Reflection on action

Reflective Practice

Moments are captured

We are too afraid to look

Consequences – seek blame

I have been thinking about the resistance to reflective practice that I have encountered on a number of occasions over the last 20 years – yes it is that long since I started spreading the word about the benefits of learning from practice. When I have sought to teach the idea it has often been met with a shrug of the shoulders and a cynical nod – rarely have I met enthusiastic responses and an urge to find out more. It has puzzled me for years that students on University courses did not want to embrace new ways of learning. I now wonder if we have ruined it and tainted the value of reflection by co-modifying it and giving it a mark in dissertations, portfolios etc.

I see the issues arising from at least two areas:-

  1. It is often seen as simply a means to an end instead of valuing it for itself, re-validation, an entry in a portfolio etc.
  2. I have also encountered people who tell me on countless occasions that they have “reflected” on things but actually they have simply gazed lovingly at their own image and found others wanting.

Neither of these issues allows reflection to become a natural and enriching experience. The former leads to disinterest and the latter leaves onlookers wondering if it is all a bit of sham – “the emperor’s new clothes” phenomenon.

I believe if you allow practitioners to experience for themselves the power of reflection and show them the ways it can improve working life and the role they do then it becomes something they do without too much effort. I have found that the creative and expressive arts circumnavigate the scepticism and distrust and new ways of looking at the same thing become apparent.

This learning is central to the work I wish to do in the future and the sharing of this is important to me in many ways. The value of spending time exploring what is going on in practice every now and then can do a great deal to help folk move away from despondency and inertia. I believe that it has to be skilfully facilitated, be non-judgemental and curious and in that way practitioners can be enabled to become more self sufficient in seeking support for good practice. I have seen people who think they are “deep thinkers” actually reach stagnation as they believe they should be completely self-reliant and that asking for support in practice is a weakness. This approach leads to a worrying spiral of discontent and complacency. This strange mix of seemingly incompatible feelings is unhealthy and unhelpful – this is not fertile ground for innovation and new ways of thinking. This is treacherous terrain to navigate and those who try to lead transformation in this environment will find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.

My main challenge for the next few months is to take courage in both hands and dig a bit deeper to help to begin to understand my experience and learning over the last couple of years. The last year may have been a rocky road but the previous 3 years had been tricky too… I am going to revisit why it was I needed to leave higher education and what it was that has left me burnt out and distressed. As I begin to understand what energises me versus what depletes me I am learning to pay more attention to the conversations that spark my energy and value them rather than dwell on the stuff I find depleting. I need to become reconciled with the fact that I can’t get excited about the same things my colleagues do – simulation, clinical skills, propositional knowledge etc – I am, and always have been, much more excited by experiential learning and we need room for it all. I have just valued myself too little and the contribution I can make to the discussions. Being an outlier and a “professional artist” in an environment where technical rationale approaches are valued above all else can be a very demoralising and a destructive experience. Sharing this insight is another step towards an understanding that will lead to identifying just what it is I do with myself for the next few years in my working life.

I just need to really believe that I have some unique skills and that it is worth asking people to pay me to develop their learning and help find new ways of looking at the familiar and often seemingly intransigent problems of professional practice.

Useful resources on reflection and creativity


2 thoughts on “Reflection on action

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