We were discussing reflective practice with the Learning Team at Tate Liverpool when it became apparent that more ‘cups of tea with Deborah’ were required. Finding the time to chat with colleagues in a relaxed way, looking at programming decisions from different perspectives and feeding the all important evidence base into that process is often a challenge. I stole Deborah’s response for the title of this piece!
So how do we structure reflective practice so it becomes part of our regular practice? How do we recognise that ‘down time’ (your own cup of tea or a shared one), is just as important as focused evaluation? Why can it be so difficult to protect space for either of these elements in a delivery driven environment, despite evidence it improves performance?
Some of the findings coming from the Circuit programme are not necessarily new and many overlap with effective project management, but that doesn’t make them less valid. And, as with reflective practice generally, looking at something again can bring new insights. Here are a few commonalities that we have discovered:
If it’s in the calendar it is more likely to happen. It makes it exist in peoples’ minds and articulates it as a shared responsibility. Plan regular reflective meetings, in advance, throughout the project, not just at the end and invite a variety of stakeholders along.
Some people have a reaction to the term reflective practice. It’s perhaps not performance based enough (see point above). They may have experienced previous ineffective meetings under this title. Everyone’s busy; nobody can afford to ‘waste’ time. Name the meeting something else. Call it a design session, a brainstorm, a focus group. All of these relate to different practices, but if it gets people in the room, use it. If all else fails, make the invitation for tea and cake (just ask Deborah first).
Reflective practice is just that – a practice – with it’s own development, theory and methodology. Even if there is someone in your team who is experienced in this area, it can help to bring in an external facilitator, to support the process and allow everyone to step back, look, think and react differently to what is likely to be work that is very close and at times personal to them. Work with an artist, a business consultant, a scientist. Sometimes the most important aspect of reflection is the person holding the mirror.
Learn from others as much as possible. Not just in our own sector, which can be hard enough when we are delivery focused, but across sectors. What nourishes us in our non-work time also has an impact on our work, even subconsciously. Learn ‘up’ as well as ‘down’. Don’t be closed to learning because your experience or job title may suggest a specific ‘level’ of expertise. I regularly hear from colleagues whose most inspiring aspect of working with young people is their uninhibited thinking. Learn from success and learn even more from failure.
We can underestimate the importance of ritual to both learning and conditions that support learning, such as reflection and evaluation. Think of ways to make reflective practice an enjoyable and comfortable ritual. One that you look forward to, like a good cup of tea.