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A reflective practice

By Karyn Santl

Workspace with laptop, eye glasses, notepad and coffee cup

As a reflective practitioner, I use the end of the calendar year as a time to reflect on the past and look forward to upcoming opportunities. I use this time to look at my cumulative efforts over the past twelve months to inform the direction I want the next year to take. My practice of reflecting has evolved over the years. I have learned that reflection is a powerful tool that we use when working with youth, but it can be used for program improvement and professional development as well.  

I started my career as a staff person working directly with youth, so the base of my reflective practice is the 4-H Experiential Learning Model.  I summarize this model as:

  • Do or have an experience.
  • Reflect and share about the experience. 
  • Apply learnings from this experience to an experience in the future.  

Reflection is a key strategy in youth work that helps young people make meaning from experiences. In our youth organization (4-H) staff and volunteers use reflection as a way to check in with young people about how they are feeling and build connections. It is used during and after projects or planning to help young people consider how things went and how they would do things differently in the future. 

Reflection is a powerful tool -- not just for working with youth, but for youth workers and their supervisors. The article, Youth Work Supervision: Supporting Practice through Reflection states that when a supervisor models reflection and a youth worker experiences the process, the staff is better equipped to provide higher quality opportunities for youth. The process of reflection shifts power from the supervisor to the youth workers who then direct their own learning and growth. Supervisors can support a reflective practice by being staff centered and using divergent questions to engage staff in their thoughts and possibilities. This article provided six strategies for supervisors to implement reflection with staff:  

  1. Create and dedicate time to the process. 
  2. Be reliable, trustworthy and genuine.
  3. Listen and don’t focus on creating or providing the answers. 
  4. Focus on coaching for staff to create their own solutions and provide support accordingly. 
  5. Don’t judge ideas, encourage staff to be critical thinkers in their own right. 
  6. Avoid one right answer, encourage many possibilities of action.

As I reflected on this blog post, I feel I am doing most of this with the staff I work with. I know I can be better at it and more intentional about it in practice. In the future, I am going to apply my learning by not going into problem-solving mode right away, but focus on coaching staff to create their own solutions. So as I move into the new year, this will become a goal of mine.  

Because I want to be more intentional about reflecting on my work, I put two hours on my calendar on the last Friday of the month. I use this time to look back on my calendar and task lists and write about what I have done. I will write about the role I had in a project and where the project is at in the planning or implementation stage. I will write a reflection on what went well with a project, something I observed, or data from program evaluations. This also helps me apply learning from my reflection as I plan out the next month’s work. Setting aside time at the end of the month helps me keep up in being a reflective practitioner.  

Reflective practice parallels what a good youth worker does with youth. What is one reflective practice you have?

-- Karyn SantlExtension educator

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  1. Hi Karyn, thanks for reminding us of this important practice. For several years I had a document titled 'celebrating the days' that was my journal of sorts to record both the large and small accomplishments I saw within our program, and my own personal work. It has been helpful to look back over those pages throughout the years as a catalyst for inspiration and encouragement.
    I find what makes reflection most valuable (beyond setting time for it!) is asking the right questions. Here are a few of the ones that I try to keep in mind as I do my work.

    How can we better support youth development?
    How can we maximize our resources (time, people, materials) and be efficient?
    What can I learn from this experience that informs my work?
    Am I serving the program, my volunteers, and the larger community in a positive way with this decision?
    Am I building trust and respect?

    The questions we ask inform what and how we think about our work. What questions do you find yourself asking in reflection?

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Jeremy, and questions.

    Right now my reflective practice is about my work and how it connects to the bigger picture of the organization. I am looking for the impact I have made with the staff I work with. I also look for trends or themes that show impact or for areas of development for myself or the staff I work with.

    I guess the question I have been asking myself with my monthly reflection is "what impact have I made this month?"

    Let's continue the list - What are other's asking themselves when they reflect on their work?

  3. The most important reflective practice I have is sort of a form of journaling, but I streamline things to make them more efficient.

    I have a small bound notebook, and at the end of each day, I take about 10 minutes to write down everything that I accomplished in that day. It forces me to look back and really appreciate what I've done and make it conscious so that I get those dopamine hits for the "wins" of the day instead of just ignoring them as I work through more tasks.

    Much like what you described doing in your post, I also add a special entry at the end of each month covering my results for the month as a whole. This allows me to maintain and realign any goals that I'm working toward as well.

    1. Jesse - this is a great practice! and a way to be grateful for the work you accomplished.

      It's a goal of mine to journal more frequently. Thank you for sharing.


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