Authenticity and reflection as performance – reflection with an audience
When facilitating reflection, authenticity and the reflectors’ true self and individual way of reflecting is often discussed and put as a pedestal for good practice. In reality, we need to be much more aware of the audience the reflection is produced for – which in many cases is us as facilitators. This page explores some of the key points.
Asking participants to reflect will create an audience
This discussion is important as whether or not we intend it, we create an audience that the reflector will produce their reflection for, when we ask them to produce reflection.
This has implications for levels of authenticity we can expect to see from reflectors in mandatory, and especially assessed, pieces of reflection.
This page is developed mainly from the work of Dr Jen Ross (2011, 2014, and in conversation). For a fuller, more extensive discussion, see the original papers.
Reflection: access to the true self or as a performance?
Below is a brief introduction to reflection as an access to the true self and as performance; the next section will put the ideas into practical recommendations for implementing reflection.
Authenticity or reflection as access to a true self
The first idea suggests that people have an authentic or central self, which can be accessed upon deep and conscious thought or reflection. This thought serves as a foundation for a lot of reflective literature and practices.
Reflection then becomes a tool that an individual can use to reach this authentic, central self. Based on the definition of reflection on the Reflection Toolkit’s homepage, there are certainly elements of self-discovery that come from reflection that could get an individual closer to who they are.
Reflection as performance
In an educational context or other facilitated initiatives, people are aware of power dynamics and the presence of an audience.
Whenever we ask participants to produce a piece of work, it would be naïve to think that the participants are not conscious of the audience receiving or reading work. For example, they are aware of what an essay is supposed to look like and will produce work as close to that as possible, because this is what the audience expects.
Reflection is no different. If we ask a student or participant to reflect, they will similarly produce a reflection that they believe is what the audience or facilitator want them to produce. They will be managing their identities and expectations, and therefore when producing reflections they are doing it for an audience. The audience can be us as facilitators, our criteria or a general ‘other’.
Therefore, the thoughts, frustrations, and ideas reflectors will put in their reflections will be balanced and packaged for the audience. As a facilitator, this will therefore not give us access to the ‘central or true self’.
In brief, reflectors are strategic and audience-aware when producing reflections.
Implications for posing reflective tasks
Voluntary reflection, or independent reflection might get to a ‘central/true self’
Whether reflection actually can get access to an authentic true self is not immediately relevant to our discussion of implementing reflection. What is important is that, when reflectors are not producing reflections for an audience, there is no explicit reason for them to try to manage expectations and identities.
Therefore, as a facilitator who is encouraging participants to reflect voluntarily or independently, we can only help reflectors begin their reflective practice and find their own benefit from it. We can encourage them to find a method that works such that they do not feel a need for audience management.
Help the reflectors manage their ideas of your expectations and identities
When we give a reflective task to a participant we can expect honest reflections, but we cannot expect a glimpse into the true self of the reflectors. The reflectors will create reflections close to what they think we want.
Therefore, similar to considerations mentioned in ‘How do I introduce reflection?’, being as clear as possible in your expectations of exactly what you want and how it should look, will allow your participants to write with that audience in mind.
How do I introduce reflection? (within the Facilitators' Toolkit)
Expectations are most easily provided with examples, clear guidelines, and criteria (also a rubric if you are assessing), because this way you are helping participants to reflect for the actual audience you choose, rather than one the reflectors guess.
But what about authenticity? – It can still exist
A concern facilitators of reflection often can have is ‘If I tell my participants how to reflect and what I want reflections to look like, how can they then be authentic?’.
That is a fair question; the reality is we do not know if the reflectors are being authentic. We can only ask them to be honest, within the context of knowing they are producing the reflections with an audience.
The important thing is an individual can still be authentic within a given framework without self-disclosing beyond their wishes. Authenticity is about communicating genuine and honest learning, but in a way that the reflector is comfortable with – that can easily happen within a prescribed framework or model of reflection.
Not being clear is likely to lead to undesired outcomes
However, it is tempting to not give reflectors clear guidance with the hope that they will then reflect how they want (or the right way for them) and as a result will be more authentic. This idea forgets that reflectors will still produce reflections with an audience in mind.
Without guidance, the reflectors will try to guess what you want. While you may end up with some genuine and excellent reflections, the chances are increased that you will end up with descriptive diaries, uncomfortable levels of self-disclosure that you have no right nor wish to ask for, as well as artificially positive comments on the reflectors’ experience within your initiative.
Those entries are not reflective. Moreover they are likely to receive poor feedback – leading to negative feelings around the initiative and an increased likelihood that both you as a facilitator and the participants will stay as far away as possible from reflection in the future.
This discussion is relevant for both how to define your activities and assignments, and many of the points above will also be echoed in the discussion on whether or not you should assess reflection. The ‘Assessing reflection’ section could be a helpful next step and has guidance on clear criteria and rubrics.
Assessing reflection (within the Reflection Toolkit)
Ross, J. (2011). Traces of self: online reflective practices and performances in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 113-126.
Ross. J. (2014). Performing the reflective self: audience awareness in high-stakes reflection. Studies in Higher Education, 39(2), 219-232.