Critical Reflective Practice

On becoming a reflective practitioner


In my personal life I have always been deeply introspective, at one stage I thought of pursuing a counselling career, however, I changed my mind after two years of studying counselling psychology because I realised that I had too much empathy and would have difficulty separating myself from my clients’ issues. Instead, I embarked on a rather precarious journey in 3rd level education in 1991. As a lecturer/teacher in higher education my journey to become a critical reflective practitioner commenced in the autumn of 2012 when I decided to do the post-graduate certificate programme in Griffith College in Training and Education. This course opened my mind to the variety of teaching methodologies, learning styles and ways of assessment that exist. I have implemented a lot of the new practices into my everyday teaching, assessment and supervisory practice. The programme also opened my eyes to governance issues and its timing was excellent because the programme which I directed was due to go for programmatic review the following June (2013). At the time I was also teaching two modules (Sociology of Education and Research Methods) to post-graduate students (Level 9 NFQ). I also supervise students writing dissertations and support and mentor doctoral students. I learnt much about the importance of personal critical reflective practice and I actively engage in critical reflective practice on all aspects of teaching, learning and assessment.

Critical Reflections on Teaching

In terms of teaching I have engaged in a number of reflective practices. I am inspired by the work of John Dewey (cited in Simpson et al. 2005) who exhorted teachers to be passionate about their subject and also to love their students and to teach out of a love of teaching rather than out of a sense of obligation. He also suggested that teachers be enthusiastic, imaginative and creative and have a vision (Simpson et al. 2005). This resonates with Vygotsky’s theory of the teacher enabling the student to reach the zone of proximal development by scaffolding their learning to bring them to a new stage of learning. I take a student-centred approach.

The programme, which I teach on, is 100% online; therefore, I do not meet the students on a face-to-face basis but meet them in cyber space in a virtual learning environment (VLE). All lessons are prepared in advance and learning sessions comprise of a carefully choreographed mix of presentations, readings, activities and quizzes that are timed carefully to ensure that students are not overburdened. Asynchronous lessons are designed for level 9 teaching and learning and take cognisance of QQI policy in that there is constructive alignment between the programme learning outcomes, module learning outcomes and between teaching and assessment. The objectives of the lessons are clearly stated at the outset. All lessons are pre-recorded so that students can listen to them over and over which means that deep learning is taking place. Students’ engage in collaborative discussions on forums, which are moderated and in live synchronous tutorials where I take the role of facilitator. The teaching methods and strategies that are used draw from the main teaching theories of behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectives; these methods are proven to work best for online teaching and learning. All lessons are designed using the principles of ‘universal design’ and are designed to promote social inclusion and to meet the learning needs of all students (those with disabilities, students teaching in national and international education contexts). Other teaching strategies are also used including collaboration, Socratic questioning, ensuring presentations have good graphics. Here is an email I received from one of my students recently:

Firstly, I just wanted to let you know that I am really enjoying this subject. I am a visual learner that’s why the examples and samples of studies and the guidelines are really working for me.

The results from the Grasha-Reichman Teaching style inventory revealed that I am scored high in terms of formal authority, personal model, facilitator and delegator:

Table 1 Grasha-Reichman Teaching style inventory

Expert Moderate 3.4
Formal Authority High 4.1
Personal Model High 4.5
Facilitator High 5
Delegator High 3.2


Peer Review

I have been peer-reviewed by colleagues in two colleges that I work in. I have used a number of methods for self-evaluation as suggested by Hughes and Moore (2007). In addition to online teaching I sometimes teach on a face-to-face basis on the initial teacher education programmes. I gave an all day workshop with a colleague on Research Methods (4th July 2015) recently and I engaged in reflective practice on the day by using a critical incident analysis.


