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How do critical incidents promote learning from experience?

Stories can become “critical incidents” when they are about “occurrences that let us see with new eyes some aspect of what we do” (Newman, 1990, p. 17). They can accomplish several things:

  • They can cause us to ask why a particular incident is memorable amidst all the potential stories we might tell from a busy, hectic teaching day, week or year.

  • They can help us become aware of possible influences on our instructional decisions and practices such as our beliefs and assumptions, our personal histories or the contexts in which we teach.

  • They also can help us pinpoint what it is we know and can do that we should do more of, or identify what we don’t know, or haven’t yet learned to do, that would help us make improvements.

Reflective thinking—whether through writing or conversation (or both)—is one way to help us transform the everyday stories we tell (and then sometimes forget) into memorable events that become tools for learning and growing.

What do critical incidents look like?