It is essential that once in a while, a person stops to evaluate if he or she is on the right track and if he or she is effective in her professional practice, lest all efforts go to waste. According to Osterman (1990), “reflection is the essential part of the learning process because it results in making sense of or extracting meaning from the experience”. People often go through their day doing their work as second nature, sometimes without thinking critically if what they are doing is truly meaningful and relevant.
Reflective practice has both advantages and disadvantages. It can positively affect professional growth and development by leading to greater self-awareness, to the development of new knowledge about professional practice, and to a broader understanding of the problems that confront practitioners (Osterman 1990). However, it is a time-consuming process and it may involve personal risk because the questioning of practice requires that practitioners be open to an examination of beliefs, values, and feelings about which there may be great sensitivity (Peters 1991). Reflecting in a mentoring relationship (i.e. discussions with Practice Assessor) is especially beneficial because a mentee can have a sounding board of her reflections.
John Dewey (1946) defined reflective thinking as “an active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends”. Van Manen defines reflection in terms of a means of mental action that distances the person from events in order that they may be viewed in a more objective manner.
Reflective Learning Models
Schon (1983) was particularly influential in contributing to the understanding of reflective practice. He defines reflection to be ‘involving thoughtfully considering one’s own experiences in applying knowledge to practice while being coached by professionals in the discipline (1996). Schon’s theory outlines two different types of reflection that occur at different time phases: reflection on action and reflection in action. ‘Reflection in action’ is often referred to the colloquial phrase as ‘thinking on your feet’ a term used to being able to assess ourselves within a situation, making appropriate changes and still keeping a steady flow in the process. Reflection on action is when reflection occurs after the event. This is where the practitioner makes a deliberate and conscious attempt to act and reflect upon a situation and how it should be handled in the future (Loughran 1996).
Dewey sees reflection as “a process of finding out what we want, as we say, what we ‘really’ want, and this means the formation of a new desire, a new direction of action. In this process, things ‘get’ values – something they did not possess before” (Dewey, N.D). His definition is more similar to Schon’s reflection on action definition. Dewey writes. “To reflect is to look back over what has been done so as to extract the net meanings which are the capital stock for intelligent dealing with further experiences (Dewey, 1946, p.110). It is judgment suspended during further inquiry. What he stresses is anticipatory thinking, projecting ahead from what one has reflected from past experiences. For Dewey, anticipation is more primary than recollection. He states, “the only power the organism power possesses to control its own future depends upon the way its present responses modify changes which are taking place in its medium” (Dewey, 1917, pp. 20-21).
Another reflective model involves the process of reflective journal writing. Smyth (1991) claims one first has to describe current practices – events, critical incidents or occurrences that cause one to question. This may uncover important insights. Next is to inform. Objectively revisit descriptions of events and develop an understanding of the context of what happened. The third step is to confront oneself by asking where his beliefs come from and why he believes them; what assumptions did he make; why does he adopt such views or practices and what influences him to think and behave the way he does. Lastly, one can reconstruct. If such events cause conflicts between one’s theories and what he would want to happen, he should ask himself questions such as: what he would want to happen; how would he change his practices; what new theory should he adopt; and if this new theory is consistent with the old one. This may be tedious to do, but very effective in drawing out real evaluation and feelings from reflections.
Development of Personal and Professional Values
Effective reflective practice keeps one vigilant in maintaining personal and professional skills. I know that Smyth’s suggestion to keep a journal will definitely help me in evaluating my actions. From this, I get an idea of how a tick as a person and as a professional. Dewey has created a great impact in terms of how thoroughly I should plan my encounters with families and children, not only in terms of counseling but every interaction that leads me to influencing my clientele. Dewey has taught me to consider all aspects of their social and cultural backgrounds when I make social decisions on their behalf. Schon has pointed out the value of ongoing reflection in whatever I do, and this keeps me in check of my actions and language, as I take to heart that I am considered a rightful model and source of assistance. Schon’s model encourages me to must develop an attitude of excellence, as that is the quality of service I aim to provide, and that is the quality I would like to define me as a professional.
Cognition and Development of Use of Self
In order for me to be successful in my career, her broad knowledge of various organizational and networking systems that provide support and services to my must be matched with my own vast understanding of how a person’s mind and emotions operate especially in times of crisis. Most of the time, counseling sessions are conducted with my client, or members of the client’s family. Here, the social worker’s communication skills are put to the test. “In conversations with the professional, clients speak out about their pains and sorrows, and about their hope and beliefs.” (Van Nijnatten, 2006, p.133) It becomes an avenue where both the social worker and the client brainstorm on ways to express these emotions so they construct new meanings and new perspectives. Coming from an objective frame of mind, the social worker helps the client distance himself to the concern at hand and explains that such overwhelming emotions that the client is undergoing are normal and can cite cases of others who have survived through the same. Then ways to resolve the problem are discussed.
