Reflecting on Professional Learning

Feedback received from teachers during Cosán workshops pointed to the need for accessible information materials in relation to the concept of reflection, and further supports for teachers engaging in reflection. In response, this section of the website offers a description of the varying understandings of reflection in the literature, as well as ‘models’ of reflection, commonly used in educational contexts. These models have been configured to refer specifically to teachers’ learning, and include possible questions that teachers might ask (whether individually or collaboratively) when engaging in reflection. Of course, use of these definitions and models is entirely at teachers’ discretion, and they may wish to adapt them further for their own context, or in fact, use any other suitable means of reflection.

 This short Powtoon offers a summary of the material on reflection, or click on the links below to read more.

Reflection from The Teaching Council on Vimeo.


A range of authors have offered definitions of reflection more broadly, and indeed, reflective practice (McGarr and McCormack 2014, Saric and Steh 2017). One early definition from Dewey (1910) describes reflection as ‘active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends’ (p.9). Rodgers (2002) expands this consideration where reflection:

  1. Is a meaning-making process that moves a learner from one experience into the next with deeper understanding of its relationships with and connections to other experiences and ideas.
  2. Is a systematic, rigorous, disciplined way of thinking.
  3. Needs to happen in community, in interaction with others.
  4. Requires attitudes that value the personal and intellectual growth of oneself and of others (p.700).

The references here to an active and coherent process, that occurs collaboratively, and supports personal and professional growth are echoed elsewhere in the literature (Richardson 2006, Benade 2015). This process is also of course inherent in Cosán. The framework highlights how Cosán will support teachers to think in an evidence-based way and to reflect meaningfully on the impact of their professional learning, individually and, more importantly, collectively.

Models of Reflection

The varying existing models and frameworks on reflection (Gibbs (1988), Schón (1987), Johns (2000) etc.) can help teachers engage in meaningful reflection. Some of these models and frameworks are presented below, but have been adapted for use when reflecting specifically on professional learning. They follow a relatively similar pattern:

  1. Retrospection: Thinking back about a situation or experience.
  2. Self-evaluation: Critically analysing and evaluating the actions and feelings associated with the experience, using theoretical perspectives.
  3. Reorientation: Using the results of self-evaluation to influence future approaches to similar situations or experiences. (Quinn 2000)

The first step here i.e. retrospection, can only come about when we ‘stop’ or ‘pause’ to think about practice, professional learning etc. Dewey (in Boydston 2008) refers here to how

We say "Stop and think "; well, all reflection involves, at some point, stopping external observations and reactions- so that an idea may mature… (p. 344).

Therefore, in the models below it is useful to consider the first step of each, as dependent on sufficient opportunities for teachers to stop and think.

Gibbs' (1988) Reflective Cycle

Gibbs’ (1988) reflective cycle has been adopted in a number of professions. In the adapted version below, the six steps have been condensed to three:

  1. Description and Feelings

Describe the learning opportunity/ activity you are reflecting on. Explore how you felt about the learning opportunity/activity. Think about the content of the learning and the process you engaged in. Think about how you approached the learning activity and your motivation for engaging in this. Consider the personal as well as professional motivation here. You could support this stage with any relevant material from the learning opportunity/ activity.

  1. Evaluation and Analysis

Explain how you’ve applied the learning to your practice. Think about how it has had an impact on the teaching and learning (or other elements) in your setting, and what exactly this impact has been. In doing so, bear in mind that the impact in Cosán is described in very broad terms, and is not necessarily something that is readily measurable or limited to observable outcomes. This broader conceptualisation of impact takes account of the fact that teachers’ learning can impact on their levels of engagement, motivation and enjoyment, thereby improving their practice as individuals, and also collectively, by cultivating professional learning communities. It is useful to support this reflection on impact with evidence, e.g., your own notes and planning, samples of pupil work, feedback from colleagues etc.

  1. Conclusion and Action Plan

Think about what you can conclude from the learning, and its impact. Having considered this (based on the evidence) you can make an informed action plan around future learning and the application of this to practice.

