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The Role of Reflection in Addressing the Social Responsibility Mandate of Teacher Education

  • Thomas Falkenberg

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  • Thomas Falkenberg
    Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba, 230 Education Building, Winnipeg, MB, R3T 2N2, Canada

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In November 2011 I prepared a presentation for a symposium in Sherbrooke, Quebec, out of which this article developed. At the time of the preparation the news reported that Majorie Raymond of Gaspé, Quebec, 15 years old, had taken her own life because she could no longer take the bullying that she experienced from schoolmates (see, for instance, Peritz & Howlett, 2011). What does the addressing of bullying in schools require of teachers? Empathy to perceive bullying as a serious issue to a student’s mental and physical health, sensitivity to recognize changes in emotional states like distress in others (the bullied student, in this case), relational qualities to build trusting relationships with others (like the bullied and the bullying students), and probably a number of other qualities. What these three listed qualities have in common is that they are more personal qualities than teaching-specific qualities, i.e., qualities you have as a person rather than qualities that are idiosyncratic to being a teacher – this latter point might be challenged, but only by those who already accept the arguments that I want to develop in this article.

In this article I argue for the importance of “personal qualities”(see footnote 1) in teaching, and, hence, the need for teacher education to give consideration to the development of personal qualities. As Tickle (1999) has observed, “ in policy and practice the identification and development of personal qualities at the interface between aspects of one’s personal virtues and one’s professional life, between personhood and teacher hood, if you will, has had scant attention”(p. 123).

Furthermore I argue that all education, including teacher education, has a social responsibility mandate and developing personal qualities is an important way in which formal education can and should address its social responsibility mandate. Then I will turn to the main focus of this article by discussing the role that reflective thinking and reflective practice can play in helping develop those personal qualities and, thus, address education’s, and in this case teacher education’s, social responsibility mandate. Seen from the concern of this article, the question will then not be ‘Is a reflective practitioner a better practitioner?’ but rather ‘What type of reflective practice will make the practitioner a better teacher with respect to the social responsibility mandate of teacher education?’ Those types of reflective practice will be characterized by analyzing what I will be calling “dimensions of reflective practice” and the aspects of reflective practice that underlie them.

1. Personal Qualities in Teaching

A teacher is a person. Any person has a personal identity that frames, shapes and influences the way the person engages in and with the world, including any engagement as part of his or her professional practice, like teaching. [1] What characterizes a personal identity depends, of course, on the theoretical framework that one subscribes to, but it seems reasonable to me that what is part of our personal identity is what fundamental values we subscribe to and how we respond to the fundamental existential question how we shall live our life (on the latter question see, for instance, Frankl, 1959/2006; Yalom, 1998, chapter 4). What also characterizes us as a person are the habitual responses that we have developed to particular experiences —for instance our patterns of responding to criticism — and the preferences that we have developed for, that sometimes become addictions to, certain biochemical and physiological experiences—for instance our preferences for certain foods and beverages.

There are at least the following two arguments that link the concern for the personal with concern for school teaching. First, there is the factual argument that comes in two versions. The stronger version is that a teacher enters a classroom always as the person she is. Here the claim is that all aspects that characterize me as a person stay with me as I enter the classroom. The weaker version of the argument is that at least my more fundamental personal characteristics, like how I respond to criticism, are present when I enter the classroom. It seems to me that one can refute the two versions of this argument only if one assumes that humans have different personalities that they can switch on and off and that the “teacher personality” does not have any overlap with any of the others. I find this assumption very questionable. Based on the first argument, we should be concerned about the personal in our concern for the teaching, since the personal enters the classroom with the teacher. However, one might still argue that while it might be true that the personal enters the classroom, it should concern us only if it actually impacts on our teaching practice. This leads to the second argument, the normative argument: since who we are as a person does impact our teaching practice, we, therefore, should be concerned for the personal if we are concerned for teaching.

Using Sockett’s (2008) classification of teacher education approaches according to their moral and epistemic purposes as a framework, it seems to me that by far the most prominent model in the teacher education literature in North America is the clinician-professional model, which “starts from an account of the work of the professional public school teacher in a democratic society, [and] emphasizes the teacher’s adaptive expertise, with moral emphases geared to social purposes, such as social justice with socialization as the educational aim” (Sockett, 2008, p. 49). The influential handbook on teacher education published by the US National Academy of Education and edited by Darling-Hammond and Bransford (2005) can serve as an illustrative example of the clinician-professional model. In the introduction to the handbook, Bransford, Darling-Hammond, and LePage (2005) list questions around knowledge, skills, and commitments as important questions for teacher education (p. 2-3), and their vision of professional practice (p. 11) centres on knowledge of relevant areas, like human development and the teaching of a particular subject matter, but no room is given for personal qualities of the teachers themselves— at least not explicitly.

