The second in my series of daily blogs this week in the lead up to National Mentoring Day on 27th October, today I focus on the subject of reflective practice in mentoring.
What is reflective practice?
Reflective practice is the conscious processing and application of learning from an experience in a structured way. In mentoring, it enables someone who mentors to develop themselves, their practice and their model of mentoring. It is the means to achieve and formalise learning and mentoring practice, it demonstrates professional standards and capabilities and is the route for on-going continued professional development (CPD).
Why is it important?
Reflective practice is important because it is part of good mentoring and is something the mentor should model and be encouraging; so it’s for both mentor and mentee benefit.
This could sound like an onerous and over complicated, possibly low importance task, especially when you’re a volunteer mentor giving an hour a month to someone?
If you are a volunteer mentor then it’s about having some good habits and structure to get the most out of meetings for you and your mentee and knowing you are following good practice, not operating in a vacuum from one session to the next. If you’re a paid mentor, then it is extra important because it’s your professional practice!
For my mentee
It’s important for my mentee because when he/she becomes a reflector he/she can apply new thinking, knowledge or skills to his/her future activities and actions. It helps my mentee:
accept responsibility for their own growth, change, business / organisational / job/ career growth
see a link between the effort they are putting into the sessions and the outcomes
get value from the experience
‘learn how to learn’ and be able to sustain this themselves after the mentoring has finished
For me, the mentor
It’s important for me as the mentor because I need to be very aware of how learning happens for me. It’s the dynamic, active, changing and developing part of my role, how I mentor, what my model of mentoring is. So reflective practice:
develops my skills and behaviours
highlights areas where I need more knowledge or practice
leads to greater self understanding
increases my mentee’s chances of experiencing effective mentoring with me
helps my self awareness, personal and professional development
Links to learning theory
David Kolb identified that individuals maximise their learning by working through a cycle of:
reflecting on the experience
drawing conclusions or theories about what the experience means, and
planning to test out that learning the next time they encounter the same experience
Mumford and Honey, learning experts, demonstrated that individuals tend to have a preference for one of these four elements but that everyone learns from going through the whole cycle.
Whose responsibility is it?
The answer is both. Whether you are a professionally paid mentor like me or a volunteer mentor, it is really important for you and your mentee to reflect on mentoring meetings. This helps you both to think about and understand what went well, not so well, what were the learning points, and what actions and/or changes will be made. It’s the prime way mentor and mentee learn from the mentoring experience.
Practice share - process, questioning and timeline
My job is to help the process along. The mentoring process involves reflecting back to mentees and also inviting reflection as part of the conversation. The mainstay of reflective practice is questioning.
I ask learning focused questions. They can be past, present and future focused, for example, ‘how did you do that?’, ‘what do you think/ have you observed right now about that?’, and ‘What could you do about that next time?’
I use reflective questions, particularly consequence type ones, for example, ‘why do you think that happened?’ or ‘what was it about doing it that way that worked?’ Note these are past focused.
Before we finish I pay attention to what the mentee is thinking and feeling and ask for their reflections as a means to ask them to draw conclusions.
Once we are in a cycle of mentoring meetings I invariably begin a meeting with a catch me up question to start, e.g. ‘what’s happened since we last met?’ Note I do not label their experience as good or bad, so making no assumptions and not framing it in a way that originates from my thinking and perception.
You will see that questioning for reflective practice is also on a timeline that takes the mentee from past, to present to the future, not necessarily in a straight line.
Try it for yourself
Think about a recent situation you experienced in relation to the following questions. Note they ask you to think about what happened, draw conclusions and move to potential actions:
what decisions did you make?
what went well and why?
what didn’t go so well, and why?
what was a surprise?
what challenges did you overcome and what remain
what have you learned about yourself?
what feedback did you receive (requested or unsolicited)
what insights has this given you?
what perceptions have changed for you?
if you did that again what would you do differently?
Whatever situation you are mentoring in, reflective practice is a critical part of successful mentoring for both mentor and mentee.
Let me know about your own reflections!