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Donald Schön’s model of reflection, particularly ‘reflection-in-action’, is an important approach in coaching, as it emphasizes thinking on one’s feet. This form of reflection happens in real-time, during the event or situation itself. Here’s a brief description of Schön’s reflection-in-action and its application in coaching:


Reflection-in-action refers to the reflective thinking that takes place while one is engaged in action. It is the process of continuously thinking, evaluating and adapting to the ongoing situation. This requires the ability to recognize unexpected or surprising situations and think critically about them on the spot.

Application in Coaching

In coaching, reflection-in-action can be seen when a coach is engaged in a session with a client. For instance, during a conversation, a client may present an unexpected emotion or point of view. The coach, utilizing Schön’s reflection-in-action, would immediately take notice of this unexpected event and reconsider their current approach or plan.

The coach may pause to ask themselves questions like:

  • What is happening here?
  • Why might the client be reacting this way?
  • How does this alter what I thought I knew about the client’s situation?
  • How should I modify my approach accordingly?

By considering these questions, the coach is able to adapt their techniques and strategies in real-time to better assist the client. This could involve changing the direction of the conversation, introducing a new coaching tool or exercise, or providing space for the client to explore their feelings more deeply.

Moreover, the coach can also reflect on their own feelings and reactions during the session. This helps in managing their own biases or preconceived notions, enabling them to offer more neutral and effective guidance.

In summary, Schön’s reflection-in-action is a critical component of effective coaching, encouraging immediate responsiveness and adaptability to the ever-changing dynamics of coaching sessions. It enables coaches to continually tailor their methods and approaches to meet their clients’ evolving needs.