Quite differently is the role of personal qualities seen in a second model of moral and epistemic purposes in teacher education as identified by Sockett (2008): the nurturer-professional model. In this model the primary focus of the teacher is on her relationships with children. The care and tact linked to such a focus “demands self-understanding of the teacher and the cognitive is subsumed within the affective” (p. 48). Here, the personal cannot be separated from the professional, as the personal is an integral part of being a teacher; in the nurturer-professional model, the teacher is in loco parentis. A number of approaches to teaching and teacher education fall within this model. For instance, van Manen (1991a) has argued for the central role of what he called pedagogical tact in good teaching, which he explicates as a form of thoughtfulness of the teacher (pedagogue) in responding to pedagogical moments that call upon the teacher to respond. Such thoughtfulness is at its core a personal quality. Noddings’s (1992) care-ethical approach to teaching requires, for instance, the receiving of the cared-for, by which she means receiving “what-is-there as nearly as possible without evaluation or assessment” (Noddings, 1984, p. 34)— also a personal quality that one cannot simply turn on when entering the school and turn off when leaving the school. Approaches to holistic education provide another example of approaches to teaching that give recognition to the personal in teaching (see, for instance, Miller, 2007, 2010). There are also a number of approaches to teacher-facilitated education that put the personal aspects of the teacher right at the centre of the approach. Linked to the humanistic psychology movement, humanistic teacher education provides one example (see, for instance, Combs, Blume, Newman, & Wass, 1974; Maslow, 1976, chapter 13; Rogers, 1980, p. 281-286), and Palmer’s (1998) work on the “inner landscape of a teacher’s life” another. In more recent years research in teacher education has started to give the idea of teacher identity and its development greater attention (see, for instance, Akkerman & Meijer, 2011; Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009; Lamote & Engels, 2010), and at least some of the conceptualizations of teacher identity include personal aspects. For instance, Korthagen’s (2004) proposal for a more holistic approach to teacher education recognizes not only the importance of the development of skills and competencies in teacher education but also that of a teacher’s identity and her mission for being a teacher in the first place. He draws on the relatively new field of positive psychology and psychotherapeutic approaches to better understand and address teacher identity and a teacher’s mission in the education of teachers, approaches that work very much with the personal (see, for instance, Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Rogers, 1980). He also draws on teacher identity development research that works with teachers’ early childhood experiences and critical life events, all of which are directly linked to the personal aspects of being a teacher.

One important way in which the personal enters the classroom is through the important role that teacher modeling plays in the educational process, which makes teaching an inherently moral endeavour (see, for instance, Fenstermacher, 1990, p. 133). Another way is through its influence on a teacher’s identity and mission. Thus, the development of personal qualities should be of great interest to the education of teachers (pre- and in-service). But in which “direction” should such development occur or, in other words, what should be a normative guide for such development of one’s personal qualities? In the next section I argue for a social responsibility mandate of teacher education that can and should serve as such a guide for personal development. In the last part of this article, then, I argue that preparing for and engaging in reflective practice can and should be an important means for such personal development.

2. The Social Responsibility Mandate of Teacher Education

The social responsibility mandate of education more generally is the mandate to support the “betterment of society” through education, for example by addressing social inequalities, gender inequality, gender inequality, lack of tolerance, lack of democratic engagement, environmental destruction, and so on. Specifically for the K-12 school system, the social responsibility mandate has always been emphasized when the purpose of school education has been debated (see, for instance, Hansen, 2007; Noddings, 2002).

From the social responsibility mandate of education more generally, two types of social responsibility mandates for teacher education arise. First, there is the mandate derived from the social responsibility mandate of the K-12 school system, because teachers are to be prepared for the enactment of this mandate. The second type is the mandate derived from the social responsibility mandate of the tertiary education system of which teacher education programs are a part / the tertiary system to which teacher education programs belong. I will discuss each type in turn. The first type of social responsibility mandate derives from the social purpose of schooling and the view that teachers are to be prepared for this purpose. I will illustrate this type of mandate through three approaches to teacher education that, in my view, are guided by this type of social responsibility mandate, meaning, that the mandate is derived from the social responsibility mandate of K-12 school education. As I present each of these approaches to the preparation of teachers, I will also highlight the role that personal qualities play in them as it responds to the first type of responsibility mandate for teacher education.

In the 1980s and ’90s a number of education scholars, particularly in the USA, advanced the case for a particular form of character education as a form of moral education in the K-12 school system, arguing that one of the central social responsibility mandates of the K-12 school is to develop the moral character of its students (see, for instance, Lickona, 1991, 1996, 1997; Ryan, 1989; Ryan & Lickona, 1987; Wynne, 1989, 1997). Ryan (1987) has then explicitly transferred this social responsibility mandate for the K-12 school system to a social responsibility mandate for teacher education programs, arguing that teachers have to become “moral educators”, based on the view already mentioned above that “the elementary- and secondary-school teacher is a moral educator, a developer of character” (Ryan, 1987, p. 360), and that, hence, teacher education programs need to address this role of teachers as moral educators through “the moral education of teachers”, as the title of his book chapter reads. Ryan (1987) argues that:

If one accepts the thesis that children are a community’s most important natural resource, then it seems reasonable that the community and, in particular, the parents in that community have the right and the responsibility to know something of the character of those to whom they have entrusted the nurturance of their young”.

p. 363

Thus, from this view, a central part of a person’s identity, i.e., her character and her moral value system, becomes an important measure for the quality for a teacher, a quality that teacher education programs are to address through moral education as an explicit part of a teacher education program.

