Irrationally held Truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors – Huxley 1825-1895

Stating

Our team ended our team learning module on a high, with formed friendships, cohesion, evidence of team working and learning and increasing “psychological safety” in the group (Hills 2001). This is a stark contrast to the emotionally loaded response experienced when our old team was split up and the mourning experienced at the loss of the old team.

Deconstruction

When our old team was split up, the emotional response was extreme and surprising. The old team functionally did not work; moreover, we didn’t necessarily get on as individuals when working together. In fact, after splitting up, as individuals, we get on a lot better now and it feels like tension has been relieved. Consequently, the expectation due to the failures of previous tasks, poor team working, lack of communication and tension building, was that we’d look forward to splitting up the team and a new beginning. This was an expectation I shared with members of both teams.

I was looking forward to engaging with business minds that had been placed with me, to compliment and challenge me, and for my existence in the new team, to do the same for others. I wanted to feel an enterprising spark, similar to what I had within Enactus and what I had at the beginning of my time with Gateshead Council, where by, I know there is really “something” within this collective of people and exciting things lie ahead, even if it is far from perfect at the moment. With the old team, we all felt nothing.

So when the team was split up, there was a significant amount of misplaced anger towards the lecturing staff for doing such a thing and anger directed towards members of our new team. It was also interesting because before the team swap, we’d heard lots about other members of the other team, so we united with many preconceived ideas of each other. I’m sure others had assumptions about me too. Surprisingly, even I felt up tipped and a bit resentful of this new team, which was completely unexpected, as I’d wished for the change so much.

However, week two was a lot more positive and we went through a process of discovery, realising that within this team whilst we were all very different, there was a good match of skills and differences. When we started discussing our business ideas, there was a spark there and a different type of energy. Moreover, as the weeks grew on, there grew a bond, where by the team, engaged in tasks for the team’s overall learning as a unit. Such learning could only take place, in situations where physical proximity was enabled. However, outside of meetings and physically working together, the bond by the end of the module wasn’t strong enough for distance learning as a unit, but it was a positive start. But within the progression towards the end of the module, there was a progression from group of emotional individuals into the beginnings of a team.

Within the team learning module, this is probably the module in which has enabled me to truly get the most out of my other modules and to challenge my preconceived strengths and weaknesses, whilst showing me how I can effectively contribute to the team. My biggest learning point has been the potential learning opportunities within the team itself, if team work and a team learning culture is fully embraced. I’ve learnt far more about myself, about business and about other people through my “interactions” and “experience” within my teams (Winstanley 2005). I’ve also realised that on reflection, all the high emotions and frustrations, as real and as personal they felt within the team, are actually a natural process of team learning and team formation. Perceived failings and difficulties was actually the team learning (Winstanley 2005).

Theorising

The emotional response in the beginning of the new team could be put down to a new “learning shock” in which a new learning environment is formed and is completely unfamiliar and the learner experiences a state of shell shock (Winstanley 2005). Within the learning shock theory, learners experience feelings of disorientation, frustration, tension and desperately try to cling onto the familiar (Winstanley 2005). This can further be connected with Mezirow ‘s (1990) theory of “meaningful learning”, in which learners in new situations can experience a “narrow orientation”, in which they attempt to reject norms, that don’t coincide with what they already know. Within a team working environment, especially one that is enforced, even the most narrow orientation of learner within the team is forced to be more receptive and open themselves to new, uncomfortable experiences, that don’t accord with their “cognitive structure” (Mezirow 1990).

Such a process, enhances the “learning shock”, as the new team presents an unfamiliar, learning opportunity with a “bewildering set of new norms”, provoking a highly emotive response (Winstanley 2005). As such, self-doubt sets in, with the learners forced to re-evaluate their own identities and establish their position within the new group (Hills 2001). Winstanley’s “learning shock” theory can further be connected to her “thinking faults theory”, in which each learner experiencing the shock, goes through an array of emotions (2005).

