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Reflective practice in beginning teachers: helps, hindrances and the role of the critical other

Alex Moore and Andy Ash
Institute of Education, University of London

Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association, University of Exeter, England, 12-14 September 2002

Introduction: theoretical context and antecedents

Recent research (Afonso 2001, Britzman 1986, Calderhead & Robson 1991, Mitchell & Weber 1996, Shannon & Crawford 1998) has suggested that, despite an appreciation on the part of beginning teachers of the potential value of reflective practice, many new teachers choose not to reflect on their practice constructively and critically, preferring to fall back on pre-conceived understandings of how they and their pupils should conduct themselves in the classroom.

These preconceived ideas may come from a variety of sources: for example, from media representations (Shannon & Crawford 1998), from positive and/or negative images of their own teachers (Calderhead & Robson 1991, Mitchell & Weber 1996), or via 'well worn and commonsensical images' in the collective consciousness which have come to serve as 'the frame of reference for prospective teachers' self-images' (Britzman 1986, p.443: Richert 1991, Brookfield 1987, Kincheloe 1993, Weinstein 1989, Zeichner et al 1987, Hollingsworth 1989, Butt et al 1988, Carr & Kemmis 1986).

As Afonso and others have argued, the power of the beginning teacher's prior beliefs and perceptions can be so strong that they persist through time, and in terms of teacher education programmes may act as 'filters' affecting the ways in which such programmes are experienced and approached (Afonso 2001, Hollingsworth 1989, Weinstein 1989.) Such a view chimes with Mezirow's (1991) wider analysis of adult learning, in which acquired 'meaning schemes' and perspectives effectively protect the individual from challenging existing assumptions and beliefs, acting as a mechanism through which 'new' information, advice and experience are accommodated within an essentially unchanging philosophy. Such schemes and perspectives, Mezirow argues:

'constitute our "boundary structure" for perceiving and comprehending new data[, allowing] our meaning system to diminish our awareness of how things really are in order to avoid anxiety, creating a zone of blocked action and self-deception'

(Mezirow 1991, p.49. See also Rose 2001)

Teacher educators' experience of some student teachers' resistance (articulated or otherwise) to challenging ideas can, as Widden et al (1998) and Aminghuo (1998) have suggested, be profoundly disturbing, leading to a view - all too readily reconstituted and colonised by dominant teacher training discourses of standards and competences - that what beginning teachers and their tutors do in college is unable to 'meaningfully alter that which has been accumulated during the time the future teacher was a [school] learner' (Amiguinho 1998, p.37).

Such a situation, as Britzman has pointed out, is not helped by the existence of a 'dominant belief that teachers "make" themselves' - a 'cultural myth' which, she argues, 'functions to devalue any meaningful attempt to make relevant teacher education, educational theory, and the social process of acknowledging the values and interests one brings to and constructs because of the educational encounter' (Britzman 1991, p.230). In relation to beginning teachers, such a myth - attaching itself to dubious notions of 'experience' - may be seen to act in concert with predispositional perspectives and beliefs to valorise experience 'in itself' and to help resist attempts at education which may involve the student's having to re-examine existing beliefs and to approach experience reflexively.

Our reluctance to surrender teacher education to the myth of experience (without, of course, denying the importance and of practical experience in the learning process) is founded on a view that experience in the professional arena is only useful in terms of promoting more effective teaching and learning if it is appropriately informed (i.e. by a constructively critical orientation and by the application and interrogation of educational theory) and only as long as its reification is carefully avoided. (That is to say, the important thing is not to see experience as something that 'lies ahead' and 'outside' of us, waiting for us to learn or not to learn from it, and possessing some kind of inherent value; but rather to concentrate on understanding how and why we experience things the way we do.) It is also, in part, underpinned by Johnson's suggestion that the chances to initiate and sustain the process of professional learning (Calderhead 1991) may be enhanced if the student teacher's prior beliefs and dispositions can be worked upon before they have had 'a chance to crystallize through the process of teaching experience' (Johnson 1994. p.441): that is to say, a view that critical reflection needs to be a central part of the beginning teacher's early classroom experience, in order to ensure that practice produces new learning rather than merely confirming existing understandings and position(ing)s.

We would not want to claim that student teachers' 'meaning schemes' have no validity; they have, after all, as Tomlinson (1995) reminds us, been constructed, like everyone else's, socially and culturally over time rather than simply being 'given'. Nor do we want to risk treading a path that leads to devaluing the power and importance of the individual 'voice' in the learning and development of student teachers, in the name of uniformity or of the uncontested authority of teacher trainers, educators and policy-directors. We do, however, wish to raise questions about some current notions of the early professional development of teachers according to which useful reflection on practice can only take place once the practitioner has moved through and beyond initial experiences of 'coping and 'survival' (see, e.g., Tickle, 2000). While we recognise that the very fact of having to cope and survive in the unfamiliar teaching role may seriously and negatively impact on student teachers' capacity and willingness to reflect constructively on their developing practice, we also take the view:

Empirical base

This paper draws principally on data generated by a University of London-funded research study comprising ongoing interviews and discussions with a group of ten student teachers on a PGCE (post-graduate certificate of education) course, supported and contextualised by written testimonies from a larger group of thirty student teachers at the same institution. Those testimonies were provided at the start of the PGCE year, and comprised written assignments on 'What makes a good teacher?' The testimonies, like the interview data, were provided by students training to be secondary-school teachers across a wide range of subject areas (English, Art, Business Studies, Science, Mathematics, Design & Technology).

Each of the ten students in our main sample was interviewed individually twice, once near the beginning of the course and once towards the end, and a group interview involving nine of the ten respondents was conducted at the end of the year to coincide with the completion of their career-entry profiles (CEPs). The central purposes of our discussions with these students were:

(a) to discover the extent to which authentic learning had taken place during the PGCE year (that is to say, 'new' learning rather than the simple [re]application of existing 'knowledge') and the extent to which students were resisting such learning through recourse to existing views and perceptions;

(b) to explore, from the students' points of view, what factors had promoted such learning and what factors had hindered it.