p. 373-378

The second approach to be presented concerns also the role of moral education in the K-12 school system and its implications for teacher education, but takes a principally quite different view of moral education. Being critical of the character education approach by Ryan and his collaborators (Noddings, 2002, chapter 6), Noddings promotes a care-ethical approach to school education (see Noddings, 1992; 2002), which is at its core aimed at helping students with their moral life, the aim of which is “to encounter, attend, and respond to the need for care” (Noddings, 2002, p. 23). This focus on the moral life of students and the aim of school education to help students with their moral life thus conceived is the core of the social responsibility mandate of K-12 schooling in a care-ethical approach to schooling. Noddings suggests four major components of moral education from a care-ethical perspective: modeling, dialogue, practice, and confirmation (1992, p. 22). I want to use the first and the last component to illustrate the role of personal qualities in teachers in a care-ethical approach to teaching. Modeling in care-ethical moral education means that “we [the teachers] have to show [to students] how to care in our own relations with cared-fors” (Noddings, 1992, p. 22). Caring in Noddings’s phenomenological analysis (see Nodding, 1984) involves our sensitivity to recognize another’s needs in an encounter (being receptive towards the other person), and our willingness and ability to feel motivated to focus on those needs in the very moment of the encounter (motivational displacement). From this perspective, the capacity to care is a personal capacity that guides the way we encounter the world regardless of the context, and is not a capacity that we can compartmentalize to be in use only when we enter the school building and turn off when we leave. The same is true for the personal capacity that is linked to the confirmation component of care-ethical moral education. Noddings draws on Buber’s (1965) notion of confirmation that is:

an act of affirming and encouraging the best in others. When we confirm someone, we spot a better self and encourage its development. We can do this only if we know the other well enough to see what he or she is trying to become. . . . Confirmation requires attribution of the best possible motive consonant with reality”.

Noddings, 1992, p. 25

The capacity to “spot a better self” and the inclination, motivation, and ability to encourage the development of that better self and to attribute the best possible motive consonant with reality to someone’s acting are clearly personal qualities that teachers would not be able to compartmentalize for their teaching practice alone. Promoting caring as a moral orientation in teaching has, of course, consequences for the preparation of teachers (see, for instance, Author, 2006; Arnstine, 1990; Falkenberg, 2006; Goldstein, 2002; Noddings, 1986; Rogers & Webb, 1991). Noddings (1986), for instance, is quite explicit in her transferring the social responsibility mandate of school teaching to a social responsibility mandate of teacher education:

Since teacher education involves teaching, the sort of thinking already discussed [caring as a moral orientation in teaching] applies to it as well. . . . It should, indeed, be our goal in all of education to produce caring, moral persons . . . We approach our goal by living with those whom we teach in a caring community, through modeling, dialogue, practice, and confirmation”.

p. 502

Liston and Zeichner’s (1991) approach to teacher education serves as a third example of a promotion of a social responsibility mandate for teacher education that is derived from a social responsibility mandate for school teaching. Promoting a social-reconstructionist approach to teacher education, Liston and Zeichner (1991) state that

teacher education ought to aim directly at developing teachers who are able to identify and articulate their purposes, who can choose the appropriate instructional strategies or appropriate means, who know and understand the content to be taught, who understand the social experiences and cognitive orientations of their students, and who can be counted on for giving good reasons for their actions

p. 39

For Liston and Zeichner (1991) those rationales and justifications for teachers’ actions should be “both heartfelt and consistent with larger educational traditions” (p. 44), and both are open to any of a number of traditions—with three qualifications. First, teacher candidates ought to be exposed to a range of such traditions and teacher candidates’ justifications for their choices and actions and the values those rest upon are to be presented in light of those alternative traditions (p. 92). Second, while Liston and Zeichner (1991) are open to rationales based in different traditions, “that does not mean that any practice or every rationale is acceptable” (p. 54). Rationales and practices have to be grounded in two principles of democratic education: non-repression and non-discrimination (Liston & Zeichner, 1991, pp. 53-56). Third, the social conditions of schooling have to be given considerations in rationales for actions, for instance the social conditions impacting the working conditions for teachers, minority groups’ schooling experiences, and gender and teaching issues (Liston & Zeichner, 1991, chapter 4).

While Liston and Zeichner (1991) are open to a range of education traditions with their respective values, the “meta-values” expressed in the two principles of democratic education and the three qualifications just discussed shape a social responsibility mandate for teacher education that they express very directly as follows:

If as teacher educators we can do something to awaken the social consciousness of prospective teachers, and provide them with alternative and concrete possibilities for realizing the goal of a high-quality education for everyone’s children, we will have accomplished a lot. Although teacher education cannot by itself create a better society, it can join in the struggle for bringing it about.

Liston & Zeichner, 1991, p. 35

While this mandate is written for teacher education, it is derived from a social responsibility mandate of school teaching: high-quality education for everyone’s children for a better society. The core qualities that Liston and Zeichner (1991) envision for teachers are at their core personal qualities, because those qualities are concerned with why one teaches in the first place (the purpose question). The social consciousness that teacher education programs are to help develop in teacher candidates will by necessity impact how a teacher lives her life more generally, because that is what the role of someone’s consciousness is: guiding how one lives one’s life.

Although all three approaches take quite different and in some cases incompatible perspectives on teaching and teacher education, they all have in common that they promote a social responsibility mandate for teacher education that is grounded in a social responsibility mandate for K-12 school education. Furthermore, each approach promotes the development of personal qualities in teacher candidates to address the social responsibility mandate of the K-12 school system as conceptualized from the respective view.

A social responsibility mandate for teacher education does not just derive from what teacher education is educating for (school teaching), but also from where teacher education happens (in Canada): the university. The second type of social responsibility mandate for teacher education derives from the social responsibility mandate for the tertiary system more generally of which teacher education programs are a part. Particularly scholars and educators who are concerned for and with the issue of sustainable living have made the case for a social responsibility mandate for the tertiary system. Following, I draw on their argumentation and then make the case that teacher education as a component of the tertiary system falls within the domain of this argumentation.

