Some thoughts about reflection

Personal development is based on the theory of reflective learning, which emphasises that learning derives from our experiences and can be constantly updated through the process of recording and thinking about the experiences we have. A very important aspect of reflective learning is that it is a process in which we can learn about ourselves. Gibbs’ reflective cycle (1982) identifies 6 stages of reflection which help students to make sense of their learning experiences.

In the world of coaching high value is placed on the skill of being a reflective learner. This means that students can:

* critically evaluate their learning

* identify areas of their learning that require further development

* make themselves more independent learners

Reflective Practice is a modern term, and an evolving framework, for an ancient method of self-improvement. Essentially Reflective Practice is a method of assessing our own thoughts and actions, for the purpose of personal learning and development. For many people this is a natural and instinctive activity. We can use Reflective Practice for our own development and/or to help others develop.

Reflective Practice is a very adaptable process. It is a set of ideas that can be used alongside many other concepts for training, learning, personal development, and self-improvement. For example, Reflective Practice is highly relevant and helpful towards Continuous Professional Development (CPD).

‘Reflective Practice’ is a theory by which modern and traditional self-improvement ideas can be more clearly defined, refined, expanded, adapted, taught, adopted and applied, for the purposes of personal development, teaching and coaching, and wider organizational improvement.

Reflective Practice is also helpful for personal fulfilment and happiness, in the sense that we can see and understand ourselves more objectively. Reflective Practice enables clearer thinking, and reduces our tendencies towards emotional bias. So we are considering a fundamental human concept.

We are grateful for the work of Linda Lawrence-Wilkes, an expert in Reflective Practice, for her contributions to our own development in reflective work. She discusses that ‘Reflective Practice is the use of self-analysis to understand, evaluate and interpret events and experiences in which we are involved. This extends to being able to form a theoretical view or analysis, as would allow clear explanation to others, if required. The process of Reflective Practice seeks to

enable insights and aid learning for new personal understanding, knowledge, and action, to enhance our self-development and our professional performance’.

Metacognition is another form of reflective practice. “… It can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving. There are generally two components of metacognition: knowledge about cognition, and regulation of cognition… This higher-level cognition was given the label metacognition by American developmental psychologist John Flavell (1979). The term metacognition literally means cognition about cognition, or more informally, thinking about thinking. Flavell defined metacognition as knowledge about cognition and control of cognition. For example, I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; or if it strikes me that I should double-check C before accepting it as fact.. (JH Flavell 1976, p232)…”

David Kolb (b.1939), an American educationalist, produced seminal works on experiential learning theory (see Kolb Learning Styles). In his 1984 book, ‘Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development’, Kolb extended the ideas of Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget and others, about adult learning, to produce an experiential learning concept – often represented by Kolb’s Learning Process Diagram. This famous diagram shows four main stages of the learning process, as a continuous loop, in order of:

1. Experience,

2. Reflection,

3. Learning/Conclusion,

4. Planning/experimentation (and then back to Experience…)

David Kolb’s Learning Styles concept has become a classical model representing the way we experience learning in our everyday life and work, and how we learn best in a practical sense, moving between active and reflective modes, and specifically through the stages shown in the Kolb proposed that if we become better at using all the stages of the learning cycle,


notably including reflecting on experience, we will become better life-long learners. In other words, if we learn better and have better outcomes, we will be more successful in life.

Much of our thinking is biased, judgemental, and leaves us in delusion and denial – we are after all human. Linda Elder (2007) suggests that thorough reflection results in critical thinking which is a self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably, empathically. They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest. They strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational, civilized society. At the same time, they recognize the complexities often inherent in doing so. They strive never to think simplistically about complicated issues and always consider the rights and needs of relevant others. They recognize the complexities in developing as thinkers, and commit themselves to life-long practice toward self-improvement. They embody the Socratic principle: The unexamined life is not worth living, because they realize that many unexamined lives together result in an uncritical, unjust, dangerous world.

It is vital that coach supervision causes both reflective practice and critical thinking to evolve whilst being honest about the shadow side. Any coach supervision training leading to the ILM Level 7 qualification in Coaching Supervision will cover this.

The next ILM Level 7 programme at The Performance Solution starts in September 2016 with the second module at the end of March 2017. 1:1 Coach and/or NLP supervision is available by Skype at £90 per hr inc VAT.

(Visited 1,086 times, 1 visits today)

1 Comment

  1. Stella on 11th January 2017 at 6:26 am

    Thank you for this post. I love the notion or theory of reflective learning because learning cannot be handled separately from our past experiences.

Leave a Comment