Reflective Practice: What is it really?

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Dr Bronwyn Hegarty has compiled this overview to start you off on your explorations and to get you thinking about this topic. She welcomes your contributions. Recommended citation: Hegarty, B. (2013). Reflective Practice: What is it really? Retrieved from

What is Reflective Practice?

Understanding what is meant by reflective practice can be tricky. Some researchers give the impression that it is the same as reflection and use the terms interchangeably but this is not strictly correct. Reflection about practice is a part of it, but unless the process of reflection leads to learning and changes in your practice it is debatable whether reflective practice has occurred. Therefore, reflective practice in the true sense is much more than simply reflecting about practice. You will find the literature about reflection is vast, and contemporary views are different to some of the earlier theorists. This information is an attempt to guide you in finding your way through the maze. I begin with an overview of reflective practice, then introduce the concepts of professional learning and reflection which are components.

Definition of reflective practice

Reflective practice is a process associated with professional learning, which includes effective reflection and the development of metacognition, and leads to decisions for action, learning, achievement of goals and changes to immediate and future practice (Hegarty, 2011a, p. 20).

So why this definition? Developing metacognition means that you are more likely to become a reflective practitioner because you have heightened self-awareness about your actions and the ability to monitor and critique your learning and performance to achieve your goals for practice (Hegarty, 2011a). These attributes are more likely to be developed if you engage in reflection and self-evaluation about practice. So what is meant by professional learning and effective reflection? You can read more about this further on.


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Compare this definition of reflective practice with the one from The Teacher's Reflective Practice Handbook by Paula Zwozdiak-Myers (2012):

Reflective practice is a disposition to enquiry incorporating the process through which student, early career and experienced teachers structure or restructure actions, beliefs, knowledge and theories that inform teaching for the purpose of professional development (p. 5). Both definitions have been developed for teachers and are linked to professional learning and development. Both authors also provide frameworks to help practitioners to develop their reflective practice abilities.

Dimensions of reflective practice

Click on the expand button Blue-collapse-button.png to the right of each dimension to view an explanation and details of related strategies:

Definition of Professional Learning

This is any learning which has relevance to professional practice and occurs when new knowledge and understanding, skills and insights are gained and may lead to the achievement of professional goals (Hegarty, 2011a, p. 20).

Professional development (both formal and informal) can assist with professional learning and from my perspective needs to be closely associated with activities that encourage effective reflection. Just attending training sessions or reading articles, for example, may trigger reflection about the activity, but may not lead to a change in practice unless the practitioner actively reflects on what is learned and applies this to practice.

Definitions of Reflection

Reflection is deliberate and mindful thinking about one’s experiences and the self-evaluation of feelings, decisions, understandings and actions, which may lead to development of professional learning for professional practice. Reflection which demonstrates these attributes is regarded, in this research, as ‘effective reflection’ and is associated with reflective practice (Hegarty, 2011a, p. 20).

To think mindfully means that you really notice what happened during the experience or event. Self-evaluation means that you describe the experience at an emotional and self-questioning level and analyse what occurred and how it affected you. Acknowledging your feelings and reactions is an important part of this process. In this way, you can not only understand why you acted in the way that you did but can also attempt to explain the actions of others. Once you start examining others’ perspectives, whether it is those of colleagues or the information that you source in the literature, you can enter the domain of critical reflection…and that is another story.

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Compare this definition of reflection by Jennifer Moon (2007):

Reflection is a form of mental processing- like a form of thinking - that we may use to fulfill a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome, or we may simply ‘be reflective’ when an outcome may be unexpected. Reflection is applied to relatively complicated, ill-structured ideas for which there is not an obvious solution and is largely based on the further processing of knowledge and understanding that we already possess (p. 192).
  • Use these definitions as a basis for developing a definition of reflection that suits your context. Here are some questions to help you on your way.
  • What are your thoughts about the definitions of reflection, professional learning and reflective practice provided here?
  • Do you agree with the definitions or not? Why?
  • From your perspective is anything missing?
  • Please share other definitions that you have found.
  • Please post your thoughts and responses to this wiki page Discussion area so we can debate the ideas.

