Reflective image of the day


“Dreams have only one owner at a time. That’s why dreamers are lonely.”

Reflection: the art of noticing

“What do you notice?”

A small, but powerful question, when you involve people in some self-reflection.

We are putting together a workshop for mental health service providers at the end of the month and part of the process during the workshop is to encourage and support participants to ‘stay with their hearts’ and not to too quickly seek out solutions to issues raised during the workshop.

It’s tricky to ask people to reflect when they are not always open to, nor experienced in, reflective processes – some are more naturally adept at reflecting than others.

The art of reflection can be viewed as the art of noticing. You can notice things around you by looking, hearing, feeling, tasting, and so on. You can also notice things within: what are you feeling? resisting? holding some tension about? loving? dreaming about?

Andrew LaRowe beautifully explains some of his noticing in his comment on Elizabeth Cottrell’s blog post about noticing:

In all of my years of walking down the beach looking for seashells, I had never found a sharks tooth until the day someone taught me how to look for them. I remember the first one I found after that, and how easy it became to pick them out as I walked along. Within a few months and several trips to the beach, I literally had collected hundreds of sharks teeth. If a person can learn to see sharks teeth in the sand, then I believe we can guide ourselves to notice the many things in life that need not pass by like ships in the night (July 10, 2011).

How do you cultivate this process of noticing? Practice, practice, practice! Nothing is more habit-forming than practicing something regularly.

Paper, pen, postPaper, Pen, Post by margoc.

Throughout this project, I’ve come to rely on our team meetings and phone conversations as a way to stay with the process and its emergent nature, as it keeps me in a ‘noticing mode’. It keeps me connected and open to ideas (or the echo of ideas, that is, before they fully form and come into view). I have also taken up my pen and paper journaling again, which has really added another dimension to my process of reflecting (and ‘staying with the question’ – whatever that has come to mean for me from time to time).

Often there’s a crossover between reflection and feedback. While these two processes are useful together, there’s a need to be careful not to mix them up. Feedback is more about returning information in a situation (think of feedback in a sound system, for example). I explain reflection further on in this post.

There’s also parallels between reflecting and debriefing. Again, you need to be aware of when you are reflecting and when you are debriefing.

I like to think of debriefing as a time to download and outwardly express thoughts, feelings, concerns, experiences. How do you think that went? What did you notice about X’s reaction? It was good you prompted me when…, and so on. There’s an instructive sense to debriefing, as in gaining knowledge and understanding.

Reflecting tends to be more inward: what will I take away from this experience? How will I connect this to future activities? What does this mean for me in the bigger picture? How would I do things differently next time? What did I notice about me? There’s a consequential sense to reflection, as in deepening understandings and follow-on actions.

The debrief unpacks to experience; the reflection connects it to the bigger picture.

And so, here’s Elizabeth Cottrell’s question to finish:

What do YOU notice? What do you think it’s saying about who you are and what you value?


Some further reading:

Jennifer Stanchfield, 2011, Reflective Practice Versus Debriefing, The Inspired Educator Blog.

Joanne Roebuck, 2007, Reflexive practice: to enhance student learning. Journal of Learning Design, 2 (1). pp. 77-91.

Prpic, J. (2005) Managing academic change through reflexive practice: A quest for new views. Research and Development in Higher Education, 28, 399–- 406.


Views from the inside: A heuristic inquiry

FlowFlow by Boofalo Blues

This whole train of experiencing, and the meanings that I have thus far discovered in it, seem to have launched me on a process which is both fascinating and at times a little frightening. It seems to mean letting my experiences carry me on, in a direction which appears to be forward, toward goals that I can but dimly define, as I try to understand at least the current meaning of that experience. The sensation is that of floating with a complex stream of experience, with the fascinating possibility of trying to comprehend its ever-changing complexity. —Carl Rogers, 1952

I like this note from Rogers’ essay. For me, it goes to the heart of what we experience and how we learn through our experiences (given experiential learning theories are most often based on Rogers’ work). It also reminds me of one of the presentations from the ALARA conference held in Sydney last week, where Joy Murray, one of the presenters, talked about her use of Cybernetics to best describe her own experiences in the world. She made the point that we knit our use of theories and research to our direct lived experiences as a way to help us explain, or give some language to what we experience and how we make meaning of those experiences. We can only ever really account for our own experiences, others account for their own, in their own way, as they need to.

