Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. John Wiley & Sons.
Review by Mary Carmel Etienne, Hofstra University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Using critical reflection to inform the practice of academic advising is an one way advisors can live the NACADA core value of Inclusivity (NACADA, 2017b). Advising scholars are already using critical theories to suggest practices that meet the needs of diverse student populations (Lee, 2018; Puroway, 2016). A core aim of critical theory is to understand the underlying causes of social problems and support emancipatory action (Bronner, 2011; Martinez-Aleman et al., 2015). But how do we know that our practices are meeting our social justice goals? In Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher Stephen Brookfield offers critical reflection as a practice that educators can engage in to ensure we are meeting our goals.
“Critical reflection is, quite simply, the sustained and intentional process of identifying and checking the accuracy and validity of our teaching assumptions” (p. 3).
Though the second edition of Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher has been reformatted, with new chapters added, Brookfield points out that the thesis is the same: “critically reflective teaching happens when we identify and scrutinize the assumptions that shape our practice” (viii). Brookfield posits that we come to understand these assumptions by viewing our practice through four distinct lenses: students’ eyes, colleagues’ perceptions, theory, and personal experience. Brookfield is an educator and scholar whose work has informed the practice of teaching and contributed to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). He writes Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher in a personal tone and uses his own narrative as a white, British man to illustrate his points throughout the text. Reading Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher would help advisors develop the conceptual core competency (NACADA, 2017a). Though not without faults, if situated in the context of ‘advising as teaching’ this book would help advisors develop new advising approaches and strategies that promote inclusivity and contribute to the scholarship of advising.
Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher is organized into three sections. In the first section Brookfield gives the context for critical reflection by introducing critical theory as the foundation for reflection, defining three different types of assumptions, and discussing power and hegemony. The second, longer section is devoted to explaining the four lenses of critical reflection: students’ eyes, colleagues’ perceptions, personal experience, and theory. For each lens Brookfield provides exercises and strategies that teachers can use to uncover assumptions. The final section includes new chapters where Brookfield discusses the risks of critical reflection, using social media in the reflection process, teaching about race, and applying critical reflection to leadership.
What are the assumptions that we make about advising and how might those assumptions hinder our goal of helping students? The first part of Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher gives advisors a framework for understanding the assumptions that underpin our work. Brookfield states that “reflection becomes critical when it’s focused on teachers understanding power and hegemony” (p. 9). The two main purposes of critical reflection are to ‘illuminate power’ and ‘uncover hegemony’. Brookfield gives several examples of assumptions about ‘good teaching’ and illustrates how each, instead of being democratic, might actually serve to reinforce a dominant ideology. Using these chapters as a guide, advisors could reflect on the assumptions that they hold about ‘good advising’. And, as Winham (2017) suggests, “...to reflect on relationships of power in higher education” (p. 8).
To uncover our assumptions “we need to be able to see ourselves from unfamiliar angles” (Brookfield, 2017, p. 61). Brookfield devotes the largest part of the book to explaining how teachers can practice critical reflection using the four lenses: students’ eyes, colleagues’ perceptions, personal experience, and theory. In these chapters advisors will find strategies and practices they may implement into their advising approach to critically reflect on advising. Some practices can be easily adopted, while others will take need to be modified to fit the advising context.
Advisors could easily adopt the practices that allow them to uncover assumptions from their colleagues’ perceptions, their personal experience, and theory. For example, in chapter seven Brookfield provides several exercises for developing critically reflective conversations (p. 117). These exercises could easily be done by a group of advisors within a centralized advising office, or who come together from across the university, or at an annual conference. Similarly, the practices that allow teachers to reflect from the lens of their personal experience would be easily adopted by advisors. Brookfield contends that the way we teach is influenced by our experience as learners (p. 70) and illustrates in chapter nine how teachers can reflect on their experience as learners to understand assumptions they carry into their teaching. Advisors could reflect on their experiences as learners when attending conference presentations, during graduate study, or when engaging in recreational learning--the same opportunities to learn proposed for teachers by Brookfield (2017).
Reflecting critically from our students’ eyes will take some creativity on the part of advisors. Here the differences between the context in which teaching takes place and advising happens are most apparent. Since Brookfield is writing to an audience of teachers his strategies are focused on understanding students in the context of the classroom, where teacher and students meet regularly over several weeks during the course of a semester. In contrast, advising usually happens in a one-on-one setting and sometimes advisors only meet once with a student during the semester. These differences mean the exercises proposed will need to be modified and used for a slightly different purpose within the advising context. For example, Brookfield describes the Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) as the exercise that is most useful for reflecting from students’ eyes (p. 107). This exercise entails students anonymously filling out a five-question form at the end of each week; then the teacher summarizes the responses and addresses any questions or concerns at the start of the next class. CIQs allow teachers to get immediate feedback from students and to promptly address any concerns that arise. Advisors would have to modify this exercise to implement it into the advising context. However the exercise is modified, what is important about reflecting from students’ eyes is understanding how students are experiencing advising.