Our questions to these beginning teachers were framed largely in terms of the development of 'reflective practice' - a term with which they were all already familiar, and a concept towards which each of them claimed to be positively disposed.

'Failing', 'succeeding' and the persistence of the 'Other'

While it transpired that each of the ten students taking part in our main study was relatively happy and successful in terms of their PGCE course and school-based practice, an additional motive and context for the study had been provided by an earlier study undertaken by one of the researchers (Moore 1998, Moore & Atkinson 1998) which had explored issues related to student teachers' experiencing severe classroom-management difficulties during their PGCE year, and in particular student teachers who were struggling in their classroom practice while remaining patently unresponsive to advice. To quote from one of the papers emerging from that earlier study:

'At some point, usually very early on into the problem, the student's [sic] tutors come into the classroom to observe some lessons. In contradiction to the student's view, that they have tried everything and that nothing works, the tutors' impression is, quite often, that the student has left many avenues unexplored, many strategies untested. In contradiction of the student's assessment that their pupils are inherently unpleasant and hostile, the tutors may discover these same pupils responding positively to other teachers - including student teachers or newly-qualified teachers - while the student's own behaviour appears to be confrontational and their expectations of their classes unreasonable. The evidence of such observations may suggest to the student's tutors that the student has, indeed, reached an impasse, in which they personalise the communicative breakdown that is occurring while simultaneously remaining impervious to advice. The student feels caught up in a battle of wills or personalities, in which they become increasingly convinced either of their own irremediable inadequacy or of a fundamental impossibility in the situation they are in.'

(Moore & Atkinson1998, pp. 172-173)

Our conclusion in the case of these 'failing' students was that often they were involved in uneven struggles against very strong, commonsense voices (the voices of friends, family, newspapers and so forth) to which they had been exposed for many years prior to joining the PGCE course, often experienced within cultural contexts in which the dominant voices were unsympathetic to the culture of the PGCE course and to the kinds of perception and practice that it fostered (see also Barer-Stein 1987, Torff 1999, Britzman 1989). Such voices were in some cases 'external': the voices, perhaps, of parents and friends visited at weekends, whose views on such issues as classroom discipline, reasons for pupils' success or lack of success, and the relative responsibilities of teachers, schools and the State in the educational project would often contradict, very stridently, those of the student's college- and school-based tutors. (These voices might be termed the voices of 'the other' - or 'others'.) Often, however they appeared, to us and to the student, to be 'internal': that is to say, what we came to identify, after Lacan (1977, 1979) and Zizek (1989), as the voice of the 'Other', wherein the 'Other' represents the larger symbolic order (including dominant social values, rituals, manners and discourses) within and according to which the individual operates and which becomes internalised - inaccessibly - by the individual in the manner of the Freudian 'ego'. This voice of the 'Other', we felt (Moore & Atkinson 1998), represented an unseen but persistent classroom presence, constantly pushing the beginning teacher in directions that were often contradictory to or incompatible with those recommended by the course tutors or by other teachers and fellow students, repeatedly undermining the advice given by such colleagues and contributing to untenable feelings of guilt, failure, rejection or alienation.

While it was immediately evident that no such difficulties - not, at least, to the degree in which they presented anything more than a very minor problem - existed for the students in our current study, we were, nevertheless, alerted to the fact that this same tension was not unfamiliar to several of these successful students, and were thereby prompted to find out more about how they managed the tension and how great an obstacle it might prove to the development of reflective practice, even in their circumstance. To quote one of the students (C) in our present survey, who, in common with several others, had been concerned from the start of the course that her pupils should be 'positively disposed to her':

'With teaching, it's not just how you see yourself, it's about how you see how other people see you: how you see yourself being seen. ... What you inevitably end up doing is looking at the pupils and judging yourself through them.' [C] [emphasis added]

Defining reflective activity

In light of the observations of Britzman and others and of our previous research into student teachers' professional development, we undertook three simultaneous activities:

first, to identify and analyse the different kinds of activity that passed for reflective practice in the opinions of the student teachers with whom we were working;

second, to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of these activities against success criteria implicitly and explicitly expressed by the students through their interviews;

third, to identify and consider contextual factors that appeared to influence the perceived quality and effectiveness of reflection, in relation both to the different kinds of reflective practice identified by the students and to the ways in which they responded to the sought-out and not-sought-out voices of others and of 'the Other' that we have referred to above.

In relation to the first of these activities and on the basis of our initial interview data, we came, as others have done before us (notably, Schon 1983, whose work has continued to be very influential in our understanding of the data we have gathered), to identify, provisionally, different kinds of activity that may pass for reflection on practice, only the last two of which, however, conform to our own professional requirements of reflective practice that:

The different kinds of 'reflective activity' that we came to identify were four in number:

We had anticipated that the development of productive reflection and reflexivity in our sample of student teachers might be hindered by the current dominance of discourses of 'competence', 'standards' and performativity in initial and continuing teacher education (leading, we had feared, to an emphasis on ritualistic reflection bounded by the parameters of the published 'teaching standards' [DfEE 1997a,1997b]), as well as by the kinds of resistant preconceptions and myths described by Britzman and others (op.cit), which, we felt, might lead students who had got beyond ritualistic reflection into perfunctory engagement in pseudo-reflection.

In the event, we were surprised to discover (a) that the students had very little direct knowledge of the 'standards' by which they would be assessed, tending to trust their tutors to incorporate these into their own lesson planning; (b) although each of the students interviewed was very aware of the impact of previous school and home experience on their current professional perspectives and responses, that awareness was such that it could be critically evaluated and drawn upon constructively by the student rather than having an inhibitory effect.

