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Critical Reflection: Overview and Latest Ideas. Jan Fook South West London Academic Network. A sceptical voice…. Does anyone not reflect? Do we really know what it means (in practical terms)? Is it possible to pinpoint in concrete terms how it changes your actions?

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critical reflection overview and latest ideas

Critical Reflection: Overview and Latest Ideas

Jan Fook

South West London Academic Network

a sceptical voice
A sceptical voice…
  • Does anyone not reflect?
  • Do we really know what it means (in practical terms)?
  • Is it possible to pinpoint in concrete terms how it changes your actions?
  • How do you do it when most workplaces are too busy, and bureaucracy and outcome led?
four key aspects
Four key aspects…
  • Actually what is critical reflection? And how orthodox/desirable is it?
  • Many different perspectives and frameworks
  • Changing contexts and the ongoing introduction of new ideas
  • Debates and pragmatic difficulties eg. how to reflect in unreflective contexts? How to do it at organisational levels
what is cr
What is CR?
  • Is it the same as: reflection, reflective practice, reflexivity, critical thinking???? …a plethora of terms used interchangeably
  • Comes from different disciplines/professions eg. education, management, health and social professions, social sciences
what is cr cont
What is CR…cont…
  • Arises from “practical theorising” and therefore not “academically” approached….also so orthodox that people assume they/others know what it means
  • Varies from “learning from experience”, examining foundations/assumptions, ‘thinking about”, using personal experience, “turning back on self”, deconstructing, etc.
Actually quite complex if we put all these different meanings together…..

Involves learning from experience by examining fundamental assumptions, reintegrating experiences (and reformulating meaning and principles for living), resulting in new guidelines for action.

how beneficial desirable is it
How beneficial/desirable is it?
  • So orthodox it tends not to be questioned
  • So orthodox that people think they can fit it in with current activities and cultures eg. “tick box” reflection
  • What evidence is there? Hard to obtain re such “big” issues
different perspectives
Different perspectives
  • Have moved with the times and also overlapped
  • Educational (eg. Dewey, Boud et al)
  • Professional education (eg. Schon)
  • Critical education (eg. Mezirow, Brookfield)
  • Critical social science (eg. Giddens)
  • Linguistic traditions (eg. deconstruction)
  • Relational (eg. Ruch)
different frameworks
Different frameworks
  • Different perspectives indicate different analytical frameworks for conducting reflective processes and for interpreting experience
  • What frameworks to use? Is it important to be able to put all aspects together?
changing contexts and newer ideas
Changing contexts and newer ideas
  • New inter/professionalism
  • Meaning and existential aspects together with more critical/social aspects eg. “productive reflection”

(Boud 2006, 2010; Fook, 2010)

  • Frameworks based on eastern philosophies

(Humphrey, 2009)

  • The problem of the nature of experience

(Fook, 2010)

the nature of experience and learning from experience
The nature of experience and learning from experience
  • Experience is not always easy to describe or articulate (in a way which represents it accurately)
  • Experience is complex, contextual and holistic
  • Is made up of many different aspects (eg. emotion, thoughts, action, interpretation) which are fluid (constantly subject to being remade)
Involves initial sensations, cultural interpretations, structural realities
  • Is at least both personal and social (not separable)
  • Needs to be able to be integrated into a coherent sense of self and a coherent sense of direction/set of values (for learning to occur)
How do we find (create?) a framework for critical reflection which allows us to do all the foregoing?
debates and pragmatic issues
Debates and pragmatic issues
  • How to capture and represent experience in a meaningful way?
  • How to create (safe) spaces?
  • How to incorporate into daily practice?
  • How to make organisational?

we have to find a way of critically reflecting which is:

  • Structured
  • Practical
  • Meaningful
  • Speaks to workplace demands

Boud et al (2006) (eds) Productive Reflection at Work

Boud (2010) in Bradbury et al (eds) Beyond Reflective Practice: New Approaches to Professional Lifelong Learning

Fook (2010) in Bradbury et al (as above)

