“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflection on experience.”
–John Dewey

What is Reflection?

Reflection is the process that allows us to make meaning of our experiences. Without reflection, we do not unpack, process, understand, or evaluate how an experience made us feel, how it challenged or affirmed our beliefs, how it might impact or change us moving forward. Reflection is how we use our experiences to construct the narrative through which we see, interpret, understand, and navigate the world.

There are three aspects to reflection:

  • Recapture/return to the experience by recalling events and details
  • Attend to (or connect with) feelings
  • Evaluate the experience and integrate new knowledge into one’s conceptual framework

(From Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning, by David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker)

Another way to think about it:

What?
Descriptive; facts, what happened, with whom.

So What?
Shift from descriptive to interpretive; the meaning of experience for each participant; feelings involved, lessons learned; the “Why?”

Now What?
Context—seeing the situation’s place in the big picture; applying lessons learned/insights gained to new situations; setting future goals, creating an action plan.

Tips for Reflection Facilitators

As facilitators of reflection, our job is to create the space for this to happen, and to guide participants through these steps. Effective reflection requires the following of facilitators:

  • Have an open-minded Attitude: be honest about your own abilities, limits, knowledge. Balance sharing your own opinions and feelings with allowing a safe space for all participants’ opinions and feelings to be shared. Be willing to learn from what participants say, instead of seeing yourself as the “expert.” Model empathy, a sense of humor, interest, and be genuine.
  • Encourage Help set ground rules for safe, open sharing. Promote active listening, and encourage participation by all.
    • Do:
      • Use open-ended questions
      • Ask for specifics & examples
      • Paraphrase & summarize
      • Acknowledge contributions
      • Redirect questions to the group
      • Be creative
      • Take some risks by posing provocative questions
    • Don’t:
      • Refute people’s ideas
      • Put people on the spot
      • Downplay thoughts or feelings
      • Force people to speak
  • Manage Group Dynamics. Create a safe space, manage disagreements and respond to tension, promote equality, be mindful of power (and of who has it).
  • Provide Closure & Evaluation. Help participants feel as if progress has been made through the discussion, and that there is some sort of resolution. This can include closing statements from each participant as to where they’re “at,” identifying next steps, reviewing all that was discussed.

(from Facilitating Reflection, by Julie Reed & Christopher Koliba)

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