It’s All About the Questions

Reflective processing is about diversity of thinking and engaging your mind deliberately in order to grow and improve. It’s at the core of creativity, empathy, analysis, open-mindedness, problem solving, and goal setting. Reflective thinking is a skill used throughout one’s career, and if nurtured, and sharpened through practice, can lead to improved employability and ongoing career growth.

Most of the time, I operate on auto-pilot; following a set pattern of daily routines. From a professional perspective, reflective thinking is a purposeful way of thinking (versus daydreaming) about experiences in order to learn from them. It involves reflecting upon emotions, thoughts, and behavior at a specific moment in time, and asking questions like:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What was my role in what happened?
  • Why did I do or not do something?
  • How did I feel as a result of my actions or the actions of someone else?
  • What did I learn from this experience?
  • What will I do differently next time?

There are numerous models for reflective practice. Each with their own perspectives, strengths, weaknesses and suitability for a specific context.

Donald Schon’s Reflective Model (two points of action – reflection in action and reflection after action), is best suited to my professional role as a human services professional. I have tailored this model to meet my needs by including a third point of action – reflection before action. I believe reflective thinking completed before taking action, is a valuable learning experience in itself. For example, a best practice I follow is to spend time reflecting upon potential challenges I may encounter before providing services as a Horticultural Therapist. Considering required safety precautions before working with plant material, using tools, choosing a specific location for a guided walk, and analyzing information collected from a client’s assessments before formulating goals with them, prepares me to provide the most appropriate, safe, and client-centred services.

Gary Rolfe’s model of reflection, uses the stem questions What, So What, and Now What. This model is very simple for me to understand and apply. An example of how I apply this model is to reading a book. As I’m reading, I highlight quotes and sections of information that captivate my attention and curiosity (the what). After I’ve finished reading the book, I go back and reflect upon the material I have highlighted in order to gain a deeper understanding of its significance to me (the so what). Reflecting upon its significance a second time, plants the seeds for further exploration how I can apply it to some aspect of my life going forward (the now what).

I aspire to be a critically reflective educator. Stephen Brookfield’s four lenses Model of Reflection inspires me to grow towards that. Brookfield’s model is based upon four lens the educator must look through.

  • the autobiographical lens – I reflect upon my previous experiences as a learner, including what has and hasn’t worked for me in the past.
  • the students’ eyes lens – I use check-out questions and feedback surveys to help me understand how participants experience the courses and trainings I provide. From time to time, it’s important for me to be a student as well, so I can experience learning from the student’s perspective.
  • the peer experience lens – I welcome feedback from my peers. Constructive feedback inspires me to hone my facilitation skills and pursue ongoing professional development.
  • the theoretical literature lens – When I reflect upon pedagogic research and the sum information gained from the first three lens, I’m able to identify strategies that help me improve the content for my courses, and achieve my goal to be a reflective educator.

In my continuing education courses for Horticultural Therapy, I share with participants a model I use for resolving ethical dilemmas. It’s inspired by Graham Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle model which includes six stages of reflection including:

  1. Description of the experience
  2. Feelings and thoughts about the experience
  3. Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
  4. Analysis to make sense of the situation
  5. Conclusion about what was learned and what could have been done differently
  6. Action plan for how to deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes that can be implemented

The model I use to help me resolve ethical dilemmas includes these seven stages:

  1. Recognize that an ethical dilemma exists.
  2. Identify all of the parties involved, the facts, relevant ethical issues, and the corresponding pertinent ethical principles. (In the context of my work as a Horticultural Therapist, I use the Horticultural Therapy Practitioner Code of Ethics in tandem with my model.)
  3. Examine the risks and benefits of each alternative action that can be taken.
  4. Choose an action based upon the outcome of an examination of the benefits and risks of each potential action.
  5. Take action and be willing to correct for any negative consequences that might occur as a result of the action(s) taken.
  6. Evaluate the results.
  7. Learn from the situation.

I’m preparing to launch a new continuing education course called Reflective Practice for Reflective Practitioners. It’s a course to help participants develop reflective thinking skills. Throughout the course we practice applying reflective processing through a variety of instruments like ethical dilemma resolution, metaphors, creative writing, photography, film, and personal development. Many of the activities and assignments have a horticultural and/or nature-based theme to them.

To register for this course, or any of my other trainings, you can contact me at

©Cliff Thorbes 2022

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