You want me to WHAT?


How to be a reflective teacher

 “…when making meaning becomes learning…”

Jack Mezirow (1990)

David Schön cultivated the notion of reflective practice in 1983 and described it as “the ability to reflect on one’s actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning.” Reflective practice involves paying critical attention to the practical values and theories which inform everyday actions, by examining practice reflectively. A key rationale for reflective practice is that experience alone does not necessarily lead to learning; deliberate reflection on experience is essential (Schön, 1983).

Have you ever sat down for 15 minutes with a cup of coffee and consciously thought about what just happened? As the clinician – you resuscitated a patient… and they died. “But I did go through all the H’s and T’s (sh!t, did I really?) YES of course I did, I had the ACLS card with me. It was probably just their time.” And you go about your normal day. As the educator – your student results are poor… meh, there is a supplementary for this test. “I wonder if I really emphasized enough that chapter 5 was really important? Duh, I’m a good teacher, of course I did. Students were probably lazy, it’s their own fault.” And you go about your normal day.

Sound familiar?  Of course, it does… We are human, we can’t get ourselves caught up in eeeverything we go through every day. But on the flip side… why not?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should spend hours every day reliving every happening of your day, but as clinicians (and especially clinicians that are also educators), we HAVE to be more than just the clinician-teacher. Every day students look up to us and learn from us. Students who see their seniors brush off events, adopt the behavior too. We work with people. As clinicians and as educators, we need to cultivate the correct attitude toward learning and reflection, by modelling these behaviors. Competency as a clinician means competency in the realms of knowledge, skills and attitude.

So, what is reflection and how do you do it? It really is as simple as “sit down for 10 minutes and think”?

Reflection is consciously thinking about an event/interaction.


Summarizing what happened and simply repeating the events in your head is not reflection. Remember, CONSCIOUSLY THINKING!! Think in big words, analyze stuff, describe feelings, evaluate why things happened, try figure out how and why events happened the way they did. What did you learn? What will you do differently? Why will you change that? What do you think this anticipated change will result in?  reflection

Relax, you probably won’t get it right the first time and you are going to feel like you are wasting your time. I can guarantee you that the more you reflect the more your everyday tasks will bring meaning to you. You fill start to find that the time you spend in traffic is WAY valuable thinking time.dewey.png

As clinicians and educators, we underestimate the importance of our role. We have to constantly be aware of how we portray ourselves as the medical professional and also as the teacher. We have students, colleagues, patients and their families relying on us to be the best clinician and teacher at all times. The accountability and responsibility that rests on us every day extends beyond what we realize. We need to mirror the professionals that we want students to be. Health professions graduates need to be autonomous and life-long learners. If you can’t critique yourself, you will never grow. The phrase “do as I say and not as I do” is not the way to create a reflective clinician.

People hardly remember what you say, they remember what they see and feel –  students, colleagues, patients and their families watch us every single day…

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Author: Judy Steyn (@JudySteyn_SA)


Schön, Donald A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.

Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods.

Taylor, B. (2010). Reflective practice for healthcare professionals: a practical guide. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).


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