On Critical Reflection


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I recently had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Stephen Brookfield present at the University of Guelph’s Teaching and Learning Innovations Conference. Dr. Brookfield’s presentation modeled the way.  He reminded us of the importance of silence in the classroom:

 silence is an endemic, essential part of the rhythm of the learning process.


We were also reminded of how important it was to reflect critically on our own experiences as learners, as we, ourselves grow as teachers.

How we study our own autobiographies as learners is essential to our development as teachers.

I was left most inspired by Brookfield’s humble and real reflections on the feelings we all face in our teaching practice, and how difficult it is to look beyond our assumed ‘faults’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ as we teach – no matter how experienced we are in the classroom.

So what is critical reflection anyways?

Critical reflection occurs when we analyze and challenge the validity of our presuppositions and assess the appropriateness of our knowledge, understanding and beliefs given our present contexts (Mezirow, 1990).  Brookfield (1990) explains that critical reflection involves three phases:

  1. Identifying the assumptions (“those taken-for-granted ideas, commonsense beliefs, and self-evident rules of thumb” (pg. 177)) that underlie our thoughts and actions;
  2. Assessing and scrutinizing the validity of these assumptions in terms of how they relate to our ‘real-life’ experiences and our present context(s);
  3. Transforming these assumptions to become more inclusive and integrative, and using this newly-formed knowledge to more appropriately inform our future actions and practices.

Becoming a critically reflective thinker and practitioner can be challenging. The process of critical reflection may be conceptualized through the descriptions and questions contained in the following two figures (adapted from Brookfield 1990, 1995; Mezirow, 1990).





Brookfield, S.D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.  Jossey-Bass, CA.

Brookfield, S.D. 1990. Using critical incidents to explore learners’ assumptions. In pages 177-193 of J. Mezirow (Ed). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Fransisco.

Mezirow, J. 1990.  How critical reflection triggers transformative learning.  In pages 1-20 of J. Mezirow (Ed). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Fransisco.