Critical reflection: how to develop it in your practice

Critical reflection is often cited as a fundamental part of good social work – but what does it actually mean and what might it look like in practice?

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This article provides practical advice on how to develop critical reflection in your practice. It is taken from a Community Care Inform Children guide on this topic. The full guide provides different methods and models you can use to reflect on your practice, as well as tips, examples and exercises. Inform Children subscribers can access the full content here. The guide is written by David Wilkins, a senior lecturer in social work at Cardiff University.

What is critical reflection?

Perhaps most importantly, critical reflection should be thought of not as an event or even as a skill, but as a process – of looking back on what you did, pondering about it and learning lessons from what did or did not work (Conway, 1994). The principle is that good practitioners do not simply do things; rather, they continually learn, develop and grow their abilities (Jarvis, 1992).

There are various models or frameworks for reflection. None represent ‘the right’ way to critically reflect and whilst having a model can be important to ensure a structured approach, the aim should be to find the model or models that feel most useful.

Whatever approach one takes, being critically reflective involves a number of key things (Brookfield, 1998), including:

  • An analysis of our assumptions.
  • A degree of scepticism about existing knowledge, beliefs and values.
  • An awareness of the social context, for us and for people who use services.
  • Some imaginative speculation – how else might this have happened?

Becoming a critically reflective practitioner is a challenging but rewarding part of becoming an expert social worker. In some organisations, critical reflection is promoted widely and seen as a necessary component of providing a good service. In other organisations, critical reflection may be seen as less important. Of course, it is easier to sustain reflective practice when you are working in more supportive organisations, yet we all have a personal responsibility to be critically reflective and to seek out, wherever possible, like-minded colleagues.

It is important to note that critical reflection can be emotionally challenging and there may be times when practitioners prefer to avoid critical reflection for this very understandable reason (Ferguson, 2018; Askeland and Fook, 2009), particularly in relation to group-based reflection.

The ‘Weather Model’

Deeloped by Maclean (2016), the Weather Model provides a simple but effective model for reflective practice by inviting you to reflect on an event or experience using the following stages:

  • Sunshine – what went well?
  • Rain – What didn’t go well?
  • Lightening – what came as a shock or surprise?
  • Fog – what didn’t you understand?

As a quick exercise, think of a recent experience you had at work – something you found particularly satisfying (perhaps because of a good outcome for someone you were working with). Use the four elements of the Weather Model to reflect on it

The full guide provides further ideas and methods to try out when using critical reflection in your own work. This includes an example assessment and exercises to reflect on and evaluate your analysis, as specified by the Consolidation Programme in Wales, and useful for all practitioners.

Community Care Inform Children’s subscribers can access the full guide here

References

Conway, J (1994)
‘Reflection, the art and science of nursing and the theory practice gap’
British Journal of Nursing, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp77-80

Jarvis, P (1992)
Reflective practice and nursing
Nurse Education Today, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp174-181

Maclean, S (2016)
‘A new model for social work reflection: whatever the weather’
Professional Social Work, March, pp28-29

Wilkins, D and Boahen, G (2013)
Critical Analysis Skills for Social Workers
Open University Press, Berkshire

One Response to Critical reflection: how to develop it in your practice

  1. Lucy Asam November 21, 2019 at 8:06 am #

    Critical reflection is very challenging for me and I am pleased to learn about this model that promises to be really practical. Will start applying it as soon as possible.
    Thank you

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