Course Guide

Coaching as reflective practice


Reflective practice derives its origins from education when it was introduced as a critical, problem-solving mechanism, challenging individuals to think differently to effect change [1, 2]. Coaching transforms behaviour by developing coachees’ awareness of a need to change [3] as they envision their best possible future and, together with the coach, identify a plan of action [4]. Hence, coaching is an active and purposeful journey of exploration and discovery, engaging cognition and emotion to re-interpret experience and create new knowledge from often unanticipated outcomes.  


Reflective practice recognises the emotional, social and political context of the learner to “unlock the learning process that first leads to and supports improvements in … performance and secondly leads to transformational change” [5].  As coachees reflect and learn about learning [6], they meta- reflect on  how what they have learned can be transferred into future work situations. This is double-loop learning [7] in which coachees question the way they see the world, especially the assumptions they make, and the “taken for granted[’s]” [8] that they hold dear. Using techniques akin to appreciative enquiry [9], coaching facilitates personal learning and transformation within a social, business environment [10] 


Reflective practice also takes into consideration the way people learn. Kolb’s [11] model of experiential learning differentiated four types of learners: those who learn by doing (concrete experience), those who learn by reflecting (reflective observation), those who learn by acquiring theoretical knowledge (abstract conceptualisation), and those who learn by planning the next step (active experimentation). People are more inclined to learn in one or two of these ways. Those who aren’t reflective learners are encouraged to ‘close the loop’ on their learning by embracing reflective practice to gain self-awareness and insight.  


Learning from practice invites individuals to search within to find what they intuitively know or have learned from experience. However, practice can be “overlearned” [12] and become routine, which stifles the opportunity for reflective practice until new experiences emerge to challenge that routine. To continue learning, an individual “must have past experience from which he learns, present experience in which he learns, and prospective experience to which he will apply his learning” [12] in order to lay down a different pattern of behaviour that is appropriate for the new situation given what the coachee already knows and has subsequently learned.   


When adopted as a reflective practice in organisations, coaching is a key developmental tool for leaders. To aid reflection, processes such as storytelling, metaphors, reflective journals and mind mapping tools may prove useful. Reflective coaching practice has been used to improve professional leadership practices [13] and ease the “frustration about the pace of change; pressure of conflicting demands; feelings of isolation; the need for confidence to see the process through; and experiencing personal growth” [14].  Coaching challenges managers’ taken-for-granted assumptions so that they can become more receptive to alternative ways of thinking and behaving [15] which promotes team and team member performance improvement to achieve business targets and retain talent.  


In summary, reflection is the opportunity for an individual to “surface … tacit understandings . . . [and make] sense of the [experienced] situations” [12]. Mental frames can be changed and tacit assumptions challenged by interior processes in which “invisible elements can become explicated and changed” [5] and made visible as an exterior manifestation of the interior thoughts and feelings associated with observed behaviours.  Thus, reflection bridges the gap between “thinking” and “doing” (practice) where the “doing” is characterised by unquestioned responses or reactions, assumptions and beliefs which need to be disrupted if individuals are going to be able to learn.  

This excerpt is taken from the book “Transforming Organisational Culture through Coaching” by Dr Susanne Knowles which is available from and . 



  1. Dewey, J.,How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process. 1993, Boston: Heath.
  2. Dewey, J.,Experience and Education. 1938, New York: Macmillan.
  3. Hiatt, J.,ADKAR: A model for change in business, government and our community: How to implement successful change in our personal lives and professional careers. 2006, Loveland, CO: Prosci Research.
  4. Stober, D. and A. Grant,Evidence Based Coaching Handbook: Putting best practices to work for your clients. 2006, Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons.
  5. Brockbank, A., I. McGill, and N. Beech,Reflective Learning in Practice. 2002, Brookfield, United Kingdom: Routledge.
  6. Brockbank, A. and I. McGill,Facilitating Reflective Learning: Coaching, mentoring and supervison (2nd Edition). 2012, London, GBR: Kogan Page Ltd.
  7. Argyris, C. and D. Schön,Organizational Learning: A theory of action perspective. 1997, Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
  8. Schein, E.,Organizational culture.American Psychologist, 1990. 45(2): p. 109-119. 
  9. Cooperrider, D.,Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking human organization toward a positive theory of change. 2000, Champaign, Ill.: Stipes Pub.
  10. Bandura, A.,Social Learning Theory. 1977, Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.
  11. Kolb, D.,Experiential Learning Experience as a Source of Learning and Development. 1984, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  12. Schön, D.,The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action (2nd ed.). 1991, Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
  13. Nicolaidou, M., Y. Karagiorgi, and A. Petridou,Professional Learning through reflection promoted by feedback and coaching (PROFLEC) in Cyprus.International Journal of Leadership in Education, 2018. 21(4): p. 412-426. 
  14. Anthony, D. and C. van Nieuwerburgh,A thematic analysis of the experience of educational leaders introducing coaching into schools.International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 2018. 7(4): p. 343-356. 
  15. Gray, D.,Facilitating management learning developing critical reflection through reflective tools.Management Learning, 2007. 38(5): p. 495-517.