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Core Reflection Approach in Teacher Education

Summary and Keywords

The core reflection approach aims to deepen teacher reflection and development. The approach takes teachers’ core qualities and ideals as the starting point for reflection, and links the professional and the personal in teacher development. Core reflection can also be applied to other professional groups, and to students in primary and secondary education. It is based on a model of levels of reflection, briefly named the onion model, which includes the following levels: environment, behavior, competencies, beliefs, identity, mission, and “the core,” which refers to personal strengths. The onion model helps to differentiate between behavior-oriented reflection and a deeper kind of reflection, in which attention is given to three goals: (1) building on strengths and ideals (called “the inner potential”) of the person, (2) helping the person deal with inner obstacles limiting the actualization of the inner potential, and (3) preparing the person for using their potential and dealing with obstacles autonomously. In order to reach these goals, people can be coached using specific principles, which are partly based on positive psychology:

1. Focusing on personal strengths;

2. Giving balanced attention to cognition, emotion, and motivation (thinking, feeling, and wanting); and

3. Giving attention to inner obstacles.

These principles are brought together in a phase model for core reflection, with five phases: (1) describing a concrete situation; (2) reflection on the ideal, and on a core quality or qualities; (3) reflection on an obstacle; (4) using the inner potential; and (5) trying a new approach.

Core reflection is being used around the world, both in teacher education programs and in schools. Several research studies into the processes and outcomes of core reflection have shown that it leads to in-depth professional development and improved behavior, in both the short and the long term. However, more research is needed, for example research in which long-term outcomes of the core reflection approach are compared to those of other approaches.

Keywords: core reflection, reflection, teacher education, professional development, coaching, holistic education

The Need for Deepening Reflection

Worldwide, reflection is considered to be a crucial part of a teacher’s competence (Loughran, Keast, & Cooper, 2016) and receives much attention within teacher education programs. Interestingly, there is not much strong research supporting claims about the benefits of reflection, but it is generally assumed to enhance teacher learning, to improve teacher behavior, and to strengthen the connection between theory and practice (Lyons, 2010). However, practical experiences with promoting reflection in teacher education also reveal a number of problems (Cole, 1997; Korthagen, 2017):

  1. 1. Teacher educators often find that their students’ reflections remain too superficial.

  2. 2. Student teachers often do not like reflection, as they equate it with looking at negative experiences again and again.

  3. 3. Many student teachers do not experience reflection as being helpful.

An example is the case of beginning teacher Lynn, who becomes uncertain when it gets a bit noisy in her classroom. As a result, when explaining content matter, she becomes distracted and confused. She reflects on this problem, and decides that she should better prepare her explanation. However, after doing so, the uncertainty and confusion do not disappear. She hates being confronted again with this problem and concludes that “all this reflection stuff does not really help anyway.”

In this example, all three problems listed are manifested: (1) Lynn’s reflection remains somewhat superficial, as she does not really analyze underlying causes; (2) she does not like being confronted with the negative experience again; and (3) she feels her reflection was not helpful. Core reflection was developed in reaction to these problems. It aims to deepen reflection processes and at the same time make them more enjoyable, and thus more stimulating to beginning or experienced teachers. Core reflection is now in use in many countries, including the United States, Japan, Australia, and several European countries, both in pre-service and in-service settings, and in primary and secondary schools.

The development of the core reflection approach started with the observation that when a teacher is confronted with a problem, there is often a tendency to focus on a solution (an alternative course of action). However, such a focus on behavior does not generally lead to deep learning (Hoekstra, 2007). As Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, and Flowers (2004) noted, even when the person reflecting in such a behavior-oriented way comes up with an idea for new behavior, it may not be easy to realize this in practice, or the new behavior is often not very effective. Senge et al. use the term downloading for the search for a quick, and often superficial, solution: the person scans the “hard-disk” in his or her mind for an alternative approach that seemed to work well in other cases, or tries to find someone else (a coach, an educator) who can “download” such an alternative. These authors state that the fundamental flaw of downloading is that it is not grounded in full awareness of the situation and the person’s inner potential in the here-and-now. This is an important reason why teachers are often disappointed about the fruits of their reflections (Korthagen, 2014).

