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What, so what, now what?

It should be by now becoming more evident that self reflection is a critical key to unlocking your career smart potential.
Hey, guys. It’s Adam Lee here. I know we’re all being encouraged more and more to write reflections, but we don’t really know how or why. So I thought I’d share how I’ve used reflection as part of developing my portfolio, and show you a few practical steps that you can use as a guide. Reflecting helps me take a step back and realise what I’m actually learning, not only during this study at Uni, but through all the other stuff going on in my life, too. I only just realised that reflection isn’t just about looking inwards. It’s also about what you want to reflect outwards to the world about yourself.
Anyone who checks out my portfolio can say what I’ve done and what I’ve learned from my experiences. And they can also say that I’ve thought about my learning and the skills I’m developing. Let’s have a look at this diagram, My selection, My learning, My self. The examples and evidence that I select for my portfolio help me to highlight what I’ve learned. And reflecting helps me to take a good, hard look at what I’m learning and recognise the significance of it. One of the language and learning advisors summed this process up nicely by saying, “What you select to reflect on tells you about your learning and yourself.”
My selection, I want to select artefacts that demonstrate different areas of learning while making sure that the content is appropriate for a professional setting. So demonstrating that you’ve developed your communication and teamwork skills through hours upon hours of online gaming might not be the best idea.
My learning: A written assignment would showcase my academic learning. Some of my practical work, like my web design, would demonstrate my technical ability. And evidence of my volunteer work with my local footy club would illustrate my people skills. The biggest tip is to remember that it’s not just in lecture theaters and classrooms that you can learn. When you are travelling, volunteering, on work placements, or even during social activities, you’re developing skills. Reflecting is about realising which ones.
My self: This section mainly refers to my professional self. The artefacts that I choose and how I reflect on them define the projection of myself that is seen by the world. It’s also helping me to develop a sense of what I can do, and what I have that I can offer an employer. OK, enough theory. Here’s three practical steps that will help you with your reflections. Just ask yourself these three questions. What? So what? Now what? The first step is simple, what? What did I achieve today? Identify something that you’ve done recently that involves some kind of learning or skill development. My group and I gave a presentation for Uni on a project we’ve just completed. So what?
Now think about what that achievement means, and what key concepts we learned in doing it. So what did I actually learn from doing this, and how does that relate to what I already know not only from this unit, but from other units as well? How can I apply what I’ve learned to other units I’m studying? Or looking longer term, how would this be of use to me in the future? Does it relate to any of the professional skills you need to develop, say knowledge? I learned a lot about the topic we chose. Hmm, communication? I thought our presentation was good, but my delivery may have been affected by my nerves. Digital literacy?
We used library databases and Creative Commons images to create our presentation. What about critical thinking? The whole project was an exercise in critical thinking, to be honest. We needed to look at the complexities of our issue, analyse information in depth so that we could come up with our suggested solution, and back it up with evidence. Problem solving, or team work? One of our team members got sick, so we had to adapt and really work together to ensure the project was completed on time. OK. Self-management? As we really needed to work from our strengths, I realised I like doing research, and nominated myself for the task.
I don’t always want to take the lead role, but I’d like to be more assertive. And global citizenship? We had to communicate with clients of differing cultural backgrounds. Hmm. Now what? The really important step is thinking about what I could do next. What could I do to improve? I’ve identified a couple of areas I’d like to work on next time. I’d like to learn how to use the library databases more effectively, and work on my oral presentation skills. By simply writing these goals down, I can have something practical to focus on and work towards, which really helps to make sure I get there.
Looking over what I’ve done, acknowledging what I’ve learned and how it applies to my professional development, helps me to touch base with the bigger picture, and remember what I’m essentially trying to get out of Uni. Which means taking that moment to reflect is totally worthwhile.

Self-reflection is a critical key to unlocking your career-smart potential.

Professor Gary Rolfe and colleagues (2001) describe another useful framework for self-reflection in their book ‘Framework for Reflective Practice’. It’s based around three simple questions:

  1. What?
    – describe a particular situation, then focus on achievements, consequences, responses, feelings and any problems.
  2. So what?
    – discuss what you have learnt about yourself, relationships, models, attitudes, cultures, actions, thoughts, understanding and any improvements.
  3. Now what?
    – identify what you need to do in the future in order to improve future outcomes and develop your learning.

This reflective model is simple. However, this does not mean that the reflections should remain superficial. Really tackling those three questions honestly and thoroughly will always lead to some surprising answers.

Your task

Share your thoughts on how this model could help the process of self-reflection become easier for you.


Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., & Jasper, M. 2001. Critical reflection for nursing and the helping professions: A user’s guide, Palgrave Basingstoke.

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