Operationalising Thoughtful Practice 

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Written by Dr Paul Garner

The Graduate School of Sport and Professional Practice has a number of functions from supervising and supporting postgraduate research, to working with external agencies, to consulting on applied interventions and supporting performance enhancement within University of Birmingham Sport. Our work draws upon an eclectic range of expertise, both academic and practical, yet with one common thread – we strive for excellence. This requires subject and domain specific expertise, which we continue to develop through our research, scholarship and experience in the field, but what so often separates good practice from real excellence is about more than subject knowledge, it is the ability to continually nurture interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge that allows for world class people people.   

This is easier said than done! Ensuring that we improve how we interact with each other, with students and with external partners requires a reflective approach. We strive to think about others and the impact of our actions, but it is equally important to think about who we are, how we come across and what we believe to be important in our work. Reflective practice in professional development is renowned as something many proclaim to be important yet few practice, as difficult to do well as it is crucial for excellence. To this end, we have adopted a model to underpin our endeavours; it comes from contemporary research into person-centred practice and foregrounds the importance of humility as a foundational value. 

An often-misunderstood concept, humility comprises four components, which form the POWA model (see the Figure below). Employing Aristotle’s golden mean, the model encourages practitioners to consider how their actions are reflected on each of the four scales, with the aspiration of promoting balance in order to achieve excellence. In some ways, the concept of excellence or virtue equating to an average position seems antithetical, however what is really suggested is balance, not doing too much or too little of something, so that we arrive at the right amount, the best amount and hence excellence. 

The ‘POWA’ model of Humility and Person-centred intention (Garner et al. 2022).

Within the Graduate School of Sport and Professional Practice, we have adopted the common language suggested by POWA, to check and challenge each other, to review our collective practice and to support our self-reflection. We believe that a value driven approach to practice, that is guided by this simple user-friendly model, allows for flexibility in our actions and appropriate communication. It also provides a safety net to help us recognise those moments where the complexity of the real world leads to moments of imbalance, so we can concentrate our efforts to develop excellent interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge in all that we do. 


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