Self-reflective exercises in Study and Work

In recent years, “self-reflective exercises” seem to be the norm both in schools and in the workplace.

Things seem to move at a faster rate in the work place than in schools – considering that employees themselves are being asked to evaluate themselves before the work appraisal sessions themselves while students are still being assessed by their teachers through tests and exams. However, the educational sector is catching up in areas of assessment as many educational institutions are moving from teacher-centered learning to student-centric learning. Examinations and tests are slowly being edged out to give room for more realistic assessment sessions such as experiential learning, reflective thinking exercises and group collaboration development opportunities.

This proves to be good news for both students and employers, since the latter is always looking for job candidates with strong initiatives. This can easily be seen in job ads where words alluding to such abilities such as “independent worker”, “able to work independently” and “motivation” can be commonly seen. The fact that most companies still use such terms for the past few years indicates a particular scenario: that job candidates of such caliber are still lacking and that the school are still not successfully transforming academic students to corporate professionals. But no educators or educational institutions should be faulted for this current trend. It’s not the quality of education that has deteriorated but the education paradigm that has changed. Unlike in the past where students merely take down notes and learn by rote, they are now required to be self-directed learners and independent thinkers. Thinking and learning often goes together, and educators are now shifting the onus of learning onto the students themselves, which it should be all along.

What this implies is that educators should become more of a facilitator to direct discussion towards students’ learning, coming up with interesting contemporary examples to engage the students’ interest in the subjects that they are learning, designing lesson plans that caters to all students while at the same time, communicating with the individual students enough to understand their distinct learning styles and enabling them to learn best. In another words, educators are now group facilitators, creative designers, expressive storytellers, avid writers, reflective questioners and learning collaborators all rolled into one. While all this might seem challenging, the educators who succeed in doing well will be ones who are able to reach out to all students with varying learning abilities and who enable each student to reach his or her fullest potential.

Students – on the other hand – should be learning in ways that are specific to their learning styles, and drawing insights from the lessons based on their own understanding of what is being taught. They should be able to come up with new ideas through group collaborations to solve issues encountered during a project with their teacher’s minimal interruptions. In another words, students should be able to assess a particular project, anticipate what problems will be encountered and resolve it with the collaboration of their project mates, and not through heavy reliance on their teachers.  Emphasis will now be on their problem-solving aptitude and abilities and not so much on instructional tasks.  In an English language class, except for younger students, the educator should not be putting in time asking students to write down definitions of words as he reads them out. Rather, he should ask students to check the words in their dictionaries and after they have got a grasp of the meaning of the words, discuss on the various contexts of which the words are used. This maximises the learning time during the lessons. Students should also be given reflective questions during or at the end of the lessons for them to write their thoughts down.

It’s this reflective exercise that enables students to assess themselves. This is also a popular exercise commonly implemented in lessons in recent years. Educators should include this during lessons to encourage students to explore their own thinking as they are learning. This – in and of itself – is a form of self-exploration which will enable them to do well not only in the work place but in life as well. So, what types of questions are suitable for students to ask themselves to let them know themselves better in terms of their thought process and working styles? Some examples are as follows:

  • What is the factor that enabled me to communicate with my friends during the lesson today? Why is that so?
  • What have I learnt today that I can apply into my daily life?
  • What is a skill that I have learnt today that I can use in everyday situations?
  • Name one incident that happened in class today and write about what I can learn from it.
  • Based on what I have learnt today during the lesson, think of another way that I can learn the subject. Write about this learning process and why it works for me.
  • Based on the topic that I have learnt, think of a subsequent topic I will like to learn next and explain why. I need not follow the order of the chapters as stated in the textbook (if there is any) and I should not.

When students start to answer such reflective questions from secondary level onwards (twelve years old and older), they will be transformed from passive listeners to active explorers, drawing answers from within themselves. They will internalise this practice over time and as it becomes habitual, they will bring such reflective exercises into the workplace . However, the questions will be somewhat different. Some examples are given below. Working professionals might be able to draw some insights from these examples. What differs about the reflective questions for working professionals is that it need not be a daily or even weekly exercise, unlike in school settings where they can be so. The questions below can be asked at anytime – although the faster they are answered, the better. Although some questions may require some working time in the office to understand the corporate culture before they can be answered, some can be answered almost immediately.

  • What is my communication style? Write about it, with descriptions of several incidents that illustrate this.
  • What is my conflict management style? Write about it with descriptions of several incidents to illustrate this.
  • What is the communication style of my boss? Is it face-to-face, email or MSN? How can I best communicate with him/her?
  • What are the different communicating styles of my colleagues? Write about it, with descriptions of several incidents to illustrate this.
  • Does my communication style conflict with any of my colleagues? If so, write about what I can do about it.
  • Does my conflict management style conflict with any of my colleagues? If so, write about what I can do about it.
  • What are the issues that I have encountered in my current job? Write about them, including any solutions that I can think of.
  • Do I need a complete career change at this point in time? Write my thoughts.
  • Am I more suited to be a corporate professional, an entrepreneur or a freelancer? Write my thoughts.

Only by inculcating the habit of self-reflection exercises after sessions of experiential learning can students really close the gap between enhancing classroom learning and achieving workplace excellence. In fact, a lifelong practice of such self-reflective exercises will enable a student to carve out a career path for themselves in life and not let their dreams be lost through a lifetime of adherence to instructions, resignations and despair.

For educators, if you have a heart for your students, try out the technique above for it will guide them and enrich their lives immensely. For employers, implementing self-reflective exercises in the offices can enhance work productivity and enable each employee to go from strength to strength.

Self-reflective exercises are -in a way- a portal to living in the moment, applying mindfulness to our daily living.

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