Rolfe et al's (2001) Framework

Like Gibbs’ model, this helps teachers move from merely describing the learning activity/opportunity and its ‘perceived’ benefits, to reflecting on implementing elements from the learning, and the impact thereof. And then further, to future planning of professional learning based on this evidence.

  1. What? This is the descriptive aspect of your activity, e.g., describing the learning via writing, professional conversations etc. This should succinctly describe what has happened in the learning activity, what you and others have been doing.
  2. So what? This is where you attempt to make sense of your learning, the personal and professional impact, including the impact on your practice and on the students’ learning, motivation, engagement etc. As above, the conceptualisation of impact here is very broad. Evidence of this impact could include written or visual reflections, examples of student work, examples of responsive planning etc.
  3. Now what? This is the section which requires you to think about what you are going to do next and what the consequences of your actions might be. You need to back this up with evidence.

Brookfield's (1995) Lenses

Brookfield’s (1995) lenses can support teachers in viewing their teaching from different vantage points. The lenses can prove especially beneficial when considering what evidence teachers might gather in reflecting on the impact of their professional learning.

  1. The autobiographical - Teachers can focus on previous experience as a learner in order to frame how they currently work. They can explore, for example, teaching journals, evaluations, and personal goals/outcomes, and in doing so reveal aspects of their practice that may benefit from development through personal or professional learning. 
  2. The students' eyes – In reflecting on the impact of their learning, teachers can use, for example, student evaluations, assessments, student journals, or student focus groups to gather students’ insights.
  3. Our colleagues' experiences – In reflecting on our learning (and its impact) peers can often highlight elements of good practice, and provide innovative solutions to elements of practice that can be further developed. Professional conversations, team teaching experiences, participation in workshops/ seminars, and collaborative reviews can contribute to improved motivation, increase collegiality and enhance teaching and learning outcomes.
  4. Theoretical literature – Collaborative engagement with colleagues and appropriate literature as part of ongoing learning can support practice and can offer a broader context to our teaching and learning. Teachers can use literature, and existing research to frame and support their practice, and can also highlight opportunities for further learning.


Benade, L. (2015). 'Teachers' Critical Reflective Practice in the Context of Twenty-first Century Learning', Open Review of Educational Research, 2(1), pp.42-54.

Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San-Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Cordingley, P. (2014). “Teacher licensing and collaboration: a model for developing the confidence of the profession as a whole” In: Hallgarten, J., Bamfield, L. & McCarthy, K. (eds.). Licensed to Create: Ten essays on improving teacher quality. London: RSA Action and Research Centre.

Dewey, J. (1910). How We Think. Boston: D. C. Heath & Co.

Dewey, J. (1933). How We Think (rev. ed.) Boston: D. C. Heath & Co.

Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods. Oxford: Oxford Further Education Unit

Johns, C. (2000). Becoming a reflective practitioner. Oxford: Blackwell Science

Lee, H.-J. (2005). Understanding and assessing preservice teachers' reflective thinking. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21, pp699-715

McArdle, K., & Coutts, N. (2010). Taking teachers' continuous professional development (CPD) beyond reflection: Adding shared sense-making and collaborative engagement for professional renewal. Studies in Continuing Education, 32(3)

McGarr, O. and McCormack, O. (2014).  Reflecting to Conform? Exploring Irish Student Teachers' Discourses in Reflective Practice', Journal of Educational Research, 107(4), pp.267-280.

Quinn, F.M. (1988/2000). Reflection and reflective practice. In C.Davies, L.Finlay and A. Bullman (eds.) Changing practice in health and social care. London: Sage. (Original work published in 1988 and reproduced in 2000).

Richardson, C. (2005). The Reflective Teacher: The Value of Reflective Practice for Preservice and Classroom Teachers', International Journal of Learning, 12(6), pp. 307-311.

Rodgers, C. (2002). Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking. Teachers College Record, 104(4), pp842–866.

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection for Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Saric, M. and Steh, B., 2017. Critical reflection in the professional development of teachers: Challenges and possibilities. CEPS Journal, 7(3), pp.67-85.

Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith

Sellars, M. (2017). Reflective Practice for Teachers, London: Sage