Brookfield, S. (1995). Become a critically reflective teacher.


Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The role of autobiography – a “critical incident questionnaire” to document classroom dynamics during a class.

“Critically reflective teaching happens when we identify and scrutinize the assumptions that undergird how we work. The most effective way to become aware of these assumptions is to view our practice from different perspectives. Seeing how we think and work through different lenses is the core process of reflective practice.” -p. xii-xiii

4 distinct and interconnecting lenses:

  1. Our autobiographies as learners and teachers – autobiographical reflection
  2. our students’ eyes – student perspective – how they perceive (our) actions
  3. our colleagues’ experiences – colleague’s perspective – perceptions and experiences
  4. theoretical literature – viewing within and outside of our area of practice, applying alternative theoretical frameworks.

“Teaching innocently means thinking that we’re always understanding exactly what it is that we’re dong and what effect we’re having. Teaching innocently means assuming that the meanings and significance we place on our actions are the ones students take from them.” – p .1.

“Critically reflective teachers will make sure that they find some way of regularly seeing what they do through students’ eyes.” – p. 11.

on autobiographies: “The prospect of public humiliation is one reason why many reflective efforts begin with private autobiographical analyses of teaching. There are several tools we can use for this purpose, including teaching logs, teacher learning audits, role model profiles, survival advice memos, videotaping, ideology critique and best/worst experiences matrices.” – p. 33

“The intrinsic problem with approaches to private self-reflection is that when we use them, we can never completely avoid the risks of denial and distortion. We can never know just how much we’re cooking the data of our memories and experience to produce images and renditions that show us off to good effect. I use autobiographical reflection myself because I think it’s a good starting point for my own efforts to see myself more clearly, and I have also seen it work well with other teachers. But we need to be aware of the limits to any approach that relies on self-reporting and self-analysis.” – p.33.

“Without an appreciation of how students are experiencing learning, any methodological choices we make risk being ill-informed, inappropriate, or harmful.” – p. 35.

“The literature that seems to have the greatest effect on teachers, however, is that in which autobiographical stories of teachers’ struggles are the springboard for wider theoretical analysis.” – p. 39.

“When we take critical reflection seriously, we also begin to think differently about professional development. It is the nature of the reflective process for us to always be evolving.” – p. 42.

“Videotaping our teaching can be a wonderful, though sometimes shocking, way of getting to see ourselves as others see us. At a purely behavioral level, a videotaped record of a class allows us to pick up a variety of gestural and verbal tics. We catch ourselves looking at the floor, fiddling with assorted body parts, making eye contact sporadically and only with certain people, leaving sentences uncompleted, promising to talk about six themes and addressing only five, speaking with frequent hesitations, pauses, and stumblings, and son on. These are behaviors that are distracting or confusing but about which we would otherwise be completely unaware.” – p. 80.

“Through videotape, we can also become aware of the tonal qualities of our teaching. We can see whether we smile a lot, look blank, or frown. We can judge how often we give encouraging nods, acknowledging remarks, and other affirmations in response to students’ contributions. We can listen carefully to our vocal modulations and get a better sense of when, probably unwittingly, our voice suggests that we are being patronizing, demeaning, or condescending. We can see how we react to criticism, lassitude, or what we perceive as inattention.” – p.80.

“Many teachers resist being videotaped because they are uncomfortable with a peer’s scrutiny. They fear being revealed in front of a colleague as the impostor that they feel, deep in their bones, they really are. As we know from working with students, the fear of looking foolish in public is one of the strongest causes of resistance to learning.” – p. 82.

“Although videotaping is a dramatic way to see ourselves as others see us, we should not expect that on its own it will change how we act. While it can indicate aspects of our teaching that need work, it does not necessarily tell us what to do.” – p. 82.

“Student learning journals are regularly compiled summaries of students’ experiences of learning that are written in their own terms. These journals are highly revealing, and writing them is arduous and time-consuming. Sometimes none but the most committed, articulate, and thoughtful students (in some ways, the ones who least need to do it) will bother.” – p. 97.

Critical Incident Questionnaire – quick survey filled in at the end of each class, documenting responses to 5 questions:

  1. at what moment in the class this week did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  2. at what moment in the class this week did you feel most distanced from what was happening?
  3. what action that anyone (teacher or student) took in class this week did you find most affirming and helpful?
  4. What action that anyone (teacher or student) took in class this week did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  5. what about the class this week surprised you the most? (this could be something about your own reactions to what went on, or something that someone did, or anything else that occurs to you.)

On connecting theory to practice:

  1. theory lets us “name” our practice.
  2. theory breaks the circle of familiarity – by studying ideas, activities, and theories that have sprung from situations outside our circle of practice, we gain insight into which features of our work are context-specific and which are more generic.
  3. theory can be a substitute for absent colleagues.
  4. theory prevents groupthink and improves conversation with colleagues – breaking ideological homogeneity.
  5. theory locates our practice in a social context.

“(Theorists of reflective practice) believe… that practitioners, including teachers, must research their own work sites. This involves their recognizing and generating their own contextually sensitive theories of practice, rather than importing them from outside.” – p. 215.