How can reflection be used for practice?

As you have probably realised by now, developing a contemporary definition of reflection is complex because the field is huge and researchers have varying opinions and perspectives. Some practitioners regard reflection as just thinking, whether it is in your head, on paper or with a colleague, friend or mentor. To some degree this is true. However, it is important to consider how the thinking is done (the cognitive process), why it has occurred and what it involves (the stimulus), as well as what it leads to at the end, e.g. learning and changes to practice (the outcomes). Hatton and Smith (1995) believe that as teachers develop their skills and gain experience, three specific types of reflection can develop:

  1. technical rationality (behaviours and skills);
  2. reflection-on-action (involving, descriptive reflection - description and justification; dialogic reflection - exploration; and critical reflection - multiple perspectives and factors); and
  3. reflection-in-action (thinking 'on your feet').

These researchers, who based their work on Schon (1983, 1987) found that the latter form of reflection was more likely when practitioners were experienced.

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Begin learning about reflection and how to do it effectively:
  • Access the interactive resource: The Reflective Learning Cycle (Hegarty & McConnell, 2011) to assist you to think about a past experience. (You may be prompted to login as a guest.)
  • Discuss your case study with a colleague.
  • Think about how this dialogue has helped you to understand further the experience that you documented in your case study, and record these thoughts using the framework.

Why is reflective writing necessary?

Let’s face it, thinking, thinking, and thinking with thoughts buzzing around in your head probably won’t get you anywhere that is helpful unless you have some structure and are able to reach discernible outcomes. From my perspective:

Reflection is generally regarded as a specific and prolonged form of thinking, which if used effectively by professionals can help them to make sense of actions in practice and learn from them (Hegarty, 2011a, p. 3).

Therefore, it is important to take your thoughts and write about them; this is part of being a reflective practitioner. Menary (2007) considers that when you write you think. Therefore, by fashioning thoughts into a more permanent form by recording them you are more likely to extract meaning from your experiences. Therefore, when reflecting on your experiences through discussing them with a colleague it is a good idea to record the outcomes, preferably in writing. A number of models and frameworks are available further on to assist with this.

Refer to this resource - Reflective writing. Guidance notes for students. It was prepared by Pete Watton, Jane Collings and Jenny Moon (2001). It has examples of reflective writing, and pointers for deepening your reflections.

Reference as: Watton, P. Collings, J. & Moon, J. (2001). Reflective writing. Guidance notes for students. Retrieved from

What is critical reflection?


For reflection to extend to critical reflection, practitioners must engage in critical thinking and question the status quo. This means that they need to consider multiple perspectives and consider how their viewpoints and assumptions fit within the historical, socio-economic and political parameters of the profession and the world view. Metacognition and critical analysis of many factors play a part in this. Proponents of critical reflection believe that is necessary to practice at this level of reflection if practice is to be transformed (e.g., Fook & Gardner, 2007; Fook, White, & Gardner, 2006; Leach, Neutze & Zepke, 2003). Also, an aptitude for critical reflection relies on specific dispositions as well as experience, and novice practitioners are less likely to practice this type of reflection unless a more expert practitioner is available to guide them (Hatton & Smith, 1995). The role of critical reflection video gives a great overview of what it means to engage in critical reflection.

Models and Frameworks of Reflection

Many theorists have written about reflection and created models to represent their view of reflection. The models are represented diagrammatically and generally have guiding questions that can be used as a framework to structure reflection. The model is the representation. The framework provides the structure. Several models and frameworks are provided (in chronological order). See if you can notice the similarities and differences.

When developing your portfolio for assessment in the course, you may like to choose a model or framework which suits your learning style and context, and use it to guide your reflections. The context (e.g., health or education) for which each was developed is indicated.

