career development

Been reflecting lately?

reflective writing in peru

Reflecting, and being a reflective practitioner is incredibly important to our ongoing professional development and improvements to service delivery. Reflective practice helps us to build our knowledge and experience, make sense of it, apply new insights to our work and find ways to share among our professional community – our workplaces and beyond. Engaging in reflective practice enables us to take a step back, look at the bigger picture of what we do, question it, learn from it and identify next steps in resolving problems and taking up opportunities.

Here’s a formal definition:

“Reflection is the process of engaging with learning and/or professional practice that provides an opportunity to critically analyse and evaluate that learning or practice. The purpose is to develop professional knowledge, understanding and practice that incorporates a deeper form of learning which is transformational in nature and is empowering, enlightening and ultimately emancipatory.” (Black and Plowright, 2010, p. 246, as cited in Greenall and Sen, 2016)

I quite like that definition. 🙂

There are many excuses, and sometimes valid reasons why we don’t regularly reflect on our professional development, our work and the services we provide. So here’s my little nudge to you – put reflection at the forefront of your mind and make time right now to do it.

Why engage in reflective practice?

Time is a challenge for most of us, stopping us from taking a pause every now and then. But, reflective practice, or ‘reflective writing’, is important for:

  • recognising and celebrating achievements, the achievements of our teams and organisations;
  • identifying future development opportunities;
  • reviewing our current path and its opportunities;
  • identifying knowledge gaps, and
  • creating a record of our experiences for future job applications.

I’m a big fan of pauses. Even better with a cup of tea.

When to take time to reflect

There are a few different times to undertake reflective practice, and they depend on:

  • the complexity of the problem/opportunity/ learning experience;
  • the outcomes of an experience and the urgency to take next actions;
  • what it is you’re actually reviewing or reflecting on.

I’d say many articles and advice on reflection and reflective practice would say to reflect as soon as possible after an event or learning experience, a conference or a presentation you delivered, for example. But, if we take into account the realities at play here as not all of us have the luxury of time or headspace immediately after an experience, I’d say there are different stages when reflection would prove beneficial and they take slightly different forms.

During or immediately after an experience

I like to recommend taking a handful of notes about your initial reactions, thoughts and the actions you took if addressing a challenging situation. I think rough notes are a good start and enough to come back to later when you have time and space to think.

Maybe a week or so after

Review those notes and identify learning. Sometimes a bit of distance is good for reflection, I find. Ask, what can I learn from this experience? What steps can I take going forward?

At a regular review time, say every quarter, six or 12 months

Whenever you might review your career/ PD plan or catch up on inputting activities and reflections into the ALIA PD Scheme Tracker Tool, or other method you have for keeping track. Review those notes again and fill in any gaps. Ask, what have you been able to resolve, build upon or integrate into your development and practice?

You may not need to go through each step for every learning experience. Some may only require a quick note and thought, then move on. The point here is you’re the best judge of your learning needs and what experiences and development activities you need to pay attention. So, make reflective practice work for you and do it regularly.

How to do reflective writing or engage in reflective practice

I believe there is no right or wrong way here, as long as your reflective practice meets its aims (see above definition). But if you find you’re a bit stuck, here are a few pointers to get started:

  • Have a spot for keeping a log of your reflections. This might be a journal, a diary, a spreadsheet, a private online portfolio, a sketch pad, ALIA PD Scheme Tracker or a simple folder on your hard drive. I like to write and use a combination of methods and tools.
  • Free write. Put a timer on for 10-15 minutes. Go.
  • Use the STAR-L framework for organising your thoughts and writing the ‘story’. S – Situation; T – Task; A – Action; R – Result; L – Learning.

As this year draws to a close and (hopefully) work and the number of events wind down, now is a good time for a bit of reflection. What have you achieved this year? What hurdles or challenges did you face? How did (or didn’t) you overcome them? And looking forward to 2018, do you have any areas where you could develop further? Any areas where you have a burning desire to know more? What are some goals or activities you want to tick off next year?


Greenall, J. and Sen, B. A. (2016). Reflective practice in the library and information sector. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 48(2), 137-150. DOI: 10.1177/0961000614551450

Black, P. E. and Plowright, D. (2010). A multi-dimensional model of reflective learning for professional development. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 11(2), 245-258. DOI: 10.1080/14623941003665810

Featured image was taken by my husband at our homestay on Lake Titicaca, Peru (April 2017) where we helped to prepare a traditional meal, herd sheep to a grazing paddock, sorted potatoes for market, visited the local school and put on traditional dress to learn a dance. 

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