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Critical Incidents in Teaching


Teachers’ abilities to resolve disputes during the learning process and to promote effective methods of influencing student performance and interest are important professional qualities. To address various incidents, using appropriate reflective practices and approaches is essential since an opportunity to analyse each situation helps avoid unpleasant precedents and contributes to increasing teacher authority. Therefore, the application of the right tactical steps to resolve conflict and controversial situations should be part of teachers’ professional activities, particularly in a diverse learning environment.

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As an example of an incident, the case will be described, which occurred during one of the math classes at Hackney School that is characterized by its heterogeneous composition of students in the context of ethnic background. Two boys (IB and RO) sitting next to each other constantly talked, regardless of whether I spoke or not. When noticing that RO was the initiator of the chatter, I offered him to take another place, and after several direct appeals, the student began to ask me to leave him in his former seat.

Nevertheless, insisting on my own, I ordered him to sit next to RI, the girl who was between IB and RO, and, thus, stopped the boys’ continuous conversations. The evaluation of this case based on current theoretical approaches may allow assessing the situation comprehensively and offering different positions regarding the incident.


Work in the field of education requires not only the availability of competent skills and knowledge but also other attainments that may help establish interaction with the target audience. According to Tripp (2012, p. 5), a teacher’s performance is largely determined by two significant criteria based on reflection – assessment and “common wisdom” that is a timely response to any ambiguous situations and challenges. The discussion of the proposed incident about the two students constantly talking during lessons may serve as an example of how a particular decision can affect students’ academic performance and prove the objectivity of taking measures in such a situation.

The key objective of the reflection is to explain why I acted in this way and used the appropriate authority leverage. Utilizing Tripp’s (2012) concepts and approaches is a convenient mechanism for analyzing the incident from different perspectives.

Thinking Approaches about the Incident

To conduct a detailed analysis of the incident in question, an appropriate assessment methodology will be applied. Tripp (2012) proposes a discussion algorithm involving the key aspects of evaluation based on discussions about the possible causes of a particular behavior, ethical and other dilemmas that arise in the process of resolving issues, personal attitude to the problem, and some other possible reflexive tools. These approaches will allow me to study the case in detail and, in turn, prevent bias in concluding.

Incident Description

For two weeks, I had been observing my focus 6-grade math group, and it came to my attention that two boys who sat next to each other were constantly distracted, sitting in places that are not easy to see immediately. After giving a warning, I told one of the boys that he needed to stand up and move away from IB. I had clearly explained what is my reason was for moving him. The child I had spoken to did not react to my request. I spoke again with a firmer voice, and he asked: “Why? I do not want to be moved, please, please, miss.’” However, I insisted on my request, and RO had to take a seat near RI, a girl. IB was sitting calmly and waiting patiently while I was explaining the lesson. His face looked surprised at finding that he was to sit on his own. At the end of the lesson, I had asked those boys to stay with me for a brief talk.

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Me: Why do you think I move you away from each other?

Boys shrove their arms.

Me: Can you please think about something that you have done today what was your fault?

RO: Yes, miss, were we talking?

IB: And laughing?

Further, I explained to the boys that for their good progress in maths, I wanted them to sit in different seats. At first glance, they understood the reason for my remarks and realized their misconduct, in particular, RO who was the initiator. Nevertheless, when analyzing this decision more deeply, I can talk about additional factors that influenced the outcomes of the incident and might be taken into account.


During the learning process, RO did not create significant interference with other students, except IB, and did not show signs of aggression or other forms of deviant behavior. The academic performance of the initiator of the incident cannot be regarded as weak, although in mathematics, he lacks perseverance and diligence. I noticed him talking to the other student initially, but first, I watched the two, although this was problematic because their seats were located near the window. I decided to take action after I saw that my remark did not produce the desired effect, and all subsequent actions were the outcome of RO’s unwillingness to follow my request.

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As another non-event, I did not ask the boys why they were unable to complete their tasks. This might be my mistake because, if I had found out the reasons for their poor learning outcomes, this could have helped me to understand the reasons for their low-performance results. Therefore, I need to be more careful in the future and ascertain the reasons for students’ unpreparedness.

Plus, Minus and Interesting

The plus is as follows: I have managed to separate IB from RO, thereby allowing both students to concentrate on educational tasks. Judging by the further performance of the initiator of the incident, such a decision helped to increase his diligence. In addition, when sitting next to the girl (RI), he was not able to distract her constantly, and this has brought positive results.

