as requiring assistance from others.
One outcome of theory - in - use is that practitioners are not aware of what their experience has taught them about their practice. They may perform their practice with great expertise but not be able to explicitly describe their actions. The reason being is that actions are supported by theories which are in-built in the unconscious and that cannot be expressed. Teachers may not be aware of all that has taken place while in action or the knowledge about how to perform their practice. Osterman and Kottkamp(1993:7) discuss: “A careful observer can identify our behavioural regularities and the assumptions that lie beneath them”. These behavioural regularities refer to our patterns of behaviour which become second nature to us despite perhaps being ineffective. This, I would argue, are the discrepancies between espoused theories and theories-in-use that we, as reflective educators, are unaware of.
Schön(1987) uses the term “knowing in action” in order to show that people know what to do while in action and stresses that “knowing in action” is implicit. The “knowing” is “in” the “action” (1987:25). However, what this model neglects, according to Thompson and Pascal (2012), is what they refer to as reflection-for-action. This is an aspect of reflective practice that Schön did not discuss. It refers to the process of planning, thinking ahead about what is to come, so that one can draw on experience (and the professional knowledge base implicit within it) in order to make the best use of the time resources available.
One outcome of the unconscious existence of theories – in - use is inconsistencies between theories in use and espoused theories or between actions and outcomes. Many educators have theories in their head (espoused theories) and yet they behave in ways which are quite dissimilar (theories – in - use). Is this because they are unaware of the theories- in- use in our unconscious? Teachers may have an idea in their conscious about their actions which may differ from their theories-in-use and even though the outcomes of their actions are inadequate, they may keep applying the same approach with the hope that this approach will, at some time in the future, produce desirable outcomes. These theories-in-use are so deep-rooted within people’s unconscious, that they take them for granted and therefore cannot measure them and cannot see the relationship between their actions and the unacceptable outcomes. Awareness of theories-in-use can be realized when people describe their own actions.
Osterman and Kottkamp (1993) define reflective practice as a means by which practitioners can develop “…a greater level of self-awareness about the nature and impact of their performance, an awareness that creates opportunities for professional growth and development” (1993:19). Personal reflection may not lead to any significant change and as a result theories-in-use run the risk of remaining implicit. Dadds(1993:287) perceives that “we are more likely to remain open to further learning and professional development” if we have the support of acquaintances that can help us through the potentially dangerous processes of self-evaluation. However, Eraut(2004:49) notes that the purpose of a reflection episode is not always clear, and may differ among the participants. Sometimes an individual can reflect rather vaguely or if other members of the group have very different agendas. Any positive outcome will depend on having sufficient time, the quality of the relationships within the group and the expertise of any facilitators.
Educators can also espouse a broad range of beliefs. Teachers’ beliefs or conceptions about teaching and learning influence strongly how they teach and what pupils achieve. Belief must be inferred and because it can be problematic to uncover teachers’ beliefs, most of the research in this area has been case studies as quantitative methods would not be able to compare without difficulty. Pajares ( 1992) defined beliefs as :
“An individual’s judgement of the truth or falsity of a proposition, a judgement that can only be inferred from a collective understanding of what human beings, say, intend and do” (1992: 316)
Calderhead (1996:719) argued that there were five main areas in which teachers have significant beliefs. These are :
i) Learners and learning. This belief looks at how pupils learn and how likely they are to influence how teachers approach teaching tasks and their interaction with their pupils.
ii) Teaching. This belief refers to the learning environment and the purpose of teaching.
iii) Subjects or curriculum. This belief refers at the content of the curriculum, the effect of knowledge within these subjects and the aptitude by teachers in carrying out tasks within their subject.
iv) Learning to teach. This belief refers to professional development and how educators learn to teach.
v) About the self and the nature of teaching. These are the beliefs that teachers have about themselves and their roles in teaching. Calderhead implied,also, that :
“ …such areas, however, could well be interconnected, so that beliefs about teaching, for instance, may be closely related to beliefs about learning and the subject”(1996:719). There seems to be a recurring theme that what teachers believe in one area of instruction impacts on practices and conceptions in the other domains. My belief of assessment, for example, is shaped by my conceptualisation of learning and teaching and therefore, affect the way that I teach and assess. In order to produce as many espoused beliefs as possible, questions must be asked about beliefs in all of Calderhead’s five domains.
