Reflective Practice and Professional Development


Peter Tarrant

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    To Barbara Frame for inspiring me academically and for believing in me.

    To my wife Caroline and my family, for giving me the space to reflect and write.

    To Fergus, Steven, Becky, Rachael and Daniel.


    Many colleagues, teachers, students and pupils have helped to make this book possible. Through their support and reflections, it has been possible to develop and test many of the ideas contained herein.

    In particular, I would like to thank the following:

    BEd Year 4 primary student, September 2008

    BEd primary students in their 3rd or 4th year in 2010

    PGDE students from 2010, 2011 and 2012

    Susan Whatmore and Kelly Watt, PGDE students, 2012

    Heather Lucas, PGDE student, 2010

    Darren Swan, Roslin Primary School class teacher

    Teresa Reid, Roslin Primary School class teacher

    Jennifer Allison and the staff and pupils of Roslin Primary School

    Deborah Holt, teaching fellow, Moray House School of Education

    Morag Crolla, teaching fellow, Moray House School of Education

    Melanie Ross, Sciennes Primary School and Primary 7, 2010

    About the Author

    Peter Tarrant is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where he has worked for the last five years.

    He is responsible for the organization and running of a number of courses for Initial Teacher Education. He lectures in Practicum, Professional Studies, Learning Behaviour and Languages and Literacy. He is also responsible for developing Professional Reflection for students on the Bachelor of Education and the Post Graduate Diploma in Education courses.

    He previously worked as a primary school head teacher for five years and as a deputy head teacher for 15 years.

    The structure and Intent of the Book

    This book aims to encourage the reader to reflect on their professional practice.

    It takes a brief look (in Chapters 1, 2 and 3) at what is meant by professionalism and reflection. This is the section where the theoretical underpinning can be found with reference to other significant work in this field.

    The next stage (Chapters 3, 4 and 5) is to suggest a different way of encouraging reflection. This is an approach where professionals are encouraged to have greater ‘ownership’ of their reflections and where they are supported in articulating what those reflections are. In these chapters, we argue that peer learning interactions can be beneficial in terms of professional reflection because they bring the following opportunities:

    In Chapter 6, we look at what students and teachers think of reflective practice and articulated learning interactions. There is evidence here from working with students and teachers over a three-year period.

    In Chapter 7, there is information about modifying the approach from reflective practice for adults to ‘meta learning’ for children. There is a discussion about the potential of the approach and some information about how it has been received in local primary schools.

    Chapter 8 looks at supporting reflective practice in practice.

    Chapter 9 draws some conclusions about reflective practice and the suggestions contained in this book.

    In the Appendices, you will find some useful resources and ideas.

    Introduction: Peer Learning and Personal, Professional, Reflective Practice

    Although this book attempts to establish the importance of professionalism in general, and reflective professionalism in particular, it is important to have a realistic understanding of the complexity of being a professional. In many professions, the stakes are high, time and money are in short supply, and any suggestion of adding to the burden of daily practice will not receive a positive response. Browsing this book on the bookshelves may lead you to ask the following question:

    On top of everything else that constitutes my professional life, why would I undertake all this reflective practice stuff as well?

    Indeed, it is a question that concerns me greatly. In this book, I try to argue the case for an interpretation of professionalism that benefits from, and is supported by, reflective practice. I try to argue that the ‘best learning’ (the most potent, memorable and lasting) is that which we learn for ourselves. Yet ultimately, it is the commitment and professionalism of the individual that will make it a success. Ideally, the individual will want to engage in reflective practice, they will want to look at their practice on a regular basis, and to use what they learn to continue to develop in their profession.

    However, this kind of professional, who is motivated and self-aware enough to undertake this path, will be very rare. The best chance of success is for there to be an institutional focus or commitment to reflection. If the company, authority, service, school or institution commit to this approach, and if they encourage, organize and support staff then there is much more chance of success. Without this support and commitment, it is all too easy to put such matters aside, claiming that the job is already much too difficult, time too short and priorities elsewhere much more demanding.

    As Wenger (2006) explains: ‘A growing number of associations, professional and otherwise, are seeking ways to focus on learning through reflection on practice. Their members are restless and their allegiance is fragile.’

    The ideas in this book, and the view of authentic, professional, reflective practice as something self-initiated and self-perpetuating are an ideal. This ideal, it must be acknowledged, needs the support of the institution in order to succeed.