As a minus, I can distinguish a minor conflict that arose between RO and RI. Since the girl has personal views on the educational process and other interests, she is sometimes outraged that IB distracts her and creates discomfort. Disputes between the new neighbors have become a key issue, which, nevertheless, has significantly fewer negative consequences than the previous continuous interaction of IB with RO.

An interesting remark is as follows: despite my fears that the separation of IB from RO may lead to the dissatisfaction of the former and refusal to carry out educational tasks diligently, the measures taken have been fruitful. The initiator of the incident found a new interlocutor in the person of RI who, however, maintained communication less willingly and did not seek to be distracted. The test results prove that the performance of both boys has increased, and their independent activities have become more productive than the ones in pair.

Alternatives, Possibilities, and Choices

Reasoning about the possible outcomes of an incident is an important aspect of professional reflection. According to Tripp (2012), making a choice is possible in the context of analyzing the potential premises and consequences of specific actions, as well as preventing them. In the considered incident, a positive resolution could be one of the alternatives, for instance, by encouraging the efforts and silence of the boys. The system of bonus points might be offered to them as an encouragement and stimulation of their educational activities.

Another possible choice is a tough suppression of any inappropriate behavior during all the lessons. I could make constant remarks and condemn the boys, paying attention to the first of all and not allowing the violation of silence, including their communication on abstract topics. In the case of precedents, special punishments might be imposed, which would calm the students and call them to discipline and diligence.

Finally, another potential alternative is to leave RO sitting alone. Such a solution could have advantages since when he was close to RI, RO felt uncomfortable and depressed. Separating RO to an individual seat might help relieve tension and stimulate his interest in achieving positive learning outcomes on his own, without the help of classmates. At the same time, I would have to pay attention to him more often, which could affect his self-confidence adversely.

Other Points of View

An opportunity to look at the same situation from different perspectives is a valuable component of professional reflection. As Tripp (2012) notes, any analysis is a two-step process; initially, a specialist expects a certain point of view from a third party, and subsequently, he or she checks this position. About the case under consideration, I turned to my mentor who agreed with my decision to change RO’s seat.

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Nevertheless, I received a remark about being too strict about the student because the latter could get tired of constant warnings, and stimulating his interest in the educational process, for instance, through bonus points, might have a more favorable effect. In addition, I should have known from RO the reason his her constant distractions before taking drastic measures to influence the situation. My mentor suggested that I was to approach these situations on the positive side next time to have an idea of ​​the causes that might prevent the student from fulfilling the assigned learning tasks.


One of the important factors in analyzing teaching incidents is the cross-checking of all situational aspects, which, as Tripp (2012) notes, is a mandatory procedure due to the imperfection of the thinking process. As an omission, I can admit that, previously, I did not evaluate how the boys behaved during other lessons and whether there were similar incidents. This could have helped me to understand whether their distraction was a deliberate factor or the reason for their misunderstanding of certain tasks and general theoretical materials. If I had had a conversation with them initially, we might have avoided a radical method of solving the problem.

The “Why?” Challenge

Finding out the reasons for teaching incidents is an important task to obtain an objective and comprehensive picture. Tripp (2012) argues that when asking the question “why?”, a person considers the prerequisites for the development of a conflict or another controversial situation in as much detail as possible. In this case, I seek to expand my understanding of the incident by asking a few special why-questions.

Q: Why RO spoke back when I asked him to take another seat?

A: He wanted to explain himself, and I did not listen carefully to what arguments he had.

Q: Why did not RO share my decision?

A: He probably perceived it as unfair and did not have a chance to have a voice.

Q: Why were the pupils talking during the lesson instead of doing their work?

A: They perhaps found the assignments too hard and disengaging.

Q: Why were the tasks hard?

A: There was no catch-up session available for over a week.

Dilemma Identification

The behavior of the students, which caused my close attention to them, entailed a dilemma that affected all the parties involved. On the one hand, it was necessary to take measures to stop the boys’ regular distractions and minimise RO’s excessive activity. On the other hand, my behaviour could be regarded as too harsh and contrary to teaching ethics since I did not find out the reasons for the students’ distractions. According to Tripp (2012), the variability of potential solutions causes stress on teachers and hinders professional activities. Therefore, dilemma identification is an important procedure to avoid precedents.

Personal Theory Analysis

The applied approaches have allowed me to evaluate all the nuances of the incident and draw relevant conclusions. I realize that I should listen to students before taking any action. Also, based on the reflection, I can argue that I will be able to assess my activities critically and prevent bias or any other unethical form of professional behavior. The strategies applied will help me to challenge any incident due to comprehensive appraisal principles and approaches involving the rechecking of the initial hypotheses. The analysis of the background of a particular situation is more important than its consequences, which is proved by asking why-questions.


