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Professional Development and Reflective Practice

This analysis explores the concept of professional development and reflective practice in relation to the area of social work looking at key debates and relevant theories. It will examine how reflective practice can be used to aid and develop professional social work particularly in the form of 'supervision' taking on board criticisms that have been made of reflective practice along the way.

When once asked about his mistakes, the comedian Peter Cook was heard to say 'I have definitely learned from my mistakes …and I could repeat all of them exactly again'. Gould (1999) This could be said to sum up the problem which has been addressed in recent years by a large body of writing describing the need in social work to develop forms of professional learning that have helped practise move beyond mere routine towards creative and critical problem solving. Much of this research has fallen into the branch of theory known as 'reflective learning', drawing on the work of Schon (1983; 1987) and also informed by other areas of critical theory.

In the UK recently, the learning agenda has placed more emphasis in social work on learning in, from and through work. Workers are increasingly expected to complete a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) for example. However, the notion of the self aware 'reflective practitioner' is still far from reality. Mission and policy statements may promote work based learning, but for many the pressures of daily work and the lack of opportunity to engage with others means that the chance to learn from experience is frequently lost. Thomas (2004), Reflection is a catalyst for learning and a response to learning. Much depends upon who is involved and why. The challenge is to develop the 'right' reflective processes with the right people at the right time and with the right purposes in mind.

To conclude, we have explored reflective practice and professional development in general and specifically in terms of the social work profession, including how it might be used to aid practitioners and develop the profession itself. As reflection itself is still a relatively new concept it is understandably met with some wariness and suspicion by some and welcomed by others. It would seem that when carried out in the correct manner it certainly would not be detrimental for practitioners to have the opportunity to discuss theirs and other colleagues experiences, whether they may be positive or negative. However, those such as Ixer (1999) would still argue that the notion of reflective practice is problematic and more research, clarity and consensus are needed before it can be justified as useful, effective and worthwhile.  

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