In order to arrive at new behavior really matching the person and fitting into the characteristics of the present situation, a deeper type of reflection is crucial, namely core reflection (Korthagen, 2014; Korthagen & Vasalos, 2005). Core reflection builds on both the specifics of the situation and the inner potential of the person. An important assumption basic to core reflection is that this inner potential is always present in the teacher, but when the teacher experiences a situation as being problematic, there is generally an obstacle blocking this potential.

Generally, a teacher will be aware of many external obstacles (for example unmotivated children, a noisy classroom). However, a second assumption underlying the core reflection approach is that it is important to be aware of inner obstacles, that is, obstacles within the person.

In sum, both for beginning and experienced teachers a focus on improved behavior is often counterproductive, because it generally ignores the teacher’s inner potential, as well as inner obstacles being counterproductive to the deployment of this potential. Therefore, core reflection coaching has three main goals:

  1. 1. Building on the inner potential of the person,

  2. 2. Helping the person identify and deal with inner obstacles inhibiting the deployment of the inner potential, and

  3. 3. Preparing the person for using their potential and to deal with obstacles autonomously.

The Onion Model

Reflection on one’s inner potential and on inner obstacles is supported by a model describing various levels (layers) of reflection. This model is called the onion model (Korthagen, 2004; Figure 1).

Core Reflection Approach in Teacher EducationClick to view larger

Figure 1. The onion model (Korthagen, 2004).

The layers of the model are:

  1. 1. Environment. This layer refers to the setting the teacher faces, for example, the pupils, the classroom as a whole, the school culture with its implicit and explicit norms, and so forth. In the case of Lynn, obvious elements in the environment are the students who are noisy. This is an external obstacle.

  2. 2. Behavior. This refers to what the teacher does in relation to the environment. Lynn, for example, continues trying to explain content matter, although she is becoming confused. The tendency to repeat an ineffective behavioral pattern is an internal obstacle.

  3. 3. Competencies. This layer relates to knowledge and skills, and involves what the teacher is competent at doing. We do not know whether there is an internal obstacle in Lynn at this layer.

  4. 4. Beliefs. This layer refers to assumptions or beliefs about the situation and environment, which are often unconscious. Lynn has an unconscious belief that, although it is noisy in the classroom, she should go on explaining, and she also seems to have a belief that the situation will improve if she prepares her explanation more thoroughly. These seem to be other internal obstacles.

  5. 5. Identity. This layer refers to teachers’ assumptions or beliefs about themselves, their self-concepts, and the professional roles they see for themselves. Lynn seems to see herself mainly as an “explainer,” and she increasingly starts to have negative beliefs about her potential as a teacher. It may be clear that these are fundamental inner obstacles to growth.

  6. 6. Mission. This layer is about what inspires the teacher, what gives meaning and significance to his or her work or life. Whereas the layer of identity has to do with self-definitions, the layer of mission is about ideals and important values. In the case of Lynn, it is not so obvious what her ideal is, although at this stage she would probably say: “improving as a teacher.” The question remains what deeper ideal is underlying this goal.

  7. 7. The core. In the center of the onion model are a teacher’s personal qualities, such as enthusiasm, care, curiosity, courage, steadfastness, decisiveness, openness, flexibility, and so forth. In line with Ofman (2000) they are referred to as core qualities.

The onion model illustrates that one’s inner potential is situated in the inner layers, in particular in one’s ideals (layer of mission) and core qualities (at the core, the center of the model). Hence, these inner layers are important focal points in core reflection. A basic principle underlying core reflection is that if the layers are in harmony with each other (aligned), the teacher is able to act on the basis of this inner potential, which both has a strong effect on the environment and leads to a sense of fulfillment in the person. On the other hand, if encountering a problem, it means that there are one or more obstacles inhibiting the person’s inner potential (Korthagen & Vasalos, 2005). These obstacles can lie at each of the onion layers.

The onion model shows that a focus on a problematic situation and on what to do in this situation leads to a superficial type of reflection, as such reflection is confined to the two outer layers. As noted, such behavior-oriented reflection does not contribute very much to long-term professional development, as shown by Hoekstra (2007). A focus on the inner onion layers, in particular on core qualities and ideals, creates a deeper connection with the potential of the person, and helps the teacher become aware of what is inhibiting this potential. This leads to what is called learning from within.

