A wealth of research has shown how powerful reflection is for learning and development. In my own research on high-impact leadership development programs, we found learning happened through reflection activities. A focus on reflection can be a transformational design of workshop.
We have designed innovative reflection workshops and training to guide your participants through reflecting on themselves and their experience. In the world of Agile, reflection comes in the form of a formal retrospective that is done with the team after an important stage, event, or project. Please contact us to learn more about the reflection workshop or session we can lead for your group virtually or onsite. Our reflection workshop is for any kind of group (corporate, education, non-profit, etc.) and the reflection activities are designed for the specific audience of students or participants. This is a great session for a leadership program.
Are you interested in diving deep into our research on the importance of reflection for leadership learning and development? Here is the chapter on this from Root Down and Branch Out: Best Practices for Leadership Development Programs. It was this finding that motivated us to design, develop, and lead programs and workshops to help professionals and leaders reflect to learn and innovate.
Students Engage in Reflection Activities: Connecting leadership theory, their experiences, and themselves
Reflection activities emerged as a vital tool for leadership development, especially in concert with leadership action and observation. The reflection activities took many forms, such as a written journal, reacting to something a fellow participant said, or simply remaining still and thinking about a question. High quality leadership programs use reflection and activities designed to help students make meaning of their experiences as a powerful tool for leadership development and learning.
Student engagement in reflection activities happens in three ways.
- Programs engage students in written reflection activities in the form of journals, essays about readings, and other projects.
- Programs engage students in verbal reflection in reaction to discussions, questions posed, and current events.
- Programs formally engage students in completing vision and goal setting activities, and other projects to personalize the concepts to the individual.
Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.
Programs engage students in written reflection activities
When students think about something and then write about it, they can become more reflective leaders and better thinkers about leadership. I asked students what contributed significantly to their learning and development as a leader. The answer from many students was reflection. They told me numerous ways that programs enacted reflection through written activities.
Indeed, high-quality programs are able to help students apply the theory or readings to the individual students through this powerful written reflection tool. In essence, the take-home learning for programs is that reflection does not happen by accident in high-quality programs. The written reflection activities are a part of the program design and quite intentional in relation to the program content.
Some high-quality program students with a preference for learning in this way found written reflection an enjoyable part of their leadership development journey. Written reflections are an effortless action for programs to incorporate. These type of written reflections were used often throughout high-quality programs.
Programs engage students in verbal reflection
While the written reflection activities began in the mind and ended on paper or the computer screen, these verbal reflections end up being vocalized, which has a different effect. Students had to make meaning, articulate their thoughts, and speak in addition to listen to fellow students’ reflections. Many of the students were surprised by the power of reflection for their learning. Leadership development programs build these opportunities for verbal reflection throughout the program, often in every program meeting.
For many of the students, being able to hear others’ reflections and talk about it was helpful. Students also take those reflections further and turn them into ideas for possible further action. A course utilized brainstorming as a leadership activity that allowed students to think and then generate ideas, and continue to reflect on the ideas.
A good verbal reflection gets the student to wrestle with the question and their thoughts and to challenge their own assumptions. High-quality programs know that different reflections appeal to different students. Some could quietly write while many benefited from verbally reflecting. Programs engage students in verbal reflection at almost every program meeting in reaction to discussions, questions posed, and current events.
Programs formally engage students in vision and goal setting activities
The third action is programs formally engage students in completing vision and goal setting activities, and other projects to personalize the concepts to the individual. This action entailed a significant reflection project where students had to think about something big and think about it in depth and detail. Ultimately, there should be a desired ends to leadership projects, and the vision and goal setting reflection activities help students to think about the ends.
Indeed, the practice of formulating vision and planning goals is a critical element to many ways of thinking about leadership. It is also a reflective activity that requires that leaders reach inside themselves. High-quality programs show students how to create visions and goals through reflective activities.
Other programs I studied also introduced vision formulation and goal setting to their students. They also used a mission statement to compliment this whole process of helping students think about the big and future things. All of the high-quality programs I investigated helped students to think about their future and what they wanted to accomplish with their leadership skills. The programs would formally engage students in completing vision and corresponding goal setting activities as well as other projects to personalize the concepts to the individual by thinking about the future in an intentional way.
Effects on Students
There are two student learning and leadership development outcomes from students who engage in reflection activities.
- First, students learn more about themselves, develop future visions and goals, and become more purposeful with being themselves and making congruent decisions.
- Second, students develop a meaningful leadership philosophy, model, or framework to analyze their own thoughts and actions to ultimately integrate improvements in their life and leadership.
The first effect is that students learn more about themselves, develop future visions and goals, and become more purposeful with being themselves and making congruent decisions. The reflection activities help the students to learn new things about themselves that they can use to develop their own future vision. Ultimately they become purposeful and make decisions congruent with who they are and where they want to go.
This effect from reflection starts with the students’ self knowledge and learning about themselves. Throughout my experience interviewing students and asking them to reflect on their leadership program experience and how they learned and developed as a leader as a result, I was invariably impressed with how well the students were able to make meaning of what they learned about themselves as leaders because of the program or particular program activities. The vision and goal setting reflection activities in the programs helped students to harness who they are, what they are about, and what they want to do with their leadership.
Clearly, the small reflection activities that were happening throughout the program in terms of short journaling, thinking about a question, or having a short discussion had positive effects for the students. Positive effects were also encountered by students who did significant reflection projects. These larger projects took more time and were often the capstone project of the week retreat or course. They were designed to help the students to plan their future and think about the right direction and path in their lives.
Because of the designed reflection that happens in the program, students learn more about themselves. Students develop future visions and goals. Students develop a meaningful leadership philosophy, model, or framework to analyze their own thoughts and actions to ultimately integrate improvements in their life and leadership. This effect is the second of the students engage in reflection activities attribute and is critical in helping students to connect the leadership theory they were learning to their experiences and integrate into their leadership practice.
After exposure to leadership theory and a scholarly ways of looking at leadership, approaching it as part art and part science, students leave with a new view on leadership and a new way to think and solve problems. This concept of students getting a framework to use to improve their thinking and action for leadership and living was a common outcome across programs.
Because of this reflective experience, students think about who they are and the journey that they will take to become that person. Oftentimes, students become more focused on the journey than the destination. They became more leadership process-focused.
Reflection Workshop & Reflection Activities Conclusion
Leadership development programs are remarkable in their focus on the student as leader and as person. The program is a deeply personal experience in public with fellow learners. Thinking hard about leadership, oneself, and how one can lead in life is significant “stuff.” It was transformative for many of the students quoted. The leadership program was a life-shaping event.
What is a reflective practice? It can make a big difference in your work as well as your own learning and development. For help designing, creating, and implementing your own reflection workshop, reach out to us today online. Looking for more innovation training resources, tips, and more? Keep reading the Innovation Training blog!