Reflective Practice Glossary

This glossary sets out a range of practices that are focused on improving working relationships and practice to achieve better outcomes for clients.

All of the following practices set out to improve relationships. All involve forms of reflective practice. Characteristic of each practice is a focus on learning and a sense of reciprocity and accountability. The creation of shared meaning and use of reflective practices is an important early step to leading and managing change.

Action learning

Action learning is a small group process (usually no more than five people) that focuses on the exploration of “problems” and “creative solutions” through an individual’s connection to that problem. A strict protocol is followed with people taking turns at different roles in the process (ie. listener; questioner; teller). Dedicated time and space to the process must be adhered to. Clinical Supervision offers a possible site for the use of action learning sets.

Action research

Reflective practice overlaps and is extended by “action-research” methods which involve the systematic application of an “observe, reflect, plan, act, observe” cycle of inquiry. Done on a small or large scale action research seeks to produce improvement in practice while at the same time increase knowledge and understanding of practices. Done well, action research is a highly participatory inclusive process.

Appreciative inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is similar to action research but focuses on what is already working in a particular context. Advocates of this form of reflective practice argue that many change interventions are “deficit” focused which can leave people feeling demoralised by past and current efforts. Appreciative inquiry is guided by four process phases: discovery (what is already working); dream (envisioning what might be); design (collectively determining what might be); delivery (planning for action).

Clinical supervision

Clinical supervision uses reflective practice approaches but with the specific focus to improve clinical practice.


Coaching is a supportive relationship between a coach and another person. Unlike mentoring and other forms of reflective practice coaching can be a spontaneous, short-lived relationship around a specific issue; skill or learning focus between two co-workers. Emphasis is on the needs of the person seeking the coaching: not the coach. A coach needs specific knowledge and skills for facilitation of the process to be maximised, for example, reflective questioning techniques. Coaching is not counselling; punishing; teaching or telling another colleague what or how to approach a situation. Preceptorship offers a possible site for coaching relationships.


Mentoring is a supportive relationship between two people: not necessarily from the same workplace or field. One person is generally more experienced and assumes the role of mentor and the other less experienced person assumes the role of mentoree. Areas of focus for the relationship generally relate to career and personal development.


Preceptorship is an intense support period, generally, as part of an induction to the Maternal and Child Health Service. The focus is on technical clinical skill acquisition and competence.

Professional learning community

A professional learning community uses processes that promote continuous individual and collective learning that improves the outcomes for families. What facilitates the development of professional learning communities is individual staff commitment and motivation; formal and informal connections with other workplace sites and focused continuous professional development that promotes collaborative work and learning relationships.

Reflective practice

A bottom-up self directed process of learning which can be formal or informal in its approach and individual or collaborative in nature. Characteristics of reflective practice include it being approached in a conscious, planned and systematic manner. Most well known is Donald Schön’s formative “reflection-in-action” and summative “reflection-on-action” approaches.