While the list of government-imposed teaching 'standards' themselves had clearly - though not exclusively - been drawn upon the students' tutors in providing 'scaffoldings' for the students' written lesson evaluations, the lack of familiarity and concern with the standards themselves on the students' part did seem to have had an impact in terms of freeing up the students' reflections and encouraging them to contribute themselves to their 'reflectivity agendas'. Similarly, while the students' reflections were often 'prioritised' by the influences of previous experiences (for example, one of the students had been bullied at school and was drawn to finding evidence of and pre-empting bullying in her own classroom) this did not appear to act in quite the blinkering way we had anticipated. Instead of previously held views and perspectives hindering their reflections, these students appeared very keen on the idea of productive reflection on their practice, clearly identifying themselves as lifelong learners, recognising and rejecting ritualistic and pseudo forms of reflection, and nominating other, more practical hindrances (lack of time and energy, difficulties related to support networks, etc.) to the development of the reflective practice that they clearly valued. While it could be argued that such hindrances might have been conveniently called upon to mask a less acceptable, more 'hidden' reluctance on the students' part to engage in genuine productive reflection, there was sufficient evidence from our interviews that this was not the case, not least in the students' willingness to engage in reflection on their practice, and in the numerous occasions on which they talked themselves, unprompted, about the nature of experience and learning and on the importance of thinking constructively about developing practice.

We shall return to these hindrances more specifically shortly, as well as to circumstances that appear to have promoted authentic reflection and reflexivity. In order to help ourselves make sense of them as they emerge through an ever-increasing amount of data, we have provisionally categorised both the helps and the hindrances under two broad headings: that is to say, helpful/unhelpful sites of reflection and helpful/unhelpful forms of reflection.

By sites of reflection we refer to the social or geographical 'location' in which reflection occurs (alone on the bus, in a seminar with fellow students, via the written word, and so forth). By forms of reflection, we refer to the different kinds of reflection that may take place within any individual site. (In the case of writing, for example, we would refer to writing itself, in its many forms, as a site of reflection, and the different kinds of reflective writing available to students - lesson evaluations, diary entries, and so forth - as forms of reflection, some of which may equally be located within other sites such as discussions with friends, lesson debriefings and so forth. An activity like diary writing, whose site is more obviously circumscribed, may be seen as simultaneously a 'site for reflection' and a 'form of reflection'.)

One major issue for students running across these forms and sites of reflection - a perceived hindrance to the development of critical reflection and authentic, self-directed learning - and one to which we have already made reference, concerns the amount of time and energy required for constructive reflection, and the fact that both of these were felt by the students to be in short supply. While this had some effect on the forms of reflection undertaken by students in the site labelled by some as 'inside their heads' (on the bus going home, in the staffroom after the day's lessons, in the middle of the night, and so on), it had a much larger impact on a particular site and form of reflection very highly valued by the student teachers in the sample: that is, informal, freeflowing discussions with self-selected support groups such as family members, friends inside or outside the profession, and fellow students. The following extracts from our interviews with students are indicative of this problem, and also suggest why it is that for some teacher educators the PGCE year is too early in the beginning teacher's professional development for effective reflection on practice to be conducted or demanded (an issue we have referred to earlier in relation to 'coping' and 'survival'):

'I think I have only just started reflecting properly. I am really only starting to get my head around looking at me properly, looking at my environment properly.' [H]

'Thursdays I had five lessons out of a seven period day, and I used to be really, really tired at the end of it, and I finished teaching at 4 o'clock and would find it very difficult to reflect on even what had happened in the last period because I was so tired. And that is one of the things I don't like about having to do reflections, because there are times when you are absolutely dog tired and all your thinking is about going home and sleeping. Because that's what I've begun to do: go home at the end of the day and sleep for a couple of hours. And I think if you're not careful you'll lose it. I mean, you'll lose your memory of what's happened.' [R]

'Most of us hadn't been in school for a long time, and suddenly to be in a class, you need time to assimilate these things ... And I think it's too quick in a way. It doesn't give you the time to reflect in that kind of structured way.' [C]

Forms of reflection

Despite the difficulties raised by our student teachers, they were agreed that effective practice was something they wanted to be working at, and in interview were able to identify a number of activities that they were happy to describe as reflection about practice - each of which could be located within one or more temporal, geographical, formal or social 'site'. Principally, these comprised:

Reflection- in- action

The students in our sample were divided on the desirability and efficacy of 'reflection-in-action' or 'reflecting on your feet'. For some of them - some of the time - the situation of being left alone to think about one's practice, in the immediate context of the classroom, was both stimulating and important. As one respondent [C] put this:

'I did learn a lot from being left alone: things like classroom management ... I'm not a shouting person, so, you know, finding my own way of making myself noticed and that sort of thing... You learn a lot about yourself in that way, because you're constantly being tested by the children. Where are my notes? Where am I going to draw the line? When am I going to pretend that I've drawn the line, when maybe I've actually got a little bit further to go?' [C]

Another respondent felt that the absence of a critical adult - however favourably disposed - in the classroom had helped her to 'be herself' rather than trying to be someone else or trying to impress someone else, and that the quality and authenticity of her reflection-in-action were enhanced as a result:

' I actually like my classroom, my environment, because I feel that's between me and the pupils: we are learning together. Whereas if someone's in there, it creates a false situation.' [H]

Even these students, however, were acutely aware of the limitations of such reflection, generally suggesting that they had benefited more - and more enduringly - from reflection-on-action' (which we have sub-divided as 'in-the-head' reflection', 'formal evaluations' and 'verbal reflection'), carried out at some temporal distance from the experiences and events being evaluated :

'In a way I was learning [through reflection-in-action]: tactics, and so on... But I didn't feel like I was moving. Yes, I was learning more about classrooms, more about the pupils ... but I wasn't really learning how to ... to develop myself in a situation. I needed someone else's eye on what I was doing.' [C] [emphasis added]

