Time to Reflect

As a 2013 Clore Social Fellow, I can honestly that this year’s theme has been reflection.  I have never been this reflective in my entire career.  Using reflective practice as a learning process is a core part of the programme and development process for all Fellows.

And it’s not easy.

To be reflective,  it requires us to stop doing and start being.  For me this is a challenge.  I am a doer.  But more on that later.

In this blog, I want to share some of the learning on reflective practice from the round-tables about reflective practice from my colleagues and other professionals in the business of social justice.

 Are we a sector of ‘doers’, making us more resistant to reflective practice?

Personally, the key to understanding reflective practice for me was understanding first, how we learn and then second, my preferred learning style. As a natural ‘Activist/Pragmatist’ (Honey & Mumford), I predisposed to the experiential side of learning and not a ‘natural’ reflector.  I’m most comfortable when I am ‘doing’ and really do find ‘being’ much more challenging.

I was talking with a colleague about my experience delivering action learning in the homelessness sector. Whilst this was definitely one of the most fulfilling parts of the job, it was also one of the most challenging.  If you are part of an action learning set, it is definitely a commitment; both time and resources (in the context of a set member being away from their job for a whole day, every 6-8 weeks).  Suffice to say the line managers I spoke to were not thrilled with the idea of losing staff that regularly, for that length of time.  As we spoke about this, my colleague said:

“We are a sector of ‘doers'”

This struck a chord and made sense to me.  We are trying to ‘save the world’.  There’s no time to reflect.  If only there were more time, because we really do understand the benefits to doing so.  But there is no time!

Joking aside, it’s an interesting thing to think about.  Are ‘Activists’ over-represented in the social care professions?  If so, does this mean more value is placed on doing the job as opposed to reflecting on how we do the job? These are broad questions and I don’t think it’s as simple as that but it does give pause for thought.

I asked this question at the round-table:

How does your organisation reflect and incorporate the learning from experience to inform future collaborative working practice?

The response was really interesting and varied.  A participant from a mental health background had the most experience of reflective learning and was the participant who had the most clarity on how it affected his work.  Someone else who had worked in mental health services earlier in his career said:

“…(we went) through a whole restructuring and a lot of people left and we had this big discussion about the loss of collective knowledge, so I said we are losing people who have worked in this borough for 20 years and even though there wasn’t a formal process by which their knowledge became departmental knowledge, when a colleague worked in the same room, he would wander over and say “Tom, have you ever dealt with this before?”.  There is a huge amount of informal learning and reflection that does take place but actually systematising it is more difficult”.

We went on to discuss how a more systematic approach could improve our partnership working.  Here are the highlights:

  • sharing experience of partnerships and how to improve contact
  • reflecting to better understanding our own practice and responses to external environment
  • ensuring that experience doesn’t ‘walk’ out the door’ when colleagues move on
  • build a better understanding of the relationships involved
  • sharing this approach across disciplines to better understand values/motivations

We all appreciated the benefits of regular reflection but from sector to sector, the experience of it as a learning process varied widely.  An issue across the board, excluding mental health services, is the lack of a coherent approach to using reflective practice as a learning process.  Most participants felt that this was an area for personal and organisational development.

In the context of joint-working, this is an opportunity to build a better understanding of each other and the environment in which we work.  There are a range of factors that feed into our ability to be good partners.   Reflective practice, within and across sectors, contributes to the skills and attributes needed to be a good partner.

Join the discussion.  What are you thoughts? #goodpartners

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