Reflecting on Reflection

July 3, 2014

By: Allison Sheehan

I am the youngest of four children. I have one older brother and two older sisters. We are all about two years apart, which made for an eventful childhood (more so for our parents than for us, no doubt), and left me with memories and lessons I’ll never forget.

As the youngest, I learned a lot from watching and listening to my siblings. I learned from my sisters that I probably shouldn’t steal the remote from my brother while he was watching TV, unless I wanted a fight. I learned from my sister how to do a flip turn properly, so my swim coach wouldn’t yell at me at practice, and so I wouldn’t get disqualified in a race. I learned from listening to all of my siblings certain things I shouldn’t say or do unless I wanted to get in trouble with my parents. And when I got to high school and college, I knew from them which classes were most beneficial, which teachers to avoid, and which interesting programs I should become involved in. While it may seem that all I did was follow in my siblings’ footsteps—that learning from them inhibited learning by myself—I would have to disagree. Because I was able to avoid some of the mistakes they made, I was able to jump over one roadblock and get stuck in one of my own. For example, I may have known which classes to sign up for, but I still needed to figure out for myself how to best succeed in them. And when I had a question, I could generally use the insights from one of them to help me figure it out. Sharing our successes and struggles with one another enabled us to use each other’s previous experiences to help one another grow and flourish. At last week’s Lunch and Learn, Chris Myers, PhD student in Management & Organizations, explained that “sharing experiences and reflecting jointly with others enhances individual learning.” By sharing, we are able to learn vicariously through the person we’re sharing with.

The power of reflecting and sharing holds true outside of the simple story of my childhood. Chris gave many examples of the power of group sharing and reflections in the medical world. His dissertation research focuses on how people can learn vicariously through others as a source of positive organizational improvement, specifically using data from air medical transportation. One example that really stuck with me was a case that happened during one of the air flights he was observing. The victim had been impaled by bicycle handlebars, and the responding nurses knew how to handle the situation because of a similar incident, when a pregnant woman had been impaled by a microphone (both she and her baby were successfully saved). Later when Chris asked them about the story of the pregnant woman, they told him they hadn’t been responders for that accident, but because they had heard about the story from their colleagues and listened to how these colleagues helped her, they knew how to help this bicycle victim. If people did not share their successes and failures with one another, there wouldn’t be as many success stories like this one. When people share and reflect on successes, strategies and efforts are reinforced for both the doer and the listeners. When people share and reflect on failures, assumptions and process gaps can be highlighted, and questions can be asked so both parties can learn from the situation. Either way, sharing and reflecting can’t hurt anyone, but can only enhance or maintain learning.

Reflection is also important on an individual level. It’s important to take a break from the action and think about your day or week. According to Chris, making sure to highlight both successes and failures in your journal, and describing why you think certain situations happened, will help you grow as an individual. It is easy to overlook actions that we simply do each day, but taking the time to acknowledge them has shown to improve productivity. And if you have the opportunity to share a success or failure with others, take the opportunity to learn from yourself and others, while they also learn from you.

Reflection allows for “learning from doing and thinking.” Whether you’re reflecting and sharing as a sibling, athlete, nurse, or businessperson, everyone can benefit from shared learning.

Allison just finished her freshman year in the College of Literature, Science, & the Arts. She heard about the Center from a Peer Advisor and was drawn to it because of its new and unique way of looking at organizations. Now she is part of the Social Media and Blogging Team as a Summer Fellow. She is excited to be a part of the fellows program and the environment and to learn about all of the aspects of the Center’s work, while discovering how to put positive meaning and leadership into the workplace.