In my teaching, preparing students for exams, I often end up demonstrating how to make a point well. Maybe that is why, in our reading about reflection, what I found really helpful was a demonstration. So here is my own demonstration of reflective writing.
The quotes are made up, but they do describe a real incident from my time as a boat club captain at university:
“I bumped into Simon who had seen the first boat list and he wasn’t on it. He seemed really angry. I told him I was fed up with all these prima donnas. Honestly, it’s really hard trying to get decent crew together and he just wasn’t good enough. I’m sure he’ll have a ‘bad back’ soon and won’t be able to row for the second boat.”
Is this good reflective writing? It describes an incident and my immediate feelings about it. But look at what I might have written if I had had a bit more emotional awareness:
“Simon was really annoyed. Why was that? He knew it was down to two of them competing for the last seat. I can imagine he’s disappointed but there’s no need to take it out on me. But, maybe it wasn’t best for him to find out from the noticeboard. We’ve all put in a lot of work this term. Actually, in his position, I’d be pretty angry too.”
The big difference here is that I have beyond the fact of Simon’s anger to wonder why he is angry – that’s the really important question here. And the reason is starting to become clear as I put myself in his position. This really is reflection and, to be fair to my twenty-year old self, I did occasionally get this far.
But let’s say I had used the very best practice of going back over my writing a few days later and adding to it. Here’s what I might have written then:
“Now that we have all calmed down, I can see that I handled this badly. Simon was competing for the last seat in the boat, and rowing has really been his life over the last year. He was really disappointed and I needed to go and see him, break the news in person, and talk about how he could contribute, maybe by coaching the lower boats. I went to see Simon to apologise. In future, I will speak personally to anyone who doesn’t make selection, and try to be positive about what they can do.”
Hopefully it is clear what makes this good reflection. In a calm state, I am showing much more understanding of Simon’s perspective. I am taking action on the basis of my reflection and planning future changes.
In reality, I learned a lot about communication from that incident. And Simon (which is not his real name)? When I saw him, he was just back from the osteopath. Something about a bad back – he never rowed again.