Critical reflection training to social workers in a large, non-elective university class

Riki Savaya*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


I first came to critical reflection in 2004, when I was on sabbatical at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia at a day-long mini-conference organized by Professor Jan Fook and Fiona Gardner at the Centre for Professional Development at La Trobe University. The model presented was based on the use of critical incidents - that is, incidents that are particularly meaningful or significant to the person who experiences them - as objects of reflection. I was moved and impressed by the intense feelings aroused by the process and sensed its potential to help social workers look at underlying meanings and motivations in their practice. I asked Jan and Fiona whether they would be willing to meet with myself and a colleague. They generously offered to undergo the process with us. Each of us wrote out a critical incident, read it to the others, and reflected on it together. The experience was extraordinarily powerful and meaningful for me. My incident involved my work in evaluating the Couple and Family Counseling Center in Jaffa Tel Aviv, a mixed Jewish Arab area of the city. I found that the Arab population vastly under-used the services in proportion to its numbers in the population despite the well-known prevalence of serious family problems. In order to understand their problems better and to adapt the center’s services to their culture and needs, we decided to consult with formal and informal community leaders. The incident occurred during a meeting I held with a guidance counselor in an Arab high school. At her suggestion, we met at her home, where she lived with her husband and his family. At the door, I was greeted by her mother-in-law, who remained in the living room. In our talk, conducted in Hebrew, the counselor answered my questions about the couple and family problems in the Arab community, how problems are handled traditionally, and the possibilities of integrating the traditional approaches with services offered by the center. After about a quarter of an hour, the counselor’s motherin-law suddenly interrupted the interview in furious tones. Embarrassed, the counselor told me that her mother-in-law thought that she was telling me about her own family problems - in violation of the interdiction in Arab society against telling these to outsiders - and threatened to inform her husband that she had undermined the family’s honour. Her efforts to explain to her in we invite the mother-in-law to join us, but the suggestion came too late, her mother-in-law would not be appeased, and I had to leave. The incident upset me enormously. The intense sense of failure stayed with me for years, so much so that this incident immediately came to mind in the session with Jan and Fiona more than 10 years later. What bothered me, and what I hoped to clarify by reflecting on the incident, is why it upset me so deeply and for so long. After all, the meeting was with a colleague, in a place of her choosing. Wasn’t it her task to make sure that anyone who might be around knew what we were going to discuss before I arrived and that it was alright with them? The issue wasn’t, as it might appear, one of cultural sensitivity. I felt that I had a decent familiarity with and respect for Arab culture, and that our efforts to adapt the center’s services to Arab culture and our consultation with Arab leaders were indications of that sensitivity. The reflection turned out to be extraordinarily illuminating. Through the questions that the others asked and the insights they offered, I came to realize that two central values of mine clashed in this incident: task orientation and inclusion. And I further realized that whenever my task orientation comes into conflict with another value, I invariably choose getting the task done and push aside anything that I see as impeding its efficient completion. Ever since then, I’ve tried to incorporate this understanding into my practice. I no longer push ahead with the task at hand, come what may. Whenever I find myself pushing aside what I view as an interference to completing a task, I stop to make room for it. From this experience, I also realized how important it is that social workers learn to think critically about their practice and to reflect on the motives and basic assumptions behind their behaviours. As a faculty member in a school of social work, I wrote to the head of the school suggesting an elective course in critical reflection. To my surprise, he made the course mandatory for the entire cohort. I found myself with two classes, one in the fall semester, one in the spring, with forty students each. In the remainder of this chapter, I describe how I addressed the multiple challenges of bringing critical reflection training using the Fook and Gardner model into a large, mandatory social work class. I use the term ‘training’ rather than ‘teaching’ to emphasize that the purpose of the course was to ‘train’ the students to reflect on their practice, not to ‘teach’ them about the theories and techniques of critical reflection.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical Reflection in Context
Subtitle of host publicationApplications in Health and Social Care
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781136208591
ISBN (Print)9780415684248
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012


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