In addition to helping advisors frame and practice critical reflection, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher would also help advisors contribute to the scholarship of advising. In fact, the first edition has already been used to contribute to the scholarship of advising (Puroway, 2016). Troxel (2019) defines the scholarship of advising in the context of the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and adapts McKinney’s definition of scholarship teaching to define scholarly advisors as those who “reflect on their [advising], use assessment techniques [appropriate to advising interactions and initiatives], discuss [advising] issues with colleagues, try new things, and apply the literature on teaching and learning [and how academic advising relates to student success]. (Adapted from McKinney, 2004, p. 8)” (Troxel, 2019, p. 25). Using the four lenses of reflection would help advisors develop a scholarly approach to advising.
Advising scholars could use critical reflection to contribute to the scholarship of advising by applying it to the assessment process. Although critical theories are already being used to inform social justice assessment in higher education (McArthur, 2016; Heiser et al., 2017; Dorime-Williams, 2018), a search of the literature did not provide articles that specifically discussed the use of critical theories in academic advising assessment. Brookfield (2017) would object to the use of critical reflection in a formalized assessment process. He states:
“When reflective assessment protocols are determined in advance, and teachers are required to show a suitable level of reflectivity to get reappointment, promotion, and tenure, the collaborative and collective dimension of reflection is entirely lost. Measuring reflection becomes a power play, a way for administrators to control employees by specifying the type of reflection that’s permissible or legitimate” (p. 76).
In the advising context what Brookfield is describing would be considered evaluation, not assessment. Instead of focusing on individual evaluation, the assessment process focuses on program improvement (Robbins & Zarges, 2011). Furthermore, instead of mandating reflection, assessment administrators could use critical reflection as a framework that guides the design of advising assessment, similar to how Brookfield (2017) applies the principles of reflection to leadership in chapter fourteen.
Brookfield’s chapter on teaching about race and racism provides another opportunity for advisors to contribute to scholarship, here to offer a missing perspective. Chapter twelve is new to this edition and necessary for those concerned with how race and racism affect students' lives and shape our own interpretations of our interactions with them. The chapter outlines the difficulty of perspective taking, the ideology of white supremacy, the misused definition of ‘racist’, and the nature of microaggressions. After reading this chapter one might ask ‘is critical reflection on race only difficult for white people?’ The chapter was written from the perspective of a white man of course, but seemed to be written for only a white audience as well. Perhaps Brookfield feels ill-equipped to discuss the difficulties of critical reflection on race faced by people of color. But this might have been an opportunity to call on the work of scholars who could offer a different perspective. Afterall, white supremist ideology can be held by people of all races. Advising scholars could fill in this gap by providing examples of reflection from different perspectives. For example, a light-skinned Black woman from a Caribbean descent could reflect on the privilege afforded to her by skin color and immigrant status as well as how her race and gender might affect colleagues’ and students’ perceptions of her advising.
Reading Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher might require epistemological flexibility for those not accustomed to critical theory, but advisors don’t have to be critical theorists to find value in this work. The strategies Brookfield provides are accessible to advisors interested in developing a conceptual framework of advising that is inclusive and contributing to the scholarship of advising.
Bronner, S. E. (2011). Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction, New York (Oxford University Press) 2011, 144 pp.
Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. John Wiley & Sons.
Dorimé‐Williams, M. (2018). Developing Socially Just Practices and Policies in Assessment. New Directions for Institutional Research, 2018(177), 41-56.
Heiser, C. A., Prince, K., & Levy, J. D. (2017). Examining critical theory as a framework to advance equity through student affairs assessment. The Journal of Student Affairs Inquiry, 2(1), 1-17.
Ilya Winham (2017) Letter to the Editor: Is Advising a Political Activity?. NACADA Journal: 2017, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 7-8.
Lee, J. A. (2018). Affirmation, Support, and Advocacy: Critical Race Theory and Academic Advising. The Journal of the National Academic Advising Association, 38(1), 77-87.
Martínez-Alemán, A. M., Pusser, B., & Bensimon, E. M. (Eds.). (2015). Critical approaches to the study of higher education: A practical introduction. JHU Press.
McArthur, J. (2016). Assessment for social justice: the role of assessment in achieving social justice. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(7), 967-981.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017a). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017b). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx
Puroway, A. W. (2016). Critical advising: A Freirian-inspired approach. NACADA Journal, 36(2), 4-10.
Robbins, R. & Zarges, K.M. (2011).Assessment of Academic Advising: A Summary of the Process. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web Site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Assessment-of-academic-advising.aspx
Troxel, W. G. (2019). Scholarly Advising and the Scholarship of Advising. NACADA Journal, 39(2), 52-59.