In-the-head reflection

This student teacher's perceived need for the views of a critical other to help turn the acquisition of coping and survival strategies into reflection per se was echoed by the other students, both in relation to these kinds of 'situated learning' and with reference to the kinds of 'in-the-head' reflection carried out in informal, unstructured ways. For one student [G], this informal, solitary reflection, carried out after the event and with the benefit of hindsight, represented a 'deeper' reflection than that which more directly accompanied action (including lesson planning and lesson management) which, he felt, was more competence-based and less subtle:

'I think that's much deeper. I think what you do in, say, lesson planning and evaluation you do in five minutes, and say, like, "He talked ... He didn't hand in his homework ... I didn't do a recap of the homework". That's all competency, it's like the hygiene factor. When you sit on a bus, or when you are at home or you go out to the pub, subconsciously it ticks away; and I think that's where you make the fundamental changes, where you say "OK, I forgot that one particular thing but that wasn't the main thing. The main thing was I hurried the class along too much, or I focussed on those three children instead of the whole class."' [G]

For others, this kind of reflection was often an uncomfortable one, which, however, had the capacity to stimulate and motivate to improved future practice:

'Having these thoughts, feeling bad, which is what it often amounts to, stimulates you - you know: "What shall I do tomorrow?" - partly to get myself out of that kind of feeling.' [C]

Some of the students found this in-the-head reflection more effective when supported by writing (see also Tann 1993), one student [R] relating this to a notion that effective sites of reflection tended to 'shift' as the student became more experienced in the classroom (and more experienced at reflecting on practice):

'In the beginning, I found I was trying to do my reflection at the end of the day when I got home, and I was thinking through what had happened. And what I started to do at the end of the second half of my first practice was I would think about it immediately after the lesson and then, if I had the opportunity with my schoolbased tutor, I would maybe discuss issues with him, or if he had maybe observed a lesson then we came back and visited it a bit later. I think he was probably surprised that I wouldn't have written much down on paper, but I could remember ... whole lessons and whole episodes in a lesson, almost as they happened, and he was quite surprised that I remembered them so well. But my fault is that I will remember it very well "in here" and I just don't find it very easy to get down exactly what I mean on paper. And I do think reflective practice is kind of "up here", but in order for it to cause you to be more reflective you need to be able to get it down, because ... it's a bit like a brainstorm: you put one word down and it triggers off a whole load of other things as well, a whole new world of reflection.' [R]

All the students recognised, however, the capacity for this kind of reflection to become counter-productive: to focus too much on negative experiences and feelings, to feed anxieties and obsessions, and to lead not so much to improved practice as to despair. To quote the same two students cited above:

'You sort of go over these things that have happened, over and over again. You know, the children are in your head all the time, so you go to sleep and you dream about what so and so said in your classroom, and you wake up thinking about them.' [C] ... 'I think sometimes you become so self critical that you don't focus on the things that went well; you tend to focus on the things that didn't go well. And I think that's the problem: it becomes a negative cycle if you're not careful, and also a self-fulfilling prophecy.' [R]

Formal evaluations

The greatest area of disagreement among the student teachers in our sample concerned formal evaluations carried out immediately after each lesson - a compulsory requirement of this and many other PGCE courses. While many of our respondents felt that these evaluations provided a useful focus and structure for reflective practice, others thought they did not promote or represent authentic reflection at all and (in the case of some students) actually inhibited or obstructed authentic reflection.

The limitations and difficulties of the requirement to evaluate all lessons on a regular basis were referred to many times in our interviews, some students feeling they were too narrowly based on individual lessons to have wider applicability, some feeling they became less useful as the student learned more and that therefore their completion became a ritual or a chore. Others - calling to mind Valli's (1993) observation that what is reflected upon is as important as how - resented the fact that they had been constructed according to someone else's agenda and therefore reduced opportunities for subtle reflection that took full account of local circumstances and issues or of the student teacher's particular dispositions, weaknesses and strengths:

'When we were talking about filling in these evaluation forms, I found them incredibly useless. The first one or two maybe were OK, but after a while I just didn't know what to write.' [C]

'What we're talking about here - about personal reflection - there's not really any formal room for that, not like a sheet for personal reflection.' [K]

'It does become very repetitive, but in a way you should need to write less anyway, because you know the classes better. ... As you go on, maybe your reflection is less on paper and more "up here". ... I think being made to do evaluations isn't always helpful either, with the volume of the teaching load.' [R]

One student, in the course of criticising what she saw as a dominant discourse of 'evidence' on her teacher training course, pointed out what we have subsequently come to refer to in our analysis as the difference between 'inking' and 'thinking':

'I think the danger is that as student teachers and as professionals we get so obsessed with what's down on the piece of paper and what the ink says that we're not making the connection between what the ink says and what's up here - what's in your head, what's in your memory. ... I think there's a mismatch there.' [R]

For this respondent, the formal requirement to provide written evaluations of lessons had apparently subverted the reflective practice discourse into discourses of competences and standards, not so much encouraging authentic reflection as limiting and trivialising it (Valli 1993), and enhancing its capacity for negativity within parallel discourses of blame:

'The whole idea of reflective practice is all very well, but it's very individual, and I think we fall too often into the trap of assuming that reflective practice is x, y and z when perhaps for other people it's different ... It's like with teaching: teaching for everybody is different. ... We've been given these sheets to help us do reflection, to be more reflective in our practice, and on the one hand they're helpful but on the other hand if a certain thing doesn't happen in your lesson or you didn't pick it up as happening in your lesson, how can you reflect on it? So whilst you may be meeting these dreaded standards, you can't always "evidence" it. And I think one of the things with our society today is that we're obsessed with paper-work, and we're obsessed with assessment. But we're not just obsessed with assessment, we're obsessed with the way that the assessment happens, and the way that it's proven. And I think whilst it's helpful to have frameworks, it's easy to feel that if you haven't ticked all the boxes then in some way you're failing.' [R]

Intra- and extra-professional verbalised reflection

All of our respondents were agreed that much of their most useful reflection was carried out not on their own but in the company of and with the active support of others. To quote Johnston S. (1994, p.46), who effectively links reflective practice with research on and into one's practice, they found a particular value in 'formal or informal collaborative groups or networks' (see also Kemmis & McTaggart 1988).

