Reflection is a method for aiding and reinforcing learning, used in education and professional development for nurses. This article dives into what Gibb’s reflective cycle is, and invaluable guidance on theoretical approaches and best practices; so you can improve your learning and development in real life.
Becoming a nurse you should find it easy to complete the sentence: ‘my course would be so much better if only . . .’ This is because most students will have at least one idea of how their programme could be improved. Similarly many students will be able to identify easily what a particular lecturer or mentor needs to do in order to be better at their job. We all engage in the kinds of conversations in which the shortcomings of systems, organisations or other people are identified and where simple solutions for making things better are suggested. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said in relation to ourselves: indeed, we rarely engage in conversations that identify our own shortcomings, let alone provide solutions for improving our performance as nurses. If nothing else, reflection provides an opportunity to review the effects and consequences of our behaviour and actions. By using a structured form of reflection it can enable you to identify your role in an incident and to help you to begin to understand how the incident might have been avoided altogether. From this it will hopefully consent to construct a plan of action to assist you to a personal and professional development.
To develop is to improve. Development occurs when things can be said to have improved. Development is intimately bound with thinking; thinking about the way things are now and thinking about the way things might be improved: and to engage in thinking about things in this way is to engage in reflection. Thus reflection is an essential feature of development, and as suggested above, most of us engage with this type of activity on an everyday basis. We might not normally call this ‘reflection’ but when we think about how things are and how they might be improved we are reflecting on what is and what might be.
Personal development is personal improvement, while professional development involves improving experiences of health and nursing care for patients. So in a professional sense, engaging with reflection (i.e., thinking about how things are and thinking about how they might be improved for patients) must be accompanied by action (i.e., actually doing something in an attempt to make things better for patients). Thus reflection is an integral part of personal and professional development.
Gibbs Model Of Reflection
The simple cyclical structure of Gibbs’ model makes it easy to use and popular among nurses, indeed it is the model Julia has previously used for assignment purposes. It is useful as it emphasises the link between reflection and action (and this can assist in setting a personal development plan). However, it neither encourages consideration of other people in (or affected by) the event nor does it requires examination of motives, values, knowledge, or congruence between thoughts and actions. While action-based and thus relevant for professional development it may not encourage deeper reflection of self and thus may be limited in terms of personal development (see Figure 13.1).
Reflective Journal Nursing
A deeper understanding of ourselves can be achieved through writing. Written reflection is a common theme in the literature as a way of reflecting on action but it is strewn with confusing language. There are learning logs, journals, portfolios, structured accounts, reflective models, reflective reviews and personal diaries. Some reflective writing is public (e.g., a portfolio for an assignment) while other writing is private (e.g., a diary). Through writing, nurses can be encouraged to reflect on critical incidents from practice (I prefer the term ‘stories of experience’). These stories are usually prompted by some emotional or ethical discomfort (e.g. Bolton 2005, Burns and Bulman 2000, Crathern 1998, Ghaye and Lillyman 2006, Glaze 2002, Gould and Baldwin 2004, Johns 2006, Moon 2004, Taylor 2006). Stories can focus on positive or negative experiences and allow you the chance to view events from a distance, considering:
• What happened, paying attention to the context and detail of the story.
• What you did and why you did it.
• What you felt about the experience and how this may connect with past experiences.
• What you have learned about yourself, others, your practice.
• What were the gaps in your knowledge, attitudes and skills.
• What could be done differently.
• How your practice has changed now you have read or considered a different way of working.