With children, I take on a more critical role, as I adjust to the developmental stages and needs of the child client. Like the parents’ role, a I help the child to find the words that enables him to express himself well. When the child feels empowered enough to become the author of his life story, he becomes better able to reconstruct his life (Van Nijnatten, 2006)
I try to encourage my clients’ capacity for reflection and to delineate their persons from the problem itself. This is because clients are often so immersed in their concerns that they perceive that they are unable to change anything, often becoming hopeless (Van Nijnatten, 2006). Usually, children find it less stressful to unburden to a stranger or to a friend outside their family, as there are less emotional involvement with that person. Also, their own parents and relatives may try to coddle them from the pain of the truth
It is true that children and adolescents under the care of efficient social workers are not guaranteed to be forever changed for the better. However, a positive difference in them was a feeling of being supported as well as monitored. “Some children described relationships with individuals who they felt cared about them and would fight their corner. This was demonstrated partly by practitioners who “actually did something”, like attending appointments at the job centre, but one child valued his mentor simply because she rang to ask how he was.” (Williamson in Community Care, 2007).
I am aware that open communication is likewise crucial to the family of the young client. Openness and honesty regarding their child’s case is to be discussed by the family members, the social worker in a sensitive and compassionate manner (Jones, 2006). In a crisis such as this, parents, most especially need assurance that they will not be abandoned by the people helping them. The quality of support the social worker provides is necessary for the healing process of the family to ensue.
Evidence of Reflection
I know I have many things to learn and still have along way to go in becoming the kind of professional practitioner I can ever hope to be. Reflection in every step of the way has become a valuable tool in the formation of my character as a professional. It also helps me deal with personal issues that may hinder my effectiveness. Learning to deal with various types of personalities from all walks of life facilitates the way I treat people according to what works with them, without forgetting that every person deserves my utmost respect.
Areas for Continuing Professional Development
It takes so much commitment and dedication to be an effective social worker, not to mention the skills and knowledge I must possess in order to carry out my job well. However, such high regard given to my wisdom by my clients must not go to my head. I should keep in mind the following:
“It is therefore most important that the social worker should maintain an appropriate distance and indicates to the client the limits on any possibilities of assistance: the social worker cannot do everything, has limited time available, and so on. At the same time, there is a never-say-die attitude necessary, and all possibilities that may offer a perspective on the future are examined together with the client, however limited they may be. This attitude also serves to protect the social workers themselves, who otherwise run the risks of themselves being dragged into the delusion that they are able to solve all the client’s problems.” (Van Nijnatten, 2006, p. 140).
As a social worker, I must be wary of this messianic belief as it may overwhelm me into thinking I am all-important, and may develop an attitude of superiority. I must always keep in mind that I belong to the human service profession and not in any way involved in my own ego-boosting.
It is heartening to think, though, that I belong to a group of professionals that have the power to provide temporary relief from pain, whether physical, cognitive or emotional. We can be confidantes, sympathetic friends, and angels on earth.
Dewey, J. (1917) “The Need for Recovery of Philosophy”, Creative Intelligence: Essays in the pragmatic attitude. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
Dewey, J.(1946) Experience and Education. New York: The Macmillian Company.
Jones, B.L., (2006) “Companionship, Control, and Compassion: A Social Work Perspective on the Needs of Children with Cancer and their Families at the End of Life” Journal of Palliative Medicine, 2006
Loughran, J. (1996) Developing reflective practice: learning about teaching and learning through modeling. Routledge.
Osterman, K. F. (1990) “Reflective Practice: A New Agenda for Education.” Education And Urban Society 22, no. 2 133-152.
Peters, J. (1991) “Strategies for Reflective Practice.” In Professional Development For Educators Of Adults. New Directions For Adult And Continuing Education, no. 51, edited by R. Brockett. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schön, D. A.(1983) The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.
Smyth, J. (1991) Teachers as collaborative learners. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press
Van Nijnatten, C. (2006) “Finding the words: social work from a developmental perspective” Journal of Social Work Practice Vol. 20, No. 2.
Williamson, R. (2007) “Some children just cannot live in a family.” Community Care.