Faculty in the School of Education believe that programs must be designed so that professional education candidates continually evaluate and improve their practice through critical self-reflection and inquiry.

Critical self-reflection and inquiry is a process of deliberate examination designed to help beginning candidates make sense of the interwoven complexities of their profession and establish the habits of mind that will guide them through the novice-to-expert continuum.  The craft of teaching, as with artistry of any type, involves the continual refinement of knowledge and skills.  As Huebner (1962/1999) notes:

As the writer shapes words to his meanings, so the sculptor shapes clay or stone, the painter pigment, and the composer sounds …. The artist has cognitive control over the media, knowing immediately and almost intuitively the possibilities ofvarious stones, the blending and gazing of characteristic pigments….Furthermore he is a master of the abstract knowledge about the craft: metrics, plot and character development, perspective, balance….and other aspects of the love and science of the craft (p. 33).

The job of education programs is to develop in the professional education candidate the capacity to reflect and inquire systematically and sensitively into the nature of learning and the effects of teaching.  This position is congruent with the approach to knowledge production advocated by John Dewey – one that empowers educators with greater understanding of complex situations rather than seeking to control them with simplistic formulas. Thus, as Dewey maintained (1964); by developing the skill of reflective teaching and inquiry, education candidates are “[enabled] to know what [they] are about when [they] act.  It converts action that is merely appetitive, blind, and impulsive into intelligent action” (p.211). 

More recently, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (1997) has adopted the following reflection standard: 

Accomplished teachers constantly analyze, evaluate, and strengthen their practice in order to improve the quality of their students’ learning experiences.

Schon’s (1983,1987) model of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action provides a foundation for a vast body of literature on reflective practices and inquiry.  Grimett and Erikson (1988) cite Schon in defining reflection as “research not about or for practice, but in practice.”  Adler (1991) refers to Schon’s work when he discusses tacit knowledge derived from the construction and reconstruction of professional experience.  Others, such as Johnston (1997) and Lyons and Pinnell (2001), cite Schon when discussing the need for professionals to view situations from multiple perspectives and reflection’s centrality to clarifying one’s understanding and making sense of practice.  Thus, training in reflection and inquiry helps teachers learn how to look at the world from multiple perspectives and to use this knowledge to reach diverse learners.

As described in belief statement two, becoming a professional educator is a developmental process where candidates progress through a series of stages.  An initial step in the development of critical reflection and inquiry skills is for candidates to identify and begin to reconstruct their conceptions of their chosen profession.  Research suggests that preservice teachers’ existing conceptions about teaching behaviors strongly influence their learning (Cruickshank, Bainer and Metcalf, 1995; Goodlad, 1990), and that critical self-reflection and inquiry is “not generally associated with working as a teacher” (Hatton and Smith, 1995). 

McCutcheon and Jung (1990) identify the core components of teacher inquiry as systematic, reflexivity, and focus on the practical.  Reflection and inquiry seek to answer questions and solve problems that arise from the daily life of the classroom and to put findings into immediate practice (McKay, 1992; Twine & Martinek, 1992).  McNamara (1990) emphasizes time and opportunity as critical factors in the development of reflective skills.  Further, the research of Cruickshank (1985) and Palinscar (1986) support the notion that development of professional education candidates’ reflective competencies is enhanced via processes such as modeling and coaching, scaffolded dialogues, and peer collaboration.

Shulman (2002) suggests the production of artifacts as another crucial element in development of critical self-reflection and inquiry.  On-the-job events are fleeting.  They occur and disappear.  Construction of artifacts, however, provides professional education candidates with tangible evidence of performance and creates opportunities to rethink and reconstruct their learning.

In order for professional education candidates to evolve into artists of their professions, programs must include rigorous self-reflection and inquiry components that require re-conceptualization and refinement of our notions of effective practice, production of and reflection upon artifacts, and opportunities to collaborate and share with other professionals.  The UAB School of Education faculty believe that all education professionals should regularly engage in critical self-reflection and inquiry in order to master their craft.

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