Four critically reflective lenses – Stephen Brookfield
Even though Stephen Brookfield relates his thinking on reflective practice to the traditional teaching role, some of his suggestions are equally relevant to the personal tutor role, and in places we have adapted them to fit this.
In order to succeed in becoming critically reflective, Brookfield (1995, pp 29–30) asserts that teachers must view themselves through four critically reflective lenses, which are:
- Our autobiographies as learners and teachers: using our own unique personal self-reflection and collecting the insights and meanings for teaching.
- Our students’ eyes: making an assessment of one’s self through the students’ lens by seeking their input and seeing classrooms and learning from their perspectives.
- Our colleagues’ experiences: by peer review of teaching from colleagues’ experiences, observations and feedback.
- Theoretical literature: by frequently referring to the theoretical literature that may provide an alternative, interpretive framework for a situation.
Often academics are required to undertake all of the four aspects of Brookfield’s model as part of their PG Cert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education or Academic Practice and other aspects are likely to be built into the processes of the institution that you work within such as the performance review process. A key aspect, which you may not have been asked to carry out as a personal tutor, is keeping a reflective journal – in Brookfield’s terms a ‘Teaching Log’ (stage one of his model), in our terms a ‘personal tutor log’.
Brookfield (1995) argues that it is useful for teachers to keep a weekly record of the events that have impressed themselves most vividly on their consciousness, particularly focusing on events that were positive, stressful or challenging. He argues that one of the principal benefits for teachers of becoming critically reflective is to ground them emotionally, and this is certainly useful within the personal tutor role due to the multitude of issues you can be faced with. In order to make this personal tutor log a feasible task, try filling in the journal weekly for 15 to 20 minutes. Brookfield (1995) recommends some of the following questions and suggests that you should jot down any brief responses that seem appropriate.
- What was (were) the moment(s) this week when I felt most connected, engaged or affirmed as a personal tutor – the moment(s) I said to myself, ‘This is what being a personal tutor is really about’?
- What was (were) the moment(s) this week when I felt most disconnected, disengaged or bored as a personal tutor – the moment(s) I said to myself, ‘I’m just going through the motions here’?
- What was the situation that caused me the greatest anxiety or distress – the kind of situation that I kept replaying in my mind as I was dropping off to sleep, or that caused me to say to myself, ‘I don’t want to go through this again for a while’?
- What was the event that most took me by surprise – an event where I saw or did something that shook me up, caught me off guard, knocked me off my stride, gave me a jolt, or made me unexpectedly happy?
- Of everything I did this week in my personal tutor role, what would I do differently if I had the chance to do it again?
- What do I feel proudest of in my personal tutoring activities this week and why?
Despite the fact that our personal tutoring experiences run the risk of being dismissed as ‘merely anecdotal’, Brookfield, while conceding that ‘all experience is inherently idiosyncratic’, asserts that our autobiographies are ‘one of the most important sources of insight into teaching to which we have access’ (1995, p 31). Regularly updating a personal tutor log is a good way to begin to make reflective practice more of a routine and less of a one- off when the need arises, and it will produce benefits for your ongoing professional development as a personal tutor.
Brookfield, S (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.