Table 2 Critical Incident Model: Cellular approach

What was happening? How did you feel? What did you do at the time What did you do afterwards? What was the result/your learning?
I was giving a one day workshop to 111 students on the subject of Research Methods I felt that there were so many students in the room, I could not gauge whether they were actively engaged in the learning because of the layout of the room. They were seated at circular tables but there were too many students at some tables and too few at other tables. Some of the students chose to sit at the back of the room. There was no roving microphone so it was difficult for those students at the back of the room to engage in discussions with the larger groups. I stuck to the timetable, which was a mixture of presentations and activities designed to foster learning through collaboration and active engagement. I asked my colleague who was giving the workshop with me to provide me with feedback. Her feedback was as follows: For the ethics activity we had an excellent discussion regarding Babbie’s article (we allocated more time to it and a shorter amount of time to the lifeboat scenario). The success of this section was down to Teresa’s use of ‘talking around’ the slides as a whole, and drawing from her extensive experience in research. Teresa is adept at sharing with such a large group, real life examples in a deeply honest and open way while at the same time, focussing the group through direct frankness around some weighty issues surrounding ethics. I wrote a reflective journal entry and sent it to research coordinator and I also surveyed the students to get feedback To improve student engagement, at the next workshop, I will ensure that students are divided equally at the tables; I will give them fewer activities, as there were too many activities. I will ‘flip the classroom’ by giving them a smaller number of readings to do beforehand and give them time to discuss the reading and critically summarise it. I will ensure that there is a roving microphone so that the students at the back of the room can participate.


Online tutorials

Most of my teaching is done through synchronous live tutorials with students who are spread across the globe. All tutorials start with the statement of the learning outcomes. These tutorials are recorded and afford the opportunity for me to listen back to them so that I can identify good teaching practice and areas for improvement. To that end, I carried out a self-evaluation and also I was peer-reviewed. Hibernia College provides the observer and observee with pro formas.The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (2015) recommend that third level teachers engage in continuous Professional Development. My CPD involved doing a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts in Training and Education (Level 9, NNQ). As part of that programme I was peer-reviewed by one of the tutors.

Part 1: To be completed prior to observation session by the participant being observed and sent to the observer:

Table 6: Peer Observation

Tutor observing X Y
Participant being observed Teresa Whitaker
Module or session title Research Methods (Masters in Teaching and Learning)
Venue for observation Online teaching
Date and time Thursday 13th November 6.45 to 7.45 (Log in earlier to ensure that technology is working ok)
1. Session outcome(s):
This tutorial is about critiques of qualitative research, however, in the last tutorial students asked me if they could discuss their proposals for their dissertation for their Masters. Lesson learning outcomes:

  • Learners should feel confident about their choice of topic for their Master’s dissertation.
  • Learners should be able to apply what they have learnt to designing a research proposal.
  • Depending on the time available we may also do some revision on qualitative research.


2. How will this outcome be assessed (attach copy of assessment brief if you wish):
This particular module is assessed by way of a Research Proposal (see attached).
3. Particular areas you would like specific feedback on:
I do not like my students to be mystified or baffled by research methodologies therefore I have a tendency to explain too much!  I’m trying to develop other styles such as questioning, encouraging student collaboration – if one student cannot answer a question – putting it to the class and then finally giving the information myself. All of the learners are professionals – they are all teachers, some of them are principals, therefore, there is no need to spoon-feed them.

Part 2: To be completed by the observer after the observation session and emailed to the participant by the tutor (use this in your portfolio):

4. Alignment (between the outcome and assessment):
The assignment brief is excellent and very thorough. This class demonstrated excellent alignment between the assignment requirements and the material covered in the tutorial. The interactive nature of the class illustrated the ambiguity often associated with research and the many questions thrown up once the process starts.
5. Feedback (per request in point 3 in part 1)
I really enjoyed and learnt a lot from your style and approach. (My online tutorials must appear like a high-speed train compared with your lovely calm one). The students were all engaged and the interaction between the students was timely and appropriate. You reinforced ideas and made excellent suggestions. I probably would have had more input myself but I think allowing the students to tease out the issues themselves worked well. The difficulty with this approach can be if a dominant uninformed student dominates it can be difficult to ensure students are getting accurate information. This did not happen with you, which is great. The use of the white board to reinforce ideas and summarise what people said was excellent. Perhaps a suggestion would be to have a table open where you populate it with key points as you go through the tutorial. I always found it difficult to have a clear view of the items below when beginning to start a research project.

