Reflection: Such a Beautiful Notion!!

Reflection – “a beautiful notion” may not be how you would describe this term!  

Reflect, reflect, reflect, was all I heard from my tutors during the first three years of my nursing degree. I remember telling my friend ‘if they ask me to reflect one more time I think I am going to scream’. I could not get my head around what I was being asked to do. Why was it so important that every essay I wrote had to be reflective? As a consequence of my ignorance you can perhaps realise that most of my assignments barely scraped a pass and I was perceived as not the brightest of nursing students.

 

Then I met my last and final clinical assessor as a pre-reg nursing student, who opened my eyes to the wonderful world of reflection. I was fortunate enough to spend my 4th year in the company of a nurse who could see beyond my inability to pass assignments well and saw a student nurse with a brain who really wanted to learn (honestly!).  

Every day after placement we would spend an hour going through the service users we had seen that day. I was asked questions about how I felt in different situations that had presented themselves to me. Not just what was good or bad, but if I was anxious we looked at why I was anxious and where had that anxiety stemmed from. If I felt confident about something we followed the same process. I was asked about why I had chosen a particular course of action, why was I concerned, where was my evidence for that intervention for that particular patient? What could I take away from today that would help me in the future, but importantly what had I learned about myself? During the course of my last year I grew in confidence as a practitioner and as a person. My assignments went from low level passes to A grades.

The difference between my attempts at reflecting on my own for assignments and my reflections with my clinical assessor was remarkable. I now realise that what my assessor was helping me to do was reflect ‘on action’, a retrospective contemplation of practice undertaken in order to uncover the knowledge used in a particular situation, by analysing and interpreting the information recalled, Schon (1983). But not only that my assessor was offering me ‘guided’ reflection.  Johns, (2000), acknowledges that there are limits to reflecting alone and that guided reflection with a second person can allow the reflective process to become more meaningful. Students and practitioners often bring situations of emotional disturbance, grounded in such feelings as guilt, anger, anxiety, distress, conflict and inadequacy to guided reflection. The guide is there to help the student/practitioner to find meaning to the event, in order to understand and learn through and from it. As a consequence I matured and developed as a human being. I got to know myself better and became a healthier and more productive practitioner. 

Burns and Bulman, (2000) suggest self-awareness is the foundation skill upon which reflective practice is built. I am not suggesting that final year taught me everything I needed to know about myself to be the perfect practitioner or human being, but what it did do was open my eyes to the wonderful world of reflection and raise my self awareness to a point that I no longer stumbled through life hitting the same road blocks over and over again.  I still run into things every now again but never the same thing twice! 

I am not sure that self awareness is something that we can teach our students but I do feel that our job as tutors and as clinical assessors is to offer the students the time and process that I was offered to help the student get to know themselves better and develop into good/healthy nurses.

I urge students to not shy away from reflection and to demand more from your personal tutors and clinical assessors.  

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on this.

8 thoughts on “Reflection: Such a Beautiful Notion!!

  1. Reflection is all about looking at a past situation and learning lessons from it and whilst we give this the term ‘reflction’, realistically it is a normal facet of being an adult. Unfortunately though, we as adults and nurses prefer to stick with routine and so avoid any deviation from the norm.

    Reflection is common sense. But the problem with common sense is that it is not common.

  2. A very interesting and useful article Nicola.
    I very much agree that we should be given more time, or some time allocated,to reflect on our time in placement and discuss any problems and issues, we did so once in our 2nd year; The unfortunate lack of time, which i struggle with my personal tutor, he doesn’t give the time for reflection. All well and good writing refection pieces whilst on placement if you cannot share your feelings.

  3. Yes I can understand your predicament. Maybe you could utilise your clincial assessors more in the reflective process, espcecially if they are willing to take the time out to guide your learning. Another option that has been discussed in the literature is reflection with your peers. getting together as a group should anyone be willing and reflecting on your experinces and guiding each other might also be useful. Perhaps there may be a lecturer around who may help you with this process!!

  4. Although i feel that as a student if you feel you need help to enhance your reflection skills that should be made available, i also feel that on the other side are the students who are competent enough to, as tony says ‘use common sense’.
    It is often these students who reflect well and do not need to explain the whole process of how they did it. It can be very fustrating to enter lectures where you are belittled and made to feel stupid, because you do not know the differences between the different models of relection, or you have missed one of the minor questions the model requires you to answer. Striuaght away the student feels outcasted from the learning process.
    These models should be more of a guide/tool rather than the be all and end all of reflecting, as lets be honest how many of us in practise, reflect in action thinking to ourselves, ‘now let me see have i thought about evrything John’s model requires’ It just doesn’t happen and to made to feel like these models are the law, it deters the student from reflecting, as they think they have to use these models, and as they dont know them, they simply do not reflect, they feel like they wont be able to do it properly so why do it at all!
    rather than testing us on how well we can identify and use a model surely the emphasis should be on whether you can reflect effectively, learn from it and make changes.