Generally the essence of an inner obstacle can be found at the layer of beliefs (i.e., a belief about the situation), or at the layer of identity (a limiting belief about oneself), creating ineffective behavior. This also clarifies why behavior-oriented reflection often remains superficial and does not have much impact on long-term development: if underlying beliefs or identity definitions do not change and keep limiting core qualities or personal ideals, the inner potential cannot fully blossom. In deep, sustainable learning, all onion layers (levels) are involved and brought into harmony. This is called Multi-Level Learning (MLL).

Related Theoretical Frameworks

The core reflection approach is strongly influenced by positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Boniwell, 2012), which focuses on the mechanisms and processes of optimal human functioning. The term core qualities is similar to the concept of character strengths in positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Such strengths are considered to be part of people’s “psychological capital” (Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2007) and have been shown to help overcome problems and foster resilience (Seligman, 2003; Peterson & Seligman, 2004). An explanation for this phenomenon has been put forward by Fredrickson (2009). She argued that positive emotions (which are promoted by a focus on one’s strengths) broaden people’s “thought-action repertoire”: people become more creative and flexible in finding new approaches, and more motivated. As a result of this, they become more effective in dealing with their environment.

A focus on strengths is also characteristic of the appreciative inquiry approach (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005), which is rather popular in the field of organizational development. A point of critique on this approach is that a focus on strengths can have a strong effect on people, but this effect may rapidly disappear if inner obstacles are not recognized and dealt with (Grant & Humphries, 2006).

Core Reflection Coaching

In order to promote core reflection, a teacher educator, mentor teacher, or someone else can coach a teacher in a specific way. Core reflection is also being applied in the coaching of other professional groups, as it is beneficial to any professional to link one’s behavior to personal strengths and ideals. For simplicity’s sake, the term “coach” will be used when referring to the one giving this core reflection coaching.

Principle 1: Focusing on Core Qualities

People being coached (the “coachees”) often come to coaching sessions with a problem, and of course it is important that a coach takes this problem seriously. However, this does not mean that a coaching session should primarily focus on the problem or the search for a solution. The human mind has a tendency to do so, but this often works counterproductively. In her research, Fredrickson (2002) demonstrated that the negative feelings connected with problems create a kind of “tunnel thinking”: the person tends to think within the framework of the problem, and this does not create a sense of strength. Moreover, it often leads to a superficial solution. The coachee may initially appear happy with this solution, but generally the problem will return, as the solution was not grounded in a deeper exploration of the person’s strength.

As discussed, positive emotions help people become more effective. In a practical sense, this means that a coach should devote much attention to the successes of a coachee, and less to what went wrong. Giving positive feedback is important, preferably by naming the coachee’s core qualities. Giving feedback about such qualities differs considerably from a superficial compliment such as “well done” (Voerman et al., 2014), as attention for core qualities shifts the attention from the outer layers of the onion model to the innermost layer.

Hence, a concrete guideline for a coach is: Promote reflection on successes and devote less attention to what went wrong. Combine this with positive feedback, preferably by naming core qualities.

Principle 2: Using the Elevator: Balanced Attention to Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation

Many coaching conversations are dominated by “thinking about” situations or behavior. To deepen reflection, it is also necessary to give sufficient attention to the coachee’s feeling and wanting, as the emotional dimension and the needs and ideals of people (what they want) have a huge influence on their actual behavior (Epstein, 1990; Deci & Ryan, 2002). A focus on wanting (and hence on ideals) is another way of creating positive feelings and brings people more in touch with their strengths than an orientation toward problems.

Moving back and forth between the three dimensions of thinking, feeling, and wanting (the cognitive, emotional, and motivational dimension) is called using the elevator. This is a metaphorical way of looking at the three dimensions, namely as being on three “floors” of human functioning. Regularly shifting between these dimensions within a coaching conversation stimulates a powerful “inner movement” (flow) in the person, in which the three dimensions become interlinked (Korthagen, Attema-Noordewier, & Zwart, 2014).