Almost twenty years ago, Orr (1994) argued for a social responsibility mandate of the tertiary education system particularly because of its role in the education of those taking central leadership and power positions in society. Describing the on-going environmental destruction, Orr (1994) then points out: “It is worth noting that this is not the work of ignorant people. Rather, it is largely the results of work by people with BAs, BSs, LLBs, MBAs, and PhDs” (p. 7), and he continues quoting Wiesel, who pointed to the perpetrators of the Holocaust and the education they received: “It [their education] emphasized theories instead of values, concepts rather than human beings, abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience” (as cited in Orr, 1994, p. 8). The argument Orr and Wiesel put forward here is that the tertiary system has an obligation to include the education of values and social responsibility in its diverse programs exactly because each graduate from those programs is a potential leader whose decisions can enormously impact the lives of others in society (see also Jucker, 2002, p. 241-252). This obligation can be conceptualized as (a central part of) the social responsibility mandate of the tertiary education system. [2] Involving values and social responsibility as educational objectives, the social responsibility mandate of the tertiary education system is quite obviously concerned with personal qualities of the students in the tertiary system, qualities that transcend their specific program of study.

Teacher education programs are in charge of the preservice professional education of teachers. Considering the specific role that teachers play in the development of future citizens of a country, the arguments presented by Orr and Wiesel apply alike to students in faculties of education. The social responsibility mandate of the tertiary system leads to a social responsibility mandate for teacher education programs because of the mandate of universities, at least from the perspective presented here.

If we accept at least some of the positions presented in this section—and I do—then we accept that the education of teachers will need to involve some form of development of the personal aspects of being a teacher. In the rest of this article I inquire into reflective practice as a way of aiding such development. This inquiry takes two steps. The next section will identify fundamental aspects of the idea of reflective practice for teachers. These aspects then will be the basis for identifying four “dimensions of reflective practice”. These dimensions will be used to characterize types of reflective practice that seem to be particularly suitable to the development of personal aspects of being a teacher.

3. Aspects and Dimensions of Reflective Practice

At least since Schön’s (1983, 1987) work on the notion of the reflective practitioner has been picked up by teacher educators, the idea of a central role of reflective practice in the education of teachers has received sustained prominence in the North American teacher education literature (see, for instance, Grimmett & Erickson, 1988; Ottesen, 2007; Russell, 2006; Smyth, 1989; Zeichner & Liston, 1987). However, fairly early on Zeichner and Tabachnick (1991) suggested that the popularity of terms like “reflective teaching” and “reflection-in-action” lead to their inflationary use with the consequence that “we don’t know very much at all about a practice if it is merely described as something aimed at facilitating the development of reflective teachers” (p. 1). Thus, what will help the discussion in this article is some form of conceptual analysis of the idea of reflective practice, or more precisely, of reflective professional practice. This discussion will lead to what I will call the four dimensions of reflective practice.

3.1 Aspects of Reflective Practice

Following, I will explore a number of fundamental aspects of the notion of reflective practice. The first and probably most fundamental idea is that

3.1.1 reflection / reflecting is a form of thinking and, thus, a mental act: the mental act of reflective thinking

While this seems a trivial statement, stating it so clearly will provide us with the foundation upon which many of the other features will rest, considering that the notion of reflective practice is now linked with the notion of thinking. This link, for instance, allows the following immediate observation: when we think, as a mental act in time, we have to think with past experiences, even if we think about the future.

In a very influential contribution to the discussion about reflection in teaching, Dewey (1910/1997) suggests that only a certain type of thinking is to be considered reflective thinking, namely deliberative thinking: “[Reflective] thinking begins in what may fairly enough be called a forked-road situation, a situation which is ambiguous, which presents a dilemma, which proposes alternatives” (p. 11). Such a dilemma situation requires a solution based on certain beliefs. While the demand for a solution of the dilemma is the driving and guiding force behind reflective thinking, the act of reflective thinking is the consideration of the grounds upon which those beliefs rest and the consequences that such beliefs imply—and, consequently, one’s solution to the dilemma (Dewey, 1997, p. 11): “Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends, constitutes reflective thought” (p. 6). By identifying reflective thinking with deliberative thinking about one’s beliefs underlying what one is concerned with and the consequences that would derive from such beliefs, Dewey’s concept of reflective thinking as an aspect of professional practice allows us to distinguish reflective practice–practice that is guided by reflective thinking–from routine or habitual practice–practice that is guided by routines and habitual acting that one engages in just because that is how one has always done it.

A number of scholars writing about reflective practice do subscribe to Dewey’s specific view that the focus and the catalyst (“the forked-road situation” of one’s thinking should be called reflective thinking (see, for instance, Loughran, 2010, chapter 10; Russell, 2006). But others do not, or not in a pure form, and those differences can be better understood if we give consideration to two additional characteristics of reflective thinking. The first one is that

3.1.2 as a mental act, reflective thinking is intentional in the sense that it is directed towards something—reflective thinking is thinking about something [3]

This means that it does matter what reflective thinking is to be directed towards for our understanding of reflective thinking. Dewey’s concept of reflective thinking is directed towards the assumptions upon which our decisions are based as well as the consequences that those assumptions and our decision in regard to the forked-road situation imply. Dewey’s notion of reflective thinking is narrow in the sense that it identifies a particular domain towards which thinking has to be directed to qualify as reflective thinking. For instance, thinking about how I as a teacher feel emotionally about a particular incident that happened yesterday in my class would not qualify as reflective thinking in Dewey’s sense. First, the situation I would be thinking about is not a forked-road situation, and second, my thinking would not be directed towards any kind of assumptions linked to and implications deriving from a forked-road situation.