Further discussion of the considered teaching incident will be based on the assessment of this situation both from a personal standpoint and from the perspective of relevant ideas offered by incredible academic sources. In addition to Tripp’s (2012) approaches, specific concepts and reasoning will be utilized to discuss the presented dilemma, its causes, and consequences. Both general and individual implications will be considered as key substantiating arguments.

Issues in Teaching Raised

Since the teaching process requires qualified training in various aspects of activities, including ethical, behavioral, communication and other areas, the continuous refinement of personal mastery is a valuable practice. According to McGregor (2011), a teacher can have all the necessary knowledge about a particular academic discipline, but despite a comprehensive educational background, issues may arise, which require developing new attainments.

In the context of the proposed incident, the topic of my interpersonal interaction with individual students was touched upon, and my professional competence was challenged by the need to take measures to eliminate the problem. I was not prepared for the fact that the students could not understand the teaching material, and the issue of presenting information was raised. The possibility of changing the curriculum and creating more convenient and favorable conditions for interacting with pupils could allow me to resolve the incident more productively.

Another issue addressed is the approach to interacting with students, in particular, RO who initiated the incident. As Sisson (2016) argues, even short positive incentives can be more beneficial than long-term psychological influences aimed at suppressing the will of students and instilling a sense of responsibility in them. Not only psychological support but also other stimuli could have been offered to RO who, in turn, had difficulties with studying the materials of the curriculum and distracted the other pupil. Such a positive form of communication, implying the involvement of students in an active learning process, may be more effective than the traditional model of authoritarian communication. Therefore, the issues of the approach to assessing and stimulating interest are significant in this analysis.

The issue of responding to students’ inappropriate behavior during the learning process is an issue that also requires analysis. According to Gu (2015, p. 5), “teaching is emotionally attached and value-laden”. In other words, the feelings that a teacher manifests about specific situations directly reflect his or her individual beliefs, preferences, and priorities. In my case, the pupil’s systematic violation of discipline entailed a severe reaction on my part, which underlined my unwillingness to put up with the student irresponsibility and disobedience. At the same time, the excessive manifestation of emotions is fraught with the violation of professional ethical principles. Therefore, the issue raised is of high importance in the context of competent teaching.

Relevance of the Incident to an Individual Practice

When analyzing the presented teaching incident from a broader perspective, I can notice that its implications on my practice are significant and may entail changes in interaction with students. As Moore and Ash (2002) state, in the framework of a mandatory educational policy, there is a concept of pupil autonomy that allows students to solve certain educational problems on their own. This aspect requires increased concentration from me since I cannot violate the rights of a child but, at the same time, I am obliged to control the quality of studying the proposed curriculum and monitor performance indicators.

As a result, according to McGregor (2011), by following the principle of the comprehensive assessment of my teaching style by evaluating the process itself and delivering knowledge, I can organize teaching so that, without exception, all students could achieve the highest academic outcomes possible. In this case, I need to think over the features of interpersonal communication with students and find out the causes of any disputes in advance to prevent a recurrence of the described incident.

Since my decision to ask RO to take another place was not based on a spontaneous impulse but the preliminary observation of the situation, I can note that I was guided by one of the basic principles of teaching, which consisted in achieving high academic results by my students. Polland and Filler (2015) remark that such an objective may be reached by various methods, including cyclic testing, group activities, and other tasks aimed at increasing control over pupils’ learning outcomes.

This means that my intervention can be regarded as one of the manifestations of the ultimate goal of teaching, in particular, achieving optimal results by stimulating student personal diligence. By resorting to such a practice in the future, I have an opportunity to earn pupils’ trust and, at the same time, retain the right to monitor children’s knowledge freely.

Finally, regarding a potential impact on my teaching practice, this incident may change my attitude towards individual credentials. As Hodkinson and Hodkinson (2015) note, any manifestations of power relations can lead to inequality, which is unacceptable in my professional activity. Thus, to avoid bias for individual students and consolidate the success achieved, I should treat pupils loyally and train the communication principles of interaction to avoid rudeness and, consequently, interpersonal conflicts with the target audience.

Personal Assessments and Conclusions

Creating a favorable environment for student learning is a task that rests on several conventions and potential challenges, and the example of the incident considered confirms this assumption. According to Ossa Parra, Gutiérrez, and Aldana (2015), one of the main causes of similar problems is the lack of sufficient information about a particular student. The authors argue that “the impact of context on how one carries out learning and teaching activities” is crucial when evaluating and making individual judgments (Ossa Parra, Gutiérrez, and Aldana, 2015, p. 25). I can draw conclusions based on the pupils’ current performance outcomes, but to resolve unique situations like the one presented by the incident, I should be familiar with the individual learning background of the whole class to make a more objective picture of potential interventions.