Idea Qualitative/quantitative Methodology methods
6. Advice or guidance of future action:
Nothing really here, I really enjoyed the tutorial, your approach was authoritative but approachable which are exactly what students want. There was a great flow in the tutorial and the collaborative learning was excellent. In a topic like this, listening from others and asking students to comment on ideas is a very good approach. I loved the way you integrated ethics and other issues as they arose, in their ‘natural environment’. I was up in Queens and got some good references for questionnaires which measure attitudes/ reading etc. in children, which you may like to look at.



The modules which I teach have formative and summative assessments in that both modules are 10 ECTS and have two assessments each. The first assessment provides formative feedback and the second assessment provides summative feedback, the marks for both assessments are aggregated to give a final mark. The assessments are in constructive alignment with the module learning outcomes for the module and the programme. They have been validated by QQI in June 2013 and are approved by the external examiner. The assessments are working in that they achieve the learning outcomes and are congruent with the programme so I do not wish to change them.

Reflection on Relationship with students

I am inspired by the work of John Dewey (cited in Simpson et al. 2005) who exhorted teachers to be passionate about their subject and also to love their students and to teach out of a love of teaching rather than out of a sense of obligation. I foster positive relations with current students and alumni. I get to know students at the induction process, which is carried out over a two-week period. I have an online meeting with students and tutors, they introduce themselves; describe the educational context in which they are working and their expectations of the programme. I monitor the forums to ensure student engagement and I also stay in touch through emails and skype. The College’s policy is that all emails are answered in 24 hours.

As a programme director, I also have a responsibility for the academic and professional growth of my students, so I introduced a task at induction, to read an article and then write a 500 word account of any aspect of the article. This allows me to assess the level of English and academic writing. I then provide an online tutorial on academic writing. I provide additional academic support for those who have been assessed with dyslexia and provide them with ‘reasonable accommodation’. On completion of modules, the grades are sent to me and the external examiner. If I notice that a student is struggling, I contact them to see if they need any additional support with academic writing. Additionally, halfway through the programme I enquire from students if they would like another tutorial on academic writing. On completion of all modules, students are surveyed and their feedback elicited on how the module could be improved. Ideas and suggestions are taken on board for subsequent release of the modules. We have received very positive feedback from students (see Appendix 3). During the dissertation writing phase I have introduced 4 tutorials to ensure that the students are scaffolded during this process. We are in compliance with The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 report that third level colleges should have systems in place to get feedback from students and that this feedback should inform programme management and the HEI.

In addition, I encourage graduates to present papers at conferences and to publish their work. Graduates are also invited to tutor on the other programmes.   The programme has received very positive feedback from the current and previous external examiner.


How my work reflects the responsibilities of 3rd level institutions: (teaching, learning and social responsibility etc.)

As programme director, and as a module tutor, I take my roles and responsibilities in third level education seriously in relation to teaching, learning assessment and having social responsibility for the programme. The programme was originally validated by HETAC in 2008 and went for programmatic review with Quality, Qualifications Ireland(Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) 2012) at level 9 of the National Framework of Qualifications in June 2013; it was validated for another five years. Graduates of the programme were surveyed and small changes were made, including two new modules and the amalgamation of previous modules, for example, there were three five credit modules on digital technologies and these were amalgamated into one 10 credit module. In writing the programmatic review I was mindful of international guidelines such as the Bologna Process whose key objectives (Confederation of EU Rectors 2000) are that there is a common framework of readable and comparable degrees across countries who participate in the Bologna Process. It also instigated the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (Education and Culture DG 2009) that provides learners with recognition of student learning; obstacles to free mobility of students are eliminated. Another imperative of the Bologna Process was that all programmes and modules have clearly stated learning outcomes and shift from a teacher centred to a student centred approach. ‘Learning outcomes are used to express what learners are expected to achieve and how they are expected to demonstrate that achievement’(Kennedy et al. 2006) (p. 1). Subsequent feedback on the new version of the programme has been very positive.


