Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Schön's Reflective Practice Model

Reflecting lets us see the old from a new perspective. When we experience a new situation, to make sense of it, we can use situations that we have experienced before, reflecting on them to find similarities. We can be a naive inquirer, and ask questions of ourselves to try to develop a solution that works for us.

We can apply a theory, and break the theory down into components to test the problem against, to see if the theory will help us solve the problem. We can simply think and read widely until we come up with a way through this new situation. Or we can put our problems into the hands of another and discuss the issues until we have a result that works.

I have written about Schön before (here), but his reflective practice model is always worth another look (1983). His model is based on his watching of how practitioners came to him and how they together dealt with a problem: each one has a unique situation, each one requires a unique and tailored solution to get the best result - or the result that the individual who needed the intervention was comfortable with.

We can all get to a point where we get stuck. Schön says that there are situational parallels for unique problems where they "create the conditions for reflection-in-action. Because each practitioner treats [our] case as unique, [we] cannot deal with it by applying standard theories or techniques. In the [time we] spend with [our client], [we] must construct an understanding of the situation as [we] find it. And because [we] find the situation problematic, [we] must reframe it" (1983, p. 129).

What Schön noticed is that when we do this, we first componentise (or reframe) the situation at hand. Then we have gradual discovery, then we design an intervention. It is like tackling a jigsaw puzzle. First we sort the pieces, then we start to see a pattern, then we build a strategy to solve it.

Schön suggests five questions that we, as reflective practitioners, can ask about our particular issue in order to build a GOOD strategy. Those questions are:
  • Can we solve the problem we have set?
  • Do we like what we get when we solve this problem?
  • Have we made the situation coherent?
  • Have we made it congruent with our fundamental values and theories?
  • Have we kept inquiry moving?
This is a useful set of questions to ask. I particularly like the congruence question (see my ethics post here).

Taken together, these help us to ensure that our solutions are an enduring fit.


  • Reference: Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. Basic Books

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