Reflection on any incident is an important aspect of my professional self-development. As Dewey (2015) states, doubts cannot be regarded as a factor determining a teacher’s inferiority and his or her lack of competence in interacting with students. Conversely, the analysis of personal practice and similar situations may allow me to gain new experiences, acquire valuable communication skills and overcome other difficulties that may arise throughout my career. Otherwise, excessive self-confidence in my power and unwillingness to compromise can lead to an authoritarian style of teaching, which is unacceptable in a dynamic educational environment and should not be applied in the context of promoting modern learning principles.

At the same time, teaching cannot be seen as a process of continuous innovations and changes. Schon (2015) remarks that school practice becomes routine and monotonous gradually, which may have negative consequences on the willingness of specialists to maintain the highest level of education. In addition, as the author argues, teaching does not imply spontaneity, and thorough preparation is required (Schon, 2015).

Therefore, I need to learn a lesson from the presented incident and be prepared for possible precedents. However, this does not mean that I should not change anything in my practice. Improving teaching skills and analyzing mistakes or omissions made are integral elements of professional self-development. Therefore, I can argue that the quality of my work is not a static variable and requires regular development to meet the status of a teacher.

Other Relevant Viewpoints

The assessment of the described incident will be more detailed and credible if additional points of view on my and my students’ behavior are given from the perspective of third parties. To begin with, the opinion of my mentor needs to be cited, which implies the fallacy of my uncompromising decision regarding moving RO to another place without first finding out the reasons for his and his classmate’s excessive activity.

Tripp (2012) describes this omission as a mistake that many teachers make. According to the author, focusing on a formal curriculum narrows the possibilities of productive interaction with the target audience and does not allow school staff to find hidden mechanisms of effective communication (Tripp, 2012). In the incident in question, I should have found out that IB was a new child in the class, and he wanted to impress RO. I will listen to the opinion of the mentor and analyze such ambiguous situations in more detail in my future practice.

Interaction with colleagues may be a valuable activity to find answers to specific questions related to the teaching profession and requiring a detailed assessment. In my case, the opinions of the school staff may differ based on the performance of RO and IB in different disciplines. When evaluating my decision to separate one student from the other is unlikely to cause a tough reaction from colleagues because they are familiar with different forms of pupil distraction and can practice such methods of influence on their own. Nevertheless, some representatives of the teaching staff will probably condemn my decision for being too rigid and inflexible in resolving the situation. Some employees adhere to modern views on the educational process that does not allow any form of suppression of student will. Therefore, individual colleagues may disagree with my method of influence, but in general, as Sisson (2016) notes, receiving critical feedback is of great importance for self-reflection.

The evaluation of the opinions of other third parties will be less significant in the context of this incident. Neither parents nor the boys’ classmates will be able to give an objective assessment of the situation due to the varying degrees of interest and bias. Accordingly, the mentor’s and colleagues’ positions are the most acceptable for analyzing my case and reviewing those events that entailed my reflection.

Approaches to Develop a Reflective Practice as a Teacher

Constant introspection and a personal assessment of professional activities may allow me to develop valuable teaching qualities that are necessary for the modern educational environment and help prevent incidents. As one of the approaches that are relevant to achieving these goals, the practice of conjectural anticipation proposed by Dewey (2015) may be useful. According to the author, this principle implies “a tentative interpretation of the given elements, attributing to them a tendency to effect certain consequences” (Dewey, 2015, p. 69).

Guided by this approach, I can plan the potential outcomes of certain solutions and predict possible scenarios based on available information. For instance, when working with students who have poor academic performance indicators, I anticipate specific behavior from them (self-doubt, anxiety, and other negative moods), which, in turn, can contribute to more effective teaching interventions. This principle provides for willingness to reflect and contributes to achieving the set professional goals largely due to initial preparation.

To cover a wider range of teaching opportunities for successful reflection, I should also take into account other relevant concepts. McGregor (2011, p. 11) presents the theory of “pedagogic enactment” and describes it as a mechanism involving various tools that facilitate a detailed analysis of individual practice. The rules for preparing for classes, peculiarities of interaction with students, question strategies, and other necessary teaching elements are included in this approach. As a result, in addition to the anticipated outcomes of work, I can count on the faultlessness of activity stages, which minimizes the likelihood of ambiguous situations and helps avoid unpleasant incidents.

