I have written previously about the tendency we have to limit future learning based on previous learning. This tendency has aptly been termed by Mezirow as the central learning problem of adulthood: “that we fail to notice that failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” In Transformative Learning literature a central method advocated for overcoming this learning problem is critical reflection. Critical reflection is the act of becoming conscious of our beliefs and assumptions (Where do they come from? Are they valid? What are their limitations? etc.) and either expanding, validating or discarding them.
Stephen Brookfield has written extensively about critical reflection and the following is a brief summary of a part of a chapter he wrote in a text on adult and continuing education entitled “The Concept of Critically Reflective Practice.”
Brookfield outlines Four Traditions of Criticality found in different fields:
It is based on a premise that uncritically accepted and unjust dominant ideologies are embedded in everyday situation and practices. The purpose of ideology critique is to examine these assumptions in order to effect change at the social and institutional level. An example of this kind of approach to learning is found in the work of American popular educator Myles Horton. As the founder of Highlander Folk School, during the civil rights movement he started literacy program for African Americans. Study groups would learn to read while engaging in ideology critique in their own lives and communities using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a the text.
Psychoanalytic and psycho therapeutically inclined critique
These are traditions that work on identifying and reappraising limitations created through childhood traumas. This tradition advocates individual and group therapy for personal learning and development for the purpose of integration of all aspects of self.
Analytic philosophy and logic
This is the tradition that for most is closely associated to critical reflection. Here critical reflection means to recognize logical fallacies and see the difference between bias and fact and opinion and evidence, and become effective at using different forms of reasoning.
This tradition is based on the premise that reality is perceived, that is, we construct our own meaning out of experiences. The focus here is how people interpret their experience v.s. universal and recognizable truths. There is also a strong emphasis on creating new realities together.
Brookfield proposes that to engage in reflection is not the same as engaging in critical reflection. His understanding of critical reflection is centered on ideology critique rooted in the pragmatic constructivist approach. Renowned Brazilian educator Paulo Friere speaks of a similar process by which adults “achieve a deepening awareness of both the sociocultural reality which shapes their lives and… their capacity to transform that reality through action.” Ideology critique is rarely used in the work place. For the most part a culture of conformity and obedience is promoted by organizations.
Brookfield presents a picture of what the process may look like: “The adult educator’s task is that of helping people articulate their experience in dialogic circles and then encouraging them to review this through the multiple lenses provided by colleagues in the circle. On the basis of these collaborative critical reflections on experience adults reenter the work to take critically informed actions that are then brought back to the circle for further critical analysis.”
To engage in collaborative critical reflection based on a rhythm of action and reflection is not only a process of building collective knowledge and consensus, but also strong foundations for both trans formative learning in the work place and thriving self-organized teams. It is also a way to discover appropriate forms of metrics because it helps people apply multiple lenses of analysis to their work.
Critical reflection should be taught to teams through modeling. For example the coach disclosing his/her won process of critical reflection. Critical reflection should no be associated with self berating and putting others down or the culture of “telling it like it is” without regard for others.
Try the list of questions in the extended text to get a sense of how your work as an Agile practitioner (or whatever work you do) can be enhanced by critical reflection.