On the other hand, Dewey’s notion of reflective thinking is relatively wide in the sense that he does not specify what kind of forked-road situations qualify for reflective thinking as part of professional (teaching) practice. It is here where some scholars suggest that reflective thinking and the professional practice based on it is deficient if the scope of what a teacher’s reflective thinking is directed towards is too narrow. For instance, Liston and Zeichner have in different places emphasized that reflective thinking in teaching needs to involve reflective thinking about the social context of schooling and one’s social beliefs and preconceptions linked to that social context (see, for instance, Liston & Zeichner, 1991, pp. 79-80; Zeichner & Liston, 1996, p. 6). Without the inclusion of this direction of reflective thinking in teaching, the contributions of reflective teaching to good teaching need to be questioned: As the notion of teacher as reflective practitioner has gained popularity throughout the teacher education community, the position adopted by many has been that more reflective teachers are necessarily better teachers, no matter what they reflect about and no matter how they go about it (Zeichner, 1993). There has been very little attention to the fact that under some conditions reflection may lend greater legitimacy to practices that intensify inequities (Ellwood, 1992; Zeichner, 1995, p. 16)

The third feature of reflective thinking that can help better understand different approaches to reflective thinking is this:

3.1.3 As a form of thinking, reflective thinking is constrained yet also made possible in the first place by a pre-existing perspective that “frames” our thinking [4]

Taking Dewey’s approach to reflective thinking as an example, when I face a decision about the assessment of the work of a particular student (forked-road situation), reflecting upon the situation will have me think about my beliefs about assessment, about the needs of the student, and also about the consequences for the student of any of the possible decisions that I can make (reflective thinking). However, my recognizing that this is a forked-road situation in the first place, my beliefs about assessment, my current assessment of the student’s needs, and my envisioning possible consequences of possible decisions are all dependent on my prior understanding of student learning, assessment and what it is for, and so on. As Schön and Rein (1994) write: “There is no way of perceiving and making sense of social reality except through a frame, for the very task of making sense of complex, information-rich situations requires an operation of selectivity and organization, which is what ‘framing’ means” (p. 30).

However, reflective thinking is not caught within the boundaries of our pre-existing assumptions and beliefs. This is due to the self-directedness of human thinking: we can direct our thinking towards our thinking itself and, similarly, we can direct our thinking towards our pre-existing perspective, the very perspective that makes our reflective thinking possible in the first place. Schön (1983) calls this form of reflective thinking “frame analysis” (p. 309). [5]

A number of scholars writing on reflective thinking emphasize the importance of the possibility of self-directedness of reflective thinking in teaching. Liston and Zeichner’s (1991) and Zeichner and Liston’s (1996) insistence that reflecting on one’s social beliefs is a necessary condition for reflective teaching provides one example. Brookfield’s (1995) notion of “critical reflection” is another example. He explicates critical reflection as thinking that is directed towards the illumination of power and the recognition of hegemonic assumptions (see also Smyth, 1989). In this regard, both approaches lie within Dewey’s view of reflective thinking that it is about inquiring into one’s assumptions and consequences of one’s assumptions. However, contrary to Dewey’s approach, reflecting about the social condition of schooling (Liston and Zeichner, 1991) or reflecting upon “how the dynamics of power permeate all educational processes” (Brookfield, 1995, p. 9) do not have to start with a particular educational forked-road situation. Quite to the contrary, as Brookfield (1995) suggests, it can be, for instance, reflective thinking on how the dynamics of power permeate all educational processes that creates a forked-road situation that was not there for us before: “When we become aware of the pervasiveness of power, we start to notice the oppressive dimensions to practices that we had thought were neutral or even benevolent” (p. 9).

While Dewey (1997) developed a general concept of reflective thinking as a particular form of thinking that can be applied to the context of professional practice, Schön (1983) has argued for the following feature of reflective thinking in professional practice:

3.1.4 Professional practitioners can engage in reflective thinking while they are engaged in the very practice (reflection-in-action). Successful professional practice involves aspects that require reflection-in-action

As for Dewey, the problems that a practitioner encounters in her practice are also for Schön (1983) the catalyst for reflective professional thinking (p. 56). However, Schön (1983) is very explicit about those problems being constitutive of (good) professional practice and, thus, the professional’s reflecting about those problems while being engaged in her practice is a characteristic of successful professional practice (Schön, 1983, p. 62). Professional practices, like teaching, are not characterized by the practitioner being solely engaged in routine or habituated acting; rather, professional practice is characterized by professionals having to respond regularly to idiosyncratic situations that go beyond any means-end schemata provided in theories: “When someone reflects-in-action, he becomes a researcher in the practice context. He is not dependent on the categories of established theory and technique, but constructs a new theory of the unique case” (Schön, 1983, p. 68; on this point, see also Smyth, 1993).

