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.

9 thoughts on “MSI Fellowship Week: The importance and value of self-reflection by Arthur Hernandez”

  1. Hi Arthur,

    I am currently a student enrolled in the Professional Masters of Education program through Queen’s University and am taking a course on Program Inquiry and Evaluation. I quite enjoyed reading your post on the importance and value of self-reflection within evaluation. Self-reflection has always played an important role in my teaching practice as a music educator. Through self-reflection I am able to clearly articulate and examine situations and improve effectiveness in my teaching practices through change and adaptation. Self-reflection is not only important for educators, but also an important skill to teach my students. Within my classroom, while I engage in self-reflection, I also teach self-reflection to my students as I believe it is a lifelong skill that must be taught and instilled in them. How I teach self-reflection is through having my students experience the process. With band being performance-based education, self-reflection is both a part of our day-to-day classes, as well as after performances.

    In day-to-day rehearsals, as we learn to play music as an ensemble, we are constantly reflecting on our technical instrumental skills, our balance as a band and our overall sound. As we play, if something does not sound right, we stop, discover, and fix what is going wrong, then fit it back within the group’s sound, not moving forward until it sounds correct. It is a constant means of reflecting on our abilities in the immediate.

    My favorite part of the self-reflection process is after our performances. – asking students questions such as, how did we do? What went well? What could we improve on? How do we feel after this performance? We reflect and evaluate our performance and the effectiveness of our skills. This is arguably the most crucial part of the self-reflection process that I teach my students. I truly believe that reflecting before and after a band performance is as equally as important as the band performance itself.

    Thanks for sharing your article on self-reflection!

    1. Hi Teri,
      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I appreciate the notion of reflection as a tool for performance improvement but also for appreciation and related to affect. It can serve to provide a “whole person” experience rather one which is more limited. It would be interesting to discuss music performance and “evaluation”… Have a great afternoon, Art

  2. Hi Arthur Hernández,
    I am currently an educator in British Columbia and enrolled in the Professional Masters program at Queen’s University. This is my fourth year as an educator, and I still remember my school and faculty advisor during my Teaching Program (PDP) emphasize the importance of self-reflection. I connected with your idea around an audio-visual recording of the events that occurred, as I use the voice notes recording application on my cellphone to self-reflect on my lessons in order to make them more engaging or as a learning process. This was I have the recording of the event at least 15 minutes after the lesson occurred, so it is fresh in my memory. I used to keep a written journal, but found that I was writing words instead of full thoughts, so it did not help me with self-reflection. I believe that self-reflection is skill that is needed and should be taught at a younger age. For example, when my student got into a fight with another student on the playground, I used this as a self-reflection lesson. They needed to think about their actions, what the event that caused the fight, and then their reaction. After this thought process, the student has the choice to either write down their self-reflection process or record it. This helps to hold the student accountable, as well as for them to understand their actions. They also love listening to their own voice and then writing down or drawing how they might have reacted differently.

    Thank you for your article on self-reflection and its importance!

    1. Hi Priya,
      Thanks for your thoughts… I admit that I hadn’t thought about using self-reflection as a device for the development of social skills in children (any maybe adolescents and adults) but, I think it is a wonderful idea. I suspect it can provide an opportunity for children to see themselves as self directing and self controlling rather than merely responsive to the expectations of adults. Have a great evening, Art

  3. Dear Mr. Hernandez,
    Thank you for your thoughts and insights around self-reflection as I have found them to be extremely thought provoking. I am currently enrolled in the PME(Professional Master of Education) program at Queen’s University and this semester I am taking a course with a focus on Program Inquiry and Evaluation. We have spent a number of weeks throughout this Fall term looking at the history, current practice, approaches, strategies, and dilemmas of program evaluation as well as have been spending time creating our own program evaluation design. Throughout this process I have continued to question how one’s own biases may or may not play a role in the evaluation process as we know that biases can definitely influence the choices one makes, how one interprets what they are seeing and even how their own personal context may affect the evaluation information being collected. Your discussion on self-reflection I found to be extremely thought provoking as you reference that self-reflection is paramount in community and participatory evaluation however, there is an assumption that all evaluators know what to do it and how to do it effectively. In my opinion, to reduce the level of bias in an evaluation, as I believe that no evaluation can be 100% bias free as we all have biases that creep into all that we do not matter how hard we try to limit their influence, self-reflection must be an ongoing evaluator practice. In reflecting on my learning thus far, self-reflection by evaluators has not been a major facet addressed however, being aware of one’s biases has.
    The steps that you share regarding self-reflection by an evaluator forces one to truly assess their stance and position throughout the evaluative process. These suggestions are not easy to do as it forces one to place themselves in a vulnerable position; they clearly need to be practiced on a continual basis. When you mentioned that self-reflection is not typically a skill developed during training or addressed in evaluation protocols I feel that this is a major downside to evaluation learning/training due to if we are striving to attain an evaluation process that bestows information that guides, provides insights, answers questions and potentially gives feedback, that may or may not have even been considered, to all stakeholders how does the self-reflection process of the evaluator not become part of the mandatory training? Your statement, self-reflection is a matter of “learning from action and acting from learning,” in my opinion, not only clearly defines the process and value within self-reflection, but I feel it also sums up the goal and meaning behind program evaluations in general. Through the evaluation process one hopes that through the action taken to complete the evaluation we learn and from this learning we then act to better the program. If evaluation and self-reflection share a common goal, the goal to learn and act upon that learning, then one needs to see evaluation protocols and structures embrace self-reflection practice. Thank you very much for your insights and thoughts, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article.