If the students were unanimous in their valuing of critical friends, they were equally in agreement (a) that finding the right people to reflect with was critical, (b) that inevitably different students would seek out different support groups to this end.

Some students were eager and happy to reflect in company wherever they could find a sympathetic ear. As one respondent, keen to question her preconceptions, told us:

'The thing I find most useful is just talking to the pupils, and talking to classroom teachers. When my tutor [from college] came to see me, I found that enormously helpful: I mean, she sort of said things to me that hadn't even crossed my mind and hadn't crossed the mind of other people that I was with. I think you constantly need to have different perspectives on what you do in the classroom.' [C]

Other students were more specific about where their most useful conversation partners lay. For some, family - and in particular a parent - proved most helpful, while others were more inclined to turn to friends working outside the profession. Most respondents, however, particularly valued discussions with other students on their course and the 'safe', supportive environment (Zeichner & Liston 1987) that such meetings provided, regretting that this site was too rarely available to them given the amount of time spent in school and the amount of work to be got through on the college-based part of the course:

'I think it would be helpful to have some time, even if not every week ... to come in [to college] to reflect, because although you get professional study afternoons in your school, actually that time so far hasn't been used as effectively as it could be. ... You do get group work ... with students from other institutions, but - this sounds horrible - in a way they're in competition with you and you can't reflect with them. Whereas within your tutor group, and certainly your subject area, it becomes easier, because you're with people who are at the same level as you.' [R]

Sites of Reflection: the problem of 'dislocation'

As has already been indicated, the forms of reflection described by the student teachers in our sample were also located within various 'sites' of reflection (e.g. 'geographical' locations such as the home, the school staffroom or the college; specific 'temporal' locations such as in bed at night, directly after a lesson, or in scheduled meetings with a tutor; and 'formal' locations such as diaries and written evaluations). While there is no room in this current paper to give full consideration of the nature, impact and interrelationships of these sites, or their connectedness or otherwise to the various forms of reflection, one specific 'situational' issue relating to the development of reflective practice on teacher training courses was raised by several students as an inhibiting factor, and needs to be reported.

For most of the students, finding the appropriate site for reflective practice was directly related to a fundamental difficulty whereby life tended to impose its own barriers between actually 'doing' reflection ('reflection-on-practice') and subsequently putting the benefits of that reflection to practical use: a manifestation of what Wubbels (1992, p.137) has called 'the problematic gap between theory and practice in education'. Sometimes, this dislocation was perceived primarily in terms of applying the lessons of the PGCE year to teaching proper:

'I think in some ways it's going to be difficult for me to sort of remember this year when I'm actually in the full thrust of classroom teaching. I hope I don't forget it, because I think there's so much that you do over this year and the theoretical side you should take into teaching. But I think once you're actually there it's going to be difficult.' [C]

More typically, however, the problem was presented as one of relating theory to practice generally, and particularly of articulating what is learnt at college and in school-based tutorials with what one actually does in the classroom:

'In school the college becomes irrelevant, and when you're back at college school becomes an irrelevancy. You need the two meshed together somehow.' [C]

'There is a dislocation between reflection and practice: like knowing something is right or wrong, but not being able to do it in the classroom for all kinds of reasons you couldn't have thought of in advance.' [R]

For some students, the 'all kinds of reasons' referred to by student R included the issues of 'newness', coping and survival to which we have already alluded:

'I think I have only just started reflecting properly. I am really only starting to get my head around looking at me properly, looking at my environment properly.' [H]

'[T]here are times when you are absolutely dog tired and all you are thinking about is going home and sleeping. Because that's what I've begun to do: go home at the end of the day and sleep for a couple of hours. And I think if you're not careful you'll lose it. I mean, you'll lose your memory of what's happened.' [R]

'Most of us hadn't been in school for a long time, and suddenly to be in a class, you need time to assimilate these things ... And I think it's too quick in a way. It doesn't give you the time to reflect in that kind of structured way.' [C]

While some respondents [e.g. student R] were beginning to see reflective practice itself as one important way of bridging these perceived theory/practice, school/college dislocations, for most of the students interviewed the difficulty remained a pressing, if not ultimately insurmountable one that they continued to grapple with throughout the PGCE year.

Reflexivity and 'Assumption Hunting'

'Central to the process of critical reflection ... is the recognition and analysis of assumptions'

(Brookfield (1990, p.177: see also Johnston M. 1994)

Unlike some of the 'failing students' in a previous study undertaken by one of the authors (Moore 1998, Moore & Atkinson 1998) all of the students in our current sample were aware of the likely influence of past experience and of 'who they were' on the kinds of teacher they would become, the kinds of difficulty they would encounter, and the ways in which they would respond to things that happened in their professional lives. They were also aware of the possible impact of life experience on the nature of their learning, including the nature and development of their reflective practice:

'The thing with this thing called reflective practice is that ... it boils down to your life experience so far, and I think part of that, the way you do reflective practice, comes from where you've come from and what your most recent experiences in life as a whole are.' [R]

Some students, too, showed an awareness in interview of the potential for reflection within any site to become ritualistic and meaningless - for it to become absorbed into existing structures (Mezirow 1991) which simply reinforced current thinking and perceptions and became a shelter within which to hide from more challenging explanations of circumstances and events:

