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Five reflective questions for a better chance at valuable CPD

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As the 21/22 financial year draws to a close and we think about work, appraisals and whether the sun will last all day or not, it’s a good time to set ourselves goals and think about our career aspirations. Whenever you review your continuing professional development (CPD) you need to begin by reflecting on what you have achieved, and where you want to get to. 

Graham Gibbs’1 model of reflection refers to this as retrospective and prospective reflection, and it’s something we should all aim to do. It provides a framework for examining experiences and, given its cyclic nature, lends itself to repeated experiences, allowing you to learn and plan from things that either went well or not so well. It comprises six stages: 

  • Description of the experience 
  • Feelings and thoughts about the experience 
  • Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad 
  • Analysis to make sense of the situation 
  • Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently 
  • Action plan for how you would deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes you might find appropriate. 

As 2022 rolls on in a more stable way than the previous two years, ask yourself the following five questions which will support the reflective process and get you motivated for development again. 

  • The what and the why. Ask yourself ‘what did I do? Why did I do it?’ This gives you the opportunity to consider the facts of the actions you took and the reasons behind those actions. You might want to do some analysis of your actions and consider how they aligned with your overarching goals.  
  • The how. Ask yourself ‘how did I do this?’ This will enable you to consider whether the methods you used, and your ways of working supported your success or perhaps resulted in pressure and stress. 
  • The measures. This question is ‘how did I measure my success?’ Our measures of success often come from external sources. It is important to consider a range of measures so that we can celebrate how far we have come, whilst motivating ourselves to achieve more. 
  • The feedback. Ask yourself ‘how did I do?’ This links back to the previous questions and provides the opportunity to test your measures of success prior to choosing some new ones for the year ahead. Think about what went well, what contributed to your success, the challenges you faced and how you dealt with them. 
  • Beginning to look forward. This starts the process of prospective reflection. It provides the framework to use your analysis from the previous questions to give you some signposts for the next period. Ask yourself ‘what next?’ 

Based on the past year, what are some of the themes you see? What are they indicating about your direction of travel? Are you going the right way for you or should you take a different route? 

Having answered the questions, don’t forget to update your CPD log with reflective statements as a summary of the year looking back and begin looking forwards...  

Now you’ve got a feel for the questions you can use them to help you plan for the year ahead. 

  1. What do I want to do and why? Use this question to paint a picture of what you’d like the next 12 months to look like. What do you want to do? What do you want to learn? What do you want to achieve? As you create your picture keep asking yourself ‘why’ to help you align your goals with what you see as your purpose. 
  2. How will I do it? Consider the variety of different ways that you can achieve your goals. Try to think of as many methods and possibilities and then narrow them down to those that feel realistic and achievable for you. 
  3. Do try to include some new methods and ways of working – as the saying goes ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’.  
  4. How will I measure my success? Think about whether your current measures are right for you or whether you want to use some new ones. 
  5. How am I doing? And 
  6. What next? 

Questions 1 to 3 should be used to help you build your CPD plan for the coming year. Questions 4 and 5 should be used during the year as a means of checking progress against what you set out to achieve. They can help you decide whether your goals were the right ones or if you want to adjust them considering new information or changing circumstances. 

We’d love to hear if you find other uses for this five question framework and how you have adapted them. Let us know in the comments or drop your thoughts on the APM Community Platform where this article was first published, exclusively for members.

1 Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle - Graham Gibbs: Learning by Doing 1988  

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