Whether it’s been as a teacher, a researcher, a consultant, or one of the many other roles I’ve had in my career, reflective practice has been a key part. For example, as a teacher, I’d reflect on what went well in a lesson or could be improved for next time. As a researcher, I’d reflect on whether the approach I used was the best one, and as a consultant, I reflect on the way I interact with colleagues and clients.
The key parts of this are:
- Learning from experience: reflecting on what has been done, considering both successes and failures; understanding what worked, what didn’t, and why.
- Awareness of actions and behaviours: being conscious of how our actions affect the situation and others involved.
- Improvement-focused: the idea is to use the insights generated from reflection to improve future practice.
Reflexive practice is slightly different. While it also includes self-examination, it goes deeper to start challenging our underlying assumptions, values, and beliefs. For example, as a teacher, I might start having a problem with teaching history through the lens of monarchs and ‘great men’ as perhaps it wasn’t resonating with the students (or my own beliefs). As a researcher, perhaps I could have questions about the research techniques, methodologies, or long-term goals of what was under consideration. As a consultant, I might question the underpinnings of capitalism as I delve deeper into the world of co-ops.
The key parts of this are:
- Understanding yourself and challenging assumptions: recognising how our social, cultural, and personal context influences perceptions and decisions; questioning the underlying beliefs and assumptions that guide our actions.
- Interconnectedness: seeing how our actions affect (and are affected by) the broader system in which we operate.
- Transformative change: achieving deeper personal and professional development by transforming our underlying perspectives and approaches.
So, while reflective practice is about improving our actions based on past experiences, reflexive practice goes further in order to question (and potentially change) the foundational beliefs and values that drive these actions. Reflexivity involves stepping outside of the situation to consider the nature of our thinking and being in the world. Although the focus is on ‘practice’, there’s as much here about understanding the self as about the actions that are produced.
I remember reading Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman while I was doing my teacher training. I can’t remember whether it was a set text or not, but it really helped me become a more reflexive educator.
The third thing to consider is the concept of a practice performance. Because as practitioners we’re part of a particular context, we can think about our practice as a form of performance. As such, we use and apply what we’ve learned in real-life situations.
I asked ChatGPT to bring this to life to me a bit, and it suggested:
In a business consulting scenario, imagine you’re helping a company with a major organisational change like implementing new technology. You use your skills and knowledge in change management, such as assessing the company’s readiness and strategising to overcome challenges. You apply theories like Kurt Lewin’s change management model, tailoring it to the company’s specific needs. However, your approach goes beyond techniques; it’s grounded in values and ethics, ensuring transparency, employee wellbeing, and fair communication. You facilitate workshops, develop communication plans, and advise on managing resistance, continuously adapting your strategy based on feedback and changing circumstances. This practice performance involves not just executing a successful organizational change but doing so responsibly and ethically.
So, a practice performance includes:
- Applying knowledge and skills: using theoretical knowledge and practical skills in a specific context or situation.
- Adapting to different contexts: tailoring methods and approaches to suit the specific nuances and requirements of the situation at hand.
- Integrating theory and practice: combining conceptual understanding with practical application, and ensuring that actions are grounded in solid theoretical understanding.
- Ethical considerations: applying methods and practices in an ethical manner, considering the wider impacts and implications of one’s actions within the system.
- Systems Approach: In systems thinking, a practice performance should emphasise the interconnectedness of elements within the system, the dynamic nature of systems, and the potential for unintended consequences.
- Collaboration and communication: working with others effectively in communicating ideas and approaches (important in systems practice due to its typically collaborative nature).
- Outcome and impact evaluation: assessing the results and impacts of the practice, not just in terms of immediate outcomes, but also considering long-term effects and systemic changes.
Reflective and reflexive practice are also crucial to practice performance, but as anyone who knows me will testify, lists should always include an odd number of items.
To summarise, a practice performance in systems thinking is about how effectively one can apply systems concepts and methods in real-world situations while continuously learning, adapting, and maintaining ethical integrity.
Image: DALL-E 3