Critical Reflection as a Primary Teaching Practice : Making the Most of Your New Semester & Our New Blog

Patty-PayettePatty Payette, Ph.D., is executive director of “Ideas to Action,”the Quality Enhancement Plan at the University of Louisville and associate director senior of the Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning.



Welcome to a New Year!  January is often the time we look back on the prior year and look ahead to the new one.

We are excited to share with you our re-launch of The Teaching Practice, our Delphi Center teaching blog designed with our UofL colleagues in mind.  After analyzing data and feedback from our 2013 blog pilot project, this week we are pleased to share with you our new blog design and format. To learn more about The Teaching Practice, please visit our About page.

We invite you to subscribe to our RSS feed or to bookmark this blog as we craft and share bi-weekly posts related to teaching and learning topics that you’ve told us are important to you. Our posts will be short, practical and “resource-full” and we invite you to join the conversation and community by responding to us and each other with your comments, tips, and questions.

Our blog invites you to engage in reflection as an ongoing practice of looking backward and forward in relation to your teaching practices and your students’ learning.

Reflection is a wonderful idea in theory, but what do we really mean by it?  Stephen Brookfield, who some of you may remember from the 2010 Celebration of Teaching and Learning keynote address, defines reflection as:

 “… a practice of hunting assumptions.  These are our taken-for-granted beliefs about the world and our place within it”  (Brookfield, 1995).

Brookfield shared a painful awakening to his own erroneous assumption that putting his students in a circle fostered conversation. In reality, his students felt self-conscious and more uncomfortable when they felt monitored by everyone in the room and they  perceived it as a “power move” by the instructor.

How can we, as instructors, make a conscious effort to “hunt” down our own assumptions and learn from them?  How can we foster this reflective practice with our students?

Critical reflection is a concept that can help us answer these questions. Critical reflection is a process that involves: a) thinking deeply about what you’ve experienced or how you’ve reacted in a situation, b) considering how those experiences challenge assumptions or bring other points of view into focus, and then c) integrating new beliefs, knowledge or assumptions into your thinking, beliefs or action for the future (Kenny, 2010).

In other words, critical reflection moves beyond reflecting on our past and asks us to go deeper—to interpret and consider the significance of our prior experiences in order to learn more about ourselves and those around us and then act on this new awareness.

If you’d like to try out critical reflection for your own growth as a teacher, consider these questions as the new year gets underway:

As you reflect on 2013, bring to mind a teaching experience or memorable moment with your students that stands out in your mind because it challenged an assumption or belief you had about yourself, your students, or an aspect of your course or subject. It might be something that surprised you.

  • What happened and how did you feel about it at the time?
  • Looking back at it now, what is your interpretation of what happened? Why is this significant for you?
  • What did you learn about yourself or others, or about your course, and how will you use this information to inform your teaching in 2014?

Being a critically reflective teacher requires us to regularly examine and assess the validity of the assumptions and beliefs we bring to teaching in light of our experience—and then respond and act on implications of this new knowledge. It requires time for reflection and willingness to “hunt assumptions” for the benefit of ourselves and our students.

We invite you to share any responses you have to the questions we’ve posed above, or your thoughts and strategies related to critical reflection.

Hungry to learn more about making the most of critical reflection for yourself and your students?

Thanks to my colleague Dr. Nisha Gupta for her contributions to this post on critical reflection.


Brookfield, S. (1995).  Becoming a critically reflective teacher.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

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