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reflective practice

January 12, 2013


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This morning I switched purses (from Olga Berg to Chanel, if you’re a brand connoisseur). Hidden in the folds of my stitched card slots I discovered a Video Ezy membership card, a Coles customer account card for my last workplace which I must now return, and a B&W image of our cocker spaniel, Doug, who is permanently resting beneath the marshmallow plants and dwarf lillypillies beside the driveway. Here’s a reminder of times passed (and, even now, emotionally difficult to recall):


My question is, how could I have allowed this stuff to accumulate? And how often do we as teachers sort through files, drawers, mindspaces and peripheries where debris and remnants settle?

I have to admit to treading this thoughtpath during my week’s reading, so the purse switch carries a burden of metaphorical process: Change; time-passing-unnoticed; ageing (that beautifully embroidered Olga Berg artefact is cracked beyond repair, plus the zip broke within one week of purchase); and potential stagnation.

Negative, no? Gloomy even.

According to Schon, a disturbing sense of professional unease arises as a result of the shift in attitudes and beliefs from technical rationality to an essential need for reflective practice:

[Practitioners] find it unsettling to be unable to make sense of these processes in terms of the model of professional knowledge which they have largely taken for granted. Complexity, instability, and uncertainty are not removed or resolved by applying specialized knowledge to well-defined tasks (Schon, 1995, p. 19).

So what works to resolve this metaphysical quandary?

Schon recommends movement towards Reflection-in-Action. Improvising jazz musicians are his metaphor of choice. Baseball pitchers with a “feel for the ball” (Schon, 1983, p.56). Sounds to me like being-in-the- moment – what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. Schon warns that it is inadequate to focus on seeing-as, and emphasises the need for discovery through experimentation. The shift in our view of professionalism then becomes movement away from knowledge of technical expertise (pedagogy, curriculum) towards an idea of a learning organisation.

school fence

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For us teaching in Australian schools with two weeks of summer holidays left, how to evolve a system of collaborative enterprise remains a source of contemplation, possibility and promise. As you’ve probably had cause to notice, once you’re busy – or distracted – there’s little time to observe, especially if we become preoccupied with the misfit between what is and what we want the world to be.


Being present in the moment doesn’t mean that we act without intention or flow directionless through life without any plans. But we could do better to attend more carefully to the process by which we create our plans and intentions. We need to see these plans, standards, organization charts not as objects that we complete, but as processes that enable a group to keep clarifying its intent and strengthening its connections to new people and new information. We need less reverence for the objects we create, and much more attention to the processes we use to create them. Healthy processes create better relationships among us, more clarity about who we are, and more information about what’s going on around us. With these new connections, we grow healthier. We develop greater capacity to know what to do (Wheatley, 1999, p. 155).

Seems very similar to what George Couros recently identified as needing reciprocity in schools.

Sounds deceptively simple, too. The hard part – like finally getting around to switching my purses – is the emotional attachment you have to the old way of being and thinking. There’s a lingering sense that hanging on may be more comforting than moving through.

A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for – William Shedd.

Perish these thoughts: From searching on eBay for a lookalike image, I’ve realised that my $5 Chanel op-shop find is worth serious money; plus the morning’s action turned into an imperative to write this blog post, draw some loose threads together into a neatened package, and once more create a reassuring impression of orderly processes at work…. Ta dah – reflective practice in action!

Selected reading

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Rowe.

Schon, D.A. (1995). 2nd edition. The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Arena.

Wheatley, M.J. (1999). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

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