  5. I think you make a very good point. From my research into this area the students seem to be getting more from their refleciton when it is done in a more natural manner rather than always for the purpose of assignments. However, if the assignment is well thought through then it can be a very useful learnign tool for the student.

  6. As I prepare to settle into the three year process of seeing a new group of personal students through their mental health nursing course this post and comments really resonates with me and my experience of trying to support students in developing their reflective skills.

    Often the required written reflections submitted with the ‘end of placement’ document barely compare to the depth, richness and sophistication of analysis students reveal as I question them further face to face about their experience upon which they have chosen to reflect. The process we engage in, should time allow, seems to open their thinking far more than a solitary reflection did, so reflecting ‘with’ someone is invaluable as a learning process.

    As time and experience progress, usually confidence in expressing their own thoughts and feelings grow, reflective skills show a dramatic improvement. I suspect without the these conversations (either with me with someone on placement) and/or supporting the student in the frequent admission of the personal discomfort about revealing ‘oneself’ and fear of judgement in doing so, then reflection remains a chore or an impoverished experience, reducing the personal and practice growth.

    I am happy to say that I never cease to be amazed and impressed by the ability and humanity of people who struggle with issues and succeed in finding their ‘moral compass’ on an issue as a result of reflection.

  7. I can understand Sinead’s point about students being made to feel that they need to follow the models like it’s the ‘law’ however I can’t help but slightly disagree. In my experience I have found these models a little frustrating when coming to use them because of the specific ‘process’ that needs to be followed in order to perhaps effectively reflect. However, no doubt they have been useful for me. For example, when it comes to reflecting on a significant situation that has occurred in placement which I feel that I can perhaps learn from, then I use one of the models of reflection in order to ‘guide’ me. Because for me, when attempting to reflect I tend to have many thoughts going on in my head trying to analyze and interpret the situation and so it’s easy for me to get lost in my thoughts and actually put pen to paper and construct a coherent reflective piece that flows. However, with the use of an appropriate reflective model it poses questions or points that prompt me to think about the situation in a certain way or from different perspectives. I think reflection is an essential part of learning because not only does it promote self-awareness for the individual who is reflecting but it also encourages positive change, reinforces any good practice that was identified (remember reflection isn’t only about reflecting on ‘bad’ situations), and furthermore it allows growth both personally and in clinical practice.

    Reflecting with others, in my opinion, is one of the best ways or methods to effectively reflect. Not only does it encourage the individual to reflect ‘naturally’ (in terms of not being confined with having to follow rules or models) but it also furthers the reflection. For example, if I am reflecting on my own, I will perhaps reach a certain conclusion that I will ultimately be content with. However, if I was reflecting in a discussion with my mentor/tutor then that ‘final conclusion’ that I am settling with tends to always be questioned which I think further challenges me and pushes me to explore deeper into my understanding, interpretations, and my perspective of the situation that I am reflecting on.

    Bolton (2001) once said “Reflective practice is a process of learning and developing through examining our own practice, opening our practice to scrutiny by others, and studying texts from the wider sphere” and I agree because I can honestly say that when reflecting I never come away without “learning and developing” my knowledge and, more importantly, self-awareness. And in a nutshell, I think that what reflection is to me.

  8. I can understand Sinead’s point about students being made to feel that they need to follow the models like it’s the ‘law’ however I can’t help but slightly disagree. In my experience I have found these models a little frustrating when coming to use them because of the specific ‘process’ that needs to be followed in order to perhaps effectively reflect. However, no doubt they have been useful for me. For example, when it comes to reflecting on a significant situation that has occurred in placement which I feel that I can perhaps learn from, then I use one of the models of reflection in order to ‘guide’ me. Because for me, when attempting to reflect I tend to have many thoughts going on in my head trying to analyze and interpret the situation and so it’s easy for me to get lost in my thoughts and actually put pen to paper and construct a coherent reflective piece that flows. However, with the use of an appropriate reflective model it poses questions or points that prompt me to think about the situation in a certain way or from different perspectives. I think reflection is an essential part of learning because not only does it promote self-awareness for the individual who is reflecting but it also encourages positive change, reinforces any good practice that was identified (remember reflection isn’t only about reflecting on ‘bad’ situations), and furthermore it allows growth both personally and in clinical practice.
    Reflecting with others, in my opinion, is one of the best ways or methods to effectively reflect. Not only does it encourage the individual to reflect ‘naturally’ (in terms of not being confined with having to follow rules or models) but it also furthers the reflection. For example, if I am reflecting on my own, I will perhaps reach a certain conclusion that I will ultimately be content with. However, if I was reflecting in a discussion with my mentor/tutor then that ‘final conclusion’ that I am settling with tends to always be questioned which I think further challenges me and pushes me to explore deeper into my understanding, interpretations, and my perspective of the situation that I am reflecting on.

    Bolton (2001) once said “Reflective practice is a process of learning and developing through examining our own practice, opening our practice to scrutiny by others, and studying texts from the wider sphere” and I agree because I can honestly say that when reflecting I never come away without “learning and developing” my knowledge and, more importantly, self-awareness. And in a nutshell, I think that what reflection is to me.

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