HOW TO DEVELOP A REFLECTIVE PRACTICE
Today I’m talking about how to develop a reflective practice in your work.
A reflective practice is simply the art of thinking about or reflecting on what you do. It is a way of recognising, capturing and articulating what we’re learning on a moment by moment basis.
First I’ll share more about what reflective practice is and the benefits of introducing reflection as a practice into your work.
Then I’m going to share 7 different ways you can use to develop your reflective practice and 3 tips to get you started.
WHAT IS REFLECTIVE PRACTICE?
A reflective practice is simply the art of thinking about or reflecting on what you do. It’s the ability to reflect on your actions so that you can learn from them and continue to learn from them. It’s a process of continuous learning. According to the CIPD guide to reflective practice it means:
Learning to pay attention – listening to ourselves
Coming face to face with our assumptions
Changing what we see
Changing the way we see
Learning is not just about attending courses, reading books and so on, we actually learn all the time, every day from everything we do.
Reflective Practice is a way of recognising and articulating what we’re learning on a moment by moment basis.
It’s important to note here too that reflection and a reflective practice are not the same thing. With reflective practice we are capturing and noting the learning (written/drawing/verbal) on a systematic basis – as you would do in a journal, for example.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
It increases your self-awareness. You’ll have a better understanding of where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This is a key part of emotional intelligence too
It can help you to be more creative and innovative – to try new things and experiment and improvise. It pushes us to update our tried and tested tours or sessions and to think about how they could be improved. This in turn will make your guided tours, art discussions and online sessions more engaging and interesting for participants.
It helps you to make sense of and understand when things don’t go according to plan. It helps you to learn from experiences – especially ones that don’t go according to plan and even to reframe these types of experiences as challenges or opportunities
It will help you to improve your performance and develop new professional practices.
6 WAYS TO DEVELOP A REFLECTIVE PRACTICE
Let’s start with journaling. Now, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – so I’ve included lots more ideas after this suggestion. But if you do fancy giving journaling a go, I would highly recommend it as a way of being more reflective about your work.
Please also note that your journal doesn’t have to be a fancy notebook nor do you need to write an essay. BUT taking a few moments after a session or at the end of the day to write down a few notes will pay dividends.
As a starting point, think about what you did and what happened, what went well and what you’d like to work on for next time. This will help you to keep a record of what is happening regularly and you can use this information to make changes or to chart your progress. After each practice or coaching session in the membership, I ask the facilitator to spend a moment jotting down their thoughts about the session, noting what they would like to work on for next time. Looking back at these notes gives amazing insights into how you have developed in your practice over time too.
Or you could use journal prompts to regularly think about and reflect on your practice as an educator.
There are lots of journaling prompts out there – just google ‘journal prompts for educators’ and you will get lots of inspiration from bigger questions like ‘What is your greatest strength’ to ‘What was a highlight of today?’.
You could alternate between the larger questions that ask you to reflect on your practice as a whole (ie your teaching style, your strengths and weaknesses) to more in the moment questions that ask you to reflect on a certain programme, guided tour or lesson – such as ‘What went well in today’s session?’ ‘What would you like to change for next time?’
I ask all new participants on my VTMO course to start a new notebook and in most live classes I’ll ask questions for their ‘journals’. These can be questions about how their thinking has developed about Visible thinking in the Museum over time (from the start of the course to the midpoint for example) to what they want to work on next. These journal entries are intended as a reference point that course participants can refer back to note their progress, spot any patterns and use to inspire new thinking too.
The key factor with a journal is that it is something that you do regularly to make it a habit. And it doesn’t have to take a long time either. Making a habit of doing a 1-2 minute reflection at the end of the day or after having lead a tour is enough. You can do more of course, but it doesn’t have to be an essay.
I would recommend having a small journal that you can take with you, so that you can do it anywhere and at any time. The joy of having a journal is that you can look back over your journal and see where you’ve grown, notice the difference to where you are now and see if any patterns have emerged over time too.