'We were talking about this. I can't remember what the theory was about, but if you've got a roller-skate on the stairs, you go up the stairs and you think "I must get rid of that roller skate, because someone is going to trip up on it", and you come down the stairs and you go up the stairs, and by the third or fourth time you don't see it any more. I think that's what happens with teachers. You get stuck in this same old pattern of whatever, and that's when you do stop reflecting properly - or if you keep reflecting, you've got the words "reflecting", "observing", "evaluating", but you've lost sight of what they're about. ' [H]

A further interesting feature of our sample was that none of the students appeared to be hampered in developing as reflective practitioners by the life experiences they recognised and talked about, and, even in the cases of students who had arrived on course with views that would run counter to how they would be taught to understand and operate by their tutors, none appeared to have any lasting difficulty in adapting, modifying or finding and 'correcting' assumptions that might be described as unhelpful or erroneous. One respondent, for example [G], who felt he had been 'saved' by a 'strict disciplinarian' of a teacher when he had been a school pupil, who had subsequently been educated at military school, and whose initial thoughts on what makes a good teacher' had been written in what might be seen as somewhat confrontational terms, based on a transmissive model of teaching and learning, appeared to experience surprisingly little difficulty in modifying his outlook and approach in the light both of his training and of his professional experience. Having told us in interview that he had started off wanting to imitate the authoritarian, 'charismatic' style of his own saviour-teacher and that his initial classroom encounters had also been strongly influenced by 'hygiene factors' such as tight, detailed lesson planning and the strict following of school sanction mechanisms, he went on to say 'I understand much more about the reflective model now', indicating that at the start of his teaching practice he had been far too easily drawn into 'a competitive mode' but that now he took a broader view of things, taking account of his pupils' home circumstances, trying a wider range of approaches in terms of classroom management, and generally becoming 'more empathetic.'

The levels of self-awareness, adaptability and willingness on these students' parts to challenge previously held assumptions have led us to hypothesise that such qualities were a major contributory factor to their success in the classroom and that, conversely, the lack of such qualities was a major contributory factor in the difficulties experienced by some of the 'failing students' in the previous study (op.cit.). For some of the students in our current study, of course, no major disagreements existed between previously held assumptions and what their tutors and their classroom experiences were telling them. Without exception, these students had - at least by the time we came to interview them - very pupil-centred approaches to education, couched within a critical awareness of the role of the social and economic circumstances within which education and schooling are located. For some, therefore, any assumptions that were (Brookfield 1990) 'hunted out' and challenged (for example, the view, not uncommon among these students before arrival on course, that teachers did not spend much time on planning their lessons) were of a relatively minor nature, that caused no real awkwardness or discomfort.

These students' capacity for self-knowledge and their openness to ideas rendered them, we believe, particularly open to the kind of critical, re-contextualised reflective practice advocated by Elliott (1993) and others, and referred to elsewhere (e.g. Moore 1999) as 'reflexivity'. This kind of reflection expands the horizons of reflection from the immediate, 'decontextualised context' of the classroom, to embrace self-questioning, forms of socio-analysis, and attempts to locate one's own practices, values and understandings within personal and collective histories. According to this model of reflective practice:

'the practitioner reflects upon the taken-for-granted beliefs and assumptions which underpin his/her practical interpretations of professional values and their origins in his/her life experiences and history. (S)he begins to reconstruct his/her constructs of value and discovers that this opens up new understandings of the situation and new possibilities for intelligent action within it.'

(Elliott 1993 p.69)

Such reflection inevitably widens its perspective beyond the immediate classroom experience, simultaneously helping to 'depersonalise' often very personally-experienced classroom difficulties and successes, encouraging the student teacher towards more constructive/productive responses to their reflections and evaluations. As Johnston (1994) argues:

'Discourse that is [truly] reflective will include more than an inward look at the personal, because the personal is embedded historically and morally in socially shared meanings that can be examined.'

(Johnston M. 1984, p.11)

While the students in our sample still, not surprisingly, tended to focus on immediate lesson and school issues and experiences in their various sites and forms of reflection, there was evidence that they were all beginning, in varying degrees, to expand their reflective horizons into this more reflexive way of examining their developing practice. For some, this move had been accompanied - and perhaps precipitated - by a growing awareness of the limitations of the kinds of reflective practice they had been hitherto engaged in. One respondent [R], for example, spoke of the 'danger of reflective practice, [in that] it's all down to the teacher' (see also Moore 1999). This student felt she had outgrown the forms of reflection she had initially been encouraged towards, with their emphasis on evaluations of specific lessons and their focus on performativity, suggesting that those kinds of reflection acted as a barrier to more sophisticated, wider-ranging forms. Her movement towards increased reflexivity included deeper considerations of pupil difference and of her own need to adapt to these differences as well as to regularly changing circumstances, and to make serious efforts to understand what lay behind those surface differences and situational changes. Another student [G] suggested a continuum of reflective development (see also Tomlinson 1992, Calderhead 1998), in which one moved, as one's confidence and comfortableness grew, from fixations on competence issues and one's own personality towards 'objective reflection' on specific lessons and incidents, and finally to a growing awareness of one's reactions and professional behaviour. For this respondent, an early focus on poor lessons and personal 'performance' had been superseded by more constructive considerations of 'self-improvement' and of 'who you are - what your background has made you.'

Reflection and the 'other': 'Someone Else's Eye'

In discussing the development of reflective practice, the ten student teachers in our sample, as will be clear from what we have said so far, identified a number of factors that helped their reflections as well as a number of factors that inhibited them. These inhibiting factors included a lack of time, the presence of anxiety and stress, the sheer volume of new experiences to reflect upon, and the contrived or ritualistic nature of some of their reflective practice, particularly when this was subject to formal assessment or evaluation.