Complementing Schön’s (1983) insights into the role of reflection-in-action in professional practice, van Manen (1991b) explores the limitations of reflection-in-action for good pedagogical practice. At the core of his argument lies the following idea about reflective thinking:

3.1.5 Reflective thinking is about something that is not present, thus, reflective thinking moves the reflective practitioner away from being present to the past or the future

As van Manen (1991b) so insightfully argues:

Naturally, reflection too is an experience. Some reflection is oriented to future action . . . ; some of it is reflection on past experiences . . . But in either case, reflection is a form of human experience that distances itself from situations in order to consider the meanings and significance embedded in those experiences. By reflecting on an experience, I have the experience of grasping and appropriating meanings embedded in that experience. Inevitably, the reflective moments of life involve a temporary stepping back out of the immediate engagement we have with the world.

p. 512

The kind of reflective thinking that I have discussed so far moves us away from our immediate engagement with what we face at a given moment. However, teachers constantly face “pedagogical moments”, which van Manen (1991b) defines as

situations where we feel called upon by the child [student] to do something. . . . A distinguishing feature of pedagogical moments is that something is expected of us. We have to do something, even if that is holding off for the moment.

p. 96

If not reflective thinking, what then helps us to engage thoughtfully in those moments with whatever we need to engage with? Van Manen suggests “pedagogical tact” (van Manen, 1991a) as the term for the thoughtful action in pedagogical moments. Such thoughtful pedagogical acting in the moment is “neither largely habitual nor problem solving, neither solely intellectual nor solely corporeal, neither purely reflective in a deliberative sense nor completely spontaneous or arbitrary” (p. 109), but, I might add, it is a bit of all these things, and “we should say that tactful action is thoughtful in the sense of ‘mindful’” (p. 109). [6]

Above, more in passing than in form of a thoughtful analysis, I suggested that reflective practice is “practice that is guided by reflective thinking”. I now need to turn to analysing the links between reflective thinking, reflective practice / reflective teaching, and being a reflective practitioner / teacher, because

3.1.6 a distinction can and should be made between reflective thinking, reflective practice / teaching, and being a reflective practitioner / teacher

The most obvious distinction is between reflective thinking and being a reflective practitioner / teacher. It would not be enough for a reflective teacher in any case to engage in reflective thinking only occasionally, rather a more regular and systematic engagement of reflective thinking would be needed. On the other hand, engaging in reflective thinking concerning one’s teaching would be constitutive of being a reflective teacher. Brookfield (1995) seems to take this link for granted when he focuses primarily on the explication of what critical reflection is in his first chapter which is entitled “what it means to be a critically reflective teacher”.

The link between the notions of reflective teaching and being a reflective teacher seems more challenging. It seems to me if one wanted to make a distinction between the two, the distinction would lie in a difference between doing (techniques, skills, practices) and being (enacted dispositions). At the core of this distinction would be a similar differentiation as it exists between reflective thinking and reflective teaching: reflective teaching is a particular way of going about teaching, which one can engage in or not, or which one can engage in sometimes and not during other times, while being a reflective teacher means that one engages in reflective teaching as an integral part of how one enacts one’s teaching dispositions. This distinction becomes important for the purpose of this article, since the “being” aspect of a teacher is by default a personal aspect of one’s being. Zeichner and Liston (1996) do not make this distinction when they write “Initially, then, our understanding of reflective teaching emphasizes five key features that we develop further throughout the text” (p. 6); however, they then start the list of the five features with “A reflective teacher: . . .” (p. 6). Their list of five features of a reflective teacher can serve as an illustration of the distinction that I have in mind. Their first feature is this: “A reflective teacher examines, frames, and attempts to solve the dilemmas of classroom practice” (p. 6). Examining, framing and attempting to solve the dilemmas of classroom practice are aspects of reflective teaching which involve certain skills and techniques. However, the way this feature characterizes reflective teachers according to Liston and Zeichner (1996) is that the examining, framing and attempting to solve the classroom dilemmas are enacted dispositions, meaning that a reflective teacher cannot help but do so and does so. These enacted dispositions are more like a habit of mind of reflective teachers. Brookfield (1995) emphasizes such habits of mind or enacted dispositions for his notion of critical reflection, which he sees grounded in core values (an aspect of the personal of a teacher) of the critical reflective practitioner when he writes:

Critical reflection is inherently ideological. It is also morally grounded. It springs from a concern to create the conditions under which people can learn to love one another, and it alerts them to the forces that prevent this. Being anchored in values of justice, fairness, and compassion, critical reflection finds its political representation in the democratic process.

p. 26-27

The six aspects of reflective practice discussed in this section will lead to the conceptualization of four dimensions of reflective practice in the next section.

3.2 Four Dimensions of Reflective Practice

In this section I develop four dimensions of reflective practice whose consideration can be helpful to understanding different approaches to reflective thinking and reflective practice. Each of the four dimensions is—as the word implies—one-dimensional. This might be an oversimplification—for some dimensions more so than for others. However, I think that the ideas behind the notions of each dimension seem defendable, even if the way in which each of the dimensions is represented here needs adjustment.

The first two aspects of reflective practice —that reflection is a form of thinking and that reflective thinking is intentional—underlie the idea of the range dimension of reflective practice, the dimension that is characterized by the range of immediacy of what one’s reflective thinking is about relative to the location of the reflective practitioner (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

-> See the list of figures

At one end of this dimension is the focus of one’s reflection on issues, problems, or dilemmas that are classroom focused. The more one’s reflective thinking involves aspects that move further and further away from the immediacy of the classroom, the more the range of the respective reflective practice moves to the right. This dimension considers less where the issues arise—for reflective teachers probably most issues they reflect upon arise in the classroom—and more how wide the range is that one inquires into in one’s reflective thinking. The range reflects the point that Zeichner and Liston (Liston & Zeichner, 1991; Zeichner & Liston, 1996) have been making, namely that one should consider the social conditions of schooling when reflecting upon educational issues, including and particularly those arising within the classroom. Considering the social conditions of schooling moves one’s reflective thinking further to the right on the range dimension.