#2 FREE OR REFLECTIVE WRITING
Free writing is about documenting your response to experiences, opinions, events or new information and a way of exploring your knowledge. It can be a very easy first step in developing a more reflective practice.
It’s a great way to get to know yourself better and to get a better understanding of concepts or ideas.
Free writing can also be a great way to communicate your response to any thoughts or feelings that are bubbling up too. The act of free writing also helps you to gain clarity.
To do a free writing exercise:
Decide on what prompt you’re going to use for the activity. It could be an image or a question or both. Or you could spend 10 minutes reflecting on a class you just taught, a tour you just led or an online session you just facilitated.
Set yourself a time limit for the exercise.
Then start writing. The important thing to remember is to continue writing for the entire time. Do not stop to judge what you’ve written, keep the flow going. Don’t judge your sentence structure, your grammar or spelling. You are not meant to be producing something perfect. Keep the hand moving – if you find you’re run out of ideas, just write whatever comes into your head, but don’t stop.
When time is up, read back through what you’ve written and underline any key words or phrases that stand out. You could also put your writing aside for a while and come back to later. Then later on start editing – take the parts that make sense and put them in a sensible order.
As an alternative to free writing, you could try some free drawing or doodling instead.
#3 USE A FRAMEWORK
There are a number of frameworks out there that you could use to provide a structure for your thinking. Here I’m going to share two frameworks and two thinking routines that you can use.
Let’s start with the Gibbs Reflective Cycle.
This framework focuses on the following stages:
For each stage you answer some questions. For example for the Description stage, you’re describing what happened, for Feelings you’re noting your feelings before, during and after the experience.
Then you move on to Evaluation which is where you think about what went well and what was less positive about the experience. Analysis then asks you to look at the assumptions you might be making and what insights are available to you. For Conclusion and Action Plan, you assess what you will do differently next time and note what resources you will need or steps you need to take to get there.
To do this exercise you would need to set aside a good 15-20 mins. You could even present your answers to this as a mindmap.
REFLECTION-IN-ACTION & REFLECTION-ON-ACTION
Schön states that there are two types of reflection – he makes a distinction between reflecting as something happens (ie during the tour, the lesson or session) and reflecting afterwards.
‘Reflection-in-action’ allows you to change in the moment and think about what you are doing while you are doing it. This allows you to ‘think on your feet’ – a skill that we all need as educators!
For example, perhaps you notice that your group are getting restless or are not understanding something, you can then consider the situation, decide how to act and to act immediately. This could be as simple as wrapping up a discussion and moving on to the next stop or making a decision to include more participants in the discussion.
The steps you would take would be to first OBSERVE the situation, then CONSIDER why it is happening and then RESPOND by doing something differently.
‘Reflection-in-action’ is an immediate reflection of what’s happening at that moment and it’s incredibly useful. It allows you to personalise experiences and draw on your experience to change things.
‘Reflection-on-action’ is about after the experience has happened. It involves reflecting on how your practice can be developed after the moment has passed. Reflection-on-action should encourage ideas on what you need to change for the future. It happens after-the-fact and therefore requires deeper thought (like the Gibbs cycle mentioned above).
You might think about what happened, what options were open to you, why you chose certain options and not others and what you would do differently next time.
WHAT? SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? THINKING ROUTINE
You could also think about ‘Reflection-on-action’ using the thinking routine WHAT? SO WHAT? NOW WHAT?
For the WHAT? part, you describe what you did or what happened. For SO WHAT? you unpick the events, make meaning of what happened, your actions or observations and finally for NOW WHAT? you would reflect on what what has been learned – this is where you plan forward and identify actions and implications.
ESP+I THINKING ROUTINE
For my VTMO course we have also used the thinking routine ESP+I thinking routine to reflect on the course after it has finished.
This asks you to discuss your Experiences, Struggles, Puzzles and Insights and is a really good thinking routine to make reflection meaningful. I’ve written about ESP+I here.
#4 OBSERVE OTHERS
Observing others is a very simple way to develop a reflective practice. It provides inspiration and opportunities to see how others do things.
