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Don’t think you are brilliant? Exploring the full colour spectrum of reflection.

Last year I wrote a post called Don’t think you are brilliant? Think again… and in it I shared my insights from being an assessor for CMALT, ALT’s peer-based accreditation scheme and how I observed that reflecting on practice can help you realise your own strengths and gain a sense of achievement.

Since then, I have assessed a lot more portfolios and also explored those shared by other Certified Members (thanks for sharing!) and I have come across a few more thoughts on this, which I’d like to share with you now – mainly because I think most of us could do with a bit more confidence, recognition and a sense of a job well done before we hurry on to the next deadline or deliverable.

It’s hard to feel that you are doing well when things are tough and often it takes a long time before you can look back and see how much progress you made at the time. When people in my network, mostly open practitioners, write brave posts sharing stories about their ups and downs I am always reminded that for everyone things can be difficult even if as an observer I can only see the what it looks like from the outside: I see the video, or hear the talk or read the paper, I pick up all the indicators of success, achievement, new thinking and so forth, but so often those only tell a small part of the story. But if you are chairing a meeting, on a stage or behind a lectern, people generally assume that you have it figured out. I salute those who let us peek behind the scenes, who share the more human side of their work. I hear people often advocate that we embrace sharing failures more, and I, too, support this notion strongly – but it is harder to do than it looks, I think. If failures are shared, it is mostly on the practical aspect of what we work on, on technology and tools, based on survey results or case studies. Very useful, but not personal like reflection can be.

Some common factors in successful reflection:

Making time: the most effective reflection is often born out of a habit to set aside time for it. Regularly. So that both good and bad weeks are considered, and over time a balanced perspective created. Some people write or have conversations, others think inside their own heads. Most come to record their ideas, thoughts or feelings in some ways. Some of the most insightful accounts I have read as an assessor demonstrate a clear sense of progression, i.e. someone having taking stock at different points in time and building a narrative around that.

Sitting with it: reflection doesn’t always lead to expected or pleasant places. Sometimes a train of thought ends in an uncomfortable place. Or in a realisation that things aren’t going well. Failure looms large. One of the techniques I most admire is the ability to be present with that kind of realisation, to develop a more mature relationship to thinking about topics that are difficult to reflect on. It takes a lot of confidence to do that.

Confidence in yourself: one of the ways in which reflection can go wrong is to rely only on external measures of success or failure. For example, you might reflect on a project as a failure if it didn’t meet its objectives fully even if you learnt a lot from it or it was a useful stepping stone to something new. Developing a sense of confidence and trusting one’s own judgement is a common component of effective reflection.

So, make time to reflect and discover the brilliant or shiny part of your practice alongside all the grey bits, or the darker ones, too. Space to think comes in all colours.