As programme director I am required to write an annual report (January), which reflects how the programme and modules worked in the previous year and what changes or improvements are needed based on tutor and student feedback. In addition, all the quality assurance documents have to be reviewed every June, to ensure that they are in compliance with national and international guidelines. Hibernia College has a plethora of quality assurance policies and procedures which are reviewed annually and updated in light of new evidence. These policies and procedures are built on the principles of equity, fairness and standards. The main factors influencing the procedures are national and international policies and other higher level institutions :

  • QQI Quality Assurance procedures (;
  • European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (2009), Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ENQA 2009).
  • Consultation with other Higher Education Institutions on what constitutes best practice in teaching, learning and assessment.

 The programme is also underpinned by the work of deferral committees, appeals committees, ethics committee and there are biannual programme committee meetings with members of faculty and student representatives to ensure that all aspects of the programme are working well. A staff member called ‘Head of Student Experience’ looks after all aspects of the student experience. In addition, there is a confidential counselor who students can access should they feel they are under too much stress.

The programme is also in compliance with relevant national legislation, which underpins the social inclusion of students with disabilities. These are the Equal Status Acts, the Employment Equality Act, the Disability Act, the Education for Special Needs Act and the Universities Act. The Equality Acts (Irish Statute Book 2000) prohibit discrimination on nine grounds (age, gender, religion, disability, race, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, membership of Traveller community). Disability is defined as inter alia as a condition … which results in a person learning differently (Lodge & Lynch 2004). A student is discriminated against on the ground of a disability when one person is treated in a comparable situation less favourably than another person on the basis that one has a disability and the other does not’ (Lodge and Lynch, 2004, p. 77). The Employment Equality Act (EEA) (Irish Statute Book 1998) provides protection for individuals against discriminatory practices and has significant implications for both providers and recipients of education because the Act includes Colleges in its definition of employers.   According to the legislation, an educational establishment discriminates against a student with a disability if it does not do all that is reasonable to accommodate that student. In an educational context, it has been established that a reasonable accommodation ‘is any action that helps alleviate a substantial disadvantage’. Making a reasonable accommodation could involve changing procedures, modifying the delivery of a course, providing examination arrangements, altering the physical environment or providing additional services such as assistive technology, materials in alternative formats e.g. audio recordings, or extra tuition. The beauty of an online programme is that all lessons are designed using universal design principles and can be accessed over and over again during the duration of the programme.

If students wish to receive ‘reasonable accommodation’ they must disclose the disability. The National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2008-2013 (Higher Education Authority 2008) states that “good practice for access becomes good practice for all learners throughout the institution.” The programme I direct has a diversity of students with diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds and some whose first language is not English. All are socially included and to date we have not received negative feedback.

Reflections on Research Methods day long workshop

There are differences between mentoring, coaching and training and also differences between traditional teaching and training and differences in learning styles. Peter Honey (2007) wrote a booklet entitled The Trainer Styles Questionnaire; he suggests that learners have different styles and that these learning styles should influence how a trainer provides training. These learning styles draw from a number of theories about how people learn: Behaviourism, cognitivism, humanism, constructivism, and social/ learning as imitation or modelling.The booklet provides a questionnaire which revealed that I am a mixture of an Activist (30), Reflector (31), Theorist (34) and Pragmatist (33).

My colleague and I provided an all day workshop on Research Methods recently and this was an ideal time to hone my training skills, and to critically reflect on them. This was also a team teaming exercise, we were very well prepared with a mixture of exposition (short didactic talks), activities for the students to do (collaborative learning), and question and answer sessions.

The students in question were 111 post-graduate students doing initial teacher education on a Level 9 Professional Masters in Education. They ranged in age from 25 to 50 years. The venue was a large hotel room, which had 12 circular tables. In terms of managing expectations, all students were provided with a timetable for the day and a list of readings and activities. I asked my colleague to give me written critical feedback.