  • The Three-Step Reflective Framework was developed by Dr Bronwyn Hegarty (2011a). It is accompanied by a Three-Step templatePDF down.png that you can follow to structure your reflective writing. The prompting questions in the framework encourage you to really pay attention to your experiences, and move beyond basic description to analyse your actions, learning, and emotional reactions, thus examining your practice more critically and from several different perspectives. Context: Education.
  • This review of Rodgers Reflective Cycle. It is based on this article: Rodgers, C. (2002). Voices Inside Schools. Seeing Student Learning: Teacher Change and the Role of Reflection. Harvard Educational Review, 72(2), 230-254. Context: Education.
  • Driscoll's model (2000) has three stages: What, So what, What now? Context: Health.
  • The Atkins and Murphy model of reflection was developed in 1994. It has model has five phases. The emphasis here is on uncomfortable or new experiences and challenges, and what was learned. Context: Nursing.
  • Gibbs' Reflective Cycle (1988) represents a model with seven stages. The prompting questions begin with the context of what happened and ends with future actions. Context: Health.

Context: Education.

Based on Boud, D., Keogh, R. & Walker, D. (1985) Reflection: Turning Experience Into Learning. London: Kogan Page.

References and Further Reading

Remember this is a vast area, therefore this list is intended to guide your inquiry, and you wont need to look at everything, only material that is relevant to your learning goals. Please add additional material to this page to share with and assist others.
You will need to Create a WikiEducator account. Collaborating and sharing material with others is an essential skill to develop if engaging in open learning and teaching practices.
  • Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
  • Biggs, J. (1988). The role of the metacognition in enhancing learning. Australian Journal of Education, 32,127-138.
  • Boud, D., Keogh, R., & Walker, D. (1985). Promoting reflection in learning: a model. In D. Boud, R. Keogh, & D. Walker (Eds.), Reflection: turning experience into learning (pp. 18-40). London: Kogan Page.
  • Boud, D., & Walker, D. (1990). Making the most of experience. Studies in Continuing Education, 12(2), 61-80. doi:10.1080/0158037900120201
  • Dewey, J. (1933). How we think. New York: D.C. Heath and Company.
  • Fook, J., White, S., & Gardner, F. (2006). Critical reflection: a review of contemporary literature and understandings. In S. White, J. Fook, & F. Gardner (Eds.), Critical reflection in health and social care. Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press.
  • Hatton, N., & Smith, D. (1995). Reflection in teacher education: towards definition and implementation. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11(1), 33-49. doi:10.1016/0742-051X(94)00012-U
  • Hegarty, B. (2011a). A Framework to guide professional learning and reflective practice. Doctor of Education thesis, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong. Retrieved from
  • Hegarty, B. (2011b). Is reflective writing an enigma? Can preparing evidence for an electronic
portfolio develop skills for reflective practice? In G.Williams, P. Statham, N. Brown, B. Cleland (Eds.), Changing Demands, Changing Directions Proceedings ascilite Hobart 2011.(pp. 580 - 593).
Retrieved from
  • Illeris, K. (2008). Towards a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 22(4), 396 - 406.
  • Menary, R. (2007). Writing as thinking. Language Sciences, 29(5), 621–632. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2007.01.005
  • Moon, J. (2007). Getting the measure of reflection: considering matters of definition and depth. Journal of Radiotherapy in Practice 6(4), 191-200. doi: 10.1017/S1460396907006188
  • Ryken, K., & Salganik, L. (eds) (2005). The Definition and Selection of Key Competencies: Executive Summary. DeSeCo project. Neuchâtel: Federal Statistical Office. Retrieved from
  • Schön, D. (Ed.). (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. USA: Basic Books Inc.
  • Schön, D. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Zwozdiak-Myers, P. (2012). The Teacher's Reflective Practice Handbook. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  • Zwozdiak-Myers, P. (2012). The teacher's reflective practice handbook. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.