    I have seen this approach introduced in schools where staff were initially very keen and enthusiastic about the idea, but where early impetus floundered due to a lack of institutional support. Once introduced, little was said or done to support and encourage staff to be involved. In this situation, even the most committed professional will lose heart and devote their attention to more pressing matters.

    Yet in other contexts, I have seen management, who were committed to the success of the approach, support and facilitate in a way that enabled time and space to be found; where the dialogue and topic of reflection were constantly kept high on the agenda. In these situations, the staff flourished, as did the school ethos and reflective conversation.

    Staff may be self-motivated enough to volunteer and organize reflective sessions for themselves. They may get involved because they are persuaded and encouraged by others; they may be coerced by their management; but the best scenario will be where the institution takes professionalism seriously and makes a commitment to develop reflective practice as a priority. If there is full backing, with some kind of training for those involved and time devoted to setting up the scheme, there will be more chance of success. Thereafter, it will be important to check that sessions are happening on a regular basis until the ethos is well embedded into the institution.

    As a researcher investigating the effectiveness of the approach, it would be easy to decide that it was a big success because, every time you visit the staff, they are all involved and speak highly of the benefits of the approach. However, it is what happens afterwards that is the acid test. Will staff still be involved when there isn't the prospective visit from the researcher looming?

    Certainly in ITE we have made this approach an integral part of the placement programme. The peer learning constitutes both formative assessment and student support. It is something that students must do in order to progress. The hope and belief is that having spent some time engaged in the scheme, students will then go out into schools and spread the word. One of the aims of this book is to make the whole background to reflective practice and the strategies used clear and accessible so that any institution can set up to involve their workforce. However, as stated above, it is not simply a case of ‘here it is, now get on with it’.

    If staff feel accountable, in the sense that someone will ask them if they have been involved, or they show an interest in the experience or outcome, there will be more success than if, once introduced, the assumption is that staff will continue unsupported and without encouragement from management.

    There is an irony here, of course. Professional reflective articulations rely on the notion that the power imbalance is removed. It thrives on the notion that the professional wants to work things out for themselves, yet there still needs to be some lead, direction or organizational support from management in order to ‘make it happen, and enable it to keep on happening’.

    The difference lies perhaps in the fact that support, encouragement and interest shown by management are different from the traditional accountability agendas of the past. The involvement that is advocated is more to do with leadership and with a management team that has a commitment to an interpretation of staff development which is about ‘helping people to help themselves’.

    In terms of power relationships, this leadership is all about setting up and supporting an approach which empowers others to develop professionally. Instead of a top-down approach, staff can be part of a professional development dialogue, but they need management to show an interest and encourage them to take part and to continue to do so.

    The aim of this book is to highlight the importance and significance of professional reflection, to explore the many ways of encouraging reflection, and to suggest a raft of measures to ensure that reflection becomes an instinctive aspect of any professional's practice. Whilst aimed primarily at students in ITE and teachers in the early stages of their career, it is hoped that other professionals might learn from the discussions regarding reflective practice and ways of achieving an ethos of reflection to support professional development in any institution.

    Wenger, E. (2006) Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction. Available at:
  • Appendices

    The following are some useful resources and ideas for introducing reflective practice in your setting. They are all photocopiable for your use in the classroom.

    Appendix 1: Peer Learning Interactions: Question Bank
    Introductory questions
    • Talk me through what happened.
    • Were there any surprises?
    • What pleased you most?
    • What was disappointing?
    Context Content
    • What was the purpose of the lesson?
    • What did the children learn today that they did not already know?
    • What did you want the children to remember from this lesson?
    • What do you think they will remember?
    Evaluation Evidence
    • Do you think the class learned what you wanted them to?
    • How do you know?
    Prediction Next steps
    • What will you do to support and develop this next time?
    • How will you provide support for all learners?
    • How will you know if this is successful?
    • What kind of thinking did you encourage today?
    • How do you know?
    • How might a similar lesson be presented differently?
    • Can you say the extent to which ‘thinking about children as learners’ influenced the approach that you adopted?
    • How did your lesson encourage the development of their conceptual understanding?
    • Can you tell me some links between your lesson and your professional reading?
    • Tell me about the impact of your lesson on the child's learning.
    • How has your input enriched the children's progress?
    Research• Can you describe another lesson where content and purpose influenced you to use a different approach?
    Summary• What kind of feedback would you give yourself for this lesson?

