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Reflection Summary

The Key To Learning & Application.

Reflecting is a blind spot for many leaders.  They may be fine at leading games, initiatives, camping trips, and rope activities.  But sitting down with a group to talk about "what it all means" tends to be particularly difficult and intimidating.

Perhaps because it is so important, or because a lot of people are making a big deal out of it nowadays, the problems leaders have with reflecting are increased.  Here are a few thoughts that should help in the struggle to gain skills with this critical tool.

Reflecting should not be looked upon as a separate activity.  Rather, it is connected to the whole of the Scouting experience which includes any pre-activity and briefing work, as well as the contents of the Scouting activity itself.  All during an activity the leader scans the group for appropriateness of the activities and for substantive information that can be useful during a group discussion.

Bear in mind that it is common for Scouting leaders to come away from an experience feeling that it all worked perfectly, and everyone did everything, only to find a whole set of complications.  Missing is the perspective of the student who didn't feel supported, or another who felt railroaded.  Often, our scanning will miss these things.

The reflecting time allows the group to come forth with their perceptions and conflicts.  How much better it is for the group to have these issues emerge in a group talk session than in the hallway, or in a one-on-one discussion with the leader.   Talking things out in the group gives the participants the opportunity to gain strength, and become a more integral part of the change process.

Reflecting On A Team Building Activity or Game:

One way to accept the reflecting process is to see it as an initiative. Use the principles of initiatives to talk about initiative oriented experiences.  Consider the following elements of initiatives that relate to reflecting:

bulletEveryone participates.
bulletFull Value Contract is in effect.
bulletSafety/Trust issues are paramount.
bulletThe leader provides the structure for the activity, but relies on the group to provide the solution.
bulletThe experience is focused on achieving positive outcomes.
bulletThe group focuses on issues it's able to handle.
bulletGroup and individual issues are seen as problems to be solved.
bulletLeaders and participants are bonded by their experience together.
bulletEmphasis is on the present experience.
bulletReflecting takes place after every group experience or whenever necessary.
bulletParticipants are the agents for their own change, and gradually need to take more responsibility for their learning.

We must learn to be collectors of information, both cognitive and affective: what people do, how they feel, and how the group feels.  Ease with leading the activities helps us with being open to these responses.  The more second nature they ate, the more thought we can put into our collections.  This is an important bedrock issue, freeing us up to see, hear, and feel.  Carry a notebook, or make it a habit to sit down at night and go over the day's events.  Think through the work of each of your participants. 

It's a tough discipline because in Scouting work, it's easy to concentrate on the more dramatic episodes, missing the less obvious, but perhaps more important, interactions.   Adhering to the discipline of reviewing each and every person helps you counteract that tendency. 

Building your collection is better when you can do it in concert with a co-leader.   They will see things you don't see, and vise versa. 

Occasional use of video tape can aid in the collecting.  Participants tend to like it - everyone wants to see themselves on the silver screen! 

Doing something with what you collect is the next step.  The trick is how to fit it into the initiative-oriented reflection.  Again, does initiative require that the leader be passive? 

There's nothing that says the leader can't participate.  "Relying on the group to provide the solution," could be construed as that, but in reflecting, especially in some difficult, interpretive situations, the leader must step in. 

The leader should sit back as long as the group members are providing ample interpretation and feedback.  If they aren't, then say something.  But don't jump in with both feet!  Often we are so excited about the insight we've developed that we can't stop ourselves from dropping the pearl.  Give the group the opportunity to come up with it!

When it's time for you to say something, try to work it out so that the group says it.   Often a well placed question can crack a deadlock and get the juices flowing better than a wizened monologue.  Remember, the group wants you to be the expert, for experts are safe to be with, and they have all the answers. 

The group doesn't have to think when experts are willing to step in.  Much of the flattery directed towards their leader is the group's method of keeping you on top and itself free from the burden of interpretation and responsibility.  It is not that you shouldn't share your knowledge. But you need, in the initiative-oriented reflection, to get participants to do the thinking as much as possible, to dig into their feelings, to build up their own collection of observations, and provide an atmosphere to act on them.

Sequencing the Reflection:

A group needs to get warmed up before it can get to the nub of the experience. It's just like playing warm-up games before doing problem solving. That's why it's important to sequence the discussion. What can happen if you don't may go as follows:

After facilitating a two-hour series of activities, the leader has assembled the participants in a circle and begins the reflecting session:

"Well, how do you feel about this experience? ..."


"How about you, David?.."

"Uh, I don't know" ...

"Paula?" ... (shrugs her shoulders)

We've all been there.  We know the participants have experienced something.   We saw it in their expressions, heard it in their exchanges.  So why can't they talk about it?"

Examining this interaction, you can see that the leader has jumped right into the most difficult and abstract reflecting topic, that of evaluation and opinion.  The leader might have had more interaction if he or she had started at a level appropriate to the group.  So often we go right to the heart of things! The lack of group response can come more from an uneasiness with the questioning than an inability to discuss what has happened.

