Our recent article on reflective practice, "Professional Reflection: Learning through Experience", discussed the value of reflection in our Continuing Professional Development (CPD). It considered a number of professions encouraging reflective practice such as the healthcare/medical, teaching/education, and actuarial and accounting professions, and described some practical frameworks for reflection.
While collaboration and feedback are inherent in some professions, others may view reflective practice as a solitary activity. There can be value in forming your own opinions first, but at Protagion we believe strongly that working with others is fundamental to our professional development, including reflecting and discussing together.
Christopher Johns, a professor of nursing, in “Guided reflection: a narrative approach to advancing professional practice”* argued that the act of sharing reflection with a guide, colleague or mentor enables the experience to become learned knowledge at a faster rate than reflecting alone.
Read more for our brief thoughts on feedback, followed by more detailed exploration of “reflective practice discussions”, part of some professions’ CPD requirements i.e. their members are required to discuss their professional development with others. We look into who the reflective practice / diffraction discussion could be held with, the general elements of the discussion, and end with specific examples of possible questions to explore between the professional and the discussion partner.
Feedback and Discussion
Gathering feedback from others is important, including to understand how others see us, and their perception of how we acted in a given situation. A variety of perspectives can help us more accurately assess an experience, and also teaches us more about the differences between people and how their assumptions, beliefs and values affect how they see the world. We may, for example, have misinterpreted a situation, and verbal and non-verbal feedback can alert us to this.
Some professions specifically expect a “reflective practice discussion” (or “diffraction discussion”) as part of their CPD requirements. This discussion with someone else is a conversation in which you verbally reflect on your learning and development needs and professional objectives, the outcomes of your activities performed, and the conclusions drawn. It can help identify gaps and allow for suggestions of other topics or ideas or methods to explore, and invites professionals to imagine other possible practices, roles and relationships. A form of forward-looking reflection too, it allows exploration of future development and learning, including anticipated work and roles. And, more broadly, it offers the opportunity to discuss your career ambitions and goals.
Who to Discuss With
To maximise the value from a discussion on your professional development, it is key to select a discussion partner wisely. Or, better yet, have multiple discussions for different perspectives. See our article “Assemble your Board of Mentors” for more detail on forming a support squad. You want to select someone you can be as open and candid with as possible, without fear of future sanction, so ideally they need to be independent of your employer and trusted. There is a tradeoff in the independence though – as they won’t see you in action at work, you’ll need to gather feedback from those who do as part of your reflection e.g. your boss, colleagues etc. In some cases, it may help to combine your development discussion with a performance appraisal or one-to-one at work, depending on your relationship with your line manager.
Elements of Reflective Practice Discussions
Now, we share some prompts on categories of what could be covered during a reflective practice discussion, from the perspective of the professional performing their CPD, and their discussion partner. The professional performing their CPD could:
While the discussion partner may give guidance to the professional, they are not responsible for verifying what the professional says, following up on actions or ensuring that activities have taken place – the responsibility for professional development remains squarely with the professional themselves. The professional may incorporate the guidance into their plan for future CPD cycles, perhaps updating their goals.
Examples of Questions to Discuss
We conclude this article on reflective practice discussions with examples of questions you could cover during the conversation (or for you to reflect on individually beforehand to prepare if you prefer). The unordered list covers a range of areas, but isn’t intended to be exhaustive, so please do add additional suggestions in the comments if you’ve found other questions to be helpful in your own discussions too.
And, for a technique known as ‘Incisive Questions’ (which allow challenge of our underlying assumptions), see “How can leaders ignite the best thinking in others?”.
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