#Take5 #99 Welcome to the Amazing World of Reflection and Reflective Practice: What is it and how should we be Supporting Students? 

This Take5 is brought to you from Nikki Clarke at Birmingham City University. Nikki is passionate about developing authentic and powerful reflective practices with our students. She has an EdD on the topic – she practises it – she has written books on the subject. Nikki is now sharing her ideas here with us in the hopes of recruiting as many readers as possible to join her new ALDinHE reflective practice Community of Practice (CoP). Please have a read – and let Nikki know if you are interested.

Who am I?

I am Dr Nicola Clarke. By the way I never use my title 😊, but it is important here for context as it was this subject of reflection and the passion I had for it that threw me into the world of research and pursuing doctoral studies. 

As a student mental health nurse, I was fortunate to have an amazing mentor who introduced me to this subject. Reflection and reflective practice back then, moving forward as a qualified nurse, then as a nurse academic, and now an academic in learning development, had and continues to have such an influence on how I understand myself in the context of my patients, my students, and my colleagues! So much so that I wanted, and needed, to study it further. Because of my passion for reflection, I gained something I never thought I would, which was my Educational Doctorate, and now I teach this subject faculty wide and publish in this area.  This blog is about a very positive take on reflection and reflective practice – I hope it interests you – and that it persuades you to join my Community of Practice.

My very proud moment below in 2017 on the day my book was published! 

A person holding a book

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Image: Nikki Clarke and her book!

Reflection: What is it and why is it so Important? 

The reflective process does not assume the individual reflecting needs to improve their practice, neither does it assume the person needs to be better. The reflective process does not require us to start from a negative deficit which reduces us to something that is not good enough before we even start. The process of reflection only assumes that we wish to be the best version of ourselves, not a better version and that our experiences contain information. Information in particular about what constitutes ‘I’. Reflection recognises that as an individual we are influenced by what Schon (1983) termed the swampy lowlands of culture, bias, personality, history, politics, morals and values. By exploring our experiences we can understand how these swampy lowlands drive our thoughts and feelings and ultimately affect the way we behave in the world, including how we respond to others, and how and why others respond to us the way they do.

The self-care of having an authentic voice the process of reflection provides us with, allows us to have a narrative that is real, open and honest. A narrative that validates how we as unique individuals experience our lived experiences. The analytical exploration of those experiences generates information that enhances knowledge of self, knowledge that we can use to not only inform future experiences but leads to greater levels of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. 

The Purpose of Reflection:

The purpose of moving through the reflective process is to support us to mindfully and very purposefully connect to ourselves. To support us to have an authentic voice that validates, yet explores our narrative with the intention of:-

  • Generating knowledge of self that enhances self-awareness.
  • So that we can use this knowledge towards being an emotionally intelligent person.
  • Being an emotionally intelligent person, can empower us to be an emotionally intelligent practitioner, in all professional areas of our life.
  • As a result this knowledge of self, from exploration of our experiences that we are at the centre of, allows us to be the very best version of ourselves

Becoming the best version of you through the vehicle of reflection


Image: Stages of becoming the best version of you

‘Reflection is an often-misunderstood term within nursing’ | Nursing Times

So how do we help our students to Become an Effective Reflective Practitioner? 

We need to engage in our own development and ensure we have the right theoretically informed understanding of reflection if we are going to teach it to students. It is important when teaching that we as educators are theoretically informed about the subjects we teach. The notion of reflection has a wonderful theoretical underpinning that has been explored in the literature since authors such as Dewey in the 1930’s and then Schön in 1980’s really brought it to our attention. If we teach reflection, support our students to reflect, or expect reflection of our students, we need to have the appropriate theoretical knowledge to underpin our teaching of this very important subject. Ensuring we have the right theory informed knowledge base on reflection can be strengthened by empirical experience. We can therefore solidify our knowledge of reflection by experiencing guided reflection ourselves, so we know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a reflective conversation performed accurately. This knowledge of reflection will then be transferred to the student through our evidence and experience informed teaching. 

In being evidence and experience informed it will help us to broaden the way in which we teach reflection. Instead of teaching reflection as reflective cycles, models and frameworks, we will be able to recognise these are only vehicles that can, if we choose to use them, help us to move through the reflective process. We will modify our teaching practices to incorporate the underpinning theory of reflection, that does due diligence to the theory and recognises the reflective frameworks for what they are – tools to support movement through the process. This modified evidence informed teaching will translate into our understanding of how to use reflection as a mode of assessment. When we assess through a mode of reflection, we will be able to create an assessment that warrants reflection, which will allow the students to actually reflect rather than just evaluate a given scenario. Our enhanced understanding will support us to create assessments that allow the students to connect to who they are, and in a supportive safe way reflect on their experiences. 

This will eventually lead us as educators into being more critical and mindful of whether we require students to use reflective cycles / models / frameworks to structure academic reflective pieces. We will consider and evaluate whether the assessment brief provided requires a framework at all and has the infrastructure to support the dictated use of one. For example we will stop asking students to use a six-stage model such as Gibbs reflective cycle to write a critically reflective piece in 500 words!  Because as educators we will know that reflection is not just what did i do well?, what did i not do so well?, and what’s my action plan? We will only ask our students to use reflective frameworks that lend themselves to be used to structure reflective assignments, such as one recently created for this very purpose Experience Deconstruction, Implementation (EDI) (Clarke 2021):

Conclusion: Without reflection there is no learning

Reflection is an important and complex notion that has, because of its popularity and requirement as a standard of proficiency in certain professions, gained an assumed knowledge base. That is, it has become common practice in my experience to assume to know what reflection is and as a result reflection has been couched as evaluation with a purpose of improving self or practice. This issue of improvement reduces the person to reflecting as already not good enough, and propels students into at times focusing on experiences that are negative or that have generated significant feelings, so the experience therefore warrants reflecting on. This for me does a disservice to what reflection is, it ignores the theoretical underpinnings, pushes students into focusing on either only negative experiences or significant events, missing out the minutia experiences in life,  and creates an unhealthy relationship with the reflective process. Therefore let us not continue this practice but, let us become informed in our own practice of teaching and supporting reflection and let us model behaviour and be the best version of ourselves by becoming an effective reflective practitioner.  

AND – what now! It’s CoP time!!

I believe this is so important that I wish to establish an ALDinHE CoP on Reflection – drawing together all those who are also interested in reflection, and in discussing and researching this further.

For those interested in joining a ALDinHE CoP for Reflection please email me at  – nicola.clarke@bcu.ac.uk

About Nicola

Nicola Clarke, EdD, is a Senior Fellow of the Advanced Higher Education Academy and SEDA recognised doctoral supervisor. Nicola is a registered mental health nurse whose clinical career focused on caring for those individuals with a substance misuse issue. Nicola is currently a senior lecturer with over two decades experience of learning and teaching in a higher education institute, teaching reflection and reflective practice, academic skills, and mental health nursing. Nicola is an experienced external examiner and mentor, quality lead for Faculty Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and Continuing Professional Development Advisor.

Nicola is the sole author of the first edition of the Student Nurses Guide to Successful Reflection – Ten Essential Ingredients. Nicola has published a number of articles in the area of reflection and student assessment, and is the creator of and has published Experience, Deconstruction, Implementation – A new framework for reflective writing for academic intent (Clarke, 2021). 

Nicola has one wonderful daughter, three rather lazy cats, loves to lift weights and utterly loves Country music.

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