The day went well; my colleague and I were very well prepared, there was a good balance between the activities and the presentations and we did a good job ensuring participation from everybody. I started the day with a constructive approach, how many people have conducted research before? I asked them to share their experiences of research. I also shared my experiences of research and some of the things that went wrong. I tried to keep the day light and humourous.

Reflecting on it, I would change some things. For better collaborative learning, I would ensure that there was the same number of students at each table because some of the tables had only four students and others had twelve. I would ensure that they were spaced out differently so that I could facilitate discussions in six and my colleague the other six. The room was not ideal as there were pillars that obscured the view of some of the students. I would ensure that there was a ‘roving microphone’. There was only one mic, which meant that the students at the end of the room were reluctant to come forward and it was hard to hear their responses when I asked open-ended questions. In the future I would try to draw out the quieter students and give less attention to the talkative students. There was poor ventilation in the room that was unsuitable for the focus of this conference. There were too many activities and we tried to achieve too much; I had the feeling that we were rushing, next time I will give fewer activities and ensure that the students complete them. I also have to resist being cast in the role of expert and allow students to work out their own answers and options. I also need to give students time to process the information and engage in reflective practice. In future, I will survey learners at the end of the day, rather than surveying them afterwards so that I can get more feedback on improving my teaching practices.


In conclusion, in this paper I have provided critical reflections on my role as director and tutor on a master’s programme for experienced teachers. I have engaged in critical self-evaluation and I have been observed by my peers and received critical feedback. I am constantly learning from my students and they from me.




Confederation of EU Rectors, 2000. The Bologna Declaration on the European Space for Higher Education: an explanation, Bologna. Available at:

Dewey, J., 1910. How we think, Boston: D.C. Heath & Co.

Education and Culture DG, 2009. ECTS Users’ Guide, Brussels: European Communities. Available at: [Accessed July 19, 2015].

ENQA, 2009. Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area, Helsinki: European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education. Available at: [Accessed July 19, 2015].

Higher Education Authority, 2008. National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2008-2013, Dublin, Ireland: National Office of Equity of Access to Higher Education. Available at: [Accessed June 1, 2015].

Honey, P. (2007) The Trainer Styles Questionnaire, UK: Pearson Clinical and Talent Assessment.Hughes, J. & Moore, I., 2007. Reflective portfolios for professional development. In Teaching Portfolio Practice in Ireland A Handbook. Dublin: Trinity College. Available at:,ssl&ei=MhGsVc2sFaeH7QbWloLIAg#q=teaching+portfolio+practice+in+ireland+a+handbook [Accessed July 19, 2015].

Irish Statute Book, 1998. Employment Equality Act 1998, Available at: [Accessed September 12, 2013].

Irish Statute Book, 2000. Equal Status Acts 2000 – 2004, Available at: [Accessed September 8, 2013].

Kennedy, D., Hyland, A. & Ryan, N., 2006. Implementing Bologna in your institution (c 3. 4-1) Writing and using learning outcomes: a practical guide, Ireland: Dublin City University. Available at:

Lodge, A. & Lynch, K., 2004. Diversity at School, Dublin: Institute of Public Administration. Available at:$File/Diversity_at_School%5B1%5D.pdf [Accessed September 12, 2013].

Mezirow and Associates, J., 1990. Fostering critical reflection in Adulthood: A guide to transformative and emancipatory learning, California: Jossey-Bass Inc.

National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, 2015. Mapping Professional Development Pathways for those who teach in Irish Higher Education: Where are we now and where do we want to go?, Dublin: NFETL.

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), 2012. The National Framework of Qualifications. Available at: [Accessed September 12, 2013].

Rodgers, C., 2002. Defining Reflection: Another look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking. Teachers College Record, 104(4), pp.842 – 866.

Simpson, D., Jackson, M. & Ayock, J., 2005. John Dewey and the Art of Teaching Toward Reflective and Imaginative Practice, California: Sage Publications.


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