Reflective practice requires more than looking in the mirror – you have to step through the looking glass, says Jill Fortune.
What is reflective practice?
Fundamentally, it’s about looking back on our experiences so we can learn from them. Taken a little further, it’s an in-depth consideration of an event or situation, the people involved, and what they experienced and felt about it.
Philosopher Aristotle stressed the importance of deliberation and, in 1933, psychologist and philosopher John Dewey said that examining past scenarios, assumptions and beliefs could transform future scenarios. Fifty years later, philosopher Donald Schon said reflective practice is essential for professional development and it has also been used to develop learning-from-experience models in education.
How does it work?
Reflection as a process requires individuals – working in teams or alone – to explore different perspectives relating to an experience. So don’t just look in the mirror; do as Alice did and step through the looking glass. Then turn around and look back at yourself and others as if you were an independent observer. This helps to understand the role your own emotions, values and behaviours have played in an experience. I call it perceptual positioning.
The process of reflection encourages questioning and assessing how tasks were completed. Once reflection becomes a natural process at individual and team level it should follow that benefits will be derived from this ongoing learning process and these benefits might bring value to the wider organisation.
Team leaders proficient in reflective practice will be able to evaluate their own successes or failures as well as of those of their teams. But reflection can also lead to new ideas to approach similar future projects.
What benefits does such a practice bring?
Reflection is for everyday occurrences – not just critical incidents – because it recognises our existing knowledge and skills, and shows where we’re getting things right (as well as wrong), which helps to build confidence. It also helps individuals and teams to recognise behaviours, skills and knowledge and how these factors work in tandem to deliver positive work-related outcomes.
Being able to reflect also helps people to manage change. Indeed, change is built into the practice.
Reflection identifies actions for personal and professional development, which aim to meet future objectives and bring about desired changes such as performing better in a role or project.
Change is also a reality to be accepted rather than feared.
How can FM professionals use the practice to improve their career development?
The framework below, adapted from the work of academic Ruth Helyer, offers a guide.
1 Regular reflection
Bring to mind a workplace experience that affected your actions. You will need to set aside times in your workday for proper reflection.
2 Ask questions
- What happened?
- What was your role in it and who else was involved?
- What was the outcome?
- How did you feel or react?
- And what did you think?
- What did you observe about others’ thoughts and feelings?
- What verdict can you draw?
3 Take notes
- Identify the skills you used successfully, or what skills you felt were missing;
- Acknowledge good practice and take note to ensure that this is embedded in future; and
- Understand what actions you (or the team) need to take to improve or enhance practice.
Using a structured process encourages exploration to turn experience into learning. It informs professional practice by adapting processes and tactics that have worked well or not been adequate.
4 Reflection requires action
If skills are needed for success, make a plan to acquire them through training courses. Start with the model from David Kolb, who developed the experiential learning theory.
- Have the experience;
- Review the experience;
- Draw out new ideas; and
- Plan and implement action to realise these ideas.
Jill Fortune is a freelance coach and consultant at Jill Fortune: Critical Friend