On Reflective Practice with Don Jacobs | Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud

Don Jacobs On Reflective Practice

Don JacobsIn many ways the COVID pandemic has made new learners out of all of us: students, teachers, parents, instructional coaches, and school administrators. As a new school year begins with many unknowns present, I believe that we need to reflect on what was learned in the past six months and how we can continue learning in the coming months.

My friend, colleague, and the CEO of PLS 3rd Learning, Dr. Don Jacobs agreed to share a blog around his experiences with reflection. It has been a pleasure for me to reflect and learn with Don during our years working together to elevate educators to improve the life prospects of every child.

Enjoy reflecting with Don.


Most of us instinctively engage in reflection. These reflections, mostly informal, can take many forms in our personal and professional lives and show up in your thoughts as questions like “did I say the right thing?”, “did I do the right thing?”, “how should I have done that?”, “why didn’t that work?”, and “what should I do next”, etc.

Over many years, philosophers, thought leaders, and researchers have shaped models and drawn insights around this natural process that is broadly called Reflective Practice Theory.

One of the seminal books about reflective practice is Donald Schon’s The Reflective Practitioner. Schon is a touch point for me when I consider the power of self-reflection in my own work. He does stand, though, on the shoulders of many others, harkening back to John Dewey who said, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Also, W. Edwards Demming, who said “theory without experience teaches nothing: experience without theory teaches nothing”. Other thinkers, writers, and researchers who come to mind are Chris Argyris, Graham Gibbs, and certainly Jerome Bruner – all very much worth the time if you want to pursue them.

Graham Gibbs gave structure to the reflective practice with his Model of Reflection that has six components:

  1. Description (describe what you saw/did/experienced)
  2. Feelings (what are your feelings about it?)
  3. Evaluation (what are your judgements about it?)
  4. Analysis (what’s really going on here?)
  5. Conclusions (what did I learn from this, what can I conclude?)
  6. Action plan (what am I going to do differently?)

Self-reflection has become a habit for me, and I find that I do it with much less effort these days. It’s become more of a state of mind (perhaps to distraction). But I’ve found that my understanding of my experience is deeper when I take the time to actively reflect. I’m more effective, more deliberate.

I once found myself through an odd series of events being invited to lunch with the president of Costa Rica, Abel Pacheco, in the presidential palace in San Jose. I was sitting next to him and as food was being served and I was fumbling for conversation. I had read that he had recently been ill, recovering for some extended period of time from a stroke. When I asked him how he was doing, he said this to me: “My eyesight is poor…but my vision has never been better.” His recovery from the stroke provided him a gift of time for deep reflection. When he was recovered and back on the job, he set about to make substantial changes – one of which I was there to celebrate, the amendment of the Costa Rican constitution to give rights to animals and the environment, the first and only such amendment (to my knowledge) in the world.

My own reflection on that experience, then and now, is this: we shouldn’t wait for the universe to send us the gift of extra time to reflect: let’s take the time each day as we work to actively engage in reflection. You might use the Gibbs model as a way of guiding and organizing your reflections. I’ll close with another touch point thinker for me, Margaret Wheatley, who said: “without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

Thanks, Don. This is an important time for us to move education onward. Reflection on past and present will be critical to creating successful futures.

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