Reflection on Reflective Practice
In the context of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), Reflective Practice (RP) is a relatively new idea. But in some sectors, in some parts of the world (e.g. in some facets of Health and Higher Education in the UK) it has become a required aspect of CPD. The essence is clear and not in question: to continually improve our working practice we need, from time to time, to step back from our actual work and ask ourselves how well we’re doing.
Underlying RP is the idea that for new experiences to be assimilated and integrated into our consciousness we need to distance ourselves from them. The implication, unfortunately often not stated explicitly, is that this is not a rational activity: RP is more about acquiring a reflective state of mind, one more akin to mindfulness or meditation than academic study or business analysis.
Maybe because of this and maybe because such a state of mind is, in many respects alien to the objectivity that underlies academic and business thinking, RP has, in some quarters, become another focus for analysis. Rather than encouraging and enabling an open-minded state of mind, RP can be another check-list task to tick-off: “thinking about your last lesson (or patient interaction, for example), consider: in what ways did it go well, in what ways might it have gone better”. By being provided with such prompts, the mind is encouraged to think analytically; by being given specific question to address, the mind can’t help but work in a rational way. This discourages the very open-ended, deep reflection intended by RP.
In such cases, the very reason that RP is encouraged and valuable is being neutralised by the way it is often undertaken! Such is the paradox of personal and professional self-development: we need to undertake certain activities purely because we don’t enter into them with the intent and deeper purpose that they require.
So, how to teach RP?
All of this has implications on how RP is best taught. Experiential learning is essential, with classes enabling participants to feel, for themselves, a deeply reflective state of mind. I have a range of techniques for this including, for example, the use of mandalas: circular drawings, as used by a number of indigenous people and as a meditation aid by Buddhists. Time and again, in a wide range of situations, a group of individuals has come into the class, pre-occupied and stressed. Before long they are deeply engaged with the creative process of mandala drawing. By the end of the session, the reflective state reached brings forth many useful insights or has allowed the emotional release of some stuck thinking.
RP, when practised with depth, has much in common with Healing Art: perhaps a cathartic release, or expression of frustration . . . or a realisation: maybe the answer to a problem . . . or perhaps a feeling of peace.
Either way, reflection, done with the right intent, allows a reconnection with deep feelings and inner knowing: just the things that rational thought often tries to ignore or push away. RP is the ideal way of restoring a balance in how your use you mind, in bringing together the thoughts and feelings that make humans human.
A more detailed description can be found in Beasley, K., 2013, The nature of Reflective Practice as a soft-skill: enabling a conducive T&L environment, Bangor University, PGCertHE Portfolio (download available here)
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Dr keith beasley
As an engineer turned life-guide and Quality Assurance expert who did his PhD on 'Transcending Thought', I've seen life from many perspectives. We need them all to even begin to make sense of life . . .
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