The third aspect of reflective practice—that reflective practice is constrained and made possible by a pre-existing perspective that frames our thinking—underlies the idea of the depth dimension of reflective practice (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

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The depth dimension is characterized by the depth with which the reflective thinking considers the grounds upon which one’s beliefs about a particular problem situation (forked-road situation) rest and the consequences that such beliefs imply—a quality of thinking that Dewey (1997) sees as constitutive for reflective thinking. The following example might illustrate this point. Let us assume that a teacher notices that one of her students is not engaged in class discussions. The teacher can accept that and continue teaching the way she has been doing or she can address this as a problem for her (forked-road situation). If she decides on the latter, she will engage in reflective thinking of some kind (not necessarily in Dewey’s sense). The teacher might decide—upon reflecting on the issue—to just call upon the student in class discussions to encourage her participation. This would be an example of reflective thinking that is more like “thinking about” the issue in a direct means-end framework. On the other hand, the teacher might start reflecting upon her assumptions that the student’s non-participation is a problem in the first place, which might turn out to be based on the teacher’s view of what a “good student” is, which she might want to question. Engaging in this form of reflective thinking might lead the teacher to inquire more deeply and with a larger concern for other aspects of her teaching practice that might be impacted by her view of what a good student is. She might even go further and inquire into the question of how her own educational upbringing has shaped her views of a good student and whether there are other views, views that she might now feel more attuned to. These latter ways of reflecting upon a forked-road situation illustrate more the right side of the depth dimension of reflective practice, and the last case illustrates why the third aspect of reflective practice—that reflective practice is constrained and made possible by a pre-existing perspective that frames our thinking – underlies this dimension: the further one goes to the right of the dimension in reflecting upon a forked-road situation, the more one thinks (also) about one’s pre-existing perspective that frames one’s thinking about the situation.

The fourth aspect of reflective practice was that a professional practitioner can engage in reflective thinking while being engaged in the very practice, and the fifth aspect was that reflection is always about something other than what one faces in a given moment. Both aspects underlie the idea of the internal temporal dimension of reflective practice (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

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Reflective thinking about a particular situation located in space and time can be done ahead of the situation occurring (pre-reflection) or can be done after the situation has occurred (post-reflection). In many contexts it is even possible to reflect while being emerged in the situation (reflection-in-action). However, van Manen (1991a, 1991b) has pointed out that in pedagogical moments it is not possible to reflect on what is pedagogically required in those moments—at least not in the sense of reflective thinking as defined by Dewey (1997). The internal temporal dimension of reflective practice tries to capture this range of temporal relationship between the act of reflecting and the timing of the incidence one is reflecting about, a range which goes from “sitting back” and reflectively thinking about the issue, situation, and so on to reflection-in-action. The qualifier “internal” is to indicate that this dimension is concerned with the reflection process itself and its temporal relationship to the space-time situation linked to what one is reflectively thinking about. The qualifier is to distinguish this dimension from the next and last one, which also considers a temporal relationship.

The sixth aspect of reflective practice—that there is and should be made a distinction between reflective thinking, reflective practice / teaching, and being a reflective practitioner / teacher—underlies the idea of the external temporal dimension of reflective practice (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

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This dimension is at the core of the distinction between reflective thinking, reflective practice / teaching, and being a reflective practitioner / teacher that I discussed above. The more regulary and systematically a teacher engages in reflective thinking, the more this engagement becomes a reflective practice that then can develop into a “habit of mind”, in which case the practice of reflective thinking has become an integral part of one’s teacher identity, one’s being as a teacher. Since “regular” and “systematic” always also involve a temporal aspect, I have called this dimension the external temporal dimension. Drawing on the example used in the discussion of the depth dimension, in the second scenario inquiring into forked-road situations has become for the teacher a stance that characterizes the teacher’s teaching practice (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009); this case is an example of a reflective practice that is placed fairly to the right of the external temporal dimension.

The next section will use the scheme of the four dimensions of reflective practice to analyse particular approaches to reflective thinking or reflective practice that might be useful to engage in, in order to develop the personal qualities of teacher candidates with a view to addressing the social responsibility mandate of teacher education.

4. The Role of Reflection in Responding to the Social Responsibility Mandate of Teacher Education

This article started out with the argument that personal qualities can and should play an important role in the education of teachers. Then I argued that the social responsibility mandate for teacher education can serve as the guide for the direction which the development of personal qualities in teacher education should take. In this final section I will (a) argue that reflective thinking can play an important role in the development of personal qualities that are directed towards addressing the social responsibility mandate of teacher education; (b) use the scheme of the four dimensions of teacher education practices and the aspects of reflective practice that underlie those dimensions to identify types of reflective practices that are particularly helpful to the development of personal qualities relevant here. The studies that Korthagen (2004, pp. 90-92) reports upon illustrate that reflective thinking can play a role in the development of personal qualities in teachers. Korthagen (2004) reports on three projects which each used core reflections to help teacher candidates and practicing teachers, respectively, to become more aware of their teacher identities and missions. The core reflections involved reflective thinking (in Dewey’s sense) around questions like

Am I willing—and able—to adopt the kind of behavior that is apparently necessary to maintain classroom discipline? Does this behavior suit me? Do I still want to become a teacher? Is there actually room for what inspired me to become a teacher in the first place ?

Korthagen, 2004, p. 90

These questions concern more the being of a teacher than the practice of teaching, and, thus, they are linked to who the teacher is as a person. Elsewhere (Falkenberg, 2009) I have argued for philosophizing as a form of dialogical rational inquiry (dialogical reflective thinking) to help teacher candidates work through dilemmas and predicaments they encounter as teacher candidates in an ethics-of-care-based teacher education program, where those dilemmas and predicaments are often linked to personal aspects of being a teacher. Here, the function of the reflective thinking is not only to help the development of personal qualities, but those personal qualities—linked to the enactment of an ethic of care—are guided by a particular response to the social responsibility mandate of teacher education—as seen from a care-ethical teacher education approach (see Falkenberg, 2006). A similar case can be made for, for instance, Brookfield’s (1995) approach to critical reflective practice, where the reflective practice is also guided by a particular (critical-theory-based) response to the social responsibility mandate of teacher education.