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development (c) Peter Tarrant, 2013

    Appendix 2: Reflective Practice Record Pro Forma 1

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development (c) Peter Tarrant, 2013

    Appendix 3: Reflective Practice Record Pro Forma 2
    Details of the context used for this reflection
    Why was this context chosen for reflection?
    What did you want the pupils to learn?
    What do you think they will remember?
    What kind of thinking did you wish to promote?
    How did you organize the lesson to be inclusive for all learners?
    Were there any particular challenges or issues during the lesson?
    Was there something you were particularly pleased with?
    Was there any sense of frustration during the course of the lesson?
    How might you do things differently another time?
    How will you assess the impact of these changes?
    What might your evidence be?
    What will success/progress look like?
    What did you learn about yourself/your practice from this reflection?
    Action/plan for next steps

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development (c) Peter Tarrant, 2013

    Appendix 4: Meta-learning Workshop

    Reflection and self-evaluation are terms commonly used in relation to teachers and their professional development.

    Pupils are also encouraged to reflect upon what and how they learn. This reflection is manifested in the form of learning journeys, learning journals, personal learning plans, etc.

    The objective is to look at how we equip pupils to articulate their thinking and how we enable them to think and talk about their learning in a useful and meaningful way.

    It is important that we do more than enable pupils to ‘fill in the boxes’ about reflection. They need to be able to reflect and see which kinds of learning they are good at, and to realize why this is. They need to see where they need to work harder, or differently, and to have some strategies to employ to achieve personal progress.

    To sum up, pupils need to be able to complete the following four statements:

    • I learn best when…….
    • The kind of learning and thinking I am doing is… ……
    • When learning is difficult I can………
    • I know I've learnt well when…………

    Making formerly unconscious, intangible, or reflexive processes or events, explicit.

    Activity for Staff (Working in Groups of Three)

    Look first at the yellow cards:

    Think of an area of the curriculum, and a lesson, that one of you has taught recently that was, for some reason, memorable. In a couple of sentences, write down what it was that you wanted the children to learn.

    Look now at the blue learning cards:

    Discuss which of these kinds of learning the pupils were engaged in. Choose up to four blue learning cards.

    Look now at the green learning cards:

    Discuss which learning skills the pupils were engaged in. Choose up to four green learning cards.

    Think back to your lesson aims:

    Ask yourself:

    Did I share with the children what they learnt?

    Did I share with the children how they learnt?

    Am I teaching in a way that encourages this kind of learning?

    Am I making it clear to pupils that they are developing these kinds of learning and these learning skills?

    Would they benefit as learners, if they had a better idea that these learning skills were part of the learning intentions?

    If you did this activity with a group of pupils, what kind of questions might you ask when you looked at the cards they had selected?


    Meta-cognition can be broken down into different categories: task awareness, strategy awareness, skills awareness, performance awareness, reflective awareness and emotive awareness.

    Meta-cognitive thinking

    Task awareness
    • What to do
    • Why
    • How to begin the task
    • How this learning links to other learning
    • Checking and improving
    Did you know what to do?
    • What did you do?
    • What did you learn?
    • Why was this important?
    Strategy awareness
    • Organizing
    • Adapting
    • Persevering
    • Concentrating
    • Investigating
    • Creating/imagining
    • Experimenting
    • Guessing
    • Predicting
    Did you know how to do it?
    • How did you go about the task?
    • What kind of thinking did you use on this task?
    • Did you have a good plan?
    Skills awareness
    • Remembering
    • Understanding
    • Checking
    • Problem solving
    • Presenting
    • Making connections
    Did you know which skills you used?
    • What skills did you need?
    • What strategies did you need to use?
    Performance awareness
    • Contributing
    • Sharing
    • Supporting
    • Cooperating
    • Taking advice
    Did you know how well you did it?
    • How well did you work with others?
    • Did you support anyone else's learning?
    • Did you use any ideas or advice from them?
    Reflective awareness
    • Looking back and reflecting
    • Realizing what was good
    • Seeing ways to improve
    • Evaluating strategies
    • Planning next steps
    Did you know how you learned?
    • What were you pleased with?
    • What did you find hard?
    • What seemed easy?
    • What might you have done differently?
    • What might you do next time?
    Emotive awareness
    • Considering how the learning ‘felt’ Making links between feeling and learning
    Did you know how your learning ‘felt?’
    • What did you like/dislike? How did you feel when…? How would you feel if…?
    Task for Volunteers
    • Choose at least two lessons to focus on over the next two weeks.
    • Look at your learning intentions and see if there are opportunities to make the learning to learn more explicit.
    • You might use the list and questions as a focus, or you might use the card activity, or you might have ideas of your own.
    • Try fagging the learning at the beginning and end of the lesson.
    • Keep a note of the elements that you choose as your focus.
    • Keep a note of some of the pupil responses.
    • You might, for example, highlight some of the things on the questions sheet to monitor the kind of things you manage to profile.