    1. Hi D.,
      Thanks for your comments; I agree. I must say that your reply prompted me to consider the notion of bias. Usually, bias is considered something that must be controlled and as something that is “negative.” Of course, unrecognized bias in evaluation can be problematic but, I suggest that bias can be considered a matter of preference which results from experience in context. From this perspective, bias might be thought of as an expression of culture…one more argument for the imperative of Culturally Responsive and Equitable practice. It would be interesting to discuss…. Art

  4. Dear Mr. Hernandez,
    Thank you for your thoughts and insights around self-reflection as I have found them to be extremely thought provoking. I am currently enrolled in the PME(Professional Master of Education) program at Queen’s University and this semester I am taking a course with a focus on Program Inquiry and Evaluation. We have spent a number of weeks throughout this Fall term looking at the history, current practice, approaches, strategies, and dilemmas of program evaluation as well as have been spending time creating our own program evaluation design. Throughout this process I have continued to question how one’s own biases may or may not play a role in the evaluation process as we know that biases can definitely influence the choices one makes, how one interprets what they are seeing and even how their own personal context may affect the evaluation information being collected. Your discussion on self-reflection I found to be extremely thought provoking as you reference that self-reflection is paramount in community and participatory evaluation however, there is an assumption that all evaluators know what to do it and how to do it effectively. In my opinion, to reduce the level of bias in an evaluation, as I believe that no evaluation can be 100% bias free as we all have biases that creep into all that we do not matter how hard we try to limit their influence, self-reflection must be an ongoing evaluator practice. In reflecting on my learning thus far, self-reflection by evaluators has not been a major facet addressed however, being aware of one’s biases has.
    The steps that you share regarding self-reflection by an evaluator forces one to truly assess their stance and position throughout the evaluative process. These suggestions are not easy to do as it forces one to place themselves in a vulnerable position; they clearly need to be practiced on a continual basis. When you mentioned that self-reflection is not typically a skill developed during training or addressed in evaluation protocols I feel that this is a major downside to evaluation learning/training due to if we are striving to attain an evaluation process that bestows information that guides, provides insights, answers questions and potentially gives feedback, that may or may not have even been considered, to all stakeholders how does the self-reflection process of the evaluator not become part of the mandatory training? Your statement, self-reflection is a matter of “learning from action and acting from learning,” in my opinion, not only clearly defines the process and value within self-reflection, but I feel it also sums up the goal and meaning behind program evaluations in general. Through the evaluation process one hopes that through the action taken to complete the evaluation we learn and from this learning we then act to better the program. If evaluation and self-reflection share a common goal, the goal to learn and act upon that learning, then one needs to see evaluation protocols and structures embrace self-reflection practice. Thank you very much for your insights and thoughts, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article.

  5. Hi Arthur, your article really resonated with me on many levels. You say, “On my path to becoming a good evaluator, I’ve learned that evaluation requires regular and systematic self-reflection”. I remember when I first was studying to be a teacher at Simon Fraser University, I was confused when one of our professors told us that to be a “good” teacher, we needed to practice self-reflection (the answer was not, in fact, create the coolest worksheets!) In our program, we were explicitly taught and we engaged in critical self-reflection: “What went well? What didn’t go so well? What could I do next time?” Each of our reflections, whether written down or discussed verbally with our school or faculty advisor, included reflecting on a Professional Development Program goal. Now, six years later working as a Grade 4/5 elementary school teacher, I still find myself reflecting after every lesson and thinking about how I could have made it more engaging for the students, or how differentiate for select students, etc. As you mention, “self-reflection is a skill and as with any other skill, good performance requires mindfulness, discipline and regular practice”. In my position as an educator, I find myself giving my students as many opportunities for self-reflection, goal-setting, and communicating about processes over product. Because I was given the opportunity to learn to self-reflect, I encourage my students to speak openly about their processes instead of just filling out a worksheet to get to the “right” answer. In British Columbia, our redesigned curriculum focuses on the Core Competencies of Communication, Thinking, and Personal/Social Responsibility: all of which self-reflection is interwoven throughout.

    You end your article with, “So what?” in your Hot Tip section as you speak to transformation. I believe that with self-reflection, it should not just end there; the main purpose of self-reflection is to transcend that experience and set a goal for the next experience. I can’t help but to think about how elementary school students are often hit with a “So what” after a question to support them in developing their metacognitive abilities to understand the processes and next steps. In your RAD resource, I noticed that Rolfe, Freshwater, and Jasper’s “What” model includes “Now What” as a plan of action – I appreciate this extends beyond “So What”! In my current course on Program Inquiry and Evaluation at Queen’s University, I’m always striving to extend my thinking beyond an article to make sense of it. Our current project is to design a program evaluation on any non-profit social program, and I keep coming back to my evaluation questions as I continue on in my learning.
    Thank you so much for your article, and sparking inquiry in my thinking!

    1. HI Vivian,
      I very much agree that reflection is critical to good practice whether teaching or evaluation. I think evaluation should extend beyond performance improvement and should include affect and appreciation. We regularly think about evaluation in regards to questions about “hitting the mark” (both “formatively” and “summatively”) and for that reason our reflection tends to concern a cognitive appraisal of action. However, I suggest that we should also be concerned about our reactions and judgments concerning associated feelings, and spiritual and physical reactions (body sensations) as well. People and their behavior are more than thoughts and actions and our evaluations (including self evaluations) should consider the “whole” person…

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