Using the elevator is less simple than most coaches expect: in many coaching conversations, both the coachee and the coach tend to “talk from the head.” In practice, the coach may ask for feelings, but often the immediate next step is “thinking about these feelings.” This is a cultural habit in society that is not easy to unlearn. It requires “enlarging one’s comfort zone,” that is, becoming comfortable with questions asking for feeling and wanting and really staying at these “floors” for a while.

Hence, a concrete guideline for a coach is: Deepen reflections by using the elevator: focus on thinking, feeling, and wanting and promote connections between these dimensions.

Principle 3: Giving Attention to Inner Obstacles

As a result of developments in psychology, various approaches to coaching exist that give attention to strengths, personal qualities, and talents. The attractive side of this attention is that it often gives the coachee a positive feeling, as it yields new inspiration and a sense of strength. However, this is generally only a short-term effect. Hence, attention is also needed for obstacles inhibiting the person’s strength, in particular an inner obstacle in the coachee hampering core qualities and ideals from influencing behavior in the situation being discussed. It is important for the coachee to not only reflect on such an inner obstacle, but rather to develop here-and-now awareness of the influence of the obstacle at the very moment it occurs (Meijer, Korthagen, & Vasalos, 2009). In particular, it is important that the coachee becomes aware of the emotional impact of the obstacle, and the resulting loss of strength in the situation. This requires a kind of “mindfulness” while in action. This is illustrated in the example (see the box).

Hence, a concrete guideline is: After core qualities and ideals have been reflected on and (most important!) have been felt, it is also important to give attention to any internal obstacles through which the coachee limits his or her own strength. It is important that the coachee is aware of such an inner obstacle in the here-and-now. This points toward the importance of not only thinking about the obstacle, but most of all feeling the effect of it, and making contact with the will to no longer go along with the pattern. (The latter is another example of the elevator principle.)

The Core Reflection Model

Through the combination of the three principles discussed (focusing on core qualities, using the elevator, and giving attention to inner obstacles), a new perspective on coaching emerges, characterized by reflection on strengths and overcoming inner obstacles. The term core reflection coaching is used, as it helps coachees get in touch with and use their core qualities, which represent their core potential and connect the onion layers in themselves (Multi-Level Learning).

The intended process can be summarized with the model in Figure 2.

Core Reflection Approach in Teacher EducationClick to view larger

Figure 2. A phase model for core reflection (Korthagen, 2014).

It is important not to linger too long in phase 1, as this creates a tunnel view and a tendency to think about solutions. The essence of core reflection coaching is to go deeper, and to draw on the person’s core potential. Starting from phase 1, phase 2a is easily reached through elevator questions such as: “What do you think in the situation?” “How do you feel in the situation?” (Note: this is different from asking how the coachee feels about the situation now), and “What would be your ideal in this situation?” This is even easier in the case of success experiences.

When the coachee is in touch with the ideal, core qualities can be named that are present the moment the person feels the power of the ideal in the here-and-now (phase 2b). It can be important that coachees name such core qualities themselves. It also helps when coaches bring in core qualities they perceive in their coachee in the here-and-now, thus promoting the coachee’s awareness of these qualities.

Only when the coachee feels his or her inner potential in phase 2 (often visible in the body language), is it fruitful to start looking for possible inner obstacles to the enactment of important core qualities (phase 3). This leads to deeper reflection, and often creates a broader view of the problem situation than before. At this stage, the focus is not so much on solving the problem, but the process aims at a different kind of experiencing oneself. As a result, the relationship between the person and the problem changes. Scharmer (2007) calls this process presencing, because the coachee senses the inner potential in the here-and-now and is more “present with” this potential. The coachee then feels what he or she want to do, and the will to act upon this awareness is evoked (phase 4). The new behavior resulting from this process is often of a completely different nature than could have been found through a rational analysis of the problem and through searching for a solution. The behavior becomes the natural result of alignment of the onion layers.

The Challenge for Coaches

Is it difficult to coach in this way? Interestingly, the basic principles underlying core reflection coaching are in fact fairly simple. Still, most coaches need two or three days of training before they really become competent at the approach. The main reason is that coaches often need to “unlearn” habitual patterns. Most coaches encounter one or more of the following habits in themselves:

  • Their own tendency to think rather than feel (“coaching from the head”);

  • Their tendency to focus on problems and solutions (coaching on the problem instead of on the person);

  • Their tendency to ask smart questions with the aim of coachees finding out everything themselves (merely nondirective coaching, with little focus on strengths);

  • Their tendency to focus primarily on the content of the conversation and relatively less on body language (focus on verbal instead of nonverbal aspects).