Three Sequences in Reflecting:


The What?


The So What?


The Now What?

The What?

"The What?" helps us ease into the discussion by beginning with the facts.   It pertains to the substance of the group interaction and what happened to the individuals.  Because of the doing in most scouting experiences, there are plenty of facts, occurrences, and interactions to work with.  Here are some methods that can help get at these "What?" facts:

The Go Around. Everyone in the group contributes a descriptive sentence.   The description can be shortened to one word as well.

The Memory Game.  One person starts, explaining in detail everything that happened.  Everyone must listen carefully.  If anyone else in the group thinks that the person talking missed something that happened, say, "hold it! "...and then explain what is missed. Then, the speaker who said "hold it" will continue, etc ...

Talk in the present tense.  "I'm now walking through the woods.   My legs are getting tired and my feet are beginning to hurt."  Because of the present tense, the participants come close to reliving the actual experience.

Photographs.  If you take instantly developed pictures, you'll generate a high degree of What? Interest.  Video taping also works and helps to break down nervous resistance.

The What? can be the structure for an entire reflection.  Starting with the What? leads naturally into interpretation.  In experiential learning, specific well placed What? questions, and the dialogue that follows, helps participants raise their awareness level about those issues and behaviors that should be maintained, and those which they might want to change.

Once one phase or time period has been exhausted, use the What? questions to move on, and in so doing, go through everything that happened.  This is especially effective with longer experiences where there are many details that need to be worked over.   You can bounce ahead, or go back, depending on the needs of the group.  You can always come back to the sequence of events as a way to maintain an orientation.   The need to keep going can also be used as a way to get the group out of a non-win situation.

The So What?

Active listening presupposes that we do something with what we hear. The interpretive aspects of the So What? provide us with the place to do that.  Because we've gotten the group to talk, it's much easier to get into this.  So What? pertains to the difference the experience made to the individuals, the consequences, and the meaning for them.  It's here that group members abstract and generalize what they're learning from the experience.

You can use the above What? techniques in the So What? by simply shifting from the descriptive to the interpretive.  For example, use the Go Around as a way to describe how participants feel about the event. You can also ask each group member to come up with a one word or short sentence definition of key terms used during the activity, such as team collaboration, helping, involvement, leadership, confronting.  Perhaps some of those key terms will arise from the Go Around or the Memory Game.  You can build upon what they're already talking about. In addition, try:

The Whip - a short round robin or a positive non-threatening whip in which each person completes a short statement like, "I'm glad that I...."

You can also ask the group to reflect on goals they've been working on during the So What? phase.  The question "did everyone participate?" gets us into those group goals.  It is a general, non-threatening question, one that can be asked after every experience, and a safe place to start because you're not focusing on any individual behavior.

It can translate as:

bulletDid we treat each other well, or did we discount each other?
bulletWas there support, or did we put people down?
bulletDid we stick to the rules we set up?

The group is seen as an entity that needs to be taken care of, much as we take care of an individual.  The group members are both the agents of change and the persons to be changed.  We can say "without a healthy and responsible group, we are greatly diminished."

The Now What?

The Now What? is the process of taking lessons learned from the experience and reapplying them (those lessons) to other situations.  We call these "transfer points."  It is a standard device at the end of the Reflection to ask a question like, "What lessons did we learn by doing [an activity] that we can use when we do [another activity].  Taking the learning from one activity and carrying it over to the next activity, helps the group connect what they have been doing to a larger picture.   Often you will clearly see what can be carried over, but the group will not have the foggiest notion.  It is important to help them make the connections.

The Now What? is a good place to talk about goal setting away from the scouting experience.  Use the energy of the experience to start participants thinking about what they can do in other areas of their lives.

For example, the collaboration energy that a particular person exhibited during a scouting game could be suggested as a lesson that can be applied to being able to learn during a school class, or the caring and participation that is necessary to hold down a job.


The Reflecting process can be a safe time where the group considers its activities.   The leader's confidence in the importance of the Reflecting helps the process become a meaningful experience for the group.  It is a skill like any other and must be practiced and honored by both leader and group.  Reflecting has certain principles that need to be remembered:

bulletDon't be surprised by resistance.
bulletMake the Reflection initiative-centered, where the discussion is connected to the "do my best" and "help others" experiences so important to Scouting activities.
bulletTrain yourself to listen and observe all activities prior to the Reflection, and utilize that material in an appropriate manner within the Reflection process.
bulletSequence the Reflection in such a way that it leads up to more difficult issues.

So often reflection is handled quickly and lightly, or skipped altogether because many leaders perceive it to be difficult and intimidating.  We make excuses that we don't have the time to devote to good reflecting.  With a little practice you will begin to see and feel that reflection is really the key to all training and development.  It will turn out to be the most exciting part of the learning experience because this is where the light goes on for many participants.  This is where they begin to see just how important the game, activity, or session they participated in is to their own learning, skills and life.






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.