Kolb’s Cycle of Reflective Practice

For managers supervising practitioners who work with children, young people and families

Kolb’s Cycle of Reflective Practice is a theory which argues we learn from our experiences of life.  The cycle consists of 4 stages which are illustrated in the diagram below, reflection is seen as an important part of the learning process.


When would you use it?

Kolb’s Cycle is a useful tool for managers to use in reflective supervision with staff who work with children, young people or families.  Reflective supervision is a learning process in which the supervisor engages with the supervisee to:

  • Explore a supervisee’s practice and factors influencing their practice responses (including emotions, assumptions, power relations and the wider social context)
  • Develop a shared understanding of the knowledge base informing their analysis and the limitations of their thinking.
  • Use this understanding to inform next steps .
    (Wannacott (2014) Developing and supporting effective staff supervision. Hove: Pavillion)


How would you use it?

The sections that follow will take you through each of the four stages and give some example questions that supervisors can use to help guide supervisees through the stages.


1. Experience

Supervisees can be assisted to recall more than they think they can recall if the right questions are asked. Here the emphasis is on facilitating an accurate and detailed recall of events. A partial description of the situation will undermine the rest of the cycle.


2. Reflect

Reflection helps the supervisee make links between the current situation and his/her prior experiences, skills or knowledge.  Here the emphasis is on eliciting feelings, and patterns. This may bring out further Information, or may reveal the supervisee's underlying attitudes. Reflection gives clues to other personal factors complicating the supervisee's experience.


3. Conceptualise

Here the emphasis is on analysis and explanation, probing the meanings that the supervisee and others involved attribute to the situation. This includes consideration of other possible explanations, the identification of what is not known or understood, and areas for further exploration.


4. Plan

The focus here is on translating the analysis into planning, preparation and action. This includes identification of outcomes and success criteria as well as consideration of potential complications and contingency plans.


Kolb's Cycle

Kolbs Cycle - Practitioners Tool Kit




In these questions ‘you’ refers to the supervisee:

Kolbs Cycle 2 - Practitioners Tool Kit

A copy of this Tool is available on request



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