Such habits are usually grounded in beliefs about what constitutes “good coaching.” Often they have been formed through participation in courses on coaching based on more traditional views, and through years of habituation. It requires quite a lot from coaches to leave their comfort zones and let go of these tendencies. The moment they succeed in this, they are often surprised by the strong impact of their core reflection coaching. The reason for this strong impact is that core reflection takes both the inner potential and inner obstacles in the coachee seriously, and helps to bring the tension between these two polarities into awareness. It is sad that practices in teacher education (and in other professional education programs) are relatively little focused on this tension in the student, as it is a trigger for strong professional growth.

Inner obstacles have often become “prisons,” but in an unconscious way. As Korthagen and Vasalos (2010) describe it, the prisoner can become free if the person:

  1. a. Starts to fully feel the negative, limiting impact of a belief or behavioral pattern on his/her functioning in the here-and-now;

  2. b. Understands the belief or pattern as being a self-created phenomenon; and

  3. c. Develops the will to no longer be guided by such an obstacle.

Is the Approach Therapeutic?

Some coaches fear that the deep growth processes involved in core reflection are “therapeutic,” in the sense that it would delve deeply into problematic and painful personal issues. Nothing is further from the truth: in the first place, in professional settings, the attention remains focused on the professional functioning of the person, and not on private issues (although core reflection coaching can also be applied to such settings). In addition, a core reflection coach does not dig for deeper causes of dysfunctioning and does not dive into the personal biography of the coachee. Hence, the coach avoids questions such as “Why do you do it this way?” or “Where does this come from?” which are characteristic of more problem-oriented, traditional approaches.

Core reflection goes deep, but most of all deep into the person’s inner potential. One could consider this as a therapeutic effect, but in a way fundamentally different from what most people expect when they use the word therapeutic. In addition, as Korthagen and Vasalos (2005) stated in their discussion of the core reflection approach: “it is not difficult for supervisors to make a deliberate choice to stick to the professional domain, and leave other areas out of the reflective conversation, something that we advocate in our courses for teacher educators” (p. 307).

Research Evidence

In various research studies, the processes and outcomes of core reflection coaching in pupils, teachers, school leaders, coaches, and teacher educators have been analyzed. This line of research showed that core reflection coaching leads to deep learning processes with enduring behavioral changes. Four research studies are briefly summarized.

  1. 1. A study by Meijer, Korthagen, and Vasalos (2009) describes the learning process of a beginning teacher who received core reflection coaching during seven one-hour sessions. Based on analyses of the audiotaped sessions and research interviews with the teacher, stages were identified in the teacher’s development, in relation to the coaching interventions used. The study shows that the teacher developed a greater awareness of her core qualities and ideals, and started to reframe her limiting and negative self-concept and educational beliefs. She started to act more frequently on her core qualities and ideals, which led to an effective change in her classroom behavior.

  2. 2. The first study was deepened by another study, focusing on the process of core reflection coaching of a veteran teacher (Hoekstra & Korthagen, 2011). This teacher struggled with implementing a new pedagogy introduced in the Netherlands at that time, requiring her to teach in a more student-oriented way. Detailed descriptions of the coaching interactions and in-depth analyses of the teacher’s learning process showed that she learned to draw more strongly on her core qualities. Data were collected about this teacher’s educational beliefs and classroom behavior (as observed by her students) before and after the coaching, which yielded evidence of statistically significant shifts, both in the teacher’s beliefs and her behavior.

  3. 3. Adams, Kim, and Greene (2013) conducted a study on the role of core reflection in the professional development of six beginning teachers at Southern Oregon University. The authors show that core reflection influenced the actualization of core qualities in these teachers, and they describe how this led to new insights, self-understandings, and behaviors.

