Critical Incident

Reflections on a lesson (the Critical Incident)

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(348 Words)

John C. Flanagan talks about a ‘critical incident’ (Flanagan, 1954) that can happen. With respect to this theory from an observation I had for my lesson, once this class had finished I had a meeting with the observer and he mentioned my teacher training was more about discussion than actual instruction.

Although I was actually teaching the subject matter to a certain level, I assumed this was myself basing the lesson more on communication and giving the students access to have thoughts and opinions on the topic mentioned by me. All the same, this was now my ‘critical incident’. My observer had mentioned something that stunned me a little while making me contemplate and reflect upon. In the class, I was raising issues and theories about teaching and talking about those elements of being a teacher with the students, but my observer was highlighting that I should be wholly teaching the students the subject matter.

Although completely taking over the class could be unjust to the students, I felt this observation was quite true that the students should have been given more of solid background knowledge about the subject. I need to fully (if not more) do/complete my job and give them the whole picture. It could be the case that the students can be just speaking about the subject as they (could) do without any prior knowledge of teaching. Generally speaking, we can all talk about various topics as if we have knowledge of them.

This is why this ‘critical incident’ where my observer highlighted a factor in my teaching, I have now felt (after reflection) that I have to fully complete my task as a teacher and stand there in front of the students and truly show them what I know and how the subject of the lesson should be known. It means espousing my knowledge in ways that show the students I am a qualified, professional, and proficient teacher that clearly demonstrates the topic on a level that challenges and informs the students. Thus, the level of discussion will hopefully be raised thereafter.

Flanagan, J.C. 1954. The critical incident technique. Psychological Bulletin.

Reflective Essay – A Critical Incident

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A “prudent understanding of variable situations with a view to what is to be done” (McCarthy, 1984, p.2) encapsulates that moment when a teacher is met with new experiences that need resolving. Teachers are met with acts that define their personalities. While working in Asia, I was faced with one such dilemma as two students had complained to my manager that I was rude to them. All I was mentioning after class (in a respectful way and in the least words possible) on the first day of a new term that they had entered the class late, ignored me, and  sat down to subsequently talk with their friends. Asian culture may ignore this nonchalant kind of attitude, although I felt the need to deal with it.  What is called a ‘technical rationality’ (Schon, 1983), namely my reaction, I hoped, was a means to an end by telling them in not so many words that I would like them to respect the learning students, process and the teacher teaching. In this given situation, and given they were both adults, who was right as we both had views? For this essay, I would like to like to draw on Gibbs’ (1988) six step process of reflection to examine this classroom experience.

Firstly is the ‘description’ (Gibbs, 1988) of what happened? This can be said to be the ‘critical incident’ (Flanagon, 1954) which emphasizes a direct observation of human behavior to examine the point of myself, the teacher, keeping two students behind after class to talk about their behavior towards the learning process. This is also the ‘concrete example’ (Peters, 1984) which shows that we have to step back and test ourselves. Then, the next test is my ‘feelings’ (Gibbs, 1988) towards the students’ attitude of nonchalantly arriving late and traipsing past me. I felt a bit of frustration as the class had been disturbed, myself disrespected as a teacher while not forgetting being unsupported by my manager who told me to apologize to them.

Moreover, to ‘evaluate’ (Gibbs, 1988), the third stage of Gibbs’ model, which highlights the good and bad, is first to say that I chose a quiet moment to explain myself; this being after class. The bad would be the students’ reaction to a situation they felt was not to be worried so much about which in Asian culture made them lose face.  So, to make sense of the situation and thus ‘analyze’ (Gibbs, 1988) it, I was left feeling that I was in the wrong. My manager was now telling me to apologize and forget about it, although he was driven by the Asian culture and business ethics of the customer is always right and do not say anything bad.

Furthermore, the “conclusion” (Gibbs, 1988) is to highlight and reflect on what more I could have done, seeing as I had to apologize (or risk losing my job). Culture was an issue, but also I think attitudes to lateness of another teacher to which they had had the previous term was an issue. The sixth stage, my ‘action plan’ (Gibbs, 1988) is now to see if the situation arose again what I would do. Of course, there are reasons for being late, and also for reactions to negative things said about someone. Culturally, maybe I was too abrupt and too serious. Finally, laughter and a smile work in the Asian culture while also getting the students’ personal feelings as to the right behavior instead of pushing my personally held beliefs is also a factor; hopefully, we all become wiser.

(Words 591)


Peter Scales, 2008. Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector. 1 Edition. Open University Press.

Geoff Petty, 2009. Teaching Today: A Practical Guide. 4 Edition. Nelson Thornes.

Yvonne Hillier, 2005. Reflective Teaching in Further and Adult Education. 2 Edition. Continuum.

Andrew Armitage, 2011. Developing Professional Practice, 14-19. Edition. Longman/Pearson.