Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Through the looking glass....

in a thoughtful exploration of learning and management @ffolliet caused me to wonder if it is possible to take "untrained" managers or students of leadership and management and support them learning "on the job" simply by providing a space for them to reflect on their practice.... or do we need in fact to provide initial "basic training" which is then honed by experience, supervision, coaching and reflection into "mastery"?

I mean, do we not at the very least have to provide "training" or induction into the process of reflection so that the learning process can begin?

This reminds me of some reflecting I have been doing elsewhere on the subject of.... reflection. Which comes first - knowing yourself or the ability to reflect? For me the answer is that we probably first learn to reflect in dialogue and through that process we start to know ourselves - and then we can go on to reflect by ourselves too. If we are lucky we learn this through talking with our parents and friends and then with great teachers. Then, more formally maybe with coaches, supervisors and managers....

When I was training to be a counsellor the question was how people make the first move from unawareness to wanting to become self aware. The answer then too seemed to be that relationship was the key - according to Rogers, people gradually learn through their relationships how to trust another's feedback as useful for their own development, and ultimately, how to provide that feedback for themselves.

So how do managers move from "doing" and practising according to skills and methodologies they have been taught ("programmed knowledge" as Revans called it) to reflecting, developing their own style, growing into "leaders"?

And how do students move from churning out assignments in response to teachers' questions, reproducing other people's thinking in academic essays, and into a deeper level of learning where they ask their own questions about the things that matter to them, and where they can both apply what they learn in the real world and reflect on that application and its effectiveness?

My "answer" is to try and develop processes that will get learners engaged in dialogue with one another, with me, and with themselves so that reflection becomes a habit.

This is not a new idea. Schön talked about this in the 70's. Coaching in the workplace, clinical supervision, action learning are all processes - indeed relationships - where reflection is taught, encouraged and supported.

In on line learning, spaces such as blogs and wikis can provide students, managers (or students of management!) with places to engage in reflection where they can receive feedback, engage in dialogue and reflect some more. Teachers (and other learners) have an incredibly important role to play in helping others to become more self reflective through dialogue of various kinds - through discussion boards and feedback on assignments for sure - in helping people to write, tell, sing or video their personal story....or as Winter calls it - the unfolding drama of gradual discovery.


  1. i can't agree more. I don't think there is a way you can 'teach' people to reflect. It is so personal, but when we start talking to people, and also observing how they express their mind about a given subject, that is when that self-teaching process begins...even if in an implicit way. I believe conversations can set the tone to great learning environments. Last year I took one of my course participants to the pub (as part of our face to face sessions in a blended course). That was where the conversation developed more fluid and also where people starting related more to one another!
    I believe in the power of dialog - that's what keep any (learning) relationship going, isn't it?
    And then there is also the role of the mentors - those who inspire us and who unconsciously also influence our perceptions of the reality we want to understand.
    Great post as usual! ;-)

  2. thanks Cristina - I like the notion of dialogue in the pub making things more fluid!!! :0) and of course, the feedback I get helps my learning - the whole Ning Digifolios conversation has speeded up my reflection immeasurably....