How To Craft A Rich Reflection Chapter
In the #HenleyMBA series, we’ve covered how to write up your introduction, analysis and recommendations chapters/sections, so now it’s time to look at the often under-considered reflection section. In this post, I’ll discuss 5 essential components of a reflection chapter, and provide some general pointers to keep in mind while you’re writing up this final section.
Note that this post discusses the reflection chapter in assignments (for example, MPS, MP, etc), and not Personal Development (PD) assignments themselves, or the MRC reflection – although there’s naturally a lot of overlap.
Let’s start with a good ol’ definition.
In true academic style, let’s kick things off by looking at the definition (or at least the Henley-preferred definition) of reflection:
“Reflection is a process, both individual and collaborative, involving experience and uncertainty. It is comprised of identifying questions and key elements of a matter that has emerged as significant, then taking one’s thoughts into dialogue with oneself and with others. One evaluates insights gained from that process with reference to:
- additional perspectives,
- one’s own values, experiences and beliefs, and
- the larger context, within which the questions are raised.
Through reflection, one reaches newfound clarity, on which one bases changes in action or disposition. New questions naturally arise, and the process spirals onwards.”
(Jay & Johnson, 2002)
But what on earth does that mean, right? I’ll (attempt to) bring this definition down to earth by discussing 5 components that should make an appearance in your reflection chapter.
Reflection #1 – Module-related learnings.
The first matter to reflect on is your module-specific learnings. In other words, your learnings in relation to the specific module content (MPS/Strategy/R&R, etc). Consider (and answer) the following questions:
- What were your key learnings, your ah-ha moments?
- What new perspectives did you gain?
- How has this impacted your beliefs and perhaps even values?
This might look something like the following:
“On reflection, I think my biggest ah-ha moment was how X impacts Y. I had always thought that X had no impact on Y, but now I can see… This got me thinking about my beliefs in relation to Y, specifically… Why did I think this? Perhaps because…”
Reflection #2 – Module interlinkages.
The next matter to ponder on is the connectedness of what you learnt in the module with other modules, and what this means for you. Consider the following questions:
- What linkages to other modules did you observe?
- How has your thinking broadened to be able to see the “big picture” more clearly?
Reflection #3 – Disagreements and lingering questions.
This is where it gets interesting, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to play devil’s advocate. Reflect on the following points:
- Was there any theory, model or framework that you simply didn’t agree with?
- If so, why? Justify your position with a sound argument, but be humble. You’re not quite qualified to critique established theory (yet!)
- What questions still linger in your mind following the completion of the module?
Reflection #4 – Real world impact.
What’s the MBA for if it’s not making a difference in the real world of business? Reflect on the following questions:
- What have you changed in your management practice or in your organisation as a whole as a result of the module/assignment?
- Are there any noticeable results yet? If so, what are they?
- Do you plan to make any further changes in the future?
In other words, what impact has the module had in the real world? A reflection in this vein might look something like the following:
“In line with X theory/model/framework, I have changed the way I/the business does Y, and this has resulted in Z.”
Reflection #5 – Learnings about yourself.
Time to look inward even further. Consider how your ability to learn, grow and think has developed throughout the module. Some questions to consider:
- What have you learnt about your own learning style (how you learn) through the module and assignment?
- Are there some things that you find easier to grasp than other things?
- Are there more effective ways to navigate and optimise your learning process?
For this reflection, it might be helpful to look at Felder and Soloman’s “Index of Learning Styles” to frame your thinking on this.
To recap then, you should aim to reflect on the following 5 areas when drawing up your reflection chapter/section:
- Module-related learnings.
- Module interlinkages.
- Disagreements and lingering questions.
- Real-world impact.
- Learnings about yourself.
Naturally, you won’t always have something to say about every point, but if you incorporate as many of these as possible, you should have a fairly hearty reflection.
Before wrapping up, there are 3 additional, more generic and overarching points worth mentioning regarding the reflection chapter.
#1 – Forget about certainty.
When you’re writing up your reflection chapter, don’t feel the need to present a rock-solid, perfectly logical and cohesive argument. Reflection is about engaging in internal dialogue – messy, muddy dialogue, much of which will produce more questions than answers. Often, personal development involves realising that things are not as cut and dry as they seem – that the world is incredibly complex, and that there is seldom one right answer. Embrace this. Don’t mistake the “newfound clarity” in the Jay & Johnson definition for newfound certainty and simplicity…
#2 – Incorporate models and extracts.
From a more practical, presentation perspective, consider using PD models such as the Henley star to visually represent your growth. Think back to the goals you set in your PD assignments. Has the current module contributed towards the achievement of any of these? If so, how?
Linked to this, it is always a good practice to include extracts from your learning journal to enrich the claims you make about your realisations, learnings, etc. Including extracts in the personal reflection chapter is much like including interview quotes in your analysis chapter. Don’t be shy!
#3 – Read the fine print.
Always read the assignment brief very carefully when it comes to the reflection section. In particular, are they asking for a personal reflection, or are they asking for a critical reflection on the impact of your recommendations?
The former is asking for everything we’ve discussed in this post. The latter is asking you to critically consider what the expected outcomes (benefits) of your recommendations are – for example, increased sales, decreased costs, etc. As you can see, these are very different! It may sound obvious, but a lot of students make this small but costly mistake. Don’t be one of them.
At a more nuanced level, take the time to read the brief’s requirements for the reflection section, as well as the assessment criteria (this is found right at the end of the brief). The exact requirements vary from assignment to assignment, and some may require more focus on 2 or 3 of the 5 reflections discussed earlier. Again, this is pretty obvious advice, but all too often students skim over this section as “its just PD”. Don’t throw away these relatively easy marks.
In this post, I’ve discussed how to approach the reflection chapter/section of your Henley MBA assignments. To recap:
- Incorporate as many of the 5 reflection components as possible to provide a comprehensive reflection.
- Forget about certainty – embrace the muddy waters!
- Include PD models to visually demonstrate your development.
- Weave in extracts from your learning journal to enrich your reflective discussion.
- Carefully review the reflection requirements for each assignment – don’t reflect on the wrong thing!
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