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Voices of the Global Community


Reflection in Advising

Bryant L. Hutson, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Jennifer L. Bloom, University of South Carolina
Ye He, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Bryant Hutson.jpgJennifer Bloom.jpgWhile advisors often encourage students to become lifelong learners, they themselves are often so strapped for time that they shortchange their own lifelong learning pursuits. Fortunately, there are cost-effective options that advising administrators can use to promote lifelong learning. The approach to professional development described here is among the oldest: reflecting upon one’s experience in order to develop one’s professional identity (Schön, 1983). This article shares some specific ideas for incorporating reflective practice into professional development programs.


Encouraging Reflective Practice

Advising administrators are ideally situated to introduce intentionally reflective practices into advisor training, as well as encourage advisors to actively reflect on and develop their own personal theories of practice.

 Developing Personal Practical Theories

Emerging from the teacher education literature, one powerful way to help advisors become reflective practitioners is to have advisors develop their own “Personal Practical Theory” (PPT) of advising (Connelly & Clandinin, 1985; Cornett, Yeotis, & Terwillger, 1990; He & Levin, 2008; Levin & He, 2008). A PPT involves engaging in reflective practice by asking advisors to identify what they believe to be characteristics of outstanding academic advisors aswell as the sources for their beliefs about these characteristics. This allows advisors to develop an integrated and dynamic set of beliefs, ethics, and self-authored practices which promote the development of advisors’ professional identities.

Advising administrators can help their advisors formulate their PPTs during a staff meeting or an office retreat. A handout can be distributed with this sentence at the top: “My Personal Practical Theory of Being an Outstanding Advisor is….”  Underneath there should be two columns – the first labeled “Attributes” and the second titled “Source.” Advisors would then be given 20-30 minutes to identify what they feel are the attributes of outstanding advisors, and in the second column they would identify the sources of this belief. That is, did they learn this through a personal experience as an advisee or an advisor, from a family member, book, class, etc. Advisors should then be encouraged to share their PPT with a partner or the group. Insights gained through this exercise allow individual advisors to translate their personal, professional, and educational experiences into their advising interactions with students and offers a method to incorporate new theories and experiences into subsequent practice.

Role Modeling

Advising administrators can model reflective practice by sharing their own PPTs of advising. They can also accomplish this by sharing how they approach difficult advising situations, underscoring not only how they address these situations, but also explaining the theoretical rationale for their behaviors. Additionally, during one-on-one and staff meetings administrators can ask questions that lead staff to reflect on their approach to advising students. Examples of questions that promote reflection include:

  • Tell me about a time that you had a positive impact on a student’s life? What specific things did you do that promoted a positive outcome?
  • What matters to you most in your daily work?
  • What is your most important goal for the upcoming day, week, semester, and/or year?

By asking these types of questions of advisors, it not only encourages advisors to reflect, but also provides examples of questions that advisors could utilize with their students.

Keeping an advising portfolio

Some advising administrators require that their advisors maintain a comprehensive portfolio that includes their advising philosophy, major accomplishments, notes from grateful students, awards, publications, etc. For example, at University College at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, these portfolios are also used to help advisors develop their professional development plans and goals (Buyarski, personal communication, August 21, 2009; Buyarski, 2003). The process of creating and updating an advising portfolio allows advisors to reflect on past accomplishments and provides a powerful incentive to continue to develop each year.

Promoting lifelong learning

There are multiple ways that advising administrators can promote lifelong learning among advising staff.  First, when a staff member comes up with an innovative programming idea that proves successful, encourage the advisor to write an article about the program. There are multiple venues for such articles including the NACADA Journal, the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources, Academic Advising Today, and The Mentor. This writing process will encourage reflective thinking. Another option is to encourage staff members to submit proposals to present their work at local, regional, and national conferences. Sometimes staff members may be hesitant to write or present on their own, so encourage advisors to pair up with others on the staff or elsewhere.

Second, ask advisors who attend professional conferences to share with their colleagues the take-home messages from the presentations they attended. This will help them assimilate the information by reflecting on how they can incorporate what they have learned into their advising.

Third, assign staff members to meet with representatives of offices where staff typically refer students for help, e.g., Financial Aid, Counseling, and Career Services. Ask advisors to report their findings about services offered, key personnel, and suggestions for effectively referring students to each office. This allows advisors to reflect on their role within the institutional environment as well as to compare the services they provide to those offered in other campus offices.

Finally, establish a monthly “common reading” opportunity where a book or journal article is discussed as a regular part of staff meetings. Select readings that will stimulate personal and/or professional growth.  Allow staff to engage in dialogue about the readings and the implications the piece’s message has for each advisor.


Providing structured opportunities for advisors to develop their professional identities through reflection is one of the most important things advising administrators can do to promote professional and personal development.  Advisors that understand who they are, what their Personal Practical Theory of advising is, and are encouraged to grow and develop their professional identities are best positioned to effectively advise students.

Bryant L. Hutson
Associate Director, Student Academic Services
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Jennifer L. Bloom
Clinical Associate Professor
Director of the Higher Education and Student Affairs Master’s Degree Program
Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
University of South Carolina

Ye He
Assistant Professor
Department of Teacher Education and Higher Education
School of Education
University of North Carolina at Greensboro


Buyarski, C. (2003). IUPUI University College advising center advisor portfolio. Retrieved September 24, 2009, from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources at www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/portfolioexamples.htm

Connelly, F.M. & Clandinin, D.J. (1985). Personal practical knowledge and the modes of knowing: Relevance for teaching and learning. In E. Eisner (Eds). Learning and teaching the ways of knowing (pp. 174-198). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cornett, J. W., Yeotis, C., & Terwilliger, L. (1990). Teacher personal practice theories and their influences upon teacher curricular and instructional actions: A case study of a secondary science teacher. Science Education, 74, 517-529.

He, Y. & Levin, B. (2008). Match or mismatch? How congruent are the beliefs of teacher candidates, teacher educators, and field mentors? Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(4), 37-55.

Levin, B., & He, Y. (2008). Investigating the content and sources of preservice teachers’ personal practical theories (PPTs). Journal of Teacher Education, 59(1), pp. 55-68.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith.

Cite this article using APA style as: Hutson, B.L., Bloom, J.L., & He, Y. (2009, December). Reflection in advising. Academic Advising Today, 32(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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