Gibbs Reflective Cycle

Reflection is a method for aiding and reinforcing learning, used in education and professional development for nurses. This article dives into what Gibb’s reflective cycle is, and invaluable guidance on theoretical approaches and best practices; so you can improve your learning and development in real life.Becoming a nurse you should find it easy...
Gibbs reflective cycle

Reflection is a method for aiding and reinforcing learning, used in education and professional development for nurses. This article dives into what Gibb’s reflective cycle is, and invaluable guidance on theoretical approaches and best practices; so you can improve your learning and development in real life.

Becoming a nurse you should find it easy to complete the sentence: ‘my course would be so much better if only . . .’ This is because most students will have at least one idea of how their programme could be improved. Similarly many students will be able to identify easily what a particular lecturer or mentor needs to do in order to be better at their job. We all engage in the kinds of conversations in which the shortcomings of systems, organisations or other people are identified and where simple solutions for making things better are suggested. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said in relation to ourselves: indeed, we rarely engage in conversations that identify our own shortcomings, let alone provide solutions for improving our performance as nurses. If nothing else, reflection provides an opportunity to review the effects and consequences of our behaviour and actions. By using a structured form of reflection it can enable you to identify your role in an incident and to help you to begin to understand how the incident might have been avoided altogether. From this it will hopefully consent to construct a plan of action to assist you to a personal and professional development.

To develop is to improve. Development occurs when things can be said to have improved. Development is intimately bound with thinking; thinking about the way things are now and thinking about the way things might be improved: and to engage in thinking about things in this way is to engage in reflection. Thus reflection is an essential feature of development, and as suggested above, most of us engage with this type of activity on an everyday basis. We might not normally call this ‘reflection’ but when we think about how things are and how they might be improved we are reflecting on what is and what might be.

Personal development is personal improvement, while professional development involves improving experiences of health and nursing care for patients. So in a professional sense, engaging with reflection (i.e., thinking about how things are and thinking about how they might be improved for patients) must be accompanied by action (i.e., actually doing something in an attempt to make things better for patients). Thus reflection is an integral part of personal and professional development.

Gibbs Model Of Reflection

gibbs reflective cycle
gibbs model of reflection (1988)


The simple cyclical structure of Gibbs’ model makes it easy to use and popular among nurses, indeed it is the model Julia has previously used for assignment purposes. It is useful as it emphasises the link between reflection and action (and this can assist in setting a personal development plan). However, it neither encourages consideration of other people in (or affected by) the event nor does it requires examination of motives, values, knowledge, or congruence between thoughts and actions. While action-based and thus relevant for professional development it may not encourage deeper reflection of self and thus may be limited in terms of personal development (see Figure 13.1).

Reflective Journal Nursing

A deeper understanding of ourselves can be achieved through writing. Written reflection is a common theme in the literature as a way of reflecting on action but it is strewn with confusing language. There are learning logs, journals, portfolios, structured accounts, reflective models, reflective reviews and personal diaries. Some reflective writing is public (e.g., a portfolio for an assignment) while other writing is private (e.g., a diary). Through writing, nurses can be encouraged to reflect on critical incidents from practice (I prefer the term ‘stories of experience’). These stories are usually prompted by some emotional or ethical discomfort (e.g. Bolton 2005, Burns and Bulman 2000, Crathern 1998, Ghaye and Lillyman 2006, Glaze 2002, Gould and Baldwin 2004, Johns 2006, Moon 2004, Taylor 2006). Stories can focus on positive or negative experiences and allow you the chance to view events from a distance, considering:

• What happened, paying attention to the context and detail of the story.
• What you did and why you did it.
• What you felt about the experience and how this may connect with past experiences.
• What you have learned about yourself, others, your practice.
• What were the gaps in your knowledge, attitudes and skills.
• What could be done differently.
• How your practice has changed now you have read or considered a different way of working.

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The stories help you to identify areas of knowledge and skills for development and help you to explore the context in which you practise. As Figure 13.2 illustrates, and as the previous discussion on models identified, there are many questions that you can ask yourself to develop your learning from a story of practice. This can form part of your informal diary writing or more formal writing for a public portfolio document. As you get more practised at writing you will develop your own ability to ask questions in order to develop your practice insight.

However, writing does not come easily to everyone and some individuals may need regular practice if patterns are to emerge or if deeper learning from experience is to take place. When you first start, it can be useful to share your writing with others: a tutor or a friend, perhaps, who can help you to question your practice. Depending on your preferred way of knowing you may find it challenging. Do not be put off writing just because it is difficult. Try experimenting with different ways of writing, either with different models or just putting your thoughts down in no particular order, just as they come (free-fall writing) and your ability to analyse your experiences will begin to develop. Getting in the habit of writing regularly may also help in your coursework.

My preference is to use an A5-size notebook and write two or three times each week. Like many people, I find it easier to write about negative (rather than positive) experiences. However, this tends to remind me of my weaknesses rather than my strengths and this can undermine my self-esteem. Sometimes I go weeks without writing; other times I write in short bursts of 10 minutes most days.

Writing two or three times a week allows me to process the emotional component of work and re-reading old diaries provides me with insights into my patterns of thinking and behaviour, allowing me to make changes. Several of my diary entries involve pre-planning and these sometimes become ‘to do’ lists (these help me to clarify my need to act). I have evolved my own method of keeping a diary which often is just free-fall writing. When I do structure my writing, I tend to use the following:

• I notice – this tells the story of what happened.
• I feel – these notices are how I felt and how I feel after writing.
• I imagine – this involves me thinking about others involved in my experience. If I am critical of others what is this saying about myself? What might be some of the consequences of this for myself and others?
• I want – this often turns into a ‘to do’ list of actions as it is not always easy to decide what I want. Sometimes I decide what I do not want first!
• What have I learned or achieved? – even if the experience has been difficult this helps to reframe it and allows me to let go of the emotional component.

We hope that reading this blog post will encourage you to have a go at reflection and find for yourself its value in your development as a professional nurse. In this way you can learn to become a reflective practitioner and begin to use your personal and professional experience as a means for continuing development.

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