ThinkingReflection on practice

Reflection on practice

(Photo above: Mirror Lake, in Yosemite National Park – a special place for me ever since my Dad took me there when I was 10).

Any professional or leader should regularly reflect on their practice – that is, on how they undertake the key activities of their profession – so as to keep growing and improving. But, if my experience is typical, my guess is that most of us don’t undertake disciplined reflection nearly often enough.

One of the few times we might reflect on our practice is if something unusual has happened. That’s the situation I was in last week. I had the privilege of facilitating a strategy session for a not-for-profit that serves the vision-impaired community. Almost half the participants in the workshop were vision-impaired.

That experience last week led me to reflect on my facilitation. But, how do you reflect on your practice so as to learn and change? I’ve come across the ALACT model, below, that seems useful.

The ALACT model for reflection on professional practice

The ALACT model was designed by Fred Korthagen et al to help student teachers reflect on their prac experiences and learn from them. The figure below sets out the shape of the approach:

The ALACT model, developed for student teachers, can be effective for any professional who wants to reflect on their practice.

The ALACT model, developed for student teachers, can be effective for any professional who wants to reflect on their practice.

The five stages here seem to me to provide a helpful framework for professional reflection.

Stage 1: Action

The strength of the ALACT model comes from its grounding in action. You can reflect on theory as much as you like. I suspect, though, that true learning occurs when reflection is grounded in concrete experience.

Stage 2: Looking back on the action

In this stage, you look back on the action. For me, the following questions (adapted from the article I linked to above), are useful:

  • What was the context?
  • What did you want? What did the participants want?
  • What did you do? What did the participants do?
  • What were you thinking? What were the participants thinking?
  • How did you feel? How did the participants feel?

The last questions struck home for the workshop I did last week. I’ve realised I was actually feeling quite scared. When I facilitate I rely on the whiteboard a lot. In my model it’s very important that the group have its conversation visualised. In this way the conversation can “ratchet up” – it can build easily on what has been said before. How was this going to work when almost half the room wouldn’t be able to see this visualisation?

Stage 3: Awareness of essential aspects

In this stage, you’re meant to make sense of the experience by pulling out the implications of it and the meaning of it. To my thinking, this is where you look for significance.

As I think about last week’s workshop, all kinds of implications strike home. I guess, though, the most important one for me is that where there is goodwill and sincere intent the conversation will blossom – even if you can’t rely on your traditional tools.

Stage 4: Creating alternative methods of action

In this stage you take the significance and implications from the previous stage and ask “Now what?”: “How could my practice change as a result of the insights I’ve had?”.

Apart from the insight about goodwill and intent, I also had a number of practical realisations about how I facilitate from last week’s experience. These would include:

  • Use participants’ names more as you speak to them. I found myself doing this a lot last week so that everyone would know who was speaking. But I think it’s good practice anyway – especially in workshops where the participants are from different teams or organisations. I’ll do it more from now on.
  • Read back what you have written on the board. Too often I assume that everyone can read what I’ve written. That’s often not the case, even without vision impaired participants. Reading back what I’ve written is likely to aid further group reflection and insights.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I found I was able to foster an environment where the group wasn’t afraid to help me. And to be assertive with me if I was not being clear. We were all helping each other reach a common goal.

It’s interesting that these insights will apply equally to workshops where no-one is vision impaired. Often insight and innovation will arise best from constraint.

Stage 5: Trial

The final aspect of the ALACT model is to plan to trial these new modes of action. And in this way the cycle starts all over again. I intend to try some of the practical insights from Stage 4 in workshops this week and next.

Over to you

I know a lot of educators read this blog. If you’ve used the ALACT model formally, I’d love to hear your experiences. For everyone, though, what models or tools do you use to help yourself reflect in your professional practice?