Fook & Gardner (2007) Practising Critical Reflection

Humphrey, C. (2009) “By the light of the Tao”, European Journal of Social Work, vol. 12, no. 3. (whole special issue on CR)

Pockett, R. & Giles, R.(2008) Critical Reflection: Generating Theory from Practice

Ruch, G. (2009) “Identifying the ‘critical’ in a relaitonship-based model of reflection” EJSW (as above)

what is critical reflection
What is critical reflection?
  • Learning from/making (positive) meaning of experience (eg. Boud, Mezirow) (we all do it but may not be aware of it, but there are better and worse ways of doing it)
  • Process of unearthing deeper assumptions (eg. Schon) (not as easy to do as it looks)
  • What makes it critical – unearthing fundamental (dominant) assumptions about power– “ideology critique” (eg. Brookfield) (good PC analysis but not always where people are at?)
my version
My version…

Involves both theory and practice:

  • a clear rationale and analysis


  • A clear and structured process for conducting it
aims of critical reflection
Aims of critical reflection…
  • to improve practice by learning directly from experience
  • By engaging in a process of examining the fundamental assumptions implicit in practice experience (and understanding personal and social connections)
  • And devising changed thinking and practices from this new awareness
  • Learning from experience and creating practice theory and meaning from it
  • Ongoing scrutiny of practice
  • A form of accountability/supervision
  • A form of personal, professional and organisational leanring
related theories
Related theories
  • Reflective practice – the gap between theory and practice (eg. Schon)
  • Postmodernism/deconstruction/the linguistic turn – how our language/discourse constructs our knowledge
  • Reflexivity – how who we are (socially and personally) constructs our knowledge (eg. Taylor and White)
  • Critical perspectives – how personal experience is linked with social/power arrangements, and how social awareness leads links with social change (eg. Brookfield)
reflective practice
Reflective practice
  • Gap between theory and practice, between implicit and explicit ideas
  • The limitations of explicit rules or theory
  • The need to create theory (practice) in context
  • How our practice actually creates knowledge
  • The mirror
  • We ourselves are instruments for creating knowledge, therefore who we are (all aspects) has a role in how we see/understand the world
  • physical, emotional, social, historical, structural influences in shaping knowledge
postmodernism deconstruciton the linguistic turn
Postmodernism/deconstruciton/the linguistic turn
  • How we speak about things constructs the way we see/understand them – some things are left out; others are constructed as binaries
  • There may be many different (and contradictory ways of seeing things)
  • How things are see often has to do with power
critical perspectives
Critical perspectives
  • Recognises that power is both personal and social and they are linked
  • Individuals can hold social beliefs
  • Understanding the link is important in making social changes
basic method process
Basic method/process
  • Focuses on:
    • Specific instances of practice (critical incidents)
    • To unsettle (dominant) implicit assumptions (stage 1)
    • In order to discover and change relevant thinking and practices and reformulate a framework for practice (stage 2)
    • Uses critical reflective questions derived from theories
    • May be used in a number of ways (eg. Small groups, self-reflection)
    • In an ethical learning climate
critical reflective questions reflective
Critical reflective questions: reflective
  • what are my implicit assumptions and how do they differ from my explicit ones
  • How can I use this awareness to change my practice?
  • Eg. what does my practice imply about my fundamental values? What am I assuming about the nature of human beings? Society? power and conflict?
reflexive questions
Reflexive questions
  • How do I influence what I see?
  • How does what I am looking for influence what I find?
  • Eg. where do my assumptions come from? How does who I am affect socially what I see? How do my emotions affect my knowledge?
postmodern deconstructive
  • How does my language construct what I see?
  • Eg. what language patterns do I use? What binaries exist? What other perspectives am I leaving out?
critical questions
Critical questions
  • How do I participate in power? What are the connections between my personal experience and my social context? And how can I change my practice with this awareness?
  • Eg. what self-defeating beliefs do I hold? Do I see myself as powerless? How do I see other people’s power? How do I understand responsibility? What do I believe about how organisational an dpersonal power is connected?
critical significant incident
Critical (significant) incident
  • An event which is significant in some way to the learner/participant
  • Descriptive and basic as possible
    • Why critical
    • Context
    • Concrete description
  • Used as “raw” material for reflection
the ethical learning climate of critical reflection critical acceptance
The ethical learning climate of critical reflection – “critical acceptance”
  • Trust & respect
  • Acceptance not affirmation
  • Focus on professional learning
  • Right to draw limits
  • Focus on story or construction
  • Openness to multiple and contradictory perspectives
  • Responsibility (agency) not blame
an example of critical reflection
An example of critical reflection…
  • Cynthia…..
  • A relatively new social worker in a hospital
  • Incident involving finding out that a client had died
  • Burst into tears
  • Critical because she felt “out of control”
  • Assumptions about feeling emotional as equated with lack of control?
  • On a deeper level assuming that a good professional is in control and therefore does not feel emotions
cynthia cont
  • Where did this come from?

