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Reflective Practice: Home

What is Reflective Practice?

"Reflective practice is learning and developing through examining what we think happened on any occasion, and how we think others perceived the event and us, opening our practice to scrutiny by others . . ." G Bolton, Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development p 7

Looking at a dictionary, reflection might be defined as: 

To mirror

To look back

To cast a light on

To meditate

As you experience it you will also realise that learning happens in lots of ways - from your reading, from information and facts for example.

We can also learn from our experience and in reflection our experience is essentially what we work with.  

Reflection therefore involves our experience and our thoughts, hunches and feelings about this experience.

Furthermore Reflective Practice asks us to take this and to suspend our habitual thoughts and assumptions and to examine experience in an open way. Sometimes we need to repeatedly examine a context in order to see differently.

Reflection also usually invites us to become more honest with ourselves about our behaviour and our way of seeing and thinking.

As it works we often develop the capacity to see ourselves in the act or moment, to become aware of our actions and also being able to see them.  

What distinguishes Reflective Practice is that it requires an openess, a willingness to notice our ways of thinking and seeing, to become aware of these and then to re-examine experience. A number of practices exist to support this such as journaling, critical questions, drawing and storyboarding.

Reflection lets us examine our actions, see ourselves in new ways and to learn from this. This might create a change in behaviour, practice or our thinking.  

A definition of reflection captures these aspects:

"The process of creating and clarifying the meaning of experience (past and present) in terms of self (self in relation to self and self in relation to the world). The outcome of the process is changed conceptual perspective" E M Boyd & A A Fales, (1983) 'Reflective Learning: key to learning from experience' Jnl Humanistic Psychology Vol 23 No 2, pp99 - 117

What's It Like?

If you read the literature on reflection one of the paradoxes you will come across is that reflection can only be experienced, it is unique and that reading about it is not enough. This can be difficult because so much other learning is based on reading and thinking about. Reflection on the other hand asks us to look to ourselves and find our own authority.

Reflection is not easy and as it involves looking at ourselves it is not uncommon for it to generate a level of discomfort.  

There may be a sense of:

- something not fitting right

- unfinished business

- of a nagging feeling

It may not be very clear what is the issue.  

Reflection involves the self. It is unique to you and only you can reflect.  

As we work on reflection we may become aware of a new capacity to be open to experience, to suspend judgement, to see things anew.

Reflection also involves a realisation stage - an 'aha' moment when we see and experience a change in ourselves.

What is a Reflective Journal?


One of the habits of reflection is finding a way to notice what is going on, recording it, inquiring into it and re-visiting it as needed.

Many people therefore keep some kind of a reflective journal. Parts of this may be examined as part of your course.  

Keeping a journal helps us to record and remember what happened.   

It also gives us a place to reflect on what happened. Reflection invites us to look at events, to examine what happened, what feelings arose, what issues came up, what action happened as a result and from that to see if we can gain any insights that might help us. Hunches and intuitions can also be written about.

You could also include images - drawings, images from magazines that connect to you and photographs.

The more you use your journal and develop a habit of writing the deeper your reflection will become

It is useful in your journal to develop a systematic way of writing about an event. You could use the questions included on this page or look at the items mentioned below and use these questions to help you think about an event.

In your journal:

  • try to focus on what you learned
  • look at the vulnerable places and see what you can learn from these
  • question and explore everything - facts and feelings, ideas and hunches


Why Reflect?

Reflective Practice is offered as an approach which helps us to learn continuously and develop our own approaches.

As we work and learn we can become stuck in our approaches and even defensive.  Ultimately this is not helpful or effective. 

Furthermore most organisations require their staff to continuously learn and develop solutions in order to be effective and competitive.  

Teaching people how to reason differently and to see their work in a new way is therefore critical. For more on this see:

Chris Argyris Teaching Smart People How To Learn  Harvard Business Review Vol 69, Issue 3, pp99-109.

Reflective practice is a way of overcoming our defences and fears about our practice and of asking questions about the broader political context of our work (See G Bolton, Reflective Practice)

Qualities in Reflective Writing

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke

Writing in the context of reflection involves more than a description of an event, it also needs to include thoughts, feelings, intuitions. It is essentially an exploration of yourself. Writing tends to make us create a coherent story and clarifies thought. The act of actually writing things down can in itself help us to clarify and see a situation.

Writing also requires that we find our own voice. Your reflective piece is yours and it shows your unique voice. You will not write the wrong thing because whatever you write will be right for you.

Your writing should aim to be non judgemental, seeking openess and looking for interconnections

Include as much detail as you can (Use the 5 senses initially to help with this)


It involves:

  • analysing and commenting on the object, process, etc from different perspectives

  • looking at what worked and what didn't 

  • exploring feelings
  • identifying what you learned


Certain types of language and words can be used in this type of writing. Examples include:

    For me 

   Thought - Did Not Think    

   Felt   - Did Not Feel 

   Noticed - Did Not Notice 

   Realised - Did Not Realise 


   Wonder if 



   This means that



Questions for Reflection

These questions may help with your reflections

If I were to draw this situation what would it look like?

How will others respect to my actions?

What might be causing me discomfort in this situation?

Are my responses reflective of my values?

Is this common?

Is there anything in the past that might link to this?

What is really important to me?

What is the worst that could happen?

What paths feel right?

What am I not seeing?

Might I be imagining any of this?

What surprises me about this?

Some Books from the Library Catalogue

Creating a Practice

Reflection is something we have to learn and practice. It is also a new practice to many so it will take time.

It helps to:

Set aside time daily for reflection

Carry a notebook so that you can record any insights you have anytime

Every so often read over your existing reflections. Maybe there is a pattern you can see over time

Use people you trust as a support. Ask them what they see in anything you choose to share with them

Focus your reflective work (journal for example) on learning (use some of the questions here or others given by your lecturer)

Other Tools



Creating a storyboard