Sunday, September 7, 2008

Reflective practice. Enough already?

I have just got back from the 14th International Reflective Practice Conference in Rotorua, and I have been reflecting on my experience of the conference.

Aims for attending
My main aim for attending was to present my paper on blogging and reflective practice, and to get feedback on what people think of the concept. And of course, there's always the brownie points you get from giving a conference presentation.

My other aim for attending was that I wanted to find out what other educators were doing, and to see if I could pick up any tips for my online reflective practice course I am developing for midwives.

My first impressions
I didn't really know what to expect but I think there was just a little too much navel gazing for my liking. I didn't really feel there was enough exploration of how theory could be applied to practice. There seemed to be a lot of sessions that involved self-reflection, and it just didn't 'teach' me anything. There was poetry reading, excerpts of readings from books and drama presentations. All very touching, but not useful for my purposes. I am not saying that the conference was bad; it just didn't meet my needs, which are to know the outcomes of reflective practice with regards to education.

On further reflection
I started writing this blog post on Saturday, and now it's Wednesday, so I've had a few days to think about my experience of the conference, and it's been fascinating to monitor my thoughts over the last few days.

I came back from the conference reasonably disgruntled because I felt I had spent a lot of money to attend and hadn't really got anything from the conference. If I wanted to spend over $1000 to have a theatre experience, I would have booked tickets to go and see 'Phantom of the Opera' in Auckland. But having said that, I have done nothing ever since but think about it, reflective practice and how I reflect.

The one thing I did start to think about was my understanding of reflective practice. I have viewed reflective practice in terms of 'solid' outcomes, particularly in relation to critical incidents. Something happens - you reflect and tease apart the issues - identify your learning - come up with a plan for the future.
Michele Martin talks about this in her post 'Debriefing yourself'.

Is it really possible to deeply reflect in an open blog?
This approach has always suited my particular learning needs and is what I teach my midwifery students. But now I am wondering if I go deep enough. And if I don't, why is that? Am I too afraid or unskilled? I certainly need to go back to the theories of reflective practice and find out more.

And I am
also wondering if it really is possible to deeply reflect in an open blog. Yes, I am very comfortable reflecting on how a teaching session didn't go as well as I thought it should go. But I couldn't write my reflections on my relationships with colleagues, students and clients if they were particularly 'negative', which brings me right back to the privacy debate. So now I am wondering if I am practicing what I preach.

Reflective practice - just another educational fad?
The conference has got me thinking and wanting to learn more, which in turn will inform my teaching. So it must have been a lot more successful for me than I first gave it credit.

I would certainly like to see more evidence about outcomes with regards to using reflective practice frameworks in education. So if you use it, both on a personal level and in your teaching, please let me know your thoughts and experiences.


Sue Waters said...

I think you are practising what you preach. You can be reflective in what you do but not always share those reflections with others because it won't always be appropriate. There are some reflections that we need to keep private; the process of reflection we gain from blogging helps us at better reflecting all situations.

PS Black Swan native to Australia?

Sarah Stewart said...

I've certainly felt the benefit of blogging in this instance. Ordinarily, I would have written this conference off as a waste of time. But the process of blogging about it, especially as external events have meant a delay in writing about it, have really helped me process my thoughts. And I appreciate your confirmation that I'm on the right track.

BTW: Yes, Sue, these are imported swans from Oz. There's heaps of them swimming around on Lake Rotorua.

infomidwife said...

Hi Sarah,

Yes I have to agree, you do practice what you preach - I also agree there are some things you just do not say even when reflecting. Well said Sue.

Mark said...

Hi Sarah, I agree with both the above comments especially when comparing me to a 60 year old golfer!!! M

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I just referred to you today in post stating that I thought the most useful part of educational blogging was to provide opportunities for teachers and students to reflect on their practice.

I think I spend a lot of time reflecting. I tend to write about what I've learned rather than on my practice. I want to move towards reflective practice. One of the things that holds me back sometimes is a fear of reflecting publicly on my teaching. I'm a little nervous about my students reading my reflections as a course is happening. I don't have any problems with them reading my reflections after a class is over though.

Jeffrey Keefer said...

Sarah, I think this post in itself is a wonderful example of reflective practice. I am not familiar with the conference you mentioned, and as you reflected on your experience and how the conference was a catalyst for doing so, I think you are setting a good example.

I know I am fond of reflective practice, though need to bolster a deeper understanding of the theories behind it. Appreciate your links.

Tell me, is there a community of practice or research online that addresses this in an ongoing and systematic way? Have not encountered one, and have the sense that this is what you seem to be musing about as well.

Sarah Stewart said...

kamccollum: thank you for your comment and I identify with your concerns about reflecting during the teaching event as opposed to after it. And does it make a difference what age your students are? Are you more likely to be open during the teaching program with adult students compared to 'children'?

The thing with reflecting openly with your students is that it is a great quality control mechanism - you can adapt your program to meet students' needs as you go along, depending on their reactions to your reflections. What do you think?

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Jeffrey, thanks for that. I think I got a little anxious because I am not writing poetry or plays. I guess reflection and how you integrate it into your own practice is a very personal thing, and the form it takes will depend on personal choice.

However, as a means of teaching and learning, I have yet to see much 'evidence' that it actually 'works' - yes, I know it works for me, but I do not know how effective it is when I use a reflective framework with students. But then, how do you 'measure' it?

As for a COP that looks at this systematically, I have not come across one - if you do, please let me know.

Jeffrey Keefer said...

Perhaps if there is not already a CoP on Reflective Practice, we should start one?

You up for it?

Sarah Stewart said...

Yes, I would. And I know a few other people who might join. What were you thinking of: email group or something like a wiki or Ning group?

Jeffrey Keefer said...

Great! I was thinking of some cross between NING and a GoogleGroup.

I really like the idea of exploring this. Shall we plan for a time we can meet and discuss, perhaps via skype (I am in NYC, which is EDT).

Sarah Stewart said...

Jeffrey: would love to talk to you about this. My skype is: sarah.m.stewart

I am 14 hours ahead of you, Auckland time.

Helen said...

Hi Sarah, I also attended this conference in Rotorua, and I came along to your presentation. I may even be the PhD candidate that you refer to! I have been learning about, studying and trying to practice critical reflection for a few years now and this was my first conference. I am learning about blogs and your presentation has inspired me to start up my own blog. I am still struggling with what to post, and what to keep private and I continue to have that dilemma with myself. Once I work out how to post this one (i think i am on the right track!) I will have more to say. Helen

Sarah Stewart said...

Hello Helen, great to hear from you. I'm sure you'll find plenty to say! It's really making up your mind what to say or, what kind of blog it will be. I struggle with this all the time. I have a couple of different types of readers and I always feel I am trying to balance topics that will interest some readers but not put off others. I probably should have two blogs, but can't be bothered with that.

One approach is to have a look around at what others are saying in your areas/topic of interest and think if there's a gap. If there is, go for that gap so that you stand out. This is probably important if you're trying to make a name for yourself in conjunction with your phd.

Please keep in touch - will be very interested in seeing how you go. And don't hesitate to ask if you have any queries. If I cant help, I'll probably know someone who can.