As educators we need to ask questions of a more extensive nature which refer to our beliefs, goals and values. By reflecting on these questions, espoused theories can be elicited. Our responsibilities, therefore, as teachers, is to make the tacit explicit. Shulman (1988:22) also points out that teachers will become better educators when they begin to have explicit answers to certain questions. Osterman and Kottkamp (2004) suggest:
“Why did events take place as they did? What ideas and feelings prompted my actions? Did my actions correspond with my intentions? Did my actions lead to the outcomes I intended?” (2004:49) Shulman(1993:34) says that answering such questions not only makes a teacher become skilled but it also requires a combination of reflection on practical experience as well as theoretical understanding. Ghaye (2011) suggest the use of value statements where information is collected about espoused beliefs and which can begin with the words “I believe…” followed by the word “because…”:
“The first half of the statement is concerned with the ‘what’, while the second half focuses on ‘why’, or the rationale for the ‘what’ “. (2011:102)
Convery (2001:139) maintains that reflection can only be developed in social and emotional circumstances. This is in contrast with Schön’s lack of attention to the role of dialogue in teachers’ learning as reflection is also a social process requiring, what I would emphasise as collaborative discussion, to allow the development of a critical perspective and also that cognitive skills are developed as a means of improving practice. Cognitive skills refer to espoused theories and beliefs, values, actions and attitudes. Emotional aspects denote feelings.
Osterman and Kottkamp (1993:20) note that feelings are essential because actions are influenced by feelings as well as actions. Teachers could be asked to describe feelings that encouraged certain action, in order to further explore the theories-in-use where people can become aware of how unconsciously expectations reinforce their actions when they are forced to reflect on their feelings and deliberate how certain feelings make them think and behave.
Osterman and Kottkamp (1993) note that only by understanding the personal reaction of ourselves and others “can we come to a full understanding of the problem and develop appropriate solutions”. (1993:24). This is also endorsed by Brockbank and McGill (1998:85) who maintain that part of the skill in facilitating reflective learning though reflective dialogue is to grapple with that tendency for inter-personal collusion. Any self-reflection needs to be supported and supplemented by dialogue by a professional colleague which will add to the potentiality for reflecting over and above that which one would undertake on his own. Brockbank and McGill suggest that this form of questioning can encourage teachers to look at traits of behaviour that they might be oblivious to.
Indeed, asking professionals to explore aspects of their teaching processes, which could have been easily overlooked, can be helpful in their professional development. This is because teachers would be required to express areas of their practice which they would never have reflected on without inspiration from their co-workers or ’critical friendships’(Day, 1995:123), which increases the possibilities of moving though stages of reflection to confrontation of thinking and practice within professional development to reinforce “ a sense of responsibility by affirming confidence in teachers’ professionalism” ( Day, 1995: 124) As a result, discrepancies are easily identified between actions and outcomes.
Another way of noticing discrepancies between espoused theories and theories-in-use is to question or compare expectations and perceptions held by the person who is describing the practice and those who listen. Loughran (2006:57) notes that “working with colleagues…provides the opportunity of gaining advice and feedback…and of continuing to push to make the tacit explicit”. Livingston and Schiach (2010:85-86) note that a collaborative approach will result in better outcomes by bringing together different perspectives and having the opportunity to develop mutual understanding to create new knowledge and meaning.
Listening to assumptions of other teachers about what strengthens a particular teacher’s practice can improve the identification of discrepancies of behaviour. As a result, the teacher can reflect whether what he espouses about practice is similar with others’ thinking of what is happening in action. As a result of this, any discrepancies between actions and outcomes are revealed and one can ask whether these assumptions are appropriate for what we aim to achieve in our practice or whether we should discuss other alternative interpretations for a different outcome and improvements. Once these improvements in our practice are put in place , once can reflect further on the nature of these improvements(Ghaye and Ghaye, 1998). One can examine whether the method to achieve these improvements has taken place as ‘espoused’ – where there is a discrepancy between beliefs and action, or whether the level of these improvements is the ‘expected’ – where there is a discrepancy between actions and outcomes.
Consequently, personal growth and development is possible when an awareness of the nature and influence of an action is developed. As a result, does a teacher’s action lead to preferred outcomes, or are those actions associated with espoused theories? These discrepancies can be identified either between espoused theories and theories-in use or between actions and outcomes.
Academics agree that engaging in reflective practice is neither a direct process nor a process with a predetermined conclusion. It is a process that is recurring (Argyris and Shön, 1974; Day, 1999; Osterman and Kottkamp, 1993; Pollard, 2002). When educators involve themselves in reflective practice they aim to bring about substantial changes in practice in which they will achieve their long-term goals and their aim of developing professionally. This can only be achieved if they become aware of their underlying theories-in-use and being able to recognize the discrepancies between espoused theories and theories-in-use. This process gives them the opportunity to move between different stages of reflection. They may have taken on board a colleague’s recommendations, for example and begun to identify discrepancies of behaviour. This would make them aware of other aspects of their practice before reflection on new ways of action. As a result, the cycle of reflection begins again.
To conclude, this essay has attempted to take an overview of professional development through reflective practice in terms of the literature, what is meant by reflection , the key Theorists associated with Reflection, and its practical use in professional practice. Change in practice plays an important part in professional development and, while I believe that self-reflection is important, it can only be achieved by reflecting with other colleagues where espoused theories and theories in use can be identified and developed to further our professional development.
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