Promoting Presence in Professional Practice: A Core Reflection Approach for Moving through the U

Promoting Presence in Professional Practice: A Core Reflection Approach for Moving through the U

Fred A. J. Korthagen (Utrecht University, The Netherlands), Annemarieke Hoekstra (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Canada) and Paulien C. Meijer (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4793-0.ch006
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This contribution focuses on the connection between Scharmer's Theory U and individual coaching. How can Theory U be used in coaching for supporting transformational learning in coachees? First, the authors present an approach called Core Reflection. In this approach, Theory U is linked to specific levels of reflection and awareness, described by the so-called “onion model.” Through the use of Core Reflection, the personal and professional aspects of both inner processes and performance become connected. Two research studies on the use of coaching based on Core Reflection with teachers show its strong impact on practitioners, clarifying how it can promote deep learning and strengths-based performance, even in situations experienced by the coachee as problematic. The authors conclude that the Core Reflection approach is a practical and effective method for helping people move through Scharmer’s U model and for transformational learning. The research also sheds light on an overlooked area within Theory U: The illumination of people’s core qualities.
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Theoretical Framework

Cognition, Emotion and Motivation

Theory U emphasizes the importance of “an open mind, an open heart and an open will” (Scharmer, 2007, p. 41) as the basis for reflection and action. This concurs with a variety of research studies from different fields showing that professional performance is not only grounded in rational thinking, but that affective and motivational factors also play an important role. In this section we will discuss the role that cognition, emotion, and motivation play in professional behavior.

A great deal of professional behavior is so-called immediate behavior (Dolk, 1997), that is, behavior that occurs as an immediate reaction to unexpected, non-routine situations. In such situations, there is often little time for reflection (Eraut, 1995; Schön, 1987), and 'downloading behavior' occurs, mediated by what the psychologist Epstein (1990) named the experiential system in human beings. In this experiential system, rapid information processing takes place, which is to a large degree based on emotions and images. This system is linked to physical responses and automatic processes. It is holistic, which means that the world is experienced in interconnected wholes, directing behavior in an often unconscious way (Lazarus, 1991). Many of these unconscious or only partly conscious behavioral tendencies, such as basic fight, flight and freeze responses, are patterns that have developed in the person at a young age (Rothschild, 2000). Epstein's theory emphasizes the connections between thinking, feeling and behavior within the experiential system. His theory is supported by neurophysiological research. Brain specialists such as Immordano-Yang and Damasio (2007) conclude that most human functioning takes place through processes in which thinking and feeling are strongly intertwined. We can conclude that not all sources of behavior are rational and conscious, but many are non-rational or unconscious.

In addition, it is important to note that not only feelings and emotions play an important role in directing behavior. In their Self-Determination Theory, Ryan and Deci (2002) emphasize that people's behavior is strongly influenced by their psychological needs, such as the need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These are motivational factors, representing a somewhat different dimension than feelings and emotions. Ideals and personal missions are other important aspects of this motivational dimension (Palmer, 1998).

In sum, and in line with Theory U, we distinguish between three important dimensions in the sources of professional behavior, namely the cognitive, emotional, and motivational dimension, or briefly: thinking, feeling, and wanting. Moreover, we conclude that these dimensions are often unconscious or only partly conscious to the actor, which concurs with Scharmer's notion of downloading: when people behave in an unconscious manner, they tend to 'download' routine behavioral approaches to solve practical situations. These downloaded approaches are grounded in an often unclear mixture of cognitive, emotional and motivational factors within the person.

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