    Lesson on floating and sinking.

    Outline Learning Intentions and Success Criteria.

    Also discuss some of the learning skills such as: organizing, experimenting, checking, cooperating.

    As the lesson progresses, remind them of the kind of thinking and learning that they are involved in – use the vocabulary when you can, put it on display or on a Smartboard for them to see.

    At the end of the session, go over what they have learned, but also go over how they learned, drawing attention to key skills with questions such as:

    How did you decide how to organize the materials?

    Was this a good way, or not?

    How did you check your work? Were there other ways?

    Do you feel that you were well organized? Did your approach to this task work?

    How might you do it better another time?

    What advice would you give to someone like you doing this activity for the first time?

    Did you learn anything about your own learning approaches today?

    It is not necessary to add anything extra for this, instead the idea is that you look for opportunities to make learning how we learn more explicit. You are introducing the tools and the vocabulary for pupils to be more meta-aware.

    Keep a note of the kind of things you choose as your focus and the kind of responses you get.

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development © Peter Tarrant, 2013

    Appendix 5: Vocabulary Cards

    Yellow cards

    Blue cards

    Green cards

    Group skill cards

    Review/reflection skill cards

    Emotional responses to learning cards

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development © Peter Tarrant, 2013

    Appendix 6: Interviewing for Learning

    The following criteria were devised by a Primary Seven class in Scotland.

    The advice is just as pertinent to adults conducting peer learning interactions.

    Advice for a good interview:

    Give eye contact

    Look interested

    Start with closed questions

    Work up to open questions

    Listen well and build connecting questions

    React positively

    Smile and encourage

    Some challenges:

    Trying not to laugh

    Thinking what to ask

    Being able to think of ‘piggy-back’ questions

    Having too many questions in your head

    Feeling embarrassed and ‘rubbish at this’

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development © Peter Tarrant, 2013

    Appendix 7: Focus for Learning


    Today I am going to ask you to think about…… (tick which one)

    Can you tell me a little bit about this?

    What kind of learning was this?

    What did you find easy about doing this?

    What was challenging?

    What helped you?

    What got in the way of your learning?

    Can you tell me how you ……………?

    Was there one thing you can take from this lesson and use again and again in other situations?

    What advice would you give to someone else doing this lesson/skill?

    How did your teacher help your learning?

    In what way did you help someone else or did they help you?

    Is there anything else about learning that you can tell me?

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development © Peter Tarrant, 2013

    Appendix 8: Meta-learning for Pupils

    Thinking about thinking and learning

    Think of a lesson you have done this week that is memorable for some reason.

    Below are some words to describe the kind of learning and thinking you might have been doing.

    Look at each group of words and highlight one or two that best describe the learning that you were doing.

    The lesson I am thinking of was:

    In the lesson we were to:

    At the beginning of the task the learning and thinking I was doing was:

    During the task, the learning and thinking I was doing was:

    At the end of the task, the learning and thinking I was doing was:

    Yellow cards

    My feelings during this learning were:

    Yellow cards

    Next time I would like to improve my learning and thinking by:

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development © Peter Tarrant, 2013

    Appendix 9: Questions on What and how we Learn

    Tell me something you remember from the lesson.

    Was there something you liked you could tell me about?

    Was there something you didn't like that you could tell me about?

    Tell me about something you thought was a bit difficult.

    Tell me if there was something you found too easy.

    What do you think you learned about the lesson?

    Did you learn anything about your own learning?

    What helped you to learn?

    Did anything get in the way of your learning?

    Do you think you had to work hard in what you did or in your thinking?

    Tell me about this – why was it hard or easy for you?

    Have you done anything like this before?

    If so, can you tell me what was similar and what was different?

    What could you do to make your learning about this kind of thing better?

    How would you describe your feelings when you were asked to do the activities?

    Do you have any advice to give yourself, your friends or your teacher about this lesson?

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development © Peter Tarrant, 2013

    Appendix 10: Stem Starters

    Tell me about…….?

    What was it that …….?

    Have you ever …….?

    Do you always …….?

    Couldn't you have …….?

    Why didn't you …….?

    Would you …….?

    What did you …….?

    Can you remember …….?

    Reflective Practice and Professional Development © Peter Tarrant, 2013

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