Finally, to develop my effective reflective practice in teaching, a collaborative approach may be a relevant strategy. Tripp (2012) describes this principle as a methodology for the exchange of experience among colleagues, which helps expand knowledge regarding possible ways of self-esteem through the acquisition of new skills. Even in conditions of constant interaction with students, it is not easy to obtain comprehensive information about the individual characteristics of each pupil, for instance, academic performance in other disciplines or socio-cultural background. Collaboration with colleagues makes it possible to obtain valuable data about the target audience, thereby increasing the likelihood of positive teaching interventions and enhancing my professionalism.


The analysis of the considered teaching incident through the use of relevant theoretical approaches describing self-reflection strategies allows me to evaluate the presented situation from different perspectives and draw competent conclusions regarding its premises and outcomes. The assessment tools offered by Tripp (2012) help me to create a comprehensive picture of the event and contribute to analyzing possible errors or, conversely, the right solutions.

By utilizing these assessment tools, I can argue that my decision to separate the two students from each other was justified, although I missed some important aspects of interpersonal interaction and did not find out the initial reasons for the incorrect behavior at the lesson directly from the initiator of the incident.

There are alternative scenarios that I could have implemented successfully, for instance, special punishments. However, a positive approach to interacting with students may be considered a successful tactical step because those pupils who receive regular warnings can be stimulated better through personal rewards. Thus, the assessment of the factors that led to any incident is a prerequisite for self-reflection aimed at identifying individual decisions about ambiguous situations during a dynamic learning process.

In the context of the considered incident, the conclusions and decisions obtained as a result of reflection may be used in my subsequent practice with benefit. In the future, I will be more attentive to the premises of any controversial situations in my lessons and will be guided not only by observation but also by direct communication with the target audience. Also, I will take a positive approach to solve problems with the academic performance of students more often to stimulate their interest in achieving high learning outcomes.

The incident considered may allow me to react to similar situations more loyally in my professional activities and take into account additional circumstances, for instance, the social status of a pupil or other conditions of his or her learning. Since IB is a student who has been in this school recently, his behavior could be justified by the desire to impress his classmate. This nuance is a significant aspect that I needed to consider, and in my future practice, I will pay more attention to such individual factors.

The academic readings considered are valuable auxiliary resources that allow evaluating existing concepts and approaches to teaching self-reflection and contribute to assessing personal decisions objectively. In my future practice, the techniques learned may help prevent incidents and mitigate any conflict situations effectively. Despite some mistakes made during the case in question, I have learned to analyze my actions as openly as possible and take into account not only my views but also third parties’ opinions, which is of great importance in summing up objective results. Developing skills in this industry is a must for which I will strive.

The help of a mentor and colleagues can be valuable for evaluating my actions competently; therefore, I intend to study the principles of teaching reflection in the future and devote time to self-development and enhancing professionalism.

Reference List

Dewey, J. (2015) ‘Thinking and reflective experience’, in Colwell, J. and Polland, A. (eds.) Readings for reflective teaching in early education. New York: Bloomsbury, pp. 68-69.

Gu, Q. (2015) ‘Being a teacher in times of change’, in Colwell, J. and Polland, A. (eds.) Readings for reflective teaching in early education. New York: Bloomsbury, pp. 4-6.

Hodkinson, H. and Hodkinson, P. (2015) ‘Learning in communities of practice’, in Colwell, J. and Polland, A. (eds.) Readings for reflective teaching in early education. New York: Bloomsbury, pp. 84-85.

McGregor, D. (2011) ‘What can reflective practice mean for you… and why should you engage in it?’, in McGregor, D. and Cartwright, L. (eds.) Developing reflective practice: a guide for beginning teachers. New York: Open University Press, pp. 1-20.

Moore, A. and Ash, A. (2002) Reflective practice in beginning teachers: helps hindrances and the role of the critical other. Web.

Ossa Parra, M., Gutiérrez, R. and Aldana, M. F. (2015) ‘Engaging in critically reflective teaching: from theory to practice in pursuit of transformative learning, Reflective Practice, 16(1), pp. 16-30.

Polland, A. and Filler, A. (2015) ‘Being a learner through years of schooling’, in Colwell, J. and Polland, A. (eds.) Readings for reflective teaching in early education. New York: Bloomsbury, pp. 7-12.

Schon, D. (2015) ‘Refledtion-in-action’, in Colwell, J. and Polland, A. (eds.) Readings for reflective teaching in early education. New York: Bloomsbury, pp. 70-72.

Sisson, J. H. (2016) ‘The significance of critical incidents and voice to identity and agency’, Teachers and Teaching, 22(6), pp. 670-682.

Tripp, D. (2012) Critical incidents in teaching (classic edition): developing professional judgement. New York: Routledge.

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