Revolution Lullabye

January 18, 2012

Schon, Educating the Reflective Practicioner

Schon, Donald. “Educating the Reflective Practicioner.” American Educational Research Association. 1987. Washington, DC. Web. 18 January 2012.

Schon, who sets out a context of contemporary conversations about school reform and teacher accountability and the history of higher education, which draws a line between (high) theory and (low) practice, argues that good teaching is artistic, responsive, and spontaneous in nature. He argues for a change in how teachers are prepared to teach, suggesting that they be taught (or rather coached) through reflective practicums, in the same vein as the practical education doctors, artists, and musicians receive.

Schon highlights that in these practicums, uncertainty and vulnerbility feature prominently: the students (the prospective teachers) are the ones who have to figure out what it is they are learning; their instructors can’t tell them discrete, contained bits of knowledge that then they can transfer. Reflective, spontaneous, artistic teachers experiment, test, and improvise.

Schon points out that this kind of teacher training can only flourish in an environment that grants teachers the freedom to experiment and the permission to be confused.


“But underneath the debate about the schools, as it cycles through our history, certain fundamental questions keep coming up: “What are the competences that teachers should be trying to help students, kids acquire?” “What kinds of knowledge and what sort of know-how should teachers have in order to do their jobs well?” What kinds of education are most likely to help teachers prepare for effective teaching?””

“this capacity to respond to surprise through improvisation on the spot is what I mean by reflection-in-action. When a teacher turns her attention to giving kids reason to listening what they say, then teaching itself becomes a form of reflection-in action, and I think this formulation helps to describe what it is that constitutes teaching artistry. It involves getting in touch with what kids are actually saying and doing; it involves allowing yourself to be surprised by that, and allowing yourself to be surprised, I think, is appropriate, because you must permit yourself to be surprised, being puzzled by what you get and responding to the puzzle through an on-the-spot experiment that you make, that responds to what the kid says or does. ”

“And this is teaching in the form of reflection-in-action. It involves a surprise, a response to surprise by thought turning back on itself, thinking what we’re doing as we do it, setting the problem of the situation anew, conducting an action experiment on the spot by which we seek to solve the new problems we’ve set, an experiment in which we test both our new way of seeing the situation, and also try to change that situation for the better. And reflection-in-action need not be an intellectual or verbalized activity. If you think about–my favourite example of reflection-in-action is jazz, because if you think about people playing jazz within a framework of beat and rhythm and melody that is understood, one person plays and another person responds, and responds on the spot to the way he hears the tune, making it different to correspond to the difference he hears, improvisation in that sense is a form of reflection-in-action. And so is good conversation which must be neither wholly predictable nor wholly unpredictable. If it’s wholly predictable, it’s boring and not good, and if it’s wholly unpredictable, it’s crazy. Good conversation, which all of us have some gift for, involves a moving between those extremes in a kind of on-line observation and action which is so natural and spontaneous to us that we don’t even think about the capacity we have to do it.”

“My experience in other kinds of reflective practicums such as the design studio in architecture is that the phenomena of confusion and mystery and anger are endemic at the beginning”

“But all this depends on there being at the heart of the school a core of people, at least a small group of people, who are prepared to create a new kind of research presence, who want to produce experiences and knowledge which is usable by teachers. I think that’s the crucial feature–that their research would be usable. That it would be engaged collaboratively with teachers, that it would be conducted on line in experience with teachers, and that it would be aimed at healing the splits between teaching and doing, school and life, research and practice, which have been so insidiously effective at deadening the experience of school at all levels. ”


there is an ongoing tradition, dialogue about reforming school – nothing new

difference between school-based knowledge and knowledge acquired outside school (tacit, experimential, improvisational)

argues against the separation of theory and practice

distinguishes between reflection-in-action and reflection-on-reflection-in-action

teaching like jazz improv


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