Applying the “thinking faults”, theory to our team formation, the first stage is “catastrophising” in which the group change is perceived to be a much larger and extreme change that will have a huge fall out of impact, than in reality it is (Winstanley 2005). The second stage, is magnifying the negative, in which the team seeks out negatives within the new team and blows them out of proportion superficially (Winstanley 2005). Consequently, we sought out the perceived negatives we’d heard about our new members and instantly dismissed them and exaggerated within “this is never going to work” scenarios.  We then move onto “externalisation and blame”, involving the learners to place inappropriate blame onto the external environment (Winstanley 2005). Our new team became extremely angry towards lecturing staff and coaches, in which we felt pushed into an uncomfortable situation. Moreover, this tension was even present in our interaction with each other, in which several members displayed the attitude of “I didn’t want this or you in my team”. The fourth stage of the thinking faults theory is “emotive reasoning”, which involves members desperately trying to make sense of their emotional responses, even if unexpected (Winstanley 2005). For myself, this involved romancing the previous team initially and considering that potentially we should have stayed as we were and it would have been easier. The final stage is “mind reading”, which is potentially the most damaging of all the stages (Winstanley 2005). Within this stage learners become aware that their frustrations might be shared by others within the team and try to guess what others are thinking about the situation and about them.

The theories of “learning shock” and “thinking faults” (Winstanley 2005), although difficult and frustrating, when applied to our team, go to some lengths at explaining the often unexpected emotional responses experienced. Moreover, this emotive situation, provoked positive discussions the next week, in which we found that most of our emotional responses and reasoning, had been completely unfounded. Consequently, applying Mezirow (1990) “Meaningful learning” theory, we began to establish a new cognitive structure within a new learning environment, forming new norms. Such constructivist theories of team learning ring true here (Gibbs 1981), in which our growing bond and progression through the weeks to the end of the module, can be considered to be a direct output of our construction of a new team learning environment.

Construction

It is interesting to explore through theories, that the response experienced during the formulation of the new team, was an emotive response to a change in learning environment and being placed into the unknown. It is positive that we turned these emotional responses into productive outputs and began building the team. As such, in future team changes and formation, it can be taken forward that such emotional responses are part of the process and can be used to make “transformative action” within team learning (Mezirow 1990).

Gibbs, G. (1981) Teaching Students to learn. Oxford: OUP

Hills, H. 2001. Team-Based Learning, Hampshire: Gower Publishing.

Mezirow, J. (1990) Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood – A guide to transformative and emancipationary learning. San Franciso: Jossey Bass

Winstanley, D. (2005) Personal Effectiveness. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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New year’s resolutions – learning

As it is nearly the beginning of a new year, 2014, it seems timely to make some new year’s resolutions. I’m not a big believer in them essentially as I think they often set one up for failure, but as 2013 was such a transitional and challenging year, coming out of a very difficult 2012, it seems fitting to not only draw a line under it, in terms of personal challenges, but also new academic and learning challenges. Consequently, I have many habits and inefficient learning practices that I know I’m aware of but I have accepted up until now, as part of my process. But if my 2014 year, is truly going to be a year of change, it is important to not let self-awareness automatically become self-acceptance without good reason.

Learning Resolutions

  • I will stop letting my love of research, detail and planning get in the way of action – I’ve noticed that I allow myself to procrastinate under the guise of planning and perfectionism. I am only quick to act, when I have the support and push of a team as a motivator or when I have crisis. Consequently, I will use my team, a group of activists, as a driving force and stop procrastinating.
  • I will be more tactical about my learning with an awareness of when deep learning and surface learning is appropriate – I find everything interesting and I love furthering my knowledge. Sometimes, this is at the expense of whether it is relevant or not. Consequently, when I come to the point of writing an essay or compiling a report, I find I have a silly amount of information and wading through it, takes as long as the actual researching did. I need to be more restrained when researching so as to learn more effectively in order to stop bombarding myself and my team with knowledge.
  • I will take proper time off and do productive things – I’m a real workaholic, between my University and working 20hours a week running events. Consequently, the only real time I take off is when I am either ill or when I’m hung-over. Therefore, I never feel that I have a proper break away from thinking, doing other things I enjoy and this is to the detriment of my learning. Sometimes I have periods when I can’t concentrate but I force myself to sit and work. I also work for extended periods without having breaks, which is equally as unproductive. I want to start running again and to do things I enjoy outside of education and working, which I feel with restore the work life balance I am currently missing.
  • I will stop being distracted by distractions – When I reflect on my working practices through-out the day, I often conclude that what I’ve done in 8hours, I could have done in 5hours. This is usually because I have Facebook on in the background, I answer work/University emails and I text. Consequently, I lose little chunks of time, end up distracted and take a while to get back into what I was thinking about. I need to be really strict with my Facebook usage, take proper breaks away from the computer in which I can check my phone.
  • I will stop writing unrealistic, never ending lists – innovate more– I often set myself unrealistic goals and amounts of work to complete in the week and I feel constantly on the back foot. I not only overwhelm myself but overwhelm others in my team, by listing what we need to achieve. I challenge myself to not constrain myself with lists and plans, but to sit and innovate and discover and try the unexpected.