……..taking on the views of other professionals

stage 2
Stage 2…..
  • Therefore a need to question whether she agreed (or not) with other professionals about being emotional
  • She spoke of creating her own view of professionalism as one which incorporated being emotional eg. “emotional professionalism”
my example
My example…..
  • Why critical? Happens a lot
  • Context – job involves lots of meetings with very senior level people (mostly chaired by men)
  • Incident – couldn’t understand why meeting not focused in a positive way, talking around issues, ended up not saying much
facilitating a cr session
Facilitating a CR session
  • Start with description of incident
  • Ask for clarification of incident of “facts”
  • Allow CR questioning (from group members) in a way which facilitates the person’s own search for assumptions (deeper the better)
  • After the person appears to be uncovering deeper assumptions and becoming aware of a different perspective on the incident, draw to a close by asking the person to try and sum up “where has the discussion taken them, or “what are they taking away”?
benefits and outcomes of critical reflection
Benefits and outcomes of critical reflection
  • Rational
  • Emotional
  • Values
  • Practice
  • Better able to abstractify and understand theory
  • More considered and evidence-based
  • Better decision-making and more choice
  • Better able to work with uncertainty and multiple perspectives
self and emotions
Self and emotions
  • Increased self awareness
  • Overcome personal blocks
  • Resolve dilemmas
  • Recognise and use power of emotion
value based practice
Value-based practice
  • More inclusive (less judgemental)
  • Able to recognise different perspectives
  • more awareness of personal agency ie. empowerment
direct links with practice
Direct links with practice
  • Enhanced sense of professionalism
  • Better connected with colleagues
  • Practice not entirely solution-focused leads to better sense of having skills
  • Better integration of personal/professional
  • Better ability to learn from practice
what s needed now
What’s needed now?
  • Moving on from uncritical orthodoxy?
      • Better links with theory
      • Matching the practice with the intent
  • More and better research?
      • Capturing the experience
      • Identifying benefits and outcomes
      • More systematic and widespread evaluations
  • Better organisational practices
issues in conducting critical reflection in organisations
Issues in conducting critical reflection in organisations
  • Current models of critical reflection learning are individual
  • Finding space and time
  • Current organisational culture is inhibiting (eg. blame culture)
using critical reflection in the organisation
Using critical reflection in the organisation


we need to remember that:

organisations and individuals are intertwined – each shapes the other.

Critical reflection can help us learn about how individuals make sense of their organisations and their place within them.


The organisation is more than the sum of its parts


individual change can spark a change in organisational culture.

Critical reflection can help individuals find ways to enact different cultures


Finding spaces doesn’t have to be hard.

Opportunities may exist for critical reflection in spaces which already exist:

  • Supervision
  • Team meetings
  • Staff development
  • Critical friends and mentoring
the challenge
The challenge……


Cultural changes need to be supported by structural changes.

What new structures and practices need to be developed to support a critically reflective culture in my organisation?

What do I need to think and do differently?