What might this be?
“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
– Anaïs Nin
What people see in this Rorschach inkblot test (Rorschach, n.d.) is supposedly suggestive of their intelligence, thought processes and other cognitive and emotive functions (Wood et al., 2015, p. 237). What is seen points to the individual’s subjective state and can inform “the underlying motivations of the person’s current issues and behaviours” (Framingham, 2013). Analogously, teachers’ actions and emotions can be thought of as andragogic Rorschach inkblots, offering clues to the underlying elements of “cultural, economic, interactional, structural, historical and political influences” that inform teachers’ professional lives (Fook & Gardner, 2007, p. 18), often at a subconscious level (Fenge, 2010). Accessing those facets and bringing them into the conscious domain is a purpose of reflection. Fisher (2003) asserts that through an understanding of themselves via reflection, people are able “to see the true nature of their existence and act to change their situation” (p. 314).
Broadly speaking, two views of reflection can be identified: in-to-outside and outside-to-in. Both aim for emancipation and the development of abilities (Kolb, 1984; Mezirow, 1981; Schon, 2001). With an enhanced set of knowledge gained from introspection, practitioners’ become empowered “to create the freedoms that they need for themselves” (Fook & Gardner, 2007, p. 14). The first is based on self-introspection, but the second views purely self-based development as suspicious (Brockbank & McGill, 2007; Fisher, 2003; Loughran, 2002; Pee et al., 2002). Imperative in the reflection process in this view is the insight of others which is necessary to avoid the “tendency to self-deceive, collude and be unaware” (Brockbank & McGill, 2007, p. 5). Both views of reflection help in understanding Moon’s error when she claims that “action is what counts” (Moon, 2000, p. 55), not teachers’ knowledge of theory. No one enters a classroom without some idea of teacherliness, a notion comprising constructs of self-other relations, relations with place as well as concepts of knowledge and social positioning (McConaghy, 2006). Even without any conscious study (a feat unthinkable for a professional teacher), all action has some type of underlying motivator.
The object of reflectivity grows more profound as layers are uncovered. Mezirow (1981) presents the surface actions of perceiving, thinking and acting as revealing aspects of the affective domains, how individuals discriminate between effective practices and how people recognise their values. These in turn offer insights into the three deeper layers of conceptual, psychic and theoretical reflectivities (1981, p. 12). Mezirow’s compliments Brockbank and McGill’s onion-skin treatment which describes the iterative process of deepening reflection. Both cognitive models echo Moon’s (2005) epistemological developmental progression (based on Perry, 1968; Baxter-Magolda, 2004, and others) from absolute knowing, where actions are seen as means and ends in themselves, to contextual knowing, where the there is recognition that any situation is encircled by its pretext, subtext and context (Boud & Walker, 1998).
Fook and Gardner (2007) relate that very few participants answer no to their iconic question; “is there anyone who isn’t critically reflective?” (p. 12). Yet, ironically very few will have at the outset a fully developed cognitive skill set to tackle the deeper requirements of reflection.
When faced with problematic issues, what are the reflective mechanisms for improvement? One answer is to allow weaknesses to lie dormant until those more surface weaknesses are dealt with. The implication here is twofold: that the submerged weaknesses will surface, and that the process of developing the reflective mindset allows the increasingly developing subtler mind to see those deeper weaknesses. Another possibility is to present teachers with the wider issues involved in development. Cunliffe suggests a programme to “unsettle conventional ideas about meaning, identity construction … and power relations” (2003, p. 993). Critical reflection offers the mechanisms for such a programme which is predicated on the existence of critical incidents as the objects of analysis. A perfect teacher needs no help. The rest of us, however, can learn to see ourselves in more accurate lights.
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Boud, D., & Walker, D. (1998). Promoting reflection in professional courses: The challenge of context. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 191–206.
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