Joy was co-presenting with three community members with whom she had been working to develop a leadership program that was built on community needs and driven by community wishes (i.e. a community steering group was set up to “manage” the program itself). The project was a great example of supporting emergent community needs, developing empowered people and addressing issues at the local level.

As I’ve worked on this Aboriginal mental health service provision project over the last 8 months, I’ve come to focus more and more on my personal journey as a “researcher”. I remember saying early on in the year (e.g. Brown’s TED talk resonated strongly with me) that I expected to be changed in some way by working on the project. And as Rogers says, realising the “sensation … of floating with a complex stream of experience, with the fascinating possibility of trying to comprehend its ever-changing complexity”!

We cannot ignore our experiences, most especially when we “research”. Dave Hiles begins his 2001 essay, “Heuristic Inquiry and Transpersonal Research”, with a quote from Braud and Anderson (1998, p.3):

Many of the most significant and exciting life events and extraordinary experiences – moments of clarity, illumination, and healing – have been systematically excluded from conventional research.

I have heard it said that to do research that is sustainable and transformative, the research must “own us”.  Bruce Douglass & Clark Moustakas (1985) call heuristic inquiry “the internal search to know”.

And so I enter – more knowingly than ever before – a journey of heuristic inquiry.


Further reading

Smith, MK (1997, 2004) ‘Carl Rogers and informal education’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. [ Last update: May 29, 2012]

Rogers, C & Freiberg, HJ (1993) Freedom to Learn (3rd edn.), New York: Merrill

Joy co-published a book with the abovementioned community members, which captures their own experiences of the community leadership project:

Murray J, Rash J-L, Creaton R, Cooley P and McClelland D (2009), Views from the inside: Participant Perspectives on Community Leadership. CommonGround Publishing Pty Ltd., Victoria.

More about the book:

In so doing the book explores the relationship between: one person’s theory; a community development program in practice; and real life experience. It does this not through a voice of authority commenting on people’s lived experience and attempting to relate this to the theory, but by showing what the program meant to the project leader and what it meant to each of the four participants. It tries to demonstrate, but not explain, how these disparate meanings connected, or otherwise, with the theory that the project leader believed she was applying; and how in the end all knowledge is personal, built up over a life time and stitched together with the threads of our relationships in whatever environment we happen to inhabit.

Hiles, D (2001), Heuristic Inquiry and Transpersonal Research, paper presented to CCPE, London UK, October 2001. Available:

Braud, W & Anderson, R (Eds) (1998) Transpersonal Research Methods for the Social Sciences: Honoring human experience. Sage

Douglass, B & Moustakas, C (1985), Heuristic inquiry: the internal search to know, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, SUMMER 1985, vol. 25, no. 3, 39-55

Moustakas, C (1990) Heuristic Research: Design, methodology and applications. Sage


Learning design and inquiry into teaching and learning

I’ve begun curating a topic on called “Learning design and inquiry into teaching and learning“.

The theme is: How do we learn? Teach? Design for learning? What makes learning memorable, sustainable and effective?

I’m particularly interested in learning design research in its many guises, along with commentary and critique around learning design issues and theories.

If you have suggestions and would like to share them, please do!

2012 Action Learning, Action Research Association (ALARA) Conference

The Action Learning, Action Research Association (ALARA) annual conference is less than three weeks away. It will be held at the Sebel Hotel in Sydney over two days, 3rd and 4th of September, 2012.

This year’s conference focuses on “Achieving Sustainable Outcomes through Dialogue and Engagement” and the presentations cover a wide range of topics.

ALARA conference program 2012

I am presenting with my project colleagues, Dr Michael Wright and Tanya Jones, along with some of the community members with whom we’ve been working over the last 7 months. Our presentation will reflect the process through which we’ve engaged community members to talk more deeply about the issues they’ve faced to do with mental health service provision. We will set the scene for conference participants to experience a little of what we’ve attempted during the community group sessions and hope we will also learn from their participatory action research (PAR) experiences!

I’ve been an ALARA member now since 2005 and have found the Association to be incredibly supportive of its members. As always, conferences enable networking and (re)connections that help to both sustain the Association as well as AL and AR practitioners, and to share their work and experiences in (and of) the field.

Hope to see you there!