MSI Fellowship Week: The importance and value of self-reflection by Arthur Hernandez

My name is Arthur Hernández, and I am a Professor at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio Texas.

Even before I knew it, I was an evaluator (albeit not a very good one!) considering my process and consequences related to my teaching, research/evaluation, and service. Now mostly, I’m interested in the means and mechanisms for collecting authentic, genuine information which informs about the nature and “quality” of value, provides for learning, and impacts action for all involved. I am a MSI alumnus and a member of the Indigenous, Multicultural, Teaching, and LA RED TIGs.

Lesson Learned: 

On my path to becoming a good evaluator, I’ve learned that evaluation requires regular and systematic self-reflection. While self-reflection is often cited as an essential mechanism for cultural responsiveness and for community based and participatory evaluation, it is all too often assumed to be an inherent skill which can be automatically applied by anyone on demand. This is not the case; it is a skill which must be learned and developed. Unfortunately, self-reflection is not typically a skill developed during training or addressed in evaluation protocols which are often structured around some “template.”  This lack of preparation and practice is fatal to self-reflection since, people are not generally open to newness, critical of what is common or usual, or ignore feelings in favor of thoughts (or vice-versa). This “unconscious bias” has been described in many ways (e.g., implicit bias, prejudice, unreliability, invalidity, systematic error, etc.).

My process for self-reflection is an amalgamation of the many recommendations from the literature developed and refined over time.  Briefly — first, consider the event or circumstance carefully, endeavoring to accurately remember what was happening (audio-visual recording can be of great service not only to data analysis but to self-reflection), the context, what you were doing, how you were feeling (you may have had multiple feelings) and why. Next, carefully examine or analyze the experience looking at criteria for mistakes and success, missed indicators (e.g., cultural representations) or opportunities. What did you learn? From this, you should evaluate yourself not only from the perspective of your performance and consequences of your decisions but from theperspective of impact on others. What difference did it make to your purpose? At what cost? How did it affect others around you? How do you know? Are you sure? Finally, it is important to develop a plan of action. Self-reflection is a matter of “learning from action and acting from learning” – without action, self-reflection is likely an empty exercise.    

In short, self-reflection is a skill and as with any other skill, good performance requires mindfulness, discipline, and regular practice (habit development).  Skillful self-reflection provides the means to learn from experience, clarify values, examine “automatic” judgements and behavior, plan, and reconsider self -in-context. It is important to self-reflect on your self-reflection; but that is a matter for another time.

Hot Tip: 

One useful approach to self-reflection is to keep a log or journal, documenting activities, recording process and outcome observations and the impact on all involved (including yourself) and on the community of both the activity and the evaluation. This can be an essential guide to what was learned and “so what?” – that is how lessons learned are not only informational but transformational.

Rad Resources: 

The American Evaluation Association is AEA Minority Serving Institution (MSI) Fellowship Experience week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AEA’s MSI Fellows. For more information on the MSI fellowship, see this webpage: https://www.eval.org/Education-Programs/Minority-Serving-Institution-Fellowship/MSI-Fellows  Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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