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Reflective Practice: Reflection

Guide to reflective thinking and writing



Reflect...unhurried consideration of something recalled to the mind. (Merriam-Webster)

Image courtesy of Bessi at Pixabay -

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, (2005) Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development Sage London  p 7

Looking at a dictionary, reflection might be defined as: To mirror - to look back - To cast a light on - To meditate

John Dewey stated that:

We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience. (John Dewey,  (2003) How we Think  New York: Dover,  p 78) 

The practice involves looking back, analysing, seeing events in a wider context and considering how what we realise could be applied in the future.

Reflective Practice asks us to to suspend our habitual thoughts and assumptions and to examine experience in an open way. 

As we practice reflection we often develop the capacity to see ourselves in the act or moment, to become aware of our actions in a given situation.

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

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 to you. Reading about it is not enough it has to be practiced and experienced. This can be difficult because so much other learning is based on reading and thinking about what you've read. Reflection on the other hand asks us to look to ourselves, position ourselves in a context and to find our own authority by learning from experience. 

Reflection is not easy and as it involves looking at ourselves it is not uncommon for it to generate a level of discomfort.  It is also a practice and may it take time to develop this practice. 

There may be a sense of:

- something not fitting right

- unfinished business

- a nagging feeling

It may not be very clear what is the issue.  

It is unique to you and only you can reflect on your experience.  

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.

Types of Reflection

Reflection on Action 

This happens after an event and means that you need to set aside time for it. 

Reflection in Action 

This happens when you are experiencing an event and means that you have a capacity to observe a situation while being part of it. This may look intuitive but takes a sustained practice to achieve.

Jenny Moon on Reflective Practive

Why Reflect?

Reflective Practice is offered as an approach which helps us to learn continuously and develop our own approaches. It is relevant not just in College but in life and in professional practice. 

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

Learning how to reason differently and to see our work in a new way is therefore critical. For more on this  topic 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, (2005) Reflective Practice: writing and professional development Sage: London 

Strategies for approaching and structuring a critical reflection

Creating a Practice

Reflection is something we have to learn and practice. 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)
  • Try using Drawings, Collages and Storyboards as tools for reflection.

Models of Reflection


There are many models of reflection.  One we highlight here is that developed by Gibbs.

Gibbs in writing about learning created a useful way of going about reflection.

He suggested the following process:

Description  - a detailed description of the event (where was it, what was the context, who was there,  why were you there, what happened, what did you do, what did others do. 

Feelings  -  try to remember what you were feeling, what were you thinking about, how did it make you feel, what do you think about it? 

Evaluation  - what was good and what was bad about the event 

Analysis  - can you break down the event and explore them separately. Evaluate these separately and break them down.  What did you and others do well. What could you and others have done better.   

Conclusion - Having explored the issue from all the above perspectives what conclusion do you come to? You may need to draw from your insight and all you have learned from the above explorations

Action Plan - taking all of this into account what would you do differently, what did you learn, what can you apply to situations like this in the future.  


Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods. London: Further Education Unit.

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Some Books on Reflective Practice

Book Review


Rachel Clarke is a pallative care doctor working for the NHS in the UK. This is her third book. Before medical training she worked as a journalist.

In Breathtaking she describes what it feels like and the experience of working as a doctor during the CV19 pandemic. 

She situates her experience in the context of the political and economic policies that have impacted on the NHS before and during CV19.

While the topic may seem difficult the work is also inspiring reminding us of the day to day generosity and hero actions of care professionals.

The book is on order for the Library. You can read another review here Review of Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke March 2021