Essay Critical Incident Teaching

The process of generating a critical incident begins with a straightforward, descriptive account of an event. The account, or record, can be generated through diary writing, jotted note-taking, or a reflective journal entry. (See Reflective Practice & Writing to Learn for some of my thoughts on the professional benefits of systematic reflective writing.) Critical incident analysis depends on a thorough initial record of an event, a detailed description of your experience. 

But what to write about? Start by noticing the attributes of particular events, and your reaction to them. For example, you may find something unsettling, or confusing, rewarding or cheerful. Perhaps the event was unexpected. Or perhaps it was something that went almost unnoticed...

The analysis of typical, routine events is of particular value. This is because such events can be the result of habits which have been simply adopted and then left to embed, unchallenged. They often veil historical structures and assumptions which are at best outdated and, at worst, harmful. Typical events are often realisations of our expectations, perpetuated by our perception that they always seem to be happening... By raising our professional awareness, and becoming mindful of the underlying structures which drive our thinking, our decision-making and our consequential actions, we are in a position to challenge, reassess and make changes. And, of course, improvement doesn't tend to occur without change. But, to return to critical incidents...

We create a critical incident through analysis. That is, an incident becomes a critical incident as a result of our critical thinking about it. And this is the key: When you commit to the analysis of professional experience (critical incident analysis) you must be prepared to question accepted systems and routines, including your own taken-for-granted understanding, and your beliefs and feelings about what is good or bad, right or wrong. The point is not simply to confirm what you already suspect may have caused the event, but to uncover something new. And through thorough scrutiny of all relevant factors, you can raise your awareness and develop your understanding of the implicit structures and unquestioned assumptions which served to generate your incident in the first place.

But let's now turn to the practical approaches which Tripp suggests will help in our quest for deeper understanding. Here's my brief take on his four approaches to the analysis of incidents:


Thinking Strategies

Tripp presents a selection of prompts, a sample of which are included below, to initiate analysis and broaden our thinking. I often have discussions with teachers who either assume they've considered all factors relevant to a situation, or misjudge its complexity. It's crucial to ensure we do not take too narrow a view of our incident. Here are some examples of the thinking strategies Tripp suggests that we consider, to ensure we obtain a fuller picture. Consider:
- all the positive/negative/interesting points about the situation
- alternatives/possibilities/choices which were also available
- alternate viewpoints/perspectives/opinions possibly held by others

This approach is not personally challenging. It doesn't demand a particularly critical approach, but using these prompts is useful for ensuring that the incident is considered in its entirety, from multiple perspectives. Look into Edward de Bono's CoRT Thinking programme, for more information on this approach.

The Why? Challenge

The title of this simple approach to analysis speaks for itself - it's exactly what is says on the tin. However, its simplicity belies its ability for revealing assumptions of which you may be unaware. To apply this approach, simply pick a specific issue from your account (mentioned above). 
Write it down. 
Then ask, 'Why does this matter?' 
Write down the answer, beginning 'Because...'
Follow this with a further 'Why?' 
Write down the answer, 'Because...' 
Continue, allowing the dialogue to take you wherever it needs to. Eventually, you are likely to come to a conclusion that is governed by policy, the law or faith, or by one of unavoidable practicality. However, where the process stops is often a powerful indicator of the forces that combined to create your original event.

Dilemma Identification

Many times a day in their work teachers experience the feeling that if they had done what they chose not to do, things might have turned out even better. But they can never know for certain. That is one of the very stressful and often demoralising aspects of being a [critically] thinking, feeling teacher. (p.54)
This approach assists us by forcing us to view particularly complex or less-that-satisfactory events as created for, rather than by us. Identify the dilemmas which exist within your incident. By considering your decisions, and the decisions of others, from an objective standpoint you are in a better position to uncover the motivations, values and beliefs which underpinned the actions, which links strongly to...

Personal Theory Analysis

Our personal theory represents the set of beliefs we have formed about how we view the world, and how we think things must be, or how they should be. This is about your own ideological viewpoint concerning professional practice. It is formed by your experiences to date: your upbringing; your own journey through the education system; your teacher training; your tutors and mentors; your parents and carers, and; everything you've seen, heard and read along the way.

It is crucial that you not only become aware of the existence of your personal theories, but understand them as the powerful, solid structures they are. Significant shifts in these structures usually only occur through particularly emotional or stressful life events (see Mezirow). At times your personal theories inevitably conflict with the policies and practices you are instructed to follow. You then quietly concede, and get on with it. By analysing accepted practices which don't appear to conflict with your personal theories (those which are embedded without challenge) you can reveal any unhealthy or harmful assumptions which have no place in the supposedly safe and nurturing classroom environment.

So, where to start? Consider embarking on some free writing. Let yourself describe a situation you faced in the last 24 hours. It needn't be particularly remarkable. Remember that trivial situations can reveal highly useful material. If you're struggling to make a start, you might find it useful to follow Tripp's advice and think of interesting, amusing, sad, unfortunate or silly occurrences you can recall, for inspiration. And persevere, because reflection, self-analysis, questioning your understanding, and exploring your assumptions is essential to the development of your professional judgement.

My next post will discuss this further - the nature and value of professional judgement in teaching. It's a particularly significant topic at the time of writing as it relates strongly to the current debate about the accreditation of teachers and the future of Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

References & further reading

Ayres, D. (2014) Dilemma Identification. Available at:

de Bono, E. (1987) The CoRT Thinking Course. London: Pergamon.

Mezirow, J. (1981) 'A critical theory of adult learning and education', in Adult Education 32: 3-24.

Tripp, D. (2012) Critical Incidents in Teaching: Developing Professional Judgement.  London; New York: Routledge Falmer

Citing this post?
Ayres, D. (2013) Critical Incidents. Available at: (Accessed: [Date]).

Essay on Reflection on a Critical Incident

1762 Words8 Pages

The reason for this essay is to reflect on a critical incident experience during my six week placement as a student nurse on an orthopedic ward. To explore an event as a critical incident is a value judgment, and the basis of that judgment is the significance attached to the meaning of the incident. Critical incidents are created or produced by the way we look at a situation. Tripp (1993)

The incident chosen has made an impact on me due to the fact the side effects of surgery can be very critical to a patient’s life, as would be demonstrated in the critical incident chosen (D.V.T). Deep vein thrombosis.

There are various reflective models written by various theorists and they include: Atkins and Murphy (1994), Stephenson (1993),…show more content…

“One may also reflect on practice while one is on the midst of it. This process involves both reflections in action and reflection in practice (Johns 2000). Schon states that reflection in action consists of on the spot surfacing, criticizing, restructuring and testing of intuitive understanding of experience phenomenon (Schon 1983) P.241.

“Reflective learning involves assessment and re-assessment of assumptions and critical reflective occurs whenever underlying premises are being questioned”.(Williams 2001) P.29.

In choosing Gibbs reflective model it would be illustrated in the six headings which guide me through my reflective process. These headings include:

(1.) Description – what happened?

(2.) Feelings – what were you feeling?

(3.) Evaluation – what was good or bad about the experience?

(4.) Analysis – what sense can be made of the situation?

(5.) Conclusion – what else could you have done?

(6.) Action plan – if the situation arises again what would you do?


This critical incident took place during my first six-week placement on the ward (Eleanor east). My rationale for this critical incident is because of the impact it had on me. I did not know that the side effects of hip replacement surgery could result in DVT (deep vein thrombosis), which could be very critical physically and mentally.

To protect patient confidentiality the

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