Critical Reflection and Teaching

Some of my reading for this week included extracts from Stephen D. Brookfield (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass)

One passage quite early on in the book drew my attention:

‘What critical reflection means for our teaching’ (38-48)

Here Brookfield discusses the ‘emotive’ aspect not just of teaching, but also of being reflective and analytical about our teaching methods, i.e. the moment when “our practice as a while becomes the object of systematic enquiry”. Brookfield has this discussion within the context of critically reflecting about the act of teaching, but the points he makes below can be applied more reflection more generally and I do see them as making valid connecting points with my other posts on reflection as a creative process.
When we become critically reflective teachers, according to Brookfield several things happen:

1) We realise the ideological basis to teaching

2) We learn to minimise risk

3) We see ourselves as being in continual formation

4) Our teaching becomes a connective activity

5) We try to create classrooms that are more democratic

6) We discover our voice

Some of the points he makes resonate deeply with how I think about reflective processes and how I practice critical thinking. Firstly, reflection just like teaching, is never neutral. Just as our teaching reflects what Brookfield calls “ideological perspectives”, so our thought gathering and reflection processes are underpinned by similar perspectives about our own creative practice and our own self-worth and management of creativity. Critical reflection frames things for us, and allows us to perceive that we “regard curricula as constructed and tentative, as frames by human agency and therefore capable of being dismantled and reframed by teachers and students”. This entire process in my view, is a critical point in our own empowerment as reflective practitioners.

Another interesting point that Brookfield makes is the notion that such critical thinking is threatening, perhaps to our colleagues and to our managers. The author suggests that the best way of managing the risk that comes with questioning, dismantling and reframing is to encourage colleagues to question their own assumptions. Right now, the department that I manage is undergoing a review of our processes, structures, methods, teaching remits etc. I instigated this review when I first started in my current role as head of department because it gradually became clear to me that I, along with my colleagues, were getting complacent about what we do, and also at times disillusioned and fatigued with workloads. It seems to me important then to take some time to stop and think about what makes us unique as a department. My experience then fully endorses the author’s comment that critical reflection needs to be made as nonthreatening as possible in order to be effective.

Brookfield rightly notes that the moment we start to critique what we do, in this case teaching, but this applies to any praxis, we start “to think differently about professional development”. In other words, we encourage ourselves to view our profession as a continuing and evolving practice, one where we need to self-evaluate and shift the goal posts as when we consider this to be necessary. Just as reflective practice is continuous, so we never become “fully finished critical products” – this is particularly true for creative and teaching artists.

“Critical reflection is a matter of stance and dance”. As a teacher and as a practitioner I care about two interconnected things: my students’ experience both in and out of the classroom and my own practice in relation to them and to the wider world. Critical reflection then becomes the platform through which I make many of these crucial discoveries. It is a thinking platform through which my various experiences as both teacher and practitioner are synthesised. Brookfield sees the teacher’s vision as a balanced compromise, or a dance between the need to experiment and risk and what he calls “critical pragmatism”.


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