Research Paper By Cindy Lima
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
As an early student of the International Coach Academy, I admit that I didn’t initially appreciate the importance of asking my client what they had learned from our coaching session. I thought the question was a technique to begin wrapping up the session and to help make clear they had been doing work toward their intended outcome. As my coaching developed I became more in tune with my clients’ progress and I began sensing the deep power of their reflections. As a coachee I also noticed that responding to an invitation to share what I learned was an intense part of the session for me. I became curious about why reflection was so impactful and so decided to make it the topic of my research paper.
What is reflection?
re·flec·tion; rəˈfl ekSH(ə)n/
Synonyms: thought, thinking, consideration, contemplation, deliberation, pondering,
- serious thought or consideration
- a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation
- consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose
Reflection has been described as a process that helps turn experience into knowledge (Gilbert & Trudel, 2001) and involves thought and exploration of a concept or event (Gray, 2007). John Dewey (1933) defined the concept of reflection as:
the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further consideration to which it tends.
In coaching, when we ask our client to describe what they have learned or taken away from our session, we are inviting them to stop and retrospectively survey their explorations/experiences toward their desired outcome. According to Kelly (1955): events or concepts are only meaningful when seen from the perspective of the person construing their meaning. Clearly, it’s the client’s own reflection of their coaching session that holds the most meaning.
What is the origin of reflection?
American philosopher, psychologist and renown education reformer John Dewey (1933) was one of the first to write about reflective practice in his exploration of experience, interaction and reflection and is thought to have likely drawn on the ideas of earlier educators, such as Aristotle, Plato, and Confucius. Others have suggested that precursors of reflective practice can be found in the ancient texts of Buddhist teachings and the meditations of philosophers.
How does reflection lead to learning?
In their book, Turning Experience into Learning, Boud Keogh & Walker (1985) describe the model they developed after studying reflective thinking,
we have indicated two main components: the experience and the reflective activity based upon that experience. Reflection is an important human activity in which people recapture their experience, think about it, mull it over and evaluate it. Reflection in the context of learning is those intellectual and effective activities in which individuals engage to explore their experiences in order to lead to new understandings and appreciations.
They further explain that reflection is a form of response of the learner to the experience.
In the coaching context, I would describe the breadth of the client’s experience as: choosing a topic worthy of discussion (importance) and a desired outcome (goal-setting); responding emotionally, intellectually and physically to the coach’s questions/observations (making discoveries about oneself, values, understandings, beliefs, desires, possibilities) and establishing goals/support structures (creating action.) In asking the client to reflect on their coaching session – experience – we are asking the client to assimilate a complex set of issues as they ponder their topic, goal, thoughts, emotions, discoveries and action plans.
Adult education professor David Boud (1985) and his colleagues explained:
When a person is experiencing something, he or she may be implicitly learning; however, it can be difficult to put emotions, events, and thoughts into a coherent sequence of events. When a person rethinks or retells events, it is possible to categorize events, emotions, ideas, etc., and to compare the intended purpose of a past action with the results of the action. Stepping back from the action permits critical reflection on a sequence of events.
Learning theorist David Kolb’s (1984) reflective model highlights the concept of experiential learning and is centered on the transformation of information into knowledge. According to Kolb, his takes place after a situation has occurred, and entails reflecting on the experience, gaining a general understanding of the concepts encountered during the experience, and then testing these general understandings in a new situation. By doing so, the knowledge that is formed from a situation is continuously applied and reapplied, building on prior experiences and knowledge. He suggested that reflection enables the experiential learner to move through steps from concrete experience to sense making through reflection.
How is reflection and learning valuable in coaching?
Reflection works, as described by Peter Jackson (2004), because it helps the learner to balance the process of learning from experience and to generate new learning opportunities; it affords them an objective stance; it helps them see their actions from the perspective of their overall goals; and it helps them to develop the capability to react more quickly and effectively to future challenges. These benefits are demonstrable in a coaching context and may provide an understanding of the importance of reflection to support and guide coaching practice.
Kerryn Griffiths (2015)notes that
reflection and listening not only result in learning, but importantly, result in the recognition of the learning itself.
In a study of coaching clients, Hurd (2002) determined that
coaching creates the conditions for learning and behavior change.
Whitworth et al. (1998) described coaching as an on-going cycle of action and learning that together combine to create change. Thus a major part in the coach’s job is to
deepen the learning.
What are practical applications for reflection in coaching?
Many common written exercises given to clients by coaches are also activities of reflection that lead to learning. These include journaling, wheels of life, written questionnaires, values identification and assessments.
Costa and Kallick describe that reflection involves linking a current experience to previous learnings (a process called scaffolding). Reflection also involves drawing forth cognitive and emotional information from several sources: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. To reflect, we must act upon and process the information, synthesizing and evaluating the data. In the end, reflecting also means applying what we’ve learned to contexts beyond the original situations in which we learned something.
Reflective practice, according to Schon (1983) is the ability to reflect on one’s actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning. So, since our goal as coaches is to support and facilitate our clients’ continuous learning, it is clear that reflection will always be a powerful tool to use in effective coaching.
We do not learn form the experience…we learn from reflecting on the experience– John Dewey