  4. 4. Attema-Noordewier, Korthagen, and Zwart (2013) studied a trajectory for the professional development of teachers and school principals in six primary schools, based on core reflection. Quantitative and qualitative instruments were used to establish the outcomes of the trajectory, for both the teachers and their students. At the teacher level, outcomes were increased feelings of autonomy, increased self-efficacy regarding the coaching of students and colleagues, more coaching skills, new or renewed insights into and ideas about learning, and increased awareness of core qualities, of students, colleagues, and themselves. Growth appeared to have taken place at all onion layers. At the student level, a growth of the students’ working and communication skills and in their attitudes was reported.

Korthagen, Kim, and Greene (2013) published a book with an overview of the core reflection approach in combination with detailed descriptions of all available research studies into the approach, including the four mentioned here. The overall conclusion they drew from the existing research on core reflection is that the approach elicits deep, transformative learning, that is, learning in which we experience a “dramatic, fundamental change in the way we see ourselves and the world in which we live” (Mirriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Through core reflection, changes can take place going beyond the level of behavior (first-order change), namely long-term changes influencing the deeper layers of the onion model (second- and third-order changes; Levy & Mary, 1986).

Conclusion and Discussion

Core reflection can be used at all levels of education. It is not only important to beginning and experienced teachers but has also been shown to positively influence students in primary and secondary education. In addition, it is being used in supporting professional growth in school principals and teacher educators.

The various studies carried out on core reflection indicate that it seems to be an effective approach for reflection and coaching and that it has the potential to solve the three main problems found with traditional reflection approaches. First, core reflection deepens reflection processes and helps people understand what this “deepening” can be about. In this respect, both the onion model (Figure 1) and the phase model (Figure 2) are helpful instruments in supporting such deeper reflection. Second, as core reflection does not focus so much on negative experiences, but rather triggers awareness of people’s core qualities and ideals, the reflection process becomes much more attractive and enjoyable than when the focus is mainly on problems and solutions. Third, the core reflection process fosters creativity and opens up new perspectives on one’s experiences and new opportunities for action, based on one’s inner potential. This new form of action influences the other people involved. For example, teacher behavior grounded in the teacher’s inner potential appears to positively influence students. This generally leads to positive feelings in the teacher regarding the reflection process and its outcomes, and thus to a more positive attitude toward reflection.

One student teacher, cited by Adams, Kim, and Greene (2013), put it convincingly when she described the significance of core reflection to her professional growth: “I feel like if I fall now, I can pull myself up” (p. 73). Adams et al. conclude from their study on the role core reflection played for their student teachers: “By helping our beginning teachers strengthen their inner resources for addressing the inevitable obstacles they would encounter, core reflection provided a sustainable, long-term process for personal and professional development” (pp. 73–74). This latter quote points to an important essence of core reflection: it integrates the personal and the professional in teacher development. In this integrative process, it is essential that all three dimensions of thinking, feeling, and wanting are given attention, as only in combination do they form the source of effective behavior, grounded in the person’s inner potential.

It is not common in our society to focus professional conversations on the onion layers of identity and mission. Even the idea of giving attention to feelings and emotions causes resistance in some teacher educators. For example, they can be inhibited by thoughts such as “student teachers may find me odd if I ask them how they feel about a situation.” Such a belief may change completely when a teacher educator gives the approach a try, notices how the student teacher reacts, and observes the strong effects on the student teacher’s growth.

This means that although core reflection may seem countercultural, it has the potential to change cultural habits in teacher education. As Adams et al. (2013) describe in their study, relationships between student teachers and teacher educators, and relationships among student teachers, may completely change as a result of the use of core reflection in groups and can become the basis for joint growth. This may also serve as a strong model for what is possible in the relationships between teachers and students in schools, and may thus contribute to the development of a more holistic approach in education in general.

As discussed, core reflection is based on a view of how deeply ingrained inhibiting patterns in a person can be dealt with in a positive manner.

Future Research

Several questions remain unanswered, which can stimulate further research. First, is the core reflection approach helpful to everybody and, if so, are there differences in the degree to which it is helpful? According to the studies that have been carried out, the emphasis on Multi-Level Learning, which is characteristic for core reflection, promotes deep learning with long-term effects on behavior. However, some people seem somewhat resistant toward “going deeper” into the onion layers. Are there specific personality types for whom core reflection is less beneficial than for others, or for whom it takes longer to get used to core reflection? To what degree is this problem related to the competence of educators or coaches and to the content and structure of educational programs? In other words, is there an effective “pedagogy of core reflection” that can serve as the fundament for teacher reflection and core reflection coaching?