These examples also illustrate that reflective thinking—and by implication reflective practice—play an important role in addressing the responsibility mandate of teacher education through the development of personal qualities, because it will generally involve some changes to a teacher’s identity, general orientation towards life, habituated behaviours, and other aspects of the personal. Reflective thinking – at least the kind proposed by Dewey (1997)—is an agent-driven approach to grappling with such kind of substantial change. Tickle (1999, p. 123), for instance, lists as personal qualities relevant to teaching – among others—empathy, compassion, the ability to manage frustration and impatience, tolerance of ambiguity and of conflicting interests and expectations, and sensitivity to the needs of others.

What types of reflective thinking might be particularly suited to the role of supporting the development of personal qualities that are directed at addressing the social responsibility mandate of teacher education? There is not enough space to develop an answer to this question more fully, but I will make some general suggestions with references to some specific approaches. I will do so within the scheme of the four dimensions of reflective practice developed in the previous section.

In terms of the range dimension it seems that reflective practices that are more “world focused” rather than classroom-focused seem more helpful when addressing the personal qualities, because the development of those qualities is to help address the social responsibility mandate of teacher education, which will more likely require a concern for the larger context of teaching and schooling. The critical reflective approach to reflective practice as developed by Brookfield (1995) and the reflective practice promoted by Zeichner and Liston (1996) exemplify this kind of approach to reflective practice.

In terms of the depth dimension it seems that reflective practices for the purpose relevant here would tend to be more inquiry like, meaning that they would involve reflective thinking that considers the grounds upon which one’s beliefs about a particular problem situation rest and the consequences that such beliefs imply, since the purpose of the reflective thinking is concerned with the personal aspects of one’s being. Addressing those will most likely require a better understanding of the network of beliefs that underlie one’s current practices and habits. The life history approach to learning to teach (see, for instance, Carter & Doyle, 1996; Doyle & Carter, 2003) provides an example of a reflective practice that is very much inquiry oriented in the sense used here as are the two other approaches to reflective practice referenced in the previous paragraph.

While for the previous two dimensions one direction of each dimension was the more preferred, in terms of the internal temporal dimension it seems to me that reflective practices are needed that represent the full range of the internal temporal dimension. On one hand the deeper inquiry relevant to changing beliefs is needed and requires that a teacher removes herself from the immediacy of teaching and “sits back” and reflects; and the three approaches to reflective practice referenced above exemplify such reflective practices. On the other hand, though, if we take modeling in teaching seriously, we not only have to address or change our thinking and beliefs but also our often habitual practices. Here, the Discipline of Noticing (Mason, 2002), which provides a systematic and reflective way of working on one’s acting in the moment, provides an exemplary form of reflective practice. [7]

What holds for the internal temporal dimensions seems to hold as well for the external temporal dimension: reflective thinking that is helpful to developing personal aspects of being a teacher in teacher education in a way that supports the social responsibility mandate of teacher education can tend to be more of the “single-event” type or it can be more of the “habit-of-mind” type. For instance, the life history approach to reflective practice is one that one would not engage in on a regular basis. The same seems to be true for the critical reflective practice, although new teaching experiences might give rise to new critical reflections. On the other hand, if one is to work on one’s habitual teaching practices or one’s pedagogical tact using, for instance, the Discipline of Noticing (Mason, 2002) or related approaches (Falkenberg, 2012), one would need to develop the corresponding reflective practices more as habits of mind.


In the introduction section I asked the question: What type of reflective practice will make the practitioner a better teacher with respect to the social responsibility mandate of teacher education? In this article I have responded to this question from the introduction section, first, by arguing that to ask such a question is of importance to teaching and teacher education in the first place, and second, by identifying where such practices are located on four dimensions of reflective practice. These four dimensions are derived from the six specific aspects of reflective practice also identified in this article.

Teacher education has a social responsibility mandate that is derived from both the social responsibility mandate of K-12 schooling and that of the tertiary system. By drawing on four examples from the literature I have illustrated a range of perspectives from which the case for such social responsibility mandates is made, and I used those cases also to illustrate the role of teachers’ and teacher candidates’ personal qualities in addressing the social responsibility mandate in teacher education. Thus, the question arises whether reflective practice—a focus in many teacher education programs—can play a role in developing those qualities and, thus, address the social responsibility mandate of teacher education. The six aspects of reflective thinking and practice identified in this article gave rise to four dimensions of reflective practice. These dimensions can be used to characterize different types of reflective thinking and practice, including practices that seem to support the development of personal qualities particularly meaningful in addressing the social responsibility mandate of teacher education: reflective thinking and practices that are more world-focused rather than classroom-focused and that are more inquiry like; with respect to the internal and external temporal dimensions, relevant reflective practices are relatively neutral.

Teaching is a moral endeavour, for which teachers need to be prepared for and supported in. Personal qualities of a teacher are central when engaging in this endeavour, and reflective practices – of particular types – can support the development and refinement of those qualities. My hope is that the analysis of reflective thinking and practice provided in this article can help characterize those particular types of reflective practice and thus help in addressing the social responsibility mandate that I, as others, see for teaching and teacher education.