The power of reflective practice

Collaborative learning experiences where teachers come together to construct meaning and knowledge collectively also nourish leadership capacity.

Simon Clarke, Professor in the Graduate School of Education at The University of Western Australia, presented on the opening morning of Research Conference 2017 in Melbourne today, exploring the connections between leadership and learning.

Speaking to Teacher ahead of the event, Clarke explained leadership and learning are indispensable to each other in a teacher's day-to-day work. ‘What I am referring to here is the symbiotic relationship that exists between leadership and learning in the sense that leadership is thwarted without learning and the success of each activity is determined by the extent to which both are available.

‘It tends to be the case that when teachers are learning together and constructing meaning and knowledge collectively and collaboratively, they are engaging in shared leadership, which should be considered their right and their responsibility.'

Clarke's presentation included findings from the Carpe Vitam Leadership for Learning research project, which explored the relationships between leadership and learning across seven countries, eight universities and 24 schools. Directed from the University of Cambridge between 2002 and 2006, it generated a set of five principles of leadership and learning practice.

‘It was hoped [the principles] could be used by researchers, school leaders, teachers and students to forge connections between leadership and learning by reflecting on and researching their own practice,' the academic explains. ‘Another major aim of the principles was to serve as a set of “tin openers” for continuing discourse. This has meant that thinking around the principles has evolved over recent years.'

Delegates heard about the importance of teachers engaging in reflective practice. Clarke says dialogue promotes the kind of collaborative, strategic and reflective thinking that has been found to be vital in facilitating teachers', and others', learning. He points to the work of Agyris and Schon (1978) and their notion of double loop learning. ‘In this approach to learning people become observers of themselves, a form of critical scrutiny that changes the way in which decisions are made and deepens understanding of previously unchallenged assumptions.

‘The process of double loop learning, therefore, entails teachers deliberately and systematically making explicit the taken-for-granted assumptions they bring to situations and subjecting them to scrutiny, a process which is at the heart of reflective practice. For this purpose, an “action enquiry” approach to reflection is likely to be effective. This engenders the deliberate use of any kind of a “plan, act, describe, review” cycle for inquiry into action in a field of practice. It could be said, that reflective practice, diagnostic practice, action learning, action research and researched action are all kinds of action enquiry.”

Clarke says reflective practice is likely to be more powerful when it's done with colleagues because collaboration has the potential to encourage interdependence, collective commitment, shared responsibility, review and critique. ‘It is also the case that a group of teachers is more inclined to discover insights that are not necessarily available individually.'

Research Conference 2017 is hosted by the Australian Council for Educational Research and addresses theme ‘Leadership for Improving Learning: Insights from research'.


Agyris, C. & Schon, D. (1978). Organisational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

How often do you reflect on and scrutinise your own practice? Do you do this individually or actively seek input from colleagues?

Professor Simon Clarke talks about an ‘action enquiry’ approach to reflection. As a school leader, what structures would you need to put in place to introduce a ‘plan, act, describe, review’ cycle for inquiry for staff professional learning?