On Being a Reflective Practitioner
Creating an Organizational Culture of Reflective Practice

Becoming a More Reflective Individual Practitioner

Thinking2 Yesterday I blogged about how I believe that technology--most notably blogging--has taken the concept of being a reflective practitioner to another level. Today I want to talk in more detail about that and about how we as learners can better incorporate reflection into our practices as professionals.

Building Reflection Into Your Individual Learning Practices
In my research on this idea, I ran across a very nice 4-page summary on reflective practice, written by Joy Amulya of the Center for Reflective Community Practice at MIT entitled What Is Reflective Practice? (PDF). It's a quick read that I highly recommend. Giving credit where it's due, many of my thoughts on building reflection into your professional practices come from it.

Begin by becoming open to your experiences
Reflective practice is about examining your experiences and gleaning from them additional questions, key learnings, etc. For this to happen, though, you must first become aware of your experiences, rather than letting them pass you by in a blur of activity as we so often do. Start thinking daily about what has happened to you--what meetings have you attended and what happened there? What's going on with particular projects? Do you notice a pattern lately in your interactions with certain people? What are you struggling with or what successes have you had? All of this is fodder for reflection, but you must first be open to the fact that you're having these experiences and begin identifying these experiences as opportunities to learn.

Keep an eye out for the experiences that lead to the most powerful learning
While what happened in today's meeting may give you something to reflect upon, there are certain experiences that tend to really stand out as fruitful opportunities to learn. From "What Is Reflective Practice?":

Certain kinds of experiences create particularly powerful opportunities for learning through reflection. Struggles provide a window into what is working and not working, and may often serve as effective tools for analyzing the true nature of a challenge we are facing. Some struggles embody a dilemma, which can provide a rich source of information about a clash between our values and our approach to getting something done. Reflecting on experiences of uncertainty helps shed light on areas where an approach to our work is not fully specified. Positive experiences can also offer powerful sources of learning. For example, breakthroughs in action or thinking are helpful in revealing what was learned and what our theory of success looks like. Breakthroughs can also instruct on an emotional level. By locating when and why we have felt excited or fulfilled by an experience, we gain insight into the conditions that allow our creativity to flourish. Now we can become more purposeful--not just about our learning, but about how to work in more creative and sustaining ways.

Use a few minutes each day to consider what struggles, dilemmas, uncertainties and breakthroughs you've had. Write these down as a first step toward reflecting on them.

Create the structure for reflection.
To reflect on your practices, you will need a vehicle or structure for reflection. Not surprisingly, I'm going to suggest using a blog. This allows you to link to others and to expand your thinking in ways that simply do not happen in an off-line environment. With a blog you can:

  • Find and link to resources and ideas that help you reflect on your personal experiences.
  • Engage in conversations with other practitioners through comments and back and forth blog postings that will feed your own reflections on a topic.
  • Get new perspectives on a problem or situation that you may not have considered or that are impossible to obtain from colleagues within your organization because of "group think" and a tendency to seek consensus that doesn't always lend itself to reflective learning.
  • More easily monitor the progress of your thinking over time. With a blog, you can use tags or a Google customized search to look at trends in your reflections and growth in your thinking. You can also generate a "tag cloud" to visualize what your blogging, giving you insights not available to you through non-digital forms of reflection.

At a minimum, consider creating a private blog. You can reap some of the benefits of the digital format and, later, when you finally realize that you gain more from reflection in a public forum, you can take everything "public" with the click of a button.

Create the habits of reflection
With your structure in place, you must then build in the habit of reflection. It does no good to have a blog if you never post. And any blogger will tell you that it is the habit of blogging on a regular basis that contributes the most to reflective practice. Some resources that might help:Habit

Not all of these tips will apply to the practice of reflective blogging but many of them do. At a minimum, find your best time of day for reflective thinking and writing and then commit to using that time to blog. I work best early in the morning, so I try to use those early quiet times for my own blogging habit.

Learn from the Masters
Some bloggers are masters of the reflective blogging habit. I suggest reading them regularly and learning from their practices:

  • Tom Haskins--Always thought-provoking and deeply reflective.
  • Cammy Bean--What I love about Cammy is that she's always asking questions, usually as part of her own experiences, but also as a result of noticing trends and patterns in what others are saying.
  • Sue Waters--Sue is always trying to make her personal processes visible to others, another reflective practice that's critical.
  • Sarah Stewart--Sarah works in an area that's completely foreign to me--midwifery. Watching her reflective practices is even more interesting because it's so outside of my personal realm of knowledge.

There are tons of others--I find in reviewing my feed reader that I tend to subscribe to those who are more reflective in their blogging. I'm sure you have some other great ones in your own feeds, as well. Please share in comments as I'd love to add to the list.

Just Do It
A cliche, no doubt, but in the end, reflective practice is about just doing it. It's about not making excuses. Don't tell me you don't have time or that other things are more important. Is anything in your work life more important than continuing to be better at what you do? Because that's what reflection is about--considering what you can learn from your experiences and then doing more of what works and less of what doesn't. Personal learning experiments (a form of action research) and ongoing collaborative research are also important components  Can you really afford to NOT do these things?

I'd love to hear more about what you do to support reflective practices as an individual. Please feel free to share in comments. Tomorrow I'm going to take a look at what organizations can do to support reflective practice.

Photos via jgrantmac and pupski



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this is funny -- sometimes I don't think of myself as a reflective person -- I want to get to the point of being able to reflect and adjust while in action - not after the fact.

Beth, I saw what you did with the America's Giving Challenge as being an example of reflecting and adjusting while in action. You seemed to learn on an ongoing basis what was and wasn't working and then made your adjustments accordingly. I know what you're saying though--sometimes it would be good if we could see what we're doing in the moment and reflect on whether or not we should change course right then.

Michele, thanks so much for sharing these important principles. I am a new blogger and a social work educator. One area of interest to me is preventing or mitigating compassion fatigue or Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a major challenge in the profession of social work. Your work here has added to my knowledge base and inspired me on many different levels. Thank you!

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