Monday, 23 November 2015

Time to Reflect

Using time is an interesting way of thinking about practice.

Chris Argyris and Donald Schön did that in 1978, proposing a two stage process of reflection based on problem-solving in the present and in the future. Their model has strongly influenced the education, health and architecture professions.

There are two parts to Argyris and Schön's model: reflection-in-action, and reflection-on-action.
  1. Reflection-in-action is our ability to "think on [our] feet" or 'felt-knowing' (Argyris & Schön, 1974, p. 203). When we are faced with a professional issue, we usually connect with their feelings, emotions and prior experiences to attend, to be present in that situation.

  2. Reflection-on-action is the idea that AFTER the experience we analyse our reaction in that situation and we explore the reasons around, and the consequences of, our actions. The ‘normal’ way is through writing up our reflection afterwards, or by talking about it with a supervisor. However, this is not simply reviewing the experiences and poking at our reasoning for those actions.

    As Sharpiro puts it, it is "responding to problematic situations, problem framing, problem solving, and the priority of practical knowledge over abstract theory” (2010, p. 311).
Argyris and Schön think that our professional growth really only begins when we start to use a critical lens, and to doubt our actions. That doubt means that we think there is something else we can learn and hone.

Doubt allows us to think in questions, and helps us to frame situations as "problems". If we plan carefully and systematically get rid of other possibilities, then our doubt is settled. If instead we can ask "what if?", then that opens us up to other possibilties. We can re-explore the landscape. We may well still find that, “OK, we did that pretty well” and affirm our knowledge of what happened was roughly right (because we always know that we can never get it perfectly correct). But if we go in with no doubts, then we are unable to learn from that experience.

Reflection LETS us think about other possibilities and their likely outcomes, and to really openly consider whether we carried out the right actions (Argyris & Schön, 1978).

It closes our learning loop (Kolb, 1984).

And feeds into a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006).


  • Argyris, Chris & Schön, Donald A. (1978). Organizational Learning: A theory of action perspective. USA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company
  • Argyris, Chris & Schön, Donald A. (1974). Theory in practice: increasing professional effectiveness. USA: Jossey-Bass Publishers
  •  Dweck, Carol (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. USA: Baltimore Books
  • Kolb, David A (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. USA: Prentice Hall, Inc.

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