We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. – John Dewey
Critical reflection is self-critiquing…gently… Stepping back from and actively looking at how you work allows you to see ways in which you may have been able to achieve the same result in a better way. It is an internal quality control mechanism whereby you continually look at how you can improve how your work.
It can be of particular value within mentoring as it can help you stay focussed on what you want to get out of mentoring, and to ensure you are receiving or delivering what is required. It is important to be able to look at your performance objectively, to step outside your personal opinions and look at the bigger picture.
Thinking, however, is not enough. You must be prepared to take from your reflection objectives to work towards or practices to improve. It is an activity in which you contemplate how you dealt with a given situation and determine if the outcome was what you expected, how people reacted to your contribution, what you could have done differently, and how you could improve your practice.
While we all employ a form of reflection, it tends to be an automatic and unrecognised process. What we need to do is to recognise the process and own it. One way is to ask yourself a set of standard questions such as ‘What could I have done differently and how would it have affected the outcome?’, ‘Did I truly achieve what I set out to achieve?’, ‘Can I learn from the mistakes I made?’ and ‘How has my work impacted upon the rest of my team?’, including those that you might not always feel comfortable asking such as ‘Did I do it correctly or should I have listened to [insert name here]?’. It is only in this way that you are truly employing critical reflection, and that can take some practice.
Critical reflection is a tool I was encouraged to use when I was teaching and I have found it of great use within my current role. I constantly reflect upon my meetings, on how I can improve my interaction with my team, and my practice.
At the risk of repeating myself, while the process might all seem a bit touchy feely, we practice critical reflection every time we think about a task we have just completed. It is making this active and conscious reflection on a regular basis that ensures we are properly practising this skill.