Wright, N. (2003) ‘Pause, Reflect, Act’, Training Technology & Human Resources, Institute of Training & Occupational Learning, January-February, p18.
Jackie looked up at Sue, the trainer, and spoke up in the group. “I struggle to meet deadlines even though I know how important it is to prioritise tasks. What do you think could help me?” Sue, having prepared well for this type of question, responded with a list of practical tips and techniques that the whole group wrote down with enthusiasm.
One year later, Jackie returned as participant on the time management course. “In spite of knowing just about every time management technique in the book, I still find myself struggling to meet deadlines. What can I do?” Mike, the trainer, responded after a moment with a searching question. “What would help you, Jackie, to meet your deadlines?” “Well, if my boss would give me information on time, that would certainly help”, came Jackie’s immediate reply.
The difference between Sue’s and Mike’s approach here parallels distinctions between conventional teacher and developmental educator roles. The teacher’s role is to impart knowledge and information, the educator’s to develop reflective practice (RP). Moon (2000) describes RP as ‘reflection in the context of practice’. I like to think of it as ‘insight in action’.
Both Sue and Mike were faced with a question and a choice. Sue’s reaction was to provide a solution to the problem and, in some circumstances (e.g. briefing/crisis), this may well be appropriate. Mike, in contrast, suspended his mental and emotional ‘auto-pilot’ and paused first to consider what kind of intervention might help Jackie address the particular nuances of her own specific situation.
Mike’s response is characteristic of the RP approach: pause → reflect → act. RP doesn’t prescribe the right response in a situation but considers the process by which a response is selected. I believe that RP is, therefore, critical in the trainer-developer role where working with people and groups always involves dealing with at least some degree of complexity and change.
Mike’s approach had the effect of stimulating development of Jackie’s RP capabilities too: “Jackie, it sounds as if what you are able to do is dependent on what others do.” This simple reflective comment helped shift Jackie’s focus from tips and techniques to a wider systemic view of her work. “Yes, I guess I really should concentrate more on creating my work schedules with my line-manager, rather than on my own.”
Jackie developed both greater insight into the dynamics of her workplace relationships and a valuable understanding of the interdependent linkages between her own work and that of others. When the next time management course ran one year later, Jackie was meeting most of her deadlines and her name was absent from the participant list.
Summary tips on Reflective Practice
Suspend judgement: Decide consciously to start from a place of ‘not knowing’ – there may well be important angles to a situation that you’re not aware of.
Explore: Ask yourself, “I wonder what this might be about.” Use tentative, exploratory questions to help un-earth any wider/deeper dimensions to the situation.
Reflect: Ask yourself why you feel compelled to intervene in a certain way. “Am I stepping in like this to demonstrate my own capabilities or because this really is what this person needs?”
Evaluate: Take time to learn by asking yourself questions after an intervention. “What happened when I did that?”, “Why did that happen?”, “What could I have done differently?”, “What will I do next time?”