The Distance of Reflection.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the idea of an ironic distance and it being key to good leadership; that ability to both be in the moment yet also be able to step back a bit and see the whole picture. I’ve always been a little in awe of people who can do that in the moment, I’m a bit of a slow burn and generally need a while to be able to see past my own experience of a thing. I found the article “Learning from experience through reflection” (1996) by Marilyn Wood Daudelin interesting as it offers possible insight or at least a mindful activity to practice, and has led me to think more about my experiences in a new light.

The article talks about the learning gained by managers in their experiences, and how through introducing a formalized process or even just building in time for guided reflection, they can increase the learning, making it not an outside of work training activity, but a continual process of on the job learning.

Daudelin writes that organisations are shifting from a top down decision making process, to one where performance feedback from customers and employees alike influences the decisions made (Daudelin, 1996, p. 38). Daudelin even says that the role of managers has shifted from “that of a charismatic leader (a person who has all the answers) to that of coach – a person who works with employees to help them discover the answers” (Daudelin, p. 38). She says that this approach occurs because reflection is allowed to take place, making for an environment that is open and supportive of new ideas. This reflection leads to people learning from their experiences “developing insights from past events and applying them to future actions (Daudelin, p. 38).

Spontaneous reflection is often stimulated by the nagging, unresolved problems or challenges that are a normal part of any manager’s job. Reflection then progresses through four distinct stages: (a) articulation of a problem, (b) analysis of that problem, (c) formulation and testing of a tentative theory to explain the problem, and (c) action (or deciding whether to act”). (Daudelin, 1996, pp. 39–40)

Different approaches to creating reflection have different outcomes, the research study example in the text showed that individuals reflecting alone or reflecting with a helper or moderator (with notetaking or journal writing) created a different type of learning than peer group discussion reflection. Group discussion reflection produced an interpersonal learning through sharing of experiences and contextual learning, a focus on the team (generalized).

Individual or moderated reflection yielded different results, more intrapersonal learning, insights about their working processes and how they can amend their actions to be more effective, a focus on the individual (specific). (Daudelin, 1996, pp. 43–44).

Daudelin writes that reflection time could be built into part of the work experience and I am thinking of trialing this in my next semesters classes. For each subject I teach there is a workbook component where students are supposed to respond to the questions raised during the class. This is supposed to be part of their self-directed learning (homework). However, this rarely happens at home, due to other distractions, and students struggle to gain insight about their work and processes.

I am going to trial a half hour reflection time at the end of every class so they can download their experience of that class and hopefully reflect on it in a useful way. I am hoping that by building it in as a normal part of the learning process, it will then become part of their normal learning process.

I’ve been thinking that although we do sometimes engage in group conversations  or one-on-ones with friends about the issues facing us, we don’t seem to have time for serious personal reflection time (or maybe it’s just me!).It’s far too easy to spend time glancing at Facebook, Netflixing or ‘reading the internet’ as my partner Phil says. I’m guilty of this often, not so much incessant checking of social media networks, the big one for me is plugging those little wires into my ears and distracting myself with how awesome music is (I can’t listen and think at the same time, I’m listening too intently, music is all consuming) or even distracting myself with how much I like listening to true crime podcasts (true crime and detective novels are my guilty pleasure). Daudelin writes that reflection often occurs spontaneously while doing mindless, rhythmic activities like exercise, housework or in daily routines (Daudelin, 1996, p. 39) but when those times are filled with digital distractions what chance does reflection have to occur?

Reflection on your past experiences gives you hindsight, hindsight is a full understanding of something that has passed. It’s distance. Distance enough from the thing that you can fully comprehend it, your reactions to it and how they could have been better or what you did well.

I’ve been wondering if a lack of reflection makes for a micromanager. As a teacher, I don’t like to micromanage, but at home I keep busy rather than resting or reflecting. I like to be useful and will just do things myself rather than wait (rather impatiently) for someone to do the same job in a (in my view) slower and less efficient way. Ultimately this has made me extremely efficient at some things. But it doesn’t leave much room for others to grow or learn, or for me to learn other ways of doing.

So, my big take away from this article is to treat myself like I plan on treating my students, to build in a time for reflection, an un-digitally-interrupted time to go over things in my mind, to develop more learning from my experiences. To develop more distance from situations and hopefully in time I might even speed up my slow burn thought time and become better at quickly seeing past my own experience of a thing.



Daudelin, M. W. (1996). Learning from experience through reflection. Organizational      Dynamics, 24(3), 36-48.


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