As we have already indicated, one of the potential inhibitors of reflective practice that we had found in the literature and indeed in our own previous study (op.cit) - that of the persistence of pre-existing, commonsense views of effective teaching - was not identified by our respondents as an issue, and did not identify itself through the course of our interviews. The student teachers in our sample appeared to recognise the impact of their past life experiences on their current perceptions and practices, and were generally open to questioning and challenging any assumptions they had brought with them on to the course. This may well have had much to do with the nature of the sample itself: i.e. these were all successful rather than struggling students, and it seems reasonable to conclude that their capacity to adapt to difficult circumstances, as well as a close pre-course match between their views and those espoused on the course, had contributed to that success or at least had produced favourable conditions for it. What we did find, however, was that even with these successful students previous experience did act in the same inhibitory ways - albeit to a far less influential extent - as with the failing students we had considered in our previous study: specifically, in the various manifestations of uncomfortable feelings of 'exposure' described by the students, whereby someone or something - either a tangible, 'external' presence or a voice or voices that had become internalised by them - operated in a disquieting and not always helpful way in the reflective process. While all the students valued the voices of the critical friends and support networks they had chosen - the need for 'someone else's eye', referred to by one student [C, above] - not all were, by an means, as comfortable with these other uninvited, often invasive critics, whose eyes and voices often produced uncomfortable, negative and unconstructive feelings and whose origins they were typically unwilling or unable to discuss.

For some of the students, the uncomfortable, inhibitory feeling of being watched or exposed manifested itself as an acute sense of being brought face to face for the first time with 'oneself' - and in particular, with one's 'shortcomings':

'That exposure ... I mean, I have never been in that kind of situation before. It's a big thing ... My kind of strengths and weaknesses are kind of really there, in front of me.' [C]

For others, it was a sense of seeing themselves as the pupils might be seeing them, including, in some cases, a very powerful desire to be liked by the pupils; while for others it presented itself as an ambition to measure up to absent-but-ever-present teachers they had had at school, or had seen teaching impressively at their practice schools:

'With teaching, it's not just how you see yourself, it's about how you see how other people see you: how you see yourself being seen. ... What you inevitably end up doing is looking at the pupils and judging yourself through them. The children are in your head all the time.' [C] [emphasis added]

'I wanted to be liked by the children. ... At the start, I was intimidated by them and my aim then was to fight back: if I get them to like me, they won't intimidate me, they'll like me.' [K]

'I hoped that I could be like my economics teacher, who kind of stood up for me and said "This girl's worth it" and allowed me to get into a course at college which I shouldn't have been in, really.' [R]

For all our respondents, the sense of exposure was accompanied by a sense of fear of exposure (to quote one student, R, 'There are certain people you're not going to ever admit to that things are going wrong'): a mixture, perhaps, of wanting to be able to be 'oneself' with pupils and colleagues - of exposing oneself, in a sense; of being 'found' - and of being afraid to be found, with all one's shortcomings there for all to see. In some cases this led to a decision that true exposure could only be countenanced once a certain degree of 'self improvement' had been achieved [G], or in the temporary adoption of a classroom 'persona':

'It's a bit of a persona in a way and not really wanting that persona to be too far away from who I am, because then it feels like you are having a role all day long and I think that's very hard work, having to actually pretend to be someone different.' [H]

Though voiced by seemingly very confident people, such confessions may be seen to reveal the fragile nature of the human psyche and, in particular, the way in which that fragility is put under particular pressure in the teaching situation. They may also cast some light on the difficulties experienced by some 'failing' students (including some of those in our earlier study), as well as helping us to understand what makes the 'meaning schemes' (op.cit.) of some adult learners more durable and resistant to modification than others.

Reflection and the 'Other': 'Che Vuoi?'

'The subject is always fastened, pinned, to a signifier which represents him [sic] for the other, and through this pinning he is loaded with a symbolic mandate, ... is given a place in the intersubjective network of symbolic relations.'

(Zizek 1989, p.113)

These issues of voice and exposure in professional contexts have been explored elsewhere, notably by Britzman (e.g. Britzman 1989, Britzman & Pitt 1996) and by Zizek (1989), both of whom bring a psycho-analytical perspective to understandings of social behaviours and experiences in professional settings: in Britzman's case, with reference to the work of Sigmund and Anna Freud, in Zizek's with reference to the work of Lacan (esp. Lacan 1977, 1979. The suggestion of Britzman and Pitt (1996, pp 117-118) that classrooms very easily become sites for 'transference' - that is, the re-staging of previously unresolved social conflicts experienced by teachers and students )often referenced to abiding familial difficulties) - that such transferential activity, unless recognised and appropriately dealt with, may impact negatively on the ways in which teachers understand and respond to their own and their students' classroom behaviours, resonate clearly and strongly with our own understandings of the difficulties encountered and unsuccessfully responded to by student teachers in our first study, as well as to the references to the interplay between the 'personal' (in the form of wishes and desires, including the desire to be liked) and the 'professional' (maintaining a certain 'distance' from one's students, and 'getting on with the job') expressed by the successful students in our more recent study. Certainly, even if transference was not a major issue for the student teachers in this latter study, a related issue - that of the adoption of familiar 'roles' (typically, of a parent or child in the familial situation) and response modes (often related to degrees of tolerance towards apparently unhelpful behaviour in one's own students) - clearly was, sometimes helping the student teacher to deal with new and difficult classroom situations but sometimes acting (as with the student who craved approval from her students in terms of who she was rather than how or what she taught) to restrict the teacher's option in the first instance and consequently to delay the resolution of perceived classroom conflicts.

Equally useful is Zizek's broader theorizing about professional identities, revolving around notions, drawn from Lacanian psycho-analytical theory, of 'symbolic' and 'imaginary' identifications and the feeling experienced by teachers and other professionals of requiring a 'mandate' for the position they occupy and the ways in which they carry out their prescribed tasks. According to the Lacanian distinction, imaginary identification ('imaginary' here is not to be confused with the more common usage of 'fictitious' or 'not real') relates to 'identification with the image in which we appear likeable to ourselves': the image, that is of 'what we would like to be' (Zizek 1989, p.105). Symbolic identification, on the other hand, concerns the way in which we perceive ourselves within and in relation to the 'symbolic order' of language, ritual, custom and representation within which we operate and within which we perceive and understand all 'experience' - what Lacan refers to as 'the Other'. In Zizek's words, this symbolic identification is effectively an identification with the 'place' (within the symbolic order) from which we are being observed, 'from where we look at ourselves so that we appear likeable, worthy of love' (p.105, emphasis added).

