Optimising Reflective Practice to use within business

Kolb (1984: p26) refers to learning as experiential learning; a process in which ideas are not just static, but in which elements are formed and reformed through experience. Crucial to this learning process is the tool of reflection; the further on my entrepreneurial journey I travel, the more value I see in reflection as a learning process. Consequently, exploring it and learning more about it formed an instrumental, focal part of my individual learning contract and improving the structure of my reflective writing.

Schon (1983: p241-24) describes reflection as “surfacing, criticising, restructuring and testing intuitive understanding of experienced phenomena”. Hammer and Stanton (1997) expand this referring to its importance and considering refusal to reflect undermines a whole organisation. Consequently, reflection is crucial to my business and success as an entrepreneur, especially during this idea generation and product development stage, when the product/service is being developed from feedback. The difficulty with reflection is that it is a discipline, active and self-directed (Knowles 1984). As such, reflection has to become part of the learning process and has to be taken ownership of; it has to be prompted until it becomes second nature.

As I’ve increased my engagement with the reflection process, through-out the course, I’ve adapted my process, building it into an individualised process, that I can utilise because, essentially I created my version. When I began reflecting, I considered it was an introspective process and involved reflecting in isolation. However, the more I’ve used reflection as a tool, I’ve realised that reflection must be used with an awareness of the internal AND the external; social and political considerations (Reynolds and Vince 2004: p4). Furthermore, I utilise reflection as a method of challenging and questioning myself and the team. Processes and practices, I often take for granted. For example, I often lean towards research and strategic planning tasks, and avoid design and pitching. Reflection as a tool has enabled me to become more aware of my strengths and question exactly why I avoid some tasks. As such, reflection is a personal challenge to question and an opportunity to recognise the need to change.

To take this process further and to develop my efficiency and effectiveness within reflective practice, I wanted to research around reflective models to use within my reflective writing. Reynolds and Vince (2004) describe reflection as a process of “deconstruction” as a means of giving order to chaos. Whilst I consider, the deconstruction element is something I do rather well, challenging myself, I think the moving forward from the learning with an element of coherence could do with some work. I need to make sure I focus equally on the process of reconstruction at the end, so the process is exploited to its fullest potential.

I find the structuring of my reflective writing really challenging, as I want freedom in the process and I find any structure, as potentially limiting and restrictive. However, a structure will force me to pin down my thought process, into an end point that reconstructs at the end of a reflection, with product movement forward that I can enact in the future. In line with my learning contract, I’ve been spending time reading around reflection and looking for a process and structure, that works for me in order to really exploit the “ontological perspective” within reflection (Reynolds and Vince 2004: p35).

The first structure I looked at was the Gibbs (1988) learning cycle;

 

   

gibbs

                 

 

Gibbs 1988

This structure is well known and provides a very clear structure in which reflection on an incident can occur. It was this structure that motivated me to look towards finding a structure that suited my writing style. Whilst Gibbs cycle, encourages set stages of reflection through answering prompted questions, I find it is too rigid and I don’t benefit from this process. I think reflection should send you on a learning journey where you are guided through the reflection, which can end up at a point that is unexpected. I prefer this concept, over and above using questions as prompts and segmenting it.

The next structure I looked at was Schon’s (1983) structure, which depicts a “reflective conversation” (Reynolds and Vince 2004: p242). Schon’s (1983) model follows three steps; framing and reframing a problem or situation, deconstructing the situation and reflecting and finally developing a course of action based on the reflection. Whilst, this structure of reflection provides the flexibility within the process I want, it does not structure the middle process sufficiently. Especially, as I struggle with brevity when I begin to analyse. Moreover, applying Cunliffe (2002) definition of reflection, as something giving “order”, I think there needs an element of a structure that gives directed layers to reflection and something to build a reflective routine around, following distinct stages.

Another structure I looked at was John’s (1995) reflective model. It is one that exploits the view that reflection should be under our conscious control and to an extent objective; i.e. removing the emotional bias (Burgoyne 1992). It goes without saying that reflection can be an emotionally directed activity, which is why I often chose to reflect a while after the event, when emotional feelings have been defused. John’s (1995) structure is useful here, as the reflector engages in a process of reflecting initially internally “looking in” and considering the situation from a completely internal basis. The second stage is “looking out” where the reflector analyses what happened around them. The rest of the model involves a lot of questioning, which again seems quite restrictive, but I highlighted the model, as it reminds the reflector that they need to balance their reflection with internal and external considerations. A good reflection should be balanced with both.

The final model of reflection that I settled on, as the one to take forward as the core basis of my own reflective practice, is one that uses Dewey (1933) model which has four stages; collecting data, reflecting on the data, conceptualising and theorising and finally, translating into new actions and behaviours. For my own writing, I have relabelled the sections of the model which will involve, stating the experience/situation, deconstructing and analysing, making sense of it by applying theory and then reconstructing what I’ve learnt into something I can take forward and apply in the future. Furthermore, my model of reflection will also take the internal and external considerations forward from John’s (1995) model during stage two and four, ensuring a balanced reflection. At these two stages, the internal and external is important, as they heavily influence the deconstruction in terms of objective analysis and during reconstruction, learning must have applicability to yourself and the external environment around you.

My model of reflection (based on Dewey 1933 and Johns 1995)

Stage one

Stating

Stage two (external and internal factors)

Deconstruction

Stage three

Theorising

Stage four (external and internal factors)

Reconstruction

 

Consequently, this structure will now be the basis of my reflective writing. It provides enough of Gibbs (1988) structure, to inform and guide my reflective journey but is not too restrictive or based on answering questions. It takes its primary influence from Dewey’s model, but also embraces elements of Schon’s (1983) reflective conversation and Johns (1995) external and internal considerations.

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