Empowering Pedagogy: A Pedagogy of Critical Reflection

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I have long been fascinated with the use of metaphors as a tool to support reflective practice. I find the idea of a wall to be particularly useful in reflecting on reflection. As a faculty advisor to ECE degree students in their final year of study, I find myself saying “go deeper” over and over again when asking for more depth in their reflections. I often read that the learning experience “went well” or the children “enjoyed” but this is only touching the surface of what is possible. Somehow there seems to be a wall that is preventing deeper thinking and critical reflection. Getting over the wall, will change practice and create advocates for a new image of children and teachers. I hope that I can help my students over the wall. I hope that I can help others. I know that I have benefited from having critical friends and mentors over the years that have helped me see that beyond the wall there is always a beyond. I know that sometimes the wall can seem insurmountable. The wall can be there because we have erected it ourselves or it can be there because context seems to be preventing what is possible. There is a way over the wall.

The Brick Wall of the Status Quo

The pre-primary schools of Reggio Emilia grew out of the ashes of almost total devastation following the Second World War. This was the context for the transformation that occurred for the children and teachers of Reggio Emilia. Context should not limit possibilities. Context does not erect a wall from which we cannot see past. Malaguzzi understood the significance of the wall metaphor. According to Malaguzzi (2001) there is a wall which prevents us from going beyond what we know. His poetic words tell us that, “beyond the wall there is always a beyond” (p. 6). When the Hundred Languages of Children Exhibit was in its first incarnation, it was called “When the Eye Jumps Over the Wall.” According to Malaguzzi (2001), inside the title there was a message “that the eye, when it looks beyond the wall of habit, of custom, of the normal, of the non-surprise, of assumed security” (p. 6), will find the possible. When the wall of old habits and customs is broken down the quest for the possible can begin. A good beginning is to reflect on current values and beliefs, recognizing that we are ever changing and evolving.

reflective moment p5

This reflective moment is from the recently published Empowering Pedagogy for Early Childhood Education which I co-authored with Beverlie Dietze. To begin our book we used another metaphor – the journey. We all take a path on the journey and sometimes we are stopped in our tracks by a wall that confines us to the status quo. In our book, , Beverlie and I describe ourselves as journey guides.

We were once where you are, and with our combined experience, education, and commitment to early learning, we hope to help you navigate the professional landscape that lies ahead. We can’t tell you exactly which road you will travel, as it is up to you to find your own path. We serve as an example of a professional collaboration, and our relationship demonstrates that we are in a process of learning together as we move forward on our own journeys. We question and challenge each other while always trying to listen to truly hear each other’s perspective. In our work we practice critical reflection. (p.3)

Reflection is the bridge between your cognitive and emotional states, and it is essential to professional practice. Critical reflection involves deep thinking and is a key disposition for professional practice. Dispositions are ways in which a person is inclined to behave. According to Jones & Shelton (2011) there are four aspects of thinking that make reflection possible that include:

  1. Abstract Thinking: A cognitive process for understanding concepts that cannot be experienced directly through our senses such as friendship and trust.
  2. Complex Thinking: An ability to see the multiplicity of problems or situations at the same time.
  3. Metacognition: An awareness of our thinking about our thinking as it relates to a prob- lem or a situation; thinking about thinking.
  4. Pragmatism: An ability to think logically and apply this thinking to real-life to manage the ambiguity that often accompanies these situations.

Applying these four aspects of thinking to practice will help to build skill, ability, 
and knowledge—the important ingredients to becoming critically reflective. Critical reflection in practice requires embracing one of the five professional habits of mind that will help you over the wall that confines.

fig 1.5 habits of mind

To think critically is to examine reality beyond the surface—to see and think more deeply. When you think critically, you ponder questions of who, what, where, when, how, and, most importantly, why. Everyone has the ability to use the power of their mind to integrate thinking and practice. Critical thinking requires a disruption to the status quo—that which has always been done (hooks, 2010). In our book, Beverlie and I suggest that it is your professional responsibility to think deeply and be a disrupter of the status quo! Let the wall of old habits and customs be broken down as you embrace critical reflection in your practice. Think deeply, my friends.

12 thoughts on “Empowering Pedagogy: A Pedagogy of Critical Reflection

  1. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed this post, especially the connection to how important the practice of reflection is within a Reggio-inspired approach. As critical thinking is one of the learner competencies in our new BC curriculum, we as educators would do well to incorporate this into our own stance as ‘teachers as learners’.


  2. Thank you for such an insightful post. I was reminded that such a practice can only be explored when the administrative culture conveys a place of trust, safety and security. Immersed in such a culture, I’m more free to expose myself to new and deeper learning. This vulnerability can help lift me over that wall.


    • Working within an administrative culture that conveys trust, safety and security must make going to work every morning joyful … “nothing with out joy”. Thanks for your comment Scott!


  3. The significance of the wall resonated with me. Not being able to see beyond our own individual walls struck me. The need to peep over, then look around the outside…..finally bounding over those walls to investigate…..explore…discover….needs to start with ourselves. Our own self reflection and personal engagement is vital.


  4. Pingback: Emergent Curriculum: Taking Interests to the Next Realm – Cultivate rather than Follow | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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