The 'interplay' between these two forms of identification, suggests Zizek (ibid., p.110), 'constitutes the mechanism by means of which the subject is integrated in a given socio-symbolic field' (we might include, for example, in addition to the overarching socio-symbolic world into which the infant human is integrated, the socio-symbolic fields of teaching and learning or of formal schooling into which the adult teacher is [re-]integrated). Although each form of identification has, at its root, the individual's desire to satisfy and to be loved, and to find out what action/behaviour is required in order to satisfy and be loved (a question formulated by the phrase 'Che Vuoi?' - 'What do you desire of me?'), in the case of imaginary identification the subject seeks to emulate, perhaps through the kind of role-playing referred to by the students in our sample (op.cit.), qualities they feel they have discovered in other individuals (for us, for example, other teachers) in order to achieve the desired effect. In the case of symbolic identification, on the other hand, the question inevitably arises: 'For whom is the subject enacting this role? Which gaze is considered when the subject identifies himself [sic] with a certain image?' (ibid. p.106). In other words, in addition to copying models of 'good practice' found in 'other people', the practitioner will be making a judgement of what that good practice is, not from some ideal, primordial, disinterested point of view, but from a particular perspective within the symbolic order, which may be the perspective of a particular set of shared social practices and beliefs but might equally (and simultaneously) be the perspective of a specific individual or group of individuals. (Constant references to parents and their views, for example, might be seen as a symptom of a deeper anxiety in the student teacher, who feels her/himself to be continually spotlighted under the paternal or maternal gaze.)

For Lacan and Zizek, difficulties arise as a result of a 'gap' between 'the way we see ourselves' (imaginary identification) and 'the point from which [we are] being observed to appear likeable to [ourselves]' (symbolic identification) (Zizek 1989, p. 106) - typically linked, in the professional field, to the requirement for a 'symbolic mandate': e.g. 'I have been mandated to be a teacher, but what must I be - what am I expected to be - within the terms of the symbolic order, the "Other", and within the terms of my own image of self, in order to justify my role as teacher, in order to be able to explain my mandate to myself and to others?' Zizek's argument is that it is precisely an ability to move beyond such questions, or to come to view them as unnecessary (i.e. 'There is no mandate to support the role I seek to assume.') that is necessary if the difficulty caused by such questions is to be removed. Similarly, it is an inability to move beyond such questions - an obsessive pursuit of the answer to the question 'What do others - what does the Other - desire of me, beneath it all, beneath the demands that are being made upon me and that I am meeting but still without being liked?' - that results in continued anxiety, in a sense of failure and lack of self-worth and, ultimately, in failure itself (as, we would argue, with some of the 'failing' student teachers in our earlier study).

Summary and conclusions

The student teachers we interviewed during the course of their one-year pre-service course agreed that coping and survival were issues for them, and that the imperative to cope and survive introduced a degree of inhibition into their development as reflective practitioners. They still provided evidence, however, of reflecting regularly and deliberately on their practice, in a variety of forms and sites, and cited other, equally inhibiting factors such as course construction and too high a degree of prescription.

The students valued reflection, even at this very early stage in their professional development, and showed evidence of being able to 'reflect on their reflection'. They all saw a value in reflecting on practice in both 'structured' and 'unstructured', 'timetabled' and 'ad hoc' ways, and were enthusiastic about developing this aspect of their professionalism in future years. They were aware of the impact of previous and ongoing life experiences on the manner and effectiveness of reflection in the professional context, and their testimonies suggested that they had already gone a long way towards attaining the kinds of 'realistic', 'exploratory' and (within the limits of mandated policy) 'autonomous' orientations described elsewhere in the literature (see, e.g., Tomlinson 1995, Calderhead 1988). While coping and survival imperatives had not been put aside (are they ever?), impressive levels of balanced, constructive and non-contingent reflection on practice were already very much in evidence - not only in what the students told us about their reflections but also, more importantly, perhaps, in the examples of such reflection they gave in interview.

While the research sample was admittedly small, and while, in the event, it comprised only succeeding students (that is to say, students who were never in any danger of failing the course), it had deliberately included, form the start, students from a wide range of backgrounds and (pre-)dispositions, including students for whom we had anticipated that authentic reflection on practice would come rather less easily than for others. The universal agreement from the ten students in our main sample that reflection was a key aspect of their professional work and development and that they needed and wanted to learn how to do it effectively, coupled with the positive pre-orientations towards reflective practice in the written evidence of our larger sample and the confirmation in our end-of-project group interview that participation in the 'reflective practice project' had made a strong and positive contribution to the student teachers' developing practice, encourages us to support the view that time dedicated to teaching pre-service teachers how best to reflect on their emergent and ongoing practice continues to be time well spent. Indeed, we would argue further on the basis of this evidence that the development of reflective practice, building on an ongoing project of the development and implementation of lifelong learning skills, should be called back from the margins to which it has recently been exiled, and restored to the centre of teacher 'training' programmes where it can be of more genuine use. In view of the fascinating observations made by several of the students regarding the helpful and unhelpful contributions of critical 'others' in the development of reflective practice, including unhelpful and disturbing feelings of being watched and evaluated even in the absence of another adult in the room, we are also of the view that more research needs to be carried out into the early development of reflection on practice of beginning teachers, which takes appropriate account, as Britzman and others have urged, of the routinely overlooked aspect of desire in the teaching-learning situation, and that examines the impact on authentic practitioner learning of the current emphases on performativity and 'training'.


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