The application of core reflection is not confined to individual reflection or coaching situations. Evelein and Korthagen (2015) developed 78 activities and exercises that people can do in small or larger groups to experience core reflection. However, until now no systematic research has been conducted on the outcomes of applying such activities and exercises in groups, for example within teacher education or in groups of experienced teachers. Such research may add new aspects to existing knowledge about the core reflection approach, namely the aspects of collaborative reflection and team building.

In addition, research is needed in which the outcomes of core reflection coaching are compared with those of other approaches, for example solution-focused coaching. In such research it would be important to look at long-term effects, because sustainability of learning outcomes seems a specific strength of the core reflection approach, through the combined emphasis on the inner potential of people and their learning how to overcome inner obstacles.

Finally, in practice as well as in several studies, there are indications of interesting effects of core reflection at the group level. For example, in primary education the use of core reflection principles seems to support not only individual learning, but also the development of positive relationships within groups of people, both adults and children. For example, this is the case if children learn how to use core reflection principles themselves, such as recognizing and naming core qualities, in their relationships with peers. Teachers report that this leads to changes in the dynamics of the classroom as a whole, and that problems with classroom discipline and bullying almost seem to disappear. However, the research evidence in this area is still anecdotal, and further research into the impact of core reflection on group processes is needed.

Nuijten (2017) undertook an action research study in which principles of core reflection were used to support program development in a Dutch institution for primary teacher education. Her study included the development of leadership among the program management through the use of core reflection, as well as the development of more effective collaboration structures among the program staff, also based on core reflection principles. The result was a cultural change within the institution as a whole, characterized by new communication structures and positive changes in how people within the organization perceived each other. The focus on problems shifted toward giving more attention to core qualities and ideals, and sharing about these qualities and ideals enhanced positive relationships. Such findings might promote future research to investigate the hypothesis that the significance of the core reflection approach goes beyond individual reflection and learning: core reflection may also have a positive influence on collaboration and joint learning, at all levels of education.

Further Reading

Korthagen, F. A. J. (2005). Practice, theory, and person in life-long professional learning. In D. Beijaard, P. C. Meijer, G. Morine-Dershimer, & H. Tillema (Eds.), Teacher professional development in changing conditions (pp. 79–94). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.Find this resource:

    Korthagen, F. A. J. (2013). In search of the essence of a good teacher: Toward a more holistic approach to teacher education. In C. J. Craig, P. C. Meijer, & J. Broeckmans (Eds.), From teacher thinking to teachers and teaching: The evolution of a research community (pp. 241–273). Bingley, U.K.: Emerald Books.Find this resource:

      Korthagen, F. A. J., Hoekstra, A., & Meijer, P. C. (2014). Promoting presence in professional practice: A core reflection approach for moving through the U. In O. Gunnlaugson, C. Baron, & M. Cayer (Eds.), Perspectives on theory U: Insights from the field (pp. 77–96). Hershey, PA: Business Science.Find this resource:

        Zwart, R. C., Attema-Noordewier, S., & Korthagen, F. A. J. (2015). A strength-based approach to teacher professional development. Professional Development in Education, 41(3), 579–596.Find this resource:


          Adams, R., Kim, Y. M., & Greene, W. L. (2013). Actualizing core strengths in new teacher development. In F. A. J. Korthagen, Y. M. Kim, & W. L. Greene (Eds.), Teaching and learning from within: A core reflection approach to quality and inspiration in education (pp. 61–75). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

            Attema-Noordewier, S., Korthagen, F. A. J., & Zwart, R. C. (2013). Core reflection in primary schools: A new approach to educational innovation. In: F. A. J. Korthagen, Y. M. Kim, & W. L. Greene (Eds.), Teaching and learning from within: A core reflection approach to quality and inspiration in education (pp. 111–130). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

              Boniwell, I. (2012). Positive psychology in a nutshell: The science of happiness. Maidenhead, U.K.: Open University Press.Find this resource:

                Cole, A. L. (1997). Impediments to reflective practice. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 3(1), 7–27.Find this resource:

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