As educators we often work in parallel with others and we rarely get to see them doing what they do. Seeing other educators in action is always inspiring. You can learn so much from seeing your peers at work.
In my membership we have Practice and Coaching sessions to help educators develop their experience and confidence – but these sessions are just as much about being inspired by others too. Participants use this time to ask others questions about how they do things too.
If you can’t observe others, observe yourself and this is our next way to develop a more reflective practice
#5 OBSERVE YOURSELF
We’ve talked about this before – and it can sometimes be a painful experience but recording yourself in action can be a great way to learn and grow in your practice.
Record yourself leading a tour or educational programme by keeping your phone in your pocket and pressing play on a voice recording app (I like Voice Recorder) or if you’re working on Zoom, just hit record.
Watching it back can be challenging, but it will give you insights about how you work. Watch it critically and make notes on what went well and what you want to work on for the future.
#6 SHARE & REFLECT WITH OTHERS
You can also develop a more reflective practice by sharing your experiences with others and asking for their feedback.
Reflection doesn’t always have to be a solo activity and in fact it can be more helpful sometimes to reflect with others.
We make this a regular part of our practice and coaching sessions – we ask the audience to share ‘what they enjoyed about someone’s teaching today’ and to share any suggestions about how they might facilitate it differently.
The facilitators themselves are also given the opportunity to reflect on their experience and ask the audience questions about how they got on.
You could mimic this yourself with a group of educators, taking turns each to lead a discussion about an artwork followed by feedback and discussion. Set yourself a 10 minute time limit for the discussion with 10 mins for reflection with the group afterwards. Find regular times that you can meet with others to reflect and share your thoughts collectively and you will soon notice the difference in your practice.
And finally, keep researching and finding out what’s new in the field. Your research could take a variety of forms, but let’s start with reading – because the more reflective we become, the more we want to keep up to date and learn new techniques and methods. And to read more!
We started a book club in the Visible Thinking membership a few months ago as we are all keen readers, but wanted the opportunity to be accountable for reading a certain book in a given time-frame. We also wanted to spend time discussing what we had read too.
Discussing ideas from what we’ve read helps us to get new ideas for how we might apply what we’ve been reading in our own work or practice too. It also helps us to remember key sections of books we’ve read too.
Being excited about what you read is part of the process, but you also need to make the effort to put these new ideas from what you’ve read into practice too and experiment with new ways of working. And then of course, you will need to reflect on how it went and what you’d like to work on for next time.
You might also want to do some research by attending conferences, events, taking courses and classes. These all help you to meet other people, share ideas and get new sources of inspiration. All of which you can note in your journal.
3 WAYS TO GET STARTED
Make sure you allow yourself time for a reflective practice. The most common excuse is that ‘I don’t have enough time to do this’. This is something that you can build into your routine. Little and often. You can do a quick 1 minute reflection, but it should happen on a regular basis to make it a habit! Even after a guided tour and before I started the next one, I would take one minute to mentally scan what happened in the last tour, what went well and what I’d like to work on.
Take away all distractions and allow yourself to be in the moment with your thoughts. Put everything on mute and give yourself some quiet time. A minute of breathing will also help to get the brain into a more reflective and relaxed state too.
Approach reflection with a curiosity – don’t be harsh or judgemental on yourself. Be curious. Try not to criticise yourself. This is about objectively noticing, reviewing and reframing.
So, there you have it – we’ve covered what reflective practice is, the benefits of a reflective practice, how you can do it, and some tips to get you started.
By following any of the above suggestions, you will develop a questioning approach to your work. You will stop and pause to think about why things are as they are, and how they might be in the future. You will consider the strengths and areas of development in your own practice, questioning why learning experiences might be this way and considering how to develop them.
I’d love for you to give some of these a go. If you do, share with me how you get on.
You can find me on Instagram most days and every Friday I send out a weekly newsletter full of inspiration and ideas – I share one thing to watch, one to read and one to listen to every week and all the upcoming classes and courses too. You can sign up via the link below!