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Non-judgmental shared reflection

"Connecting mirrors" - a questioning and non-judgmental approach to shared reflection

Recently I've been exploring a wonderful process for reflecting collaboratively on work - I call it "connecting mirrors". We used the process during an InnovativeConservatoire international seminar for conservatoire teachers. This time we were based at Dartington, which by the way is a fabulous venue for creative and reflective events (www.dartington.org). Essentially the process provides a structure for alternating between one group involved in practical work of some kind: teaching, playing, rehearsing, and a second group reflecting on the work in a non-judgmental way and with a focus on open questions. We used this process in a session developing specific coaching skills, then again in a session with demonstrations of 1-2-1 instrumental teaching. As we worked, I was struck by how enriching it was to receive feedback in this way, and how challenging and ultimately rewarding it was for those reflecting to keep to the rules of being non-judgmental. The experience seemed to open the space for creative and reflexive thinking, and brought real insights into our practice as performing artists and teachers.

dartington shared_reflection_blogOn the last evening we found ourselves giving an impromptu concert, filled with all kinds of different improvised music, text and movement. We were our own audience and most of us moved between performing and being in the audience. The same process of "connecting mirrors" almost appeared here – moving between shared playing and shared reflecting (although the reflecting part had no formal structure to it). If we had made the conversational part explicit, suddenly this would have made an interesting experiment with the audience clearly becoming active participants and respondents in the concert. It's something I'd definitely like to try out sometime.

The format for the working process is:

Work in small groups of 4-8 people, with a facilitator. Set the space so that there is defined area for the work to take place in (whether this is demonstration of teaching, coaching etc.) and a defined space for the reflective group. The working group should focus on one another and not be tempted to start involving the others in the reflective group. Similarly the group discussion should take place in a closed circle.

1. Working group begin their session (10-20mins depending on time available). The reflective group observes.

2. Facilitator takes responsibility to pause the working group, pull down the curtain on the action for a moment, and initiates the reflective group discussion (10-15mins depending on time available). The working group listens in without commenting or joining the discussion. It is as if they are overhearing it. Key questions for the reflective group to address: "what struck you....what did you see?". It is important that the discussion avoids words like "good, bad, successful, I liked, I didn't like", and similarly no advice is given. Rather the reflective group talks about what they saw/heard and may relate this to their own experience, for example: "I noticed that in this part of the lesson the teacher talked very little and there was intense contact between them through the playing. How does anyone else find this level of contact in their teaching?" Framing the discussion in this way helps to keep it non-judgmental.

3. Facilitator invites the working group to continue (10-20mins depending on time available).

4. Facilitator brings the working group to a close and initiates a second discussion with the reflective group (10-15mins depending on time available).

5. Facilitator then asks the working group to join the reflective group for a final discussion, this time considering what has been learned from the session, and commenting on the working process.

In a nutshell

So why should you be interested in Learning in and through the Performing Arts?

The collaborative processes of the performing arts open a pandora's box of possibilities for artistic, personal and organizational development. They are subtle and multi-layered, embodied practices that can yield much more than what individuals bring to them, creatively and in terms of human exchange. My work is about continuing to develop these processes for the twenty-first century, so that artists can adapt to their changing contexts and enable their work to take root as creative entrepreneurs, and so that the processes of the arts can be shared and enhanced through exchange with other disciplines and across cultural contexts.