Select Page

Reflective practice is an essential part of personal and professional growth. It involves taking a step back from experiences to examine them and derive meaningful insights. This can then lead to better decision-making and actions in the future. Rolfe’s Framework for Reflective Practice is a simple yet powerful model that serves as a guide in this endeavor.

Gary Rolfe, a professor of nursing, developed this model with the goal to encourage learning from experiences in a straightforward, accessible manner. Rolfe’s Framework for Reflective Practice is now widely used in various fields, including the coaching industry, as it offers a structured approach to self-evaluation and improvement.

Understanding Rolfe’s Framework for Reflective Practice

The framework is rooted in three fundamental questions:

  1. What? – A descriptive recount of the experience.
  2. So What? – The analysis or interpretation of the experience.
  3. What next? – Future planning based on the insight gathered from the experience.

These questions create a cycle of reflection that allows an individual to examine an event or experience, understand its impact, and then utilize those insights for future actions.

Although this appears to be a subtle change of the work of Terry Bortons’ model, What?-So what?-Now What?’ (Borton, T. (1970). Reach, touch, and teach; student concerns and process education. New York, Mcgraw-Hill), personally, I prefer this subtle change.

The Rolfe’s model feels like it embodies change – the ‘What next?’ action phase rather than the more philosophical ‘So What?’ reflection, which may lend itself to padantic lethargy.

Application of Rolfe’s Framework for Reflective Practice in Coaching

Coaching involves a dynamic and ongoing relationship between a coach and a client. It’s a process that is fundamentally anchored in learning and growth. Coaches and clients alike can benefit from reflective practices as they seek to make meaningful changes and achieve desired outcomes. Rolfe’s Framework for Reflective Practice provides a simple yet effective structure for this process.

1. What? – Capturing the Experience

The first stage involves describing a specific event or situation in detail. The coach facilitates the client in narrating their experience objectively. This involves recounting the what, who, where, and when of the situation. As the client articulates the events, emotions, responses, and results of a particular situation, the coach prompts them to provide as many details as possible without forming judgments or drawing conclusions. The primary goal here is to create an accurate and comprehensive account of the incident.

2. So What? – Interpreting the Experience

The next stage is to explore and understand the implications of the described event. This involves probing deeper into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the experience. Coaches play a crucial role in this stage, as they guide clients to unravel their emotions, thoughts, assumptions, and reactions linked to the event. They help clients decipher the significance of the event, the impact it had, and the underlying issues it may have revealed.

Additionally, this stage also involves drawing connections between the specific incident and broader personal or professional patterns, behaviors, and beliefs. As the coach facilitates these discussions, the client gets an opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of their responses and actions.

3. What next? – Planning Forward

The final stage involves creating an action plan for the future based on the insights derived from the reflective process. The coach aids the client in developing a practical and realistic plan to implement the learnings from the reflection. The focus of this stage is not just on rectifying any mistakes or overcoming challenges but also on leveraging strengths and replicating successes.

The coach and the client explore various scenarios, discuss potential barriers, and consider strategies to address them. The ‘Now What?’ stage is about empowering the client to take proactive steps towards their desired outcomes, informed by their newly acquired understanding of their experiences.

The Value of Rolfe’s Framework for Reflective Practice in Coaching

The application of Rolfe’s Framework for Reflective Practice within coaching brings about several benefits:

  1. Enhances Self-Awareness: This reflective framework helps clients better understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, thereby promoting enhanced self-awareness. A deeper self-understanding can lead to more informed decisions and actions in the future.
  2. Promotes Learning: The structure provided by Rolfe’s model encourages a deeper level of thinking and analysis, fostering meaningful learning from experiences. It assists clients in identifying patterns, challenging assumptions, and gaining new perspectives.
  3. Facilitates Change: By moving from reflection to action planning, Rolfe’s Framework aids clients in implementing positive change. It supports clients in translating their insights into tangible actions, thereby catalyzing personal growth and development.
  4. Boosts Confidence: As clients reflect upon their experiences and formulate their future action plans, they build self-confidence. They feel better prepared to face similar situations in the future, armed with a new understanding and strategies for action.
  5. Strengthens the Coach-Client Relationship: The reflective process encourages open dialogue and shared understanding between the coach and the client. This helps build trust, respect, and rapport, thereby strengthening the coaching relationship.

Practical Suggestions for Using Rolfe’s Framework in Coaching

To maximize the benefits of Rolfe’s Framework in coaching, here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Create a Supportive Environment: For reflection to be effective, it is important to create a safe and supportive space where clients feel comfortable sharing their experiences and feelings.
  2. Encourage Detailed Descriptions: In the ‘What?’ stage, prompt clients to provide detailed descriptions of the events. This forms a solid foundation for deeper reflection and analysis.
  3. Promote Critical Thinking: In the ‘So What?’ stage, guide clients to dig deeper into their experiences. Help them to challenge assumptions, explore different perspectives, and identify patterns.
  4. Guide Future Planning: In the ‘Now What?’ stage, support clients in formulating a practical action plan. Encourage them to consider potential obstacles and brainstorm strategies for overcoming them.
  5. Revisit Reflections: Revisiting past reflections can provide additional insights and reinforce learning. It can also help in tracking progress and gauging the effectiveness of the action plan.

In the dynamic world of coaching, reflective practice is key to fostering learning and catalyzing personal and professional growth. Rolfe’s Framework for Reflective Practice offers a simple yet profound structure for such reflection. By effectively integrating this model into their practice, coaches can significantly enhance their ability to facilitate their clients’ journey of self-discovery, learning, and transformation.