Nice title, Joe Harkin, in the Journal of Vocational Education and Training, Vol 57, No. 2, 2005. Fragments stored against my ruin: the place of education theory in the professional development of teachers in further education p165-179.
Joe reports that not only has the UK set new standards for teacher training in the further education sector, they’re hard wiring reflective practice in as an underpinning value. Fair enough. Except that as usual no-one seems to have gotten around to defining exactly what reflective practice might be. Or how to do it. The trainee teachers are supposed to define for themselves what reflective practice is. The trainees are supposed to incorporate learning theory as well. But, guess what – that’s undefined except as might be done by the trainees themselves.
Sounds great. I’m inclined to bet dung to dead mattresses that if reflective practice was against the law less than 1 in 100 teachers in any sector would be found to have any evidence, let alone enough to convict them. I bet there’d be more evidence of illicit substances, strange devices, and mysterious plans for flying saucers. Even though, in their studies, they probably would’ve been exposed it and may’ve even participated in it – reflective practice that is.
I think any tool, and I include reflective practice as a tool, worth its salt, is one people will keep close at hand, and use because they want to. A good tool becomes a default device. The kind of thing you buy for your kids when they leave the nest because it’s a household necessity. If reflective practice was like that there would be no need for a legislated approach to its inclusion as an underpinning value. If it was good, it would BE an underpinning value.
I don’t believe that legislating reflective practice as an underpinning value will be of any real value. As soon as the practice police move on the real way of practice will raise to the fore. The few people who take a documented approach to reflective practice will, the majority will not have enough evidence to convict them in five years time. Might’ve done it but they didn’t inhale.
So, what’s the problem? I think the real issue behind reflective practice is that it runs contrary to desire lines. It’s like a number of other fine products. We should exercise more, love more, eat less crap, eat more vegetables, save for our retirement, save whales blah blah blah. It’s not that these things are bad. They’re not. It’s just that most people just don’t work that way. The do some good stuff, some bad stuff, with a fine selection of average and guilt in between.
I also think reflective practice is predicated on the idea that it should be used to try to winkle out your weaknesses – how like those criticism groups during the cultural revolution. Doesn’t have to be, of course, it could be used to play to your strengths. Getting better. There are techniques for doing this. But based on what Joe has to say, and on my own experience and research, I’m inclined to think there’s a great opportunity to be a researcher in the UK while they fumble around. Seems the UK government has got time and money to experiment and I’m looking forward to reading more findings – a great research opportunity.