Many other professions such as education, medicine, nursing and social work have already determined that reflective practice is an essential professional competency. We have explained how reflective practice relates to the CPD Tool, but it is much broader than that. As we saw in the section called What is Reflective Practice?, reflection is necessary to learn from experience and engaging in reflective practice is critical for increasing your proficiency level in a given area, improving your practice and feeling satisfaction in your job. Reflective practice helps you get the most out of your CPD learning activities, fosters life-long learning and creates direct benefits to you and your practice, as you will see in this section.
Reflective Practice Fosters Transformational and Life-Long Learning
As you saw in the last section, increasing your proficiency level (i.e., moving from doing to excelling) requires experience and reflection on that experience. By being a reflective practitioner, you also learn how to learn. You learn how to identify your learning needs and educational goals, to self-assess your strengths and areas for improvement, and to become an effective self-directed learner, which will all help you throughout your career and your professional development.
Reflective practice will assist you in choosing appropriate CPD learning activities that contribute to your short and long-term educational goals as well as your career aspirations. Reflective practice will also help you get the most out of these activities because it fosters transformational learning. As the name suggests, transformational learning implies the integration of what is learned to transform the learner. In developing your practice, transformation implies moving beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge and skills to question the assumptions, values and perspectives that influence the decisions you make in practice.
For example, you attend a two-hour online CPD learning activity on client communication. You watch the course sitting in your office. For the sake of this example, we will assume that you do not multitask and answer emails as you watch or listen to the course. After the course is over, you go back to your day, not taking the time to reflect (you are very busy). Do you think that you will then apply what you have learned to your practice? Now, imagine that as a requirement of the course you are asked to answer some reflective questions about what you learned, how your perspective has changed and how you will change your practice as a result of that learning, and you take the time to genuinely reflect on these questions. Do you think there is a better chance that you will apply what you have learned to your practice?
The course also asks you some questions about whether the online format worked for you and to explain why it did or not. Were you were easily distracted as you were watching? Would it have helped if you had quizzes along the way to keep you engaged? Would you have paid more attention if you had written materials to follow along and to make notes? Would you have preferred to have written materials only? Do you learn by watching someone speak or do you learn better by reading?
Asking yourself these questions helps you get to know yourself as a learner — how do you learn best? It may be that you purposefully choose CPD learning activities that best suit your learning style, or that you decide to challenge yourself occasionally to take a course that caters to a different learning style so that you can improve how you learn. Conscious reflection thus helps you learn how to learn.
Reflective Practice Improves Performance and Creativity
One of the dangers of gaining experience and expertise is becoming set in our ways and expecting practice situations and people (whether they are clients or colleagues) to happen and behave a certain way. By developing the ability to systematically question our assumptions, we avoid neglecting or dismissing unexpected behaviours and situations that are inconsistent with our expectations and assumptions. Reflective practice helps to avoid developing gaps such as missing a significant element, misinterpreting a situation or misunderstanding a client’s instructions.
Reflective practice also prevents you from getting caught in a rut in your practice routines and tried-and-true practices and procedures; while these may provide consistency, efficiency and reassurance, the danger of following these unconsciously is that you miss some elements when the situations you encounter are not consistent with your expectations. You may then miss the opportunity to think creatively in the face of this unexpected situation.
Reflective practice also encourages you to think about mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn. Contrary to popular belief, practice does not make perfect on its own. Reflection is necessary to learn and improve. Michael Lang encourages us to operate in the groove instead of a rut:
“Operating in the groove, we are curious, undeterred by failure, reflective and open to new ideas. Reflective practice is a means for achieving this state – being unself-conscious enough to see our struggles as opportunities for new learning. As reflective practitioners, we temper ego, self-assurance, and professional certainty to seek fresh perspectives.”
(Lang, 2019, at 12)
Finally, reflection can also help you to develop your ability to learn from constructive criticism and feedback, instead of becoming defensive about feedback given to you. Because reflective practice fosters a continuous improvement or growth mindset, reflective practitioners welcome feedback as opportunities to learn and improve.
It is Not Hard or Time Consuming
Reflective practice is not a hard skill to learn. You undoubtedly already have some reflective capacity and have reflected numerous times in your professional and personal life. It is true that some people are more comfortable systematically reflecting than others, but anyone can learn how to become more effectively and affectively reflective. In fact, this is not a choice for professionals; developing a systematic practice of reflection — a reflective practice competency — is critical to developing and maintaining the type of multi-faceted professional competence that is now required for the legal professional of today and tomorrow.