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.

Monday Morning Blues

Monday Morning Blues

The thing I love most about a Monday morning, is that for me, it the time to set all my targets and objectives for the coming week and plan for when it all needs to be done. This strangely fills me with excitement, I love challenges and having a lot to do.

It is also a time for reflecting on the past week and seeing how I did in relation to those tasks. Usually, I can see that my targets were a little bit unrealistic….but why not reach for stars in personal achievement?

So one of this week’s targets was to arrange to go to a presentation skills workshop (finally). I’ve been saying that I need to do this for the past few weeks and conveniently not doing it. But now it is arranged. So I can expect the usual fear, being made to do presentations, exploring why I hate them and why I try to avoid them. This session though, I’m hoping will provide a little more on the technical side. I’m known for my often overwhelming hand gestures. I don’t use my hands much when I talk, but as soon as I get on stage, I’m practically doing the YMCA. I am also far too reliant on my notes and I cling to them like my life source.

So next week 21st, I am attending. I also picked out some other sessions, I might quite like to go to. It has been a while, since I’ve completed reports, so I’m going off my previous knowledge from years ago. A refresher might be useful. I’ve also suggested that my team should have a look at the other sessions, as I think they could really benefit the team, making everyone have a certain level of knowledge that can be brought back within the team to make our project work better.

Another aspect of this morning, which relates to my Daria picture, is I collected my Insights Profile this morning. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything, that sums me up better, than these ten sheets of paper. It had an element of hard hitting honesty, but every single thing, I agreed with. I will go into these in deeper reflections later, but my take away message (typical for me to discount all the positive and jump straight into the negative analysis) was this idea of “aloof” and “unemotional”.

Ironically, the profile, said that would be the bit I honed in on and would question and reflect on the most, which obviously I am doing. There are many aspects of my personality that I have tried to change in order to work better and the profile was good at showing some of my weakness, that possibly come to the fore when unchecked. However, some of the negatives, due to my self-awareness, I’m able to realise this is within me and I can act in a different way. Again, I will go into more detail at a later date. But this element of aloof and unemotional, remains a concrete block of my personality. I’ve asked for feedback on it previously and it is something that no matter how hard I try, is commented on. My parents used to always comment on my controlled, unemotional nature as a child and growing up. I just have full control of my emotions and I don’t really “feel” things too much. Maybe the right phrasing is I separate feelings away……I always feel they are burried away. But I don’t think that is always a bad thing.

But the aloof element, I try so hard to be inclusive and to speak, so I’m always blind sighted when it comes up. A recent ocassion was when I went on a date, with my current boyfriend Jackson, whom I really liked. It was our first proper date. I spent the whole time, just being me and making a huge effort. However, Jackson has since commented, that I came across disinterested, aloof and like I wanted to be elsewhere. It is strange, that I can feel so differently on the inside and yet, portray the complete opposite unintentionally.

Consequently, this makes me question, what I’m bring perceived like now? My friends and people who know me, embrace my aloof nature and I’m known for being quirky. I guess, they accept me as I am, so I never have the opportunity to consider if it is an issue or not. I remember another occasion when I was in Enactus Newcastle. I’m not really into business/work and socialising. I portray a different side with the people who I know and keep them separate. Hence I don’t really socialise professionally….a downfall I know as networking is key. (but i HATE networking with a passion….i always feel so awkward.) But within Enactus, I “thought” I was socialising but I event got feedback, from my lovely friend Sophie (the much valued voice of brutual honesty – in fact I’ve learnt more about myself working along side Sophie, than anyone else), that I didn’t put enough effort in with the social side, seemed detached and uninterested, which was compounding the view I was aloof. I corrected my behaviour and put ALOT more effort in and reaped the rewards, but it felt very much, I had to really not only compromise, but be someone else, for a while to get them onside.

Why I’ve picked Daria here, is when I was growing up, she was the cartoon character I identified with the most. Awkward, detached, abit weird, not concerned about being liked, socially ridiculous…..and I used to watch it as a teen and think, that is me and feel a sense of acceptance. The older I get, the more frustrated I get, that THIS is how I’m perceived.

The more it is said negectively towards me, the more confused I am by it, the more impossible it seems to change and the more I worry it will effect me in the long term within my business.

But hopefully, I can take the questionnaire as a whole and learn from it.